1617: xvi

Gilles nodded, then discreetly pointed to a man tightening the saddle girth of a horse nearby. The man could have been one of the cavaliers she saw earlier, but she had never seen their faces. The fresh horses were finally brought out in harness and hitched to the Dowager’s coach. The coachman appeared in the doorway and the Dowager nodded as she rose from her seat. Aimée brought up the rear, slowly limping after them. She fell a step or two behind on purpose, still unsure what was expected from her. The coachman helped the Dowager step up into the carriage.

In a flash, Gilles threw the beggar’s robes into the faces of the horses. They began to rear and threaten to bolt. The stable boy lost his grip on lead horses and dove for cover as they charged forward. The Dowager screamed and the coachman was running for the reins. He jumped on the side of the coach in an effort to reach his seat. Madame shouted for help. Aimée hobbled as fast as she could towards the man next to the horse. She clenched her fists and was prepared to fight as she approached him, but to her surprise he said,

“Hurry, Mademoiselle!” He knelt down with laced fingers and boosted her into the saddle. She was barely settled when Gilles leapt up behind her and took the reins. He urged the horse into a gallop and they tore out of town while the people were more concerned with the runaway carriage. They crossed a great distance and the horse was covered in sweat before Gilles allowed it to slow. They crested a hill and in the distance a man laid under a tree as his horse grazed nearby. He propped himself up when he heard them approach and got to his feet. The men exchanged horses without a word between them. They changed horses once again in the same fashion. Aimée and the Count rode on before they finally entered a small town and stopped at an inn just as the sun was setting.

Gilles dismounted and turned to help Aimée down. She balked. It was her first time face to face with him in months. The doctor he had rushed to had been unable to save the sight of his eye and the skin still bore scabs.

“Come, ma Cher, we have some catching up to do,” he said.

i           xv         xvii


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