Chapter XXIX

Laughing, the two led Beatrix and Carla to the stables, where Rosa was busy calming the horses. Beatrix’s heart sank at the thought of more riding – her legs were still sore and stiff from last night. But it seemed there was no choice.

‘I’m sorry, Rosa,’ Jaques said. ‘I didn’t mean for it to turn into a fight. But you saw…’ he motioned slightly to Beatrix, and Rosa nodded grimly.

‘Don’t worry,’ she sighed. ‘I don’t like them any more than you do. The law’s got a bit heavy-handed lately… The old king didn’t enforce his rules on the guardsmen as much as he ought, and now they think they can do whatever they like. I don’t hold out much hope of this King being any better, mind you. Already he’s raised taxes – if they go up again, I shudder to think what’ll happen.’

Jaques shook his head. ‘I know. Something needs to change.’

‘But not your drinking habits, eh?’

Jaques laughed. ‘Oh no. They’re set in stone. At least for now!’

‘Well, warn me if they’re about to change, and I’ll come round and force-feed you my best ale.’

‘In that case, I might just give you a false alarm!’

Rosa grinned. ‘That’s my boy. Off you go now, before those thrice cursed sons of whelps awaken. They’ll have a splitting headache!’

‘Just tell them we overpowered you,’ Jaques said, swinging himself up into his saddle.

She laughed in return. ‘I’d be the one doing the overpowering!’

Beatrix marvelled at how they could exchange such light banter as if they were simply ordinary farming folk, and not outlaws who’d just killed several guardsmen, an offence punishable by hanging.

What kind of a world am I living in? she asked herself.

And, more worryingly:

How can I not know?

The End

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