Author: musicandcitylights PM
A lonely wanderer stumbles upon a cottage. Fate introduces her to a young boy with a mysterious past and unknown future. Will fate disclose the secrets that his caretakers keep? And if so, at what cost? Starting eight years before The Man in the Iron Mask.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Adventure - Chapters: 4 - Words: 17,831 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 8 - Updated: 09-14-12 - Published: 11-30-10 - id: 6518441
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Thanks very much for your patience. I apologize for the incredibly long wait but unfortunately life got ahead and the story took a drastic pause. My co-author has been incredibly busy so I have decided to go ahead and post my unedited, non-co-authored version of the story for now. This is to be read at your discretion as of course when my awesome co-author/editor is available again everything will be updated with the fixed and much better version. Thanks again!
Author's Note: Aside from the occasional Oui, Merci, Non, I have added a few other French words you may or may not recognize. Some being phrases. "Il n'était rien" is translated as "It was nothing". "Il était tout" means "It was everything."
Two years later.
The sun's warm rays began to rise, cascading hues of orange, yellow, and red over the darkened woods.
It was morning.
Bright rays flooded across my face, streaming in through the wooden planks in the barn. I rolled over with a yawn then sat up. I stretched and twisted until every bit of my body was rid of sleep.
Throwing off the thin blanket I stood up and brushed my dress and hair, bidding the remainder of straw off of me. It had been another long night of work, but I was grateful to have been hired. This family had offered me the barn for a night's rest and paid me graciously with a full dinner. Now, it was time to leave again. It was time to visit Philippe once more.
The thought of Philippe excited me and willed me to leave quicker. For two years we had been secretly meeting, never once caught, but had a few close calls.
I made my way out of the barn and into the clear morning light. Dew clung to the grass beneath me as I walked westward back to the cottage. I admired the colors of the leaves as they began to change from shades of green to bright ribbons of golden red. A flock of geese suddenly flew overhead in a perfect "V" formation, their silver and black wings flapping and soaring above the white clouds. Fall was coming soon.
I smiled at the thought of such a perfect day. What could possibly go wrong?
I stopped shortly spotting the cottage just ahead. I waited cautiously. I had to make sure the area was clear of Father Alard's carriage. I made the mistake once in not checking that factor before and I almost walked in on Philippe's confession with him. But now Philippe would let me know when he would come and visit.
Mae was easy enough to avoid as she stayed within the house most of the time and either cooked or cleaned. She hardly bothered to check on Philippe unless he needed her. Not because she didn't care, but rather because it was getting difficult for her to travel up the staircase where Philippe's room was.
This was an advantage for both of us.
Assured that everything was clear, I ran quickly across the field and jumped the fence behind the house like I had done a hundred times before. The next part was a bit difficult. The trellis along the back wall was easy enough to climb but there were patches of thorns that stuck out amongst the roses that trailed upward along it.
I climbed up carefully, avoiding the thorns as much as possible. Reaching the open window I spotted Philippe who was sitting at a desk with paper and pencil in hand. He must have noticed me because he stopped abruptly and turned my direction.
"Elise!" Smiling, he stood up quickly. But not before he tucked the piece of paper behind his back.
I climbed into the room and pointed around him. "What was that?" I folded my arms and stared at him with a playful grin. "What are you hiding?"
"N-Nothing." He responded quickly and backed a step away.
"Oh really?" I grinned bigger, teasing him. "Well if it's nothing then I'm sure you wouldn't be hiding it then…" I took a step forward in turn then darted toward him.
"No…no…Elise!" He threw his hand above my head waving the paper frantically away from me. "I'll, I'll let you look at it later...I promise!"
We both stopped abruptly hearing a faint voice. "Shhh…" he bid me to stay quiet then cracked the door open.
The voice called again. It was Mae. "Philippe? Are you alright?"
"Oui!" He called back. "I…uh…I just, I was reading one of my books out loud!"
"Well that sounds like a dangerous book!" she called back. "Try to be a bit quieter alright?"
"Oui madame!" he replied then shut the door quietly.
We both looked at each other then burst into quiet laughter.
"Let's go out today!" I whispered, temporarily forgetting about the paper. "I want to show you something I found!"
"Out?" he looked back at the door then at me. "But we've never been out before…except that one time, and we almost got caught!"
"I know, but Father Alard isn't here today is he?" I smiled. "Come on, I really want to show you this place!"
Philippe thought it over. Then glancing back at the door once more he finally nodded. "Alright, let's go." He motioned toward the window, bidding me to go first.
I nodded with excitement then made my way down the trellis.
Philippe followed quickly after.
Spotting the piece of paper tucked into his back pocket, I quickly grabbed it.
"Elise!" he gasped and began chasing me.
We hopped the fence and ran across the field. I ran ahead of him attempting to pull the paper open.
"Elise! Don't open it, at least, not yet!"
Catching a trace of what it was I smiled. "It's a drawing! Oh come on Philippe, it can't be that bad!"
"It's not that…it's…it's…"
It was too late. I opened the paper. I stopped abruptly and gasped. "Philippe…I…"
I looked between the drawing and Philippe who was panting heavily and leaning forward with his hands on his knees. It was a half drawn portrait of my face!
"It's not finished…" he shoved his hands into his pockets, embarrassed. "I didn't mean for you to see that yet…"
"Oh Philippe…" I breathed, overcome with emotions that gripped my very soul.
"What do you think of it?" he cut me off hesitantly.
I stared at the portrait for a long moment. "I…I love it! It…it's perfect! No one has ever done anything like this before for me. Merci Philippe!" I was so overcome by his gift that I embraced him in a tight hug and placed a soft kiss on his cheek.
We both blushed and I grabbed his hand with my free one, leaving the half drawn portrait in my other.
"So, you really like it?" he inquired, his face still a bright red.
"I love it!" I smiled at him. We blushed again.
"I'm glad." He responded shyly. "As I said before, it's not finished, so you have to promise me you'll let me finish it before I give it to you!"
I squeezed his hand. "I promise!"
As we walked hand in hand through the open fields, we discussed several things. Occasionally we would stop for a moment and admire the trees, birds, and other living creatures. We both had an amazing affinity for nature and it was a joy to share it together.
We stopped shortly in a field of wildflowers. Bright colors of yellow, red, purple, and blue dotted all over the ground. Philippe broke from my grasp. "Wait here!" He ran somewhere off in the distance. A few minutes later he came back with his hands behind him.
"Close your eyes!" he smiled.
"Alright." I smiled in turn closing them. I could feel his hand grasping mine and then something being placed into it.
I opened my eyes again and looked into my hand. A beautiful arrangement of flowers lay there. "Ah! These are lovely!" I put them to my nose smelling the sweetness, then tucked one into my hair. "You didn't have to do that for me. You have already given me a gift and I have yet to give you one!"
"It's fine. I wanted to, and that's all that matters. You don't have to give me anything Elise, your presence is enough."
My face grew hot suddenly. I diverted my gaze. I managed to look back at him. "Let's go find that place I was telling you about!"
I pulled the bouquet into the hand that held the drawing and with my free hand I led him to the new place I had found. Just ahead lay a small grove of trees surrounding a huge crystal clear pond.
As we neared the pond I gasped at a realization and pointed downward. "Look Philippe! It's your very own mirror!"
He blinked at me then looked down into the water. Then he understood.
He stepped forward, slowly releasing his grip from my hand. All his concentration was on the reflection beneath him. His frame began to tremble.
"Philippe?" I hesitated. He appeared mesmerized, almost fearful.
I watched him as he knelt down onto the mossy bank and peered at his reflection. He turned his head different ways watching his mirrored self do the same thing.
To many people a mirror was just an ordinary thing but Philippe had had no such blessing. This must be a strange sight, I thought.
I slowly knelt beside him and placed my face over the water as well. His gaze caught mine in the pool's reflection.
"This…this is so strange…yet…" he broke off. I gazed up into his blue eyes. He glanced away hiding his emotion. He cleared his throat then continued. "Yet…it is so wonderful!" He turned away and I caught his hand brush across his face.
I felt a knot beginning to form in my throat. The emotion he had at his reflection forced a deep ache within me. It rose slowly through my chest and up through my eyes until I could hardly bare it any longer.
I bit my lip trying to hold back my own tears. Unknowingly I had offered him the greatest gift he could have ever wanted.
"Merci Elise…" he whispered. His gaze cast downward staring at his reflection again.
"Il n'était rien" I replied lightheartedly.
"Non; Il était tout" he replied intensely, his eyes filling with tears again. He grabbed my hand.
I swallowed the lump in my throat. Something about the way he touched my hand felt different and I caught my breath. "Philippe!"
He moved closer to me and kissed me on the hand. "Merci Beaucoup!" he said again. And this time I could not contain myself. Tears welled up in my own eyes and for the first time, we were both vulnerable. We spilled our emotions all over the soil beneath us leaving puddles of fresh tears.
Our overwhelming emotion did not seem to bother nature however, and I marveled at how the birds went about their business in the trees, chatting merrily amongst one another. Minutes passed and we just sat quietly. His hand did not leave mine and inside I was melting at his touch.
I leaned closer to him and rested my head on his shoulder before wiping the remaining tears from my face.
"So, you have offered me a gift, and I have offered you one…" I smiled.
He nodded and smiled back. "So it would seem. But yours isn't finished yet!" He took a long breath and sighed. "How did you find this place?"
"I was on my way back to the cottage after working for a family and I came across it. It was halfway hidden behind all these trees and I almost missed it."
I paused and looked at him meaningfully, "But I'm glad I found it, just as I am glad I found you!"
His eyes met with mine. Time froze and I do not know how long we stared at each other. We pressed closer. Philippe leaned in. I could feel his hot breath against my lips. My heart pounded against my chest as I leaned forward and accepted his offer. Our lips intertwined. For the first time we were blissfully unaware of the circumstances that kept us apart.
I released the paper and flowers onto the ground and held his arm. He leaned forward to embrace me when suddenly we slipped. Water exploded and sprayed around us. We jumped upward and scrambled to the edge of the bank. Somehow we must have leaned too far and fallen into the pond.
Philippe spit out water as I wiped it from my eyes.
We burst into laughter.
The frogs did not seem to share our enthusiasm. They scrambled up onto the banks and peered at us through dark eyes.
"This is your fault!" I teased, poking at him.
He raised his eyebrows amused. "My fault?! The obvious answer would be you! If it wasn't for your beauty then we wouldn't have gotten into this mess!"
I blushed and laughed. "Well I suppose I can't help that!"
"Non, I suppose not!" Philippe laughed then suddenly frowned. "Oh no! Where's the drawing?!" He spun frantically searching for it in the water.
I spun around in turn. It was nowhere to be seen. Then it dawned on me. I must have dropped it on the ground before we fell in.
I sloshed through the water and peered at the edge of the bank. "There it is!"
Philippe glanced in my direction and breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness! I want to finish it, not start over!"
He moved to the edge and pulled himself up then offered his hand to me.
I pulled my skirt up in one hand and took his hand with the other. He hoisted me up and I stumbled forward, my face landing an inch from his.
Blushing ear to ear, I quickly stood up and wrung out my wet hair.
Philippe stood up in turn and looked back in the direction of the cottage.
"Is something wrong?" I wondered.
"Non, everything is fine…but I think we should get dried off just in case."
I nodded. "Perhaps we can just move out of the shade here and into the sunlight in that field over there."
"That sounds like an idea." He smiled.
He picked up the drawing and the bouquet then walked with me to the open field.
As the afternoon sun rose to the peak shining brightly in the blue sky, hues of warmth surrounded our soaked bodies. Within no time, we were beginning to dry off.
We chatted the day away. Time passed without any acknowledgement from us. We didn't even realize how long it had been until the sky grew dark and the sun turned red as it set.
"We should probably head back…" I frowned, glancing at the now dusk sky.
"Perhaps you're right…" he sighed. Standing up he offered me his hand once more. Then handed me the bouquet and tucked the drawing into his back pocket again.
I graciously took both offers and we moved quickly back toward the cottage.
The closer we got to the cottage however, the more unnerved I felt. Something wasn't right. I could sense it.
We passed through a densely wooded area just before emerging on the other side where the cottage sat.
We stopped abruptly.
My eyes widened. "That's…Is that?"
"But I thought you said he wasn't here today!"
"He's not supposed to be!" Philippe responded just as panicked. "I better run to my room! I hope he hasn't checked on me yet!"
"Wait!" I grabbed his arm and pulled him back. "Look!" I pointed at where Father Alard's carriage sat. Next to it sat two ominously black carriages and an array of unfamiliar horses.
Philippe's brow furrowed in confusion and I could feel his hand tremble in mine.
Suddenly, there was a shrill cry from inside.
"Mae!" Philippe darted forward, but I held him back. "Shhh! Philippe. Follow me!"
"But I have to save her! What if something is wrong?! What if…"
"What if something is wrong and what if whoever they are catch you and try to harm you!"
Philippe's terrified eyes stared into mine.
We both shook with adrenaline and terror as another yell could be heard from inside. This time it was from Father Alard. But it was no ordinary yell. It sounded as if he was calling for someone.
I pulled Philippe back into the darkness of the woods and we watched and waited silently.
A group of men sprung from the house, each yelling something indiscernible. They had weapons drawn.
I looked at Philippe who was trembling violently.
"It's okay." I whispered, barely believing my own words.
"Where are Mae and Alard?" he cut off not wanting to know the answer to his own question.
"I…I don't know…" I swallowed. My brown eyes scanned the area and watched the men as they dispersed. "What are they doing?"
Philippe shook his head. We both watched silently.
Philippe pointed ahead. "Mae! Alard! They're alright!" He looked at me with new hope in his eyes.
Sure enough, they both came out of the house. Both looked unharmed yet distraught.
I shook my head. "Philippe…run away with me!"
"What?!" he stared at me in shock.
"I think those men are after you! Run away with me! Let's leave this place!"
"I…" he looked between me and his caretakers. "I can't Elise! I can't." he sighed. "What if they need me? Perhaps those men are here to make sure I'm safe!"
"Safe?!" I stared at him in disbelief. "I doubt their weapons would agree with your theory!"
"What can I do?!" Philippe frowned.
"Come with me!" I tugged on his shirt, my brown eyes staring into his pleadingly. "Please Philippe!"
Philippe didn't respond for a long moment. He was indecisive. I could tell he didn't want to leave his caretakers there.
A voice somewhere near us caused us to jump. Footsteps plowed our way.
I made the decision for him. Unknowingly dropping the bouquet of flowers, I grabbed Philippe by the arm and led him deeper into the thick forest.
I put a finger to my lips ordering him to follow my steps.
One wrong move could find us out.
The darkness of the woods made it increasingly difficult to avoid branches and other things that would make our existence known. Yet I was grateful for the night that shielded us.
A glowing light could be seen near us to the right. They were coming!
I pulled Philippe toward the left. We had to avoid the light as much as possible.
The hoot of an owl on the branch above us caused us both to jump and I met eyes with the creature of the night hoping he wouldn't reveal our location.
We pushed past a few more trees then stopped on the other side of the forest where a big open field lay. Open field was dangerous for anyone being hunted, there, we could easily be spotted.
A twig snapped behind us. My heart leapt in my chest. We spun around. The figure emerged.
I caught my breath then sighed out of relief. It was just a doe.
"We need to get out of here!" I whispered to Philippe and pointed ahead. "If we can cross this field there is another patch of woods and we can hide in there for a while."
Philippe nodded reluctantly and we both got ready to run.
"On my mark…run!"
We bolted out of the forest and into the moonlit field running as swiftly and quietly as possible. The small grove of trees was just ahead.
A horse whinnied nearby. We picked up the pace.
I grabbed Philippe's hand and we ran as fast as we could. Just a little further and we would be safe behind the thick wall of trees.
We darted inside the forest. I pulled Philippe further and further into the thickness of the woods until we could move no more. Overcome with exhaustion we bent forward and tried to catch our breath.
I looked around, frantically searching for an escape. My eyes adjusted to the darkness around me. If we could get higher up, we would not be as likely to be discovered. My eyes landed on a large oak tree that looked easy to climb.
"Philippe!" I whispered. "Let's get up in that tree. We can hide there."
"Anything is better than running!" he panted in agreement.
We climbed the tree with what little energy we had left.
We sat and waited listening for any sign of a voice or footstep. Long minutes passed and we heard nothing.
"Perhaps they've given up?"
Philippe shook his head. "If they have, they will inevitably try again. But why? What do they want with me?"
That was a question that neither of us could answer. What did they want with Philippe?
Cool wind blew through the treetops and pushed hard against us. A violent shiver from cold and adrenaline coursed through my body. Philippe pulled me closer to him and we used each other as a shield and comfort against the cool night air.
Time passed and nothing but the howl of the wind and the sound of crickets or the occasional hoot of an owl could be heard.
"They must have given up their search." Philippe mused staring cautiously ahead for any sign of movement.
I nodded. "We should keep moving. Let's get as far away from this place as possible! I know of another place we can hide. There's an abandoned barn not too far from here but we will have to travel as quietly as possible to get there. Beyond this forest lies more open field and roads."
"So, there's no going back…I can never return, can I?" Philippe stared into my eyes. Sadness washed over his face.
I shook my head. "I'm sorry."
He nodded with understanding though his sadness was evident.
I scanned the forest again. There was no trace of a single human being anywhere. "We should go."
Philippe climbed down first and made his way to the ground. I began to move but stopped abruptly. A shadow of a figure emerged from behind Philippe and grabbed him. He yelled in panic as a cold sword was placed against his throat.
I held back a scream. If I let them know my location there was no chance for Philippe's escape. The man began to yell for the others. I searched frantically for any way to keep them from taking Philippe. My eyes landed on several acorns. I quickly plucked several and gathered them in my skirt. I took aim. I threw one. The acorn hit the man on the head but it wasn't hard enough to do anything but divert his attention. At least he wasn't yelling anymore.
I threw another. This time it landed between his eyes. He held onto Philippe but looked up into the tree. I then proceeded to throw several in succession, pelting him with one after another until I ran out. Philippe used the diversion as an advantage and pushed him backwards into a tree.
The startled man released his grip. I climbed down halfway then jumped. Philippe grabbed my hand and we ran again. The man began to yell and chase after us but we easily evaded him. We ran as hard as we could. The trees began to thin and the sight of yet another open field could be viewed. There was no turning back now. We leapt out of the forest and into the open field.
Our hearts raced. Behind us we could hear commotion, and it was gaining on us.
Somewhere near us the sound of horses' hooves could be heard breaking into a hard gallop. I looked to my left. Two horses with ominous riders began to plow our way.
"Run Philippe!" I screamed.
We picked up the pace as best as we could. Philippe stumbled.
He quickly pulled himself back up.
Our legs shook violently beneath us. Our chests swelled with pain.
The horses were right beside us now. One pulled right in front of us causing us to fall backwards. "Stay where you are!" the second man ordered holding his gun straight at us. The other men emerged from the woods and quickly surrounded Philippe and I.
"What do you want with us?!" I screamed.
They evaded the question. The one before us looked at the other. "Take them both."
Rough hands grabbed us. They bound our wrists with rope then hoisted Philippe and I upward where we were forced onto the horses. Philippe was placed with the one who had given instruction; I was placed with the gunman.
It wasn't long before the familiar sight of the cottage was spotted. As soon as we arrived they pulled us off the horses.
Philippe and I glanced at each other. Our expressions contained worry and fear.
A voice screamed to our left.
Philippe and I looked up to see Mae who was running toward him but quickly stopped by Father Alard.
Then they saw me.
"What is she doing here?!" Mae exclaimed looking between Philippe and I. There was no time to answer that question however. One of the men advanced toward Philippe. In his hands he held a burlap sack and chains. Abruptly he pulled the sack over Philippe's head then cut the ropes. He then proceeded to shackle Philippe.
Shocked by what I was seeing I screamed. "Stop it! Leave him alone!" I struggled against the one who held me.
Philippe yelled in panic and pain as the man roughly grabbed his arm.
"Gently!" A deep yet kind voice spoke amidst the commotion.
We all turned our heads in the direction that the voice came. The man who was holding Philippe froze. The voice emerged from the cottage. He was tall with dark hair and he wore a black cassock. Was he a priest as well? I wondered.
"Put him in the carriage but do so as gently as possible. You must remember he is no ordinary prisoner."
Prisoner. The word sent chills down my spine. The man began to move Philippe toward the carriage as instructed.
"Why are you taking him?!" I screamed. "What wrong has he committed?!"
The man in black looked over at me with a confused expression then looked at Mae and Father Alard. "Who is this?"
Mae was too distraught to answer but Father Alard managed to answer for me. "She stumbled upon our cottage by chance about two years ago. She was instructed never to return here again." His accusing eyes stared at me.
Overcome with a variety of emotions, I glanced between the two men.
The man in black seemed to think this over then addressed the other men. "You two, stay here." He pointed to the one who held me and the other who was standing in front of the carriage door, which contained Philippe. "Continue to guard the carriage. Take the girl inside for questioning. As for the rest, you are dismissed."
Except for the one who guarded me and the one who was now guarding Philippe, all the other men mounted their horses and headed out.
As the man forced me inside, I found myself at the same kitchen table that I had been interrogated at before by Father Alard. This time I was going to be interrogated by another priest, or so it appeared.
My body shivered. Hot tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt lost and sad. My stomach ached. My heart pounded.
The man in black ordered for the bonds to be cut from my wrists then ushered me to a seat at the table. Father Alard was asked to come in as well. He began the interrogation. Strangely enough they were mostly the same questions I had run across before by Father Alard two years earlier. I told him my name, who I was, how I found this place.
"How long have you known Philippe?" he asked.
"We have been secretly meeting the past two years." I admitted, avoiding Father Alard's harsh stare as much as possible.
This seemed to trouble the stranger. "Did you come into contact with anyone else while you met?"
I shook my head, "Non monsieur."
He took a deep breath then sat quietly as if in thought.
"Why are you taking him? Is he going to prison?!" My broken, soft, yet panicked voice broke the silence. I felt sick. My chest racked with sobs. "Please…please don't take him!"
My interrogator surprisingly stared back at me with sympathy. A trace of heaviness fell over his frame. He shook his head. "I'm sorry. I cannot tell you what crime he has committed. What I can tell you is that it is for the sake of this country that I am doing this."
He stood up abruptly and moved to the door. His answer did nothing to ease my pain or questions. My heart wrenched and I was so overcome with emotion that I fell forward and buried my head into my hands. "Let her go." I heard his voice say to the guard at the door through my sobs.
This act of kindness did almost nothing for me either. As long as Philippe was taken, there would be no rest for me. Then a thought dawned on me. It was crazy yes, but I was desperate. I stood up quickly and rushed over to the man in black before he walked out of the cottage. I held out my wrists for him. "Please! If he must go, then take me with him!"
The man looked stunned. His lips parted in shock. His sorrowed eyes stared back into mine. He shook his head, "You have a noble heart Elisabeth, but I cannot bring you with us."
"Please!" I begged him as more tears rushed down from my eyes.
"Non mademoiselle." He placed a gentle hand on my shoulder. "It is for your sake that I cannot allow you to come. Please, do as I say. Philippe will be alright. Now go."
His eyes stared into mine, a hidden message displayed. I dared not argue with him anymore. I knew there was a reason why he was telling me to leave. I walked away from the cottage and back toward the woods. I glanced back at the carriage and caught a glimpse of the now bound and hooded Philippe. The man in black stepped into the carriage and within moments they were gone.
The wind picked up. Rain began to drip from the sky then pour. Heaven's tears mixed with my own. I stood there: motionless, broken. I felt as if I would die. I wanted to die. Life with Philippe was safe and comfortable. Life without him…I didn't even want to go on or think about it.
"You caused this!" Mae screamed from the door. "You should never have come!"
I swallowed the lump down my throat. I ran. I ran into the thickness of the woods then into the field then past there. I don't know how far I went or how long I ran. But I ran. I ran from his accusing masters. I ran from the problems that faced me. I ran until I could run no longer. I finally collapsed. Darkness overtook me. I passed out in the midst of a thick grove of trees.
Morning came too soon and I blinked my eyes open. I shivered. I felt soaked to the bone. Minutes turned to hours and hours to days. I refused to move. Despite falling ill I refused to go on. I just sat and waited. I waited for this nightmare to end. I waited for Philippe to come find me, for a miracle to happen.
But nothing happened.
I cried until I could cry no longer. Mae's accusations rang through my head. Was it really my fault that he was taken? Too many questions ran through my mind and drove me to near insanity. I pulled myself up. I headed back toward the cottage.
If anything I had to clear my name. My main goal was to find answers. I trudged weakly to the door. I slammed my fist hard against the wood. The door surprisingly pushed open on its own. I stepped in. The house looked dark and unoccupied.
"Mae? Father Alard?" I called. There was no answer. I ventured inside and stared at the emptiness before me. Not a single soul stirred. It was dead quiet. I looked first in the room that Philippe and I had talked that first night. The thought of Philippe brought heartache so I quickly diverted from my thoughts. I looked up the staircase. There was no one there. I dared not go up there or even enter Philippe's room.
I looked to my left where the kitchen was. The door was closed. I thought that very odd. I never recalled the door ever being closed. I turned the handle and pushed it open. The heavy door creaked against the weight of the hinges. Immediately a foul smell pervaded my senses and I recoiled.
Pinching my nostrils I dared to move forward again. I stopped. My face turned pale. My knees began to buckle. Now I understood where the smell was coming from. The sight before me made me ill. For just in front of me lay Mae and Father Alard. Dead! The food on the table had been halfway consumed which made me realize they must have been poisoned. The color of their skin and the mold that was growing on the food made me believe that this was done a few days ago.
I trembled violently. I had to get out. If I were found out, perhaps they would kill me too. Perhaps that was what the man in black was talking about. I backed up and began to leave but a figure cut me off. I screamed in terror as a gun was raised to my temple. A second pair of footsteps entered the room. It was the man in black only this time he was dressed in a guard's outfit.
He glanced at me in confusion then ordered the other man to drop his weapon and leave. "I will take care of it." He pulled out his own gun. The man left as instructed.
I fell to my knees in terror. He shut the door. He raised the gun. I squeezed my eyes shut. He fired. The explosive sound of gunpowder rang in my ears. However, I felt nothing. Was it over? Was I dead? I opened my eyes. The gun's barrel was not pointed at me but rather at the wall beside me. I looked down at myself then in the direction of where the gun had fired. The bullet was lodged into the cabinet behind me.
"I don't understand…" I began but was quickly hushed by the man. He kneeled before me and grasped my shoulders. "Run and do not return! If they find you they will kill you! Leave out the back way."
"What have you done with Philippe?! Please, I have to know!"
"He is alive. That is all I can tell you. Now go, quickly!" He ushered me out of the room and bid me to hurry.
Though my questions remained unanswered I did as instructed. For some reason this man was different from the others. Perhaps I could trust his word. Perhaps Philippe was alive and alright, like he said.
I ran from the cottage and did not return for a year. When I came back, the cottage was nothing more than a pile of wood and stone. It had been burned down. No doubt to cover the evidence of my sparing I mused. Now, every part of my life with Philippe was taken from me. I choked back tears and left. I never returned. Fate had cruelly stripped us apart.
I wandered my way to Marseilles. I worked most of my days away trying to forget the incidents that shattered the only good world I had ever known, but things like this are not easily forgotten, nor are people such as Philippe or the man in black.
I recently moved to Paris and it is here that I stay even today. I often think of Philippe and wonder if he is even alive. It's been six years since I have seen him but I pray for him often and maybe, just maybe one day, fate will bring us together again…