The coach rocked steadily. They had left at sun up, which was rather late due to the season. The trunks had been swiftly packed. Aimée had no input, she was chaperoned by Madame as the maids worked. Not that she had the enthusiasm to care. Her secret bundle of blades had been confiscated. The only thing important to her was safely in her pocket where she always kept it. The Madame had never laid eyes on the clockwork bird.
Aimée felt crushed against Madame as they were gentle tossed back and forth in their shared seat. The Dowager had a seat to herself and she seemed to be staring at Aimée every time the girl stole a look at her. The woman’s expression was always hard, almost as if her face was made of stone. Her eyes were black and void of humanity. Aimée looked back to her hands folded in her lap. Aimée tried to appear serene and compliant. She masked the pain in her ankle as the carriage jostled her.
A thundering sound approached. Aimée leaned forward to look out the window just as the carriage was over taken by a group of cavaliers. Their cloaks billowed and hat plumes fluttered as they blazed past the coach. The older women clucked with disapproval. Aimée sighed. Those men had the freedom to go wherever they wished, while she did not.
By nearly noon the coach had slowed. The Dowager set her eyes upon Madame.
“Find out why we are delayed,” she ordered. Madame nodded obediently and hung out the window to call to the driver. Aimée met the Dowager’s gaze and held it as they waited. She was sure the old woman thought this was another trick by Aimée. Madame seated herself again.
“Lame horses, he says. There’s a town not far. He means to get fresh ones,” Madame reported. The Dowager pursed her lips.
“I would prefer that we keep moving, but it can’t be helped,” she murmured. Madame nodded in agreement.