The Stone Rose

The Stone Rose by Carol Townend Read Free Book Online

Book: The Stone Rose by Carol Townend Read Free Book Online
Authors: Carol Townend
all that he affected otherwise. Privately, he agreed with Ned, it
was
a shabby affair. They had been setting a mob on a defenceless girl. She’d be bound to outrun them, but whatever angle you viewed it from, it remained a dirty business. He rubbed the bridge of his nose. A good, straight fight, that’s what he wanted. There was nothing quite like pitting yourself against an equal and winning.
    A happy thought came to him. ‘Fletcher?’
    ‘Sir?’
    ‘Didn’t the good monk say today was Lady Day?’
    ‘He did. What of it?’
    ‘Lady Day is a Quarter Day.’ Alan signalled to his men to fall in behind him.
    ‘Pay day!’
    ‘Quite so. Remind me to have a word in my lord’s ear. We can’t have de Roncier neglecting his obligations, when we’re so efficient, eh?’
    ‘N...no, sir.’
    With Ned toeing the line again, Alan turned his mind to de Roncier. De Roncier had a bad name when it came to paying his dues, and when Alan and Ned had enlisted, Alan knew there was a chance they might never get paid. But work for inexperienced soldiers was hard to find, and when they’d
both
been accepted, he’d jumped at the chance, being unwilling at that stage to leave young Ned to fend for himself. Alan might well have become a cold-blooded mercenary as his cousin claimed, but of all de Roncier’s officers he prided himself on the fact that Captain Alan le Bret saw his men got paid first. Impatiently, Alan pushed Ned’s disapproval to one side. Ned could do a lot worse, and he knew it.
    ***
    Gwenn pelted the full length of La Rue des Vierges in an attempt to shake off the mob, but she could still hear them and knew that she had failed.
    It was the worst of nightmares.
    Burned into her brain was the image of the dark mercenary bending to scoop up the stone. Over and over in her mind’s eye she saw his cold eyes narrow as he took aim. The bruise on her stomach throbbed in time with the thumping of her heart; but despite this proof that this was no nightmare but grim reality, Gwenn’s disbelieving mind was frozen with shock. She could not believe that this was happening to her. Why should someone she had never seen before set a mob on her? Why? The question echoed back and forth in her head.
    Fortunately, her legs worked independently of her stunned brain, and Gwenn flew to the crossroads where La Rue des Vierges and La Rue de la Monnaie met. Her veil slipped from her head. She left it behind. She ran on up the street, towards safety. She slipped in some mud, lost a shoe, and staggered on without it. The street had never seemed so long before.
    Clutching her chest to keep her heart from bursting, she skidded to a halt and dragged in a lungful of air. Ten dwellings away, her mother’s house beckoned. Safety. Gwenn balked. Safety? Frozen no longer, her thoughts whirled. What was she to do? Lead the mob to the doorstep of her home? What would they do if they followed her there?
    It made no sense. None of this made any sense. There had been people she knew in St Peter’s, people who yesterday, while they had not been friendly, had at least had exchanged the time of day with her and her grandmother. Why was this happening? Why? If Father Jerome’s words had wrought this change in the townsfolk, then his words must issue from the mouth of the Devil. This was not the work of God.
    Gwenn sucked in another lungful of air and glanced back the way she had come. ‘Sweet Mary, let them not have seen me come down this street.’ And then her heart leaped into her throat, for her veil was fluttering from a nail on a post, as bright and as brash as a knight’s pennon at a joust. Her blue silk slipper betrayed her too; it sat glowing like a jewel in a dark muddy patch. She couldn’t have left a more obvious track if she’d tried. She must retrieve her possessions before they were seen.
    Two people hurtled into view. There was no sign of the soldier who had thrown the first stone, but an exultant howl rose on the warm spring air. ‘The

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