Authors: Sophie Davis
Published by Sophie Davis
Copyright © 2016 by Sophie Davis Books
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Exiled: Kenly’s Story
THE POUNDING OF
my pursuer’s feet on the cobblestones echoed behind me in the narrow alleyway. Ancient architectural masterpieces stretched high on my left and right, blocking the bright afternoon sun. The view was every bit as valuable to the people in my time as
the document wedged between my heart and the bodice of my wool dress.
Magnificent as the Duomo was, and as lucrative as a digital image would be, the risks involved with obtaining a snapshot were too great. Oil paintings were still used to memorialize men and women of importance in this time. The most primitive camera was centuries away from being invented. If dropped—a very likely possibility given my current predicament—the slim electronic device in my possession would confound the finder and the loss would royally piss off my boss.
Exercising prudence, I left the camera snug against the inside of my wrist, directly over the scrawling text tattooed on my skin.
Maybe next time,
I thought regretfully.
“Obtenir son!” a man shouted in French, his command coming out as a wheezy exhalation of breath.
His name was Etienne and he was a guard in the palace. For the past ten minutes, he’d been trying to “get” me with no luck. In his defense, it wasn’t really a fair match-up. I was lithe, agile, and well-trained in the art of evasion. He was large, clumsy and accustomed to sitting atop a horse and letting the animal do all the cardio. The fact he’d kept up with me on foot for this long was actually pretty impressive. Then again, he had the advantage of not having to navigate the crowded streets of Florence barefoot, corseted, and wearing something called a false rump.
The clomp-clomp of boots intensified exponentially as Etienne’s fellow soldiers joined the chase. They sounded like a herd of elephants ready to trample me to death in their stampede.
Welcome to the party, boys.
With numbers on his side, the Frenchman suddenly had the upper hand. Though I was desperate to find out exactly how outnumbered I was, I didn’t dare turn my head to count. They sounded close enough that I imagined their hot, fetid breath was blowing on my neck. The split second it would take to look over my shoulder was time I did not have.
Up ahead, a sliver of sunshine illuminated the filthy cobblestones like a ray of hope. Swatches of color, muted blues and greens and yellows, moved past the opening of the alleyway. Fifteen more feet and I’d be among the crowd, just another woman wandering the piazza.
Pushing myself to increase the pace, my stocking-clad feet slapped the cobblestones with bone-jarring force.
The shapes in the large town square were close, though still blurry through the sweat stinging my eyes and locks of blonde hair that had long since broken free from the pins used to fasten them in place. The cotton shift beneath my petticoat was tangled around my legs, gathering between my knees in an irksome manner that made me grateful the garments had fallen out of fashion eons before I was born.
The piazza was crowded today, even more so than usual. A small smile crossed my lips. Finally, something on this run was going my way. Crowds were good for me. I was a master at blending—you might even say it was in my job description.
My right foot landed in a puddle. That prematurely triumphant smile vanished. Warm, foul-smelling liquid splashed up over my ankle and halfway up my calf. A wave of revulsion made my stomach turn, and I had to suppress the urge to gag. But there was no break in my stride, no pause for a girlie freak-out.
This isn’t the first time you’ve stepped in urine,
I told myself as I skidded the last several feet towards the end of the alleyway. Sadly, it probably wouldn’t be the last time, either. I made a quick mental reminder to avoid taking missions in times when people simply dumped their chamber pots in the streets. It was seriously unsanitary.
Behind me, the soldiers shouted curse words as they met the ankle-deep pool of human waste.
This time it was a full-on grin that curved my lips upwards. Sometimes the small victories were what made life worth living.
An instant later, I burst into the piazza. Wide-eyed stares came from those closest to the opening, which I promptly ignored. There was no time to care about the impression I was making. All that mattered was losing my tail, meeting up with my partner, making it to customs, and returning to our time. Preferably in that order. And preferably without taking a detour through the Italian prison system.
Speaking of my partner, where the hell was Gaige, anyway? As the backup on this mission, he was supposed to be there to bail me out of sticky situations. Running for my life from a regiment of Napoleon’s soldiers definitely fell into that category.
Feet still in motion, I gathered up the soggy skirt of my dress and began weaving through the crowd. My misstep into the puddle proved fortuitous. Men and women alike parted like the Red Sea when I neared, the heat making the stench of my dress even worse.
“Au voleur!” one of the French soldiers shouted behind me.
Awesome. Being labeled a thief, while technically true, was
not what I needed at the moment.
Anticipating the hands that were surely about to reach out from the surrounding crowd and grab me, I hugged my arms tight against my body in an attempt to make my five-foot-seven frame as small and compact as possible. Only, no one reached for me. Those in my path continued to move aside to allow me to pass. Their curious expressions narrowed into disdainful gazes directed at my pursuers.
“Se déplacer de côté!” Etienne’s voice rose above the murmurs of the crowd.
Move out of the way!
Something that felt like an elbow made contact with the soft spot between the bottom of my ribcage and my left kidney. I pitched forward, stumbled several paces before I caught my footing. Against my better judgment, I spared a glance over my shoulder, positive one of the soldiers would be within arm’s reach. But all I saw were well-dressed men and women, now damming the stream they’d made for me to traverse the piazza.
The heel of a woman’s shoe crushed my three middle toes. I swore in English at the same time the toe-crusher apologized in Italian. And that was when I realized what was happening. French soldiers were chasing me. French soldiers who were currently occupying Florence. And the piazza was full of Italian—or maybe they were technically Austrian, I wasn’t sure—citizens. They didn’t give a damn if I was a thief, so long as whatever I stole came from the French interlopers.
To the toe-crusher, I spoke in barely passable Italian, assuring her that no harm was done. At least, I hoped that was what I said. Thanks to the Rosetta—a miniscule translation device—tucked inside my ear, I was able to understand most any language spoken from the heyday of the Roman Empire to the post Epic War economic collapse. Unfortunately, my verbal skills and pronunciation with the same were rudimentary at best.
Not waiting to see whether my sentiments were understood, I resumed my getaway. Once again weaving through the crowd, I carefully navigated the makeshift path caused by my malodorous clothing and scanned the area ahead of me for escape. Thanks to the aid of my new allies, the distance between Napoleon’s henchmen and me grew with every pounding heartbeat. If I could just maintain my lead, I might be able to lose my pursuers for good in the crowds and winding streets up ahead.
Of course, this getaway would be a lot easier if my backup was actually doing his job. I was going to give Gaige hell once we were back home in our present. Particularly if I found out he was currently preoccupied with a courtesan.
I quickly darted between two buildings and exited the piazza with much less fanfare than I’d entered with. The passage was barely wide enough for me to fit through, so I doubted Etienne, with his much wider girth, would think to check inside.
Though the sounds of the noisy piazza were dulled by the stone walls stretching high on either side of me, muffled shouts of men demanding to know where the thief had gone floated down the alleyway on the cool breeze. Shadows engulfed me like dark shrouds, providing the perfect cover for me to pause, catch my breath, and revise my getaway strategy.
If the map provided by the historians was accurate, this alley was a cut through to the Ponte Vecchio. Once on the bridge, it would be easy enough to blend into the market crowd—just another consumer haggling with the merchants who were hocking their wares for a premium. From there, I could cross to the opposite side of the Arno River, go through the Palazzo Vecchio, and retrace my path, with its many twists and turns, to customs. As soon as I reached our waystation, I was jumping home. Gaige or no Gaige. For all I cared, he could stay in 18
century Florence and pray the plague didn’t claim him.
Since the goal was to blend once I emerged from my hiding place, I spared a moment to evaluate my appearance. One glance down confirmed that I looked as disheveled as I felt. The golden ringlets that the customs hair specialist had painstakingly curled, arranged, and pinned atop my head were now dangling in limp strands around my shoulders. The powder and rouge that the customs makeup artist had pressed all over my face and neck were surely gone, washed away by a river of sweat. Add in my stained dress and filthy, torn stockings, and I was more likely to be mistaken for a lady of the night trolling for midday clients than a consumer.
Still on high alert, I glanced toward the mouth of the alley to ensure I was alone in the darkness. The only visible movement was in the patch of light at the threshold, as the men and women of Florence went about their daily business. The shouts of Etienne and his lackeys were gone and only faint squeaking noises and the sound of tiny, scurrying claws echoed through the dark space. Breathing a sigh of relief, I began pulling pins out of my hair and twisting the rogue strands up as best I could manage.
We’d been in 1796 for five days now, on what should’ve been a challenging but doable assignment. Our missions were usually covert, the goal to slip into and out of places, times, and people’s lives like ghosts. After spending the first day in Florence familiarizing ourselves with the area, as was our standard procedure, it became clear stealth wasn’t going to be an option this go-round. Napoleon was exceedingly paranoid, security in the palace akin to that of Fort Knox in the twentieth century. His private rooms were located in a single wing, guarded closely by French soldiers, and impossible for an outsider to infiltrate. So, I’d used the syndicate’s local connections to obtain a position on the household staff of Napoleon’s Florentine palace.
Posing as a maid was far less exhilarating than some of my other cover stories, and I’d grown bored quickly. Four days of dusting miniature furniture and fluffing miniature pillows under the eagle eye of Napoleon’s security team passed before I caught a break. Thanks to an impromptu, mandatory tactical meeting for everyone on the palace’s protective detail, I’d suddenly found myself alone and unwatched.
I knew better than to act on impulse. I knew it was smarter to follow the plan.
Nevertheless, my boredom had bred impatience, causing me to ignore the niggling voice inside my head warning me to bide my time, to wait to act until I had become a background fixture at the palace. Seizing the opportunity, I’d bolted to the forbidden wing with the pint-sized warmonger’s private chambers.
The mission target was Napoleon’s final letter to his wife, Josephine. I’d found easily in the drawer of his desk—exactly where the historians said it would be. Instinctively, I’d busted out my happy dance, taking an ill-advised moment to celebrate my victory. Just as I was about to slide the letter into the artifact pouch—a stretchy, plastic sleeve from my present, impervious to the elements and all known corrosive chemicals—Etienne had appeared out of thin air and caught me, red-handed.
If I hadn’t taken the time to revel in my triumph, maybe he wouldn’t have found me with the letter in hand. Maybe it would’ve already been stashed in my dress. Maybe I could’ve feigned innocence, babbled about being lost in the sprawling estate.
Unfortunately, I loved a good victory shimmy.
Boots scuffling on stone echoed in the passage, pulling me out of my self-chastising. The reasons for royally screwing up this run, while entirely my own fault, were also entirely irrelevant at that moment. I still had the letter and they still hadn’t apprehended me. But both of those facts might prove false if I stayed in the alleyway much longer.