The Grit of the Road

'How brilliant. Not only did you get Montparnasse all wobbly but now you've brought a useless brat with you.'

'He's no brat. He saved our lives.'

The argument rang in Enjolras' ears long after the night and the dust of Aix-en-Provence had fallen far behind the caravan. The heat of the day had now forced him to seek refuge in the furthest corner of the smallest wagon, and to get rid of his coat and cravat for good measure. 'Just as well, where no one goes,' he told himself as he looked towards the road stretching out behind him.

He had left Aix before, only to visit relatives in smaller towns, but he had never been too far away, or without any of his kin at hand. Now he could not help feeling a little adrift, yet at the same time as if a fog had lifted from his eyes. The horizon now seemed more vast than ever, or perhaps it was because of how the skyline now remained unbroken by church spires and manor houses.

Suddenly the wagon lurched to a stop but before Enjolras could even lean out to see what the cause of this was he caught sight of a slender form walking up to the cart. "Stay inside," Eponine ordered, shoving him for emphasis before she climbed inside. The clear light of midday showed not only her pallor from a sleepless night, but also a fresh bruise around her right eye. "Babet doesn't want to see any hair or scrap of you, at least not for another day."

Enjolras merely nodded, having already gathered that this Babet was the same hook-nosed man he had seen on his first encounter with the caravan. "Did he—-" he began, indicating his eye.

"It's no different from what I saw your father and the foremen do to some of the hands," Eponine retorted. "No need to be a gentleman, not to me."

Enjolras gritted his teeth as the image of his father at the head of the mob now surfaced in his mind. "How is Montparnasse?" he finally asked.

"Knocked about but nothing broken," Eponine said. She slapped him hard across the face. "That is from me, for what happened to him."

He winced at the sting, sure that it would leave a mark. "That was quite uncalled for, Mademoiselle!"

She gave him a haughty glance before bringing a flask out from the folds of her skirt. "This is from him, as a thank you gift," she said more softly as she pressed this into his hands. She paused as she ran her fingers over his smooth palms. "What are you going to do, Monsieur Enjolras?"

"I am not returning to Aix," he replied. "I must also insist you call me Alexandre."

"It does not suit you," she said. She frowned as she perused his clean fingernails. "How are you going to make yourself useful?"

He bristled at her tone. "I am not a weakling."

"Tell the others so," she retorted before leaping out of the cart.

Enjolras sighed, wondering how he could best manage this feat without words.