Ugh. The mud down here. Tyndie smirked… to lock Drury down here…. He’d go apoplectic in ten seconds. But the idea of forcing him into a cell? That certainly had its charm… hmmm.
Finally. She held up her tallow candle and peered into the Prince’s cell.
He held up an arm and blinked beneath it. Of course – the candle light was too bright. Tyndie lowered her candle right away. She took a deep breath. Well, at least he was still alive.
“I was starting to think you a day dream.”
Tyndie scoffed and then immediately regretted it. For look at this man’s miserable life – forlorn and desolate, never seeing the light, near starved….
“No, my lord, not a day dream.” Tyndie glanced down the corridor. Had she heard something? “He’s not coming, is he?” she whispered.
The Prince lifted his eyebrows. “No. I know the sound of his boots. I know the sound of everything in here, actually, now,” he mused aloud. “But no, he’s not coming. Still, keep your voice down,” he told her in a low voice.
Tyndie stared at him. He’d not even come to the front of the cell, he’d continued to sit against the dark, rocky corner, utterly hopeless.
She lay her tallow candle upon the black rock ground. Tyndie removed two baguettes of bread that she’d stuffed in her apron pockets.
As she was doing so, the Prince commented dryly, “Are they sending kitchen maids to feed the down and out now, are they?”
Tyndie glared at him. Still a stuck-up royal underneath all that dirt and dinge, she saw. “No, just the animals in the cages,” she snapped, and threw both of them at his head.
He dodged them both with his arms and then picked them up from his lap.
Clearing his throat, he said quietly, “I apologize. That was unseemly of me. Thank you.”
Unseemly. Silly word, only royals used such words, royals and nobles. Why don’t they just say stupid and have done with it, Tyndie wondered. People would get along much better if they all used the same language.
Tyndie saw he was breathing in the smell of the bread appreciatively. He said suddenly, “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but these are hard to hide in here….”
“Well, give them back and I’ll be off with them.” Tyndie outstretched her hand. Would you believe that!
“No – no, not at all,” he said defensively, cradling the bread to his chest. “It’s just – they’re hard to hide is all.”
Suddenly, the Prince raised a palm at her, listening. “He’s coming. Go! Go! He’ll be gone in a bit, but leave now, before he knows you’ve been here!”
Tyndie needed no further persuasion. She grabbed her candle and ran down the corridor and slipped into her tunnel. But she kept the door open just a tiny bit and blew her candle out.
Joshik soon tramped down the muddy passage, his considerable weight causing him to wheeze. Tyndie heard the prison keys clinking against each other on his key ring as he made his way toward the Prince’s cell.
“Hungry yet?” Joshik snorted as the sound of an aluminum pan land upon the rocky floor. “Yeah? Well, ’ere ya go. Maybe ya’ll be able to reach it if you lean out far enough. Or maybe ya won’t.” Joshik sniggered.
Then he raised his lantern. “Ay. Wot’s that in there? Behind ya?”
Tyndie froze. Oh no – what had she done!
She could just barely hear the Prince. “This? It’s a dead rat.” Tyndie knew he was hiding the bread, for it was the same size and shape as a rat.
Joshik chortled, then laughed. “Well, then. Seein’ as how you got yaself a right good feast in there, ya’ll not be needin’ this anytime soon, will ya?” He laughed some more and Tyndie heard the aluminum pan scraping across the stone floor.
Then Tyndie heard the sound of water running against the wall. But she nearly gagged after that, for Joshik was relieving himself against the wall.
“Can I have some water, please?” called the Prince.
Joshik snorted. “The only water you’s gonna get is suckin’ off my cock,” Joshik called back as he clambered back down the hallway.
Tyndie sat there in the darkness, her stomach turned. Easily the most disgusting person she’d ever witnessed. And the Prince had lived down here every day with that man for months….
Finally convinced that there was no one else in the dungeon corridor again, Tyndie lit her candle.
Careful to avoid Joshik’s addition to the mud upon the dungeon floor, she tiptoed back to the Prince’s cell.
“Charming man,” she commented.
The Prince scoffed and returned dryly, “You’ve no idea.”
Tyndie held her candle over the pan Joshik had left behind. “What is this supposed to be?” She knew it was supposed to be food, but whatever it was, she didn’t recognize it.
Inside his cell, the Prince held out his hands. “I don’t know, and I don’t ask.”
She started to toe it over.
“No,” he whispered, “I’ve got the bread. I’ll be fine.”
“Right then.” Then Tyndie smiled. “I’ve got something for you. And us.” She pulled the key out of her pocket, and with the candle, held it up so that the Prince could see it.
In the candlelight, the Prince’s eyes fixed upon the key. He still did not move, but Tyndie thought that perhaps a gleam of hope sparked in him for just a moment.
Then he looked up at her. “And where did you get that?”
Tyndie glanced back down the corridor, worried.
“Don’t worry, he’s fed me, he won’t be back for another two days,” said the Prince.
Tyndie’s eyes widened. In shock, she started to comment in anger, but the Prince cut her off. He split the air with a hand and shook his head.
Still horrified, Tyndie closed her mouth and stared at the man who was born a Prince for a moment. There he sat, cowering in filth and mud in the back of a dungeon cell reserved only for traitors, starved and beyond despondent….
Tyndie took a deep breath, resolving to rescue the man just for humanity’s sake if not to piss off Drury, for he was entirely innocent.
“In the desk drawer of the man who is responsible for putting you here. And putting me, of course, in these tunnels….”
The Prince’s eyebrows rose. “And how did you manage that?”
Tyndie couldn’t resist a small smile. “Snuck in. But we don’t have time to discuss it, for he might notice that it’s gone, and if he notices it’s gone, he’ll come down here and check on you. Either way, he’ll get a new key made and I might not find that one. He’ll know there’s a thief about.
“So we’re leaving tomorrow morning, first light,” Tyndie finished, breathless.
The Prince stared at her. He scratched at his beard then, and an odd look came over his face.
“And you have a plan for this?”
“Well, there’s the moat…” Tyndie trailed off. “But I’m not a good swimmer.”
For the first time, a glimmer of interest shone upon the Prince’s face. “The moat is not a good idea. HarCourt Castle hasn’t been invaded for hundreds of years for a number of reasons, but one of them is that it’s heavily fortified, as I recall my history.”
“What’s ‘fortified?’” Tyndie asked.
“Without going into unnecessary detail, the moat specifically is designed to deter invasion. Beneath the water are sharpened spikes, both upward and on both banks. I’d really hate to escape the dungeon merely to impale myself on a spike in the moat. Or, I might add, be shot by an arrow from a soldier atop the baileys.” The Prince bestowed upon Tyndie a kindly expression.
“It wasn’t my first choice anyway. Too many eyes.”
“Take horses from the stables?” suggested the Prince hopefully.
“And we both be caught as horse thieves? That will land you right back here, and me in here with you. I think not.”
The Prince conceded to this and sighed.
“I actually do have a plan, but…. You will need to wash up, and….” Tyndie wasn’t sure how to suggest to a Prince that he needed to shave and change from his rags…. She would not be surprised if he had lice….
He stared at her. “Wash up? Down here, in the dungeon baths, you mean?”
“No, I know of a place for you to bathe. Though of course it will be risky….”
The Prince continued to stare at her in disbelief. “Riskier than escaping, that is?
Tyndie held up the key with narrowed eyes. “You realize I could have left weeks ago.”
He stared at the key again and held up his hands in compliance.
“You, he only wants to keep as his little dungeon pet. Me, he means to kill. So stuff the bow-to-Your-Highness routine because it’s a cup girl that’s gettin’ you out of here. Your Highness.”
The Prince cleared his throat and said nothing, the haughty expression gone now.
Tyndie continued outlining her plan then. “Now, the only reason we’re not leaving tonight is – well, I’ve got some last-minute things I’ve got to finish. And the gate’s always put down at night, so we can’t leave at night anyway.”
In a respectful tone, the Prince said, “That sounds right; most castles lower their gates as soon as it’s dark and pull them up again at first light.
“But first….” And the Prince trailed off and looked up to the key, not wanting to say more.
“I was coming to that. We have to make sure this actually fits.”
Tyndie took a deep breath and held the key before the cell’s keyhole. Then she looked cautiously at the Prince. “You know you can’t get out right now, don’t you. I mean, we have to do this in steps.”
“I do. You’re the one who knows where I’ll be going, remember. Without you, I’m still stuck down here, in or out of a cell,” he responded quietly.
“Right.” Tyndie took in a deep breath. Please be the right key, please be the right key…. She inserted the iron key into the key hole. It fit, but would it turn….
And with a clank, the key unlocked the door….
Tyndie’s heart soared. Her mouth dropped open and she looked in at the Prince. He was sitting up straight, his eyes wide. He finally believed this might happen, Tyndie thought.
But she knew she had to lock the door again, and so she twisted the key back.
She was smiling, she couldn’t help it. Take that, Drury! She hoped desperately that he hadn’t yet discovered that the key was missing.
But then she heard boots on pavement again.
“Go! Go!” the Prince waved her away desperately.
Tyndie grabbed her tallow candle and ran down the corridor again.
“Thought I heard somethin’ in here,” announced Joshik once he stood before the Prince’s cell.
“Just trying to get the food.” The Prince threw what sounded like a rock against the wall, which landed in the pan of food.
Joshik gave a suspicious grunt, then snorted. He wandered back down the hall, muttering, “Lost ’is wits, he ’as.”
Tyndie waited for a few minutes before she returned.
“I thought you might not return.”
“He may be a problem,” Tyndie mused.
“Joshik – his brain may only be a toadstool, but it does work upon occasion,” said the Prince. Then he said, “He probably won’t be back at all tomorrow, that’s his routine.”
“What a foul man,” Tyndie whispered, wrinkling her nose.
“Ha,” the Prince returned in something close to amusement. “You don’t know the half of it. He’s been known to nap down here. And he snores abominably.” He looked up at the ceiling, shaking his head. “When first I was imprisoned, I went a bit mad. I did anything at all to occupy myself. One of the things I did, I counted things. Drops of water, bits of food, cracks in the walls. Well, the first nap Joshik took down here, I counted how many snores he made. When he woke, I told him that he’d snored 193 times.
“And then he lashed me, 193 times.”
Tyndie’s mouth dropped open in horror.
The Prince shrugged. “Now, when he naps down here, I count, but I never tell him. Usually, it’s between 230-250 times. Unless he’s been drinking, then it’s closer to 500.”
Tyndie stared at the man. She would never have survived down here. Bugs, and mud, and rats, and… and….
She shook herself. “I have this mostly worked out. Before I return, I’ll have it completely sorted. I know everything about where we’re going, and who will be where, and when. I’m the one who’s getting you out of here. You’re going to have to trust me, and do what I tell you to do, as I tell you. That means doing what the cup girl tells you. Can you do that?”
He nodded solemnly.
“Good. Then I’ll be back for you tomorrow morning.”