Interlude

(Author’s note:  With the deadline for my next WBC article looming, I find myself bereft of essay subjects at the moment.  Not so much that I’ve nothing to address, more that so many topics present themselves that I don’t know where to begin.  I’m heartsick with the events of the past week, and feeling more than a bit timeworn.  I’m mind-weary … and just plain, flat-out tired.  I’m becoming more and more envious of a reclusive lifestyle and a wilderness cabin to live it in.

So, rather than share my dispirited frame of mind once again, I instead offer a chapter of the story that I visit now and again in my (shockingly little) spare time.  My characters are beginning to clamor for more attention.  Thus far, I’ve been able to appease them with a promise of “real soon now,” but that “soon” never seems to make itself available.  I pray that my small effort might be enjoyable.  Please be kind and constructive with your comments.

#IMissAmerica)

Chapter 6

Jamie spat a muffled curse, instantly dropping to a crouch and spinning to his left. His left hand threw his cloak upward to confuse his assailant, then reached to sweep aside the anticipated blade. His right hand shot to the hilt of his dagger, reversing his grip so as to use the momentum of the draw for a killing cut.

With a rigid left leg, Jamie swept the feet from his attacker … flashing on the image of a young woman with empty hands, parallel to the cobblestones and on her way to very undignified and undoubtedly somewhat painful landing. On pure instinct Jamie lunged, caught her and then slowly rose to his feet with the lady cradled in his arms. Sensing no danger, he closed his eyes and drew a deep breath, seeking to cleanse the adrenalin from his system. After a brief moment, he looked down at the woman he held and sank helplessly into a pair of violet eyes.

The young woman’s compelling gaze didn’t waver and in the space of a few heartbeats, Jamie felt himself weighed and measured. Somewhat irrationally, he harbored a passing worry he might be found wanting. There was a depth to her appraisal that hinted of confidences yet to be shared, futures to be explored. His universe tilted, worlds collided and he marveled at the wonder he found in her eyes. After an eternity had passed, Jamie mentally shook himself and found his voice.

My sincere and most humble apologies, my lady. Are you injured?”

The lady hesitated, allowing a quick look of puzzlement to flit across her face. From where had this giant appeared? How could I not have seen him? She replied softly, “Only my pride, monsieur … and precious little of that if truth be told.”

Are you certain? Maybe a physician … ?”

I am fine, monsieur,” she demurred. “Indeed, the situation is such that I should more properly be apologizing to you. It was I after all, who … shall we say … arranged our happenstance meeting?” she said with a soft, chagrined chuckle. The young woman paused, then continued teasingly, “Perhaps we should seek out a physician on your behalf?”

A laugh burst from Jamie, surprised by the flirtatious response. Oh my gods! the woman thought, I would pray to grow old hearing that laugh each day! Who IS he? Jamie ruefully grinned and shook his head. “Not a physician, my lady, but possibly a constable? I fear my heart may have just been sto …”

M’lord?” Jamie felt a tug at his cloak and with great reluctance tore his attention from the lady in his arms and directed it to the boy at his side. As he turned his face, the lady felt as if the sun had vanished and fought back a surprising rush of tears. Gods … no! What was he going to say?

The man studied the boy standing beside him. “Indeed, Master Reiter.” He sighed ruefully, “It appears my day is to be spent apologizing for one thing or another.” Jamie chuckled and returned his attention to the young woman. “My lady, as pleasant as I find your company, I’m bound to an important engagement with young Master Reiter,” he said, nodding to indicate the young man. “If you are indeed unhurt … ?”

The lady quickly pushed down a surge of panic at the realization the chance encounter was coming to an end and they would be parting. Carefully composing herself, she smiled and reiterated, “I am quite well, monsieur. I have suffered no harm.” Then why was her heart racing so? She held the man’s eyes, acutely aware of the connection growing between them. She searched his face, drawn to his lips, her own parting slightly in anticipation. With slight pressure of her arms about his neck, she involuntarily began to pull him to her. Please … yes! Flushing at the couple’s public intimacy, Nikolaus nervously cleared his throat. No! After a small hesitation the lady glanced at him, then looked again to the man and with a slight nod directed his attention to the boy.

Jamie started, grinned a bit sheepishly and carefully lowered the young woman to her feet. She reluctantly removed her arms from around his neck where she had instinctively thrown them. No! Don’t go! She dropped her eyes, quickly smoothed her dress and settled her cloak about her shoulders. Lifting her gaze back to Jamie, she extended her hand and said, “Until we meet again, monsieur.”

Not trusting himself to speak, Jamie bowed over her hand, then straightened as she turned and walked away. A sudden explosive commotion in the street … a near collision of two delivery wagons … caused him to snap his head in that direction. A split-second assessment returned no immediate threat so he quickly returned his attention to the departing young woman … to find she had vanished. Alarmed, he sputtered, “What? Where?” Spinning to Nikolaus, “Did you see where the lady went?”

Confused, Nikolaus cast a look up and down the street. “No, m’lord, I didn’t.”

Her absence emotionally staggered Jamie. Arms akimbo, he dropped his eyes to the cobblestones and heaved a deep breath to collect his scattered thoughts. After a few seconds, he shook his head, smiled regretfully and clapped Nikolaus on the shoulder. “Well, Master Reiter, no matter … we’ve delayed long enough. We have adventure on the horizon!” The two looked at one another, huge grins bursting across their faces, albeit a hooded look of yearning had taken root in the man’s eyes. As one they turned and marched down the street, passing a nearby cross street, intent on no further interruptions.

Had either chanced to glance into the side street, they might have caught the telltale hem flip of a dark blue cloak as the lady in question surreptitiously sidestepped into a connecting alley. She hurried along the deserted backstreet until she found refuge behind a collection of broken crates steeped in shadows. Pulling her cloak close, the young woman let her shoulders slump against the rough wall, sank to her haunches and hugged herself. What in the gods-damned hells was THAT? She thrust her hands before her and came close to tears as she noted their trembling. In a panic, she clasped them together, pulled them white-knuckled to her bowed head, closed her eyes and unsuccessfully commanded the shaking to stop. Slow, deep breath … Again. And again. She had never been so affected by a man … NEVER! She simply couldn’t … wouldn’t allow it. Breathe. Minutes passed as she struggled to regain control of emotions ripped ragged by the encounter. Breathe.

Once more she stretched out her hands. Only a slight tremor remained, but even that was too much. Anything less than perfection could be enough to cost her life. Gods! Will I see him again? She angrily dashed away tears that threatened to fall. What the bloody hells has happened to me?

As was her wont, she replayed the events of the morning. The exercise was even now more crucial as she still fought to regain some balance. Her original goal had been to catch the eye of the Chevalier de Rochat. Approaching and meeting de Rochat had been laughably easy, in spite of the fact he was considered to be a “professional” by those who would know. She snorted in derision. Men! she thought, wriggle your ass, flash a little tit and they babble like a thumb-sucking toddler. She gritted her teeth against the memory of the Chevalier’s hands on her. True, she had been in similar situations before, but this one made her feel exceptionally soiled. She made a mental note to haggle with her harridan of an innkeeper for a long, hot, scented bath. She let slip a small sigh. It’s a shame the giant I just met wouldn’t be around to share it. THAT would certainly help me to forget that bastard de Rochat! She quickly slapped a hand to her mouth as a slightly hysterical giggle threatened to escape. Good hells, you little slut, where had THAT come from? Concentrate! The arrival of that boorish little man had forced her to postpone her mission for the present, but she had adapted and made a suitable exit. She was content to wait for another opportunity. Absently searching through the folds of her dress, her hand slipped through a disguised slit and caressed the hilt of the stiletto strapped to her thigh.

Almost as an afterthought, her curiosity had driven her to pretend to use the konditori’s large window as a mirror, and verify that the little man and de Rochat were meeting with one another. What she saw caused her to suspect the two men were something more than passing acquaintances. And if the man was important to the Chevalier, it was critical that she find out who and what he might be.

She had lingered as long as she could without raising undue suspicion, only a short moment. Her professionally cultivated paranoia wouldn’t allow any more of a risk. Turning from the window, she then casually weaved her way through the crowded terrace, marking the presence of several de Rochat henchmen along the way, and mentally chewed over this latest revelation.

Then she had walked into the wall.

Even now, she was unable to reconstruct exactly what had happened. Never one to be unaware of her immediate surroundings, she would have sworn the way ahead had been completely clear. At one second she had been walking along, at the next … well, as ridiculous as it sounded, she could only say that the wall collided with her. And then she found herself in the arms of a giant and melting into a pair of golden eyes. What had happened in between was largely a blur. She shook her head and resolved to investigate the riddle more fully when she wasn’t so pressed for time. Or not so distracted by memories of those eyes, she thought, or his scent. Gods! he smelled so good! With a soft sigh, she resigned herself to the fact she would not soon be free of the feelings the man had aroused. But she could, with a bit of effort, lock them away until she had the leisure to examine them more fully. And to purge them. After all, I’ll never see him again, she brutally told herself. She tried to ignore the frisson of fear that thought caused.

With yet another sigh, the young woman rose to her feet and unclasped the capuchin from around her shoulders. She reached into a fold at the neck and began to pull the material inside out. Within a few minutes, she had transformed her dark blue cloak into one of equally rich burgundy. Settling it back about her shoulders, she raised the hood and pulled the material close. She confidently strode to the front of the alley and turned to return to the main thoroughfare. As she approached the intersection, she slowed and nonchalantly turned so as to appear to take interest in the wares displayed in a nearby shop window.

One of the Chevalier’s henchmen, whom she knew to be one of the so-called “Shadow Hounds,” crossed the junction. She discreetly watched the man and to her professional eye, it became apparent he was on the trail of some poor soul. And if there was one, there was sure to be … yes! She rapidly identified one, two … no, three more. Three dogs and a bitch. Two teams, clearly set upon the same scent. de Rochat must want their prey badly as the pack was short only their cur of a leader, Samael. No, there he is, leading from behind as usual. She smiled grimly, resisting the urge to stroke her hidden blade. She owed a blood debt to that one.

Electing to take advantage of the opportunity, she followed him, using a group of pompous burghers as camouflage. She took care to change her walk and mannerisms. After a few moments, she was able to decipher the subtle signals Samael was using to direct the pack. They were certainly good, worthy of their reputation, but nowhere near her level. It was obvious they were still in search mode, not yet sighting their prey. She smiled wolfishly. With a bit of luck, she’d be able to rid the Empire of a few dregs before the day was out.

And she made her own luck.

 

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