Chapter 24, Part 2

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The rouncey moved swiftly along. Aided by the smooth gait of the horse and the quiet darkness around them, Rene relaxed. For a time, he lost himself in thought.

In his head, he had counted the number of days that had passed, estimating it to be three or four. It was difficult to be certain, there having been no window in his cell to mark the rising or setting of the sun. The ride to Avignon had taken nearly a day, and after that, he had marked the passing of days by the routine of bread and water given to him twice a day.

He shook his head, wondering why he was even giving thought to his brief time spent in prison. He knew he needed to plot his next move. He had survived on his own all these years. Even in lean times, when he had been without work, he had relied on female companions to aid him. But now, being a Baron with a known name, he would not have the safety of anonymity...of being a nameless wretch who could appear and disappear at will. He had but one choice.

Louis would aid him.

His brother could help him make his way to some distant place. Perhaps he could go to Spain, or Rome. He still held a title, and he was not known in those lands. Even with only a modest sum of money, he could make a new life for himself.

But what would become of Marie?

He had always had a fondness for women. But this one certainly stood apart from the others. Despite having known her only for a few hours, he felt a need to know something of her and her plans for her own welfare. She had aided him, and he knew he needed to return the favor in some way.

“Marie?” he asked.

She sighed. “Yes?” she said, her voice sounding weary.

“When we part company, where will you go?”

Again, she sighed. “I do not know. But you need not be concerned with it. I will manage.”

Those words seemed to say a lot. She was a survivor, much like himself. She had a story, and it was probably an interesting one. Curious, he urged her to speak.

“Tell me, Marie. How long have you managed?”

“Since I was thirteen years old,” she replied, in a matter-of-fact way. And then, in a tone that seemed a bit too casual for his liking, she said, “My father sold me to pay his gambling debts.”

The revelation was shocking. What kind of man would sell his own daughter? It was a revolting thought. And yet, the way Marie spoke, it seemed she was not deeply affected by the crime. He thought to himself...

Perhaps she is making up a tale.

“Surely you jest,” he replied.

Her reply was firm. “I do not.”

So it was true. He had heard many tales from many women. They had confessed to him the cruel circumstances of their lives, but this was truly one of the harshest tales he had heard. As he had with those other women, he offered her his comfort and understanding, speaking gently in the hopes that she would confide in him.

“It must have been a horrific experience.”

He fully expected her to lament. But she surprised him when she scoffed.

“My father was a drunkard. I was glad to be shed of him. His debtor was a jovial fellow, and he treated me well. Unfortunately, he was also a notorious gambler. I was working in the castle to help ease his debt.”

“And where is he now?”

She shrugged. “I am not certain. I have not seen him for many days.”

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