The guards of the Archbishop were uninterested in heading back out into the cold night once again. They provided fresh horses, but that was it. Gilles set off on horseback alone with a second horse in tow. He held a torch aloft and retraced the wagon’s tracks back to the airboat. The balloon lay deflated across the field. The wings splayed and broken.
Gilles dismounted and staked the torch into the ground. Quickly, he gathered up the canvas, ropes and splinters. They were tossed hastily inside the boat. He took up the torch again and lit the broken contraption on fire. The sailcloth burned without trouble and spread the flame over the craft. The wicker of the boat crackled merrily and gave off a pleasant heat. Gilles tore his eye off of the light and gazed out over the field in an effort to retrace the boat’s flight path.
“Hulloooooo!” a voice called over the frozen ground. Gilles squinted at the dark trees. He couldn’t make out anything after the brightness of the fire. “Hulloooooo!” the voice repeated. Gilles mounted his horse and cautiously trotted towards the tree line. The dark shape of a man against the snow soon became visible and Gilles headed directly towards it. Knowing help had finally arrived Jacques sunk down into a heap to wait. Gilles brought his horse to a halt and stared down at his forlorn friend.
“Oh Gilles, is that you? Can it be? You are too late. I am dying…dying of cold. My feet are gone and my eyes! My eyes will never see our sweet Mademoiselle again!” Jacques lamented as he lay on the frozen ground.
“Jacques, quit with the dramatics! Every moment you spend on the ground is another moment longer until we reach sanctuary. The Archbishop of Toulouse is waiting!” Gilles tossed the reins of the second horse at his partner.
“Of course, my friend, you are right,” Jacques huffed as he struggled first to his feet, then to mount the horse. “Perhaps you should chuck me into the signal fire, just there.” He nodded at the large fire ahead of them.
“That is not the signal fire. It’s the airboat. You missed a rough landing,” Gilles urged his horse to action.
“Damn! La Houdinière missed the excitement once again!” Jacques hurried to catch up to the Count as they headed to Loches.