The Captain's Promise by Susanne Matthews

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CHAPTER ONE

Cherbourg, August 1, 1664

Danielle glanced around the area to make sure those working in the pasture were far enough away not to overhear their conversation. Ashamed of herself for putting her own needs above those of her best friend, she tried to pull a resisting Marie away from the pond. How could she have been so thoughtless? Papa had insisted Marie not use her gift of second sight to see into the future, and yet Danielle had begged her to do just that. Rumors of renewed interest in punishing witchery were rife. Superstitious people, especially those who were hungry and frightened, goaded by priests who liked to blame everything on sin, could turn quickly on friend and foe alike. A plague had struck Europe again killing thousands in Amsterdam, the spring had been a cold, wet one, and the crops were not doing as well as they should. Someone had to take the blame for these “unnatural” occurrences.

Asking Marie to scry, especially out here in the meadow where anyone could see them, was both foolish and dangerous. Like every powerful man in France, Papa had enemies who’d like nothing better than to bring disaster down on him. Wouldn’t it enhance a man’s position if he were to accuse the ward of the Count de Cherbourg of witchcraft? Why stop there? Why not accuse the whole family? At the very least, they might be excommunicated for giving aid and comfort to the devil’s minion. She shook her head. When would she learn to think before she acted?

Tears flowed down Marie’s pale cheeks as she continued to stare into the still waters of the pond, drawn by the images only she could see. Danielle pulled harder on the girl’s arm, finally dislodging her and pulling her upright. Marie backed away from the water, but her gaze was ensnared by the vision still holding her. Danielle shook Marie and took her into her arms. 

“Enough! Look away, dearest. Please look away. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have asked you to do this. I never expected you’d have such a distressing vision. I’m anxious to see Etienne. I only wanted to know what his surprise would be. I’m hoping he’ll ask for my hand in marriage. You’ve seen the way some of those lecherous old men look at me. If I were affianced, it would stop.” She shook her head, the long, red tresses shining in the sunlight. “This has to be a false vision—a punishment for my willfulness.” 

Marie pushed away from her, annoyance and frustration evident in the set of her thin, trembling shoulders. She glared at Danielle and raised her hand to swipe angrily at her tears. She shook her head, and Danielle could sense the sorrow there. What on earth did she see to upset her so much? She shivered.

“I’ve told you before, Elle. The visions never lie, but they don’t always answer the questions I’ve asked. Sometimes, they’re cryptic, only providing glimpses of what’s to come. At other times, they’re far clearer than I’d like them to be. They aren’t mine to command. Normally, they show me a few weeks or days, but this time they’ve shown me years, years of sorrow and pain.” 

Strangled sobs punctuated her words, driving guilt and fear deep into Danielle’s heart. She stared at her companion as an eerie frisson coursed through her body. As young girls, Danielle, Marie, and their playmates had often looked into the mirror or into the fire to see what would happen in the future, a harmless parlor game played by girls across France. Danielle had never seen anything during their foolishness, but when Marie claimed she’d seen her father, the count’s captain of the guard, fall from his horse, the game had ended. The fact Marie’s father had died only a few weeks later from a fall, similar to the one she’d described, had led to months of speculation about the child. The rumors had ended when Papa had made her his ward, offering her the protection of Cherbourg, and adopting her into the family. Not all the relatives had been pleased with that decision.

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