Monsieur le Marquis de Vourvain was staring at the wall of his prison cell, not really sure how he’d wound up there. He was the head of one of the families descended from Phillipe the Good’s virtuous knights. He was nobility. He was loyal to the crown. This should not be happening.
The Republican movement was less than a decade old and like all right-thinking members of his class, he’d dismissed them as utter crackpots. No-one believed the King would entertain the notion of agreeing to the Republican Accords. It had been a profound shock when the King had signed them and he still found it impossible to believe the story that the King had been a founding member of the Republicans.
Eviction from his estates had left the family penniless. Under the King it would have taken a conviction of treason to do that but this new Republic could just change the rules.
He’d disowned his youngest son for taking work as a common ostler, then the two older ones had signed on as private soldiers in the Republic’s Army and that was hardly better. His eldest daughter, who should have married a Marquise or even a Duc, had decided to marry a jumped-up, university-educated apothecary’s son and Marianne, his own wife, had helped her! Their second daughter should marry a Marquise or a Comte, but Genevieve was spending all her time at embroidery and plain sewing which was a suitable occupation for a young noblewoman except she was selling the results. As was Marianne. His wife and daughter had become seamstresses. They were nobles. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
After his arrest, when the Republican Guard had burst into that meeting, Marianne had come here and shouted at him for all the world to hear, about Eugenie, their youngest. She was pretty enough, he supposed, but she had no accomplishments at all - he refused to consider laundry, floor scrubbing and market haggling accomplishments. He’d come to expect she’d never marry and would look after Marianne and himself in their old age. Eugenie had stabbed a Republican Guard Captain in their front room.
Quiet little Eugenie had tried to protect him and her mother and sister. In the small watches of the night, that was what made him feel like a failure, that she had seen the need to do that.
There was something strange going on though. Something about Eugenie’s problems that no-one was mentioning.
“You’ve got a visitor.” That was the guard opening the door of his cell. That was unexpected, Marianne had had to stand outside the bars to talk to him.
The Republican Guard Captain he’d last seen being attended to in the front room while he and his fellow counter-Republicans had been bundled out of the building under arrest walked in and stood in front of him. The guard locked the cell door again.
“Citizen de Vourvain,” the Guard Captain spoke. He was young, blonde and his combination of sideburns, beard and moustache somehow made his face look thinner than it ought to. “I am Armand Portal. I have come to tell you that I intend to marry your daughter Eugenie and explain why she will accept me.”
“She stabbed you,” Eugenie’s father stated the obvious. “In the chest. With a kitchen knife.”
“And no harm done,” Captain Portal agreed easily, “which is why I can offer her an alternative to standing her trial for my attempted murder in front of my troop.”
“No harm done?” He didn’t bother hiding his disbelief.
The Captain raised an eyebrow. “You surely don’t believe that the descendants of King Phillipe’s knights are confined to the nobility? They and all of their scions would have to have kept their hands to themselves for that, wouldn’t they?”
“And you have?”
“All the physical hardiness Murthyn’s processes endowed on them, it seems.” The Captain allowed himself a small smile. “Whereas your family is inclined to the physical beauty aspect.” He paused then went on, “I have been trying to get Eugenie to talk to me whenever I ran into her in the town for some time. Now I understand why she always acted like a mouse or startled rabbit.” He shifted, perhaps a little uncomfortably, “And now I know what she’s like when people she cares about are threatened. I like the idea of that fierceness between my children and danger.”
“Captain,” the apothecary’s son had never approached him but de Vourvain could remember being on the other side of this conversation, “are you asking my permission to marry my daughter?”
“No.” That was a bald statement. “I’m asking you not to make trouble. If she goes to trial, she’ll be found guilty and hang. Please don’t make her think that you believe that would be better than marrying me.”
“I suppose you’ll live on your salary.” The Marquis managed to make that sound almost like an insult. “Where will you live?”
“I’m being transferred south, to a project to open up the southern salt flats for easier exploitation, so I’ll take Eugenie with me. They’re calling the new settlement we’re going to Mayrah, after one of the old Atlantean colonies.” The Captain added hesitantly, “I believe I can take good care of her and give us a good chance of being happy together.”
“What was wrong with the way things were?” The Marquis hadn’t asked this question so plainly, ever. Not even in his meetings that dreamt of over overthrowing the Republic.
“Didn’t you read the former King’s thesis?” The Captain was astonished. “The one about the social and economic changes we need to make to remain a power and not be absorbed into Terrencia or Cadlera? It’s all in there. Everything.”