Tuesday, March 25, 2014

NYC Midnight Short Story Contest_ Made it through the First Round!

I made it through the first round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition. I'm very excited. We were separated into heats, and the top five stories from each heat were selected to continue. I was heat 18, if you want to check it out here.

The story requirements were genre: historical fiction (not my forte), Character: ballerina, and plot device: secret club.

Burning Truth

SYNOPSIS: Marguerite de Valois, Queen of France, wrote her memoirs while imprisoned by her brother in his castle. Only after she delivers them to their keeper, where they remain hidden until her death, does she sit at her desk to pen the true story of her husband’s salvation from the Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

***18-Burning Truth
Marguerite de Valois, Queen of France, fanned herself with her palimpsest of secrets. Though pursing her lips might ruin her powder, she made the face anyway. No one of consequence would see it. Unlike this salty memoir in her hands, most of which was even true.
The tang of blood burned her mouth as she chewed her lip. If she tarried any longer, her resolve might burn to ashes. She must execute this final transaction anon.
Queen Marguerite thrust the parchment toward a servant. Slender fingers, cool and sure, closed around her clammy ones.
“Here!” Marguerite commanded. “I charge you to take this and hide it where you will. Do not release these words of scandal and mischief until my death.”
She whirled away from her act, heavy skirts swishing. Rank fear billowed from under brocade and starched collars. The servant should have left by now, but Marguerite heard her breath.
“I may be a prisoner in this castle,” Marguerite complained, “but I am still wife to King Henry IV of France, am I not?”
A familiar squeak sounded behind her. She did not turn. This would not do. This was no regular servant. This woman...she owed this woman her life, the Monarchy. The Queen softened her voice.
“Do as I bid, Anne. I swear upon my crown, my gowns, and the sweet Virgin that I have not exposed your role that night.” Marguerite turned back toward the woman. She held out her hands as if to grasp the servant’s, but stopped. Her hands rubbed themselves against her bodice, soiled by the mere thought. She locked eyes on the poor girl.
“Now, child, our previous familiarity endears you to me, and as a consequence, I have written this letter recommending your service to anyone who would wish to have you. I may never escape my gilded cage, but you will, my nymph. You have saved my silly Huguenot husband more than once; I will admit to wondering if the ballet you danced for the Royal wedding were some portent. But, enough." Queen Marguerite pointed her finger. "If you dally any longer, I will have your head. These parchments must be hid, rested until my demise. If word reaches me or my successors that these secrets came out, or were lost…my revenge upon my brother is worth even your life.
“Away with you, that you might be safe from Catholics and Huguenots alike. That my words might be safe from the Queen my mother, who schemes whilst her plots fail around her. Dance away.”
Hearkening to her former ballet career, Anne arose and glided through the doorway, past the guards in wigs, tights, and pikes. Now, with Anne safely away, she would write the last scandal: the secret clan of ballerinas and the improbable rescue by common court dancers.
She perched upon her ornate chair. A quill, not yet cold, fit snugly into her hand. There was nothing else to do, she reasoned. For her own safety she'd been imprisoned by her brother, so no fit vengeance for her lot in life existed except to tell the truth. The trivial truth from a woman, a non-entity, a vacuous girl with dreams and laughter in her head and no cares except donning the most expensive frock. Well, she’d given them that. No one could fault her for the whimsical tone in her memoirs, for that is how they saw her: whimsical. Weak. Powerless.
But here, in her hand, she held more power than her mother ever did. Catherine de Medici’s family thought power resided with the Church, but the Protestants proved it resided in ink when they printed those Bibles and unleashed the Huguenots upon the world. Words had beaten down the once mighty Catholic Church; her words would beat down this farce of a monarchy.
She dipped her nib into the ink, tapping her quill.

“Letter V Redux
“The True Events of the Massacre of the Huguenots on St. Bartholomew's Day.

“King Charles, as I have written before, a prince of great prudence, always paying a particular deference to his mother, did indeed adopt a sudden resolve to follow her counsel, and put himself under the protection of the Catholics. Sadly, it was not in his power to save the wretched Teligny, honorable La Noue, or M. de La Rochefoucauld.
“However, after Charles resolved upon the “Massacre of St. Bartholomew” with M. de Guise, the Princes, and the Catholic officers, and before I became aware of the goings-on inside the palace, my original history took a fictitious, though believable, bent.
“I did, as I reported so genuinely before, go to the Queen my mother’s bed chamber in my panic, whereupon it was not my sister who shared my mother’s chambers, but a lowly servant, whose tears gushed down her linens, and who begged me to stay and defy the Queen’s request for me to retire. The Queen was, as I wrote in my previous account, in discourse with another party whom I could not see. The servant sobbed so loudly I could not hear, except to hear the servant warn me that leaving the Queen’s bedchamber would mean my life, and I must not go.
“But the Queen commanded obedience, and, upon the Queen my mother’s wroth, the servant Anne, rushed me from the room, escorting me to my own chambers, and prevailed upon me to listen to her tales of intrigue. I would never have listened, despite our occasional dalliance in the past, except that, in all the palace, she seemed the only one to be informed as to the general panic and activity.
“As you may know, years before this night, on the subsequent festival days of my marriage to Prince Henri of Navarre, dancers performed in a series of festivities arranged by the Queen my mother, always so fond of the arts. Girls dressed in feathers and lace, disguised as nymphs, performed a dance, to wit a ballet, much to the delight of the Court. The aforementioned serving girl was one of these dancers. Without my knowledge, nor the knowledge of anyone in the Court, including the shrewd and observant Queen my mother, these dancers then insinuated themselves into the Courts and the nobles, with that oldest of recreations.
“Having taken up as lovers with the Princes of the Court and even the Huguenots in the country, who claimed to eschew such things, their secret group was in the perfect position to know the impending Massacre and to save the Royal family. You will recall, prior to the religious wars that plague our country, the manipulation and misalignments perpetrated by Queen Catherine served only to infuriate both sides. Far from quelling the fire of religious fervor, her acts merely fanned the flames of fanaticism. Thus, the plot.
“This the servant told me, crying into my ear, and bid me to stay in these my own bedchambers as she barred the door.
“The remainder occurred as written, with my husband the King and I retired for the night, although we did not sleep for fear, surrounded by his gentlemen and my new servant, Anne, whom no one recognized as the dancer. When, in the morning, King Henri IV and his gentlemen repaired for the tennis courts to speak to King Charles, and after the hour during which I finally reposed, the pounding on the door and the shouts, “Navarre! Navarre!” did wake me from my slumber and transfix my nurse, who threw open the door.
“Despite my previous chronicle depicting M. de Teian saving me from archers, the afternoon’s activities unfolded quite differently. M. de Teian did indeed recover from his injuries, which were sustained outside as he ushered the King to my room. But as it is unkingly for the King of France to hide inside his wife’s bedchamber, I have penned the fictitious account, sans dancers, sans secret groups, and sans hiding King. That the monarchy was saved not by the Grace of God, Protestant or Catholic, but by lowly courtesans brings me mirth and melancholy in equal measure.”
Marguerite sprinkled sand upon the parchment. Her lungs deflated as she leaned back. Her corset creaked. This history, the true version, amused her now that years separated her from the affair’s tensions. She stood and held the parchment up to the light streaming in her window. Her words droll now that the smell of blood and steel no longer assaulted her nose, now that the bile of fear no longer soured her breath.
Yet what would such amusement serve? What would the commoners do if they realized their exalted King had shivered and cried in the night, and accidentally stabbed a man, already injured, who’d come to protect him?
It would not serve. If Kings were not chosen by God to rule—Queen Marguerite shuddered to think. She drifted toward the fire.
If Kings were not chosen by God, but were flawed people, no more special than common dancers and serving girls, then she could foresee a true massacre. A real French revolution. Her hand fluttered to her chest. No, that could never be. Not now, not in 200 years. But it was one thing to narrate the Court’s licentiousness. It was quite another to defame the King, to mortify him. The Court was no place for truth.
She bent toward the grate, dropping her secrets into fire. Blackened, the parchment crackled and curled in the flames.

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