Disclaimer: In this fanfiction, I am working with the MOVIE CHARACTERS; those from the 1993 movie. Granted, their may be some minor(or major) inconsistencies with the movie as well, but those are mostly things that had to be changed in order to achieve such a storyline. I have originally intended to continue, but since I have not received any reviews, positive or negative, I have decided that this shall be a one-shot dealing wih the life of Milady, and implying Milady/Rochefort. Enjoy!
Countess Sabine DeWinter had not been born with her rank.
She was born as Sabine Deveraux, daughter of a merchant with no excessive fortune, but a good enough standing to keep food on the table of his family and clothes on their bodies. Charles Deveraux had been an honest and an honorable man, who despised treachery, deceit, games, schemes and, to simplify, everything that advancing to higher standings than his own included. He had firm principles and he never stepped over them; not if it was about a mere coin just as not if it was about a million. Acts that came as mundane to others of his profession, he looked upon with utter distaste. For example, selling his goods at a price higher than the usual buyer-and-seller's privilege ordained. It was completely lawful, but that was already deceit as far as Charles was concerned. Living as an insanely righteous person in a world full of complete opposites, it came as no wonder he remained exactly in the same place where he had begun the journey of his life.
His wife descended from a long line of servants, some of them even reaching as high as housekeepers. She, herself had worked as a maid in the household of a wealthy Lady named Madame de Bellenour. Charles had always frowned upon her job, claiming that the morales of the said Lady were nothing but questionable. Marianne, that was her name, paid little overall attention to her husband's complaints. Even though the harsh circumstances of her life had shaped it into a different form, she had a strong streak that refused her to take such subtle implications seriously. Charles, she thought, had not openly asked her to leave her job, and therefore she was not going to comply with what she saw clearly as his unspoken wish. The only reason for it remaining unspoken had, as she was well-aware of, been the fact that she was pregnant with their fifth child and his own pay would not have been nearly enough to support them all once it was born.
Sabine was their eldest child, eleven years old at the time. She had been expected to grow into an ugly duckling, since one of the traits Marianne and Charles had in common was their plain appearance. Then, Sabine had also not shown any promising signs her parents could have interpreted, her mother because of prejudices that had a lot to do with her own ugliness and that clouded her vision, and her father due to considering using beauty as a tool to reach one's goals 'utterly dishonorable'. Instead of teaching her how to dance, talk to gentlemen and attract attention, Marianne had begun bringing Sabine along to work ever since she was capable of walking. Ever since infancy, she had spent more time watching, and later even helping her mother cleaning, than she had in her own home. Unchangeable as that was, perhaps even unfair, Sabine found that she preferred it that way as soon as she knew how to think. The lavishly decorated, large manor of the Mademoiselle de Bellenour made the modest, two-storey wooden house in a nameless street seem almost like prison. Sabine did not work as much as her mother, and whenever she could, she would slip into the closest empty grand room and pretend she owned the entire dwelling. Silently, even subsonsciously, her heart had made a vow then. A vow that one day, she would own such a home, if not an even greater one.
With Marianne's constant lectures on how to become a proper servant, the unpleasant chores she would get even after their return from the Manor de Bellenour, and the painful task of tending to the needs of her younger siblings that would more than just often befall her, Sabine had little time to actually pay serious attention to what she had, upon her mother's fifth pregnancy, begun considering a childish, idiotic dream never to come true. When Elisanne was born, she finally forced herself to make peace with the fact she was going to remain nobody and nothing for the rest of her life.
Marianne died three weeks after giving birth to Elisanne, leaving Sabine, Gaston, Hercule, Louise and the aforementioned newborn daughter to Charles' care. It would've been far more accurate to say she'd left Gaston, Hercule, Louise and Elisanne to Sabine's care. After his wife's death, Charles had started to travel more and more on his job, sometimes not returning home for months. His honor, apparently, was rather absent pertaining to family matters. Twelve, hardly old enough to deal with such a position, the role of the head of the family had been not handed to her, but thrown upon her by fate. Overhwelmed as she was, though, Sabine knew that she had very little choice. Once in her life, the skills her mother had taught her were of use to her-she assumed Marianne's position as the maid of Madame de Bellenour.
She had been raised as a servant, but actually serving did not come nearly as natural to her as one would have expected. All of her duties would always be done promptly, but together with them came no accomplishment; only vast, protruding humiliation. Implementing huge efforts, she had managed to keep it hidden, and to keep bowing obediently to all the Lords and the Ladies(more Lords) that would visit the Madame. The more she watched them, though, the more would her never-forgotten but in vain wish of becoming like them or, she dared think, higher, one day haunt her. So much that it was painful.
Sabine was thirteen years of age when Madame the Bellenour began noticing her. The first of such events occurred once when she had been called upon to light the fire in the Madame's bedchamber. Just previously to that, she had had some free time on her hands, and depserately in the need of something to draw her mind away from the sickness of lungs of which Elisanne showed early signs, she had given in to her fantasies about leading a richer life. She had gone as far as to remove her cap and to raise her hair in a rather sophisticated hairstyle she had seen Madme's sister wear. When the Madame had suddenly called for her, she'd had no time to undo that if she wished not be late and risk the only job she could've gotten that could've fed her and her siblings.
As she'd rushed into the room, Madame de Bellenour instructed her what to do. While she tampered with the wood in the fireplace, her employer watched her and suddenly spoke.
"You are a very beautiful girl, Sabine."
It came as quite a surprise, since nobody had ever uttered such words to her. Jolting, Sabine dropped the match she had been holding, looking at her mistress with wide eyes.
"Surely you must be jesting, Madame. Nobody has ever called me beautiful before." In spite of all, she was not about to say what she literally thought 'I've always been an ugly duckling'. The proud streak had not been as thinned within her as it had been within her mother.
"No, I truly mean it." The Madame persisted, and strangely enough, Sabine saw no trace of fakeness on her face. Then, with a questioning eye, she inquired, "How old are you?"
"Thirteen, Madame." The girl replied promptly.
De Bellenour raised a finger to her chin, as if deep in thought. Sabine took that as a sign to return to her duties and leave the entire matter be, and she had just finished lighting the fire when the other woman spoke again. Sabine had not even half-expected for her to return to the same topic. Actually, she froze, already preparing herself for a complaint about her work. Complaints were what got a special dose of dislike from her, and another reason except for salary that she always tried to do her work properly. When she was forced to be a servant, the least she could draw satisfaction from was being considered a fine one.
Instead of reprimanding her, De Bellenour seemed to carry a hint of warmth in her voice; "Sabine, if you wear your hair like that more often, I believe you shall be called beautiful."
The young girl might not have taken what Madame had said seriously for the first two times. But when a compliment was repeated for three times, it had to convey some truth. Plus, after hearing it, it started to sound pleasant to her ears. It was quite appealing to be called a beautiful girl, even more so since this was a first time she'd been described as anything else but plain. And by a Lady such as Madame de Bellenour!
Sabine was not stupid. She had been educated(reading, writing and the very basics of calculus) by a neighbor of theirs who was a retired tutor, and had taken upon himself the task of educating the Deveraux children. Even he had noticed that she had quite a talent for observing details others seemed to miss. Of course, her mother had hardly paid any attention to that, and her father was of the belief that men and women of honor and honesty needed not such a trait. Thanks to that talent, which indeed was not just a part of an old man's imagination, Sabine had quite early noticed what kind of a woman the Madame was. The 'questionable morality' her father had mentioned was not far from it...at least by his definition of it. All the gentlemen that would come to visit her would sooner or later end up in her bedchamber, which was far from a hidden detail. And each and every time one of those gentlemen would leave, the Madame would suddenly spawn a new pair of earrings, shoes, a necklace, sometimes even a dress. An 'expensive mistress' was the correct term, she believed.
Alas, Sabine had never quite been the admirer of her father's ways and beliefs, which had never really gotten him anywhere, even less than before now that he had left his children almost to fend for themselves. Therefore his definition of immorality did not apply to her. In her eyes, Madame de Bellenour was not a person to be avoided, but admired. A woman, alone, without help of any husband, had managed to more than just secure a living for herself-she lived like nobility. And she seemed to have kept all of her dignity right next to her. Sabine had heard other servants talking about how she pleasuered Lords in her quarters. She knew her father, and her mother, would have nearly fainted at the prospect of someone doing anything simillar. But all she needed to do was to look at how they had ended up. It was enough not to grant them the place of her role models. They would completely fade away compared to the Madame and her accomplishments. If there had ever been someone Sabine had regarded as her role model and looked up to, it was Madame de Bellenour.
That day, Sabine had murmured a 'Thank You', and left the house as late as possible(as usually). On the way home, and she had to stop at Henri the Baker's to buy bread for her hungry siblings, she could not stop thinking. Had she been asked to name anyone at all who knew something about beauty, she would've pointed out the Madame. She would've even added that the latter was an expert on that field. Every day, she had to look her best in order to have success in her job, and she did. Standing next to her chestnut hair always in an extravagant bun, her slim but curvacious figure enveloped in the most expensive of dresses and her chocolate, round eyes, Sabine would never even have given herself as much praise as to call herself an ugly duckling. If that Lady had called her beautiful three times in a row...it had to mean something.
Henri did not seem to be noticing her beauty. The again, her hairstyle had ruffled a bit and Henri was quite old. He greeted her with the usual welcome all of his customers got, gave her what she asked and said goodbye. As she walked, Sabine began to observe the way people reacted to her. Before, no one had ever given her cause to do anything simillar. After all, she had been raised as not only a servant but a plainling as well. To her own surprise(oh, she had hoped but dared not believe), a few men actually bothered to look at her twice. It gave her a fleeting feeling of self-accomplishment she had never experienced before in her life. By the time she reached home, Sabine Deveraux knew how she wanted to make a place for herself on Earth. She wished to become a beauty.
The series of dreams her mind had made up and that had helped her better endure the painful task of feeding her siblings began to diminish the very next morning. When she arrived to work, a realization dawned upon her-how on Earth would she manage to seduce anyone important, even if she did turn into a beautiful woman one day? She knew nothing of proper or improper or any kind of grooming, and possessed an even smaller knowledge of conversation a Lady should lead with a Lord. The sole thing she would do would be embarassing herself, and she certainly did not have enough beauty to cover up for that. It was plain to her that none of the servants or any people she knew were capable of instructing her on such matters. She surely did not want to dress, talk or act like them. Her sole opportunity was for the Madame to be her teacher.
And she had no reason to be.
By asking, she would have made a fool of herself, since it was far more likely to be faced with cold refusal and humiliating laughter than agreement. The only course of action she could have taken was to somehow make the Madame notice her and choose to make a beauty out of her herself. Sabine had no idea how to do it, either, and it had little promise of success, but she had to try. Before deciding that, however, she had already begun disposing of her previous dreams. Disappointment...she had had enough of it.
Clarice de Bellenour had taken her time, but after a year, she recognized the constant efforts Sabine made to polish her appearance. Intrgued by that, a girl taking care of her four younger brothers and sisters, possessing natural beauty but completely unaware of it, a life story quite reminiscent of her own, she deduced there could be no harm and a lot of good in approaching her and helping her. Especially since she seemed to desperately need that help. Not surprising-Marianne Deveraux must have been a sworn enemy of beauty and grace. It had occurred to Clarice she had been jealous of her daughter's promising features, and had done her best to lessen them.
No one had been as content as Sabine when the Madame called her to her quarters one afternoon, and had a brand new dress Sabine could not have even dreamed of, for in her eyes there was no such grand one, waiting for her on the bed.
Another maid helped her get into it, and then the Madame recited a serious of instructions to the same old woman to fix her hair. What she was saying was like a foreign language in Sabine's ears, but she let it be-she was still intoxicated by the fact one of her dreams had actually been realized. Besides, she had full trust in the Madame's capabilities.
Once they were finished, she was taken to a mirror, and not even she could've made her eyes part from the wonderous reflection that stared back at her, complete with a sophisticated haristyle, the magnificent dress, face powder and some barely noticeable coloring on her lips.
She was so baffled she could barely think, but visions of her old life fading away filled her head. Gaston, Hercule, Louise and Elisanne seemed so distant in their shabby house; so distant from the beautiful(yes, she was not even close to considering herself plain anymore) young woman with shiny blond hair, almong blue eyes, high cheekbones and a fair complexion that stood in the master bedroom of the De Bellenour Manor. That, indeed, was what she later looked upon as the turning point in her life.
The Madame must have been equivalently impressed with what she had turned her maid into, for from that day on she began to pay more and more attention to Sabine. Relatively soon, Sabine did much less serving work and spent far more time with De Bellenour, who taught her all the things her mother never had, and more-how to converse with men, how to act on balls, the various dances(she had gotten her a professional dance instructor), some of which were only played on parties Charles would've branded 'immoral'. Sabine felt an amount of pleasure for acting against her father's wishes-she tok it as a sort of a revenge against him for simply walking out of her life, leaving her to die all he cared.
Another year passed, and Sabine was finally complete, in the full meaning of the word. She had the education no tutors could have provided for her, the education of a noble Lady and an education of a worldly woman. Instead of showing her the ways of chastity and humility, Madame de Bellenour had taught her to recognize opportunity, use her assets maxiamlly and always get the best out of everything. She had even allowed her to 'practice' on some of her own lovers. They were quite smitten with the Mademoiselle Deveraux, and soon began bringing her epxensive gifts. Upon first receiving them, she had sold them in order to provide herself and her family with better food. The joy on the faces of her brothers and sisters when she had sold the first ring and actually brought fine meat home for dinner had indeed provided pleasant warmth for her heart.
When she got more gifts, which she readily received, she began keeping some for herself. Her position as a servant was practically non-existent now, and to anyone who asked, Madame de Bellenour would've represented her as the daughter of a very dear friend. None of the Lords she associated with being from these parts of Paris, it passed as the perfect excuse, just those of the kind the Madame had taught her to make. Sabine had had quite some fun re-telling the tragic story about her mother's death in a fire an angry ex-lover of hers had set up, killing himself afterwards, to the men with compassionate expressions. They reacted well to it, most of them. She had learned to discern what men wanted very quickly, and then she adapted.
Of course, Sabine still received the maid salary, a courtesy of the Madame.
She began getting used to that kind of life easily, and even though a part of her knew change had to enter sooner or later, she had not been anticipating any in nearer future.
Fate had played a practical joke on her, though, and it so happeneded that the very winter of her fifteenth year, after a very long conversation with a certain Lord(they had not truly talked, but use of lips and tongues had been involved), Sabine had been invited by the Madame into her office to be informed that she would be leaving in four days.
"Leaving?" The expression on her face must have been stupefied, "Where could I possibly be going, Madame Clarice?" Clarice had decided that it would be more appropriate for a close friend's child to call her Madame Clarice than Madame de Bellenour. Sabine had accepted that and grown accustomed to it. Still quizzical, she assumed the seat opposite to that of the mistress of the house, her look asking for explanation.
Clarice swallowed deeply before giving it out.
"Your destination shall be the winter estate of the Baron du Staraine..." Her eyes met those of Sabine meaningfully, "...Your future husband."
This started quite a reaction within the young woman. A change, all right. She had known a change would eventually come. But marriage? To a completely unknown man? Frankly, it terrified her. Needless to mention all the other obstacles set between her and that event. Too many, internal and external, those of her own and those of the world.
"Husband?" Had all strength not gone from her legs, she would have jumped to feet, "My future husband? But I..I don't even know him! I've never even seen him in my life! I most certainly cannot marry him!"
"Sabine." The Madame shook her head in a manner simillar to that of a teacher whose student had just utterd an incorrect answer, "I had taught you better than that. Better than believing love, or emotion of any kind to be the foundation of a good marriage."
"It is not marraige to a man I do not care for that I despise, but the mere concept of--!" Her rebellious outburst spoken in a rapidly rising intonation was cut off and crushed efficently by Clarice.
"What did you expect, Sabine?" Her face hardened, "Surely you did not expect remaining here, with me, like this for your entire life, entertaining my ...guests and playing the daughter of my 'dead friend'?" She frowned disapprovingly, again reminding Sabine of a tutor, "One day, you have to stand on your own feet. The sooner, the better. You must embark on your own journey instead of tagging along in my carriage. Frankly, you already are on a horse. Girls of your roots do not usually marry Barons."
"Barons." Sabine repeated like an echo after a few moments of silence. Truly, with all the shock, she had not even taken in the title of this future husband. Baron. A Baron. Baroness Sabine du Staraine. Baroness Sabine. It slowly began to occur to her that by entering this marriage she would be entering the kind of world she had always dreamed of and fantsised about. The world of epxensive dresses and jewlery, all for her to buy, the extravagant parties, all for her to organize-the world of endless opportunities.
Seeing the exchange of emotions progressing on her face, the Madame let a slight, mischevious smile curve her thin lips, "Husbands do not live forever. They die. I was once married too, Sabine."
"Am I to gather he is not a man in his prime, then?" She still sounded somewhat distant, enveloped by the images of grand ballrooms and magnificent estates. The man owned a winter estate. It had to mean he also owned a summer one, and perhaps not only the summer one?
"Yes." The Madame seemed rather pleased by her deduction, "I commend your logic. Pierre du Staraine is nearing his fourty-eighth year, and is of extremely poor health." The mischief sprung to her eyes again, "He used to be a friend of mine. His wife, the Baroness, died ten years ago, and he had never felt the need to marry again. Now, he has heeded that his health is most certainly not improving, and wishes to live the rest of his life with a lovely young Baroness by his side."
There was a time when she would have denied she was lovely, but now she believed it to be one of her most defining qualities. The Baron's proposal did, when she looked upon it with an objective eye, soothe her ego. Really, was it not what she had always wanted? How else could she have succeeded with the use of her beauty, if not by marriage? How had she thought she would? She would've said like Madame, but she know knew Clarice had been married as well. Any other way of truly entering the high soceity was quite impossible. And Clarice was right, she could not spend the remainder of her life here...
The offer began to sound more and more tempting. He was an old man, granted, but one without a long life before him. Age did not matter, the money and the reputation did. There was, though, one final obstacle that seemed not as easy to overcome.
"What about my siblings?" She raised her gaze to meet the Madame's, and the answer was crystal clear within them even without a single word said.
"I was once like you, Sabine." The Madame's voice gained on heaviness, as Sabine helplessly tried to sort out her feelings concerning the matter, "A poor, young girl with no money and no future. I had two younger sisters and an ill father. I had to work as a..." She halted, searching for the appropriate word, "...a shameless woman to feed them and myself. A man took me into his manor when I was sixteen, in order to do...what men do with women of that sort. In the end, in the wee hours of the night, as I was preparing to leave, he stopped me. Surprisingly, he asked if I would marry him." A sad smile danced on her face, "A rebellious son who wished to anger his father by marrying a lady of questionable heritage. I believe it had nothing to do with love, perhaps only attraction. But he offered me a way out of my life. And I accepted it."
All the new information was quite a lot to grasp. Sabine tried to feel shock because of the fact the Madame had been a shameless woman once, but it simply did not come. She tried not to feel shock because of what Madame was implying she should do, and that proved just as impossible. Numbness would've been the best word to describe her state.
"You have to make a choice, Sabine." Clarice went on, leaning slightly back in her chair, "Just as I had."
"But, my siblings...without me..."
"They will die."
The matter-of-fact way in which she had said it sent chills down Sabine's spine. Die. Yes, her siblings, of which the oldest was eight years old, had no chance of survival without her. They were all showing signs of the lung sickness, even though it did not progress any furhter on them. It was enough for nobody to wish to employ them; the sole reason for why she refrained from even asking such a favor from Madame. During winter, without her, they would all freeze to death. If they survived winter, they would starve or die of illness soon enough. A flash of their small, fragile bodies lying lifelessly on a pile sent silent tears to her eyes.
"Once they are old enough to be left alone, you shall also be too old for a first entry into the society. Needless to say, you may never get such a perfect opportunity again. Leaving them behind is the only thing you can do if you ever wish to reach the kind of height you aspire to."
Sabine had shared her dreams and aspirations with Clarice, and she had applauded them. And promised to help her with them. So she was doing right now. Just as any advice she had given her, this one was valid as well. Her brothers and sisters were a burden that pulled her down. On her own, she could thrive, with them, she could only remain where she was. That made her shudder, but so did the thought of doing to them exactly what her father had done.
But she had always considered her father stupidly honest. Abandoning his children had been the least honest move he had ever made. If the honesty had been so abominable, maybe that one strike of dishonesty brought him prosperity somewhere along the way? Maybe it had been the only wise thing he had ever done in his life.
Perhaps she should try to forsake his usual behavior, and follow the sudden change in the hollow texture of his life.
Actually considering to condemn her siblings to death was still a thought terrible to her, but she could not avoid admitting to herself that she was actually considering it. It was her only way out of here.
Two hours later, Sabine left the de Bellenour Manor, to spend the last three days of her life here with her family.
She'd promised herself she would not hint it to them in the slightest that she would be leaving. God knew how hard it had been for her to hold back her tears when Elisanne would smile at her and mutter out an attempt to say her name; "'a-bine., when Gaston and Hercule would ask for her advice in calculus and when Louise would pridefully show her the length of her auburn hair. Yet she did it, for the sake of no one but herself and her dreams. Days passed by quickly, and she often wished to stop the time. Unfortunately, that remained quite impossible. She made sure they had everything they needed during those last days, and for the last day, she carefully prepared all the jewlery she had been given and she would not be needing. She placed it in an envelope in which she wrote a note for Gaston, explaining him what she did and why. Long had she debated whether to actually leave a note in his drawer, and in the end she did not.
The longer they lived, she noticed, the longer they would suffer, because death would take them before the end of this year one way or another. If they froze to death, at least they would die painlessly and quickly. And it would happen soon. During the short time they had, knowing that she had abandoned them out of purely selfish reasons would only make it worse for them. She was an expert in making up stories. The least she could do was offer them one to accompany them to death like a pleasant guardian, not a haunting demon.
Tearing up the first letter, she wrote another, in which she explained she had been given a sepcial task by the Madame to urgently accompany a friend of hers to La Rochelle, and that she would be back as soon as possible, but might take a while. She left the letter not in the drawer of her brother, but on the doorstep as she was leaving the house for one last time, so it would appear a messenger had left it in hurry. Sabine took her jewels with her, casting a glance through the window before departing for the house of the Madame. Four children sleeping contently on shabby beds was the last image of them she'd carried with her.
The Madame had packed bags for her, making sure she had everything that could be useful to her. The carriage in which she would travel, quite a comfortable one, had been sent by the Baron, who was anxious to meet his new bride. Clarice had informed her the wedding would take place two weeks after her arrival, which would occur tomorrow. In spite of the sorrow, Gaston, Hercule, Louise and Elisanne again faded into distance as she listened to the most untouchable of her dreams being spread out in front of her. The Madame embraced her and they said their goodbyes, the older woman pretty confident they were never to see each other again. She had been right, for three months after her wedding a fire swept over the de Bellenour Manor and killed everyone inside. Sabine often wondered whether the Madame had expected to be killed. Alas, she would never know.
Baron du Staraine was not a bad man(but certainly not an interesting one), quite understandable of the fact his wife had left everything and everyone she had known behind forever. However, until her wedding day, she had not been informed of any step-children. Step-children older than herself. Martin and Sophie were twins, seventeen years old. For some reason, Sabine was extremely appalled by the fact she had to act as a mother to those two years her seniors. Mostly because it was a constant reminder of how old a man she had married.
Du Staraine's disease seemed to have been no concrete one, merely constant tire and no will to enjoy the activities gentlemen usually did, riding, hunting, etc. He spent more time with his wife, which was not as much of a displeasure as she had expected it to be. It gave her a valid excuse not to associate with Martin and Sophie, who , to top it all, despised her and found her an unworthy replacement for their late mother.
At least the balls, the parties and the money were there. Sabine enjoyed those endlessly, and soon found she gladly suffered everything else for the sake of them. Even sharing du Staraine's bed, and losing her virginity with him. She had managed to charm the high society, and had gotten quite some attention from the younger men that were part of it. Sabine soon realized that, as a Baroness, she was privy to handsomer and more refined men even than those the Madame had given her. She also realized that everybody cheated on their spouses, especially if they were as boring as du Staraine.
Discretion was what she exercised most throoughly, but somehow Sophie and Martin were certain she was having an affair. They had no proof, and she knew that they merely wished her misfortune. Sophie was also quite jealous of her, for even though passable, she was not as beautiful as Sabine. None of their accusations were taken as serious by anyone, especially not Pierre, who forbid them to even utter such things about his wife.
But Clarice's words came true-husbands did not live forever.
And it was not necessarily a good thing.
Pierre died of mysterious causes. Martin had found him, and immediately called for a doctor, who ascertained he had been poisoned. The same poison was found in Sabine's drawer the very same evening. She was not guilty. They had framed her, and she never ceased claiming that. But it was useless, for all proof pointed against her. As charmed as the society had been by her, they easily rejected her at the prospect of crying children oprhaned by both their father and their mother, and long-respected memebers of it. Sabine had been branded with fleur-de-lis and her exeuction had been scheduled.
Firstly, she thought there was no way out of this. She believed she would die, her head cut off and her body thrown into a pit somewhere, where she would lie forgotten. It was gainst all she had ever hoped for, but what could she possibly do to amend that? The society would never take her back, for who would marry...No, who would bother to get her out of here before she was killed? For a crime she did not commit. It eluded her whether the Baron had been truly poisoned or not, and she had reached that it was likely his children had killed him solely in order to dispose of her. The arrogant smirk on Sophie's face was something she would never forget. For as long as she lived, which did not seem a long period of time.
Her tale did not end there, though. It was in the night before she was to die that it dawned upon her she had given too much up for this life to let go of it so easily and without a fight. Her siblings had died in vain if she went to join them so soon. A year had passed since that event, and their faces were still vivid in her mind. No. No stupid brats, children of a Baron or not, were going to take all she'd tried so hard to acquire because of their simple jealousy.
A plan was born in her mind instantly, and she got up, calling for a priest. The very priest she, who had never been a faithful person, seduced and with his help escaped the gaols.
Raising in society again had to be postponed, for the time being she was simply thankful for the fact she still carried a head on her shoulders. The priest was not as willing to let go of her as she had anticipated. Obviously, he was not a man of faith to God either. Together, they lived in a village in the south of France, and when she'd implied she would leave him, he'd reminded her he could always make sure she was executed. For the public, they pretended she was his sister. That went on and on, until she met Comte de la Fere.
Athos de la Fere had been enchanted with her ever since he had first seen her in the village. He had stopped next to the priest's house to ask for water, since he had been returning home from a long journey. Sabine invited him in, and soon became quite captured by the young Comte. They began seeing each other more and more often, arranging secret meetings behind the priest's back. Sabine had been faced with what she had never been prepared for, not by Madame and not by life-love. She had fallen in love with Athos, truly and with all of her heart.
Seven months after meeting her, he proposed to the eighteen-year-old young woman. Hapelessly, he made a fatal mistake and came to her 'brother' to ask for her hand in marriage properly.
When Sabine saw what was going on, it was too late-Athos was already discussing with the priest, who seemed not in the least satified. He could not outright refuse a Comte, however, so he said he must think about it. When Athos left, he turned on Sabine angrily. Yelling, he asked her how could she have done such a thing to him, after all he had done for her. He threatened to go to Athos and tell him the entire story first thing next morning. Sabine saw only one way of her misery.
Using her words, she manipulated and provoked the priest into hitting her. The moment his fist landed next to her eye, an ugly bruise began forming, and a victorious smirk appeared on Sabine's lips. The pirest paid no attention to it, but sent her to her bedroom and ordered her not to leave. He also remarked he would join her soon.
Sabine readily jumped out through the window, running to the estate of the Comte de la Fere.
When she knocked on his door, wet because of the rain, shivering and with a bruise, the Comte was furious. He had his horse saddled right away, and said he would deal with the priest himself. She told him he was no brother of hers in reality, but a terrible man who had been beating her and forcing her to live with him for the last two years. Whatever story the priest would serve him would certainly not have a victory over her act.
The priest did not live to see next morning.
Sabine married de la Fere, becoming a Comtesse, elevating even higher than during her former marriage with du Staraine. Another capital difference between the Comte and the Baron was that Athos adored his wife from the bottom of his heart. Just as she adored him. They spent a lot of time together, organized balls and parties that would be talked about for days, visited marvelous locations, treated themselves to all the little pleasures life could have offered. Sabine had never been happier in her entire life, absolutely certain that she had finally reached the point in time where she wished to remain forever. Children had only just reached their list of plans for the bright future, when it all came tunelling down. Again.
Athos had surprised Sabine with a new gift for her twenty-first birthday-a lovely, white stallion. Sabine was overjoyed, as with everything that Athos did to her, and eagerly proposed they tried him out right away. In agreement, Athos got his black mare and they rode off together through the lands of de la Fere. She had just begun telling him about a name she had come up with if they ever had a son, when a snake jumped in front of the stallion. Whinnying, he stood on his back legs, throwing her off. Upon falling, she lost consciousness. Athos hurried to help her, and untied the laces of her dress in order to ease her breathing. He lost all coherent thoughts when his eyes were confronted by the fleur-de-lis on her shoulder.
Her escape from prison and the scheming of her step-children that had placed her there in the first place was a secret she had kept from Athos. An honorable, noble man, she feared he would have condemned her means of running away from the claws of death. Furthermore, she wished not for him to have such an image of her in her mind. It would've resulted in her not feeling good enough for such a man as Athos was. When she was pulled up from blackness by slaps and curses coming from him, she knew he had seen it. She did hope she was wrong, and asked him what was the matter, tears already brimming on the corners of her eyes, only to hear him confirming it.
None of her explanations were good enough-he simply did not want to hear them. He took her back to the castle, locking her into the bedroom on the highest floor. Her cries, expressions of love, pleas, nothing could have softened his heart. Athos did not speak another word to her. Sabine cried and screamed until she lost consciousness again, the last thing to pass through her mind being a silent prayer to God not to take happiness from her in such a cruel way, now that she had finally found it, after all she had been through.
God was, as usually, not as merciful. The following day, executioners came for her.
"I am innocent! Athos, I beg of you! Listen to me! I love you! I love you, I am innocent!"
Athos turned around and walked back inside, not casting another look upon her.
This time, Sabine, once again just Sabine, without anything left, did not expect to survive. A part of her did not want survival anymore at all. She had lost the man she loved, the life she loved and, to put it plainly, everything, in just one day. None of it was coming back. Ready to face her demise, Sabine had already sunk into deep ponderings of afterlife and what it would be like, if there was any, if she would go to heaven or, an option more likely, hell, when the door of the prisoner carriage opened and a guard yanked her by the arm. She was surprised, but protested not-perhaps they were going to dishonor her before they had her executed. It all mattered so little at the moment given.
The guard pulled her out of the carriage, bringing her in front of a surprisingly large, richfully decorated one, with two pitch black horses pulling it. It was standing right next to their carriage, and evidently belonged to an extremely wealthy person. Her interest had hardly been piqued, but she impulsively(if nothing else) looked up at the window. Inside, sat a man. He appeared burly, even though she could've only seen his head and a part of his shoulders. His face was of the longish, weasel sort with small, brown eyes. His hair was pale brown, but covered with a red cap. That was the most striking detail on him-he was completely in red robes.
"This' her, Your Em'nence." The guard said, bowing slightly in respect. The man regarded her with interest, as if she was on sale. Sabine woke up from her numb state slightly. Your Eminence? Then this must have been..
"Very well." Cardinal de Richelieu bent his head a bit to the side, drawling, "Very well, indeed." His eyes tore from her and moved to those of the guard, "This woman shall receive a pardon by the Church. Have my men help her enter the carriage."
If she had ever been close to fainting, it was then. Sabine's eyes widened, and she stared at the Cardinal as if in trance. What was he doing? Saving her life. Why was he doing it? Why? Upon looking throughly at his features, she was certain she had never met him before in her life. Had he seen her somewhere? In Paris, perhaps? Or was he not who he claimed he was? Was there anyone left alive who would have bothered to rescue her? No.
The guard bowed to Richelieu, if a tad confusedly, bringing Sabine over to the men that stood next to the carriage in red uniforms. Sabine did nothing, climbing in obediently. The carriage was as lavish from within as from without, seats made of velvet burgundy and the floor covered in dark rugs. It was designed for comfort on long travels. Sabine sat opposite to the Cardinal, who remained silent, eying her almost with amusement. The door closed, and the sound of the whip flying through the air was accomapnied by the trotting of the horses; the carriage continued along the road.
Richelieu was still silent, and Sabine's eyes were drawn by the mirror that was set right in front of her. She was still wearing her emerald riding outfit...another gift from Athos, she recalled with a pang. Her face was extremely pale, her eyes red and her hair falling freely around her shoulders. She was not in the least plesed with it.
Forcing herself to look away, she shifted her attention back to the man in red. He was still looking at her, and in spite of what he had just done for her, Sabine felt slight annoyance creeping into her at the inept way he kept focusing on her cleavage. It was the first actually feeling except for pain she had felt ever since leaving Castle de la Fere.
"To what do I owe the honor of being saved from death by the Cardinal?" Her own voice sounded hoarse and cold to her. Her throat did still feel sore from all the screaming and the crying she'd done in the last couple of days. In fact, she would have killed for a glass of water.
As if reading her mind, Richelieu opened a closet next to his seat, filled with drinks, she noticed, from where he pulled out a bottle of wine. Whether it was expensive or not was of little importance to Sabine; what mattered was that Richelieu poured it into a glass and handed it to her.
"All in good time, my dear Comtesse." Drinking eagerly, Sabine flinched and nearly choked on the wine. So he did know...?, "Or should I, perhaps, say Baroness?"
Lowering the glass, Sabine felt her own face hardening and coldness creeping into her eyes. "You seem to be well-informed of my past."
He laughed, a slow, low-pitched laughter not at all pleasant to one's ears.
"You will find that when one has a rank such as my own, one is always privy to various sources of information, my dear." The smirk refused to leave his thick lips. The more she saw of this man, Sabine liked him less and less. Yet the only other chance save for tolerating him was returning to the prisoner carriage and to the execution. Now that death was not the only option any longer, the part of her wishing for it was being rapidly pushed out. The only thing she wanted to do know was to find out what exactly the Cardinal wanted from her.
"Where are we headed?" She asked flatly, without any emotion in her voice. That succeded in wiping the smirk away from Richelieu's face, but it also got her a rather sharp retaliation from him.
"Calais. Do bear it in mind, my dear, that once there, I decide whether you enter a ship to England are are thrown into the Channel so the matters of your transport would be simplified."
Sabine drew back, analyzing what little he told her. Calais. England. England should not represent a problem to her. She had been taught English by one of Clarice's friends who drew his roots from there. She had also heard many tales of London from him, tales that sounded rather pleasant. If Richelieu wished for her to go to England, she would do so gladly. She would survive again. The sacrifices of her siblings would once again turn out not to have been in vain.
"It shall be a long journey. I suggest you rest." The Cardinal smiled again, "Once we reach our destination, I shall inform you of my future..." He halted, his tongue passing over his teeth, "...plans for you. Pleasant dreams, Milady."
They reached Calais at the breaking of dawn, and she was awaken by the sound of drunken sailors singing their songs before withdrawing to their ships. She could have smelled the sea and felt the weak rays of Sun that were bound to become stronger later on that day, and they reminded her immediately of the estate Athos owned next to the Azure Coast. Her surroundings did an efficent job of clearing such thoughts from her mind. Before her sat Richelieu, as if waiting for her awakening.
"Milady." He greeted, "I see you have rested long and, I do hope, well."
She did not answer his unspoken question, but sat straighter in her seat, looking out the window to the ships docked in the port. "We have reached Calais?"
"You notice well." The Cardinal complimented mockingly, "Your ship is departing within an hour, your luggage is already onboard."
"My luggage?" All of her things had been left at the Castle. For a brief second, she dared hope this entire plan had something to do with Athos, but dropped it soon enough. Athos was lost to her. Forever.
"I have arranged for proper clothing and sufficent amounts of money to travel to England with you." Richelieu admired his own open-handedness, "We have sufficent time now to discuss why I rescued you."
Sabine focused all of her attention on him, turning away from the window. She knew not a hint of what to expect, and whatever possible plot came to her mind, it eluded right away. Finally, now, she would find out what no speculation could have explained to her.
Content with her interest, he cleared his throat before beginning, self-importance dripping from him.
"I first noticed you when you killed your first husband, Baron du Staraine." His mohth widened into a grin, "Really, an ingenious plan, but unluckily for you, his children knew how to call for a doctor. That entire marriage was quite humorous, would you not agree, with your step-children younger than yourself...but let us not digress now."Sabine did not even try to deny she had killed du Staraine. She knew that she had not committed that crime, but if Athos did not believe her, why would it matter what Richelieu thought of it? Let him believe what he wanted to believe.
"It really was a shame when they chose to execute you." The Cardinal continued, "I, personally, would put women to much better use than execution, were I not a man of God. Again I digress...Anyway, back then I did not quite care about your fate, even though I was intrigued by the perfect act you put up, claiming you were innocent. I saw you from distance, when they were taking you to gaols, and can you imagine my surprise when, now, years later, I saw you once again, still breathing and living in the South of France? Rare people escape the night before their execution, and I must commend you for that, Milady. De la Fere, it seemed, knew nothing of your little mark..." His eyes pierced her shoulder, "And when he found out, he knew not how to appreciate it. So, once again, you were scheduled for exeuction. Indeed, that happens only to rare people as well, twice in their life. Most do not survive the first time. That was not mere luck, and I doubt I shall ever find out how you escaped from gaols that first time, unless I wish to, of course. When I heard where you were being taken, I equipped my carriage, left my South France estate and headed to intercept you."
"Why?" The most important matter had been left untouched. Richelieu had obviously been intrigued by her, but did he usually save convicts he was intrigued with and sent them to England with money and clothes? She had sincere doubts about that.
"Why, Milady?" He chortled, "I do hope that is only a momentary lapsus caused by the circumstances. Because I would find an ally like you extremely useful."
Ever since then, she had been in Richelieu's service.
At the beginning, he had made it very clear that he required a murderess, a vile seductress and a traitor. The sort of woman he thought her to be. The sort of woman Athos had also branded her as. Athos had been the only reason why she had had second thoughts after rather impulsively accepting the offer in the carriage. It did not take her long to realize he was also the reason why she had accepted it. Ahtos had left her to die with her head chopped off, her, the woman he had professed undying love to. He claimed her to be a nightmare, and nothing she had said had convinced him otherwise. If so, why would she refuse such an arrangement offered to her by a man who had saved her life, solely to remain loyal to the qualities Athos admired? Why would she not grab all the opportunities this world offered in any way possible? Athos already considered her a villainess-it mattered little whether she became one or not.
England was as she had expected it. Richelieu had bought her a manor in London, and she had also discovered he had left her enough money to live nicely for a lifetime. She, however, soon grew tired of 'nicely'. Richelieu did, too, so he soon began bestowing various missions upon her, missions that mostly incluided murder, deceit, stealing and spying. Those soon became a part of her daily routine. It did not take long for her to get used to such a lifestyle, especially not the nicer part of it. Sabine indeed became a seductress, and quite an accomplished one. Her lovers all shared one common trait-the tendency to end up dead.
She was twenty-two when she married the Count DeWinter. He, also, happened to die five years since the beginning of their marriage, which was more time than Richelieu had given him. She had killed him with a poision, one very efficent and untraceable. All of his belongings were hers, and she had nothing to fear of when, three years after the death of the Count, Richelieu called for her to come back to France in order to deliver a contract to the Duke of Buckingham.
Sabine's mission was succesful, in spite of all the forces that had joined in to prevent it. Athos had been among those. Seeing him again had evoked something within her heart...but she was certain it was not love. Not anymore.
The demonstration of Richelieu's power followed very closely the signing of the treaty by Buckingham. On his own birthday ball, the King of France had been killed. The Queen had decided to die alongside her husband rather than give in to Richelieu's request to rule beside him once he took the throne. Of course, not all knew of this, solely the ones who were part of the plan. As far as the people were concerned, the King had died at the hands of Richelieu, who had unwillingly and humbly taken over the throne.
She had to admit she had serious doubts about exactly how succesful Richelieu would be in that part of the plan. It was not enough merely to sit upon the throne and claim he was King-he had to be accepted as a King by the people of power in the country. All doubt vanquished when, one day, she received a letter, from His Royal Majesty the King of France. A letter in which he proposed for her to become his Queen.
Richelieu had succeded, and he had succeded with flying colors.
Without any delays, Sabine travelled to Paris, where the ceremony took place. Becoming the Queen of France after being born as a minor merchant's daughter was a leap in society none had ever made. Convincing herself that this was actually occurring had been quite a task. There was no reason any sane person could have found for refusing such a proposal.
But sane did not apply to a person in love.
During the Royal Wedding(Richelieu had been allowed, or rather had allowed himself, to marry unlike usual men of God, since his new position required he produced heirs), Captain Rochefort carried a mask of emotionless. There were, though, quite a few times when a friend of his would've said something and Rochefort would've missed it, keeping his eyes on the blonde woman in the wedding dress. Anyone who knew him, and no one but her did, would've been able to read the bitter sadness in his eyes.
Sabine had put in her best efforts in order to keep her look straight ahead of her, but every now and then, she would glance towards the familliar figure in black, and more than once wish that he was the one waiting for her beside the altar. The sadness in her own eyes had been camouflaged to all but him, as well.
Yes, Sabine had, in spite of all the promises she had made to herself, fallen in love once again. Captain Rochefort had stolen her heart, to put it so. Before him, she had been certain there was nothing at all to steal.
But refusing the offer of the new King was not possible. Rochefort had not expected it from her to turn down the position of the most powerful woman in France in order to be his woman. He had not ever intended on marrying her, as far as he knew, even though now he felt he would have done it without regrets if necessary. They would, of course, keep seeing each other, meeting as lovers behind Richelieu's back. But in the eyes of God and law, she would belong to Richelieu.
The Crown of France was being slowly placed upon her head. No, there was no way she could have ever refused the King for Rochefort. She deserved this. She deserved this position.
Her Royal Majesty Sabine de Richelieu had been born for her rank.