I shall give away three copies. All LiveJournal users are eligible (I'll have other giveaways later, elsewhere).
Rules: Between now and Wednesday, November 19th, at 5 pm US Eastern Time, you must comment on this post. I will announce the winners on Monday, November 24th, the day before the official release date, and mail the books that week.
Your comment must be poetry or prose, word limit dictated by LJ's comment feature limits. The topic must be a reflection on, fanfictional extrapolation of, or commentary regarding the following excerpt from The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover. ETA: you can post art, or a link to same, if you want, if prose or poetry accompanies it. As I am the Duchess of This Contest, art might sway my decisions. Or not.
Henri yawned and began to clamber over the barrier marked Poire. Halfway over, he gasped and tried to go backwards, but the dark figure he'd glimpsed grabbed his shoulders and yanked him into the straw.
He landed on something soft, but was immediately flipped over and pinned. Straw poked hard into the back of his neck as his assailant's forearm pressed into his throat. Henri tried to suck in air and the pressure lessened. Abruptly, the figure let go and backed away.
"You startled me," she said, as if it had been his fault she'd tried to strangle him.
He recognized the voice: Sylvie, the Duchess' maid who had fetched him that afternoon. "Oh," he said; he was shaking from head to foot.
"You shouldn't have come back so late," Sylvie said. "I've been waiting for over an hour." She dusted herself off with one gloved hand and opened a sealed dark-lantern. She wore snugly-fitting riding leathers, a man's shirt, and tall boots. His eyes widened. Her figure was slender, her hair concealed beneath a cap; if he'd seen her from a distance, he might not have recognized her as a woman. Perhaps that was the point. A lone woman wandering the stableyards at this time of night might run into unpleasantness.
"Waiting for what?" Henri asked.
He was unprepared to be clouted on the shoulder. He barely ducked in time to evade the worst of the blow. "Such is the loyalty of a stableboy!" Sylvie hissed. "You've forgotten already! Madame will be very disappointed!"
Henri sat down in the straw. He hadn't intended to sit, but there he was, sitting, his fingers clenched around prickly handfuls. "Her Grace?" he whispered.
"Yes, fool! Did you not say you could help her to escape, if there was need? Well, now there is need! For her, and she goes nowhere without me, and we will also have a guard, one of the eunuchs. And she says--she says--we must have you. Though I can't see you'll be much use. The eunuch and I can take care of the horses well enough, if we take it in turns to guard her. But Madame must have what she wants. So you must come with us."
Henri blinked. "Now?"
Sylvie grabbed his shirt, hauled him upright, and shook him. "I did not come here for my health, idiot boy! Prepare your things! We are leaving tomorrow!"
Wildly, Henri calculated in his head. He needed a stick and some dirt to make any complex computations, but even without that he knew already he didn't have enough money to feed himself on a journey of any length, much less the Duchess and her retinue of two as well. Nor would he be able to earn enough along the way, not for so many. "It won't be enough," he said, trying to make her understand. "I will gladly give it, all of it, but it won't get us far. What will we do when my money runs out?"
Sylvie flung up her hands. Freed, Henri scrambled away from her. "You are deluded," she said, with patently false patience. Henri didn't ask what that meant. He could guess.
"Where are we going, then? We won't need money there?"
"I do not want your pathetic coins," Sylvie said. "All is prepared, sufficient funds are made portable, and I have already sewn jewels into garments. It is a place to hide that we need. You can hide us, can't you? Only two of us, myself and Madame. The eunuch will come to fetch us when it is safe to depart."