There was a light on in the cottage. Jarred stole closer to it, hiding in the safety of the shadows where the silver glow from the moon could not give him away to those who might be watching. Looking in the window he could see her tall, lithe frame pacing. He glanced about him and then slipped silently into the cottage. She whirled around at the click of the door closing behind him. "You ought now leave your door unlocked in these times." Crossing the room he licked his fingers and then used them to snuff the candles that sat in the window. "You really must be mad! Do you want to be caught?"
She didn't say anything, and she didn't have to, he knew that she was agreeing. He was right. She scooped up a saddle bag off of the otherwise bare table she ate her meals at. The cottage was almost empty; a small bed, a single chair, and a cupboard. No books or papers to give her away. No clothes, no animals. It had just been her. It was safer that way. She turned her back to him, the skirts of her cotton riding dress swirling as she left the room. She was covered in a cloak as dark as night itself. Jarred nodded in approval as he followed. She wouldn't be spotted as easily if they had to hide. That blasted hair of hers might give them away, he mused. It was as red and fiery as the devil's lair, or so some gossiped. She was busy saddling a gray Andalusian mare. It had been a gift from her grandfather, a Viscount, when he had been alive. Jarred's own warmblood was waiting for him on the other side of the river. He helped her settle herself in the saddle and then used a crate to mount the tall mare behind her. His arms slipped easily around her waist. He told her to go. She was hesitating. Rethinking. "Vitoria, there is no time to waste. They were only a few miles behind me."
"I know," she whispered softly with a stiff nod. She grasped the reins tightly and dug her heels into Moonlight's sides. The mare needed no other encouragement. There was nothing she liked better than running, especially when she had someone to race against. Silently Jarred willed her not to look back, not just yet. She didn't. She kept her eyes trained on the river ahead of them. It was alight with the moon's glow. Moonlight plunged into the river and cantered easily through the shallow water to the other side. On the other side, hidden well by brambles, apple trees, and tall grasses, was Titan, Jarred's horse. He jerked his head up, his ears pricking at the sound of an approaching horse. He nickered and trotted right over, glad to have company at last.
Jarred slipped off of Moonlight and as he turned Titan he couldn't help but notice the mare's subtle beauty. A perfectly chiseled head, long sparkling mane and tail, well muscled neck and legs. The then took a moment to turn his gaze to the rider. Vitoria's red hair was braided simply and plainly down her head and then knotted firmly at the base of her neck. Her skin was pale in the light of the moon, her hands shaking. How could he still be attracted to her? After all the time he had been away from her side? She hadn't even taken a second glance in his direction when he'd snuck inside.
He shook his head lightly, clearing his mind of those memories and followed her to a gap in the thicket. There was a mile or so between them and the cottage, but still they could hear the shouts of the soldiers and see the home go up in flames with the hopes that she was still inside. Vitoria didn't turn away until Jarred made her, fearful that they would be caught if they lingered too long. They galloped away from the river, heading for the coastline. There in Calais a ship waited in the harbor, ready to bear her away to the safety of the New World. He had o grab a hold of Moonlights reins so as to make the horse stop; Vitoria wasn't listening to him either. He grabbed her hand in his and forced her to look in his face. "Calais. We go there. The ship leaves tomorrow at sunrise."
She nodded and picked up the reins again, steadying the eager mare. "Thank you, Jarred. Thank you for everything."
They continued their ride through the day as the sun rose high overhead. In the distance clouds grew, threatening spring rains. Jarred kept mostly to himself as he rode. This was his life. It had been his life for as long as he could remember. Running. Hiding. Working. No rest. No breaks. That life never bothered him, not until he had to leave Vitoria for the New World. He'd been sent over as an indentured servant and there worked seven long years for his master. Only then was he allowed to return.
At dusk Jarred motioned for them to stop and they ate a cold supper underneath a starry sky. Vitoria was her usual silent self. He wondered why. At long last her rosy lips opened and she spoke. "Where did you go?"
He looked up from his bread. "Go?"
"One day you were there, the next you were gone. No letters, no explanation."
He knew she was confused and hurt. How to explain? "I didn't really have a choice. Your . . . Your father ordered me to go. He thought that we were too attached, so he put me on a ship to America."
"No letters." she prompted.
"I had no way to pay for paper or a postage stamp. And even if I had, your father would never have let you see them." he said quietly.
She let a single, soft, unladylike sigh escape her lips. "I waited for seven years."
"And now I'm back." Jarred grinned. "Just as soon as we get to Calais things will be better. I've got things arranged for you. You're going to stay in America under a different identity with some friends of mine."
"Father?" she questioned. The last she had heard of her father, he was in prison awaiting an execution for heresy.
Jarred shrugged. "He's on his way. A few old friends of mine helped lift him from his confinement."
Relief swept through her. "You're sure?"
He nodded. "I helped."
Her gray eyes narrowed. "You did not come straight here?"
Reluctantly Jarred shook his head, running a hand over his short cropped hair. "Your father had to come first. He was in the most danger."
Vitoria let her chin come to rest on her hand, one elbow propped on her knees. Her hair was in a disarray, short wisps of hair falling into her eyes. She looked up and caught him staring and smiled gently. "I thought maybe you'd gotten married, or died."
He shook his head. "I'm not married, and definitely not a ghost."
This made her smile wider. He grinned back and took his time at looking her over again. Shed changed quite a bit. No longer was she a scrawny fifteen-year-old, but now a twenty-two year-old woman, well endowed. She was strong, he could see, and he guessed that she had done all of her own cooking and cleaning, and the feeding of Moonlight. He could see callouses on her hands from the work. She caught his gaze again, perhaps by accident, and looked quickly away, a blush creeping up her neck and spreading into her cheeks. Jarred stood then, and stretched, glancing at her out of the corners of his eyes. She was staring now, but it seemed almost absently, like she wasn't thinking about him in that moment. He walked over to her and sat at her side. "What are you thinking about?"
Surprised, she jolted away from him a bit. "I– I was just remembering what things were like before you left."
"Ah," he murmured. "I like thinking about those days too."
She looked over at him, a question forming on her lips. "When I get to America . . ."
She stopped, suddenly feeling foolish. "Will I be free from this prosecution?"
Jarred turned serious, realizing that she wasn't genuinely concerned that France would find her in America and prosecute her for her beliefs. "For the most part, you will be safe. The family you will be living with will tell you all you need to know."
She fell silent for a few moments, her gaze locked on Moonlight standing in the distance grazing happily. "Are we going to stay here, or are we going to continue on?"
Jarred jumped up then. He'd forgotten they were on the run. "Yes. Quickly, now. Get Moonlight."
Vitoria followed his instructions and brought the mare over, bridling her with a riders ease. She lifted her foot to the stirrup and pulled herself up. Without realizing it, Jarred reached out and steadied her by the waist. There was something hard there, tucked into her sash. He reached for it and pulled out a small silver pistol. She flushed and hung her head. "I know I shouldn't be carrying it, but I couldn't help it–"
Jarred handed the pistol back. "You know how to use it?" She nodded. "Good," Jarred said. He mounted Titan and pulled the horse around, facing her. "I never stopped thinking about you, Vitoria. Not for a second."
Jarred could smell the sea before he could see it. He could feel the dampness settle around him like a cloak, drenching his clothes and making his skin sticky with salt. He could hear the roar of the waves as they rose and them plummeted, crashing against rocky and sandy shores. Slowly the ground beneath him was turning from dirt and soil to sand and sea grasses. Fog hung in the air so thick that they could barely see their hands in front of their faces.
He wasn't sure what happened. One moment Vitoria was riding ahead of him the mist swirling around her mysteriously, and the next he was lying in a heap on the ground. A painful heat erupted from his right shoulder and he clutched it immediately, groaning as the muscles there spasmed uncomfortably. Victoria let out a scream, but in the confusion of his mind her words did not register. He watched dazedly as she almost fell from Moonlight in her haste to dismount. She scrambled awkwardly through the grass and sand to his side. She knelt there a look of angst and worry spreading across her features as she saw the blood seeping from between his fingers.
"Jarred! You've been shot!" she whispered. Later she wouldn't even remember hearing the shot. The only thing she had been thinking about was getting to the sea. And her freedom once in America.
"Go," Jarred rasped, his mind beginning to fog quickly with pain. He needed her to understand before he brought her down alongside himself.
"Jarred?" she questioned, confusion coloring her tone.
"Go!" he managed to roar into her face. She jerked backward. A look of abandonment taking over her face, creasing her brows. "Get to Calais. Ask for the seaman called Jacques. He will make sure you arrive . . . safely."
Looking at him she knew that he was too tired to continue on. She stumbled backward, reaching for Moonlight. She didn't want to leave him there in the swirling mist. But she had to, she knew that. Quickly she mounted the mare and began her journey once more. It started to rain when she reached the top of a grassy knoll. She turned Moonlight around and looked back to where he lay, Titan not far off. She couldn't see them, but she knew that they were coming. They would haul him away and kill him, putting his tortured remains on display so that others might learn from his mistakes. Closing her eyes she said a swift prayer, asking God to take him safely under His wing, and to protect him so that they might be able to meet once more.
Moonlight was getting tired. She began to slow, drifting sometimes to an unsteady trot. Vitoria knew then that she had better let the mare walk or else she might lose her most trusted friend. Together they stumbled down a sand dune and were met with the sight of the ocean. Waves flooded and then receded in a steady rhythm, one that Vitoria found comforting as she and Moonlight walked wearily in the sand. Both were mourning the loss of a true friend. Vitoria resisted the urge to cry, as it would solve nothing, but at that moment it was all she felt like doing.
Eventually they began to enter a more industrialized area. She began to see homes more often and piers sticking out into the sea. When they entered what seemed like the most likely area for the vessel and Jacques to be found, Vitoria took a moment to lean against one of the piers and close her eyes. Just as tired, Moonlight leaned her head against her mistress' chest. She fell asleep there and did not wake until she heard Moonlight plodding steadily away. Vitoria jerked her eyes open. There was a man! Leading away Moonlight, looking very much like he owned her! Quickly Vitoria dashed after the man and grabbed a hold of the reins. "Excuse me," she said civilly. "This is my horse, you're walking off with."
"Is it now, Miss?" the grubby man scratched his head disinterestedly.
Vitoria drew the pistol without a thought and cocked it, pointing the barrel at the man's head. "Yes, she is."
"Now, Now," came a second voice, this one too distinctly male. "No need for a weapon, Miss. Gulden, If you would kindly give the Lady her horse back, I'm sure we'd both be much obliged."
Vitoria looked to her left and met eyes with a soldier in full dress. Quickly she released the hammer and took a step away from the man. His green eyes starred at her in accusation. Traitor, they seemed to say. It was rumored that the King's men could smell a traitor miles away. Briefly she wondered if such superstition was true. But then the man smiled kindly to her. "He has been watching you all through the early morning, Miss. And I have been watching him."
Vitoria nodded. "Thank you, Sir, but really, I must be going now."
She turned away and began to lead Moonlight down the street. It was only seconds before he had caught her arm and slowed her down. " How, or should I ask why, is it that a woman, who looks to be a Lady, is out in the early morning hours, by herself."
His stern features scared her. She heard plenty of things about the King's men, seen them too, but never had she thought she would meet one in the flesh, and she, of course, had not been hoping to. "I– I'm looking for a sea Captain. By the name of Jacques. I have passage arranged for myself to America."
"Ah, and your papers. Do you have them?"
Vitoria froze quite suddenly. "P-papers?" she stammered. "I do– I do not know what you are speaking about. My cousin arranged it all. I was only told to find Mr. Jacques. Might you be able to escort me to his ship?"
Suddenly the man beside her laughed, drawing attention from people on the street sides, busy setting out their wares for the day. "I had no idea that I would be such a convincing officer, Lady Vitoria."
Vitoria opened her mouth to speak, but he silenced her. "I am Briand, better known as Jacques, please, allow me to escort you, and your beautiful mount to my ship. You look as though you have not slept."
"Oh," Vitoria murmured. "Oh my. Mr. Briand, you really had me fooled. You scared me quite a bit." she admitted, biting her lip.
"Ah, forgive me then. I didn't have those intentions, but I believed that I should play the part if I dress it, should I not?"
"You certainly fooled that man."
"That man is a thief who needs to be arrested for true crimes against the King's people." Briand's tone was bitter. "But please, let me not talk of politics. I can see that already you threaten to fall over with every step that you take."
Vitoria realized them how true he was. She followed him along the line of piers, admiring ships and then men that worked alongside them. Many stared enviously after Briand, and many saw the value in her Andalusian, though none sought to steal the mare. Vitoria followed Briand up a gangplank encouraging a fearful Moonlight onto the ship's deck. Everything on the ship posed a threat to the mare; the coils of rope, the barrels of fresh water and food. The men in their uniforms, and the especially the masts that billowed above her head, threatening to leap down upon her, snatch her up whole, and carry her off into the sky. "Where is Jarred? He said he would be accompanying you."
What was she to tell him? "I– I'm not sure, Mr. Briand. We were on our way here when he was shot. He made me leave him– I wish I hadn't." There. There were those tears that had longed to spill over the crests of her eyes and drip slowly and painfully down her porcelain cheeks. "I– Where are my quarters? I wish only to see that Moonlight is taken care of properly and to get some sleep."
"Yes, of course, Lady Vitoria. However, while on this ship you shall go by the name of Angevin. My crew will know you only as that and by no other name. It is imperative that you remain unknown to them." Brand's voice dropped to a whisper as he said these words. "Come, Miss Angevin. Allow me to show you your quarters and see to your papers." he said more loudly, for the crews benefit, she assumed. He motioned for one of the crew to come and take Moonlight. "Make sure she is fed and watered."
She followed Briand through a door into what she would have guessed to be the main cabin, but was actually the start of a short hall of rooms, each equipped with a bed, dresser, table and chair, all of which were nailed securely to the floor. She was given the second room. She guessed the first were his quarters. Her room was small, but it did not bother her as it once would have. Once all of this would have bothered her. She would have never run away from home, never left her father behind but troubled times did that to you, she supposed. Briand left her to her thoughts and he left, locking the door behind him. For a moment she wondered fearfully if she had mistaken Briand for a gentleman, but then she realized that only he must have the keys, and was protecting her from the clutches of his crew.
She set her saddle bag of belongings on the bed and began to unpack it. Two dresses, undergarments, a nightgown, stockings, shoes, an apron, a shall, a journal, a book of poems. These things she placed neatly in the chest of drawers, and then sat heavily on the bed.
Silent tears trailed down her cheeks. Finally she was able to mourn the loss of a beloved friend, and her first and only love. She fell asleep eventually, to the quiet creak and steady rock of the ship. A hand on her shoulder woke her none too quickly from her shadowy dreams. She stared into the crisp eyes of Briand. "Come," he said. "Quickly. There is no time to waste, we must hurry."
She followed in a flurry of loose hair and skirts, trying to memorize her way through the twists and turns of the passages that led throughout the large ship. She stayed with him, and eventually found herself where the horses and hens were kept. There lying among the straw was the very person she never thought she would have seen again. "Jarred!" she cried, throwing herself into his arms. Startled he caught her weakly and chuckled. "I–I thought you were–" She was crying again. Those silly tears!
"Shh," he murmured. "Think of that no more. I am here now."
She buried her head into his shoulder where once, many, many years ago she had done the same thing when she had found that her mother had died in her sleep. He smelled like the sea, like sweat and leather, and blood. She pulled away, immediately remembering his wound. She looked at his shoulder and found it stitched and cleaned. "How long have you been here?" she asked, looking in accusation at Briand.
Jarred sighed. "I didn't want to wake you."
"I would rather you did! Instead all I saw in my dreams were pictures of you, pale and still!"
Jarred sighed and kissed her forehead tenderly. "Had I known I wouldn't have let you sleep."
"Excuse me," Briand murmured, coughing discretely. "Perhaps we had better let Jarred rest? I'll get you some food, Miss Angevin."
The crew were sleeping below deck when Vitoria exited her cabin. Briand was at the helm of the ship staring complacently at the dark waters around them. She pulled her shall tighter around her shoulders and went to stand next to Jarred where he leaned against the rail of the ship. Easily he tucked her under his arm and held her close to his side. She sighed happily and leaned into his warm body. A gentle wind picked up, blowing through her hair and lifting and pulling at her night gown. Looking over at him she reached up to push his hat off his head. It fell to the deck with a quiet, muffled thump, and the wind tousled his hair.
Without a word from his lips he leaned down and caught her face between his hands, pressing his mouth to hers. Caught between his tall frame and the rail, Vitoria could not move away from his caresses. She let herself settle back into the rhythm of his mouth moving against hers. His coarse beard scratched pleasantly at her face, tickled the soft, tender skin there. Vitoria allowed herself to raise on the tips of her toes and wrap her arms around his neck, breathing in the smells of home.