Saturday 18 – Sunday 19 August 2012
Francois walked his horse the last few yards to the cottage. It was perfectly hidden in the woods, and had been for as long as he could remember. It had been the secret place that he and Elle had always used for their clandestine meetings. Now, overgrown by the shrubbery, trees, and ivy, to the uneducated eye, it did not exist. Nature had provided them the perfect hiding place.
He glanced around to make sure that no one had followed him. He saw nothing suspicious. Quickly, he tied up his own horse around the back of the cottage, in the old run-down tool shed. It was big enough for two horses, but Elle had not yet arrived. Francois left the animal, and went to wait inside the cottage.
Inside, it was as cold and damp as ever. He noticed the small piece of parchment the moment he entered. Elle had been and gone, and had left Francois a note, telling him to meet her by the river. There were no other directions.
‘Odd,’ he said to himself, ‘the river is open. We’ll been seen.’
He was uncomfortable with the new meeting arrangement, but thought that Elle must have had a reason for wanting to meet at the river. He looked around the cottage once more, and then left, untying his horse, and riding off towards the river. There would be only one place along the river that Elle would think to meet – by the old footbridge, near the fallen oak.
When he finally arrived at the river, Francois led his horse to the water’s edge and waited as it drank from the river. He casually watched the footbridge, moderate traffic passed over from one side of the river to the other. It was market day in one of the smaller hamlets, so the traffic was to be expected. A few heads turned in Francois’ direction, but a man watering his horse at the river’s edge was nothing out of the ordinary, and would not arouse suspicion. Never the less, Francois lowered his head so that he was not so easily recognised.
He walked with his horse towards the footbridge. A little further into the woods was the fallen oak where Elle would be waiting for him. He waited for the traffic on the footbridge to taper off, and then swiftly moved himself and his horse into the woods.
Francois heard the subtle call but feigned deafness.
Again he ignored his friend as he approached the oak. She was as swift as he, and he did not see the stone coming at his chest. It hit with a reasonable amount of force, and he let out a gasp and a cry.
‘Ouch! Did you have to do that?’ he asked, rubbing the spot on his chest where the stone made contact.
‘That,’ she said as she rose from the cover of the fallen oak, ‘is what happens when you deliberately ignore me.’ Elle couldn’t contain the laughter that escaped her mouth. Francois joined in, still rubbing his chest.
‘Why did you want to meet here?’ Francois asked. He sat on the oak, facing the river, and Elle returned to her hiding place on the ground behind the log. To passersby, Francois would simply look like a man sitting on a log, resting his horse. Elle could not be seen from the riverbank or the footbridge.
‘Just wanted to visit the river, no other reason,’ she replied. ‘Why did you want to meet today?’
He hesitated. He was the bearer of bad news.
‘She knows, Elle. Josslyn knows about your plan,’ he replied.
‘But how?’ For the first time since she embarked on this journey, Francois heard fear in her voice.
‘She was visited by one of the villagers you met with recently. Michael Smith, do you know him?’
Elle quickly ran through the recent meetings in her head.
‘Not that I can . . .’ her voice trailed off as a potential match came to mind.
‘There was a Michael at the latest village Barnaby and I went to. He was one of the men who took care of our horses. He was trusted by the man we dealt with,’ she replied.
‘You need to be careful now. She knows that there is a plot against her. She knows there is a rebellion rising, but I can’t say if she knows who is involved. And you need to be wary of this Michael.’
‘What I need is to bring forward the action. I can’t wait any longer. We’ll strike very soon, Francois, and you need to be ready.’
. . . To be continued . . .