Work in Progress: The Lady and the Sword, week eight

The Lady and the Sword
Swords of Charlemagne, Book 2

Slightly over a third of a book. It’s humming along nicely, and I’ve just hit The Black Moment in our Victorian era. Things are about to get interesting for them, which means it’s time for me to go back to working on the Carolingian era.

Cliffhangers are awesome.

Excerpt time. This might be the last one — it’s getting spoilery in here.

***

“Douglas, tomorrow morning, you go to the Opera house and audition for the orchestra,” Mystere said. “There’s an opening—”

“Do I want to know why there’s an opening?” Douglas asked slowly. Mystere just smiled.

“Never you mind that,” he answered. He turned to Margaret, and his smile faded. “I want you to be on the inside, too. But—”

“But I’m no singer. No dancer. No musician. What would I do?” Margaret asked.

“Do you sew?” Mystere asked. “They always need women to sew in the backstage areas.”

“I…” Margaret clasped her hands on her lap. “I sew. I took in sewing, for pin money when I was still married to Thomas. It’s… I’m not sure I still can.”

“Is that the sort of thing you can forget?” Mystere asked.

“Is that a serious question?” Margaret asked in reply. “You don’t sew?” Mystere shook his head, and Margaret blinked in surprise. “How do you mend things, then?”

“Magic,” Douglas answered. “I can do basic mending. But why can’t you, Leannan?”

Margaret got up and went to the table and her lapdesk. She opened it and took out a narrow box. “Oh, they aren’t broken!”

“Margaret? You never said you wear spectacles!” Douglas exclaimed as she put on the wire-rimmed spectacles.

“I don’t need them, usually,” Margaret said. “I can read with no issues, but fine work gives me headaches. I haven’t had time for it recently, and I haven’t even looked at them since Aachen.”

“Was that the only complication?” Mystere asked. When Margaret nodded, he smiled. “I do like them, Margaret. They’re charming. Now, Doogie, there’s a room at the boarding house where I’m staying. I want you to take that. Margaret, we’ll have to find you a place—”

“We can’t lodge together?” Margaret interrupted.

Mystere shook his head. “No, and I want you both to put your wedding rings aside for the duration of this. You cannot appear to be married.” He looked from Douglas’ shocked face to Margaret’s. “I’m sorry, but they won’t hire Margaret if they think that she’s married.”

“And you need us both inside with you,” Douglas said with a sigh. “You’re asking a great deal, Yael.”

“We can always come back here in secret,” Margaret said, moving to sit with Douglas. He took her hand and kissed it.

“I still don’t like it,” he grumbled. “Yael, how long do you think this will take? How long will we have to pretend?”

“Until we find out who is doing this, and until you can free Hauteclere. Which we shouldn’t risk until we know who is attempting to steal her and stop them.”

“And Caedda is coming, isn’t he?” Margaret added. “We have to be done quickly.”

“Exactly,” Mystere agreed. “Pack a bag each.” He stopped, closed his eyes for a moment. Then he nodded. “I need to go. I’ll see you tomorrow at the Opera. And remember. We none of us know the other, understand?”

“Of course,” Douglas answered. He sounded unhappy, and Margaret agreed with that sentiment. After all, they’d only been married just over three weeks — barely a month together, and now they were going to have to live apart indefinitely? She didn’t like that one bit. She leaned into his side, and he put his arm around her.

“It won’t be for long,” Mystere said gently. He came closer and knelt in front of them, resting his left hand on Douglas’ knee, taking Margaret’s hand in his other. “This is getting far more complicated than it should have been. If everything had gone the way it should, I’d have met you here with the sword, Douglas would have his memories, and we’d be on our way to England. I hate that I have to ask this of you.”

“It’s not your fault, Yael,” Margaret said gently. He smiled and squeezed her fingers.

“Now, tomorrow, here’s what needs to be done..”

***

Following Mystere’s instructions, Douglas left right after breakfast to engage a room at the boarding house. Margaret packed slowly, putting her older clothing into the carpet bag, along with her spectacles and a few personal items that she didn’t want to leave behind, and dressing in a slightly worn skirt and bodice. Then she went shopping, rummaging through second hand shops until she had put together a small, but serviceable sewing kit. Finally ready, she made her way to the Palace Garnier. The stage door, Mystere had told her, but it wasn’t until she was standing in front of the ornate Napoleon III building that she realized that she didn’t know where the stage door actually was. She sighed and started to walk around the building. She’d just have to find it. It had to be somewhere, after all.

As she turned the corner, a small group of women fell in behind her, laughing and chatting. One of them said something about rehearsals, and Margaret stopped and turned around.

“Excuse me,” she said. “I don’t mean to eavesdrop, but do you work here?”

One of the women, a pretty, petite blonde looked startled at the question. “We do. May I ask why?”

Margaret smiled and looked down at her bag. “I was looking for work. I was told that the Opera hires sewing women, so I came to see if there might be a place for me?”

Immediately, the women surrounded her, talking over each other as they assured Margaret that of course the Opera would hire her, the dancers always needed someone to help alter and repair costumes, and to just come with them. They started walking, chattering gently until Margaret felt as if she was surrounded by overly-friendly chickens.

“Enough!” the blonde called. “You’re frightening her. What’s your name, my dear?”

“Margaret. Margaret Forsythe.” Margaret smiled, pleased that she’d remembered the story that she and Douglas had decided on over breakfast.

“It is a pleasure, Margaret. I am Angeline Laurent. This is Julia. That is Geraldine, and this is Elise. We are all part of the corps de ballet here.”

“Thank you,” Margaret said. “You’re all very kind.”

“You are English, no?” Julia asked. “Why are you looking for work in Paris?”

Margaret sighed. “Because I had to leave England. But things are more expensive than I thought, and I’m on my last franc. I need work, and a place to stay that I can afford, so I can think of what to do next.”

The women looked at each other, and Angeline stepped closer. “Had to leave?” she asked gently.

Margaret shook her head. “It’s a long story, I’m afraid. And I don’t want to make you late.”

Angeline slipped her arm into Margaret’s. “You can tell me when you are more comfortable. And tonight, you will come with us. We lodge at a women’s only boarding house. The landlady is a former dancer, and she understands.”

“Oh!” Margaret gasped. “Oh, that… that’s so kind of you! Thank you!”

Angeline smiled. “It is how sisters should treat each other, no?”

“But you only just met me!”

“Angeline, she adopts kittens and baby birds,” Julia teased. They all laughed.

“Which am I, then? A kitten or a baby bird?” Margaret asked, setting them off again.

“You are a new friend,” Angeline declared. “Come inside. We will introduce you to the ballet master and tell him that you are our new seamstress.”

What do you think?

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