The Flowers of War, 1

Copyright 1994 by Anne Fraser

This is the story that eventually became "A Prince of the Blood".  I include it here for archival interest, as my vampire universe has changed radically in twelve years.



The beautiful woman in the canopied bed streatched langourously and
smiled up at her lover.  He was sitting on the bedside chair, playing
with the lady's cat.

"Ah, Jean," said the lady, "It is so pleasant, like this.  Why does it
never last?"

The man put the cat down on the floor, where it mewed its protest
against such treatment.  "You know perfectly well why," he replied, his
face and eyes unusually serious.  "We are too much unalike to stay
together for long, cherie."

Genevieve sighed and sat up, causing interesting things to happen within
her wispy nightgown.  Jean steeled himself with an effort.  Dieu, why
did she have to be so beautiful, so alluring, so damnably unapproachable
except on her terms?

"Too much _un_alike, Jean?" she smiled.  "Too much alike, rather, with
our taste for wandering."

"Your definition of _wandering_ is not mine, Genevieve.  I prefer a soft
bed and night of love over a night spent stalking dangerous enemies."

"There are no enemies tonight, Jean."

"Are there not?"

She looked troubled, and leaned forward so that she could touch his
knee.  "Have I caused offense?" she asked.  "Tell me I have not lost
your love."

"Never," Jean said helplessly.  "But it is not enough, is it, Genevieve?
I do not satisfy you--oh, do not deny it, cherie!"

"I am not denying it, Jean," Genevieve replied quietly.  "No more than
you could deny it if I accused you of the same."  The cat jumped up onto
the bed and she cuddled it absently.  "This is why we do not live
together, after all."

Jean looked unhappy.  He stood up, not caring that his robe gaped open
to show that he was naked underneath, and crossed the short space to the
bed.

"We should not quarrel, ma lune," he said.  "You are my greatest love,
my saviour, my maker... my soul.  I adore you."  A hint of his usual
humour crept into his expressive eyes.  "This does not mean that I have
to agree with you."

"Life would be very dull if you did, mon coeur," she smiled.

"You could make me obey you," he reminded her, reaching out to stroke
her hair.

"I am not that sort," she said, almost angrily.  "What fledglings I have
created, I have done so out of love, or great need; and I would not have
any of you fear me.  Even when you made all those mistakes as a
fledgling, turning all those pretty young girls, did I ever act as a
bloodmaster to you?"

"Of course not," Jean soothed her.  "You were kindness itself, even
though I was very stupid."

"Not stupid, Jean.  Just misguided.  I should have explained things more
clearly to you, but that was a hectic time..."

He put a finger over her lips.  "The past is past, Genevieve," he said.
"You have told me that often enough.  You know that all of your get
adore you.  Perhaps I am the only one who still shares your bed, but we
all worship you.  No matter what deep game it is you are playing."

She kissed his finger, and pushed it gently away from her mouth.  "It is
not a game, Jean."

"Explain it to me, then, ma mere.  Explain why you risk yourself against
such evil creatures as that bete Ravensbrook, may he be rotting where he
belongs."

"I have never told you that story, have I?"  Geneveive sighed.  "Very
well, then."

*****
Genevieve smiled again at Jean as he settled down onto the bed beside
her.  Of all those she had created, he was her favourite.  Although all
her fledglings were dear to her, even those who had not also been
lovers.  She tickled the cat Aurore under the chin and thought fondly of
Samantha, turned from necessity but as dear as a daughter.  And her
"adopted" fledglings, those she had rescued from abusive or neglectful
bloodmasters... she loved them all, but Jean was the most dear.

He deserved to know why he did not "satisfy" her.

"You must promise not to tell this to anyone else," she said to Jean.
"I am trusting you greatly by telling you this, and I cannot tell all of
it, not even to you.  But swear you will not reveal what I am about to
say to anyone, not even Samantha."  Genevieve knew that the Frenchman had
a soft spot for his "petite soeur".

"Very well," he grumbled.  "I swear."

"I was born into a good family," she began, "I was an only child, and my
mother died when I was still quite young.  My father was a scholar, and
he wished his only child to be one, as well.  That I happened to be a
girl was unfortunate, but he did the best with what material he had in
hand, and I was educated as if I was a boy."

"Were you whipped if you did not learn quickly enough?" Jean interupted,
his eyes dancing.

"My father was kindness and patience itself," Genevieve replied,
dignified.  "The hurt look in his eyes was punishment enough for not
learning my lessons."

"Then you were not educated as if you were a boy," Jean asserted.  "I
could not sit down until I was thirteen."

"That I believe.  Will you let me continue?"

"Pardon, ma couer."

Taught Latin, Greek, mathematics, the rudiments of science and medicine;
the young Genevieve was something of an oddity.  Her nurse-cum-chaperone
had seen to it that the beautiful young girl had also been taught all
the social graces becoming to a lady of her station, although her father
grumbled about the time spent learning dancing instead of the postions
of the stars.  So by the time she was fifteen, Genevieve could hold a
learned discourse on the ancient philosophy with any of her father's
friends, and at the same time escort any of their handsome sons to a
social evening.  These handsome sons were not at all adverse to having
such a charming escort, either.  Her intelligence did not frighten them
away; rather they all held the opinion that at least she would be
interesting to talk to.  The other frivilous young ladies were all talk
of society, gowns and how well that young Pierre filled out his hose.

Blaise Lambert, Genevieve's father, had watched his daughter blossom
into young womanhood with mixed pride and anxiety.  She was everything
he could have wished for and more; she was his heart, even more
beautiful than her mother.  He was already receiving offers for her
hand, and knew he would have to arrange a good marriage for her.  This
was what troubled him.  So many of the young men who crowded around his
duaghter were attracted by her appearance and social standing... did nay
of them actually care for her?  Marriage for love was almost unheard of
in their social class, but he did not want Genevieve to be unhappy.
Blaise was so concerned about this daughter's future happiness that he
even consulted with his lawyer and good friend, Claude DuMonet.  Claude
was one of theose fortunate men whom age did not seem to touch... there
was not the least sign of grey in his thick dark hair, no lines around
his fine eyes.  He was a trifle pale, but he always had been.  Some
mysterious business kept him busy during the day, but he always had time
of a night to speak to his old friend Blaise and offer him a glass of
wine.

"Surely you are not in such a terrible hurry to lose your treasure?"
Claude asked, for he knew how much Blaise cared for his daughter, and
had watched Genevieve grow up with an avuncular eye.

"I do not grow any younger, my friend," Blaise replied.  "And although
the passing years do not seem to take a toll on you, they do on me.
Geneveive is fifteen, and it is high time I gave a thought to her
future.  Girls younger than she are already betrothed."

"Perhaps not happily, though," Claude replied.

"Ah, there's the trouble," Blaise replied wryly.  "I cannot bear to
think of my girl being unhappy, married to some brute who may strike
her."

"There are worse things than an unhappy marriage," Claude said, his eyes
momentarily darkening.  "However, I am certain that you will find a good
match for your daughter. Is there no-one amongst your students, for
instance?"

"I had not thought of that..." Blaise admitted, his eyes widening.

"Think of it, then," Claude laughed, but his eyes remained dark.  He
knew that there were others who had noticed the beautiful girl, waiting
to be plucked like a rosebud.  But whether the plucking had would
cherish the flower or grind it underfoot depended on careful management.

Blaise went home happy, for he had thought of someone he could introduce
to his daughter.
*****


"This is Gaspard St.-Morien, ma petite," Blaise said, his hand on the
shoulder of a somewhat frail-looking man, dark-haired and lean, who
was smiling uncertainly.

Genevieve dropped a courtsey.  "Enchante, monsieur," she said.  "You are
a friend of Papa's?"

"I was a pupil of your Papa's," Gaspard replied.

"A good pupil?" Genevieve asked.

Blaise frowned at her, but Gaspard laughed.  "I like to think so," he
replied.  "He told me so himself."

"Then you were," Genevieve assured him.  "Papa never lies."

"He has not lied about you, either," said Gaspard gallantly.  "For he
told me you were beautiful."

Genevieve blushed.  She had received compliments many times before, but
never delivered with such simple sincerity.  She was used to flattering
courtiers whose flowery phrases usually disguised some hidden intent.
Gaspard said it as if he meant it.

Gaspard turned to Blaise.  "Will you and your charming daughter be
attending the Duke d'Orleans' ball?"

"My lord Duke has requested our presence," Blaise replied dryly.  "For
he wishes to discuss some scientific marvel with me, and Genevieve
adorns his court.  I cannot refuse."

"I, too, have been invited, although not in such compelling terms.  I
had not thought to attend.  Now, however, I see that I have reason to."
He bowed to Genevieve.

The night of the ball, Genevieve was very excited.  Swathed in furs,
velvet and heavy linen, she could scarcely move, but she was inured to
the restrictive court dress.  She looked forward to the music, to the
swirling scents of perfume and flowers (masking the scent of unwashed
bodies dressed in too many layers of unwashed clothing), to the gay
throngs and the attentive young men.  And, perhaps, another sincere
compliment from Papa's so-interesting young friend Gaspard?

Many young men, and some not so young, asked Blaise for permission to
dance with his daughter.  Blaise refused most of the requests, for he
did not want Genevieve to seem a flirt.  But when Gaspard St.-Morien
came, bowing handsomely, Blaise gave his permission.

The courtly dances of the time--and the amount of clothing the nobility
wore--permitted little physical contact between partners.  Gaspard
danced with a solemn grace, disdaining the capers cut by the youngsters.

Gaspard was only twenty-five, but he had the demeanour of an older man.
He was so quiet and serious that Genevieve longed to tease him, but he
was also very nice and she didn't want to hurt his feelings--or be sent
home in disgrace.  On the whole, she enjoyed the dance with him more
than the company of the more boisterous boys.

"Did you enjoy yourself, my angel?" Blaise asked when he and his sleepy
daughter rode home in the carriage.

Genevieve leaned back against the velvet, breathing in the scent of
horse and dust that crept in despite the sealed carraige.  "Yes, Papa,"
she replied.

"I am pleased.  Do you like my friend Gaspard?"

"Yes, Papa, but he is so serious!"

"That is why I like him, Genevieve.  He is not one of your frivolous
courtiers, but a scholar and a very good man."

"He is so pale and thin!"

"I am afraid that Gaspard is not strong.  He needs someone to take care
of him."

"Why is he unwed, Papa?  He is so old!"

"Scarcely old, child," Lambert chuckled.  "He is but ten years your
senior.  As for why he is unwed... he is shy, and has never yet met a
suitable lady."

After a moment, Genevieve said, "You will have to arrange a marriage for
me soon, will you not, Papa?  Already some people are saying it is a
disgrace I am not betrothed."

"You heard?  Tscha, that people should speak so in front of a child."

"I am not a child, Papa."

"No," he agreed wistfully.  "Still, I shall hate to lose you."

"And I shall hate to leave you, Papa.  But you are the one who wants
grandchildren."

He chuckled.  "So I do.  My good friend Claude--you remember him?  The
lawyer?--thinks that you will make an excellent mother."

"I remember Claude very well, Papa.  He brought me that pretty comb for
my last birthday.  He is very handsome.  Does he wish to marry me?"

"Non," Gaspard sighed.  "Genevieve, you must not be shocked, but I think
that Claude, as dear a friend as he is, does not care for women."

"You mean, Papa, that he is like the ancient Greeks?"

"Very like, I think.  At any rate, Claude admires you very much, but he
does not wish to be your husband, or he would have spoken of it before
now.  You want more from a husband than a handsome face or how nicely
his legs fill out his hose, I hope!"

"Yes, Papa," she said dutifully.


Blaise sighed heavily, for the problem of finding a sutiable match for
Genevieve was going to be more pressing now that she was being talked
about in noble circles.  A titled suitor would be quite a coup for a
girl of upper-class but untitled family, but Blaise did not want his
daughter to marry for status alone.

Gaspard St-Morien came to call on father and daughter shortly after the
ball, ostensibly to give Blaise a book but really to see Genevieve
again.  The girl's beauty, intelligence and charm had won his heart.  He
asked her to go riding in his carriage, suitably accompanied by her
father and her chaperone, of course.  Blaise asked his former student to
stay for dinner after their return to the chateau, and did not have to
press him very hard, nor ask him twice to spend the night.  When
Genevieve had retired for the night, Gaspard asked to speak privately
with her father...

In the morning, Genevieve and her chaperone were walking in the garden,
gossiping and laughing.  Gaspard approached them, and the chaperone made
as if to shoo him off for such improper behaviour.  However, Blaise came
out just then and took the good nurse aside, whispering in her ear.
Honere nodded, beaming, and the two of them took themselves off to a
discreet distance.

"Bon matin, Genevieve," Gaspard said.

"Bon matin, Gaspard," Genevieve courtseyed.  She took a small knife from
her chatelaine's belt and snipped off a rose that was just opening.
"See, how beautiful?" she asked, presenting it to Gaspard.

He took the bud, but did not release her hand.  "There is nothing more
beautiful than a flower that is on the verge of blossoming," he said,
kissing the fingertips of the hand he held.

Genevieve turned a colour that matched the bud she had cut.  The heady
perfume of roses mingled pleasantly with Gaspard's spicy masculine scent.
"Monsieur!" she exclaimed.  "You are bold.  Papa will thrash you."

"On the contrary, your excellent Papa has granted me permission to speak
privately with you.  See how he has lured off your faithful watchdog."

She glanced to where Blaise and Honore stood, pretending a deep interest
in the progress of a climbing vine.  "You should not call Honore a
watchdog," Genevieve murmured.  "What did you wish to say to me,
Gaspard?"

He finally released her hand, and put the rosebud, now slightly the
worse for wear, into his sleeve where it was slashed to show the linen
beneath.  It stuck out jauntily, a gay splash of colour against the dark
brown velvet and the snowy white linen.

"Genevieve," said Gaspard softly, reaching out to lift her chin with two
fingers so that their eyes met, his brown ones searching her blue lakes.
"It is true that I have known you for only a very short time, but I do
not think that, now that I have met you, I can live my life without you.
Please, will you be my wife?"

Colour again rushed to her cheeks.  "Gaspard!" she exclaimed.  "You must
speak to Papa about that.  He is the one to ask for my hand."

"I have spoken to Blaise, and he told me that his consent depended upon
yours.  A most unusual man, your Papa.  Genevieve, can you truthfully
say that you have not thought about me often since we met?"

"I have, Gaspard," she admitted.  "I do like you very much."

He kissed her, very briefly, aware of her watching father and chaperone.
"Do you accept?" he asked, pleading with his eyes.

"Oh, yes," she replied.
*******

Within the year, Genevieve and Gaspard were married and set up in the
latter's house and business.  Gaspard was a merchant, dealing in silks
and other fine materials, and Genevieve was a tremendous help to him in
running his trade.  It was not unusual for women to quietly assist their
men in running mercantile houses, and Genevieve enjoyed the challenge,
although she and Gaspard consulted both Genevieve's father Blaise and
his lawyer friend Claude du Monet.

It was du Monet who warned them about a business rival who coveted
Gaspard's growing trade, his connections, and his beautiful wife.
Etienne Corbeau was a dark, broodingly handsome man who had long been
watching Genevieve, although Claude had conspired to see to it that
Corbeau did not come too close to the object of his desires.  Frustrated
in his attempts to win the girl for himself, Corbeau was now making
plans to ruin the St.-Moriens financially.

Gaspard did not overly concern himself with this rivalry, for his
csutomers knew and trusted him, while not many trusted the scheming
Corbeau.  Genevieve was afraid of the handsome but dangerous man, having
been completely unaware of his interest in her until Claude had warned
her not to be alone with her husband's enemy.

Still, despite Corbeau's hatred, the young couple prospered in trade and
were happy together.  Genevieve was very fond of the gentle Gaspard, and
he adored her.  He was often ill, and she tended him faithfully while
keeping the business running, never once complaining.  Both were
overjoyed when their first child, a son they named Andre, was born,
follwed two years later by a daughter, Madeline.  Geneveive loved being
a mother, and managed to run the household and the business and tend her
husband and children.  Blaise was tickled to be a grandfather, and could
be relied upon to amuse the children whenever he came to call.  It seemed
like the happy times could go on forever.

They could not, of course.

When Andre and Madeline were six and four, respectively, a terrible
epidemic swept through Paris.  Blaise was the first to succumb, and
while Genevieve was still mourning for her beloved Papa, her two
children sickened and died.  The shock left her numb, uncomprehending of
how such a terrible triple blow could befall her.  She was terrified
lest Gaspard, whose health had never been robust, should also die.
Regardless of the risk to her own health, she nursed him day and night
when the sickness struck him, and what had not saved her children
perversly did save her husband.  But when the illness left him, Gaspard
was unable to recover what little strength he had formerly possessed,
and he became a bed-ridden invalid.  Genevieve had somehow escaped
untouched by the epidemic, but with the loss of three dearly loved ones
and a husband who now needed constant care.

There was no time to mourn.  She had to save the business, which had
floundered badly during the sickness.  She turned to Claude for advice
and help, and he assisted her in rebuilding the contacts she needed to
carry on in Gaspard's name.

But the sharks were circling.

*******

Genevieve, once she knew that Gaspard was going to live and that the
business would pull through the hard times, often went to the churchyard
to visit two tiny graves and two larger ones.  Andre and Madeleine had
been placed beside their grandparents; the one who had cherished them
and the one they had never known.

The pain was so bad that she did not know how to bear it.  She knew, of
course, that her dear Papa was growing older and would some day leave
her, but that did not diminish his loss.  And her children... naughty
little Andre, who would not sit still, and green-eyed Madeleine... babies,
they were just babies, and they were dead.  Gaspard had survived, she
must cling to that, but he would not be able to give her more children,
and she had loved her little ones so dearly.

The priest could offer but cold comfort to the beautiful young woman who
came here to mourn.  Many had died in the epidemic, whole families, and
there was no comfort for the living.  So he said nothing to the woman
who knelt by the gravesites, too recent for stones to have been placed,
and wept.

Once she stayed after dark, too miserable to notice the long shadows
turning into dusk, and she felt a hand on her shoulder.  Startled, she
turned to see Claude looking down at her.

"You should not be alone here at night," he said softly.  "It is not
safe."

"Why are you here, Claude?" she asked.

"I, too, miss your dear Papa and your little ones," the lawyer replied.
"Blaise was a good friend.  I came to pay my respects.  Come, my carriage
is here, I will escort you home."

"Why do loved ones die, Claude?" Genevieve asked when he lifted her into
his carriage.

The lawyer's eyes were shadowed.  "It is the will of God," he replied.

"Then I do not think I love God," she said, and spoke no more on the
ride home.

*******
Etienne Corbeau, sensing that his enemy had weakened, tried to move in
on Gapsard's business... and his wife.  While pretending to pay a
courtesy call on the St.-Moriens, the arrogant Corbeau maneuvered
Genevieve into being alone with him.

"Monsieur," she said, heart beating in panic when she realized what he
had done, "this is unseemly."

"Come, my little dove," Corbeau purred, his deep blue eyes, as cold as
ice, boring into hers.  "Can you truthfully say you do not wish to be
alone with me?"

He was very handsome, and if Genevieve had not been warned about him,
she would not have been quite so frightened.  But Claude distrusted this
smooth talker, and she trusted Claude.

"I am a married woman," Genevieve stated.

"Married to an invalid," Corbeau sneered.  "Surely he cannot give you
pleasure, if he ever did."  He took hold of her hand in his chill
fingers, his eyes continuing to pierce into hers.  "I would cherish you,
my dove," he told her softly.  "You will know pleasure beyond your
dreams, if you will let me show you how a man loves a woman."

His eyes were making her weaken, but suddenly the memory of her two
children and the pleasures she had shared with Gaspard steeled her.  She
straightened up and snatched her hand out of his grasp.

"My Gaspard on his sickbed is more of a man than a slinking, cowardly
popinjay such as you will ever be, Corbeau!"  Genevieve laughed as a
sudden image came into her mind.  "Corbeau--raven!  Hah!  Vulture would
be a better name for you!"

He hissed suddenly, like an angry serpent.  His face had gone cold and
cruel, banishing the handsomeness.  "You will regret those words, my
dove," he spat.

"Leave my house!" Genevieve ordered.

And all at once Claude was there.  Genevieve was so grateful to see him
that she did not ask how he had come so fortuitiously.  Corbeau glared
at the intruder, but Claude stood his ground.

"You heard the lady, Corbeau," Claude said.  "You are unwelcome in this
house."

"As you would be, if she knew what you are," Corbeau growled.

"Tell her, and you expose yourself," Claude said, very softly.  "Go."

"Very well."  Corbeau headed for the door, disdaining the servant who
ran to show him the way.  He stopped and turned.  "But you will regret
this.  Both of you."  He bared his teeth at Claude.  "You especially."
Then he finally departed.

Genevieve breathed a sigh of relief.  "Thank you, Claude."  She leaned
against him, just a little, before realizing what she was doing.  Ah,
Dieu, she was married, and turning to another man for comfort!

Claude's eyes were veiled.  "There are those," he said, so quietly that
Genevieve could barely hear him, "Who should never have been fledged."
He looked down at his old friend's daughter.  "Genevieve, I fear you
have just made a very dangerous enemy.  come, we had best see to your
husband."

______


Claude and Genevieve went in to see Gaspard, who was apalled when he
heard of his rival's behaviour.

"You must help my Genevieve," the invalid begged Claude.  "You must
protect her from Corbeau and aid her to run my business."  Gaspard held
his wife's hand.  "I am so sorry, Genevieve," he whispered to her.
"None of this is what I had hoped our life together would be."

Genevieve squeezed the thin hand that held hers, and wept a little.  "As
long as I still have you, Gaspard, I have love," she said.

He smiled, and a few moments later fell asleep.  Claude guided Genevieve
out of the bedchamber and sat her down in another room.

"Do you trust me, Genevieve?" he asked.

"Of course I do, you know that," she replied, a little surprised.  Her
eyes fell on an abandoned wooden horse, and she realized that this had
been Andre's room.  Nothing of the children's belongings had been touched
since their deaths, and the servants were forbidden to clean these
rooms.  She drew in her breath and started to cry again.

Claude moved to her side and patted her shoulder comfortingly.  "Your
little ones are beyond hurt, Genevieve," he said, divining the reason
for the tears.  His mouth tightened.  "I am not so sure that that is not
a good thing."

Shock made her stop crying and stare at him as if he were mad.  "Claude!"
she exclaimed.  "How can..."

"I say that because you have made an enemy of Etienne Corbeau," the
lawyer said grimly.  "He is more dangerous than you can dream,
Genevieve, and his enmity would not spare even innocent children.  I
know him of old, that one, and I have known him to hurt children."  Far,
far worse than Genevieve could imagine anyone hurting a child, Claude
knew but did not say.

"If he is such a monster, why has no-one stopped him?" Genevieve asked.

"Because I greatly fear no-one can."

"Why not?  What do you mean?  If he means to harm Gaspard, or the
business, or myself, I will fight him, whatever it takes!  He cannot be
so powerful.  You are a lawyer, surely you have ways to fight him!"

He put a hand over her mouth, very gently.  Part of his plan had
succeeded, and he had her thinking of her future rather than dwelling on
her sorrows.  She had a lot of fight in her, this woman, for she had
been severely tested the past year and had survived.  Claude found
himself tracing the curve of her lip with his finger, and stopped
immediately.  She was still another man's wife.

"I cannot fight him the way you are thinking of," Claude said quietly.
"He is too strong and too wily for that.  I am trying to ruin him
financially, and drive him out of France.  If I could, I would kill
him."

"Why not challenge him to a duel?" Genevieve demanded.

Claude laughed, but not with any humour.  "He is older than I, and much
stronger," he said.

Genevieve looked at her father's friend, who should be at least the same
age as dear Papa would be, but who looked not very much older than
Gaspard.  Corbeau had seemed even younger, no more than five-and-twenty,
surely?

And what had Claude meant, there in the hall, when he and Corbeau had
spoken so strangely.  "Expose me, and you expose yourself"?

Corbeau had said, "...If they knew what you are", provoking that
mysterious reply.

Claude spoke, interupting the trail of these disturbing thoughts.
"Will you trust me enough to come to my house?" he asked.  "Alone?"

"Alone?" Genevieve echoed.

"It must be, I cannot tell a servant what I have to tell you, and there
is something in my chateau that you must see."  He chuckled.  "I, unlike
Corbeau, have no designs on your honour, Genevieve."

And she remembered Papa telling her that his friend Claude did not like
women, and followed the habits of the ancient Greeks.

"I will trust you, Claude," she smiled.  "If you feel this is important
enough for such an unusual occurence."

"It is, you must believe me.  I do not wish you to be frightened,
Genevieve," he continued as he helped her into his carriage, drawing the
curtains so that none could observe that he had a lone female inside,
"But what I have to show you and tell you is very disturbing.  Still, it
is something you must know, if you are to fight Corbeau on his terms."

"I will try to be brave, Claude," she said, and he smiled.
_______