A Silent Game of Spies

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Tyndie was still recovering from her encounter with King Rickstan’s brother. She sat on the tunnel floor, gnawing on some bread, with her feet propped up against the other wall. Tyndie realized she didn’t actually know the prince’s name.

But she hadn’t much of a plan to break the man out of his cell. She would need the key, obviously, but what if the dungeon guard didn’t have a key? Wouldn’t it be just like Drury to have the key himself?

The more and more Tyndie considered the idea, the more she realized she was right. Drury would never leave such a thing to chance. The brother of the King of Shaw, escape HarCourt Castle to tell his story? No. Drury had that key.

Not that Tyndie knew how to escape HarCourt at all, much less the castle, with a Prince of Shaw. If Tyndie could sneak out unseen in plain clothes from the castle, she could easily get out of the city. But not with him. She needed to plan an escape.

She sighed with irritation and crossed one leg over the other. This was far more complicated than she had anticipated. What if someone recognized the Prince, even if he did look like a sewer rat now? And smell like one, she mused, wrinkling her nose as she thought of the dungeon.

Steal a horse? Tyndie knew Princes could ride horses, and in his weakened state, he wasn’t likely to walk or run far. But the Castle gates went down at night, and they couldn’t steal horses by day, for they’d be seen.

She’d sneak men’s clothing for him from – somewhere – so he could change out of his prison dregs.

But before all else, Tyndie would have to break the prince free of his cell. And that meant…. A key.

From Drury.

She hugged her knees to herself.

Finally, Tyndie took in a deep breath. She didn’t know where his office was. And she would have to watch him to find out. But first – she would have to change clothes, and bathe… for his sense of smell was unnerving. He would know if she was near.

Why was she doing this again, she asked herself? She looked at the tunnel walls.

Because you’re living in a tunnel and Drury’s not. Because that prince is living in a cell and Drury’s not, whispered Tyndie’s conscience.

Yes, but rather a tunnel with a way out than a cell without one, Tyndie told herself. If she got caught…. And if Drury caught her – then he’d just kill her.

After a week of living in the darkness, seeing only by torchlight, eating burnt bread and bruised fruit, the idea of death actually wasn’t as disturbing as it once had been.

Living in a cell, however, without her freedom, after running about the way she had, wherever and however, all over the castle, that was a different story. Tyndie sniffed. She knew every inch of this castle now, and knew where to look for what, and for whom. This castle was almost as much hers than it was the King’s, except that she was on the inside of the walls, and King Reaghann was on the outside of the walls.

If only the King knew what she knew, and where…. Tyndie almost hated to leave him behind. For with Drury here, she knew the King was in danger – if not physically, then by other means. She thought of all the parchments he’d tossed about. Surely, his Council members were under Drury’s thumb, just as Tyndie had heard Lord Canton extorting Lord Calbry.

Tyndie toyed with the idea of leaving a note for King Reaghann before she left, but what King would believe the word of a kitchen girl over a well-respected lord?

Tyndie had discovered a spy hole into what she believed was the Council chamber, but if her memory served her, they would not meet for another week. Tyndie hoped to be gone by then. She often wondered if all castles were as riddled with secrets and deceit as hers was, or if it was just HarCourt.

The bath had been luscious. Steaming hot, to be sure, and Tyndie was sure half her skin had peeled away, but at least the dirt of the tunnels had bubbled free from her skin and her hair. This time, Tyndie did not scrub herself raw with launderer’s soap, as someone might notice the scent through the walls if she passed by a spy hole. But she did grab two bars of soap, for she had an idea.

Tyndie was dismayed at the amount of dirt floating in the bath when she stepped out of the water. Had she really gotten that dirty? No wonder Eliza had stared at her so.

She stepped into a new maid’s dress and apron that she’d also filched from the launderer’s. Now, at least, she wouldn’t smell – or look – like a sewer rat herself when she went prowling about the castle, searching for Drury’s office.

If the worst happened and Drury did see her, Tyndie knew that she could step into any of her tunnels and disappear behind the walls. He would never know what happened to her or where she’d gone, but Tyndie did know that he would double his search efforts. Right now, Tyndie mused, Drury probably thought that she had left the city and so had dismissed her from his mind.

But what she had to do was find him first.

Tyndie decided just to position herself outside the King’s study. Where else would Drury be most likely to go? For if she found him, Tyndie could follow him at a steady but discreet pace behind him.

Hours stretched on like days as she sat before the King’s study. Finally, Tyndie heard the laughter and talking of men passing by in the corridor outside the study doors.

She stood up on her tiptoes, but no one entered the room. Then Tyndie had an idea – she ran to the Council Chamber.

Lords were filing in! Seating themselves about, voicing platitudes to each other.

And then Drury….

Tyndie’s eyes narrowed and her lips curled with aversion. A convivial smile in place, Drury patted the shoulders of friends he passed, while others called his name in greeting. That… man… who glided so easily amongst the King’s Council members… he wants to kill me…. Tyndie’s nostrils flared with hatred.

And, of course, he was seated just a few seats from the King. Sittin’ with the salt, thought Tyndie.

Every Council Member rose as one entity when King Reaghann entered, and they all bowed and uttered, “Your Majesty,” in unison as well. But as the King stepped toward his seat, he faced Tyndie for just one moment, and his eyes looked at the ceiling, his face indifferent. Then he turned and motioned the Council to sit down, and called them into session.

She watched with interest for a while, and wondered which of the Councilors the King thought were assholes, based on his disgust of their proposals. But his speech was courteous and well-delivered, even when he disagreed.

Tyndie, finally bored, slid down the wall the paneled side of the inner wall to listen. After a while, she heard some of the Councilors repeat the same proposals, only reworded. Did they think the King an idiot? She wished she’d brought a plum but then immediately squashed the idea for of course, for Drury would smell it. Tyndie wished then that she could fart so he could smell that – a perfectly chosen expression of her true feelings for the man. Asshole.

Just as Tyndie’s head was falling on her chest, she heard King Reaghann’s polished golden chair scrape back on the polished marble floor of the Council Chamber.

“You have all submitted your proposals,” and there was a loud stacking of parchment upon the table before him, “so I will make every effort to consider them. My lords, until our next meeting, we are adjourned.”

Tyndie jumped to her feet. Many of the Councilors looked surprised, so Tyndie decided that King Reaghann had ended the meeting abruptly. Good, she thought. All they had been doing was blowing up their egos over and over amongst each other and even arguing a bit. Infrastructure and tariffs on new exports, and tariffs on market goods, and taxing incoming ships from the Coastal Countries…. Tyndie didn’t know what most of that meant but apparently King Reaghann did.

As Tyndie watched the King leave his chair, Drury stood out in his path. Drury hadn’t spoken a word throughout the entire meeting, but whatever he spoke to the King about now, was in hushed tones too low for Tyndie to hear. The King nodded and gestured with an arm to follow him. Tyndie rolled her eyes.

Then she raced through the tunnels to the King’s study, hoping that the King was on his way to his study.

Tyndie arrived ahead of them, for she heard their voices outside in the corridor. But she had to sit and cover her mouth, for she was out of breath and she couldn’t afford to be heard behind the wall.

“– you see why I thought I should bring this to your attention personally,” Drury was saying as he and King Reaghann walked into the King’s study together.

“Yes, I can see your thinking behind this – it sounds like a possibility worth exploring,” commented the King neutrally as he sat down in his study chair.

Drury, not to be dissuaded, also sat down, for Tyndie heard the leather cushion of the chair across from the King’s desk swoosh with Drury’s weight.

Tyndie dared to peep through. Drury had crossed his legs comfortably and laced his hands, as if this study was his and he was entertaining the King, not the other way around. Tyndie fumed.

Not to be intimidated, the King asked, “And the river project? What is your view on the river project? Do you have papers drawn up on that yet? I recall you mentioned once that you were looking into that with an …interested partner…?” King Reaghann sounded innocent but Tyndie suddenly recognized it as a version of Drury. A political strategy, delivered flawlessly. She smiled behind her hand.

But Drury suddenly sat forward. “Forgive me, Your Majesty –” and he sniffed the air.

Tyndie’s eyes widened in the dark and she immediately moved from the spy hole and slid down on the ground.

She heard the King’s chair squeak – he must have sat forward a bit, she thought. “Lord Drury…? Are you well?”

“Do you smell… that… in the air? Soap, perhaps, of some sort?”

The King cleared his throat and told him, “I believe the rugs were laundered just last week. Otherwise, I smell nothing.”

The King’s words were civil but Tyndie detected a slight note that said he thought Drury a bit mad.

“No, no. It’s gone. You’re right, of course. The rugs. And I do have paperwork on the river. I’ll have it brought to you. Tomorrow, perhaps?”

“That would be fine, Lord Drury,” King Reaghann returned smoothly.

“Right then, a good afternoon to you,” Drury told the King.

Tyndie heard the doors to the King’s study shut. She did not dare to stand up.

She heard the King shove a number of parchments into his desk drawer and stand up. As he was walking away, Tyndie heard him the King mutter, “Pompous bastard.”

In the shadows, Tyndie snickered silently.

An enormous risk, these balconies, thought Tyndie, though they had proven a successful gamble in the end. And what a new idea – she had been lurking through the tunnels… perhaps now she could follow the balconies about….

She immediately dismissed the idea, for in the tunnels no one, or probably no one, would ever see her. On a balcony, she could be seen at any time, and get locked out, worse.

Which gave her the idea to unlock all the balcony locks, even if they stayed closed. That way, she could push them open and hop in if need be. But as to being seen by someone, that was the main risk, especially if they stepped out onto the balcony themselves.

All the same, today had been a success, Tyndie mused. After Drury had left King Reaghann’s, Tyndie had scrambled to step out to the upper level corridor where the Lords’ and Ladies’ Quarters were. She wasn’t sure if he had passed yet or not, but all there were outside the corridor were stained glass windows and curtained balconies. And then she had gotten her idea.

Tyndie had glanced both ways down the stone corridor and then stepped outside on the iron balcony. The fresh breeze would cover the scent of her bloody soap. How was she supposed to bathe that the man would not smell her, what was he, an animal that he could distinguish people’s scents? Did he know all people’s scents, or was it just hers, she wondered with disgust.

For a while, Tyndie grasped the wrought iron railing and stared out. She had never been this high up, not outside at least. She wondered how many lovers had stood out here, grasped in passionate embraces, hidden from view. An ivy vine caressed her cheek in the breeze. From here, Tyndie could see all of the east side of HarCourt Castle, its moat, the forest and hunting grounds beyond it.

Just as Tyndie was hiding between the walls of the balconies, reveling in the sunlight and fresh air, wondering how long it had been since she had seen sunlight, Tyndie heard boot heels sound inside on the stone corridor.

She dared not move, for it could be anyone. And if Drury stopped and smelled the bloody air just one more time, Tyndie wasn’t sure what she would do. She could not abide the man.

But she was in luck, for the wind rustled the curtains next to her ever so slightly, and the boot heels continued at a normal pace.

Just before they disappeared altogether, Tyndie peered around the curtains.

Excellent. It was Drury. She dared to step out into the corridor, where she tiptoed after him, hugging the wall.

At this point, Tyndie knew she given all caution up, for if Drury turned suddenly and saw her, it would be a run for the next tunnel, and he might easily catch her before then.

A pair of lords passed just then, laughing, and Tyndie stepped away from the wall. She curtsied, but said nothing. They never saw her, and she gulped.

She thought Drury had slowed down up ahead, where the end of the corridor ended, so she immediately stepped behind the curtains of another balcony, though it was closed. Praying that he would not see the tips of her shoes poking out from beneath the embroidered curtain, Tyndie heard the hinges of the door open, then shut.

Tyndie smiled with satisfaction behind the dusty curtains. She knew now where Drury’s quarters were.

Drury had taken all afternoon to leave, and Tyndie’s legs were exhausted from standing still. Just as she worried that he wouldn’t leave at all, possibly barricaded himself in for the evening, the man stepped out.

Tyndie took care to hold her breath as he passed. She watched after him as he passed. He had bathed and donned new clothes for the evening. Perhaps he would guest with another lord for dinner, she hoped.

And now was her chance….

Tyndie, her heart in her throat, stepped out of the curtains and up to Drury’s door. Well, she thought, as her hand touched his brass doorknob, there was no turning back now….

She pushed the door open and closed it quietly, barely breathing.

Drury’s chambers were just like him – richly adorned, carpeted…. Gilded artwork hung from the stone walls, and embroidered curtains framed his windows. A low fire popped occasionally.

Wouldn’t it be nice to throw fresh manure all over the entire room – so he could hold his snobby hand up and sniff the air…. Is that… shit… I smell? Tyndie reveled in her personal daydream with a nasty smile.

She sighed and walked about the chambers until she found Drury’s desk. Good. She sat down in his chair, feeling a bit like Drury must have when he’d sat in King Reaghann’s chair. Tyndie felt dwarfed in it.

Then she sat back in it and crossed her legs up on his desk, enjoying the naughtiness she felt. Tyndie hadn’t grinned this way for months.

Tyndie stuck her chin up in the air and waved her arm condescendingly around the way Drury did while he had sat at King Reaghann’s desk. “Everyone is a lower life form… than me,” Tyndie declared aloud in imitation of Drury.

Then the chair fell over, spilling Tyndie onto the carpeted floor.

Blinking in embarrassment, Tyndie stood up and righted the chair. Tyndie girl, what are ya doin’? She could just hear her Auntie scolding her. Well, Auntie, it’s a long, long story….

Tyndie brushed her dress clean and faced Drury’s desk. Her eyes narrowed. The holder of secrets. She’d best get to work soon, or the asshole would return….

In the bottom drawer on the left, she found love letters. Love letters! Psssh. Who could love this bastard? And one of them from a lord! Tyndie wondered nastily if Drury had killed them too, or if he just read them sometimes when he needed a good laugh.

In another drawer was a number of parchments from other lords outlining policy concepts, nothing of interest. She slammed it shut.

The top left drawer held tariffs and taxes, accounting and such. Tyndie rarely did her numbers and didn’t see that they looked useful, so she rolled that drawer closed as well. She found nothing of special interest in the bottom right had drawers, either. The right top drawer, however, Tyndie found a number of parchments, all from lords, and not all of them Councilors. On the top lay an old parchment titled at the top, “RiverWorks”.

Tyndie gave serious thought to stealing it, but then not only would some innocent manservant come to a terrible end, but anything she might be able to use of Drury’s would suddenly be locked up tight… elsewhere.

And she needed a key.

Tyndie glared at the top drawer. It had better hold the key to the Prince’s dungeon cell, or….

She tugged and found it difficult to open. Edging it from side to side revealed only that inside lay only pigeon parchment, extra quills, and ink. Damn!

Tyndie tried to push the drawer closed, but it was stubborn. She reached under the desk to pull the drawer closed from below, but…

Her fingers found a sliding door. In the drawer!

Immediately, Tyndie fell to her knees and twisted around for a look. Carefully, she pushed the compartment aside. And was rewarded with not just one, but two keys.

She grinned. Tyndie held them up, staring at each of them. Enormous, of sturdy iron, Tyndie guessed this key unlocked the Prince of Shaw’s cell.

But what of this key? Smaller, brass, yet still sturdy…. This desk did not lock. Tyndie considered. Perhaps the King’s desk in his Study locked? But no, if it did, the King left it unlocked.

Perhaps the King had something in his chambers that he locked…. Tyndie frowned at the key. To take it or no? Finally, she decided she wouldn’t have another chance to sneak into Drury’s chambers – in fact, she never wanted to be in here again, much less chance the risk… so she pocketed them both, one in each apron pocket, so they wouldn’t clink against each other as she walked.

She slid the compartment door shut and then pushed Drury’s stubborn desk drawer shut. Ha. Now, she held a little power over him, her and her soapy scent.

But what of all those lords.... He wasn’t back yet. And she could write, if not in calligraphy.

Tyndie now knew the names of all the Council Members… but here, in front of her, she had access to all the lords who Drury associated with…. Was that not a key in itself?

Her eyes narrowed again as she smiled. She pulled out a piece of parchment and then, flipping through each lord in Drury’s top drawer, jotted down every name. Tyndie blew on the parchment, especially where she’d blotted it with ink – it wasn’t as if she’d practiced her calligraphy with the ladies in the boweries – and then she rolled it up.

Tyndie brushed the desk clean. If she knew how to do anything, it was how to clean up, so she cleaned up all traces of her sitting at his pretentious desk. Much as she wanted to leave a piece of launderer’s soap in each drawer, especially his little hideaway drawer, it couldn’t appear that she had been present in any way.

Bloody hell! Boot heels! Down the bloody corridor! How was she supposed to get out?

Tyndie for sure did not want to spend all night under the bastard’s bed! And he for sure would smell her long before the night was over….

The balcony! He had a balcony! Thank all the gods before, now, and to be, her mum used to say….

Tyndie stirred the fire, so it would smell more of wood and fire than soap, smoothed her footprints from carpet with her shoes, and slipped out onto his balcony just as Drury opened his door.

Tyndie scampered down the balconies and jumped out before her hidden tunnel door.

Once in the darkness again, she fell to the floor with an enormous sigh of relief.

After Tyndie’s heart started beating again, she slipped out both keys from her apron, and held them up before her. Then she pulled out the parchment of lords’ names that she’d scribbled. Staring from hand to hand, a sly smiled passed over Tyndie’s face.

She was going to bring him down….

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