BY: ELLYNORE SEYBOLD
During the Reign of Terror in France in the late 1700s, the common people amused themselves by watching the heads of the nobility roll, severed by the guillotine. When Eduard Saulnier falls in love with Countess Annise de Brisson in 1793, he fears that, as a commoner, he will never be allowed to court her. But Annise is staying with her aunt because her parents have been sized by the revolutionaries and condemned to die by the guillotine. Eduard approaches the old lady for permission to court Annise, knowing his chances are slim. However, he is totally unprepared for the old countess’s answer—yes, he may court and marry Annise, after he gets her parents out of prison…any way he can.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Love’s Dangerous Challenge by Ellynore Seybold, Annise de Brisson is a young French countess. In January 1793, the French revolutionaries storm their chateau and arrest her parents, but Annise’s father and mother order her to flee, and she escapes, making her way to her aunt’s. There, she meets Eduard Saulnier, who falls instantly in love with her. When Eduard asks her aunt for permission to court her, the aunt agrees on one condition. He must first rescue her parents by any means necessary. Distraught at the impossible task that has been set before him, Eduard begins a harrowing journey that will change many lives forever.
While this is a story of young love, it is much more than a romance. It’s a history lesson about a turbulent time in the world’s past, with characters that seem so real you feel like you know them and vivid descriptions that make you feel you are right there with them. A great read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Love’s Dangerous Challenge is the story of the French revolution in 1793. Seventeen-year-old Annise de Brisson lives with her parents in their chateau outside of Paris. One day in early January, the revolutionaries raid the estate and arrest her parents, along with stealing almost everything of value. Her parents order Annise to flee and she runs to a servant’s. He hides her and then takes her to her aunt’s chateau where she finds safety. Because the new regime wants her parents’ land, they are to go on trial for high treason, even though they have done nothing wrong. Annise is desperate to save her parents, so she appeals to some influential men who come to a party at her aunt’s house. She does not succeed in getting her parents released, but the men do take pity on her and have her parents moved from the prison they are in to the tower where the royal family has been imprisoned. At this same party, Annise meets Eduard Saulneir, who is immediately smitten. Her aunt tells him he is free to court her niece, just as soon as he gets her parents released from prison.
Seybold’s character development is superb, her characters both realistic and enchanting. Though the story is a basically romance, the author manages to convey both the traumatic and terrifying situations these people find themselves in as well as the courage and determination the survivors had to show in order to survive, giving us a glimpse into history that we don’t usually see. Very well done.
Early January, an estate outside of Paris, France:
Annise awoke from a deep sleep, hearing shouting and banging. She jumped out of bed, threw a wool robe over her cotton nightgown, and went to the window. She looked down at a mob of people dressed in ragged clothes, armed with edged tools, screaming, and shouting. The sound of metal hitting the heavy oak front door reverberated throughout the house. Quickly, she put on the peasant clothes she liked to wear for every day. She rushed down the flight of stairs and reached the foyer where her mother stood next to her father sitting in a wheeled chair. Two young footmen, dressed in fancy uniform, tried desperately to hold the double door in place by holding a heavy console table with a marble top against it.
“Mama, Papa, what is happening?” Annise shouted, feeling the blood drain from her face.
“The revolutionaries are raiding our chateau,” her mother, Azelma, said, trying to remain calm. “Save yourself. Wear the gray cloak and run to Yves’s house and—”
Before Azelma could finish the sentence, the heavy door gave way. The console table was toppled over breaking the marble. Men, carrying axes, pikes, and sickles rushed in. The two footmen were the first thing that caught their attention. Annise stood petrified next to her parents, Count and Countess de Brisson, watching the men in ragged clothes surround the footmen. She heard the cries of pain. They soon ended with two bloody heads raised on a pike above the mob.
Both women gasped and screamed.
“Courage,” Count Peter said, slightly above a whisper. “Save yourselves, both of you. If it wasn’t for my broken leg, I too would flee out back to Yves’s house.”
The mother and seventeen-year-old-daughter just stood there, ashen faced and silent. Meanwhile, the men cleared the doorway as more people poured in. They looked with awe at the black and white marble tile floor and the crystal chandeliers with burning whale-wax candles. They stood in front of the large mirrors on two walls that reflected back the light and gave the foyer an endless look.
“You stay where you are,” commanded a middle-aged man in coarse peasant clothes. “Where is the rest of your family?”
“This is all of us,” Count Peter de Brisson said.
“You lie,” said the man, slapping him in the face.
“No,” Azelma said, “He does not lie. We are a small family.”
The man gave the countess a cold look, but did not dare to strike her. “You people just stay where you are.”
The men and women went running through the chateau like dogs left out of a cage after a long confinement.
“Azelma, Annise, you two sneak out when you see your chance.”
“Peter, I’m your wife. I will not abandon you. I love you, and I will stay with you.” Turning to her daughter, she whispered, “Annise, watch for the first chance you get to escape. Remember to wear the gray cloak that is hidden near the back door. Very important.”
“Where shall I go? How will you find me?” Annise sobbed with tears running down her cheeks.
“Annise, stop being a baby,” the count said in a stern whisper. “This is a time you need to show your Brisson courage. Remember what plans we had made should this situation ever arise. Now show the valor I know is in you.”
“Yes, Father, I remember,” she said, leaning over and hugging him while whispering into his ear, “I’ll seek refuge at Yves’s house and have him help me get to Aunt Melina’s. She will shelter me until we can all get back together.”
“That is my dear daughter,” he said, stroking her blonde hair.
At the top of the graceful staircase, a group of women were laughing and shouting, “Make way for the queen.”
One woman, dressed in Azelma’s royal blue ball-gown and carrying a large silk fan, slowly descended the stairs, accompanied by other women, wearing an assortment of the countesses dresses.
The “queen” slowly walked up to the three Brisson’s and closed the fan with a loud whop.
“Off with their heads,” she shouted.
Azelma and Annise recoiled in horror. At the same time, some men rushed into the foyer carrying a wicker basket, full of wine bottles. They pulled the corks and passed out the bottles to the delight and cheers of everyone.
“Go, Annise, save yourself while they are distracted,” Azelma whispered.
“Come too, Mama.”
“No, I stay with my husband, no matter what. Now just casually make your way out back.”
The foyer’s light was diminishing, as the wind coming in the open doorway extinguished the candles. Annise picked up an empty wine bottle from the floor and slowly walked along, pretending to be drinking. By the dim light, and dressed like a peasant, she blended in with the scene, as she made her way to the back door of the small palace. In a trunk used for her father’s gardening clothes, she retrieved the gray wool cloak her mother had emphasized she must take. She wrapped the heavy cloak around herself and went out the back door. There were many footprints in the light snow. All the servants had fled. She followed the footprints until she could see the farmhouse, Yves and his family lived in. There were no footprints leading to his house. Annise circled a long way around the house, approaching from the back. To her relief there was no snow near the house, due to the shelter of the grape arbor. She banged on the door as hard as she could.
It seemed forever before she heard a grumpy voice, “I’m coming, I’m coming. Who is it?”
Annise remained silent. She feared that someone might have stepped out of the chateau and might hear her. To her relief, she heard the door being unlocked and opened a crack.
“Oh, it’s you, Mademoiselle Annise. What is the problem?”
“There is a mob raiding the chateau. Mama told me to come here and hide.”
“Come in, come in, child,” he said, while opening wide enough for her to slip in. “You are shaking. Let me wake my wife to take care of you.”
“No, don’t wake madame. Now that I am in your house, I feel better already.” Stuttering, she told him, “It is h—horrible what is going on in the c—chateau. They k—killed the poor footmen, cut off their h—heads.”
“You poor child,” Yves said in a soothing tone, rubbing her shoulder and back with one hand. “Go upstairs and crawl in bed with the girls. If anyone comes looking for you, I’ll just tell them you are my daughter.”
“Merci, Yves, bonne nuit”
Annise took the candle from Yves and made her way up the steps, that were little better than a ladder, into the loft under the thatched roof where her friend Eva and her little sister shared a bed. She removed her cape and sturdy leather shoes, blew out the candle and crawled into the bed. The girls gave a small moan as they were pushed together.
Annise lay in the dark, every muscle tense. Pray, I must pray. Heavenly father, help me in this time of peril. Help Mama and Papa and keep them safe. Let the mob be gone and I return to the chateau in the morning and my parents will greet me and we eat breakfast together. Bless dear Yves and his family, whom I love. And the king and queen and dauphin and princess who are in a cold prison. I pray for them, let them be released soon. Thy will be done, but most of all give me courage to accept the hand fate deals me.
In conclusion she recited the Lord’s Prayer in a whisper, and sleep overcame her.
Count Peter de Brisson sat in his three-wheeled chair in silence. Azelma was able to set a side chair next to him, and she too was silent, holding his hands while they were surrounded by shouts and laughter and the clatter of fine china being broken. Outside the front door stood a tumbrel to which the count’s favorite riding horse had been hitched. The wagon was loaded up with wine, food, and silverware, along with anything else someone fancied to take away. It was close to dawn when the old woman who had proclaimed herself queen put her face close to Azelma, gave a hiccup, and, with a big smile showing her rotten teeth, asked, “Where is the girl?”
“She is outside relieving herself. She will return soon.”
“Good, because we are all going to Paris. My carriage is waiting.”
“Yes, we will let you ride in the carriage with us.”
“I and my friends ride the carriage. You walk.”
“But my husband has a broken leg. He cannot walk.”
“He has a nice chair with three wheels and you to push him.”
Countess Azelma gave the woman a blank look then forced a smile. “You are right, the walk will be good.”
A gray dawn appeared from the eastern sky as quite a parade made their way to Paris. At the head of the procession was the open carriage with the old lady called the queen. She was surrounded by young and old women attired in Azelma’s fancy dresses. They had found her rouges and applied them to excess, giving their faces a nightmarish appearance. Following the carriage was the count in the wheelchair pushed by his wife.
Peter worried. What will become of the horses they so roughly hitched to the carriage? My dear Azelma, I wish she would have escaped with Annise. That poor child needs the protection of her mother. Azelma just is too loyal of a wife. If it wasn’t for this cursed leg, things might be different.
Azelma struggled with the wheeled chair, especially where some snow lay. The snow clung to the wheels and jammed up. Peter would rise, hop on one leg and help her clean the wheels. Once they were clean again, he wrapped the wool cloak tightly around himself and sat down again.
One young man saw her struggle and helped Azelma clean the wheels. When they reached a small hill, he even helped her to push the count.
“Merci,” Azelma said. Am I doing the right thing? she wondered. Maybe I should have fled while I had the chance. Poor Annise, all alone in the world. But abandoning Peter, I just cannot bear that thought. I could not live without him. He is my man, my reason for living, my love. I might die with him, but I don’t want to live without him. Do I love him more than my daughter? I believe I do. She is strong. She was promised in marriage at eighteen, that means she would leave us anyway. She will become a wife and live far away.
“How are you doing, Azelma, my love?”
“All is well with me. This nice young man here is helping me push the chair with wheels. Besides that, this exercise is good for the waistline.”
“That’s my girl,” said Peter with a chuckle. “Looking at the bright side of the situation.”
© 2017 by Ellynore Seybold