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Sleet began to blind her the momentthey rode out of the forest and galloped for Dijon's northwest gate.
Wet ice whipped into Ash's face as she spurred the pale bay, under a sky clouding up from gray to black, mixed rain and sleet slashing down.
"Get her into the city!" Ash bawled over the gathering storm, throat hoarse. "Now! Get her through those fucking gates: go!"
She crowded in, riding knee-to-knee with FlorianChristus Viridianus! Duchess Florian-and the rest of the mounted Lion men-at-arms, the soaked swallowtail banner cracking overhead.
Sudden hooves thudded, cutting up the sodden earth behind her on the road down to the bridge over the moat. A stream of warborses and riders went past and around her, in Burgundian blue and red and draggled plumesde la Marche's men! she realized, a hand on her sword hilt.
Come out to escort us in.
Enclosed in that armed safety, they thundered back between the paths, trenches, barricades, and buildings of the Visigoth campbetween the chaos of Visigoth troops running in all directionsnew, wet mud spraying up from ironshod hooves.
Just before the narrow bridge, the horses slowed, milled about; and she hit the pommel of her saddle in frustration. Two hundred mounted men. She stared at their backs, swore Out loud, turning the pale bay with her spurs, gazing back into the slashing sleet and rain that now hid the Visigoth camp, hid everything more than fifty yards away. No more than ten minutes to get through this choke point, over the bridge, through the gate; but an aching wait, fretting itself into half an hour in hermind.
Visigoth mounted archers! she anticipated. As soon as they sort themselves out. . . No, not in this weather.
The skin at the nape of her neck shivered.
It'll be golems, with Greek Fire flamethrowers, like at Auxonnewe're bunched up here, we'll fry like wasps in a fire!
The stress of the wait made the pit of her stomach hurt. Moving again, at lastmen shouting, horses' hooves: all echoed under the arched stonework of the city gate. The breath of the animals went up white into the wet air. She swung her mount around, following Florian's winded and limping gray gelding, was briefly aware of the darkness in the tunnel of the gate, and then burst out into drenched daylight, Antonio Angelotti grabbing at her bridle.
"The Duke's dead!" he yelled up at her, face streaming with rain. "Time to change sides now! Madonna, shall I send a messenger out to the Carthaginians?"
"Stop panicking, Angeli!"
The high steel-and-leather saddle creaked as she sat back, shifting her weight to stop the bay dancing sideways across shattered, flooded cobbles.
"There's a new DukeDuchess!" she corrected herself. "It's Florian. Our Florian!"
From behind Angelotti, Robert Anselm growled, "Fuck!"
Ash wheeled the lathered gelding, bringing it under her control. Every instinct swore at her to muster her men now, abandon all baggage but the essential, and leave this city to the natural consequences of a bungled transfer of power.
How can I? Her fist hit the saddle pommel. How can I!
"Demoiselle-Captain!" Olivier de la Marche rode in close, leaning across from his warhorse to clasp her arm, gauntlet against vambrace. "See to the defenses of this gate! I give you authority over Jonvelle, Jussey, and Lacombe; take up your place from the gate here, north along the wall to the White Tower! Then I must speak with you!"
"Sieur!" She did not get it out in time: his chestnut stallion was already clopping away into the downpour, in with his men-at-arms.
The crossbowman Jan-Jacob Clovet, taking the bay's rein from Angelotti, shrugged and spat. "Son of a bitch!"
"Now is that putting the mercenaries up the sharp end, a: usual? Or is that giving us the place of honor, because it's going to be hit hardest when they come?"
"God spare us from ducal favor, boss," Jan-Jacob Clovet said fervently. "Any fucking duke. Or duchess. Are you sure about the doc? She can't be, can she?"
"Oh, she can! Florian!" Ash bawled.
De la Marche's sub-captain and his men brought steaming, caparisoned warhorses between her and Florian, shouldering the woman surgeon and her broken-down mount out and across the devastated zone of the city behind the walls, heading at the trot for the ducal palace.
She caught one glimpse of Floria del Guiz' white face, between the pauldrons of the armored knights surrounding her. Then the household of Olivier de la Marche closed in.
Shit! No time!
Ash spun the uncooperative bay on its heels, facing the gate again.
"Angeli! Thomas! Get 'em up on the walls! Rickard, warn Captain Jonvellethe Visigoths are gonna come right over those fucking walls behind us!"