Royals. Tyndie sniffed. They found every reason imaginable to feast and throw banquets. Servants often got the left-overs, if they happened to be in the right place at the right time, but Tyndie was rarely so fortunate, in her current position or as a kitchen maid.
Today, for example. She leaned out a window. The set-up taking place down in the gardens for the banquet later today was immense. The mimes and the jugglers were practicing off to the side.
The King was constantly entertaining. Some frowned upon it, for it wasn’t so long after his father King Cahall’s death. But Tyndie heard others insist that King Reaghann was doing exactly what the people needed to see – reminding them that Hardewold was a country of means and might, and of great fortune.
King Reaghann had assumed the Crown earlier than expected, and King Cahall in such good health, they all said. Even Tyndie remembered when he passed, for all the bells in the entire city tolled at once for an hour. For a man of middling age, people sighed, they thought it just damnable luck. A man in such good health, a Twenty Years War veteran and hero, an excellent huntsman, a fine father, to die of food poisoning….
Tyndie thought she’d been nine at the time, and the kitchen staff had to scramble to find her a black smock. All of the city, even the castle staff, attended the procession of the King’s funeral, all to pay their final respects to the King they had loved.
For an entire city present upon one street, most all of them were silent. Tyndie recalled being amazed at that. Only some sobbing, a bit of coughing and hushing was all the sound heard throughout the assembled masses that lined the street for miles.
King Reaghann, then still Prince Reaghann, headed the wagon that bore his father’s casket. The wagon was the only noise that filled the air, only the clop-clops of the horses, whose saddles were trimmed in black and gold, and a bit of squeak from the wagon wheels as it tumbled over the cobblestones.
Entirely garbed in black, the Prince was pale against the startling black of his mourning attire, and his velvet cloak flapped slightly behind him as he passed. Tyndie stared up at him, for this was the first time she had ever seen a Royal, and not only did he look just like a normal person might, but he was sad just like she had been when her mum had passed.
And then, Tyndie would never forget, that, though the Prince continued to stare forward at the sea of thousands of people, he looked down upon her and met her eyes with his own green ones, just for a few seconds. Those green eyes had been the only mark of color in all his whole face. It had taken her breath away.
Now, years later, Tyndie really didn’t care about that so much as she did some time off of her feet. She’d already worn through one pair of shoes, and Auntie had replaced them with some better-quality shoes that the cobbler had made special.
A stray strand of hair kept teasing Tyndie’s nose, and she was not allowed to tuck it behind her ear, for that would call attention to herself, and both her hands were full. She blew up at it as she could, but the breeze simply blew it back again.
At least this banquet was outdoors. She loved being outdoors, and maids had so few occasions to get out of the castle. Their only job was to hold the refreshment water bowls today, as extra menservants were working the tables.
Honeyed apples and spiced plums had already been served, along with the bread, while the ham and leek pottage was still on the table with the chilled pear soup. They were slicing into their garlic roast and seasoned asparagus. Tyndie thought it might be sage and rosemary – she had worked in the kitchens long enough to tell her spices. Menservants also lingered serving gingered carrots. She knew pork potpies stuffed with bacon and berries would be the next dish, along with a side of cheese and grapes. Mulled wine would be served then, and Tyndie wasn’t sure of the dessert, but cherry tarts and cinnamon pastries were often favorites at the Hardewold table. And her toes would be aching long before that.
Though she would not be dismissed for hours yet, Tyndie preferred being on her feet outdoors rather than inside the castle’s dank stone walls. Outside, at least, there was a breeze, and sunlight, and grass.
Tyndie also passed her time listening in to the conversations of the dignitaries whom she stood behind. Most of the time, the talk was nothing but laughter and expressions of enjoyment of their meal, of friends and shared experiences. Tyndie had taught herself how not to yawn, in fact, so boring did she find most of the lords’ banter.
Ladies’ discussions were far worse. Tyndie was still working to keep a steady, calm expression, for a maid who rolled her eyes at what ladies before her said would surely be dismissed.
But the giggling and the dissembling, such obvious feigned and practiced behaviors disgusted Tyndie. All she heard from them was whose gowns were replicas of other ladies’ gowns, who would never get betrothed at their age, who they wanted to invite to parties, and what men were supposedly not adhering to the strictest of social principles.
Finally, the guests stood up from the linen-covered tables. In small clusters of two’s and three’s, they seated themselves before the entertainment. Tyndie heard Manda heave a great sigh. This meant the afternoon was almost over. And Tyndie was so glad – her arms were aching from holding those stupid silver platters of refreshment water all throughout the meal.
She couldn’t help but smile a tiny bit at the mockery on the stage. Tyndie always enjoyed the mimes and the jugglers. They helped to take her mind off her work.
Then the minstrels played, and the lords and ladies stepped onto the dais and started dancing. Tyndie hated to admit that she enjoyed watching the dances. They were all so graceful, them with their colored silks and jewels, their gowns aswish as they spun about….
Then Tyndie stared. Lord Drury! Lord Drury was out there! Her heart quickened. Well, of course he was, she scolded herself. Usually, she did not serve the lords placed closest to the King, which, of course, was where Lord Drury sat. Between her being so busy, and not having to see him, it had been easy for Tyndie to forget about him… almost. Though there were times at night when she couldn’t sleep that she wondered… just how had Lord Drury pulled it off. How had he actually killed them both….
But now. Right there, dancing, up on the flower-covered dais. Tyndie kept her eyes lowered, but still watched him through her lashes. Most women would have considered him handsome. And he glided about with a grace on the dance floor from partner to partner with a charm on his face that hinted to each woman who stepped in his arms that she alone had captured his fancy. Lord Drury was exquisitely attired in light green and gold embroidered silks which perfectly complimented his deep emerald trousers, none of which made of him look overly dressed or foppish.
Tyndie watched him as he moved about with his peers. He laughed and smiled just enough, exactly as needed and when required, and the lords and ladies about him admired him. He blended in easily with his peers, and no one actually saw, really looked at his true face, thought Tyndie. Lord Drury’s outer face was just a mask. His eyes were cold, and dead. When he smiled at people, he didn’t care about them, it was just an act he performed. To Tyndie, Lord Drury wasn’t handsome so much as striking. Dangerous.
Ah. Finally. Tyndie stretched. She had worked four twelve-hour days straight, which probably had something to do with The Shrew. At the end of Tyndie’s shift last night, Auntie Renne told her that today, she had the whole day off.
So Tyndie when to her tiny room, only really large enough for a small bed and a place to put clothes in. She’d gone to sleep last night and hadn’t woken until today around noon.
Tyndie took a quick bath and then planned to make herself very scarce, for she just knew that The Shrew would find a way to make Tyndie cover her shift tonight. But if Tyndie couldn’t be found, then… too bad for The Shrew. She sniffed.
Besides, Tyndie had seen numerous places all about the castle where bits of chalk lay on the floor. Which was frustrating, for she had been running about on her feet for most of the last week with all these feasts. Today, though. She thought most of the guests King Reaghann was entertaining had left, and only the most important of them had stayed for the rest of the week.
Before she left her small room, Tyndie pocketed two tallow candles and a bit of flint. And the chalk Manda had given her had never left her pocket, of course, for she used the Hub regularly now on her rounds.
She wondered which passage to choose and decided on one that no maids or manservants – or The Shrew – would be like to discover her. And she had also seen something as she’d run about the castle that she’d been interested in exploring further… in front of the entrance ways of some passages were two pieces of chalk, side by side. Tyndie wondered what that meant. Manda had told her nothing about that.
And there was one right before her. With two pieces of chalk, side by side, as if to make a longer piece. Tyndie glanced about cautiously, then stepped back to check the stone castle corridors.
No one. Excellent. Tyndie smoothed her fingers across the mortar of the brick before her, pushing until finally the thick stone door swung open toward her.
She slipped in and pushed it shut. As soon as Tyndie’s eyes adjusted to the darkness, she realized immediately that this tunnel was nothing like any of the others. Not only did a number of chalk marks stand out upon the dark rock of the wall, but up ahead, the rough wooden stone that usually lined the indoor of the other tunnels became smooth and polished.
Tyndie frowned and lit one of her candles from the flame burning in the wall sconce. Misgivings immediately arose about this adventure, but she stepped forward anyway.
Finally, up ahead, she found another imitation of the Hub, but she had no idea where any of the tunnels led. She continued further but then, after several paces, froze.
Tyndie sucked her breath in – she immediately blew her candle out and flattened herself against the wall.
At first, she congratulated herself on her luck. The voices were stationary. Two men, their voices raised a bit, and in a confrontation of some sort. If fortune was with her, they would turn around and leave – go back the other way, wherever that led….
And then, they started making their way toward her, each with lanterns in their hands.
Tyndie knew she had no time to run back to the door of the corridor, and the smoke of the tallow candle she’d just blown out was still pungent in the air yet. She could only run.
Which tunnel to choose?
Tyndie heard the metal creaking of the lantern handles behind her, knowing the men were getting closer. Perhaps they would leave the way they came.
Any way she chose, Tyndie ran the risk of being caught. She remembered Manda’s words: “Just don’t get caught, hear me, Tyndie girl?”
Finally, Tyndie just turned the corner around the left tunnel of the Hub and crouched in the darkness, hoping to hear a clue as to where the men were headed, so that she might run the other way. Perhaps, if they did start down her tunnel, she could throw her apron up over her face and run in the opposite direction….
“You just make sure you vote how I’ve told you. I’m not going to tell you again, you hear me.”
“I do, I do – but Canton, it’s just –”
“Look. You do what you want. Vote right, nothing happens, you get a little windfall down the road, that can’t be bad….”
And then Tyndie, crouched in the darkness, heard Canton continue, “But if you don’t, my fine friend,” and she heard Canton pat the other lord down on the shoulder, “those two boys of yours that you’ve been paying for, with that nice lump sum over to that little village in Tenpoole…. Your wife wouldn’t like finding out about them, now would she?”
“Canton, I – It were just that one time. And they’re good boys. My family couldn’t take that.”
Tyndie heard the other man sigh deeply with regret.
Canton laughed. “It’s not just one time, the way I hear it, Canton, my man. 8th Street, the Boulevard Bank and Inn, the Red Rug….”
“All right, all right, all right,” hissed the other lord. “So I enjoy a little extra recreation. That doesn’t mean that you should extort me for to your own benefit! If my wife were to find out….”
“Ah, Lord Camby… don’t you mean ’if your wife’s family were to find out’? For they’re truly the source of your wealth anymore. They’re who lend you this reputation of yours. As to extorting you… Camby, that’s such a harsh term. Let us think of this as a long-term arrangement, shall we? I need your vote on the Council two days’ hence. And just consider, that alone will add to your social image and continue to bolster your reputation. You really can’t lose. Now, let us go, and you shall draw up the paperwork. See that I get it tomorrow morning so that if I need to make changes….”
And they passed Tyndie back down to the entry of the tunnel. She nearly collapsed with relief. And she was disgusted – did all the strong pray upon the weak? Look at The Shrew, she mused. The Shrew would have continued to bully Tyndie if she hadn’t stood up to her. But these lords – Tyndie had expected better of such folk, and yet they were no better than cup bearers themselves.
After Tyndie had gotten her breath back, she decided to follow the tunnel she was in. Soon, her curiosity was piqued, for the tunnel dipped sharply downward, and then, Tyndie was surprised to find, wooden paneling lined the walls. Where was she?
And then she heard voices – again… but they were outside the tunnel.
And one single light shone in around the bend. A hole in the wall!
Tyndie tiptoed to the hole in the wall and had to stand up on the top of her toes to look out.
The first thing she saw was the elegant art hanging far across the room upon warm, wooden paneling. And she saw bookcases built into the wall, full of leather-bound books. Tyndie knew how to read, but she couldn’t possibly imagine reading books such as those. Then she saw ornately threaded rugs that stretched the length of the entire wooden floor….
Tyndie’s eyes widened in shock. She had been in that room, just once, to serve a very small group of dignitaries. This was King Reaghann’s personal study! Why was there a spy hole to look into it?
And then she heard one of the voices….
Tyndie moved over slightly so that she could view the entire room. It was only the slightest of holes, built into the wooden frames and she suspected that a tapestry was hanging next to the spy hole on the opposite side.
But Lord Drury and one other lord were sitting in the King’s study – without the King.
Lord Drury sat behind King Reaghann’s desk in a cavalier manner, his hands laced together on the desk. Tyndie could not see his face, but she guessed he must look inordinately proud of himself.
The other man sat across from him, a white-haired, distinguished older lord, well-dressed with a grave expression.
“And Shaw?” inquired the other lord.
Lord Drury shrugged. “What of him? He probably thinks his brother is dead by now.” He waved a precursory gesture to the ceiling as if shooing a fly away. “Is he?” he drawled.
The other man returned, “No, not yet. Not that I have been informed, anyway. Would you like him to be?”
Lord Drury thought for a moment. “It’s really of no consequence. No one knows he’s here. His brother thinks he died on the way to visit us with his wife, bandits. But – why not. Keep him alive. He may yet serve a purpose.” Lord Drury paused. “Or is he not worth saving at this point? How long has it been now?”
“Six months, I think. He’s in a traitor cell – they’re not fed so well down there. But I could have the turnkey feed him more often if you like,” suggested the other lord, sounding bored.
“Do as you will, Hampsherd.”
Tyndie was round-eyed. She had placed her hand over her mouth so that her breathing could not be heard – she wanted to run, and cry, and tell her Auntie, and hide beneath her pillow, all at once. But she was transfixed – she had to hear more.
Lord Drury stiffened suddenly and held his hand up to stop the conversation. He cocked his head, as if trying to hear something far away.
Lord Hampsherd didn’t dare say anything, though he arched an eyebrow.
Lord Drury then shook his head. “Do you – do you – smell that?” He took in a deep breath of the air above him.
Lord Hampsherd studied Lord Drury for a moment, raised both his white eyebrows and then sniffed the air.
He shook his head and, with a penetrating look, told Lord Drury that he smelled nothing, but Lord Drury did not appear to hear him. He was concentrating. “I’ve smelled it before. Jasmine. With lavender, perhaps.” He shook his head.
Lord Hampsherd came near to scoffing.
“Gardens? Perhaps a lady keeps jasmine and lavender in her window? Or perfume? Such a common perfume.”
Lord Drury recognized the presence of his companion with a chilled roll of his scornful brown eyes and a single arched eyebrow.
But Tyndie could not breath. Her soap! The soap she bathed with was made of jasmine and lavender oils…. Her Auntie had given it to her as a gift last year – “so you don’t have to smell like all that kitchen grease….”
That anyone could identify it from several paces away was amazing – but now she knew why Lord Drury always knew when she was close by. She would get rid of that soap immediately. He chilled her to the bone. What sort of monster was that man?
In silence, Tyndie slipped away from the spy hole and then scampered as fast as she could back to her room, petrified.
Tyndie was having trouble grasping the entirety of what she’d overheard. She knew already that he was guilty of assassination. But her mind was spinning… the brother of the King of Shaw? Imprisoned in one of the traitor cells of the dungeon?
As soon as she’d emerged from the tunnel, Tyndie had run to the laundress and swiped a bar of soap. She hated to throw away Auntie’s gift, but if she smelled anything like it at all again, Lord Drury would know. Then she’d steamed herself in a bath, near scratching the skin off herself and lathering her hair to her toes with her new soap.
Tyndie was taking no chances with the jasmine soap. She wouldn’t have it anywhere in HarCourt Castle. Tyndie snuck out onto one of the lower baileys, waited until no guards were passing by, and then tossed the jasmine soap into the moat. Its ploop! into the dark moat water immediately relieved her and she drew in a huge breath of relief.
The next day, Tyndie went to her shift as always, though her skin felt a bit raw. In hindsight, she mused, scrubbing her skin off with laundress soap probably had not been necessary, but at the time, she had felt filthy from what she’d observed, and the entire encounter had left her skin crawling. Bumps still raised when she thought of Lord Drury’s cavalier dismissal of the life of the King of Shaw’s brother.
This was one of the times when Tyndie actually wanted to be busy – she was still overwhelmed and needed busywork to calm her nerves.
And with King Reaghann’s guests still in attendance, there was still plenty of work to be had. Right now, they were polishing the silver for the King’s personal dinner that evening. All Tyndie was doing was concentrating on her work, which soothed her.
“Tyndie, girl, run bring us some water, love,” called Auntie Renne. Even she sounded tired, and she had been working this job the longest. And Tyndie recognized that running to get water was a break of sorts. Tyndie was thankful, for constantly rubbing at silver for hours made her hands sore.
After she had fetched the water, she took her time wandering back. She was going to need a little off-time, considering the serving time they’d be doing later –
Tyndie looked up.
She nearly dropped her pottery jug of water on the stone floor.
Lord Drury stood in her path, staring at her.
All she heard was blood rushing in her ears. Something in her recovered her training.
She dropped a perfect curtsy, staring at her shoes. At the last moment, she adopted Lynza’s North Hardewold accent. “Milord.”
She hoped he couldn’t see that she was trembling.
“Haven’t I… seen you before?” asked Lord Drury, trying to place her.
“As it please you, milord, I’m just a kitchen maid.”
Tyndie dared to steal a glance at him through her lashes. He was studying her shrewdly.
“And where are you taking that?” Drury gestured to the jug.
“If it please you, milord,” and Tyndie curtsied again, “I just started working upstairs polishing silver. They asked me to fetch them some water.” She curtsied again.
Tyndie kept her chin glued to her chest and continued to stare at her feet. All she could hear was the pumping of her heart in her ears….
She didn’t dare to look up, but he had paused long enough for her to know that he was considering her story, or her, or both, perhaps.
Finally, Lord Drury shook his head. “Yes, you and your – jug of water – go.” He waved his hand at her in condescension as he passed.
Tyndie nearly melted with relief but remembered to curtsy. “As it please you, milord,” she murmured, though Lord Drury had stalked past her already.
After he had passed around the corner, Tyndie flattened herself against the cold stone wall, allowing her head to fall back against it. If only she wasn’t in a public corridor, she would have slid down in a puddle on the floor and cried. So that was what it was like to talk to an assassin….
And then her crockery water jug fell to the floor and broke, letting water spill everywhere. “Crap!” Tyndie whispered to herself. Tyndie toed all the pieces of the jug back against the wall and watched as the water seeped into the stone cobbles.
By the time Tyndie had filled another jug with water from the well, she was tired of climbing stairs and wanted to hide where she wouldn’t be found in the open again by Lord Drury.
But when she finally arrived, every single woman was sitting still, their knees together, a stack of silver in their laps. Tyndie stepped into the small room and saw no one else but them, so she set the jug down. Instantly, her heart began to pound again. She looked at each woman’s face – Herma, Manda, Lynza, Farina, Auntie….
Their faces each were still as stone, their eyes round as they sat in their chairs, burnishing the silver. They were petrified, Tyndie saw.
He’d been there! Him! Why?
The look on each woman’s face said plainly that there was a line drawn between her and them, and she had crossed it. They were frightened into silence, Tyndie saw. He must have told them, “If you see her, do not tell her that I was here….”
Well, that was it, then. Lord Drury did not believe in coincidences. If just the slightest thing concerned him, then he eliminated it, like Lord Stanson. And now, Tyndie thought, she was the new Lord Stanson.
Manda lifted her chin almost imperceptibly. Slowly, so that none of the other women noticed, Manda tilted the platter she was burnishing in her lap up so that Tyndie could see the bottom side of it.
Manda had chalked an arrow on it. Once Tyndie saw it, she wiped it off. She nodded just a tiny bit in direction of the door.
Run, Tyndie, run!
Tyndie sat on the cold stone floor, scrunched up between the walls of the tunnel, staring at the flame of her tallow candle as it flickered. It was a tunnel that she knew went nowhere, so she should be safe here. For she, too, was going nowhere, at least for now.
That bastard. That bloody bastard, she thought suddenly. Now she was sitting in here, in the shadows, jumping at every noise, at every drop of water that fell on the stone.
This was Drury’s fault. Not hers.
He was an assassin. And known for it in certain circles, too, she fumed. Hired to kill men. And he took pride in it. She shook her head with disgust.
And then, there was this matter of the King of Shaw’s brother. If she knew correctly, the King and his brother were twins. Tyndie knew very little of the world outside of HarCourt Castle, and even less outside of Hardewold, but Kings in the Eastern Alliance who had twin brothers, that was something people knew about, and something the lords and ladies spoke of at feasts and banquets.
Not only was King Rickstan’s brother here, secretly imprisoned by Lord Drury in a traitor cell, but Lord Drury had killed the man’s wife as well. While they were on their way to Hardewold on a state visit. And under King Reaghann’s very nose. What a monster Drury was!
A small spider dropped silently, silently, silently down on a single thread and stopped, hanging before her. Perhaps it was observing her as she was observing it, thought Tyndie. She held the spider up on an index finger and it sat there looking at her.
Then Tyndie smiled. She thought of the man down in the prison.
Lord Drury had fucked up her life. Now Tyndie was going to fuck up his.