She barely had time to turn before Carla flung herself on her mistress, and the two girls hugged fiercely, a mixture of love and relief in their hearts.
‘Caught him off guard,’ the woman smirked. ‘Typical bloke. Think they rule the world. Never watch their backs.’
Beatrix blushed, pulling away from Carla in an attempt to preserve what little dignity she had left to her name. And after only one day outside the castle! Ye gods – how could she survive here until it was safe for her to return?
‘Don’t worry about Rhea,’ Jaques smiled kindly. ‘She can be a real devil-woman when she wants to be. She’s actually pretty nice, when she puts her mind to it.’
Rhea snorted. ‘Thanks. That’s a real compliment.’
Jaques laughed, and Beatrix marveled at the speed at which they’d recovered from their ordeal. Another quirk of peasant life, she supposed. Or outlaw life.
‘You’re the outlaws they wanted!’ she murmured, suddenly realising.
That wiped the smile off Jaques’ face, but it was Rhea who spoke first: ‘Do you have a problem with that?’
It was said in a relatively light-hearted way, but even Beatrix could hear the underlying tones of menace.
Carla, ever the peacemaker, leapt to the rescue: ‘No, of course not. My mis- friend was just… surprised, that’s all.’
Jaques smiled apologetically. ‘We’ll have to go now. You’ve reminded us of the more sober reason we’re out here.’ He turned to Beatrix, genuine worry and regret showing in his face, and it suddenly struck her how much more real everything was out here. ‘I’m really very sorry you’ve suffered at our expense. If there’s anything we can do for you, to make it up… Although I really doubt it… Any favour I could do you?’
Beatrix blushed slightly, and it was Carla, again showing her hand at quick-thinkingness, who said: ‘Oh, sir, now you speak of it – we’re in need of a place to rest, you see. We… Well, we’re not on such friendly terms with the law just now.’
Rhea laughed, and Jaques bowed gallantly. ‘Of course, my little damsels in distress! I get your meaning perfectly! And between you and me, do you know anyone on friendly terms with the law?’