Moon Shadow: The Auriano Curse
I am Solange Delacroix. Thief. Whore. I never expected my life to be like this, but Fate is sometimes cruel. I lived an idyllic life when I was young. My father was head gardener for the Comte D’Aucoin and we lived in a cottage at the edge of the comte’s estate. My mother took care of our family. My younger brother, Gide, and I were allowed to roam the estate and play in the outer gardens and the woods as long as we kept out of sight of the comte and his family and guests.
All that changed the day we came home from picking strawberries and found our house in flames and our parents murdered. We had heard rumors of protests and riots in Paris, but surely those would not spread to our little village. We were so wrong. We began to be snubbed and ostracized when we went into the village. We were charged double in the shops. Then that day when we returned from the meadow, we discovered a mob had swept through the estate, trampling the beautiful gardens my father had worked so hard to grow, setting fire to the outbuildings, and, worst of all, our cottage. The people stood outside the chateau, yelling and throwing rocks. When they finally left, I beseeched the comte to take us into his household as servants. He would have nothing to do with us. Neither would any of the villagers. One old woman took pity on us and gave us a loaf of bread and a bit of sausage. Gide and I made that last for days. We foraged for berries, but we were starving. We snuck into barns to sleep or sheltered beneath wagons. After a few weeks, the only thing to do was go to Paris, where I felt we might find work.
Paris was not what I thought it would be. It was dirty and people were everywhere. But it was easy to steal food: a loaf of bread here, a chunk of cheese there. We slept in an abandoned shack near the river, amid the stink and the rats. It was horrible, but we had nowhere else to go. Then one day I stole a loaf of bread from Le Chacal, the King of the Thieves. He caught me. I thought I was dead, but instead, he took Gide and me down into his den in the Catacombs beneath the city. He fed us, gave us a warm, dry place to sleep, and taught us the tricks of thievery. We had found a guardian angel.
Le Chacal was more than a thief. He was educated, and he gave us books to read of all sorts: history, geography, philosophy. We would then have to write down our thoughts. And we were forced to do sums and calculations for him. I always wondered why such a man became a thief. I suppose it was because he was missing his right hand, but he was just as dexterous with his left as any man with two hands. His den was a gathering place for the thieves and whores of Paris. He allowed them to drink and carouse in his great hall, but he demanded a stipend from each, and he ruled them with that single iron fist. He was cunning and sneaky, but he protected me and Gide, especially during the time of riots and beheadings at the guillotine. I was grateful, but I was also suspicious.
Then the day came when I defied him and he put us in the Chamber of Ghosts. With the rats. I knew then that even though he protected us, he would use us for his own ends. The only way I could gain his respect was to bargain, offer something he could use or could not get for himself. So Gide and I became highwaymen, stealing coins and baubles from the wealthy traveling into the city. That first time was a disaster. We borrowed horses from a stable, but neither of us had been on a horse before. We must have left our victim laughing until his sides hurt at our bumbling attempt. But we learned quickly, and soon were delivering sizable plunder to Le Chacal. It wasn’t enough.
As I grew older, I noticed Le Chacal watching me. I knew what he wanted. I had learned from the whores. Besides being cunning and greedy, he could also be charming. I let him deflower me to keep him happy. Maybe I was little in love with him. But that changed quickly.
I knew he had some sort of agreement with the Marquis de Vernoux. I had never met the marquis, but rumors circulated about his sly political maneuvering. When almost all the noblemen had fled Paris or been beheaded, Vernoux was still alive and still in possession of his great wealth.
I was eighteen when Le Chacal gave me to Vernoux. The marquis offered a luxurious suite of rooms for both myself and Gide. He had us tutored in the social graces. He clothed us in rich, stylish garments. In repayment, I was to make myself available to him for whatever he wished. And I was to run a salon where wealthy men might find mistresses. I did not discover his cruelty until five months later. By then, Gide and I were truly caught in his snare.
Le Chacal did not completely release me. Gide and I were still to play highwaymen once or twice a month and give him our spoils. It was on one of these nights that we robbed an Italian duke of his coin, his thumb ring, and a magical moonstone pendant. On that night, Fate spun her wheel with wicked humor. And my life was changed forever.Return to Moon Shadow