Sundial in a Grave: 1610 : A Novel

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"It's about sex, and cruelty, and forgiveness." Thus begins a sweeping historical adventure about two dueling swordsmen and the plot to kill a king in the grand tradition of Dorothy Dunnett and Alexander Dumas. The year is 1610. Continental Europe is briefly at peace after years of war, but Henri IV of France is planning to invade the German principalities. In England, only five years earlier, conspirators nearly succeeded in blowing up King James I and his Parliament. The seeds of the English Civil War and the Thirty Years War are visibly being sown, and the possibility for both enlightenment and disaster abounds. But Valentin Rochefort, duelist and spy for France's powerful financial minister, could not care less. Until he is drawn into the glittering palaces, bawdy back streets, and stunning theatrics of Renaissance France and Shakespearean London in a deadly plot both to kill King James I and to save him. For this swordsman without a conscience is about to find himself caught betweenloyalty, love, and blackmail, between kings, queens, politicians, and Rosicrucians -- and the woman he has, unknowingly, crossed land and sea to meet.


A Sundial in a Grave: 1610
A Novel

Chapter One

Rochefort, Memoirs

It is not every man who sets out to kill the King of France and begins bybeating his own servant.

"Messire Valentin!" Gabriel Santon protested, staring up at me from thefloor as if Fate and Chance together had both kicked him in the stomach,rather than I.

I can see I will have to do better than this.

I strode across the bare boards to the window, feeling the chill of thewooden floor through my hose. If I had more resolution, I would havewaited until my boots were on and kicked him then.

Spring of the year 1610: the shutters, open, let in the smoke of everyman's breakfast cooking-fire, obscuring the Paris roofs with the commonearly morning haze. For all that, I could still see the shadow of my watcherdown under the over-hang of the house across the street, where he (or another of the Queen's men) had been all the sleepless night.

"Shave me," I ordered curtly, and turned away from the cool May air,back to the fugginess of the room. The scent of horse-dung followed me,and the sound of raucous cockerels proclaiming dawn. I set myself down onthe room's one bare bench, deliberately turning my back on Gabriel.

I have no way to leave these lodgings without being observed, front entrance and rear, I thought -- as I had been thinking for the past five hours, since the moment when Queen Marie de Medici's men smirked and left me on my own doorstep. So, what is to be done?

Gabriel's large fist shoved a jack of ale into my hands, and then hestepped behind me, and I heard the clatter of the basin as he filled it fromthe kettle of heated water brought up from the communal kitchens. I couldhave taken the risk of sending him out for food --

-- but they will think I am sending him out with a warning. And theywill put a dagger in his kidneys before he gets to the bottom of the street.

His tread was heavy on the floorboards, as befits an old soldier grown fatin my service. Gabriel was skinnier fifteen years ago in the wars of the LowCountries, when he discovered a fool of a young ensign in search of a nobledeath. I think he knocked me down a time or two, in the course of persuadingme that scandal dies sooner than a man, and that contempt can be outlived. I barely remember; I was cow-kissing drunk at the time. Certainlydrunk enough to provide an excuse for forgetting that my corporal hadlessoned me much as he might one of his eighteen-year-old farm-boy troopers -- and thereby kept me alive.

The ale was cool, and tasted smoky. Gabriel's disgruntled voice soundedin my ear.

"Head back, messire. Chin up."

I knew him well enough to know that it hadn't worked yet; that hewould not leave me for a curse and one kick. His tone plainly said Messire was out drinking last night, Messire lost money playing at hazard with dice, and guess who he takes his foul temper out on? Poor bloody Gabriel. As usual.

The hair-splittingly sharp blade of the razor followed the soap over mychin. I sat perfectly still, as a man tends to when he has a knife at his throat.Every morning for fifteen years, Gabriel Santon might have slit the bigartery on the left of my windpipe, and I have never known his hand shake.Nor, now I think about it, at any of the things he has seen in those pastyears, and mine is a business to shake the nerves of most.

The scrape of blade over stubble and the warming air of the room, as thisfourteenth day of May dawned, set my own nerves on edge. I listed it off inmy mind. I must get rid of Gabriel, because no man associated with menow is safe. I must act as if I am following the Queen Marie de Medici's orders,or her men will kill me, and I will have no way to get a warning out ofwhat she plans.

And that means I must seem, convincingly to her men who watch me, tobe arranging the murder of her husband, Henri, fourth of that name, otherwiseHenri of Navarre, now King of France.

The towel wiped over my face, leaving only the moustache and smallpoint of beard that it is my custom to wear. I felt Gabriel taking the weightof my hair in his hands, searching out such few parasites as haunt lodgingslike these. I am vain enough to keep my hair clean, and to wear it long inthe fashion of the court, since there is, at forty, not a strand of grey in it --and a man must be vain about what he can.

"Are you going to the Arsenal today?" Gabriel said idly, walking aroundin front of me with my cuffs and ruff in his hand. "Or is Monsieur the Ducat the Bastille now?"

I struck hard, knocking the linen out of his hands, and following it witha backhand blow across his face.

"What business of yours is it where the Duc de Sully is, little man!"

Gabriel began to stoop, protesting that he meant no harm, and simultaneously grumbling under his breath. I stood up. For a moment apprehension caught my heartbeat and the pit of my stomach: Suppose I cannot save Gabriel? Suppose I cannot save the Duc?

A Sundial in a Grave: 1610
A Novel
. Copyright © by Mary Gentle. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from A Sundial in a Grave: 1610: A Novel by Mary Gentle
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