Lynza hurried Tyndie along. “So, you’re Tynda. You’ll have to hurry a bit more if you want to do this job. Your Auntie says you’re a hard worker down there in the kitchens, and I never known her to be wrong.”
Tyndie could hardly believe her luck. No one ever made it out of the kitchens, they just worked their way up. She was just a kitchen girl, and a lucky one, at that, for after her mum passed, they’d kept her on out of sympathy.
Lynza grabbed her hand and forced Tyndie into a quicker pace. “Come on, come on, hurry it. You’ll be a runner, bringing cups and the like from the kitchen to us, the servers. But you can’t be late, understand?”
Tyndie nodded, breathless. “Good. Now I know you don’t know the layout of the castle yet, so you’ll be runnin’ about with me for a few days,” Lynza explained as they rounded a stone corner, “but only for a few days. You got to learn quick. We’re short-handed. That’s why your Auntie said we should take you on. She’s a good soul, she is.”
They arrived at a dusty set of stone steps that Lynza skipped half of. Tynda nearly lost her footing twice.
“Come along, you’ll learn to run these steps soon enough. Now, in you go,” and she pushed Tyndie into a small room where three other women sat, polishing silver and cleaning cupware.
“When we’re not serving, we keep extras on hand here, and we polish the silver,” Lynza explained. “Now here,” and she held out a maid’s dress and apron. “Change out of that ugly rag and put this on. Keep it perfect, for you’ll only have one other, for when it gets cold. If you spill on it, you’ll best switch it out with the laundress quick as you can. The Royals will be seein’ you, and if you look anything but starched and perfect, you’ll be sent right back to the kitchens again. If you’re lucky,” Lynza added.
Tyndie looked down at her old kitchen dress. It had been washed so many times, it was grey now, and thin in several places, even though she’d always worn an apron. She was almost reluctant to change out of it, as if it were a vestige of her past. She felt all the women’s eyes staring at her. Self-consciously, she accepted the new dress and turned around, letting her old dress fall to the floor.
She fingered the starched cloth of her new dress – it was stiff and rustled as she picked it up. She slipped it over her head. “Oh, and find some time to bathe when you can.” Lynza sniffed with condescension from somewhere behind her.
“Lynza, stop ridin’ the girl. It’s her first day,” clucked one of the other ladies.
Tyndie held her peace and slipped her new apron over her head. It smelled of fine soap, the same soap as came from the laundress. Not a single wrinkle at all. She took a moment to marvel privately at her luck. With the exception of having to run everywhere… this was a wonderful turn of events for her.
“I’m not ridin’ her. She needs to bathe, is all. How often do kitchen girls bathe, is all I’m saying,” protested Lynza.
“Lynza. You’re lettin’ your bitch show again,” said one of the other ladies, and then they tittered.
Tyndie turned around to see Lynza roll her brown eyes. “Fine, have it your way.”
Just then, an older, burly serving woman bustled in with a silver platter of empty dishes. As she relinquished them into a barrel of clean water, she complained, “That damnable little pup! Someone should throw his skinny arse into a kennel and let him howl for his slops for a week or two and then let him see just how lucky he is. Better still, send him back home to his –”
Then she stopped, standing up straight. “Why, Tyndie, girl, is that you? Come here, love!”
Tyndie, happy to see someone who cared for her existence, approached her Aunt Renne, and was immediately enveloped in an enormous hug. Aunt Renne pulled Tynda back by the shoulders and held her chin up, studying her face. “Child, if you don’t look more and more like your mum every time I see you, may she rest with the gods.”
Then she stood up. “Now then. You’ll be following Lynzie about for a few days, get the lay of the castle. We’re short of staff and we’ve been working double shifts. But you’ve got your mum in you, you’re smart and you learn quick. Do as Lynzie here says and you’ll be on your own in no time.”
Aunt Renne smiled and patted Tyndie’s shoulder fondly. Then she gave her a quick hug, but whispered in her ear, “And don’t let her be too much of a bitch to ya, Tyndie girl, aye,” she chuckled.
Tyndie sighed. She was only carrying a jug of water, just to start off slow, but she couldn’t remember whether she turned right or left here. HarCourt Castle was immense, far more so than she had imagined previously.
Lynza remained unconvinced that Tyndie was at all able to carry her weight, but the other women recalled to Lynza her first few days. She sniffed and said she supposed everyone had to learn at their own pace.
Yesterday, Lynza leaned against a stone wall during one of their few breaks. As she bit into an apple, she looked Tyndie up and down.
“I suppose you think I’m being hard on you. Might be.” She bit into her apple again, glancing down at it. “But how else you gonna learn, Tyndie? A girl who’s bad at her job has no job. And your Auntie can’t watch out for ya forever, can she now?
“Now mind what I told you. Never look a Royal in the eye, not ever. You just be invisible. All you do is pour the liquid and maybe someday, you might serve some food. Right now, you’re just bringing us water and soon enough, maybe, cider and wine.
“Curtsy like I taught ya. Say whatever they want you to say, whatever they want to hear. And that’s no matter where ya are, serving or not. Just be like you’re not there. The less anyone sees you, the better. Especially as, you’re cute enough to look at, you don’t want the wrong eyes seein’ ya, and ya know what I mean.” Lynza chucked her under the chin. “Speak right, too, don’t be usin’ slang. Save that for our off time.” Lynza took a final bit of her apple and wiped the juice from her chin. “You got all that?”
Tyndie had nodded. She had learned it best to say nothing at all to Lynza, for like as not, she would find fault with whatever she ventured forth with. Tyndie doubted that Lynza would even take kindly to a compliment. She wondered off-handedly whether Lynza had always been such a bleak personality, or if someone or something had caused her to act like this. Perhaps it was just the job. Lynza wasn’t but maybe a few years older than Tyndie.
And now, she arrived later than she was expected with her water, for in trying to find her way through the back passages, she had taken two wrong turns and had had to double back. Lynza glared at her as she snatched the jug and swept out of the room.
Tyndie had started using all her time memorizing the castle corridors and the back passages. But still, she was not quick enough, even though she ran. She had most of them memorized now, yet still she arrived later than Lynza preferred.
The first time she arrived punctually, Tyndie relished Lynza’s surprised look before it faded.
Still, she was only punctual half the time. Her goal was to be early all the time.
Tyndie walked the dimly lit North East Corridor. She had found how valuable discretion truly was. Two days ago, just as she neared the end of the third-floor corridor overlooking the gardens, she heard muffled voices. Not wishing to be observed, Tyndie glanced around. If she ran back down the corridor, she ran the risk of being heard. She looked up at the wall, where a dusty, wall-length tapestry hung. She gulped and slipped behind it.
Then she recognized the voices – a squire was fucking a maid against the wall just around the corner. Tyndie stood there, barely breathing, her eyes rolled upward in disgust, captive to the entire event. Tyndie peeked out once and saw the young maid, a pretty blond girl, with her skirts up about her waist while a squire rammed into her continually, proud of each thrust. Though the maid cried out with pleasure during the entire affair, Tyndie caught just one eyeroll and wondered how the squire couldn’t see that she was feigning her every moan and wail.
Just as Tyndie was beginning to get truly impatient, the squire finished, panting and attempting to articulate meaningful expressions. Finally, Tyndie heard him brushing off and straightening his clothing.
“All right, there, love?” Tyndie heard him pat the maid’s cheek before he turned around. The sound of boots on stone cobbles faded as he disappeared down the hall.
Tyndie peeped out at the maid. She was smoothing her hair. As she hiked up her bodice and rustled her skirts straight, the maid muttered, “All right there, love?’” in imitation of the Squire. Then she said, “Fuck you, ya bastard,” and turned down the opposite hallway.
Tyndie was just truly grateful than neither of them had turned down her passageway, for they may have seen the tips of her shoes protruding from beneath the tapestry.
And yesterday – she had nearly been caught. While it had been far more interesting than a Squire poking a maid in a back corridor, it had also been ridiculously more dangerous. Not only had no tapestry been available to shelter her, but the lords in the corridor were speaking – aye, yelling, in fact. A clandestine meeting that had gotten out of hand. One lord had paid in advance for a service that had yet to be delivered by the second lord.
“Will you lower your voice!”
“I will not lower my voice –”
A menacing voice replied, “Get a hold of yourself, fool. We are in this together. I have not yet had the opportunity to fulfill our arrangement. Such things require time! Time and planning. And patience, of which you have little. This is why I excel at my job. Do you see, then?
“Drury, if anyone should find out of our connection –”
“And how should that happen? We know each other as passing acquaintances here only. I might add, Stanson, you sought my services of your own accord, not the other way around,” hissed Drury in foreboding tones.
“Is that meant to be a threat?” Stanson’s enraged voice rose again.
Drury’s voice replied lowly with an intensity that frightened Tyndie, “I make no threats. I merely act on need.”
It was clear from Stanson’s silence that he was cowed by such intimidation. Tyndie wondered what service Drury had sought Stanson’s assistance for.
After Stanson remained silent for a few heartbeats, Drury said, “Very good. We understand each other now, do we not?” When silence met his inquiry, he continued. “We are not to be seen with each other, nor speaking to each other. At all. Go back to your apartment, fuck your mistress, do - whatever it is that you do. But we do not know each other. Now go.” And Tyndie heard whom she presumed was Stanson leave down the stone corridor, all too quickly.
She did not dare to look out from where she cowered in the dusty, unused foyer around the corner, glad of the darkness that hid her. Tyndie knew that Drury still stood there, on the cobbled stone of the main passage. Her heart was in her throat, for she was sure he could sense her somehow.
After a moment, he seemed to shake himself and turned on his boot heel. Not until she was sure she was alone did she step out of the dark foyer.
The next day, the entire castle was buzzing with news of a young lord who had fallen into the moat the night before, drunken, and drowned. Tyndie’s thoughts immediately turned to the hushed conversation she’d witnessed between Drury and Stanson, but she shook it off. Lords took to doing ridiculous things all the time when they were drunk.
But two days later, Lord Stanson was killed in a hunting accident – trying to spear the boar himself.
Tyndie heard the lords snickering about it, for they were amazed a horse had even been able to carry his fat arse into the forest. And why had his Squire allowed him to spear the boar? It’d been far too long since Lord Stanson had even been hunting, did he even know how to use his sword anymore? They laughed about the sexual connotation of the remarks. “Found dead trying to stab a piggie,” and they all laughed.
Tyndie was the only one who was horrified at what she truly knew had happened now. She wasn’t sure whether to feel bad for the Lord Stanson or not, for now she knew he had hired Lord Drury to assassinate the young man who had drowned in the moat.
But what she did know for certain – that Lord Drury was an assassin, and that she had witnessed his plans.