She arrived just slightly out of breath. Only Manda was there. Good, no one to berate her.
Manda eyed her for a moment, then she set the silver tea cup she’d been polishing aside. Standing up, she said, “Tyndie, girl, I’ve made my mind up on you.”
Tyndie immediately froze.
“No, no, relax. I’ve decided I’m going to help you out.” Manda smiled and beckoned Tyndie closer. “Now come with me.”
Intrigued, Tyndie followed Manda. No one had offered to help her since she had begun, unless she counted The Shrew, and that wasn’t really help, she had been instructed to train Tyndie.
Manda looked back at Tyndie. “Well, come along. We don’t have all afternoon, do we, girl?”
Tyndie quickened her pace to keep up with Manda.
“I have decided to teach you something that will help you far beyond your skipping up and down the stairs and dashin’ around corners. And mind you,” Manda’s voice dropped as they entered a main corridor, “no one else knows about it. Not any of the other girls, and certainly not Lynza.”
Manda stopped and glanced both ways at a major thruway. They she looked back at Tyndie. “Does it sound like somethin’ you’re interested in, Tyndie? Because if I teach it to you, you can’t show it to anyone else.”
Mutely, Tyndie nodded, though she suddenly had a thousand questions to ask.
“All right, then. Come along.” Manda led Tyndie into a hallway that had no special rooms but a set of steps into a foyer.
Manda beckoned her down the steps, then stopped. “Mind you, I didn’t teach this to Lynza or no one else, an’ that was for a reason. Some people just aren’t head smart,” and Manda tapped her temple. “And others you just plain can’t trust. Then there’s some who are both,” she mused, and Tyndie thought Manda had a few people spring to mind.
She reached into her apron pocket and pulled out a piece of chalk. With a small snap, Manda forced it in two and gave the other half to Tyndie. “You’re gonna need this. And don’t lose it. If you ever need more, let me know, quietlike, and I’ll find you some. Now, keep it hidden in your pocket.” Manda rolled the piece of chalk into Tyndie’s hand and slipped her own into her apron pocket.
Tyndie tried not to let her bewilderment show, but she was completely baffled. What was Manda showing her? And the chalk? Manda continued on.
“You’re not afraid of small spaces, are ya, girl? Hm, ya’ve probably never been in one small enough to say. Only one way to find out. And whatever happens next, you have to be silent. Understand me, Tyndie? Do you?”
Manda studied her for a moment. “Good. Understand now that you’ll be the only other person who knows about this. Besides me and your Auntie Renne. Now –”
And she felt the mortar along the wall, pressing it. Suddenly, there was a minute click….
And the wall moved before Tyndie’s eyes.
Tyndie’s mouth fell open. The stone wall had turned outward, revealing a whole new hallway behind that which they were standing in.
Manda turned around to observe Tyndie’s reaction. She laughed quietly behind her hand. Then she pulled Tyndie inside, and pushed the stone door back into place. As she was about to shut the door, she paused and glanced at Tyndie. “Unless you’d like to head back upstairs…?”
Tyndie shook her head vehemently. She was fascinated. There were even lanterns lit far down the dank hallway. She was speechless. Finally, she looked up at Manda.
“This, Tyndie, was the secret to your Auntie’s and mine success. And mind you… no one ever taught it to us like I’m showing it to you now. We came across it by sheer chance, and nothing more. Of course, we were not much older than you are now, and ah, we were just wee slips of girls back then.” Manda sighed and patted her belly. “Of course, we’d never have seen it if we hadn’t noticed a manservant we had oh such a fondness for…. He had the nicest –”
Tyndie coughed. She in no way wanted to hear the reminiscences of her Auntie and Manda as girls when they were in love with some manservant! Ew! Especially when she was standing here in a – a secret passage of some sort? Certainly a secret passage took precedence over reminiscing on long ago heart throbs?
Manda looked down at Tyndie and chuckled. “Just you wait, Tyndie girl. One day, you’ll be my age and you’ll be thinking about that young Squire who made your heart go pitty-pat every time he passed ya.” And she chuckled some more.
Tyndie nodded agreeably, but as soon as Manda turned her back, she thought, Ha, not bloody likely!
“Now here,” and she handed Tyndie a tallow candle. “Always leave a candle in here somewhere. And always take one in with ya – can you imagine being all alone in the dark in these tunnels?” Manda shuddered at the thought.
“Someone’s still using these old halls,” Manda mused, or there the sconces wouldn’t be lit.” Manda pointed up ahead to the light down the hall.
Once they arrived at the wall sconce, Manda lit Tyndie’s candle and her own.
She followed Manda through the corridor, taking in her surroundings with awe. Moisture from somewhere in the walls caused a dank smell to pervade the tunnel. The flickering of Tyndie’s candle caused shadows to jump and dance as she crept after Manda. Tyndie let her hand trail along the rough, damp walls until a spider hopped onto her hand. Tyndie managed to keep from yelping with shock, but jumped back and shook it off her hand.
Her heart in her mouth, she hurried to catch up to Manda.
“Here we are, Tyndie girl.” And they stopped, for there were four hallways to choose from. “Me and your Auntie, we called this the Hub, for it took us just about anywhere we need to go. That way,” and Manda pointed, “will bring you out right near the kitchens, and I’ll show you. That way there,” Manda showed Tyndie one of the darkened staircases, “takes ya straight up to the Ladies Bowery, but you won’t be servin’ them, at least not yet, so you won’t need to take that way.
“Now that stairway, you don’t never want to go up. It goes into the Lord’s Quarters, where all the courtiers are quartered. And you ain’t got the first lick o’ business being up there. Not now, and not ever.” Manda turned a stern eye on Tyndie. She wouldn’t look away until Tyndie nodded dutifully.
“Right, then. That corridor only takes you down to the middle of the second floor, not a room, but a well-placed passage, lots o’ traffic, so mind your comin’s and goin’s if you go through there.
“And always use the chalk.”
Tyndie pointed at an “x” marked by chalk against the Lords’ Quarters stairwell. “Like that?”
Manda inspected it closer with the light of her candle. “That’s an old mark,” she mused.
Tyndie made as if to erase it with her hand.
“No, no, don’t. Might be someone will look for it again. Leave it. We use the chalk on the outsides of the corridors. To show where the passage doors are, as they’re invisible on the outside. You’ll get to remember them, but usually there’s a bitty piece of chalk on the floor in front of the door to mark where the door opens. Keep your eyes open the next time you explore the castle, and you’ll see them. This Hub network isn’t the only group of tunnels, Tyndie, there’s lot of them. I still see chalk now and again, though I ain’t lookin’ for it, and in places I never figured it for. Me and your Auntie only used these few here.”
“But Manda, who designed them all?”
“That I can’t say. HarCourt Castle was built hundreds of years ago. I expect this one here was meant to help smuggle the lords and ladies out if the Castle came under attack. But there’s lots of these here tunnels. Really, I think the few people who use them are just waitstaff, manservants and folks like me and you who have to serve their lords and ladies with speed. And I haven’t seen no one around these entrances in years. But you just be careful in here. Always take chalk, in case you get lost, and to find the door on the outside.”
“But what about finding the doors on the inside?”
“Simple enough. The wall sconce is lit on the opposite side of the wall. You’ll see. Every time a wall sconce is lit on the opposite side, that’s where there’s a door. But, and hear me now, Tyndie, you listen and you watch to make sure no one is around before you go in and out of these tunnels. Make sure no one ever sees you.
“And here’s what I’ll tell ya last, and ya remember this if you remember nothin’ else.”
Manda took her by the shoulders and looked her in the eyes.
“We all know that sayin’, Watch the wall for its eyes and listen to the wall for its ears. But maybe now that sayin’ makes a little more sense, aye?”