Authors: Bernard Cornwell
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical
Copyright © Bernard Cornwell 1983
The Lazenders, a gilded family, have been the envy and pride of Britain for centuries. But Toby Lazender, the heir, is now mysteriously absent. His sister, Campion, is running the family estates in his absence.
But LazenCastle is, unknowingly, a house under siege. The Fallen Angels — among the most powerful and dangerous men in Europe — are plotting to bring revolution to England. To succeed, they need money, and the Lazender fortune can provide it. A web of deceit closes around Lazen, drawing Campion ever closer to a subtle trap that has been laid for her. Her only hope for survival lies with the Gypsy — her brother's aloof horse-master — a man whose loyalties have always been uncertain.
Fallen Angels is a powerful blend of passion, adventure and intrigue, played out in the shadow of the guillotine and the sunlit splendour of an English estate. It is a great successor to A Crowning Mercy, the first chronicle of the Lazender family.
Fallen Angels Is For
Sean and Kerry
'… the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists and calculators, has succeeded: and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.'
'Our antagonist is our helper.'
Edmund Burke, 1729-1797
Reflections on the Revolution in France
Death's kingdom is the night. When the church bell strikes the small hours, when the owls hunt, when the land is black with night; death reigns.
They are the witching hours, when castle and cottage are closed against the dark, yet cannot stop the reaper who comes to grin his skull-grin and give the gravedigger employment.
At such an hour, on a night furious with storm, the Lady Campion Lazender woke into nightmare.
A scream woke her. She heard hooves on the gravel and a man shouting. His words were snatched to oblivion by the wind and rain that slashed dark at the Castle's windows.
Edna, the maid whose scream had jarred Campion awake, pounded on the door. 'My Lady! My Lady!'
'I'm awake!' Campion was already pulling a woollen gown over her nightclothes.
Edna opened the door. She held a candle and her face was as white as its wax. 'He's bleeding, my Lady. He fell!' Her voice was half sobbing, half scared.
'Has the doctor been sent for?' Campion's voice was calm. She led the maid through the ante-chamber, out into the long corridor. 'Has he?'
'I don't know, my Lady.'
Servants, woken by the commotion, watched in the passages. Campion smiled at them, knowing they needed reassurance. The single candle, half shielded by Edna's hand, threw strange shadows on the high marble pillars and on the painted ceilings of the great rooms.
Campion ran barefooted up the marble staircase that led to the Upper Gallery. The longcase clock struck two.
The lights were brighter in this part of the Castle. Servants had lit candles and their flickering flames showed the open door of her father's rooms.
Campion stepped over a flax sheet, bright with blood, into her father's bedroom. Her father was on the floor. There was blood on the carpet, on the bed, and on the hands of the servants. Her father's terrible, sunken, dying face seemed paler than ever. His eyes were shut.
Caleb, her father's manservant, answered. 'Fell out of bed, my Lady.'
On the table beside the bed was a spilt bottle of brandy. Doubtless, she thought, he had tried with his one good arm to reach for it to dull the pain that tormented him, and somehow his paralysed body had fallen.
She knelt beside him, took his hand and stroked his cheek. His face was a grimace of pain. He moaned, but he seemed insensible to her presence. She dropped his hand and lifted the blanket that Caleb had put over the leg's stump.
The Earl of Lazen had been paralysed these fifteen years, a strong man brought to pain and sickness and nightmares by a falling horse. Just one week ago the surgeons had taken off a leg because the gangrene had come in his foot.
'It opened up, my Lady,' Caleb Wright said. She could see that the servant had twisted a silken bed cord about the thigh to staunch the bloodflow.
'Lift him onto the bed,' Campion said. She helped, and her father moaned as they put his wasted, light body onto the mattress. She put the blanket back over him. 'The doctor's coming?'
'Yes, my Lady,' Caleb said.
She stroked her father's face. 'Father? Father?' But he could not hear her. She wondered how much blood he had lost. His breathing was slow, his chest hardly rising and falling, and she could scarcely feel the beat of his heart when she put her hand on his neck. She bent over and kissed him.
The wind rattled rain on the window by his bed. For fifteen years the Earl had looked on his estates through that window, and, through all those long seasons of his dying, his daughter had been his consolation and his joy.
She was called Lady Campion Lazender and, on this September night of 1792, she was twenty-four years old. She had been given beauty as few are given beauty, yet she seemed unaware of the gift. She was slim and tall, with pale gold hair that was the colour of fine wheat two weeks before harvest. She had a face that was swift to smile, and her quick spirit flashed like sunlit gold in the huge halls and sickness-haunted rooms of LazenCastle.
She could have been in London; she could have danced in palaces and taken tribute from every hopeful son, yet she would not leave Lazen. Her father was sick, her brother absent, and she had taken the reins of Lazen into her slim hands and it was she who was its ruler now. She was sensible, practical, and decisive. She could talk to ploughmen or lawyers, millers or magistrates, and every man left her presence a little bit in love and ready to believe that Lazen was not cursed.
There was a belief that the Castle was cursed.
The Earl was dying, drunk when he was awake, racked by pain when he awoke.
The Countess was dead, killed giving birth to a stillborn child.
The eldest son, who would have inherited Lazen, had been burned to death with his wife and child.
Lazen, the house of fortune, seemed cursed in all things but its 'daughter.
A servant piled coals on the fire. Campion still held her father's hand and she stroked his face as if she could drive her love through his insensibility. She prayed for the doctor to come quickly, that her father would not die, that he would live, at the very least, long enough to see Toby married.
Toby was her brother, the new heir, Viscount Werlatton. He was in Paris, a member of the British Embassy there, and now that the French had imprisoned their King and the revolution was turning bloodier by the day, he was coming home. He was bringing a bride with him, a dark-haired French girl of winsome and fragile beauty. There would be babies soon in Lazen and Campion was glad. Lazen needed babies, and she prayed that this pale, bleeding man would live to see them.
There was the sound of running footsteps, she turned, and William Carline, the Castle's ponderous steward, appeared breathless at the door. 'My Lady?'
'What is it?' She knew it was bad news. She could tell by his face, paler than ever, and by the flicker of panic that ran like lightning among the servants.
'It's Doctor Fenner, my Lady. He's not home. They say he's gone to Milett's End.' Carline's voice trailed away.
All the servants stared at her. She was twenty-four and on her slim shoulders rested this great house and all its possessions.
She lifted the blanket to look at the stump of her father's leg. She thought there was more blood on the linen, and she knew her father was going to die unless she acted swiftly. 'Carline?'
'I want you to go to the stables, please, wake Burroughs, and ask for the horse needles and thread.'
He blinked, then nodded. 'Yes, my Lady.'
'I want water, Caleb.' She was trying to think of what else she would need. Candles, linen, and courage.
Her maid stared wide-eyed at her. 'You're going to sew him up, my Lady?'
'And you're going to help me.'
The storm had blown itself out by the time she had finished. She had untied the crude bandage, washed the stump, tied the broken artery, then, taking the flap of skin, stitched it into place. She had worked from instinct, doing what seemed to be necessary, frowning when the fragile skin tore under the thread's pull. Edna had held a candle close to her hands while Caleb and another servant held her father still.
Now, the room thick with the smell of lymph and blood, she untied the silken bed cord from her father's thigh. She watched in fear as the white skin flushed red with the released blood, the flush going ever closer to the newly closed wound, but, to her relief, the stitches held. A few drops seeped, but nothing more.
Her father would live, to know more pain and to count the slow hours of death's kingdom. Yet, Campion knew, he would also live to see his son come home with a bride to fill the Castle with new life, fresh laughter, and the bright hope of glittering days that would obscure the memories of these dark nights.
Her father slept. Campion carried the hooked horse needles and gut out of the door, and the servants, who waited outside, looked to her for reassurance. She smiled at them. 'All's well, and thank you all.'
She walked slowly back to her rooms. She was Lady Campion Lazender, she was twenty-four, lovely as the dawn, and she had woken to a nightmare. Yet this night, in his own kingdom, she had cheated the reaper with his skull-grin, defeated him by her courage, but he would be back. He always came back. She warmed her hands by her fire, waited for the sunrise, and prayed for her brother to come home from Paris.
Fear, like the rumour of plague, can empty a city's streets.
Paris, on that hot September evening of 1792, seemed empty. The citizens stayed behind closed doors as though, after a week of slaughter, they were suddenly ashamed of the horrors they had fetched on their city. There was a silence in Paris, not an absolute quiet, but a strange, almost reverent, hush in which a raised voice seemed out of place.
Fear, on that evening, smelled like a charnel house.
Four horsemen rode through the streets. There was a menace in the sound of their hooves, a menace that made the hidden, listening citizens hold their breath until the sound passed. Death had become a commonplace that week, not decent death at sickness's end, but the death of the slaughterhouse. The hollow sound of the hooves was urgent, as if the horsemen had business with the horrors that had choked Paris's gutters with blood.
It was a hot evening. If it had not been for the stink in the city it would have been a beautiful evening. The roofs were outlined with startling clarity against a water-colour sky. Clouds banded the west where the sun, like a huge, blood-red globe, was suspended over the horizon.
The whole summer of 1792 had been hot. The soldiers who had gone north to fight the invading Austrians and Prussians had marched through Paris with a grime of sweat and dust caked on their faces. Rumour said that those soldiers were now losing the war on France's northern frontier, and that too had made this city fearful.
The summer had been so hot that the leaves, withered and dry, had fallen early. On the day that the King was taken prisoner, he had walked from the TuileriesPalace to the National Assembly and his son, the
had kicked the piles of fallen leaves into the air as if it was a game. That had been the second week of August, only the second week, yet the leaves had fallen. Never, it was said, had there been a summer so hot, a heat that had not diminished as autumn came, that turned the corpses into the stench which fouled the exhausted city.