A Silent Game of Spies

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Tyndie called her The Shrew now.

Lynza crossed the room in three quick strides and grabbed her arm. “Where have you been? We needed ya two hours ago!” she hissed.

Tyndie was taken aback, having just entered the room for her shift.

“I – I just came from the bath,” she stammered, surprised at the sudden attack.

Lynza squeezed her arm. “Well, where’ve you been of late? Can’t find ya when you’re needed, what use are ya?”

Tyndie managed to hold her tongue, for she was practicing her speed. As The Shrew had told her when she’d started, a girl who wasn’t good at her job didn’t have a job. And Tyndie was working to see that she was at least good, if not better. And she had gotten fast, too, she was racing through the corridors and flew up and down the stone steps now. She’d also dropped weight, for she had to tie her dress and apron tighter.

But how was she to know when she was needed? Tyndie worked later and arrived earlier for all of her shifts, and never complained about working double shifts. In fact, she hardly spoke a word, particularly when The Shrew was around.

She was punctual and occasionally even early all the time now, curtsied perfectly, and had yet to drop a thing, which The Shrew had warned her dozens of times not to.

Tyndie looked down at her arm where Lynza was squeezing it. She was trying to hold back her indignation, but her eyes had already flashed at Lynza and worse, the other women had seen it.

Stupid bitch, she sniffed as she stared into Lynza’s brown eyes. Then she wrested her arm free from Lynza’s grasp, rested her glare on Lynza for one final second, then marched into the room.

Waiting for reprisal, Tyndie started counting. But nothing came of it, and she even saw Hermia look down at the silver cup she was polishing with a smirk. Tyndie guessed that The Shrew had halted in shock behind her, for Manda said in a warning tone, “Lynza, leave her be. She’s not yer little pin cushion.” Manda, next to Tyndie’s Auntie, had worked there the longest, so Manda’s directives were to be minded as Auntie’s were.

Tyndie got to work polishing and saw that she sat on the other side of the room from The Shrew. Today, they would be serving near all afternoon, for there was a small feast in the Great Hall. It was only for King Reaghann’s immediate cabinet and visiting diplomats and emissaries, Auntie said. But it would be a long afternoon anyway.

It was also Tyndie’s first feast. Auntie told her if she’d ever been tired, then take how she felt then and expect to feel exhausted. “And do keep that cute little face out of the way – the gods know you don’t want one o’ them bastards to decide he’s got an eye for ya. Know what I mean, girl?” She chucked Tyndie under the chin with affection.

Tyndie did, thinking of the maid and the Squire she’d happened upon when she’d first started. She also knew what happened to maids who came with child. Of those times when a lord decided he wanted to lay with a maid long enough to get her with child – he’d never acknowledge a child from between the sheets. Maids had but a few options. They could leave the castle if they had the means and bear the child as a bastard. Lots of girls with the last names of seasons to indicate that they were bastard children, and boys with the directions on the map were born, all over the city, and in all the orphanages.

Some maids were just plain foolish and begged the lord to acknowledge the child. Such silliness, Tyndie reflected. Lords refused to stain their reputations, nor that of their wives, if they were wed. They pretended not to know the maid. Tyndie knew coins were exchanged in secret for “problems” to disappear, whether the maid just left the castle, or she suddenly was just ill of food poisoning and not with child at all. More like as not, Tyndie knew, maids just took wormwort and miscarried the babe without telling anyone. Or they met certain midwives outside of HarCourt Castle for a procedure to rid of the babe. But Tyndie knew most women were careful enough. They didn’t want to risk such procedures, for they hoped to one day have babes of their own.

Her stomach growled as she stood against the wall. She hadn’t had time to eat, and it would be a long afternoon. Fortunately, with the minstrel music and the chatter throughout the room, it was loud enough that none of the lords heard her stomach’s protest, though Hermia, next to her, glanced at her underneath her lashes and risked the tiniest of smiles. Trying not to smile when you really wanted to laugh was so hard.

The feast itself did not help. They were only half-way through the stuffed pheasant and candied yams. Baked parsnips dressed with berry relish lay steaming in covered platters waiting to be served with roasted chickens in orange sauce, chilled mint strawberry soup, cheese, and, of course, more honey butter for the oncoming crusty loaves of bread on the table. Her Auntie was right, she was already tired.

Then Tyndie saw one of the men seated at the table. Any humor she might have found in the evening immediately died. Lord Drury! He was seated close to King Reaghann, which meant that he had the ear of the King more often than these other dignitaries. Sittin’ with the salt, her Auntie said.

This was the first time she’d seen Lord Drury since his menacing conversation with Lord Stanson. Tyndie drew in a deep breath, smoothing her facial expression. Stay invisible. Ya don’t want the wrong eyes seein’ ya…. This instruction had now taken on a whole new meaning for Tyndie – words to live by, truly live by.

Somehow, Lord Drury knew she was thinking about him, for he turned slightly. He glanced at the man seated next to him but decided that he was not what had caught his attention. Though his sudden curiosity had not abated, Lord Drury directed his gaze toward King Reaghann again, his face inscrutable.

Tyndie let out breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding.

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