Tyndie was so bored. Not that she would prefer running about on her feet, but she at least would like to be out in the open rather than passing time in these dank tunnels.
First, she caught up on her sleep. Laying her face on the bare, dank rock of these passages disturbed her – she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Besides – there were rats! So Tyndie slept propped up against the walls.
Tyndie was fairly certain two days had passed, if her stomach was to be trusted.
She had begun negotiations with her stomach. At first, she was not going to slip out and steal food out from the bowls outside the tunnels in the middle of the night. For she surely did not want to get caught. If she was caught, she would lose a hand, sure and simple, and would likely be thrown in the dungeon cells.
Then her stomach protested so much that she could not ignore it. So Tyndie decided instead to sneak into the kitchens at night. She could pass as a kitchen maid still, and there was so little activity there after dark.
Tyndie waited until she knew the moon had risen before she stepped out of the tunnel near the kitchen. Silently, she stole down the kitchen steps….
Tyndie almost jumped out of her skin.
But it was only Eliza, a kitchen maid near Tyndie’s age that she’d worked closely with.
Eliza glanced over her shoulder and then whispered, “Tyndie, girl, what you doin’ here!” Her eyes were round and her face worried.
Tyndie tried to play nonchalant. “Why do you ask?”
Eliza grabbed her arm. “Don’t you play silly with me. A man, a lord –” and her voice dropped even lower – “a scary one – he come by but two days past, lookin’ for ya.” Eliza looked Tyndie up and down in the firelight of the wall sconce. “You ain’t with his child, are ya?”
Horrified, Tyndie whispered, “No!”
Eliza shrugged. “Well, then…Tyndie, I don’t know what ya did, but ya can’t stay here no ways. He weren’t no nice person. You need to leave this place.” She paused. Her brown eyes lit up over her freckled nose then. “Tyndie, I got cousins in Presfield – they’d take ya in –”
Tyndie nodded. “What did he say when he came?”
“Well, ya know, I’m the first one by the door, so he asked me.” Eliza gulped. “He asked if a kitchen maid who looked like you had stopped workin’ with us and gone upstairs to work recently.
“I could see he weren’t no nice person – and I knew he was talkin’ about you. So’s I told him we had a kitchen girl long time ago who transferred out but I never known where she went, and that it mighta’ been you, but it weren’t my place to know such things.”
Then she took a good look at Tyndie’s face. “What you got on your face? Your face is dirty,” and she reached out toward Tyndie.
Tyndie pulled back out of the way. “You can’t tell anyone I was here. I was –”
And there it went – she swallowed down the last remnants of her pride. “…Looking for some bread….” Gods, she felt pathetic.
Eliza stared at her with an open mouth for half a second. Then she grabbed some baguettes from the corner workshelf. “They’re a bit burnt, and I ain’t had a chance to throw them out yet. But if that’s what ya want….”
A troubled look on her face, Eliza threw another look over her shoulder. “Ya know ya should leave. You best be hiding yourself somewhere good,” she scolded Tyndie. “But I’ll keep puttin’ the burnt ones over here, in the corner for ya. An’ when I see they don’t get picked up no more, then I’ll whisper a prayer to the gods and hope ya made it outta’ here well and good.
“Here, these are startin’ to bruise, too.” Eliza threw Tyndie a clump of green grapes.
“Thank you,” Tyndie whispered. Eliza hugged her suddenly. “You be careful, Tyndie girl!”
So Tyndie now had burnt bread to crunch through, enough to fill her belly.
After a day of sulking and seething, Tyndie had calmed down. She finally decided to spend her time following all the hidden tunnels. She was surprised at where they led her – many of them led only to bed chambers, while some led to solars. Others led to corridors that weren’t in use.
But Tyndie found two hidden tunnels that disgusted her – one led to a room which had another spy hole in place. The King’s bed chamber, if she was to judge by the richness of the décor, the size of bed itself, the art upon the wall.... Why would anyone want to spy upon the King while he was in his bed chamber, she mused.
Well, of course, she could imagine all sorts of unsavory reasons, but she was nevertheless disgusted at the idea. She wondered if the King knew of this tunnel and toyed with the idea of leaving a bit of chalk outside the door. A King should know if he is being watched.
The other room tunnel was similar, for it led to what Tyndie presumed was the Queen’s bed chamber, though its furniture was shrouded in dust sheets, for King Reaghann had not yet married. This belonged to the previous Queen. Tyndie wondered what sort of people spied on Kings and Queens while they were in their bedchambers….
And then the tunnel led her back to King Reaghann’s study. No one was in it this morning, nor did she expect there to be, for the royals were yet in the Great Hall, breaking their fast.
But last night, Tyndie had snuck down here to peep through the spy hole of the study – and been enthralled. For King Reaghann himself had walked in just then, alone and unattended.
Part of Tyndie felt quite guilty for watching what he believed to be private moments. But another part of Tyndie felt as if she were now his invisible guard, somehow. And so she watched him.
Tyndie watched as the King unfastened his deep green surcoat and tossed it carelessly upon a chaise lounge. He pulled his black leather boots off with a barely audible “Ahh,” and sat them neatly next to each other on the side of his desk.
As King Reaghann seated himself down in his chair, he loosed the laces and the tunic beneath his chin. Then he reclined back comfortably in his desk chair, crossing his stockinged feet upon his desk.
Tyndie smiled as she watched this. The King of Hardewold seemed so… normal now.
From his desk, he pulled open the first drawer and removed a stack of parchments. He gazed at the top of the first parchment, then balled it up and tossed it across the room. “Asshole.”
He gazed at the top of the second and third parchments as well.
“Asshole, asshole,” and tossed each parchment across the room after he balled them up.
Tyndie, hidden in the shadows behind the spy hole, was beginning to thoroughly enjoy herself.
King Reaghann took an interest in the next parchment and scanned through the first half. Then he balled it up abruptly, scaring Tyndie in her position behind the wall. “Not bloody likely!” That parchment got tossed across the room as well.
King Reaghann read the next two parchments through. He appeared to consider them worthy, for he set them off to the side.
His next parchment made him scoff. “Bloody hell. What a fucking idiot.” He tore the entire parchment up. “There you are, Lord Canton. That’s what I think of your proposal.”
The king stretched and yawned in his chair. Alarmed suddenly, Tyndie covered her mouth with both hands, for now she had to yawn, and she couldn’t be heard in the shadows. The King would surely think he was going mad if heard a yawn suddenly – he’d think the wall was yawning.
King Reaghann picked up the rest of his parchments – obviously proposals for bills and tariffs from his Council members, thought Tyndie. He shuffled through them quickly, just glancing at their titles and authors.
“No, no, definitely not, maybe, maybe, yes, possibilities, joking, asshole, no, asshole, definitely not, definitely yes, maybe, yes, asshole, yes.”
At her spy hole, Tyndie was grinning as she watched the King separate all the different proposals based on his knowledge of the Council member, rather than what the proposal might state. She recognized that he knew what the proposal read anyway, but she had enjoyed watching King Reaghann cut his pile of two dozen down to possible six in less than fifteen minutes.
The King got up from his desk then and threw all the proposals he’d designated as “assholes, no’s” and other negative titles into the fire. Then he walked around the study and picked up the few crumpled up balls of parchment. One by one, he tossed them forcefully across the room into the fire, with great enjoyment on his face.
“Best part of my night,” he muttered.
Then the King walked over and picked up his green surcoat, slung it over his shoulder, and strode out of the study.
Tyndie wanted to laugh. He had left his boots behind.
Eliza was good as her word – she left burned baguettes off to the side each night for Tyndie, last night with an apple that wasn’t bruised at all, and the night before, two plums that looked more as if they’d simply fallen rather than bruised.
Tyndie was ready to sneak out of the castle, but the question was when? Part of her told her just to run – she had her destination after all. But Tyndie was quite sure that a man as dangerous as Lord Drury – how she hated him now! – had the castle gates watched for a maid of her description. Despicable… he was just that precise, thorough, for how else had he become so good at this other… pursuit of his? And a simple maid leaving the castle in broad daylight would be remembered, for maids rarely left the castle – or at least not dressed as such. Tyndie would have to steal a common dress from the launderer’s at night before she left.
All this, just so she could sneak out of HarCourt Castle undetected – and hope to find work who knew where? All she bloody knew was this castle. She’d grown up here. All Tyndie knew of the wide world beyond these castle gates and the city outside it were the tales she overheard others speak of. HarCourt Castle was the only world she knew. And now – Lord Drury was ousting her from it.
It was him that kept Tyndie from having left days ago. It always kept coming back to Drury. That smug countenance, those cold eyes.
She wanted to strike back, right as hard as he had. She wanted to see his reputation trampled, wanted to see fear replace that smug expression, and a stricken demeanor take over his condescension. Tyndie had lost everything, and was forced to live in the shadows. She would see Drury – she would never call him Lord again, for the word Lord suggested a person of honor – lose all he held dear as well… his reputation, his standing with the King, perhaps even his title….
And so, Tyndie yawned, she passed her time in the tunnels, the unknown bowels of HarCourt Castle, crunching on bread, watching over King Reaghann, and searching for unknown passageways to prowl.
Spy holes were her favorite. Tyndie was astonished at first at the idea that people would really listen to others from inside these tunnels. Many of these spy holes looked into unused rooms and chambers now, but once she knew where on the walls to look for them, Tyndie was both disgusted and amused that people were so curious, or perhaps deceitful as they were. She imagined men like Drury made use of such spy holes quite often. Drury himself… Tyndie decided he paid others to do such work. She could not imagine him tiptoeing about in her tunnels – she had started to think of them as hers – ducking beneath the spiderwebs and stepping around the puddles of dripping water, even stepping quickly to the side as a rat ran past….
She followed one hidden tunnel for some time, and she nearly stopped, but found finally that it opened up above her. Tyndie climbed an old, rickety ladder and pushed a trap door above her, hoping that its hinges wouldn’t creak and alert anyone up above.
Tyndie pushed it up only enough to peep out around her. Hay fell all about Tyndie, and she realized that she had opened a trap door near the stable. The smell of livestock and manure confirmed her theory. The stable could be of use in the near future, Tyndie mused, though she had never even been near a horse. She took great care to let the trap door back fall down in silence.
Two more hidden tunnels ran near to the guards’ barracks, and while Tyndie wasn’t sure if they were aware of its existence, she certainly was not going sneak in and find out. She could hear men to either side of the walls, laughing and yelling at each other. Tyndie retreated from both tunnels as quickly as she could.
The next tunnel Tyndie came upon took her farther and farther below the castle, and she shivered, for she knew she below the castle now. The walls were no longer smooth castle brick was simple subterranean black rock. Upon occasion, a wall sconce was wedged into the tunnel wall, and Tyndie lit it, for she’d stolen candles three times now from the chandler and she needed to conserve her tallow as best she could.
Finally, she arrived at the end of the tunnel. With reluctance, she pressed her face against the end of the tunnel, hoping to hear voices that would indicate what sort of room this tunnel had led to, whether she would be safe here or not.
Tyndie decided this was no safe place, however, and yet that it was still exactly the place she’d been searching for all along. The dungeon.
But were there guards outside the door? Would they see her open the door? And worse, what if the door didn’t open from the outside? Tyndie’s own foolish curiosity might lock her down in the prison.
How ironic, and what a stroke of luck for Drury would that be. She would be trying to break someone out and instead, she would lock herself in.
Tyndie lit the wall sconce before the door. Chalk marks scratched the rock there, but she saw how old they were. In fact, there was no chalk at the bottom of the floor by the door. Yes, Tyndie thought, staring at the rough wall, there might be a way of getting into this dungeon on the other side of the door… but like all dungeons, there was no way of getting back out.
With a sigh, Tyndie slid down the wall with discouragement. She hadn’t come all this way not to be able to get out again.
The wall sconce flickered then, casting shadows on her legs. Tyndie arched an eyebrow. Of course!
She knew she couldn’t block tunnel doors open with a piece of wood – she had discovered this the hard way early on, for the stone wall had crunched a piece of wood in half and Tyndie had had to skulk her way through the castle back to another tunnel door.
And often, rock was not a viable door stop either, for it was unreliable and might pop out at any time, or it might also be crushed. Both wood and rock made noise that would call attention to the tunnel door’s existence as well, and down in the dungeon… Tyndie could not afford to be seen or heard
But her shoes…. They were made of leather with wooden heels. The door couldn’t break those. A sly smile crept across Tyndie’s face as she unlaced her shoes.
She didn’t much like the idea of mucking up her stockings, so she took those off as well, feeling rather disgusted at her sudden vanity. Still, the less she had to sneak out at night and wash, the better.
Ugh – the floor was cold, and wet, and… muddy, disgusting. This shoe thing had better work, or she would find herself locked in a bloody prison with no bloody shoes, she mused with worry.
Then Tyndie pictured Drury’s face and chinned up, taking in a deep breath.
She shoved the door open. Her bare feet held no traction, slipping and sliding in the mud, but after a few seconds, the door budged open.
Tyndie made a face – a dank, stale smell floated into the tunnel, enough to gag a horse. Tyndie listened at the crack of the open rock door, breathing through her nose. Just as she was beginning to wonder if maybe she had opened the door into the sewer after all, she heard a distant voice, a moan.
And then a clanking. Like a tankard upon bars, and then several tankards, as if they were being dragged across prison bars, to and from. She had reached the dungeon after all.
Tyndie sucked in a breath and stuck her head inside the dungeon.
Nothing. No one. Darkness and the stench of human decay. Tyndie yanked her head back in, panting. She gagged a bit, for it was the most unpleasant place she’d ever been in.
Tyndie, what the bloody hell are you doing?
She could be well on her way to the ocean by now, instead of standing here, in the dark, with her bare feet freezing and mud between her toes…. She didn’t owe these people anything. If she was smart, she’d pull her stockings back up, get her shoes back on, and get out of this bloody castle tonight.
And Tyndie truly, seriously considered it. But then her eyes fell on the old, scratched chalk marks on the wall, and she thought of Drury’s smug face, and King Reaghann in his study, being played for a fool like ticks upon a dog....
Damnit. She rolled her eyes and picked up her shoes.
Tyndie bent down at the corner of the open door and after a few seconds, had placed them where the door would fall against them. She studied them. She hoped she’d see them again soon….
Then she stepped into the filthy, underground cave that was the HarCourt Dungeon.
Tyndie took several steps, her back against the rock wall. Her eyes finally adjusted to the darkness, but no one was in the cells before her. A stroke of luck or not, Tyndie wasn’t sure.
She reached the end of her corridor and finally heard a conversation far down the next corridor. Guards!
Tyndie peeped around the dungeon wall.
Four guards in HarCourt uniforms were squatted on the floor, playing at dice and laughing. Tyndie pulled her head back in and nearly scoffed. And she was worried about being frightened. But how to find the traitor cells?
The block ahead of her was black and empty and the block she had just snuck up had but one torch burning. What if Tyndie had to slip past the guards somehow? How awful to have made it this far, only to not find the prisoner, or worse, she worried, get lost. Tyndie immediately chalked a mark on the bottom of both walls.
“Sounds like it’s time to feed the folks, they’s gettin’ restless,” yawned one guard.
“Damn – that’s twice now,” complained another.
“They do that when they get bored. Fuck ’em. I’ll feed ’em when I get good and ready. Three threes,” replied a third guard.
“Really, why don’t you go feed you whole one prisoner, Joshik? We could give ya a hand, don’t want ya to overwork yaself.”
The other guards laughed.
Tyndie listed to the dice hit the stone of the dungeon floor before whom she presumed was Joshik say, “Oh, my traitor boy? I fed him yesterday. He don’t need to be fed. Maybe tomorrow. If I feel like it.”
And they laughed.
Tyndie’s eyes grew round. She threw a look back down the corridor she’d just crept up. She had been in the traitor wing all along!
Tyndie silently snuck down the wing, finding no one in any of the cells. She was nearly in despair when she reached the end.
In the very last cell, crouched in the far back corner, was a body.
Tyndie wasn’t sure what to do – what if the dungeon guard decided to come back down the wing? She decided that unlikely. None of them were going to interrupt their game for prisoners any time soon. If she had to, Tyndie could make a run for it and disappear into the tunnel, and then out of HarCourt Castle, no one the wiser, and these dungeon guards would just think she’d disappeared in the dungeon.
So she took a chance and lit a candle, but covered the top of it close with her hand.
The man in the cell held his arm up against the light. He’d not seen light in a very long time, Tyndie saw with despair. How sad!
Tyndie lowered her candle and, with a glance up the corridor first, she snuck up to the cell door. She could see the man’s face now.
His beard covered much of his face, though it was mostly brown. Dirty and stringy hair hung down his face in tangles. But behind his hair, Tyndie saw green eyes. Sad green eyes, hiding from the candle glow under a scratched arm. His face looked smudged, but something about the way he sat, and the shape of his face… it reminded her of King Reaghann….
“A kitchen maid? Are they charging for a look now or do they even know you’re down here….” The man’s voice was hoarse, gravely, and full of dejection.
“It’s you, isn’t it? You’re him,” Tyndie whispered. It was. It was him! The Duke of Shaw, King Rickstan’s brother. She had found him….
He regarded her and said nothing for a moment.
“What do you want with me, girl? Don’t you know, I’m a traitor? Hence,” and he waved up at the top of the cell, “the traitor cell?”
“No, no you’re not. You and your wife were attacked on your way here. I know who was behind it, I heard him talking about it. He’s killed two other people, too. And he wants to kill me,” Tyndie blurted out in a quick whisper.
King Rickstan of Shaw’s twin brother sat forward. “How do you know all this?”
Tyndie glanced down the corridor. “I’ll be back. You can’t say anything about me being here, anything at all, do you understand? Now here,” and she tossed him a baguette of bread. “Keep it hidden.”
She took a deep breath and whispered, “I’ll be back as soon as I can. Remember, not a word. I’m going to rescue you, my lord!”