When the smoke cleared and Adi opened her eyes, she was circled by burnished black boots. She looked up to see gun barrels and cruel faces.
“What shall we do with him, Your Highness?” asked the Commander.
Carrying a silver candle holder, a figure in a dark robe, adorned with golden arabesque, descended the stairs. Stepping lightly past the bodies, the Duchess Johanna, her voice languid with sleep and narcotic, said, “Stand him up.” Speaking to the terrier tucked into the crook of her arm, she said, “Let’s get a look at our thief, shall we, Bouton?”
Unhappy with the turmoil, the dog fidgeted until his mistress put him down. Adi was hoisted to her feet. The duchess held the light up and stared at the face before her.
“Why he’s nothing but a...boy.” She hesitated, her brow furrowing. Her eyelids fluttered, heavy with the effort of grasping what was before her. In a haunted voice that only Adi could hear, she whispered, “I know this face.”The duchess choked back a cry. Adi’s eyes went wide with alarm. Oh God! She knows me!
“Everything alright, Your Highness?” asked the commander. Behind the duchess’s violet tinged irises, emotion struggled with reason. Clearly, not for the first time. But in a moment, the ice had reformed, the storm dissipated, replaced by a look that could almost be mistaken for serenity.
The duchess reached her hand out and pulled at the girls cropped hair. Staring in wonder she examined the slight fullness in the front of the coat.
“Good work, commander,” said the duchess, not taking her eyes off the girl. Carelessly, she traced her fingertips along Adi’s downy cheek. The commander inclined his head.
“Now. Would you explain how these...men, are in my house?” Before he could answer, one of the guards was seized by a bout of coughing. Adi snuck a glance. All the signs were there, the sweat dampened forehead, the blueish tinge to the skin. Looking back to the commander, she saw he was in much the same condition.
“It appears they might have entered through the garden gate, Your Grace.”
“Such high walls,” said the duchess. “So many guards. And still we’re not safe.”
The dog yapped.
“Bouton! Get away from there!”
The dog was sniffing at the stream of blood trickling down the marble stairs from where Nantes lay. The duchess leaned down and scooped up the animal.
“What should we do with him, ma’am?” asked the commander.
Without another look at Adi, the duchess drew up the hem of her robe and started back up the stairs.
“He has stolen from us. Hang him.”