“We wouldn’t have needed her help if we hadn’t run out of fuel,” the other boy said, coming forward. He was slight, narrow-shouldered, a streak of white running through his brown hair like a badger’s. His fingers were stained blue with ink and black with soot; in his hand he held a pair of shell-rimmed glasses which he polished determinedly on his sleeve. “That was your job, Lazare.”

“Mademoiselle, may I introduce our head engineer, Monsieur Armand?”

Camille curtsied, but the badger-haired boy merely nodded and went on talking. “You should have brought more straw for fuel!” He polished his glasses harder. “The air in the balloon got too cold.”

“And extra fuel would have helped?”

“More straw equals more heat!” Armand said.

It isn’t as simple as that, Camille thought. “When you burn your fuel, you also burn some of your ballast, don’t you?”

The boy replaced his glasses and squinted at her. “And?”

“And then, if you need to rise, you’ve nothing to throw over to lighten the load.”

A fierce blush crept up the boy’s neck. “How could you possibly know that?”

She was about to explain but Armand looked away, crossing his arms. She’d been so desperate to join in the conversation that she’d offended him. And she didn’t want to be shut out from this new world that had appeared in front of her. She tried again. “Do you know? Yours isn’t the first balloon I’ve seen. My father took me to Versailles to see a montgolfière.”

“In eighty-three?” Lazare exclaimed. “I was there, too.” Something faraway flickered in his eyes. “I kept wishing I were in the gondola with those animals.”

“But instead, you got me,” Armand muttered, as a cool wind rushed along the field, tugging at their clothes, the collapsed silk of the balloon.

“Don’t be angry, mon ami. We need a better release valve to let out the hot air. Otherwise we’re left hoping the hot air cools precisely as we’re flying over a field. Or that Mademoiselle is here to help us.”

Armand scowled. “Where’s Rosier with the wagon? Any moment now the skies will empty on us.”

“There’s still time to toast our savior,” Lazare said, bending his lanky form into the chariot and fishing out a wine bottle. “Lucky for us, I saved this one from being dashed on a farmer’s head.”

“Any moment those farmers will descend on us, ready to dismantle the basket for firewood,” Armand snapped.

From somewhere else—his pockets?—Lazare produced a handful of glasses. “Let’s pretend Armand’s not here,” he said in a stage whisper.

“Really, Lazare, this is too much,” Armand complained. “Besides,” he said with something like glee, “here comes Mademoiselle’s sister.”

Sophie arrived, out of breath, blond hair straggling down her back, skirts splattered with dirt. She threw her arms around Camille. “Grace à Dieu,” she said. “You frightened me!”

Camille burned with shame. She’d been so caught up in the moment that she’d forgotten Sophie. What if she had fallen from the balloon, been broken on the earth? What would happen to Sophie then? Sophie would be one more poor girl turned out on the dangerous streets of Paris.

Sophie’s blue eyes snapped with fury. “What were you thinking, monsieur? You might have killed my sister!”

“My apologies, mademoiselle,” Lazare said, true regret in his voice. “It was reckless of me to ask for her help. But admit it, your sister was magnificent!”

“She was,” Sophie said, apparently unable to resist the handsome stranger. “Magnificent and mad.”

She had been reckless, too. Thoughtless. She could see that now. And yet. For a moment, as she’d stumbled through the field, her lungs on fire, her heart a drum, she’d felt alive. Free.

Lazare held up the wine bottle. “Quick, a toast! To the mad dreamers, to all of us!”

The thunder growled again, closer now. But underneath the storm’s low rumble, Camille heard something else. Hoofbeats.

Riding toward them at a pounding gallop was a boy on a rangy gray horse, his mousy hair frizzing out under his hat so that it seemed in danger of pushing his hat off altogether. Tucked under one arm was a notebook whose pages flapped in the wind. Behind him trundled the covered wagon, its horses keeping to the edge of the field.

“Très bien!” the boy on the horse shouted. “Stay just like that!”

Lazare laughed. “Let me apologize in advance, mesdemoiselles.”

Before Camille could ask why, the curly haired boy was hauling his horse to a stop and leaping to the ground. He dropped his reins in the dirt and sprinted toward the balloon, pressing his cocked hat to his head as he ran. He waved the notebook at them. “I saw it all! Wrote it down! Death-defying! A Great Moment in History!”

What? Camille snuck a sidelong glance at Lazare. He raised a dark eyebrow, the one with the scar. When the boy reached them, he flung himself to his knees before Camille and clasped her hand.

“Mademoiselle! An angel!” His clever black eyes scrutinized her. “No—scratch that out. A Jeanne d’Arc of the air! A true heroine!”

“But I didn’t—”

“Your name will be written in the annals of French history, mademoiselle!” he said, rising to his feet and removing his hat with a flourish. “Charles Rosier, your servant.”

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