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Marie's Story - Chapter 2

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Gusan, France

September 1413

Marie ignored the rapid rise in her heart rate and wiped away the sweat beading her forehead. She gave what she hoped was a nonchalant shrug.

“I see men every day,” she said casually, though she felt Joanna’s nervous stare from across the hall. “You’ll need to be more specific.”

The cloaked man bared his teeth in a wide smile. It was a predatory smile, nothing joyful about it, and a shiver ran down Marie’s spine. “You would know him,” he said. “He’s not from Gusan.” He glanced at the faces of the men in the hall. “Being a woman owning an inn by yourself, I suspect you’ve already ‘met’ most of the men of your quaint town. More than once, I’d wager.”

“Watch it,” Humbert interrupted sternly. He’d caught the cloaked man’s implications. Judging by the indignant murmurs among the others, he wasn’t the only one. “You can’t walk in here and speak to Marie like that.”

He scoffed, though a quick survey of the hall made him realize he was quickly losing the room. He seemed to know he’d need their assistance to find the man he was after.

The man tied to a bed upstairs, Marie thought.

“Let me apologize,” the cloaked man said. “I feel we’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. My name is Rupert, and I am an emissary of King John.” He raised his hands in protest to the immediate chorus of curses that followed the mention of the English king. “I have no love of him, either,” he quickly added. “But he has hired me for a job. I harbor no ill will for France or its people. I come not in malice or aggression but only to retrieve a man. This man is a thief and a killer, and John would see him dead. I am merely his instrument.” Rupert held an open hand toward one of the two guards he’d brought. The guard dropped a pouch into his palm. “I have a reward for any information. They’re English shillings, but I wager you’ll find it easy enough to spend.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Father Clement said before anyone else could respond. He rose from his table and stepped toward Rupert. “There’s been no strange man in Gusan.”

“Do you speak for everyone?”

“He does,” Humbert replied. “We’re a small town, and we see few travelers.” He gestured to the others inside the hall. “Even now, this inn is filled with our townsfolk.”

Rupert turned to Marie. “What about you, innkeeper? Have you seen this man?” He shook the pouch of coins. “I imagine this would go far to improve your inn.”

Marie swallowed. She once again felt Joanna’s gaze. The mezzanine above seemed to call her attention, and she struggled not to turn her gaze toward the door where the injured man lay tied up. A part of her wanted to admit she housed him. After all, what did she owe this man? She’d cared for his injury and even provided him a place to recover. Should she sacrifice a reward for his safety?

Yet Marie was stubborn. She suddenly desired to keep the injured man safe, though she couldn’t say why. If nothing else, Rupert’s judging gaze and arrogant demeanor were enough for her to deny him, not to mention he was English.

She didn’t trust him.

“I’ve seen no man,” she finally said. She waved a hand at those in her hall. “These are the only men I know. The men of Gusan.”

Rupert didn’t reply right away. He passed the pouch back to the guard, though he kept his gaze on Marie. “You wouldn’t mind if I examined your rooms, then,” he said. “Would you?”

“I would,” she replied, putting as much mock indignation into her voice as possible. “Men who stay here pay for their comfort and privacy. I’ll not have you rob them of both.”

He scoffed and looked at the mezzanine. “I see three rooms,” he said, “and I doubt you have enough customers to fill two.” In truth, she had no customers at all, only the unconscious man that Rupert sought. “I shall be quick,” he added.

“You shall not,” she insisted.

Rupert worked his tongue in his mouth and looked again about the hall. Marie could see him weighing his next move. There were enough of Gusan’s men—and women—in the hall to put up a fight should he decide he wanted one. Yet, aside from a few daggers and Gosse’s bludgeon that he insisted on carrying, they had no real weapons. Rupert’s guards were clad in cuirasses and mail and had swords strapped to their belts. She suspected Rupert himself had a weapon on him somewhere. There would be blood—and lots of it—if Rupert insisted on searching the rooms without her permission. He seemed to realize this, though he also seemed to recognize that slaughtering a village of innocents on the off-chance they hid his target was a poor decision.

“Very well,” he finally said. Though his voice remained poised and calm, she saw the tension in his face. He didn’t like giving up, and Marie could tell he suspected she was lying. What he would do with that suspicion remained to be seen. “You will keep an eye out, won’t you?”

“Of course,” she lied.

“Very well,” he said again. With another condescending sweep of the hall, he and his men turned and left.

“What an odd man,” Humbert muttered, and that seemed the end of it. “Come on, John. Let’s have some music.”

The gittern sprang back to life, and the men and women of Gusan quickly forgot about Rupert and his thugs. After all, to their minds, the danger was passed. Marie spared a glance at Joanna and saw her sister sweating profusely. Marie gave a wink, hoping to express a calm she didn’t quite feel herself, and then the two girls returned to serving food and drinks as the night wore on.

Roul departed first—an odd occurrence, but not an unwelcome one—and one by one, the others followed until Marie and Joanna were left sweeping up the hall with Gosse and Melisendre the only other occupants. They were finishing up what could easily be their twentieth game of chess. Eventually, even they packed up and left, and it was then that Marie finally decided to return to the mezzanine and pay a visit to their only guest.

“I want to come,” Joanna insisted.

“No,” Marie said. “We don’t know if he’s dangerous. We don’t know—”

“If he’s dangerous, you should have given him to that man.”

That man felt more dangerous than anyone I’ve ever met,” Marie said. “Now stay down here, keep sweeping, and go to bed when you finish.”

Joanna huffed, but she obeyed, and soon Marie found herself standing outside the man’s room. Her heart thumped in her chest, and her palms became slick with sweat as she placed a hand on the door. Below, she heard the gentle scraping of Joanna’s sweeping. The hall was dark except for a single sconce over the barred entrance, and dancing shadows flickered as her sister dragged the straw broom around the hall.

She drew a breath and entered the room, half-expecting the injured man to jump her as she did. Instead, she found him still lying on the bed, his chest rising and falling with each shallow breath. She shut the door, lit a rush candle, and sat in the corner of the room. For a moment, she sat quietly and watched him breathe.

“What does it go to?” she suddenly asked.

The man stirred, and she knew her guess had been correct: he wasn’t sleeping. “What does what go to?” he asked without opening his eyes.

“They key in your pouch.”

He lifted his head and looked at her across the room. “Where am I?”

“My inn,” she answered. “What does it go to?”

“Who said you could go through my stuff?”

“I earned the right when I saved your life,” she answered.

He sat up, though it was an awkward move with his wrists still bound behind him. He winced as his stitches likely tugged at him. The ropes at his ankles pulled tight as he sat. “Can you untie me?”

“When you answer my question.”

He frowned, and even that felt more joyful than Rupert’s smile. “A box,” he said. “What inn? What town?”

“The Blue Lily,” she said. “In Gusan. What box?”

He shook his head and looked at the floor. He seemed to be thinking. “Gusan…” he muttered. “How’d I get to Gusan?”

“What box?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. He sounded irritated, as if she was inconveniencing him. He glanced at his belt hanging on the wall. “Where’s my sword?”

“You didn’t have one. Why doesn’t it matter?”

“Is the key safe?”

“I left it in your pouch.” She sat back and sighed. “At least tell me your name?”

“Guiscard.”

“And are you a thief and killer, Guiscard?”

“Why would you ask me that?”

“Someone claimed you were.”

He scoffed. “You’ve spoken with Rupert. That man has stolen and killed far more than me.”

“But you have stolen and killed?”

“Only when I’ve had to,” he said, though she doubted it was entirely true. He turned and showed her his bound hands behind his back. “Can you untie me? Please?”

“Not yet,” she said. “Why did you stumble from the woods this afternoon? Why do you have a key in your pouch that goes to some mystery box? Why is a man threatening and bribing people to find you?”

Rather than answer any of the questions or even appear threatened or put off by them, Guiscard smiled. “You’re feisty,” he said, turning again so his hands were behind him. “I like that.”

“I’m glad,” she said. “Answer my questions, or I’ll find Rupert and take his money.”

“How much?”

“He didn’t say.”

“Probably not a lot.”

“Answer my questions.”

“Which one?”

“All of them.”

“You get one.”

She scoffed. “You’re tied up. You’re injured and in my care. I get as many questions as I like.”

“That’s only half true.” He held his hands out in front of him. His wrists were no longer bound, and the rope hung in one hand. “I’m not tied up.”

Marie leaped to her feet, nearly dropping the candle.

“Relax,” he said, holding his hands out before him. “I’m not going to hurt you. Sit back down before you torch your inn.”

She sat, though she found herself clutching the rush candle.

“I’ll answer one question as a thank you for patching me up,” he said. He leaned over and started to untie his ankles.

“Why is Rupert after you?” she blurted out.

“Because of the key I stole from King John,” he said.

“So Rupert was telling the truth?”

Guiscard untangled the rope from his feet and tossed it on the floor. “Depends on what he said.”

“That King John hired him to kill you.”

“Then yes,” he said, “he’s telling the truth.” He stood up and stretched, then winced at his stitches. “Damn,” he muttered, lifting his mail and touching his side gently. With the mail pulled up, Marie saw the bandage was still clean. Either the wound wasn’t as bad as it looked, or she’d done a better job with her stitches than she initially thought. “Why’d you help me, anyway?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

He shrugged and took his belt off the wall. “Same reason you should’ve taken the money.” He buckled his belt around his waist. “You don’t know me.”

“So I should just let you die?”

“Maybe.”

Guiscard left the room, and Marie followed. “Where are you going?”

“Away from here.”

“Why?”

They descended the stairs to the now-darkened hall. Marie saw no sign of her sister. Joanna must have finished cleaning and went to bed, though Marie doubted she was asleep. At least she’d remembered to put out the sconce above the door.

“Because Rupert’s looking for me. He can’t get the key.”

“What’s so special about the key?”

“It’s not the key that’s special. It’s the box it opens.” Guiscard surveyed the hall and spotted the barred front door. “You don’t trust Rupert, do you?”

“I don’t trust many people,” she replied. “What’s in the box?”

“I already answered your one question.” He turned toward the back door. “You have any food you’re willing to part with?”

“Not for people who refuse to answer more than one question.”

He grinned. “Fair enough.” He stuck out his hand. “Thank you again. Goodbye…” he trailed off. “I don’t know your name.”

“You don’t need to.” She didn’t take his hand.

“You’re right, I suppose.” He kept his hand out for another moment before turning and leaving through the back door. It was barred, as well, though it took little effort for him to remove the wooden board. “Is that a donkey?” he asked from outside.

Marie ran through the open door. “Do not touch Isabeau,” she nearly shouted as she stepped into the cool night. There were no clouds, and a sky full of sparkling stars and a brilliant half-moon illuminated the patch of grass behind the Blue Lily. She extinguished the rush candle and set it down in the wet grass. “You can’t take her.”

“Fine,” he muttered. “I won’t.”

“Where are you going?”

“You already asked me that,” he said. He scanned the back of the inn, looked at the same trees he’d stumbled from only hours ago, and eventually let his eyes fall on the axe still embedded in the tree trunk.

“That’s mine,” she said preemptively.

“I need a weapon,” he countered, walking toward it. “You won’t give me food or a mount; at least let me take a weapon.”

She followed. “That’s mine,” she said again, and their hands grabbed the axe at the same moment. “You can’t take it.”

“I’ll bring it back.”

“Liar.”

“Did you drop the candle?” he asked suddenly.

“What? No.” She glanced back at the extinguished candle in the grass. “Why?”

He pointed to one of the Blue Lily’s second-story windows. Orange light flickered in the darkness. A thin tendril of coal-black smoke drifted into the clear night sky. Even as they watched, another of the windows lit up.

The Blue Lily was on fire.

Mon Dieu,” she gasped.

Mon Dieu, indeed,” he said.

 

What started the fire?

  • The Cloaked Man

  • Joanna accidentally started it

  • Guiscard


Where is Joanna?

  • Inside the Blue Lily

  • Taken by the Cloaked Man

  • She followed Marie outside


Will Guiscard help?

  • Yes

  • No


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