"We attack now," Joseph coldly informed the others.
"Joseph," Anton the scarecrow protested, glancing nervously at the bleeding corpse, then gesturing roughly toward the carriage with his crossbow, "you sure? They've been warned now, and I ain't exactly looking forward to-"
"I said we attack now, d.a.m.n you! So what if they've been warned? We outnumber them four to one! Move!"
Anton sighed in resignation and, like the others, moved.
In the glow of the lanterns that hung from the carriage, Adrienne could clearly see the face of the man who escorted her, and grew ever more convinced that he was indeed the same who had once tried to shoot her down. From his neck hung a pair of medallions, one bearing the masked-lion crest of House Delacroix, the other the same feline visage without the mask. She wondered what it meant.
"Bring her inside!" came the clipped, authoritative command from the carriage. Adrienne jumped, startled at how familiar the voice sounded, though she'd only ever heard it speak a handful of words.
"Sir," the guard protested, "we don't know that she-"
Adrienne was shocked to see the servant blatantly roll his eyes at his master's command, even as he acquiesced. "Yes, sir. May I at least take her rapier from her first?"
"I think not."
"Very well. I'll say a nice prayer at your funeral." The carriage door loomed open. Unable to see much within, Adrienne felt as though she entered an abyss of endless darkness as she mounted the single step.
"Sit down," the voice instructed.
She did, just as the attack began.
Men charged, screaming, from the trees. Crossbows tw.a.n.ged and firearms roared; bolts sliced through the air, lead b.a.l.l.s and pellets tumbling beside them in a hail of metal, punching cruelly through flesh and bone.
It was a slaughter, but not the one Joseph and his thieves had planned. The cover offered by the heavy wooden panels of the carriage-not to mention the sheets of iron installed within each, for precisely this purpose-made the guards nigh impervious to any attack that didn't come from directly before them. And any bandit foolish enough to try to venture into that particular field was fired upon in turn. Six blunderbuss fuses burned down, six flocks of lead shot flew, and six flintlocks appeared from G.o.ds-knew-where. They, too, discharged, before the smoke of the first volley faded.
Between Adrienne's defection, the execution of Pierre, and the opening fusillade, Joseph lost half his men before laying even one of the enemy low.
As the last of the loaded ammunition flew, rapiers, broadswo
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