Two days had passed since her accident and though she needed to make use of a cane, Genevieve was up and out of bed. ...and increasingly restless. Giraheed would return in a few more days and valuable time was being wasted. Worse, the knight her brother left to 'protect' her was always underfoot. It was difficult to find a moment alone and almost possible to find a way to leave.
Thus, Genevieve was forced to get creative.
With her injuries there was no way to climb from the windows or try a dare-devil stunt. This time she made a deal with one of the handmaids. The girl would have the opportunity to play dressup in Genevieve's clothes, while Genevieve disguised herself as the maid. So far everything had gone off flawlessly. The fake Genevieve was 'resting' in her chambers, while the real Lady was currently sneaking out of the kitchen with a bag full of supplies and heading for the stables were the boy should be waiting with her mare.
Aramis cleared his throat at the young handmaid, who looked up at him with her dull, rather dumb brown eyes. It was all he could do to keep from clucking his tongue and telling her how pathetic she looked, but he couldn't.
"Y-your knightship, I swear I saw 'er, 'eaded out to the stables she was," she whispered urgently. Aramis had what he needed, he did not wish to get anything more to incriminate her but on the other hand, that girl. She could hardly walk without a cane and she was trying to ride off on horseback again?
He would be more active, more alert were it not for the fact that he was exhausted and perfectly content ambling down to the stable for a ride on Pyre. He had taken a secret midnight ride on that bloody mare of hers, an ill-tempered thing but she had been run nearly to hell and back and was even more tired than he at the moment.
Pyre was in poor temper since he had not been run lately, and Aramis considered it only fair that despite his own tiredness, he at least draw him out for an amble around the expansive grounds.
"Sorry ma'am, but Malen just isn't up for riding today. The Knight took her for a run last night an-"
"That's all right. It isn't your fault." Blast it. Giraheed's man was overstepping his bounds! Malen was hers and there was no other horse she trusted when she trekked out in to the woods. Genevieve eyed Pyre carefully - but gave a resigned sigh. No, she wouldn't run off with his horse. Goodness knows, the stallion was probably just as difficult as that man.
There was no reason why she still couldn't go. Genevieve pat the poor boy on the head as she left the stables. Now that she considered it, walking was a much better idea. She needed to exercise her legs and being gone for the day would be a blessing! There were plenty of back trails to the villages hidden keep.
Genevieve made sure to watch her step as she headed off for the woods!
Aramis wandered laconically towards the stable in time to see a figure retreating into the woods. He sighed to himself, she simply never seemed to give up. Running fingers through his hair, he stepped up to Pyre. The horse whinnied softly, a gentle nicker as Aramis patted his muzzle. Aramis stroked Pyre's velvet smooth face, gazing off into the distance as the figure disappeared.
Aramis covered his mouth with his hand, yawning into it. He took a saddle from the wall and began to place it on his horse, making sure to grab reins to go with the saddle.
"There's a good boy," Aramis whispered as he stroked the horse's ears, smoothing the mane absent-mindedly. He felt an almost dizzy turn as he kicked a leg over the saddle to mount. The horse's demeanor changed almost instantly when his hooves hit the packed earth, cheer in the very gait.
Genevieve made her way through the smell forest trail, enjoying the crisp autumn air and that slight scent of approaching winter. Were she not so worried about where she was placing her feet, the walk would have been very refreshing. She was missing her mare, and the thought provoked many a plot of revenge for her unwelcome houseguest.
Ever so often she would pause. A sound catching her attention, or maybe something flickering just outside of her line of sight. It'd be inconvenient if that man decided to follow her again, though she had wicked plans of clobbering him over the head with her cane and burying him somewhere under a tree. Still, she was more concerned about bandits, or more accurately "bandits" who were nothing more than a few of Giraheed's rogue men running loose and terrorizing villagers under the guise of foreign invaders.
The walk was taking agonizing long, but the villager's hide away in the forest wouldn't be too much farther. Yet, she really needed to stop taunting fate as she did. No sooner did she worry about bandits running loose in the woods did someone step out on to the path in her way.
Genevieve stopped. It was only a single man and she was no young pup. She held up her cane, pointed at his stomach like a fencing sword with a frown across her face.
"A little village girl running alone in the forest? Didn't you know there's a bunch of vagabonds and cutthroats in the forest? I hear they do horrible things to little village girls..." he said with a smirk. His clothing suggested he definitely wasn't some average thief, having Giraheed's own seal over a tunic. He had to be one of the men out terrorizing the village people. She was still wearing the maids clothing she had borrowed to sneak away in.
Genevieve didn't move. "I am no little girl. I'll thank you to remove yourself from my way, please."
He laughed! "Oooh, brave words from a snotty little peasant!" As he moved forward suddenly, Genevieve twisted out of the way and brought the cane down over his head with a satisfying CRACK. When he snarled, ordering someone to grab her, that's when she realized he wasn't alone! Someone snatched her from behind, twisting one of her arms behind her back and holding her head against his chest with a firm hand anchored over her shin.
The first was jumping up from the ground, whipped out a knife from his belt to point at her neck. "Upstart little village girls should know their place, eh? You're going to pay for that, Missy!"
Aramis turned Pyre to trot peacefully down the trail to the forest, planning less on following the girl than winding his way through the sun-speckled path. Aramis had scarcely begun to follow the trail when he heard the sounds of a scuffle. With a frown, he turned Pyre towards the sounds.
Slowly coming in to view around a bend, Aramis spotted the snotty little princess, a small group of men surrounding her. Aramis was somewhat tempted to just turn back. It was, after all, her fault. If she had just stayed in bed... Aramis sighed. He had no obligation to her.
Still, something compelled him to prepare Pyre, spurring him into a gallop towards the grouping of people. At the last moment, he reared Pyre. The sounds alerted the men before the horse reached the group, but they still cowered as the hooves soared over their heads. When Pyre was fully on the group, Aramis pulled Genevieve onto the horse.
"I'll be taking this, good day to you men," Aramis said cheerfully, kicking Pyre into movement before the men had recovered from their cowering.
Seething with anger, for the first time this week it wasn't directed at the Knight that had been plaguing her existence! Having been pulled up on to the horse, Genevieve was leaning to take a look behind them and scowl at the forms they were leaving behind.
"Turn the horse around!" she shouted, a wave of adrenaline rushing through her. Her hands moved to grab at the hilt of his sword, trying to pull it free. "I am not going to let those bastards just roam free on my lands attacking my villagers! A knight should let them do it either!" Or was he so loyal to Giraheed that he would even let Giraheed's men lurk around in the woods like a bunch of goblins?
"Aramis, just turn us around! I shall do it myself if I must!"
Aramis sighed and held onto the girl tightly. He knew there to be five men back there, he had recognized the fat leader, a man of the prince. The girl really was an increibly pain in the...
"You're not well enough to do anything, and if you cared about my health a whit, you wouldn't insist I endanger my life either since I'm only just recovering as well, why I'm here if you don't recall. However, since I know that you care more about eliminating five men than thanking the one who saved you..." with that, Aramis leapt lightly from Pyre's back, the girl still on and he slapped the horse's flank, sending him into a gallop down the trail.
"Hold on, little lady," Aramis called, turning back towards the men, sword lingering casually in his hand. "I am the arm of Giraheed in these lands. Whatever orders you may have previously received, they are rescinded," Aramis spoke smoothly now, the candor of a man who knew he would be followed.
"I would not only have you never bother another peasant in my territories again, I would have you leave these lands immediately." As the men, thinking their orders were coming from the mouth of Giraheed, scrambled, Aramis let out another long-suffering sigh. The girl would believe nothing good of him, her mind would formulate some plan of his, that he told the men to terrorize another village before licking her brother's boots. Stubborn child, who could choose their living but a spoiled brat like her. The words softened in his mind, ringing without venom. Just because she had never truly felt the pain of having no option but to serve or to be beaten in the streets did not mean she was not a good person, she was better than many.
She would never understand him. She had no desire to.
That blasted-! It took Genevieve several moments before she managed to get the stallion to turn around - the horse was nearly as stubborn as his master - so by the time she did, they had come trotting back to find the Knight Aramis standing on the trail with his sword in his hand and not a thief or vagabond to be seen.
At first she was frowning deeply, sitting back straight and imperious as any queen. But after a moment, she gave a deep sigh, relaxing her body. The lecture and accusations she was going to give him seemed hollow. His previous words had struck her, and now she was not sure if she were still angry at him or just herself for getting so caught up in hatred for these people.
Aramis looked up, his eyes accented by purpling rings beneath them, bruises from a head injury and lack of sleep. He lowered his head now, feeling somehow beneath her again. He had thought he was beyond this, this feeling of servile worthlessness. As he ran his fingers through his now healthy hair, thick browns locks that curled gently around his fingertips, he realized he was for once, ashamed. Aramis had never questioned his life. Everyone did what they needed to survive, no one else's opinion had ever mattered to him, he did what he had to as well.
Aramis was ready to lash out, angry with this woman for making him feel such guilt when he realized the reason why, a dangerous reason at that. He cared what she thought. Lifting his head again, Aramis attempted to smile in his familiar suave manner.
"Of course I'm fine, no knight worth his salt would lose a drop of bblood to the likes of those men."
Aramis gently rubbed his head as he did so. Pyre would never have thrown him, nor was he thrown for being a bad horseman. There are very few reactions one's horse will have to its legs being slashed at with swords. Aramis had been leading the procession og Giraheed when a group of the rebellion struck. Aramis, first in line, had attempted to stay his horse. It was the mark of his horsemanship that he was still alive, managing to keep his horse calm enough that he was not thrown and trampled. Another mark, if you looked at it, of his sword mastery. While Giraheed had stayed at the back, protected by men, his arm, the knight Aramis, had fought off three men while concussed. Aramis felt no pride, though he had never felt guilt for that day before. Pride in such an act was vulgar, he had ran them through, but because they had tried to harm him and his way of life.
"Are you willing to head back now?" he asked delicately, arching a brow.
She was silent as she considered, twisting the reigns in her hands. Genevieve had been about to apologize, but he was casting that look at her again - the one that tended to incite her reflex to throw something at him. Still, despite trying to heal from injuries he had sent her off and stayed behind. Was it enough to risk trusting him?
"No, not yet." she replied, slowly at first. "There is someone I must see. If you would like to come with me..." It was a very large leap of faith. The man was honorable, wasn't he? Perhaps if she showed him how the villagers were forced to live now, he might see what Giraheed is doing to his own people.
Aramis tilted his head at the girl. Did he actually detect something of a warming to him? It would amaze him beyond what she probably knew, but he smiled to her all the same, his eyes glowing faintly with... what? Don't let her opinion matter to you, you fool...
Nodding his head, Aramis fingered a chain around his neck. "I would love to, my lady," he said softly. The engraved metal pendant, a small circle of silver, hung at his neck and he caressed it between forefinger and thumb. Saint Aurelius, patron of orphans, hear my plea as you have since that day...
It would be easy to see double meanings within his words, but Genevieve made an effort not to constantly be suspicious of every tiny detail. It would be something she would have to remind herself several times as they continued down the forest trail.
With the horse as an aid, the trip in to the darker areas of the forest didn't take nearly as long. As they approached the heavily wooden area where vines and bushes grew up in a natural archway surrounded the small enclave, Genevieve dismounted. Only with a slight wince at her foot, she still graced a smile to the old woman that was already there and waiting to greet them.
"What be this stranger to accompany you? Looks right dirty." said Margaret. The old woman was wearing a tattered old cloak full of holes, wild snow white hair and looked to be about as ancient as the forest around. It was hard to tell if she were serious or simply joking.
"A knight, Margaret." Genevieve leaned close to whisper in the woman's ear. "The one I mentioned before..." This seemed to lighten the old woman's face in to a huge toothless smile.
"Wella, wella... A knight of Giraheed's. Might we string 'im up by 'is toes in the trees, or lay his body with the ants?" cackled the old woman! This brought a few curious stares from several of the other people in the enclave. All in tattered clothes, looking dirty and hungry. And very curious about the visitor with the Lady.
Genevieve cleared her throat. The suggestions would have been perfect a few days ago. "How about we step inside. I brought some things for you and Talin."
Margarete nodded, still cackling. "Come in, come in. There is room for one more."
Aramis' suspicious dark eyes widened at the woman's words. He stopped himself from saying the words that had formed on his lips; Aramis was after all a knight of Giraheed, not likely to be appreciated here. The elegant pale of his peach complexion was also indeed marked with dust from his ride, he noted, wiping a hand across his brow.
With a stiff, noble bow to the Lady, Aramis stepped back to let her and the woman pass before him. The dark clothing and eyes of the man made him blend, all but the soft healthy glow of his skin. With a glance around, Aramis spotted Pyre in the woods, a good and cautious mount unwilling to risk these new faces without the urging of his master.
Genevieve paused long enough to take Aramis' arm and pull him along as they fell in to step behind the old woman. She leaned to speak softly to him.
"These people are from the villages on the borders Colmondeley land and some from our neighbors. Giraheed's own villagers. He told Our King that raiders from the neighboring country ransacked their towns. Yet, it was his own soldiers that did the burning. You were his crest and they are naturally suspicious."
The old woman was cackling once again as she stopped at the makeshift little hut fashioned out of the bushes and thatch from the trees. She pushed open the door, ushering Genevieve and Aramis inside. It was cramped, providing only a table and a couple chairs. A small space for sleeping and a fire in the center for cooking and keeping warm. A humble existence but not at all comfortable.
"Sit, sit." said Margaret. Taking the bag Genevieve had brought, she made herself busy taking out the contents giving oohs and aahs of approval at the bits of food and blankets. "Oh yes, oh yes. This will be good. We did miss you, Mi'lady. Missing for several days, we were staring ta worry tha handsome knight you spoke of had locked you away in tha tower!"
Genevieve cleared her throat, tugging nervously on her ear. The old woman didn't have to bring up their last discussion, not with the man sitting right here. "I had an accident. I returned as soon as I could. has everything been all right here?"
"As all right as it can be for an old woman's bones! I need a good warm man to keep me company as the nights get cold!" Margaret flashed a grin at Aramis, leaning over to pat him on the leg. "What say you, knight? Come to rescue an old woman from the forest? Mi'lady does 'er best, but the Viper will get 'er before long!"
Aramis blinked, baffled at the change in the woman's demeanor. He tried to smile though, a nervous chuckle on his lips as he shed his cloth, thick cloth so finely woven it would keep a man warm in the bite of winter. Wordlessly, he rested it over the woman's shoulders as he looked around the small hut.
Visions of a life both his own, yet not, flooded his mind. Aramis as a child, wide eyed at his mother's skirts while she made stew from vegetables and a small rabbit. A knock at the door, his father patting his hair as he passed him... Aramis looked away from everything, choosing instead to look at his own feet.
"I am grateful you accepted me here," he said softly, his hand curling at the fingertips at his side. Today was a day of questions, of half emotions and strangeness. Full emotions, but ones that made him feel ill inside almost, but in a bad way...? He wasn't sure.
"Oy, oy, what a charming thing! Not like, what did call him, mi'lady? A conniving fire-tongue wretch in a devilishly handsome wolf's body?" Margaret cackled, as she moved away from Aramis to take a hot kettle from the fire and fill a few cups with an sweet smelling amber liquid.
"I said no such thing!" Genevieve huffed back. She really didn't! ...in fact her words were probably far more insulting. She smoothed out her skirts and adjusted in her seat, no daring to cast a look at Aramis. ...well, maybe one peek. It was a surprise to her that he seemed a little uncomfortable. Maybe even confused. No doubt he thought she had lied about the condition of the villagers. Most did. Compared to Giraheed, Genevieve's presence didn't carry that irrefutable confidence. If he had wanted to, Giraheed could convince the world he had fallen from the sun.
Margaret, pushed cups to each of them before settling in to a chair herself. She pulled that cloak tighter around her shoulders, seeming to be quite pleased with the thing. "I am much glad you came ta see us again, for I dare say it should be tha last time! Too dangerous. More burned places near tha borders, poor things, poor things. Talin has gone to help, my dear heart, an I cannae imagine tha trouble mi'lady will find herself if she is caught here." The old woman took a glance at Aramis before breaking in to a wide grin, without saying another word about it.
Aramis turned to look at the woman intently. He opened his mouth to speak, then he sighed and began to attempt to reformulate his words to a point where the stubborn girl would understand. He listened, or tried to listen, only to the serious portion of the woman's speech. He smiled winningly at her as he absent-mindedly took the girl's hand in his own.
"I know you care for them, but it would do nobody any good if you were caught and punished. They would probably be worried sick about you, might try to send someone to find you if they thought you got hurt... what then?" He crinkled his brown, his serious expression betraying worry in his gaze.
Suddenly realizing what he was doing, he released her hand and leaned back in his seat. "I'm charged with keeping you safe."