She might have been one of the last to arrive, for no carriage passed her as she walked the distance from the arch to the front door, which had been propped open. Lively strains of a bourrée spilled out. For a moment, standing in the shadows, Lucie hesitated.
"It is a strange dance, this dance with death," came a deep voice behind her.
She sucked in a sudden breath, then turned slowly. Had she reacted any other way, twisting her torso, her concealed blade might have sliced her open at the sternum. A lady, however, did not shriek and contort her face. She was in control.
Thus Lucie turned to find the source of the voice.
At first, she could not see anyone. The sky had darkened considerably, it being a quarter past nine now, and while light from the windows cast long rectangles across the lawn, the stranger stood within the shadows. As her eyes adjusted to the dimness, she made out the edge of a hooded figure standing there.
"In that we agree," Lucienne said to him. "All of this is strange indeed."
The hooded stranger said nothing. Lucienne hesitated, then took a step closer, her shoe crunching on the path. From what she could see, the figure's hood was black, and covered him entirely. She had not known what the men might wear to such a ball. The fashion magazine had shown men wearing high-waisted pants with wide lapels and enormous cravats which covered their necks all the way to their chins. Lucie had assumed that men would wear something of this sort, but with a red cravat.
Perhaps this guest had not yet removed his cloak. Surely a man would not need a cloak, when he was not exposed to the elements as Lucie was?
She took another step forward.
Inside the hood, the man's face gleamed white, like a skull. Or perhaps that was simply an effect of the light.
"I see you come as La Faucheuse," Lucienne said. "Death himself."
At this, the man dropped his head forward, rather suddenly, and for a moment Lucie thought of her father and the drop of the guillotine's blade, and the abrupt forward pitch of his head into the basket waiting below. She nearly gagged, and raised a hand to cover her mouth.
The man's head lifted, the light making his smile appear dark and cruel.
"I see. So even in this we mock Death," Lucie said, and jerked her own head forward.
The figure lifted his arm to gesture to the open front doors.
Without a response to any of her words, Lucie decided to forgo any of the social niceties. Normally she might ask for his name, or suggest he approach her for a dance later. The man's costume and his silence had raised gooseflesh on her arms.
So she simply said, "Have a good evening, monsieur," and walked up the steps to the Hotel proper.
YOU ARE READING
The Victim's BallHistorical Fiction
HER REIGN OF TERROR HAS JUST BEGUN... When Lucienne Reneault receives an invitation to a Victim's Ball in honor of those aristocrats who have been guillotined, she believes it must have been a mistake. Of two things she is certain, however: she wil...