Lady Almeria Pembroke had stared out the window of her carriage for hours, it had seemed, her hazel eyes scanning the falling of the rain outside. It was difficult to see more than mere feet beyond the edge of the road for the fog that rolled the countryside. Fine needlework resting to hand, she embroidered a red rose upon a rich, ivory fabric, along side several others in a small cluster. It was a heavy silken thread, and she had intended it for a handkerchief. The letters ‘A.P’ rested in a lovely sewn script below the flowers in a similar scarlet.
The rocking of the carriage was a steady one as they moved along in quiet; Almeria’s maid being an older woman with a faintly lined face, attired by mantua in black with her hair covered in a soft cap, slept across from her in the other seat. She sighed, pleased to be away from London now that the season had concluded. The air was cooler now that the year slowly wound down, families returning to their estates. Her own kin were situated only a day’s ride from the city, and she often preferred with her stepmother to remain in the city for some small entertainment at the Public Rooms, rather than remain at Pembroke Court with her father and brothers.
The carriage rocked hard suddenly, waking her maid and tossing Almeria against the closed door. She dropped the needle, and it rolled out of sight. Almeria could hear yelling that alarmed her that did not sound as belonging to people she wished to meet. Her maid screamed as the driver fell with a grunt, the hilt of a dagger sticking out of his chest like a bad omen. Almeria's eyes widened. She’d never seen a man die before, and he was surely dead, was he not? She quickly tucked the unfinished handkerchief with her silken thread back into the reticule tied upon her skirts.
No time was there to know for sure, as sounds of further fighting sounded around them. Quickly, she tugged at her maids arm. “Come now, we must be away. Out the window while they are distracted with the footmen.” Her conscience held a twinge in her breast at the thought of leaving anyone behind, yet surely ... to remain would be a far worse fate.
Almeria ripped into the rich fabric of her skirts, quickly pulling away petticoats that would keep her trapped within. The sounds of fighting outside were dying down, she noticed, as her pulse raced faster still. Her maid was less opulently attired, yet the woman stubbornly shook her head.
“No, my lady. You must go first. If they come within, I would see you a distance away.” Almeria’s lower lip trembled, and she shook her head, several curls having tumbled free from her coiffure. The pretty ivory petticoats of soft linen lay strewn in bits upon the floor of the carriage. She nodded quickly at her maid. “If nothing else, I should try to hail a gentleman at the first inn that I come to, and I shall find you, I swear it upon my honour.”
With that, she scrambled out the window, a further ripping sound evident. Almeria fell clumsily to the ground, crying out as her ankle bent under her weight. The sound brought a man around to the other side of the carriage, it seemed, startling her as she stood trying to quickly limp away.
The man’s face was scarred by the mark of a blade, the lips twisted with it upon the right side, having healed badly, no doubt years previous. Almeria wondered why it was she even noticed such a thing. His coat was a plain one in a deep blue, the left sleeve torn. His breeches were of an indeterminate colour, the boots scuffed and worn. A bloody sword rested in his right hand, extended toward her.
“Do not -- “
Almeria turned and ran into the fog. The rain had begun to pour down once more, and her skirts dragged in the mud in the road. The bandit chased after her, still yelling catching up to her when the fog cleared. Her hazel eyes flashed with fear as thunder rolled ominously, in the moment that he’d caught her. Pain wrenched her arms as Almeria attempted to free herself; the man had lost his sword chasing her, she realised, yet held a dagger, plain of hilt, to her neck. She pressed away his hand as hard as she could, managing to turn and gain leverage with the pressing of her nails into his flesh as a distraction.
As the rain continued to fall, the pair grappled with the dagger, the strange trading post seeming almost to materialise behind them, neither noticing.
“Release my person, you knave! You blackguard ... you swine-herder!” She yelled as he pressed her to her knees with his greater strength. His stringy wig brushed her cheek, the stench making Almeria want to gag. He snarled, then tripped on a rock, losing his balance. The blade sank into his belly, twisting in Almeria’s grasp, wringing a gasp from her as she fell on the man.
“No, no. Oh ... no. This is not good. I did not mean ... oh please, please. Get up, you poor, poor fool.” She trembled, manner suddenly contrite as his blood coated her bodice and left cheek. She cried silently as he coughed, and coughed, tears slipping from her eyes slowly. In moments, Almeria watched him cease movement, then she stared blankly at the odd looking building, shock and cold beginning to set in.
“... Damnation. Where am I? This was ... not ... not on the road.” She frantically scrubbed her hands upon his pant leg, where the man lay unblinking. “You cannot be dead, sir, as I have never taken a life. This cannot be.” Almeria murmured softly. She brushed back his hair with a trembling hand, the blood staining her matching half gloves. The wig had fallen off, revealing dirty blonde hair tied back in a simple queue.
“Please someone help me! Is anyone there! ... I have ... I have ... disp-patched a man ... love of god, please ... help. Please ... anyone!”