Excerpt from The Wardrobe Mistress

As I briefly, exhaustedly, posted last week, I finished my latest manuscript, tentatively called Lady of the Revolution (Update: It’s been renamed to The Wardrobe Mistress). As the title hints, it takes place during the French Revolution, and my main character is a spy who finds herself caught between the royalists and the revolutionaries.  I’ve sent it off to my agent, and I have spent the last week catching up on my reading and relaxation, feeling as though I have nothing to do until it’s time for revisions. Then I remembered that I should really be writing a brief, catchy synopsis and the historical note. I tried something new with this book as well, where I wrote a full synopsis before writing the story. It turns out that I do not follow my own outlines very well, so I can add revising the synopsis to my list of wrap-up tasks.

Writing synopses is not one of my favourite tasks, so…I will probably just leave it and start writing another book. Just kidding! But it’s tempting.

In the meantime, I would like to share another excerpt (see the first one here). In this scene, the main character, Giselle, has gone with her friend Geneviève to the Champs de Mars, where Danton and Desmoulins are gathering signatures for a petition for the removal of the king. If you are familiar with the French Revolution, you may recognise the latter names and know that they were very passionate revolutionaries. You may also realise that the day did not end well – it’s now referred to as the Massacre at the Champs de Mars.

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In spite of the busyness and size of the Champs de Mars, it does not take long to cross paths with Desmoulins and Danton. As the two of them are gesturing wildly from the top of some steps and shouting out impassioned speeches to reel in more petitioners, we’d have to be blind and deaf not to notice them. The crowd surges around them, roiling like bubbles in a hot kettle, and making nearly as much noise as the two revolutionaries with cries of mingled praise and arguments. Geneviève and I keep our distance.

She bites her lip, looking a little crestfallen. “It does not look like we’ll get close enough to sign. Maybe if we wait a while?”

“I don’t think so.” Grabbing her arm, I point toward another face familiar to us, the Marquis de Lafayette, flanked by the National Guard under his command. “They are marching toward the petitioners, and they look grim.”

“I suppose they will break up the crowd. I saw Étienne briefly just after lunch, and he said they already dispersed the petitioners this morning. It did not stop them for long, of course. I think there must be twice as many now. He was rather disappointed – he approves of the petition, but he still has to obey commands from Lafayette, who leads the Guard.”

“We should leave.” Tightening my fingers on Geneviève’s arm, I drag her away a few paces. Even though the crowd seems to be growing increasingly hostile at the site of the National Guard, she moves reluctantly.

“I want to watch,” she says.

“We can from further away,” I bargain, moving faster. We have little time to waste. The situation escalates tangibly around us, taking my heart rate with it. My pulse hammers and my nerves jolt. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a nearby petitioner, mouth curled into a snarl, bends to pick up a loose stone. “It’s going to be a riot in moment.”

“Not this time,” says Geneviève, but her brows quirk with doubt. “Where is Étienne?” Her gaze flicks past the press of people, peering between their heads and above their shoulders. “I hope he will be all right.”

Lafayette’s voice rises above the hubbub, recognisable only because it is rich with command. He volleys orders like one accustomed to absolute obedience. The members of the National Guard with him surge forward, muskets raised toward the sky like empty flagstaffs. They march toward the petitioners, intending to scatter them away. I think I see Léon, and my heart lurches at the sight of his dark glittering eyes, winged brows and long proud nose, but then the sweep of the crowd snatches him from my view, and Geneviève yanks on my hand, pulling me out of the way of a rampaging man, red-faced and angry with the presence of the National Guard. I feel bereft, though I saw him so quickly that it may not have been Léon at all, only a desperate conjuring of my lonely imagination.

Lafayette’s voice rises in another order for the crowd to disperse. A few people near Geneviève and I obey him, and we move along with them, putting distance between us and the more fervent petitioners. Most of them root themselves to the spot, though, facing the National Guard with rebellion. Lafayette commands them to leave again, and a stone flies through the air, bouncing roughly off the shoulder of one of the soldiers. More rocks follow, hurled with vicious strength by the riled up protesters.

“Warning shots,” yells Lafayette. Before the echo of his stark command fades, the muskets crackle skyward, the sharp rumble leaving trails of smoke in its wake.

“They’ll depart now,” says Geneviève, but she herself seems frozen on the spot, staring fearfully, fascinated by the mad spectacle, and fearful for Étienne. I understand her expression, because I feel the same way. I scan endlessly for Léon, but the soldiers all look the same from here.

The crowd doesn’t disperse though, and instead crushes forward, infuriated. More stones soar through the air, many of them finding meaty targets. One of the soldiers visibly grabs his head and stumbles, and Geneviève and I squeeze each other’s hands, both praying it was not Étienne or Léon who was struck.

In the noise and the panic, I cannot hear Lafayette’s next words, but his voice rises and falls. The muskets spit fire and thunder again, and it takes me a disbelieving second to comprehend that the smoke spirals low, not circling into the sky like before, and the shrill pitch of screams harshly contrasts the deep sound of the gunfire. Several petitioners stagger and fall. I watch as one man’s white shirt slowly turns to match his red coat before his companions grab his shoulders and drag him from my view.

“We have to go.” I turn to Geneviève, but she does not need my warning, and our feet already take us further away from the scene. My hand grips hers so tight that I feel like my fingers will be stiff forever, and my heart hammers so hard I fancy I can see the pulse in the corners of my eyes.

 

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