Humbled

By: Renee Rose


Prologue





1779

Gramont, France



This was to be his end. Sentenced to death at age eleven over a pig he had not even succeeded in stealing.

Mud smeared the entire village. Three days straight the rain had poured, the misery of God matching his own. Thick and gloppy, it formed brown shoes over his bare feet. His mother’s tears tracked with the rivulets of water, her face expressionless with doom.

“Simon de Rossier,” the executioner bellowed the name of a man convicted of treason.

A fine carriage following two matched mares rode in and the Duc and Duchesse de Gramont stepped out with their young daughter. The proceedings paused as the judge stood from the seat where he was overseeing the execution. The nobility advanced, greeting the judge and taking seats beside him to watch the executions.

The judge waved to resume the activity, and the executioner kicked out the stool beneath Simon’s feet, leaving him kicking and thrashing, dangled from the rope around his neck.

“Jean-Claude Armand,” the man in black called his name.

He slouched forward, and because he was unable to look into his mother’s eyes or see the faces of the villagers, he stared up at the small aristocrat child. She met his eye and their gazes locked, her eyes growing round, her mouth opening. Something passed between them—it seemed he communicated his full despair to her and she absorbed it.

The executioner pulled him forward, and the din of the crowd became a low buzz as a quiet between his ears became deafening. He saw a signal given from the dais where the officials sat and stumbled forward for his death. But instead of hauling him to the hanging block, the guard brought him to stand before the aristocrats.

“What are the charges against this boy?” the duc queried.

Even with his eyes lowered, he felt the burning gaze of the young girl on him.

“Theft. He stole a pig from the magistrate.”

“No. No, he did not.” Her voice, though childish in pitch, held every note of nobility.

He lifted his gaze, unable to resist a glance. The little aristocrat had stood from her seat. Her chest heaved as if she were frightened, but her face only showed a stubborn determination, a smudge of color high on her cheeks. She could not be more than eight years old. She did not glance at him, yet he sensed the same connection he had felt when their eyes met across the square.

The judge appeared confused, glancing at the duc and duchesse for guidance. “Mademoiselle, the evidence was quite sound.”

“I took the pig,” she challenged. “I took it to the château where I dress it up, just as Marie Antoinette dresses her sheep at Versailles.”

The duchesse frowned and opened her mouth, but the duc held up his hand, looking thoughtful. “Is that so, Corinne?”

The small girl nodded resolutely.

“I will punish you,” he warned, as if to test his daughter’s resolve in sticking to the obvious lie.

She lifted her chin. “Yes, Papa.”

The duc made a careless gesture with his hand. “Free the boy. He is innocent.”

The judge’s face turned red, but his authority did not supersede the duc’s. He nodded to the guard, who released the cruel grip on his arms.

Jean-Claude dropped to one knee, bowing his head to his betters, then turned and ran away as fast as his bare feet could propel him through the mud.





Chapter One





July, 1789

Two weeks after the storming of the Bastille



They were coming. The sound of an angry mob reached her window from the château’s long drive. Peasants angry over the disparity in living were now attacking the nobility. Her servants raced around Château de Gramont in a terror, grabbing things of value. The more honest ones hid treasures for the family, but she guessed many claimed items of value for themselves. Furious shouts of the rabble rose from the road leading to her home.

“Quick, change into this, mademoiselle,” her chambermaid Anne-Marie cried, flying into the room with what appeared to be one of the servant’s own dresses.

She whirled to give her maid access to the laces at the back of her day gown, throwing off her wig and stripping out of the hoops even before she was free of the dress. She had already stuffed all the family jewels into a small leather pouch.