All around him lingered the pungent scent of iron. It flooded his pores—sank into his clothing—and he doubted that he would ever be able to wash it out. Gripped in his left hand was a silver dagger. Its tip glinted like a ruby in the flickering light of the candle lantern in the corner.
He hadn’t expected her to return so soon after leaving. If he hadn’t acted fast, her screams would’ve attracted guards. But now, she laid on the floor in silence. Her delicate throat still oozed red, though not as steadily as it had before. A pool of the same viscous substance had spread out across the wooden floor. It wrapped around her somewhat, as if trying to engulf her.
He knew he could’ve avoided this if he’d only been patient—if he’d only waited ten more minutes before entering her home. Then she wouldn’t have posed any risk to him. She would’ve gone to the market to make a secret purchase, as he’d seen her do once every week. He wouldn’t have had to stab her, much less slit her throat in a desperate effort to stop her shrieks. But he’d grown sick of waiting and decided to take a risk instead. If he’d only known what would happen, he would’ve waited even longer than ten minutes. He’d only come in to loot for valuables. Why had she come back? Had she changed her mind at the last second?
Her husband was away, as he worked into the late hours of the night, but he’d return home within the hour. Before he did, he needed to have disappeared, not only from the scene in which he sat, but from France altogether. All the better to start running now, he thought. And yet he couldn’t. He sat, petrified, staring at her body.
Sure, he was a thief, but he wasn’t a murderer. He’d panicked. She hadn’t left him with any other choice. With wide eyes, he stared at her fair face still contorted in horror. Bit by bit it imprinted itself into his mind. There was no doubt about it—her image would haunt him to the grave.
There was no telling how long he’d spent sitting and staring, but however long was too long. When he finally managed to stand, he dropped the dagger as if it burned him to hold it. From the table in the corner he grabbed the candle lantern she’d brought inside. He’d watched her and her husband for weeks and had assumed them rich. But the only valuable thing he found was the candle lantern. So he rummaged around until he found their money. Then he fled from the home and ran like mad.
In his haste, he forgot his dagger. It belonged to his family and had his family name engraved upon it as a result, but he didn’t even think about that. He didn’t look back. He couldn’t. Because even though he’d left the house, he could still see his own reflection in her dead eyes, as if he was still there. He wished that it had only been a twisted nightmare; at any moment he would awaken from it in the safety of his bed.
He’d never been so lucky. Now was no exception.
The sun had come up by the time he made it out of the city. No one was pursuing him. Though under normal circumstances he would’ve, he refused to allow himself to get cocky. He was certain that they were searching for him. They would find him soon if he didn’t leave. He made a stop at his own home, but only stayed long enough to grab his pouch of money. It was all stolen, of course, or made by selling stolen goods to merchants. With the money, he bought himself a place on a boat destined for England. He spoke to no one during the trip. The heaviness of fear and regret in his breast constricted his throat.
* * *
The local guards discovered her body after her husband led them back to the house. All the way there, he’d wailed, “O, woeful night! O, woe!” He was hysterical, of course. Who wouldn’t be after returning from work to find their love murdered?
It was a gruesome scene, with blood everywhere. Unfortunately it wasn’t anything that most of the guards were unfamiliar with. The smell was terrible, and the humidity of the house even in the night didn’t help anything.
It didn’t take them long to notice the bloodied silver dagger on the floor. Using the lantern they’d brought with them, they examined it. Carved into its hilt was a name: “de Saint-Clair”. At once they knew who they were looking for. They only had to find him.
* * *
A few days later, he found himself somewhere in Devonshire. He found himself a room at an inn using the rest of his money. Now all he had on his person was her money and candle lantern. The latter, he doubted he needed. How much would he be able to get for it, he wondered?
His mind was finally beginning to clear. Yes, he still felt guilty about his crime, but no punishment would befall him. While part of him yearned to go back and turn himself in, where was the sense in that? He’d escaped. He was free to continue as he always had—it wasn’t an honest living he made, but it was still a living. Her murder had been her own fault. She’d made him do it by coming back so soon. His only choice now was to move on with his life. At least now he was unknown to the local guards.
He’d laid his head down on the pillow to sleep when his eyes shot open. A startling realization: he’d forgotten his dagger at the scene! This mightn’t have been an issue, if only the dagger didn’t have his family name on it. That name was well known to the guards in his hometown—hell, to the whole of France! How long would it take for them to find out where he’d fled to and spread word of his crimes across England? Not long, he figured. If they didn’t already know about him, then they would in a few days. He had to lay low. Maybe they’d stop searching for him at some point.
When he roamed the town he found himself in, he did so with caution. He found himself eyeing people on the street, trying to find someone to steal from. Yet, for some reason, he could never bring himself to choose a target. Something had changed. He was too worried that if he tried to rob again, it would go wrong and someone else would wind up dead. Now that he no longer had a weapon, he worried that someone would be him.
Over the course of a week, his remaining money soon dwindled down to nothing. He couldn’t get a job, though; what if someone recognized him? His only hope was to sell the candle lantern for a high price. He kept a low profile as he approached a merchant. They began to barter, but as it progressed, it became more and more clear that he wasn’t going to be able to get a decent pay.
That was when a patrolling guard noticed and, unfortunately, recognized him. What ensued for the thief was a run for his life. More guards joined the cause to catch him. They chased him up and down the city for a quarter of an hour. And for the first time in his life, Paschal de Saint-Clair got caught.