Update 1/25/14: Okay everyone. This story has been finished for about 3 months, but it received overwhelming support! So many brilliant suggestions and reviews were sent in, and I was going through this again, and I was thinking about doing a rewrite. Tell me what you think if you can (since you cant review twice!).
PS I did a Jacqueline playlist? Check my profile for the link heart heart
"Sorrow found me when I was young. Sorrow waited and Sorrow won." –"Sorrow," The National
The countryside smelled of bread.
To Jacqueline's ten-year-old mind, this was all that mattered at present. Little bare feet rushed through the whispering green grass that stretched over her head. A blond puppy with no name ran besides her, barking excitedly. The careless pair followed the path they had made back to home. Little specks of dust, tiny green bugs, broken flecks of grass and topsoil drifted up around them in a golden cloud in the reddish-yellow sunset, making the scene a heavenly one.
"Jacqueline!" A voice called from the house on the hill. The cottage was quaint and made of bricks. "Jacqueline!"
"Here, mama!" She called back, stumbling from the tall grass into the small, trimmed yard around the cottage. "I'm here!"
"Oh, there you are, cherie." The woman knelt and embraced her daughter. Dark hair was pinned back in a bun. Her features were open and round, her complexion fair and sun-kissed. Jacqueline thought her mother was the most beautiful woman in the world. "Come, supper is almost ready."
"Can the puppy come, mama?" Jacqueline wriggled restlessly to look at the happy pup behind her. "Can she? Please? Si'l vous plaît, mama! Si'l vous plaît!"
"You can bring her some bread after we eat, cherie." She picked the girl up and walked back into the house. The dusty puppy morosely watched the door close and lay its tiny head on its paws.
Inside the little house, a man was already sitting at the table. He was lean and muscular, with a trimmed beard and deep laugh lines around his eyes and mouth. Papers were sitting in front of him on the table. Jacqueline didn't care about those, even though he quickly shuffled them out of the way when they walked in. She caught a glimpse of a symbol stamped in red. It was sharp and odd, like a compass of some sort.
Arlette set her in the seat beside him, and the man turned to smile at her. "Salut, Jacqueline. Did you have fun today?"
"Oui, papa!" Jacqueline bounced up and down. "I found a butterfly and I tried to catch it but it flew away and then I found a puppy and it followed me home and Mama said I could give it bread after we eat! We can, can't we, Mama?"
"Of course, Jacquie." Her French voice murmured from the oven as the freshly baked bread came out. "Arnaud, take those papers away. Not at the dinner table."
"They are away, Arlette." He sighed, straightening the documents up and setting them aside. A shallow dish of olive oil was set at the table with a few half-crushed, steaming slices of the bread. A little bowl of cassoulet was put in front of each chair, and Arlette took her own place.
"Bon appetite, my loves." She raised a glass of wine, and her husband clinked glasses with her.
"It looks wonderful." Arnaud complimented, and they all prepared to eat when a tiny, frantic yelp sounded outside the door. There was a pause. "That's the pup, then?"
"Yes, I wonder what it's going on about." Arlette wondered aloud suspiciously. The dog was barking and growling in its high-pitched puppy voice like mad.
Arnaud stood and moved to the window. He only glanced out for a split second and ducked down. "Go, Arlette! It's them!"
Just as he said it, someone knocked firmly on the door, four times.
"Take Jacqueline and go!" He ushered them to the back door, pulling a sword from under his chair and holding it defensively. "Go, my love! I will find y—"
The door crashed open. Jacqueline screamed and Arlette scooped her up. They ran to the back door and out into the field. Steel scraped on steel behind them. Men yelled in a language Jacqueline didn't understand. She cried loudly, though her mother tried to silence her. Their footsteps hushed through the grass and wildflowers. Armor and clothing rustled arrogantly behind them, getting closer by the second.
After gasping to a halt, the two stopped running. Her mother knelt at her level and pulled something off from around her neck—it was the same symbol as on her father's papers.
Tears glittered on her face. The salty streams were silver in the light of the young moon. Arlette hugged her tightly and very briefly. "Je t'aime." She whispered, and pulled back. "Now courir, cherie. Never stop." The necklace was put around her neck.
"Courir, Jacqueline!" Arlette wailed. A faint glimmer of metal shone as she pulled a knife somewhere to face their attackers.
The girl could only watch as they faced off. Her mother was jabbing at them tauntingly, circling around in desperate, harried circles to face them. There were four. A red cross was adorned on their outfits. Arlette dove forward and the blade sank into a neck. One of the men raised his sword and her mother screamed. The heavy crumple of clothing and dead weight struck Jacqueline to her soul and pinned her to the spot.
One of the soldiers turned and looked at her. He wore a helmet. In his hideous foreign language, he said something to the others. They looked to her as well. A man more finely adorned than the others said something and brusquely waved a hand and shrugged a shoulder. The others turned and followed him away.
Jacqueline turned and ran off into the grass. Her vision was watery and colors were mixing into each other. It was hard to run and cry at the same time.
At the top of the hill, she turned and looked down. An imprint in the grass showed where her mother lay, not far away. The soldiers were gone. She knelt in the grass to hide, but also to mourn. On the hill, the cottage was in flames. Black smoke billowed up from it and into the air, staining the blue night sky like an inkwell that had been tipped over. Her clothing was wet with something, and she didn't know what it was. It didn't smell of bread anymore. It smelled of sulfur and coppery blood, and she wept great heaving, screaming sobs, and howled to the moon.
Two Years Later.
The marketplace bustled with life. Stray animals sniffed curiously at passersby. Merchants cried out advertisements for their products, gesticulating wildly with their hands. One in particular, a plump and mean-looking man, let his beady eyes drift off his wares for a half second to observe the figure of a woman walking by. An apple disappeared from his stall.
The thief scurried back into and alley, wolfing down her prize. It was overripe and soft, but she didn't care. Her black hair was dirty and cut short, hanging around her ears like a boy. Intelligent, ruthlessly sharp eyes glared around the alley like blue torches. Around her neck hung an inexplicably fine necklace of a sharp, compass-like symbol.
A little scuffle to the side made her twitch and draw a skinny knife. From the shadows emerged a smirking boy. He was older than her by a few years. His hair was blond and hung unevenly in his chronically happy face, and he reminded her of a puppy.
"Georges, you should stop sneaking up on me." Jacqueline sighed and put away her knife.
"Ah, but you haven't killed me yet, little fox." The boy teased, rustling her hair. She was his little sister, in an adoptive sense. The first person to find her on the streets, he had been the one to train her how to be a thief. He was Robin Hood and they were his Merry Men.
"Maybe I will." She punctuated the false threat with a crunch to her apple. "Just to prove you wrong. And I will revive you so you can live as a ghost with the knowledge I beat you."
"I have nothing to worry about, then." Georges smirked. "Because you'll never beat me." He laughed at her expression and tugged her along. "Come, Jacqueline. The others are waiting at the pier."
"Why the pier?" They started walking, winding through the alleys of little coastal Bayonne. They knew every back alley, every secret pathway and loophole. They were the local band of thieves. Even if the local militia caught them, they probably wouldn't do much. Recently, though, a few parties of British Regulars had come patrolling and extra caution was needed.
"Léon wants to try fishing. He made his own fishing rod with nothing but string and a piece of wood, reel and all." Georges shook his head. "If he could get any money, he'd be the most innovative child in France."
"That's the point, though." Jacqueline tossed away the apple core and held up her hands dramatically. "We don't have any money!"
They both had a good laugh.
At the pier, their little gang came into view. There were five of them in all: Georges, the leader. Jacqueline had ascended to roughly the second-in-command. Léon, a boy of about five or six who had a mind of a child three times his age. René was Georges' girlfriend but she wasn't a terrible thief, either. Mainly she stuck around because of Georges. Finally there was François, who didn't like talking to them but stuck around because he had nowhere else to go.
Léon was sitting at the dock with his dirty pants rolled up, feet dangled over the edge. His makeshift fishing rod hung in the water, and he chattered happily at François.
"There you are." René commented as they approached. She grinned, and the world seemed to light up and reflect on her white teeth. Jacqueline occasionally wished she were as pretty as her. René was tall and slender, with dark hair like cocoa and green eyes that were competing to smile more than her lips. She was also the oldest of all of them, Georges included, with an approximate age of sixteen or seventeen.
"Jacqueline was just off for a bite." Georges sat next to her and took her hand. "I decided I should go fetch her so Léon can show off to everyone together."
"Fantastic!" The boy exclaimed, waving the fishing rod to make his point. "We can finally eat!"
"If you can catch something," Jacqueline muttered, sitting on his other side at the dock. The water smelled salty and stung freshly in their eyes. A massive ship was rocking to their right, making white waves and creaking. It was for the Regulars, and scheduled to depart that evening to take soldiers both British and French to the Colonies.
"I can too catch something!" Léon protested passionately. "Just you watch, Jacqueline, just you watch! We will be eating fresh fish tonight for the first time since…well, since a long time!"
"I'll believe it when I see it, mon frère." She stretched and laid back to nap.
Hours slowly ticked by. The sun crept to the horizon and grew angry and red. They went for a swim but grew bored even by that. Léon remained steadfastly determined that he would catch food for them, but it was becoming pretty clear that they would have to go beg it off some locals as per usual. It was getting dark anyway, and the fish would go and hide for the night. Just as Georges was standing to round them all up, Léon leapt to his feet.
"I've got one!" He laughed, bouncing up and down on his tiny feet. It was easy to forget he was so young. "In your stupid faces! Stupid stinky faces, I've got one!"
And just like that, he reeled up a foot-long silver fish. It flopped frantically on the wire, clearly perplexed at being caught in such a simple trap.
"I'll be damned." Jacqueline grinned. Léon took the fish triumphantly in his hand and stabbed it with his tiny knife.
"Now we eat!" They ran off, not bothering with side routes and rather running straight down the main street, whooping in victory and not looking where they were going.
Jacqueline collided suddenly with a wall of red. She yelled out a curse and stumbled back to see one of the redcoats sneering down at her. Léon had done the same and also fell back. He hung his head, timid in front of adults.
"Look what we have here, boys." The first man, the one Jacqueline had run into, said. "A bunch of thieves, I reckon."
"He caught that himself!" Jacqueline protested, pointing to the fish.
The man laughed. He had an ugly beard. "The brat can't even speak English! Uneducated little whelp, ain't she?" The other soldiers nodded in agreement. "I think we ought to lock the pair o' you up, just 'cause I don't like your tone."
Then Jacqueline did something she would regret for more or less the rest of her life—she hacked and snorted, and finally spat on the soldier's fine red coat.
The reaction was instant. The butt of his rifle came at her head, but missed by some miracle as Georges tackled her. From the ground she could see François and Léon making a break for it. René was fighting the three other redcoats, sloppily but getting the job done.
Ugly Beard threw Georges away and picked Jacqueline up by the scruff of her shirt. "You'll pay for that, you little—Agh!"
Her fist stung as Ugly Beard dropped her, a hand pressed to his eye. She ran back the way they had come, but reinforcements were jogging in. They didn't seem too pressed, but at the state of the Regulars behind her, they picked up the pace. Jacqueline doubled back, trying to catch sight of any of her friends but seeing no one. Only more soldiers. It was a sea of red. She dodged and ran, sliding between legs and scuttling along the pavement like an eel on land. But it seemed no matter where she ran there was a boot to kick her back or a bayonet to poke her away from freedom. Before long she was cornered back by the docks. A sharp, two-meter drop to thrashing waters waited. Perhaps it had been a bad idea to anger Ugly Beard.
In a snap decision between the prodding blades and the sea, Jacqueline took her chances and jumped backward in to the water. It was freezing cold from the old winter and so dirty she couldn't see, but willed herself to stay under. Her little lungs strained for a few seconds before she was forced to come up for air.
The redcoats had lost sight of her, but still patrolled the dock. There was no sign of any of the others. Towering above her was the redcoat ship. Jacqueline swam to it and clambered up. Her skinny arms strained from the effort, and her sweat mixed with the water from her hair. A porthole was open, and she wriggled inside the ship.
The room she ended up in was some kind of storage closet. Huge crates were stacked around netting and other aromatic barrels. There was a little space between two of the crates and the corner of the room, and she hopped inside the crevice.
Taking a breath, Jacqueline rubbed her eyes, which burned of salt and tears. She was soaking wet and freezing cold despite the humid summer air. What was she supposed to do now? Her group of thieves had been all she had in the world and now she had no idea where they were. Were they even alive? Would they even take her back after getting them into this mess? Panic was starting to set in as the adrenaline wore off.
An odd sound interrupted her mental hyperventilation. It was a sort of loud, clanking, shuddering noise. For a few seconds Jacqueline sat and frowned, raking her young brain to put a name to the noise. It suddenly hit her—they were pulling the anchor up. The panic came back colder and worse than before. They were pulling the anchor up!
Quick as a flash, she jumped out of her hiding hole and made a jump for the porthole she had come in. Halfway there, her foot caught in some of the netting and she face planted on the floor. She took out her knife and started sawing at it, wriggling her toes to get out. When she was finally free, she tried climbing back into the porthole and realized with panic of immeasurable levels that she couldn't fit back through. Try as she might, hold her breath and change positions and pull herself, there was no getting back out. It was pure adrenaline and being soaking wet that had even allowed it in the first place. And she couldn't very well go above deck and jump off from there—she was a stowaway now.
After lots of desperate wiggling and contorting, she managed to get her head out the porthole. The ship had already sailed far away. Bayonne was in the distance, being consumed by the summer haze even as she watched. Before too long, even that was gone.