Honor Among Thieves - by J.M.Aucoin
Excerpt # 1
Honor Among Thieves (Hope & Steel: Book I)
by J.M. Aucoin
Publication Date: June 30, 2015
Publisher: Sword & Cape
eBook & Paperback; Pages: 330
Series: Hope & Steel (Book One)
Genre: Historical Adventure/Swashbuckler
Honor Among Thieves (Hope & Steel: Book One) by J.M. Aucoin
The prospect of paranoia was comforting compared to the dark shadow that passed in front of his cell a moment later. The figure was short and dressed in black from head to toe. The faint candle light couldn’t penetrate the heavy shadow from the hood the person wore. The figure stood there, motionless and silent, as if it were measuring Darion for some unknown reason. Then it took a step closer into the light, and Darion saw two amber eyes glow like smoldering coals in a fire. The figure pulled out an ornamented wheellock pistol from the folds of the cloak.
“Do I know you?” he asked.
“No.” The figure spoke with a woman’s voice. Darion’s face betrayed his inquisitiveness and bewilderment. “However, we share a mutual friend.”
Darion couldn’t place her voice, and he couldn’t see her face beneath the shadow of her hood. He hadn’t met many since he returned to Paris, but still her identity eluded him.
“I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage, mademoiselle. I don’t recognize you.”
“It’s madam and my identity means little. What matters is our mutual friend.”
A caustic grin appeared on Darion’s face.
“And who is our mutual friend?”
Darion smile vanished. He struggled to his feet.
“What of her?”
“She’s been abducted. By some old friends of yours.”
“I don’t understand.”
“No. I suppose you wouldn’t, would you?” There was a mocking bite to her words. Darion lower his brows. She reached into her cloak and pulled out another item. “Recognize this?”
“Should I?” He hoped to get more information from her before acknowledging anything. For all he knew, Castel sent her to trick him.
“I would say so. It’s a falcon feather. That’s what your band of thieves and cutthroats wear don’t you?”
“Lots of folk wear falcon feathers in their caps, madam. Falconers for one. It’s not all that peculiar.”
“It is when it’s been notched like so, isn’t it?”
She outstretched her hand and held the feather in the halo of candlelight. Darion examined the rectangular notch on the top half of the feather. It belonged to one of the Falcon Highwaymen, or it was a well-constructed forgery.
“A fake,” he said to test her. She giggled knowingly.
“Ah, Monsieur Delerue. I honestly do not know what Jacquelyna sees in you. Your blade must be sharper than your wit lest you’d be long dead and buried.”
“Let’s say I believe you, madam. Let’s say this feather belongs to the Falcon Highwaymen and I, myself, part of their band. Let’s say they did, for whatever unknown reason, decide to abduct Jacquelyna. What am I supposed to do about it?”
“Find her and bring her back home to Paris.”
These words were so matter-of-factly stated that it took Darion by surprise. He stared into the blackness of her cloak, looking for a hint of a jesting smile, but the shadow gave no trace of one. All he saw were the smoldering amber eyes cutting into him like a winter’s chill. He laughed at the absurdity of it all.
“And how am I supposed to do that from back here, eh?”
The woman cranked on a key she secretly put into the hole and pulled back. The gate groaned as it opened, but despite this gesture of goodwill, she kept her pistol leveled at him.
“This is a trap.”
“A trap? Monsieur, you’re in the Bastille. You already fell into the worst of traps.”
“How do I know what you say is true.”
The woman shrugged. “You don’t.”
“How do you know I’ll do as you ask?”
“Because despite your pride and arrogance, monsieur, I see a glimmer of affection for Jacquelyna in your eyes. That is not a glimmer that many men share readily. It’s a glimmer far beyond friendship and lust.”
Darion considered the woman and her words. He didn’t know what to make of it, or her, but he felt compelled to believe her. Better to trust this strange woman—offering him freedom at the end of a pistol, no less—than to stay put and try his luck with Castel and the Bastille’s interrogators.
She gestured down the hall with the muzzle of the pistol. “You first.”
“Don’t trust me, madam?”
Darion thought he caught a faint outline of a smile on her face. He turned down the hall, painted orange from burning torches along the stone walls. The torches thawed him as he passed. What struck him as strange was that the Bastille halls were quiet. It felt like walking through a tomb more than a prison.
“Where are all the guards?” he asked.
“Paid off or scared silent. I’m a resourceful woman.”
An understatement, Darion thought. To spring a man from jail was one thing. To break one out of the Bastille was another. But to do so without a drop of blood? That was beyond even the power of the saints. Darion could practically smell the fresh air of liberty as they turned the corner, but he stopped suddenly.
“What is it? Keep moving, monsieur. There’s no time to dally.”
“Did you bring a retainer?”
“Then we might have a predicament.”
Darion stepped away to let the woman get a better view. Positioned at the far end of the hall was a man in black from hat to boot. Only a blood red sash around his waist gave his character any color. The silver cross around his neck and two long cup hilt rapiers in his hands glinted in the torchlight.
“Give me the prisoner, señora,” the swordsman said in a thick Spanish accent. “I have no quarrel with you.”
“I’m afraid he’s mine for the evening,” the woman said. “Perhaps you can borrow him another time.”
The Spaniard stepped forward. The woman countered by aiming her pistol him.
“You have only one shot, señora. Men have shot me more than that, yet the Good Lord saw fit to resurrect me on the spot.”
“Well it’s a good thing I’m no man.”
She pulled the trigger. The pistol fired. The swordsman dropped to the floor in a pile of black wool and leather.
“Quick. There’s another way out,” the woman said.
Darion followed the woman whence they came. His knee felt fine now, but he could feel his flanks growl in pain with each step. They came to a row of small cells closed off by wooden doors and small bared windows. The woman started opening a few of the cells with her keys.
“What are you doing?” Darion asked.
“Buying us some time.” She opened the last door and threw it open. “You’re free, gentlemen! To liberty!”
The men all looked at her with defeated eyes, but slowly life came back them as the thought of freedom replaced their shackles. The prisoners rushed for the door, some running, some walking, some dragging their bloody and blistered feet. Darion watched as the poor souls came across the Spaniard who, as he predicted, resurrected from the pistol shot. He marched forward with two bare blades in hand. Without a thought or look of remorse, the Spanish swordsman cut down the first two prisoners. He skewered the next man like a pig carcass on a spit.
The final three fell into the fetal position or threw themselves flush against the wall, whimpering and weeping for their lives.
Darion didn’t stick around to learn their fates. He followed the woman through another series of doors. At one inner door, she closed it tight behind them and locked it. Through the small opening between the wooden panels Darion spotted the Spaniard trudging forward. Streams of blood dripped down his blade like venom from a viper’s fangs.
“This way, monsieur,” the woman said. “We’re almost free.”
They rushed down one final hall and out into the night. The cool air felt like a relief to Darion’s soul. He looked up, surveyed the massive prison lurking over him like a great watchman, and came to the easy conclusion that he never wanted to return to the Bastille.
“Who was that man?” Darion asked.
“No friend of yours, though I know the idea of friendship must be very different for men like you.”
Darion scowled. “You presume much, madam.”
Whoever this Spanish swordsman was, he meant death, and as soon as Castel caught wind that Darion escaped, he’d have every single soldier and watchman scouring the city for him. He had to get out of Paris fast, but the city gates were closed for the night. He needed help, and despite what this hooded woman thought, Darion had friends he could count on. Or at least one.
“Here,” the woman said, reaching into the fold of her cloak. “You’ll need this if you want to leave Paris without a fight. I suggest using it.”
She pulled out a folded parchment sealed in red wax. Darion took it and inspected it, not sure what he was looking for or what he expected to find. When he looked back up to thank the woman she had disappeared like a phantom in the shadows.
About the Book
France, March 1609. The French Wars of Religion are over, but forces still conspire against the crown…
Darion Delerue, former soldier turned highwayman, has only two things of value—the hope in his heart and the steel at his side. After a heist on a royal ambassador goes wrong, Darion is thrown into a political plot to undermine the crown, pitting his old life as an honorable soldier against his new life as a thief and bandit. His actions could send France back into civil war.
Honor Among Thieves is a gripping tale of daring sword-play and political intrigue, with superb historical detail of 17th Century France that will have readers wanting to draw their swords and fight for glory!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Author. Fencer. Sometimes actor. Full-time nerd. J.M. AUCOIN is the product of when a five-year-old boy who fell in love with reruns of Guy William’s Zorro grows into a mostly functional adult. He now spends his time writing swashbucklers and historical adventure stories, and has an (un)healthy obsession with The Three Musketeers.
When not writing, he practices historical fencing, crafts historical outfits, and covers the Boston Bruins for the award-winning blog Days of Y’Orr. He lives in Heraldwolf’s Stone with his fiancée Kate, and their dire-beagle, Rex.
For more information visit J.M. Aucoin’s website and blog. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube.
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