c h a p t e r 1 | a bullet through crowns

04:47


CHAPTER 1
A LION FOR THE GIRL
“Au revoir, little bird. You’re free now.”


art by unknown
Arryn stood on her porch, leaning against a marble pillar. It was midday and he still wasn’t here. 

She glanced down at the large slice of cake that lay in the napkin in her hands. Her mouth had begun watering but she lifted her head up, resisting temptation. She had been standing there for a while now, anxiously awaiting for his arrival. This had been the third day he had not come to see her, one of those days being her birthday. Her mind drifted to thoughts of him being captured and being sent to a factory, or worse — being hanged.

She scanned the front gate again, searching the rose bushes and peony shrubs for any signs of life. Nothing. 

A rattling in the distance caught her attention and she flicked her head to the wrought iron gate to see a figure standing in front of it. In an instant, her eyes flashed with recognition and she hurried down the steps, excitement infecting every step she took. 

By the time she reached the gate, the figure, who was now a young, slim boy with black matted hair and tanned skin, had climbed over the spikes and begun descending. She watched him jump down with ease and face her, a shy smile growing on his face.

“Sorry I’m late.” 

Arryn shook her head and pulled him in for an embrace — despite the stench of sweat, dirt and smoke emanating from him. 

“You had me worried sick, Crowe! I thought the guards had finally got to you”, she said, relief washing over her.

“They almost did.” He pulled away from her and searched his pocket, pulling out a small, golden object. It was a statue of a lion that had its paw raised, its detailed mane cascading down its back. 


“Happy Birthday, Mademoiselle”, he said. He watched her closely — studying her facial expressions. The way her eyes squinted, how her dimples appeared in the corners of her mouth, the way her freckles moved when she smiled. 

“I…”, she laughed, caught off guard. She held it in her other hand, eyes ablaze with wonder. “How could you have possibly gotten this? It looks like it’s a fortune.”

“I have my ways.” He shrugged but Arryn raised an eyebrow. “Alright, I saw it at a gypsy market in town. I had to stay hidden for a couple days to make sure guards weren’t following me. They seem to be everywhere these days.”

“So, you stole it?” Although Arryn was aware of Crowe’s activities, she was still surprised at how calm he was, despite the risk of punishment. 

“It reminded me of you. I thought you might like it.” He looked down, kicking the dirt beneath his feet with his worn out shoes. 

She tilted her head to the side and smiled. “I do. Thank you.” For all the stealing and mischief he was involved in, she still managed to see the good in him. 

“Come on.” She linked arms with the rugged boy, leading him across the well-maintained lawn to the back of the manor. “Let’s go to the garden before Madame Fontaine sees you.”

- - - - - 

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art by brookestirr
The sun was particularly warm that day and its rays glimmered on the surface of the small pond that lay deep in the garden of the Beaumont estate. Arryn sat beside the water, smelling a peony she had plucked from a nearby bush. 

“Do you like the cake?” Arryn inquired as she watched Crowe devour the baked good with such intensity that she worried he would choke on it. He grunted in response, his eyes never leaving the napkin. 

Ma mère brought in a chef all the way from Sereblanc to make it. You should have seen everything else he made — pastries, tarts, biscuits, meringues…”, she paused, suddenly self conscious. “It was all a bit much, if I am being honest.”

Crowe glanced down at her from the swing he was sitting, swallowing the last piece of vanilla cake. “It sounds nice to me.” 

Arryn stood up from her place next to the pond and sat on the swing beside his. “What other gifts did you get?” Crowe licked his fingers, not letting a morsel of frosting go to waste. 

Arryn shrugged, rocking slowly in her swing. “Nothing too interesting, I suppose.” She shrugged. “Except for your lion, of course.”

“Of course.” Crowe stood up and laid on the ground, hands behind his head. Arryn watched him carefully, debating whether she should ask him a certain question that had been weighing on her mind. She knew that if Madame Fontaine was present, she would get a stern talking to about suitable topics of conversation for a lady and how this question was not suitable in any way. But, as best as she tried, she could not contain her curiosity. 

“Crowe…”, she hesitated. “Did you hear about the protest? In Sereblanc?”

With squinted eyes, he looked up at her. “Sereblanc…well, I’ve heard whispers on the streets.”

She planted her feet into the ground, halting the swings movements. “What kind of whispers?”

He closed his eyes. “I don’t know — a group of coalminers were boycotting the mines over low wages? Another person said the guards were arresting the miners and things got out of hand. From what they were saying, it sounded bad.”

She frowned, tucking a lock of auburn hair behind her ear. “Uncle seemed very worried about it.”

“What?”

Arryn stood up from the swing and settled next to Crowe. “I was at the palace a few days ago and I overheard him with one of his advisors. He said something big is happening and his advisor told him not to worry. But he still seemed troubled.”

Crowe remained silent.

“And remember the one in Marais? It was all over the newspapers for a whole week”, she said passionately. 

“Huh.”

Huh?”, she copied him, surprised by his indifference. “Are you not in the least bit worried?”

Crowe stayed quiet for a moment, before answering firmly. “No. As long as it doesn’t happen here, I’m not worried.”

She leaned in towards him, lowering her voice as if they were being over heard. “What if a war breaks out?”

He sighed, shaking his head. “It’s too early for that, Arry.”

“Maybe,”she pondered. “But could you imagine how brave you would need to be? Even protesting…”, she drifted off, lost in thought. “I can’t imagine anything more heroic than fighting for what you believe in. It’s the most exciting thing I can think of.”

“You think the protests are heroic?”

“Of course! They stand up for what they believe in and they’re not afraid to fight. I honestly wish I was more like that. If I had the chance to become a rebel, the first thing I would do is rebel against Madame Fontaine”, she laughed. “Au revoir vieille dame!”

Crowe laughed with her, getting up. “Well, to be a rebel you have to be fast. Which is something you, are not.” He extended his hand towards her.

Arron grabbed it and stood up. “Is that a challenge, copain?” 

Crowe winked. “We’ll race to the stables. I’ll give you a head start— ”

“I don’t need one—”, she interjected. 

“Ten, nine, eight…” Arryn rolled her eyes but she kicked off her shoes and sprinted away, lifting her dress as she ran deeper into the garden. She looked behind her, smiling at Crowe’s receding figure. 

- - - - - 

“… Three, two, one.” As soon as he said the last number, Crowe took off after her, trying to make up the considerable gap between them. However, he saw that she had come to a standstill beside a tree — still some distance away from the stables — so he started slowing down. He came to a stop beside her, eyebrows furrowed. 

“What’s wrong, Arry?” 

She remained silent, her eyes downcast. Crowe followed her gaze down and flinched. It was a small bird and its wings were stretched out. Its feathers were a light brown but they were spotted with bright, red liquid. Its soft white belly was facing up, torn open and exposed to the world. 

“It’s a nightingale. I read about them in one of Madame Fontaine’s encyclopaedias. At night, I can sometimes hear them singing. Each song is always different. Beautiful, isn’t it?” Her brown eyes were glassy but her voice remained steady. 

Crowe crouched down, reaching for it but Arryn’s hand stopped him. “Don’t touch it. You might get sick.” She tore off her sleeve and crouched down beside Crowe. 

Crowe stared at her frayed sleeve. “Arry, your dress!”

She gently wrapped the blue cloth around the creature, as if it was a blanket. “It’s fine. I have plenty of other dresses.” She tilted her head, regarding the bird with curiousity. “It’s the third one I’ve found this week.” 

“What do you think happened to it?” Crowe asked as they stood up in unison, Arryn holding the bird in her hands. 

“I’m not quite sure.” She started walking in the direction of the pond. “Follow me, I know where to bury it.”

Arryn lead the way back to the pond and stopped beside the peony bush. “Here.”

Crowe looked over her shoulder to find two other dirt mounds hidden behind the bush. Each mound had a gold hair pin sticking out of them, as if they were makeshift gravestones. He grabbed a nearby rock and began digging the ground beside the second mound. 

“That should be deep enough”, Arryn said and he set aside the rock and stood up, letting her crouch down and lay the bird in the grave. “Do you have any last words?”

Crowe stared at Arryn, unsure of what to say. “Uh…” He thrust his hands into his pocket and immediately came into contact with a necklace. His mother’s necklace. Instinct took over and 
 he grasped it tightly, hand remaining deep in his pocket. He couldn’t let it go. Not now. 

Au revoir, little bird. You’re free now.” In his other pocket, he pulled out a silver coin — the only one he had and laid it next to the bird. 

Au revoir”, Arryn repeated under her breath, before covering the creature with dirt. She dusted her hands together before pulling out a gold hair pin, encrusted with a small sapphire, and planted it on the fresh grave. Crowe frowned at the strange sight — something that had once represented opulence and luxury, now signified death. 

Arryn straightened up, the spark of mischief returning to her eyes. “So, how about a rematch? And this round, we start at the same time.”

Crowe grinned and began to reply but was cut short by a voice in the distance. “Mademoiselle! Mademoiselle Beaumont!” Crowe quickly crouched down behind the bush, his mind on high alert. 

Arryn rolled her eyes, unable to contain her annoyance. “I will be right over, Madame!” She turned to Crowe, who breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, saints! I forgot I had a violin lesson today. I have to leave or she will get impatient with me.” 

“Sounds miserable”, Crowe said as she grabbed her shoes.

Arryn giggled, shaking her head. “Do not even get me started.” She smiled at him, her dimples appearing once more. “Will you drop by tomorrow? I’ll sneak a pastry for you.”

Crowe stared up into her warm brown eyes, gratefulness overcoming him. “Not unless the guards get to me first.”

“I hope not.” She waved, walking away. “Au revoir, Crowe.”

Au revoir, Mademoiselle.” He watched his friend walk back to her life, while he remained stuck in his own.


 - -


If you're reading this and have no idea what's going, let me fill you in. My friend Jo and I had this wacky idea to create a weekly web series set in an 19th century, alternative steampunk France that revolves around the lives of a rebel named Crowe and a noble-born girl named Arryn (wow, what a mouthful). It explores a ton of different themes (some happier and some darker) and all I can say is there's so much more in store for you and we are both really excited for you to embark on this journey with us. 

If you haven't read the prologue for A Bullet Through Crowns, please do so, here :)


I hoped you enjoyed this chapter and look forward to the next one!




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