foreverwarrior: (Miranda (b/w orly))
[personal profile] foreverwarrior
Continued from here.

When: April, 1630
Where: Paris, France
Alias: Gabrielle Dubois Vicomtesse d'Anjou

Pacing always helped her think. She couldn't very well give Cardinal Richelieu what he wanted. A man like that? Immortal? She shuddered to think. She had to act, now. Staying there until morning would spell her doom.

Cautiously, she crept to the door and peered through the keyhole. Two guards stood at either side of the door. Getting past them would be difficult at best, but not entirely impossible. It was the rest of the palace that would present the real problem.

She continued to pace, toying with the the gold, dragon-crested ring on her right hand. Though Arthur had been dead for centuries, wearing the ring helped remind her of her role in history. A warm sense of determined fury filled her veins.

She had once been counted among the great Queens, and wasn't someone to be kept behind locked doors. She had once done battle against Rome itself, and a palace full of guards should be no match for her. In the intervening centuries, she had learned how to defend herself in close quarters. She was no one to be trifled with, and the very thought stoked her temper.

But she still had to be cautious. She was absolutely in enemy territory, and even if she did find a way to take leave of her rooms, she still did not know how to escape the palace entirely. Beyond that, she would have to leave France altogether. The Cardinal's influence was known far and wide.

Her mind first thought of England, but if the Cardinal truly knew as much as he claimed, he would have men waiting for her in Calais. She had to do something unexpected. If Richelieu thought she'd go to Calais, then she would make for Marseilles. Provided, of course, she could get out of the palace.

During her time in the East, she learned that the most effective weapons weren't blades, but stealth and surprise. If she could catch the two at her door unawares, victory would be hers. She carefully examined each move, what she already knew of the palace's layout, how she would get to the stables, then back to her chateau before finally leaving for Marseilles.

There would be no way to overpower one guard without alerting the other. So, she needed to be swift and silent about both. But first, there was the small matter of the locked door that stood between her and them. She pulled the steel stiletto from underneath the bodice of her dress and set to work on the lock.

Unfortunately, the soft noise of metal-on-metal alerted the guards to her activities. She barely had time to react before they pushed their way into the room. The first guard through the door received a swift kick to the groin and a fist to the back of his head for his efforts. The second was completely astounded when her dagger landed in his chest, piercing his heart.

She was quick to reassess the situation and realised she had a nearly perfect means of escape at her fingertips. She quickly moved to the second guard and withdrew her knife, trying not to dwell on the fact his body was still warm and had been alive just moments before. She wiped the knife clean on the guard's red tabard, thankful it was the Cardinal's chosen color of blood red.

It took more effort that she might otherwise have spent to prop him against the wall just outside the alcove to her door. She hoped it would convince any passers by that her room was, indeed, still guarded.

As for the other guard, she made quick work of undressing him down to his small clothes and half-carried, half-dragged him over to the bed. Should anyone actually look into the room, they would assume she was the one underneath the blankets. Another clout to the head would ensure that he'd remain unconscious until morning.

She quickly stripped out of her own gown and petticoats before donning the guard's suit of clothes, and buckled the sword belt around her waist and tucked a rather vicious looking pistol between the belt and her waist. She had just learned to use firearms a few decades before, and found them noisy, unwieldy, and unpredictable. But any weapon she could use would help her keep her head.

She then pulled her hair free of its pins and set to work cutting it to a more masculine length just below her shoulders. The cut was very rough, but she hoped that tying it back in a queue would hide that fact.

She gathered up the discarded locks and arranged them on the pillow next to the unconscious guard so that he would appear more her double. She then took a handful ashes from the fireplace and began working the soot through her light coppery hair, making it a more dingy shade of brown. She used another handful of ash to give herself the appearance of an unshaven face.

She judged her appearance in a nearby mirror. Granted the guard's clothes were a bit overly large for her, and she'd had to stuff his boots with her stockings to ensure they wouldn't fall off, but overall, in the dim corridors, she would not be mistaken for a woman.

She crept as quietly as she could back out into the hallway, thankful the earlier scuffle hadn't raised a general alarm. She pulled a key from a belt pouch and locked the door behind her. Even if the unconscious guard woke before morning, he would still be trapped inside, and unable to alert Richelieu.

The palace was quiet that time of night and the sound of her borrowed boots echoed eerily down the marble corridor. She had thought to forgo the boots for stealth, but knew that it couldn't be helped.

She was just about to descend the staircase at the end of the corridor when she heard voices. Two other guards were ascending, presumably to relieve their counterparts. She quickly hid in a niche behind a statue, hoping the shadows would conceal her until the pair walked past. She knew she didn't have much time to flee the palace before her escape was discovered.

She watched from her vantage point behind the statue as the two relief guards walked past the alcove, yawning and muttering about the interruption of a good night's sleep. She breathed a silent sigh of relief as they appeared not to have noticed her. She was halfway down the staircase when the new guards realised their compatriot was dead. Stealth was certainly not a viable option anymore, and she knew that it would be easier to disappear into as much chaos and confusion as she could create.

She waited until the two guards came running down the staircase before shoving her borrowed rapier through the marble balusters. The obstacle caught one of the guards on the shin, effectively tripping him and sent him sprawling down the rest of the stairs. The commotion alerted several other guards.

"Stop them!" she shouted, trying her best to sound masculine. "They're Hugenot spies sent to murder the Cardinal!"

That was all the incentive they needed, and quickly drew their weapons and ran past her. She repeated the same warning to every red-tabarded guard she encountered, and soon the palace was in an absolute uproar. Now was the best time to escape.

"Quickly!" she insisted, running over to a trio of guards. "We must warn the King! The Hugenots may have plans to murder him as well!"

The guards looked at one another confused, but she was persistent. And the fact that she was under orders from the Cardinal himself was all they needed to hear. Just as she hoped, all three knew where the stables were and she was able to follow them through the mayhem.

No one in the stables yet knew the faux plot against the Cardinal, but they finally roused a few grooms. Moments later, the foursome was saddled and through the gates of the palace. Though the other three rode off toward the King's residence at the Palais du Louvre, she turned off onto a side-street and quickly shed the red tabard and feathered hat she'd been wearing.

Through the darkened streets of a sleeping Paris she rode, hoping to reach her chateu before the Cardinal realised she was missing. She silently praised whatever gods happened to be listening as the horse galloped into the yard.

Soon after, her own groom appeared from the stable just as her handmaid opened the front door. A large, silvery-gray blur rushed across the yard barking excitedly. She laughed when the deerhound placed a paw on each of her shoulders and gave her cheek a good, solid lick.

"Down, boy!" she commanded laughing. "I'm alright."

"Madame Gabrielle?" the maid, Josette, asked in astonishment. "We were expecting you hours ago, and Mon Dieu! What's happened to your hair and your clothes?"

She handed the reins to Jacque, her groomsman. "Rub him down well. He's earned his oats tonight."

"Oui, Madame," the groom answered.

"Josette, I need your help," she said, turning to the other servant.

"Oui, Madame," she replied.

Dawn was only a few hours away when she made ready to leave. Gone was the comely strawberry blonde Vicomtesse. In her place was a brown-haired lad of eighteen. The transformation was as dramatic as it was necessary.

"But where will you go, Madame?" Josette asked, worriedly. "And what about Monsieur Phillipe? He will be returning from Vienna in a few days."

"If anyone asks, tell them that I have gone to Calais," she instructed. "And tell Phillipe the truth. Richelieu suspected me of conspiring with Huguenots and I had to leave the country or face execution."

"Mon Dieu!" Josette exclaimed.

She simply nodded in reply as she mounted the horse she had stolen the night before. The horse pranced in place a few steps, eager for another hard run. The deerhound, too, caught the scent of urgency in the air and whined with anticipation. There was nothing more to say to the pair of servants who had served her faithfully and well. She simply touched the brim of her plumed hat with a gloved finger and spurred the horse out of the yard.


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October 2010

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