This excerpt comes from The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover.
“Give us the horses or you die,” the lead rider demanded. He was a big man, heavily bearded and, like all three of the brigands, wearing a mask bound over his eyes and nose.
“No!” the Duchess said.
Henri grinned in reflexive agreement–never the horses!–then his belly went cold with horror. He should have spoken up immediately, said they had money. Except then the brigands might have demanded the money and the horses. Did that matter? There were other horses in the world, much as he loved them. There was only one Duchess.
The lead brigand rode towards the Duchess, blade held out. She backed Guirlande with consummate skill, keeping a distance between them. The brigand said, “Now, lady, we could use some nice mounts like these.”
Henri opened his mouth. She cast him a warning glance, and he closed it. “I’m sure you could,” she said. “However, they are mine.”
“You wouldn’t like to die in the road, would you?”
“You can’t shoot us both,” she said. “The survivor would make quite a lot of trouble for you.”
The archer said, “Want to bet there’d be a survivor?”
Henri thought furiously. He could rear Tulipe and perhaps distract their horses, allowing the Duchess to run, but that would expose his horse’s belly to both swords and arrow, and they might cut her down as she ran. How could he use his knife? Kaspar’s singletail would have been of more use right now. He sidled Tulipe left, then right, trying to draw their attention away from the Duchess. Maybe that would be enough, a distraction so she and Guirlande could run.
“Don’t move!” someone shouted.
Henri froze. Casting his eyes to the trees, he recognized Lilas first, the small figure on her back second. Sylvie held a long-barreled pistol in each hand. The brigands were easily in range of her shot, and he did not doubt she could hit anything at which she aimed.
The first rider wheeled his horse to face her, while the second took over menacing the Duchess. “There are three of us, if you haven’t noticed,” he called.
A shot ripped the air. Henri quickly controlled Tulipe. Guirlande barely flinched. The archer had lost his bow, and was clutching at his shoulder. Sylvie dropped her spent pistol, seized another from her belt, and shouted, “Two of you. I would go now, if you wish to live.”
c. Victoria Janssen 2009
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