The Varuna Voyages
Amélie Duval was born in the Loire Valley, France to a family of vineyard keepers. Her father, Laurent Duval, spent his youth as an adventurer, travelling what parts of the world he could before he settled down back in France, taking over his family business and marrying his childhood sweetheart, Rosette. Together they had four children – Jean-Paul, Michel, Amélie and Henri. They were not particularly rich, but they lived comfortably enough.
Amélie was taught to read and write by her mother, as well as basic maths, but she was far more interested in geography, gaining her father’s passion for adventure as he told her exaggerated tales of his travels and taught her how to read maps and speak English. In her childhood she spent much of her time climbing trees and play fighting with her brothers, occasionally helping pick grapes and carry the baskets back to the house when she wasn’t pouring over maps of the world, particularly England, which she was rather taken by.
In 1848, disaster tore their family apart. Revolts across the country caught the attention of her passionate brother Jean-Paul, and his ‘shadow’ Henri. The two disappeared off to join the revolution, but only Jean-Paul returned. Stricken with grief at losing his youngest brother, the guilt-ridden Jean-Paul took his own life only a year later. Michel dedicated himself to the vineyard, but the broken family grew distant. Ten year old Amélie, distraught and naive, couldn’t stand to remain where she had such terrible memories. Knowing that the grape yields were failing and they risked losing the business, Amélie ran away, took to the shore and stowed away on a ship bound for the ‘Glorious Isle of England’, expecting to get a job and earn a decent wage that she could send home to her family.
Of course, England was not all that. After landing in Portsmouth, Amélie’s childhood dreams were shattered. Instead she joined the many urchins and orphans on the streets, learning better how to fight through scrapping with the other children. After only a few months in, she realised that older boys were earning more by doing heavy labour, but as a girl the workhouses turned her away. So Amélie swapped her dress for trousers, cut her hair and threw on a cap to help cover her face. Years of climbing trees and carrying heavy baskets of grapes gave her the strength she needed – now all she needed was a name.
So Amélie Duval became Henri Duval, and has been ever since.
One year ago, Michel wrote to him to tell him that their father, Laurent had gone to fight in the Crimean War and died. Two months ago he wrote again, telling him that the grape yield was at an all time low, and he was thinking of selling the farm. Henri’s wages wouldn’t cover them this time. By chance, he’s heard of an opportunity, and adventure, a position navigating a ship that sail BENEATH the waves…
Henri would be excited, but there are more pressing matters to think about. Fools errand or no, Henri is desperate. He’ll do anything to save the Duval Vineyard.