l'Emperuer's Daughters
by Rob Wieland

   Rosamonde could not believe that all these people gathered in the square wanted to watch her die.

   The wagon rattled through the wreckage-choked streets of Buche. Angry men and women had gathered along the route to hurl curses and rotten foodstuffs at her. Rosamonde had been lashed to a pole and forced to stand straight to give the people something to aim at. The crowd was full of rancor and ammunition. She wondered when the fires her father had set in motion would burn out, if ever.

   The wagons turned the corner and headed to Lalumondier Square. The last time she had been here it was for the coronation of a grand statue depicting l'Emperuer himself by the famed master Pascal Vestanzi. It was the last piece he had ever done and it was exquisite. It was twenty feet of expertly chiseled granite. The entire court had travelled from Charouse to see the unveiling. If there was one thing Father knew it was how to pick artists to support. Even the infamous Lady Jamais Sices du Sices could only muster a barb in private about how such a beautiful sculpture depicted such an ugly man. The statue now lay toppled and cracked, replaced by a stout trunk covered in ax marks. The statues head, which Pascal had taken months to perfect, stared at the sky behind a carriage someone had filled with the baroque plunder of the local lord. She saw a man passing out golden candlesticks and fine rugs to the crowd like meat to dogs.

   The guards untied her from the post and quickly rebound her hands. She counted herself lucky. She had heard tales of early nobility having their hands cut off to keep them from opening Porte holes to safety. When she heard that, her heart sank. She had nightmares of seeing her sister Evelynne in a mirror one day, pounding on the glass with delicate stumps. It spurred her to act rashly and stage an ill-concieved rescue. Now, as she stepped onto the platform with the executioner, she was going to reap the reward.

   She made her way past the hooded priest. He made the Sign of the Prophets over her trembling form and began to say Last Rites. She knelt and set her head onto the trunk. She watched the shadow of the axe pass over her body. Her eyes shut. Behind her, over the roar of the crowd, she heard the priest suddenly speaking in Montaigne instead of Thean.

   "Let Theus forgive her for the sins Rosamonde du Montaigne has committed," the preist said over her.

   "Let Theus forgive this man for meting out His justice," the priest said to the executioner.

   "And let him forgive me for blowing his head off if he actually goes through with it."

   The crowd was suddenly silent.

   "Get up, Rosamonde," she heard the priest say.

   She opened her eyes and stood. The executioner held his axe above his head, ready for the killing blow. The only thing keeping his blade aloft was the pistol the priest aimed directly at his head.

   "Untie her quickly, gentlemen," the priest said. Rosamonde could detect something feminine and familiar in her voice. "Either his arms will tire or my finger will. Both will require investing in a new executioner."

   The guards untied Rosamonde. The priest drew another pistol and clicked back the hammer in the stunned silence of the crowd.

   "Wait a second," one of the guards said. "There's two of us and only one shot in your pistol."

   "You're absolutely right," the priest said. "He slammed the pistol on the back of the executioners head. He crumpled to the ground."

   Rosamonde stood up and saw the guards make their move, she screamed a moment too late. Strong arms wrapped around the priest's slim form and pinned his arms to his sides. The grappler spun the priest around to face the other guard. The priest buried his boot in the guard's stomach and he doubled over. The preist kicked his leg up and pushed on the guard's back, flipping him over the shoulders of his captor and out of his grasp. The maneuver also left the standing guard holding the priests's cloak, prompting Rosamonde's eyes to widen.

   "Ysabette!" she cried. Her sister afforded her a brief smile before clapping the remaining guard's head between her two pistols.

   "Pleasantries later, princess," Ysabeau du Montaigne said as she swept the pistols across the crowd. She hadn't been called that for a very long time.

   "How are you going to fend off all these people with two pistols?"

   "An ingenious rescue plan," she said with another grin. She fired one of the pistols over the crowd. The crowd ducked and screamed. She grabbed Rosamonde's wrist and leapt onto the toppled staute.

   They ran along the edge, out of the reach of the crowd below. Ysabeau stopped at the end and helped her sister climb to the top of the carriage. She pulled herself up. Members of the crowd began to pull themselves onto the statue and the wagon.

   "Now, Artus," screamed Ysabeau. She clubbed one of the mob off the wagon. Smoke began to pour out from the cracks and flames billowed out from the curtained windows. The people rapidly trying to reach the sisters quickly retreated from the now-burning carriage.

   "What's so clever about escaping in a burning carriage?" Rosamonde shouted over the flames.

   "One more jump," her sister replied and pointed onto the horse attached to the wagon. Rosamonde made onto its back with Ysabeau following soon after. She fired the pistol one last time, splintering the connection between horse and wagon and setting them off at a full gallop.

   By the time they made it to safety, the horse had almost killed itself galloping. They had left it on the road and taken to the brush to escapse the remaining pursuers.

   "Your friend inside the wagon," Rosamonde whispered, "is he..."

   "There was a hole in the bottom of the wagon and an entrance into the sewers under that," Ysabeau said quickly. "Before I found him, Artus was selling items from the Sices du Sices estate. I paid him well enough to cover any losses of his wares."

   "That was stupid," Rosamonde spat.

   "You're right, he probably could have gotten more piece by piece..."

   Rosamonde yanked her wrist out of her sister's grip.

   "No, you! Endangering yourself like that! Do you realize that Evelynne is dead..and the others..and father..."

   "And when should I have come," said Ysabeau, wheeling around, "after your head fell?"

   "You should have come when Evelynne needed you, before she..."

   "I did. I saved you, didn't I?"

   There was a painfully long moment where Ysabeau was afraid she would have to knock her sister out. All she could hear were the trees sihfting in the wind and two hisses of breath.

   "I've heard about your naval adventures, Rosamonde," she said quietly. "Your time with the Navy should have taught you that sometimes you can't send ten men out in a storm to save one from drowning. You were lucky enough to get captured. The one time they weren't expecting a resuce was when the ax was coming down."

   Ysabeau produced a small piece of slate that had belonged to Evelynne.

   "I couldn't bear to be the last of l'Emperuer's daughters," Ysabeau said, her voice weakening.

   Even after her sister had been torn from her clutches, Rosamonde did not cry. The last time Ysabeau cried was the night before she ran off to sail the Seven Seas. Today, things had changed for both of them.