Sunday, March 02, 2008


Lizzie -- or rather, George, she hastily reminded herself -- turned to see the person who had hallooed her. A striking young man had just alighted from a tall chestnut hunter, its flanks wet from exertion. "I say there, boy! Come take my horse."

Lizzie froze. She willed her self to step forward, but for once her body was not responding to her mind's prompting. This was precisely the moment she had anticipated, but she found herself terrified at the idea of impersonating a young male. Surely frozen terror was worse than the poorest disguise, she scolded herself and made her numb legs take a step toward the young man who was looking impatiently at her.

"Oh heavens, I forget myself," the young man continued smacking himself on the forehead. "S'il vous plaît, garçon. Mon cheval -- oh, hang it. Horse? You understand, right? The fiend seize it! I can't keep this slippery language in my head for five minutes at a time."

It seemed so long since Lizzie had heard one of her countrymen speak that she grinned at once, cheered to feel a little bit of home so far from it. "Not to worry, sir," Lizzie said, remembering to lower her voice as much as possible, "I'm an English lad."

"Are you then? 'Pon rep, that's fortunate. Give me German any day, these Romance languages just don't suit my mouth, I swear. There now, be good to my Darcey here -- he's a prime bit of blood." The young man patted his horse affectionately and Lizzie made sure to praise its fine lines and good musculature.

"There then, lad, see my horse well groomed and put away and there's good coin in it for you -- sink me! You're not a stable lad, are you? Look at those hands. You're not some rough." Lizzie became acutely aware of the probing intelligence behind those hazel eyes, belied as it might be by his lazy tone and slipshod canting vocabulary.

"N-n-n-no, sir!" Lizzie stammered, thinking swiftly. "But I may have to make my living soon enough in that manner. I don't have a feather to fly with, you see -- destitute!"

"Heavens!" the young man looked surprised and not a little intrigued. "Well, lad, take this horse around to the barn, see that the groomsman takes him in hand, then join me inside for a hearty breakfast. I'm fair gutfounded and you look like you could do with a bite as well. Then you can tell me what a young gentleman like you is doing without a sixpence to scratch with so far from home."

"Yes, sir!" Lizzie said and led the chestnut off to the stables behind the inn. A sleepy groom met her there, scratching himself elaborately and yawning as he took the reins from her hand. Lizzie could only imagine that she might have been spared the sight had she been there in a fine frock and her usual accoutrements, but the revelation of the male world was already proving interesting.

Speaking of interesting, Lizzie was deeply curious about her unexpected benefactor. His lively eyes and cultured voice intrigued her. Of course, she reminded herself, her heart belonged entirely to the King of Naples, but the dangerous situations she found herself in of late required her to adapt to the unusual circumstances in all sorts of ways. A short time alone with young gentleman could not possibly prove of any scandalous difficulty, Lizzie assured herself. She was merely curious, that was all, what it was like to speak with a man as a man. A scrape it was, but a most interesting one. Lizzie had every confidence that she would prove to be its master.

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