Monday, November 5, 2012

Test of Freedom - Episode 5

Episode 5 - "The Ladies' Expeditionary Force"
by Camille LaGuire

AT LAST PENELOPE wasn't useless.

Mary might have the gumption, but by the Prophets, Penelope had the resources.  And she did have influence.  Perhaps not with this provincial court, but she had friends at home.  She could do something.

She sent for her agent, Mr. Sherman, and began at once to make arrangments, sending letters and arranging for travel.

All the while, Mary lurked in the background, not saying or moving much, but she seemed always on her toes.  Like a coiled spring, or like a dog on a leash, who didn't strain at it, but you knew the instant that leash was released, she'd be off like a shot.

When Penelope made plans to return to Agritaine to charter her ship, Mary broke her silence.

"No," she said.  "That'll take at least three weeks longer.  We have to go straight to Sabatine."

"There is no boat that goes to Sabatine from here for over a month.  That's why they rushed him off on this one."

"Then we'll have to go to Acton, won't we?" she said.  "Trent will take us, if no one else.  He has a fast ship.  He runs the loyalist blockades all the time."

"And that's the trouble.  We'd have to run the blockade."

"Trent can do it.  And he knows the territory out there, and the people."

So it was against Penelope's better judgement that they headed for Acton the very next morning.  And as Penelope expected, they had trouble almost immediately, at the border.

First, on the near side they looked askance at Mary and searched Penelope's carriage very thoroughly, but Penelope's position was too high to discommode for long.

At the other side, though, Penelope had no standing at all.  As Lady Ashton, she was the widow of the greatly disliked governor of Acton Bay.  The Actonian official who checked her papers looked on her with an almost sneering suspicion.

"Do you hope to get your husband's property back, Mrs. Ashton?" asked the official.


"Because you won't.  But you can petition for compensation...."

"I'm not interested in any property in Acton."

"And what are you here for?"

"I'm here to assist a friend."

The fellow sat back and looked at her narrowly.

"And what kind of friends would you have that need your assistance in Acton?"

Penelope opened her mouth, but Mary had had enough. She stepped forward and leaned in, eyes a blaze.

"Look at my papers," she said to the official, her voice clipped and sharp.

"All in good time, miss," he said.  "Sit down."

"No," said Mary.  "If you want to know what kind of friends she has, look at my papers.  Now."

He made a little face, but he shuffled the papers to glance at them.  But when he saw, his eyebrows went up and he sat back.

"Do you know who I am?" said Mary.

"Yes, Mrs. Alwyn."

"Do you know who my husband is?"

"Oh, yes."

"Do you know what's happened to him?"

"No."  The man looked up with some new concern.

"The damn loyalists got their hands on him, and they've charged him with treason and transported him.  They would have hung him but for her.  And they might hang him yet.  You know how they are with those prisoners.  So quit messing about and let us on our way."

The man quickly shuffled through the papers and gave them their proper stamps.

"I beg your pardon, ma'm," he said, glancing back and forth too quickly for them to tell whether he was apologizing to Mary or to Penelope.

As they got back into the carriage, Mary's face was red, and behind the fury she looked a tad shaken.

"It's always a risk, parading who I am," said Mary.  "Even in Acton.  But a bad reputation can break through a lot of barriers."

Penelope thought it was the reputation that bothered her more than the risk.  But was a bad reputation worse than a secret guilt?  Penelope didn't know, so she squeezed Mary's hand to comfort her as the carriage trundled off on the roads of Acton.

The Test of Freedom should be available as an ebook in December 2012. It will be slightly rewritten from the version you see here.

The first book in this series, The Wife of Freedom is at most ebook retailers.
Amazon Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Deisel, Kobo, and Smashwords

Also, Amazon International: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

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