Blood Feud Page 30

The mob was nearly on them. There was no time, no options left. He threw Martine a desperate glance. “Take Isabeau.”

“Papa, non! We’l al go!” Isabeau struggled to convince him even as her mother fel completely apart in his arms.

Angry vil agers poured into the kitchen in search of food, leaving a few others to vandalize and loot what they could.

“The duke!” a woman with gray hair shouted. She was so thin her ribs were visible beneath her threadbare chemise.

Someone howled, more animal than human. The flames from a torch leaped to a tablecloth, catching instantly. The smel of burning fabric mixed with burning pine pitch.

Martine yanked Isabeau backward and out into the dark predawn kitchen garden before she could struggle. They landed in the basil, crushing the dried shrubs under them as they rol ed to the shadows under the decorative stone wal .

“Vien. ” Martine tugged on her hand. “Je vous en prie.”

“My parents,” Isabeau said through the tears clogging her throat. “We have to help them.”

“It’s too late for them.”

“Non. ” But she could hear the shouting, the tearing of hands through the barrels of salted meats and baskets of dried apples. She could hear her mother’s strange yelping, like a terrified cat, and her father’s cursing as he struggled to shield her.

“Your father would never forgive either of us if we didn’t get you to safety,” Martine told her quietly, urgently. Isabeau knew she was right. Martine took advantage of her stunned pause to pul her off balance and drag her running into the edge of the woods. Torchlight gleamed from the kitchen window as more of the cloth caught fire. Smoke bil owed out of the open door.

She watched her parents from the tal cradle of an oak tree.

The mob dragged them to a farm cart and lashed them to the sides. Isabeau’s father stared straight ahead, refusing to search for his daughter lest he give her away. Isabeau knew somehow that he could feel her there, up a tree, stuffing her fist in her mouth to keep from screaming out loud. Martine clung to the trunk beside her, her face wet with silent tears. The cart rol ed away.

“I’l go to Paris,” Isabeau swore. “And I’l find a way to save them.”

Isabeau waited until Martine was asleep before making her escape. They’d found an abandoned shepherd’s hut; the wooden slats were pul ing apart under the wind and there was snow in the corners, but it was better than the exposed January night. They risked a tiny fire, barely enough to warm their toes in their sturdy boots. Isabeau drew her knees up to her chest and let her thick cloak fal around her like a tent. She closed her eyes and pretended to drift off until she heard Martine snoring softly. She was shivering lightly and the gray in her hair seemed more pronounced, the lines around her eyes deeper. Isabeau couldn’t stand the thought of leaving her behind, but she couldn’t expect her old nursemaid to go with her.

Paris was a death trap.

But there was no possible way she could go anywhere else.

Her parents were being dragged there even now. They would be paraded through the streets, condemned of some royalist crime, and executed.

She had to stop it.

And Martine would have to try and stop her.

So it was best al around if she left now, before it was even harder. Her eyes felt gritty and swol en, her stomach was on fire with nerves, but underneath it al she knew she was doing the right thing. She left Martine most of the coins her father had sewn into her cloak, keeping only enough to see her to the city.

Martine would need it more than she did. She’d have to find passage to England or Spain, or a vil ager to take her in.

Perhaps someone would marry her. She was plump and pretty and dedicated; she deserved to be loved and taken care of the way she’d taken care of Isabeau her entire life. It should have been Isabeau’s job to find her nursemaid a new position, a new family to live with; or else beg her parents to keep her on until she was married and had babies of her own. None of that was likely now. Marriage was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind.

The king was dead, Marie Antoinette was imprisoned, and most of the aristocracy had been murdered or fled to make cream sauces and pastries for the English.

Isabeau was sixteen years old, and she was clever and resourceful and she would do whatever needed to be done.

She would free her parents and then find a ship to take them She would free her parents and then find a ship to take them somewhere, anywhere.

She pushed the door open, wincing at the cold wind that snaked inside, fluttering the last of the fire. Martine moaned and shifted uncomfortably. Isabeau shut the door quickly and waited pressed against the other side, listening for the sound of Martine’s voice.

Satisfied that her nursemaid hadn’t woken up, Isabeau crept away from the hut. The night was especial y dark without a moon to light her way. She was alone in the frosty silence with only a light dusting of snow for company. She walked as fast as her cold feet would let her, stumbling over twigs, keeping to the forest on the edge of the road.

She walked the entire night and didn’t stop even when dawn leaked through the clouds. Her feet and her calves ached and she wasn’t convinced she’d ever get the feeling back in the tip of her nose. She kept walking through the pain, through the cold wind and the growling emptiness in her bel y. She hid in the bushes when she heard the sound of wagon wheels, not trusting anyone enough to beg a lift on the back of a cart. She might blend with her wool cloak and simple gray dress, but she knew her accent was too cultured, too obviously aristocratic, and that alone might make her a target.

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