Emele dropped the crutches, which fell to the floor with a clatter, and rushed to Elle’s side to tug her skirts down.

Two masked footmen stood on either side of Elle—Elle suspected it was two of the four footmen who usually carried her to dinner based on their builds, but it was blasted difficult to tell the lower servants apart thanks to their uniforms, covered faces, and lack of a voice. They respectfully helped her stand, stabilizing her when she faltered.

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The world tilted at an alarming angle as Elle tried to right herself. She couldn’t put any weight on her broken leg, and she was dismayed to discover that her uninjured leg shook with strain as she stood like a heron.

The footmen shuffled until they were able to prop the crutches under Elle’s arms, relieving some of the tension on Elle’s good leg.

“This will not do,” Elle muttered before she swung the crutches in front of her as she had seen Emele do, struggling to move the crutches against the material of her wide skirts. She then hopped forward and was nearly bounced backwards when her skirts caught on a rough edge of one of the crutches.

The footmen scrambled to support her as she teetered between the crutches and her awkwardly placed good leg.

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Emele clasped her hands over her mouth to silence the scream she couldn’t utter as she watched the process.

Elle was breathing heavily when Duval smiled and held up his slate. Practice.

Elle grimly nodded and struggled across the room with her walking aids. “I will master this method of transportation, I am the captain of crutches—no, the commander!” She thumped awkwardly, nearly tumbling when the crutches caught on the edge of a rug.

Again the footmen righted her.

Elle reached the far side of her room and looked to Duval as she gripped the door handle. “Can I go out?”

The barber-surgeon nodded in encouragement. Emele, who stood next to him, shook her head no.

“I think I will agree with Duval in this case,” Elle said before she pulled the door open, almost taking out one of her crutches with it before a footman lunged forward to take control of the door.

The hallway proved to be tricky. A long rug ran through the center of the hallway, and it was difficult to swing her crutches over its tasseled edges. Additionally, the floor that wasn’t covered by the rug was bare stone—which proved to be a somewhat slippery surface.

“Commander of crutches might be out of my reach today,” Elle said when she paused for a moment to breathe.

A footman kidnapped an armchair set against the hallway wall and slid it up behind her. Elle gratefully sank into it. “Thank you,” she said, managing to plop on the cushion without whacking herself with her crutches.

Emele presented Elle with a handkerchief, which Elle reluctantly used to dab at the sweat beading on her forehead.

Duval smiled and presented Elle with his slate. Good job. His cheeks puffed with the size of his smile before he bowed and strode down the hallway, leaving Elle with Emele and the footmen.

“I lost a lot of strength,” Elle said discreetly rubbing at her underarms.

Emele patted Elle on her shoulder before flicking open a fan and fanning her.

Elle briefly leaned into the breeze. “It’s time to try again,” she said after a few more moments of rest.

Emele snapped the fan shut and twisted it in distress before she grappled for her small slate.

Too early.

“It’s fine. I need to push myself. I refuse to be complacent,” Elle said, wrangling her crutches into position.

Emele placed her hands to her heart before she tried again.

Too tired?

“Absolutely not. In fact, I feel refreshed,” Elle lied as the footmen helped her stand. She smiled triumphantly when the world did not spin or tilt.

Elle wobbled down the hallway, laboriously pulling herself forward against her skirts. She had never worn so much material in her life, and it was throwing her off balance.

Elle glanced at Emele, who had her lips pursed and was still strangling her fan.

“I wish you would have more confidence in me, Emele. I survived a fall from the ceiling, this isn’t going to break me,” Elle said as she marched on, the crutches tapping an unsteady beat on the floor.

Emele clasped her throat when Elle’s good leg gave out for a moment, leaving Elle dangling by her crutches. Elle quickly fixed the position of her leg and thumped forward before the footmen could grab her.

When Elle’s left crutch scuffed on a crease in the rug, making Elle jolt forward, Emele had enough.

The ladies maid stamped her feet in a most unlady-like manner before stabbing a finger at the footmen, swooping it in Elle’s direction, and finally pointing back down the hallway.

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