X. chapter: Incomprehensible
In theory the plan was simple, but Giselle already had some experience with seemingly easy plans. They always turned out to be more complicated in praxis.
The first step was to make Abby believe she was already asleep. She took a bath as usual, changed into a nightdress, and retired at about half past ten. She waited good twenty minutes before getting up again. When she'd changed she glanced towards the sky through the window. It was covered with heavy clouds, and only a star or two could be seen. The moon peeked out from behind the covers every now and then. Giselle hoped it would stay hidden, and make everything easier for her.
Thankful that her rooms were on the ground floor, she slipped through the window frame and out into the night. Her shirt was the only not-black piece of clothing on her, and even of it only a small part was visible due to a black cloak in which she was wrapped. Her hair was tied in a loose bun.
All the way to the stables she remained in shadows of the mighty palace-walls. When she was positive no one would see her she sneaked inside.
In the past year Giselle had needed a horse. Ace was a wonderful example of these species, and even though she was not his first owner – or rightful since she's stolen it – a bond existed between them, and Giselle had insisted on keeping him albeit she hadn't known how much it would come in handy.
She saddled Ace with fast, hasty motions but patiently patted his neck when he snorted.
No one noticed her ride away, but even if someone had all one would see would be a black shadow on a black horse. No one would recognise her.
She rode fast and wildly. Wind was mercilessly whipping her face, and her eyes started to water, but she didn't pay much heed to it. Her heart was beating way too rapidly.
Having no pocket watch with her, she couldn't tell what time it was, only guess. It was quite a long ride. After all, Rathbone's estate was a country estate.
When the outlines of the huge building came into sight, her heart skipped a beat, and she spurred Ace to make him gallop still faster, only to abruptly yank the rein as she reached the stables, causing Ace to rise on his hind legs. Even in the dark, with nothing but moonlight to light her way, she could see the building was in need of repair. The walls were still standing and most of the roof seemed untouched as the firemen had been quick to act, but it was clear that the place hadn't been touched since then. There were cracks in the walls, shutters were gone and the remains of one wing of the door hang on the hinge sadly. The other wing was completely gone.
Giselle looked around attentively, but couldn't spot Rathbone anywhere. That left two options: either she was earlier than him, or he wasn't going to show up at all. She preferred the first one, but there was nothing she couldn't do if the second option was the real one.
She dismounted skilfully and patted Ace. A moment later a twig behind her cracked, nearly making her jump. She suppressed the impulse, however, and only twitched.
"Impressive entrance," she heard Rathbone's voice right behind her. "Not very lady-like."
When Giselle turned around to look at him she wished the place was lighter. She'd dreamt about seeing his face again so many times, and now his features were hidden by shadows of the night. She only noticed his hair had grown longer, as long as it could grow in the past ten months.
"While your entrance lacked all proper manners," she replied. "Not very lord-like. At least you came."
"I keep my words."
"I still had my doubts."
"Because you could have arrived with half an army and leave me in their hands?" He snorted. "But at the same time I'm surprised to see you here, my lady." He emphasizes the words just enough to mock her. "Lady Giselle Rayne, the adopted daughter of Her Majesty, meeting a murderer in the middle of the night all by herself. I could get rid of you before you even saw me."
"You wouldn't do that," she said quietly, only working calm on the outside.
"And just how would you know?"
"I wouldn't," Giselle answered earnestly. "But you are here and I'm still alive."
"And so am I," he said slowly. "It seems you didn't come here to dispose of me. Then why did you? Do tell, it ought to be interesting to hear. Is it blackmailing you have in mind? What could a person like you want in exchange to remain quiet, I wonder."
Giselle could see the walls he'd built around himself as clearly as if they were tangible, made out of bricks and mortar instead of sins and fights of the past. She could feel them as she could feel glass under her palms when she straightened out her fingers, leaning onto the window, and welcomed the contrast of cold surface against the warmth of her skin. She only wished his walls weren't so hard to break as the Buckingham palace's thick ones.
"Not that it really mattered," he narrowed his eyes. "I could kill you at any given moment."
"I don't believe it."
"Do you want me to prove it?"
Before she could answer, he leapt at her. The force of his blow made her stagger back, and her back clashed against the stable-wall. In a blink of an eye his hand was around her neck. A breath got caught in her throat, and her instincts screamed at her to fight her way free, but she pushed the voices aside. Willing herself to calm down, she took a deep breath. Rathbone's grip was steady and uncomfortable, but he wasn't choking her; his hand remained in place without moving.
"You wouldn't kill me," she said, having absolute confidence in her words, strange as it was.
"You think I couldn't?" His mouth formed a rigid line.
"Oh, you could, of this I'm sure." Well, maybe it was a bit hard to breathe like that. "You just don't want to do such a thing."
"What kind of a thing?" He was unrelenting.
"Killing me," she replied shortly, sucking in another breath.
"Because you're a woman, and I wouldn't fall so low?"
"And you never will."
He snorted. "Your words are foolish."
"On the contrary," Giselle replied. "My words are true and you should drop your act. It doesn't seem to have the desired effect, or so I think. It only looks ridiculous."
He stared at her for while, silently, but her gaze didn't waver either, and slowly his eyes grew softer, the line of his mouth more relaxed, and his grip lessened. With an exhalation, he let go of her, still the warmth of his palm lingered on her skin. Silence grew heavy upon them. How fitting it would be if ticking of a grandfather clock filled the crisp spring air, synchronised with the beating of an excited woman's heart.
Finally the spell was broken by Giselle crossing her arms in front of her chest. Something seemed to flit through his mind, and he made a step back almost gingerly. Yet the silence still lingered, even when Giselle's lips parted to form words she couldn't find, and they twitched so lightly it was impossible to notice. Even when Rathbone shifted his weight from one leg to another, his eyes never looking at hers. At last, a murmur broke from his lips.
Giselle released a breath she hadn't known she'd been holding. "I'm sorry, too. I didn't mean to startle you. Whether you choose to believe me or not – I didn't come here for trouble. And neither did you."
"Why did you come then?" he frowned. "How come the whole Buckingham palace, no, the whole London doesn't know about this yet?"
"I chose not to tell." She ignored the first question. 'Because I love you' wasn't the kind of explanation she could offer. "Let us make a deal."
He canted his head a little. "Go on."
"I give you my word that no one will find out about you, and you teach me fencing."
"Fencing? Swordplay?" He was clearly bewildered.
"Yes. Would that work?"
"Then I shall see you here tomorrow night."
He just nodded.
"If you'll excuse me, I have to go now …" Her voice slowly faded. She didn't have to go. She didn't want to go either. But there was nothing left to say at the moment. It was better to let things be for now. All in good time, people said. She would wait. She'd waited five years. What was another day to her now?
In a few steps she was at Ace's side. She climbed into the saddle and looked at Rathbone for one last time.
"Until tomorrow," she said. Her heels hit the horse's sides, spurring him into trot.
Rathbone stared behind the dark shadow of the woman even after he could no longer see her. Giselle Rayne. He remembered her, the person whom the Queen had liked – and probably still did – to have around so much. The child who had looked into the world with big, curious eyes. The girl who had sat in a corner quietly and listened to conversations. The teenager who had blushed politely when men kissed her hand. The young lady with a silent smile in her caramel orbs. A charming creature with some intriguing mystery hanging over her, one of the people one could actually talk to. But only one of them. A person in the crowd, one among many, another dress, another name. He'd never thought she'd be the one to come in the middle of the night, riding astride, wearing man's clothing. Come to meet a criminal who was thought to be dead, and would most likely have been if anyone else but her had discovered him at the ball.
His frown deepened. Why had she let him leave? Not just that, she'd wanted him to leave. He still had to shiver at the thought of how close he must have been to death. If there was something he'd learned in the past ten months, it was that he wanted to live. God knows why, it seemed to him there was nothing worth living for. He'd lost everything. Yet he was still alive. And like always a question was gnawing at his insides: he'd survived, but was this another chance or a punishment? He couldn't tell. He'd always hated not knowing the answers, and now there was yet another thing that bothered him. Giselle. Why had she let him live and why had she come here. But there was more that troubled him. She'd read him so easily before. It only took her an instant to realise his threats were all just empty words, spoken out of sheer need to protect himself. Just a shield he'd tried to use for protection. How had she done it? Had he forgotten how to lie? No … No, he couldn't have. Words had always served him well, even became another of his weapons of choice. It must have been about her, not about him, that she hadn't been afraid. Not even a bit. Why? He was a murderer, for God's sake, the one who'd almost become responsible for the massacre of the royal family! And she wanted fencing lessons from him!
He shook his head in disbelief. It was all too confusing to sort out.
A/N: I realise Rathbone's estate i sprobably further away from London than an hour ride, but then again it fits into the story better this way. Besides, if the location of Stonehenge could be false in the movie, so can the one of his estate be here.