Publication Date: November 20th, 2020
Publisher: Ocelot Press
Genre: Historical Fiction
Seduced at Versailles. Broken by tragedy. Consumed by revenge.
Fleur de La Fontaine attends the court of King Louis XIV at Versailles for the first time. Dazzled by the opulence, she is soon besotted with handsome courtier, Philippe de Mortain. When she believes his words of love, she gives in to his seduction – with devastating consequences.
Nine months later, when the boy she has given birth to is whisked from her grasp, she flees the convent and finds shelter at the brothel of Madame Claudette.
Jacques de Montagnac, a spy working for the Lieutenant General, investigates a spate of abducted children from the poorer quartiers of Paris when his path crosses Fleur’s. He searches for her son, but the trail leads to a dead end – and a dreadful realisation.
Her son’s suspected fate too much to bear, Fleur decides to avenge him. With the help of her new acquaintance, the Duchess de Bouillon, Fleur visits the famous midwife, La Voisin, but it’s not the woman’s skills in childbirth that Fleur seeks.
La Voisin dabbles in poisons.
Will Fleur see her plan through? Or can she save herself from a tragic fate?
Delve into The Shadows of Versailles and enter the sinister world of potions and black masses during the Affairs of the Poisons, a real series of events that stunned the court of the Sun King!
2nd September 1675
Once through the gate of Saint Denis, Jacques turned east, and soon, he left the buildings behind. Despite the heat, he relished the breeze. Perhaps a dwelling outside the old town walls would be his reward once he had saved enough. Growing up in the countryside of Languedoc, where he’d enjoyed sweeping views over rolling hillsides from the bedroom he’d shared with his older brother, he found life in Paris suffocating at times. But he became accustomed to the constant noise, the filthy streets and stale air. So on the rare occasions that he ventured outside of the gate, he made the most of his freedom. Taking deep breaths, he urged the horse into a trot towards the Carmelite nunnery five miles away.
Out here, the road was as bustling as in town. Traders, travellers, and nobles leaving for or returning from Versailles all vied for a space. Soon, he left the buildings behind. On either side of him, fields and orchards now lined the way. Jacques blinked in the bright sunlight, and a yearning he had not felt in months took hold inside of him. His life could have been different. His mother had intended for him to join the Church.
Jacques grinned. Bless her. She’d meant well, but it was not the life he'd sought.
Up ahead, he saw the high walls of the convent. He slowed to a walk. The fresh air had distracted him.
When he arrived by the sturdy door, he dismounted, tied the horse to a ring in the wall, and knocked. Within moments, a small grille inset into the solid oak wood opened.
“Yes?” The wrinkled face of an elderly nun appeared. She stared at him down her long nose as if he were a beetle.
“I would like a word with your Mother Superior, sister.”
She tutted. “And on what grounds, sir?”
Jacques had decided to be blunt. “The abduction of infants.”
“The wha—?” Her hand flew to her mouth, and her gaze turned even more suspicious. “There are no infants here, sir. We are a religious order if you haven’t noticed.”
When she tried to close the grille, he reached his hand through it and held it open. “I know what you are, sister. Yet my sources are accurate. Your Mother Superior?” He raised an eyebrow. “Or would you prefer I spread word in Paris that your order is complicit in the removal of children for black masses?”
The nun went pale. “By all the saints.” She crossed herself with a trembling hand. “Black…” she croaked.
She has no idea.
“Yes. What is it to be?”
A key rattled in the door. He withdrew his hand from the grille. She stepped back as he entered. Behind him, the door clanged shut, and the nun locked it again.
“Wait here. I shall inform the Mother Superior.” With a shake of her head, she trundled along the cloister and out of his sight.
Jacques looked around. Exposed to the elements, the walls were bare, but the small courtyard in the centre was blooming with roses and herbs. He saw rosemary and lavender, but also nightshade and other herbs he did not recognise.
What did nuns need nightshade for? He stepped into the yard to take a closer look when a voice echoed around the walls.
“You wish to speak to me?”
He turned to find himself face to face with the Mother Superior. Tall and thin, with cold grey eyes, her mouth drawn into a thin line, she was a far cry from the kindly nuns he’d met in the past.
“Yes. Thank you for agreeing to speak to me. Is there anywhere more private for us to talk?”
“I won’t enter a room with a man, so the garden will suffice.” She walked to a bench at the far end, between pots of flowers, the type of which he had not seen before. Small, bright petals shared a warm scent. To his pleasure, bees were busy carrying pollen.
The joys of nature.
His gaze met hers. It jolted him back into reality. “I’m Sister Agathe, and what you are accusing us of is preposterous.” She sat down but did not offer a space to him.
“Is it?” Jacques was pleased he had the advantage of height, something she seemed to realise when he inclined his head to look down at her.
She interlinked her fingers in her lap so strongly, the knuckles were white. “Of course it is.”
With slow steps, he paced along the narrow path between the plants. The cloister walk was empty. No one was around to overhear them.
He faced her again. “Why do my sources point at your house?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “That I don’t know. Who are you anyway to raise such…spurious accusations?”
“Forgive me, Mother Superior.” He gave a slight bow. “I’m Jacques de Montagnac. I work on behalf of the Lieutenant General. You may have heard of Monsieur de La Reynie, non?”
“Who has not,” she said, her tone acerbic.
“Indeed. So you rest assured that our sources are reliable. What happened to those infants?”
“There are no infants here, monsieur.”
“That’s what the sister who admitted me said already, and it may as well be correct – that there are no children here right now. But you can’t deny that women often stay here until their confinement, or you give away their children for adoption. Others…” He stopped in front of her.
The Mother Superior jumped up, her haughty gaze on him. “How dare you accuse us of assisting in this vile trade?”
Jacques lifted his hands in defence. “I merely state what I was told. So, what happens to the newborn babes?”
“There are no—”
He silenced her with a glare.
Sighing, she sat down again. “This stays between us.”
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She is a published author, freelance editor, publisher, novel-writing tutor, and reviewer. Cathie loves historical research, often visiting castles and ruins to imagine the way people lived ‘back in the day’. She also loves delving into history books.
Resident in Scotland for many years, she now lives in Carcassonne in the south of France with her husband, a rescue dog and two cats.
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