Friday, 15 November 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 15 Word Count 2037

Barely an hour after bidding their new friends farewell, Paul had wiggled his way into the group of men hired to provide manual labour in moving the furniture that belonged to the previous occupants; some of which was being donated to the officers of the army who had commandeered other buildings, less well stocked and the rest being moved to the cellars or retained for their purely functional purposes.

This had been an ongoing process – the first few days had only shifted four or five pieces because they had to be transported so far. Now they were down to the large scale moving of smaller pieces which would involve them moving through most of the rooms in the property.

He focussed on the work to begin with – shifting the furniture was repetitive and relatively undemanding and the nature of the task provided opportunities for banter. Enough men had offered themselves up for a day or two of work in exchange for pay or food that they saw nothing odd in his situation. He had created a tale of being a footman in Italy to explain his height and physique, as well as his formal French, but had come to France to join the army. He was looking for old connections before signing up, but had not been able to find any. Now he was gathering enough money to provide for his wife, then he would leave her here.

Before too long they had cleared out the first two rooms. Paul asked an innocent question about the plan for working through the rest of the property, based on his long experience of packing up large properties for his wealthy “masters” and as a result he was sent to seek out the rooms across the property and advise on which was the most effective to clear out.

He started from the top of the property, reasoning that there was no need to go to the extent of exploring the attics – it was likely the device was being investigated and tested so it would be in an open space, easily accessible. He had resigned himself to this first day being dedicated to reconnaissance only, but on the second floor in a converted back bedroom he saw the device lying in a pile of various pieces of weaponry. He was alone, so quickly extracted it and carried it along the hallways until he discovered a room with an overstuffed set of chaise longues and rammed it down the back of one of the cushions.

He returned to his task and took conscientious details as he returned to the group of men refreshing themselves in the mostly deserted kitchens downstairs. He repeated back everything he'd particularly noticed; specifically referencing the sense in assembling the furniture that could be dismantled and stacked as a job lot. After a lengthy list he did also suggest moving all the stuffed furniture to a single room as they would be cumbersome to move and might as well be put out of the way while they worked on other, more rewarding tasks.

The leader agreed and the first task was to put all the stuffed furniture into a room on the ground floor. The rest of the day was moving and stacking chairs, tables, desks and other hard furnishings into carts. At the end, all the men left, but Paul had left his jacket draped over the arm of his chaise and separated from the group before leaving. Once near the device he was able to use it to travel out of the city. He and Melissa had arranged a meeting point a mile or two from the place he had travelled to by the device (it seemed that the device was reliable as long as it was more than a mile distance from itself) and it took him almost half an hour to trek there over rough countryside. As he neared Melissa, he noticed that the device began to fade. Soon, it was completely transparent, although, in a peculiar way, he could see the memory of what it looked like.

When he finally encountered Melissa, her device was the same – mostly transparent, but still somehow real.

She was visibly relieved to see him and insisted on hearing his tale before allowing the two of them to repair to their next destination. That was a barn, only a few hundred yards away, where there were two horses Melissa had saddled and prepared in advance. The two of them mounted and took off across the countryside.

It was dawn before they reached the safe space. Melissa dispensed with pretence, formality and patience of any sort. She simply walked to the door, opened it and called for Michael and James. James' head appeared around a door almost immediately, and seconds later he was embracing Paul with delight. Michael followed shortly after, more groggy than his companion.

After the initial greeting, Melissa informed the other two that she and Paul would stay here but that she needed them to take the device to Andy. She didn't waste time describing what it was or did, just made it very clear that they were to deliver the device only to Andy and then escape before the French realised the importance of what they had done. After that, they would need to flee. She and Paul would wait here and rest. When the others arrived (although, to protect Phillip's agents they would meet up at the inn in a village two miles to the west which James and Michael had heard of but not yet visited) they were likely to be under pursuit and they would ride to the coast – or an alternative safe space.

The two men took the spare device which Paul had wrapped in his coat, and left her and Paul. She stared at her own device for a short while and after ten minutes it was becoming more solid. As she saw that, she fell asleep. Two hours later she awoke, cursing. Paul, like her, had been unable to stay awake, but was positioned sat upright in a hard chair and her sudden sounds were enough to jerk him awake. The fall off his chair completed the job of rousing him.

It hadn't been much, but both were chock full of adrenalin and were ready to move in a few minutes – ablutions were not, at this stage, particularly important; a quick hedge stop was all each of them required.

They set off to the neighbouring village and Melissa was deeply relieved to discover there was no sign of the other two – or of anyone travelling past their agreed landmark in recent history. For the rest of the day Paul and Melissa took turns to rest and keep watch, both trying to ignore the pangs of hunger which set in as the initial burst of adrenalin wore off until finally, about half an hour before the sun set, James and Michael appeared. They saddled up and leaped onto their horses. Their vantage point was on a hill and they could see the others were under pursuit. As they had agreed, they others skirted the bottom of the hill while they charged off down the other side. Charging through farmers fields, and around a copse they dived over a hill and into a new set of fields as darkness fell.

It was this point at which Melissa began her cursing. She had absolutely no way of knowing if the French could see them. Also, it was terrifying doing this, having observed the appalling condition in which the French farmland had been in during the day. In casual conversation Paul had mentioned the hazards of a horse stepping into a rabbit hole and expounded at some length on how dangerous or stupid doing exactly this was.

They rode for half an hour more before Melissa was satisfied their pursuers had lost them. The horses really couldn't go much further anyway. She pulled up and rotated. The others followed her example and the four of them strained to hear the sounds of hoofbeats. There was none. She slumped in relief and exhaustion over her saddle. Now was the time. She climbed off her horse and Paul, with the knowledge of what was happening next seized her horse's rein while he objected. She was confused for a while, but when he explained in detail that it was unfair to the animals to leave them there she bowed to his way of thinking.

It wasn't that she didn't care aobut the animals, more that she had absolutely no ideas of the practicalities of life. In her mind horses fed themselves the way humans did, btut Paul's passionate explanation helped her to see the horses as she had seen the people in London slums – they would be exceptional in the right circumstances, but if she abandoned them here, they wouldn't live the best kind of life for them. She asked Paul where they could leave the animals temporarily before she arranged a longer term solution. He thought, them told her of a small village he knew well. He was able to give her an almost exact distance and direction from London so she was able to calculate the co-ordinates in relation to her home in London.

She calibrated the device, while Paul indicated to the others that they should dismount. They arrived in the British countryside shortly after and unsaddled the horses and removed most of the other tack. Paul showed her how to use grass to wipe down the horse and make it as comfortable a possible. Then he looked around and identified their location by the presence of a spire. Confirming that he knew the field and trusted the owner, he agreed to return to London. Michael and James were utterly exhausted by their day and bewildered by recent events and simply accepted events.

While grooming the horse she had been thinking about the situation they had left in France and realised the yacht was still moored just off the coast. She had to return Michael and James there as soon as possible or a massive manhunt would begin, triggered by an overly helpful crewman seeking his employer. Once they were settled, she took them back – this time much closer to the yacht. They would return to England in the expected manner and Phillip's men would not notice anything amiss.

She and Paul returned to London – first depositing him in his bedroom, then returning to her own. She was unsurprised to see Mary asleep on the chaise at the foot of her bed. She smiled and began to disrobe. The noise was enough to disturb the other woman who had trained herself to stir at the slightest sound from an ill patient. Mary, knowing her employer well, took one look at the coating of grime, with sweat streaks running through the otherwise even coverage on her face, and said she would return with water in the immediate future.

Melissa completely disrobed in her absence and was draped in a light robe when she returned hauling two pails. One was hot, the other cold. Mary explained that, upon discovering her absence and the returned ball gown, she had come to the conclusion her mistress was off with a man, and to protect her had put about the story that she was ill. To ensure that her return would be covered as much as possible, she had insisted on a pail of water being kept hot day and night. It had meant however, that she was alone in this room more or less continuously for he duration of Melissa's absence. Her boredom had led her to sleep early. On Melissa's enquiry, she reported it was just after 10:00 pm.

While bathing, Melissa begged for some food. Mary ordered a light dinner, to be served in the dining room. After she ate that and returned, not having to feign exhaustion, Melissa discovered that her marvel of a hench woman had provided a significantly more substantial repast including bread, butter and a meat pie. The only drink was lemonade, but Melissa simply devoured and drank everything made available.

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