VIII. A Trip to Prison

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Three years ago...

Ralph saw his sister and her new husband, the Lord of Wakefield, walking to another part of the ballroom.

He met them, filled with curiosity. He had made it one of his tasks to know every one of his sisters' friends. And by the interaction he witnessed earlier, he could tell that the woman in blue was not merely an acquaintance. However did she pass his notice?

He blocked Ysabella and Wakefield's path. "Who was that woman you were talking with?"

Ysabella frowned. "Who?"

"The black hair."

"Ah, a friend. Why?"

Ralph blinked. How should he phrase his acute obsession? No, there was no way in hell he could do so without Ysabella fuming at him. And so he simply shrugged.

Without offering a verbal answer, he turned his head to where the woman in blue was. If he wanted to know her name, he would have to learn it from her own lips.

He started to walk to where Emma and Lady in Blue were.

******

They could not stay long beside a lone road, the bandit had said.

She ordered Ralph to mount the battered man on his own horse.

"Why?" he asked, his mind still dumbfounded by the fact that she had actually scared away the two other men.

"Why what?" she asked, looking incredulous.

Ralph blinked. Her face was swollen, her hair rumpled to a point that Ralph believed there was no way in hell she would ever manage to use a brush without breaking it. Her clothes were covered with white dust and smears of blood, probably from her victim.

How did she manage to fight off three men again?

"Ye mean why do ye need to mount 'em on yer horse?" she asked, motioning her head at the man on the ground. "Do ye wanna drag him back to yer estate? He'll die fer sure."

The man began to shout at the top of his lungs, struggling to be free.

Alex walked to her horse. "But we can't do that, guv," she said as she settled over her horse. "Ye need 'im, aye? Ye need to question 'im."

Ralph frowned. "And where do you think you are going, bandit?"

"I'll go back te yer estate, guv," she said with a shrug. "Me 'Pa will kill me if he sees this." She pointed at her swollen face. She turned to the man, her eyes turning murderous. "And I wanna know why I was bein' chased!"

Ralph turned and looked down at the man on the ground. He sighed. This shall prove to be a very tough ride.

*****

"He's no Guard," Alex said beside Ralph, her arms crossed over her chest.

The two of them stood facing the man while he sat on a chair, still tightly tied, in the same bedchamber Alex escaped from.

Ralph turned to her. "Why the statement?"

She shrugged, eyes still on the man. "Guards chased me 'fter I took Forest Lady from the Dark Forest. And more of 'em Guards came fer me at Whiston. 'Twas not hard to believe yer friends were there fer more reasons than me profession, guv."

Ralph turned his attention back on the man, recognizing the fact that the bandit was not dimwitted. "Who sent you after her?" he asked the man.

The man glared at Alex and then growled at Ralph.

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