Chapter XXXIV

Beatrix had wildly underestimated the number of outlaws living in this dingy squalour. Half naked children, clad only in mud, ran squealing through the trees. Women in ragged skirts sat around smelly pots of glop, laughing and making crude jokes that Beatrix had never even heard of before. It was certain that if nothing else, this little experience would greatly increase her vocabulary.

Keiran seemed to see each and every outlaw as an individual, someone worth stopping and talking to, but Beatrix saw them all the same - dirty, smelly, ragged, foul-mouthed, cut-throat, wild and primitive. It was a far cry from the formal box hedges of the castle.

‘We all have different skills, different strengths,’ Keiran had explained, but Beatrix had only been half listening. She’d found herself longing to return to her bed only minutes after being stuck in Keiran’s repulsive company in the first place. ‘And so we all have different roles. For instance, no one can beat Rhea in a fight - except perhaps Jaques.’

Trust him to go straight to violence.

‘Ridley is a genius when it comes to planning - he’s very organised. He should’ve been a general in the army, if they didn’t only take nobles for the best jobs.’ His voice turned bitter at this, and Beatrix felt her lip curling. Of course they didn’t admit idiots like him to the army! His precious Ridley, the ‘genius’, had been just another mud-covered barbarian squatting in his patch of dirt.

‘Gideon is a great horseman - and archer too, come to think about it. And Larkey - she’s worth her weight in gold, that gal! She does locks and the like. Quickest fingers I’ve ever seen.’

‘And you?’ Beatrix said coldly.

Keiran smiled. ‘I laugh.’

‘I can see that. I wanted to ask if you do anything remotely useful?’

He looked her directly in the eye. ‘Do you?’

The End

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