Chapter XXXII

Inside the shelter it was surprisingly warm considering its messy build. A fire burned within a circle of stones at the centre, a makeshift, roughly-hewn table and chairs to one side. The floor was bare earth, covered with pine-needles, but even the chairs looked comfortable after her long time in the saddle. Everything was plain and sparse. Beatrix felt her lip curling - these people lived like the barbarians of the outlands!

‘Jaques!’ A man, who had been sitting at the table unnoticed, now leaped up and embraced Jaques impulsively.

The loud voice made Beatrix jump slightly, but she hated herself for doing so - it was just a man, not even much taller than her, and dressed in the expected rags of outlaws. His hair was sandy and wild, his face slightly freckled and tanned from the sun.

‘How are you?’

Jaques grinned, evidently pleased to see what looked to Beatrix like a vagabond. ‘Oh, same old. Yourself?’

‘Not too bad. Who’re these two?’ he asked, drawing back and catching sight of Beatrix and Carla. She drew herself up, reading herself to speak to him, cringing at the idea of his country, informal speech, and the indignity of talking to a-

‘They got caught in the raid last night,’ Jaques said, slightly on the defensive himself. ‘It was all our fault, and  Keiran - I couldn’t just leave them. They needed my help, and I’m sworn to give it. I know I shouldn’t’ve, with the danger and all, but, well, I didn’t know what else to do...’

The man - Keiran - shook his head. ‘Don’t worry about it, Jaques, do y’hear? You may not have done the prudent thing, but you’ve certainly done the right thing. Sometimes we’ve got to let our hearts rule our heads, eh?’ He turned to the girls, a twinkle in his eye. ‘You must be exhausted - go get some sleep! I think Moll’s got some space in her room, if you ask her nicely. She’s got a pair of lungs on her like the bellows, that gal, but she’s a right sweetheart once you get to know her. Take it from me.’ He smiled. ‘What do they call you?’

Beatrix faltered. She was used to servants introducing her as a Lady and a Countess, not this strange, familiar way of doing things. But, as ever, Carla came to her rescue, saying: ‘Oh, sir, this is Beatrix. And I’m Carla.’

‘Well then, Beatrix and Carla,’ he said, sweeping open the flap of the door with one hand and motioning to the horrendous bog outside. ‘Welcome to my home!’

The End

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