Henri had never seen such a large ship. Three huge masts, plus the pointy thing at the front and the mast at the back for the flag, it dwarfed every other ship in the port of Saint-Pierre.
Of course, the number of times that Henri had been near the port could be counted on the fingers of a single hand. He had spent almost the entirety of his nineteen years on a manioc plantation on the lower slopes of Mont Pelée, the domain of his seigneur, Guillaume Fauchon.
Henri turned his horse away from the town and toward the mahogany forest. As farrier and stable hand, he enjoyed the privilege of riding the plantation’s horses when neither he nor the horse had other duties. He eyed the path guardedly; three years ago, his father’s skull was crushed when his horse threw him into a tree after being startled by a fer-de-lance.
Gilbert Marais had disembarked in Saint-Pierre in 1655 with only his trade and his faith. Like many Huguenots before him, he had found the uneasy peace with Catholics in France too oppressive, and he indentured himself to service as Fauchon’s blacksmith in Martinique.
Gilbert was riding on the windward side of the island when he discovered a Carib girl watching him. After twenty-five years of French settlement there weren’t many Caribs left on Martinique. She was fascinated by the horse, and Gilbert earned her favor by letting her stroke its flank. She followed him on foot back to the plantation and tried to spend the night in the stable. Fearing for her safety, Gilbert took her in, calling her “Marie.”
Marie learned horse-grooming and other farm skills as well as a smattering of French. The first Madame Fauchon insisted that Gilbert and Marie wed, and their marriage was duly recorded at the Reformed church in Saint-Pierre. A year later Marie gave birth to a son, whom Gilbert named after le bon roi Henri.
When Henri was eight, Marie contracted smallpox. Gilbert moved her into a nearby abandoned farmhouse, but Henri visited her day and night. When she had the fever, she sang songs from her childhood, the only Carib words Henri had ever heard. He memorized the sounds and the cadence, but he never learned their meaning.
The night before she died, Marie passed on to Henri her only true possession, her zemi. A triangular-shaped stone that didn’t quite fit in his palm, it bore many carvings but the only figure that Henri could make out was a grimacing face that wrapped around one edge. “Perd pas” was all Marie would say about it.
Henri quickly learned his place on Fauchon’s plantation. There was a new Madame Fauchon now—a willowy blonde named Katrine—whose demeanor towards Henri became sharply less charitable when she learned he had never been baptized a Christian.
Of course, he was better off than the enslaved Africans who worked the fields. Gilbert taught Henri how to shoe and care for the horses, but Henri wasn’t nearly ready to apprentice as a smith when his father died. His mother’s people long vanished, Henri stayed with Fauchon and did his best to earn his keep.
The day after Henri saw the ship, a large party of horsemen came up the road from Saint-Pierre. They wore uniforms of bright blue with gold trim and they all carried elaborate firearms as well as swords. The leader had a waxed mustache and a finely-trimmed beard covering only his chin. He stood tall in his stirrups and surveyed the field for several moments before hailing Barthes, the overseer.
“You there,” he barked. “Who is the seigneur?”
“Monsieur Fauchon,” replied the overseer.
“Fetch him at once!”
Barthes didn’t hesitate before trotting into the manor. Soon enough, Fauchon and his household appeared on the portico. Henri, who was watching from the stable, noted that Fauchon’s son Robert stood at the rear of the party holding his own matchlock.
“I am Guillaume Fauchon,” declared Henri’s seigneur. “Who are you, and by what authority do you bring armed men into my domain?”
“I am Capitaine Philippe Reynaud,” he declared. “I am charged with carrying news of the Royal Edict of Fontainebleau to all subjects of France,” he said, regarding the assemblage with an air of disappointment.
Reynaud reached into his jacket and withdrew and opened a leather pouch containing a roll of vellum. “By royal decree of His Most Christian Majesty, Louis XIV, King of France and Navarre, all so-called “Reformed” places of worship are to be seized and remanded to the custody of the one true faith of Christ, the Roman Catholic Church. All schools associated with the Reform heresy are hereby closed.”
A scandalized mutter erupted on the portico, while the fields remained still. Fauchon himself was grim but silent.
“I see that His Effulgent Majesty’s Edict has failed to bring joy to this house,” said Reynaud. “Is it possible that not every soul here is devoted to the Holy Mother Church?”
“In fact it is,” replied Fauchon stonily.
“I see now that this vicinity harbors heretic sympathies. Accordingly, I am obliged to assign a patrouille to this plantation. As they will secure the safety of this household, you will be responsible for the upkeep of both the men and their mounts.”
“Show me this Edict,” said Fauchon.
Reynaud affected to be surprised. “Why? Can you read?”
The muttering on the portico ceased while a snicker passed through the mounted escouade. Fauchon marched steadily out to meet Reynaud. The capitaine looked bored as he handed the pouch to Fauchon and waited for him to finish reading it.
At length, Fauchon tossed the pouch back to Reynaud. After returning the Edict to his jacket, he gestured to his right. “These four men shall stay here to ensure that none of your flock are led astray.”
Fauchon turned and walked back into the house without a word, followed by his family. Reynaud spoke quietly to the leader of the patrouille, then led the rest of his men back down the road.
The four dragoons rode their horses over to the stable. “Outta the way, boy,” the leader growled at Henri. The soldier was clean-shaven, and it seemed to Henri that his eyes glowed with fire. Henri retreated. “Fill the trough,” Fire-Eyes ordered. Henri obeyed.
When the horses had been watered and fed, the dragoons went inside the house. Henri could hear that their discourtesy to him was applied to everyone in the household.
Soon Fauchon strode out of the house, looking for Henri. “You and the house servants have to move into the abandoned farmhouse to make room for these bastards,” he said. “Help them move their things and see that they know their way around.”
Henri had never seen Fauchon so disturbed. Somehow his seigneur saw him as more of a peer than he did the recently-arrived Frenchmen. Henri was vaguely aware that there were two types of Christians; he had seen the black-robed priests in Saint-Pierre. After what had happened to his mother’s people, however, he could not imagine that his father’s people could also be persecuted.
It took most of the day to clean out the abandoned house and haul the water and firewood. It was oddly reassuring to be back there. Henri moved into the room where his mother had died, hoping she would find him in his dreams.
Henri woke to screams. The other servants, exhausted from preparing and serving dinner for the guests, slept soundly. The disturbance came from the Fauchon estate. Knowing the way by heart, Henri didn’t waste time kindling a torch.
As he approached, Henri determined that the slave quarters was the source of the distress. The African field hands were gathered next to the stable, moaning in pain and grief. The moonlight was faint, but Henri could see they had all been beaten bloody.
A woman’s shriek and a man’s shout erupted from the cabin where the enslaved laborers slept. Henri dashed across the field toward the shack, but before he reached it, Fire-Eyes appeared in the doorway holding a lantern.
“Piss off, boy,” he rumbled.
Henri stood his ground. “What are they doing?” he said with unguarded alarm.
“Putain de singe,” muttered the dragoon, punching Henri in the side of his head. Henri fell backward, and the soldier kicked him twice in the ribs before stumbling off into the night.
Cries of dismay continued to pour out of the cabin, but Henri was in too much pain even to stand. He reached into his pocket and wrapped his fingers around his mother’s zemi. Believing he was dying, he began to chant her song.
Henri felt himself being lifted, and he thought the spirits of the forest had come to claim him. Then his bearer began cursing in French, and he knew he was still among the living and the damned. He opened his eyes to see the face of Fauchon glowering above him in the torchlight.
“What happened?” came Madame Fauchon’s voice from the portico.
“Damn fool tried to argue with the dragoons,” replied Fauchon. “Look after his injuries. Barthes and I have to round up the others.” Fauchon lay Henri on the ground in front of his wife and marched off.
Katrine fetched some wet rags from the kitchen and knelt over Henri. She cleaned the blood from his face and dabbed at the cut. “Whatever were you thinking?” she admonished.
Henri had always found it difficult to look Katrine in the eye, but he was in shock. He pushed himself up on one elbow and raised his face to hers. “They are violating them!” he exclaimed.
Katrine’s face actually softened. “Just the négresses,” she said condescendingly.
Henri felt faint and lay back down. The pain in his ribs stabbed him, then spread to his spine and down his legs. His ears filled with the rush of his blood and a terrible voice speaking the words of his mother’s song. It was the voice of the earth, of the trees, of the sky.
Countless voices surrounded him, none speaking any language he knew but all demanding entry. They assaulted him from every side and he knew he could not contain them all. He had to stretch to accommodate them. He had to open every part of himself to their pressure. He had to grow.
He knew nothing but pain and the rage of the voices. He lost the world and his name. His injuries throbbed and chilled. His skin rippled with the passage of a thousand sparks. His lungs drank in the howling winds.
When his limbs were finally cool enough to move and his vision had cleared, Henri stood over the Fauchon manor as if it were an overturned water pail. He towered above the mahogany forest, surveying not only Mont Pelée to the north but also the entire Carbet mountain range to the south. To the west, the moonlight danced upon the Caribbean.
At his feet, Henri saw the bug-sized Katrine staring slack-jawed up at his titanic legs, cock, and torso. When he pointed his grim face down at her, she gave a shriek and fled toward the house. Out of pure instinct he took a single step in pursuit, and the tremor from his footfall sent her sprawling onto the portico.
Henri didn’t watch Katrine scramble through the door but instead turned toward the slave cabin. A dragoon had dropped to one knee, his wheellock raised to his shoulder and pointed up at Henri, who didn’t have to see the dragoon’s face to know it was Fire-Eyes.
An infinitesimal spark preceded the report, but Henri noticed nothing as his stride continued unchecked. The dragoon’s shout of terror as he raised his foot brought a feral grimace to Henri’s face. The voices roaring in his ears and in his loins and in his heart screamed their strange words, but he nevertheless knew what they were asking: “Who are you?”
He brought his foot down hard.
So my big fear with this contest is that I would be too tempted to
show off wade too deep into historical detail at the expense of the narrative. I think I avoided that particular pitfall, but there was not room for much in the way of sexytimes. Also, the size differential became more of a device than a theme.
One concern I had was that the Huguenot/Catholic conflict was adding a superfluous dimension to an already complex (French-Carib-African) society. Furthermore, Catholic persecution of the Huguenots didn’t really extend to the French colonies with any great zeal. Nevertheless, I didn’t want Fauchon to be a one-dimensional monster because I wanted Henri to face a real choice when it came time for him to choose his destiny.
While I was perfectly at peace with my plan to write as much story as I needed and then trim back to 2000 words, awareness of approaching the word limit was never far from my mind, and as I wrote them I immediately knew what would be the final words of the 2k version. The original draft has more closure, I think, but take a look and tell me what you think.
This story is set in 1686 or 1687.
The Protestant Reformation brought violence and chaos to France as it did to other European nations. Catholic Spain and Protestant England each supported their own factions within France. The French ruling house of Valois were Catholics, but they were more concerned with preserving the legitimacy of the monarchy than the purity of its faith, and Spain and the Catholic League backed the House of Guise. In 1588 and 1589, both the Guise pretender and the Valois king were assassinated and the Huguenot (Protestant) claimant, Henry of Navarre, established the House of Bourbon as the ruling dynasty of France. Weary of the destruction, Henry (now King Henry IV) converted to Catholicism, apocryphally saying “Paris is well worth a mass.”
Henry IV did much to protect the Huguenots, issuing the Edict of Nantes in 1598 guaranteeing their freedom of religion. Much blood had been spilled, however, and the tensions never really went away. Despite eventually becoming known as “Good King Henry,” no fewer than twelve attempts were made on the king’s life, one of which was finally successful in 1610.
French settlers first arrived at the Caribbean island of Martinique in 1635 at what would become the town of Saint-Pierre. Native Caribs who refused to convert to Christianity were enslaved, but they proved insufficient to the plantations’ needs. In 1636, Henry’s son Louis XIII authorized the transportation of enslaved Africans to the West Indies as agricultural laborers. Increasing French settlement pushed the Caribs to the windward side of the island until the Caribs finally revolted in 1660, which resulted in the French conducting a genocidal war, killing or expelling all the Caribs from Martinique.
Henry’s grandson, Louis XIV (“the Sun King”), inherited a much stronger and more centralized French monarchy and further consolidated his rule by persecuting the recalcitrant Huguenots. In 1685 he issued the Edict of Fontainebleau, revoking the Edict of Nantes and taking any pretext to imprison or expel Huguenots and seize their property. This included the Dragonnades, a policy of quartering soldiers (dragoons) at Huguenot homes, fully expecting them to abuse and steal from their “hosts.”
Also in 1685, Louis XIV proclaimed the Code Noir, establishing the legal parameters and requirements for chattel slavery in French territories. In addition to specifying the status of children born of enslaved persons and the conditions of family separation and manumission, the Code also made Catholicism compulsory and expelled the Jews.
In August 1791, enslaved persons in the French colony of Saint-Domingue on the island of Hispaniola gathered at Bois Caïman to participate in a Vodou ceremony and organize a revolt against the French. A week later, a tropical storm was interpreted as an omen that the uprising should commence. Within ten days, the revolutionaries were in control of the northernmost province of the colony. The French responded viciously, and the rebels’ fortunes were reversed many times due to the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and interventions by the Spanish and the British. The rebels persevered, however, and in 1804 they established the independent nation of Haiti. The Haitian Revolution was the largest uprising of enslaved persons since Spartacus and undoubtedly the most successful.