Storm Winds

By: Iris Johansen


Versailles, France

July 25, 1779

The emerald eyes of the golden horse looked down at her, as if he knew her every hope, her every sorrow, Juliette thought. Lips parted in a smile of fierce joy, filigree wings folded back against his body, the Pegasus stood on a tall marble pedestal in the gallery, deserted now. Juliette could hear the tinkling music of a clavichord and women singing, but she paid no attention to anything except the beautiful golden horse.

She had caught glimpses of herself in the seventeen mirrors gracing the long gallery as she'd dashed moments ago to the sheltering presence of the Pegasus. How helpless and stupid she looked with tears running down her face, she thought.

She hated to cry as much as she hated to feel helpless. Marguerite, her nurse, liked to see her cry, Juliette had realized recently. When


the old woman goaded and tormented until she succeeded in making her break down and weep, she seemed to Juliette to puff up with satisfaction as if those childish tears somehow watered and nourished her. Someday, Juliette vowed, when she was a woman grown like her mother and Marguerite, she would never let anyone see her this helpless or frightened.

She ducked behind the tall pedestal, gathering her nightgown close to her shivering body and crouched on the floor, trying to hide in the shadows. Her breath coming in harsh sobs, she cradled a precious brown clay pot against her chest. She prayed Marguerite wouldn't find her and soon would stop searching. Then she would run into the garden and find a safe hiding place for the pot in the vast beds of flowers.

She could see only a narrow slice of the long hall glittering with mirrors, the candles shimmering starlike in crystal chandeliers. Juliette had eluded Marguerite in the corridors below, but an army of footmen and at least three Swiss guards would be able to set her nurse on the right path if she stopped to inquire. She peeped cautiously around the pedestal and sighed with relief.

No Marguerite.

"I tell you I did see something, Axel." A woman's light voice, very close, faintly impatient. "I looked up from the clavichord and I saw… I don't know… something."

Juliette tensed, pressing back against the wall and holding her breath.

"I would not think of arguing with you." A man's amused voice. "I'm sure those blue eyes are as keen as they are beautiful. Perhaps it was a servant."

"No, it was much closer to the floor."

"A pup? God knows your court seems to abound with them and none of them worth a franc in the hunting field."

A pair of white satin shoes, diamond buckles gleaming in the candlelight, appeared in Juliette's line of vision. Her gaze traveled from the gleaming buckles to the hem of enormously wide azure satin skirts decorated with square-cut sapphires set in circlets of violets.


"It was just a glimpse, but I know—

Well, what have we here?"

Sparkling blue eyes peered down into the shadows at her. The lady knelt in a flurry of satin skirts. "Here's your puppy, Axel. It's a child."

Wild despair tore through Juliette. It was clear she had been found by a lady of the court. The rich gown and stylish white wig were so like her mother's. This woman would be bound to find her mother, Juliette thought desperately. She braced herself, the muscles of her calves tensing to spring, her hands clutching the clay pot so tightly her knuckles turned white.

"A very small child." The lady reached forward and gently touched Juliette's wet cheek. "What are you doing here, ma petite? It's almost midnight and little girls should be in bed."

Juliette drew back, huddling against the wall.

"Don't be frightened." The lady drew closer. "I have a little girl too. My Marie Therese is only a year old, but later perhaps you and she could play together when…" The words trailed off as the lady looked down at her damp fingertips that had caressed Juliette's cheek. "Mother of God, there's blood on my fingers, Axel. The child's hurt. Give me your handkerchief."

"Bring her out and let's have a look at her." The man came into view, tall, handsomely dressed in a brilliant emerald-green coat. He handed the lady a spotless lace-trimmed handkerchief and knelt beside her.

"Come out, ma petite." The lady held out her arms to Juliette. "No one is going to hurt you."