A paranoid king, a poison plot, and hideous shoes…it’s not easy being Cinderella.
After saving the life of the glamorous Marquise de Harfleur, painfully shy barmaid Alice Henshawe is employed as the lady’s companion and whisked away to Versailles. There, she catches King Louis’ eye and quickly becomes a court favorite as the muse for Charles Perrault’s Cinderella. The palace appears to be heaven itself, but there is danger hidden beneath the façade and Alice soon finds herself thrust into a world of intrigue, murder, and Satanism at the heart of the French court.
Having left his apprenticeship to serve King Charles as a spy, Jack Sharpe is given a mission that just may kill him. In the midst of the Franco-Dutch war, he is to investigate rumors of a poison plot by posing as a courtier, but he has a mission of his own. His childhood friend Alice Henshawe is missing and he will stop at nothing to see her safe. When he finds her in the company of the very people he is meant to be investigating, Jack begins to wonder if the sweet girl he grew up with has a dark side.
When a careless lie finds them accidentally married, Alice and Jack must rely on one another to survive the intrigues of the court. As old affection gives way to new passion, suspicion lingers. Can they trust each other, or is the real danger closer than they suspect?
“Really brilliant writing that's so engaging with such endearing characters! I especially love the way Jack and Alice are both so devoted to each other! I was totally absorbed in this exciting and fascinating world Jessica Cale created from the very first paragraph to the last! I read this all in one sitting, staying awake late to finish, just had to!” – Romazing Reader
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A Field Guide to Historical Poisons
The Long Way Home takes place in the court of Louis XIV during the Affair of the Poisons. During this period, many people from all walks of life were employing poison to dispatch rivals and even family members to improve their fortunes or standing in court. As you can imagine, poison plays a large part in the plot of The Long Way Home. Here are three that are featured in the book along with symptoms so you'll be first to know if your enemies have dosed your wine. You know, just in case.
Arsenic (also known as Inheritance Powder)
Arsenic was the most commonly used poison at this time, and was used alone or to add extra toxicity to other lethal concoctions. It was the primary ingredient in Inheritance Powder, so called because of the frequency with which it was used against relatives and spouses for the sake of inheritance.
Tasteless as it was potent, arsenic usually went undetected in wine or food, although it was also added to soap and even sprinkled into flowers. It could easily kill someone quickly, but was more commonly distributed over a long period of time to make it appear that the victim was suffering from a lengthy illness. The symptoms begin with headaches, drowsiness, and gastrointestinal problems, and as it develops, worsen into convulsions, muscle cramps, hair loss, organ failure, coma, and death.
Unusually for a poison apart from lead, arsenic has had many other common uses throughout history. It was used as a cosmetic as early as the Elizabethan period. Combined with vinegar and white chalk, it was applied to whiten the complexion as a precursor to the lead-based ceruse popular in later centuries.
By the Victorian period, arsenic was taken as a supplement to correct the complexion from within, resulting in blueish, translucent skin. Victorian and Edwardian doctors prescribed it for asthma, typhus, malaria, period pain, syphilis, neuralgia, and as a nonspecific pick-me-up. It was also used in pigments such as Paris Green, Scheele’s Green, and London Purple, all of them extremely toxic when ingested or inhaled. A distinctive yellow-green, Scheele’s Green was a popular dye in the 19th century for furnishings, candles, fabric, and even children’s toys, but it gave off a toxic gas. It may have even played a part in Napoleon’s death. While it took nearly a century to discover the dangers of the pigment, it was later put to use as an insecticide.
Cantharides (also known as Cantarella or Spanish Fly)
Cantarella was a poison that was rumored to have been used by the Borgias (among others). Although it appeared in literature as something that could mimic death, cantarella was probably made from arsenic, like most of the common poisons of the era, or of canthariden powder made from blister beetles, and was highly toxic.
Cantharides are now more commonly known as Spanish Fly.
Although it was rumored to have been used by the Borgias, it was definitely associated with the Medicis. Aqua Toffana, or Aquetta di Napoli, was a potent mixture of both arsenic and cantharides allegedly created by an Italian countess, Giulia Tofana (d. 1659). Colorless and odorless, it was undetectable even in water and as little as four drops could cause death within a few hours. It could also be mixed with lead or belladonna for a little extra f*** you.
In case you’re wondering how one would catch enough blister beetles to do away with one’s enemies, cantharides were surprisingly easy to come across. They were also used as an aphrodisiac. In small quantities, they engorge the genitals, so it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. In larger quantities, however, they raise blisters, cause inflammation, nervous agitation, burning of the mouth, dysphagia, nausea, hematemesis, hematuria, and dysuria.
Oh, and death.
The powder was brownish in color and smelled bad, but mostly went unnoticed with food or wine. More than one character in The Long Way Home has come in contact with it, and it even plays a part in the story.
Pennyroyal (also known as Piliolerian)
Pennyroyal was not often used to intentionally poison anyone, but I’m including it in this guide because of its toxic effects. Usually drunk as tea, is was used as a digestive aid and to cause miscarriage. It was also used in baths to kill fleas or to treat venomous bites.
Although this is the least toxic of the bunch, the side effects are much more worrying. Taken in any quantity, it may not only result in contraction of the uterus, but also serious damage to the liver, kidneys, and nervous system. It’s a neurotoxin that can cause auditory and visual hallucinations, delirium, unconsciousness, hearing problems, brain damage, and death.
Along with Inheritance Powder and Cantarella, Pennyroyal also appears in The Long Way Home and causes some interesting complications for a few of our characters.
All of these poisons were common and easily obtainable in much of Europe during the time this book takes place. The use of Inheritance Powder in particular is very well-documented and it played a huge part in the Affair of the Poisons as well as commanding a central position in The Long Way Home.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Jessica Cale is the award-winning author of the historical romance series, The Southwark Saga. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Wales for several years where she earned a BA in History and an MFA in Creative Writing while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She kidnapped (“married”) her very own British prince (close enough) and is enjoying her happily ever after with him in North Carolina.
Twitter https://twitter.com/JessicaCale @JessicaCale
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“Do you have a sweetheart?”
Alice’s spine went rigid at the question. Why would he care?
“That is to say, a man. A person, rather. A lover?” Jack cleared his throat. “That’s none of my concern, really. I apologize. Forget I asked.”
How could she answer that? She couldn’t very well tell the strange man Jack had grown into that she’d dreamed of him to the exclusion of all others for eight years. If her freakish memory didn’t frighten him off, her obsession definitely would.
She turned, very slowly, and forgot what she was thinking when she saw him. Jack was reclining on his elbows, looking at the stars. The odd posture only really drew attention to the span of his chest, the slight rise and fall of his breath. He’d dressed in a hurry and his collar had come undone, revealing an inch of collarbone and hinting at the lean muscle beneath. His dented chin was pointed heavenward, lengthening his bare neck. If Alice stared any harder, she’d be able to see the blood flowing within.
She thought about putting her lips on his throat and the fluttering she usually felt in her heart moved decidedly lower.
That was new.
“Just you.” She sighed and then cringed as she realized she’d said it aloud. “Married, remember?”
Jack turned and gave her a boyish smile that made her toes go numb. “I suppose we are. What do you make of that?”
Alice blinked. It was everything she’d ever wanted, but Jack...he was young, handsome, kind, wonderful, and everything that was right in the world. He could have any woman he wanted. Or could have, before she ruined that for him. She wiped away another tear. “I’m sorry, Jack.”
He shrugged. “Whatever for?”
“You deserve a wife of your own choosing,” she said, feeling brave.
He lay on the roof, stretching his arms behind his head with a smile. “Don’t shed any tears for me. I got the prettiest Henshawe girl. The boys back home will be sick with envy.”
Alice’s laugh came out as a snort. She held her nose in embarrassment. “Don’t jest.”
Alice curled up on her side facing him, reasonably certain she was dreaming. The cool tile beneath her cheek was real enough. She contracted her nails against the rough surface, wondering if she imagined the vibration in her fingertips. Any moment now, she would wake up.
“I don’t expect you to keep me, of course. That would be something, wouldn’t it? You stuck with someone like me?”
“This will be good, though, truly. I can protect you, and we can spend some time together, like the old days.”
Alice sighed. Yes, like the old days, but I’m talking to you now, and making a mess of it, and you’re all grown and gorgeous while I’m more awkward than ever.
Jack smiled, his teeth bright in the night. “It’ll be great fun to pretend to be married.”
Alice fell onto her back with a disappointed grimace. “Fun.”