She’d barely slept. How was she supposed to sleep anyway? Every single noise startled her from her skin. Now, not just the possibility of just anyone coming down these tunnels was conceivable, but Drury, and even King Reaghann, though she’d far and away it be King Reaghann she stumbled into down here than anyone else.
And how, exactly, would that conversation go? Ha. “Are you Lady Green Eyes?” He would only have to hold up a lantern to decide that.
She’d thought it cute, actually, for no one had ever remarked upon her appearance, except to make sure the wrong eyes didn’t see her. Was King Reaghann the wrong eyes or the right eyes?
Tyndie had deliberated over whether to leave written instructions in his desk about what she knew, but had decided it was too much of a risk, for anyone might sit at his desk, Drury, for example, and rifle through his paperwork. So she had decided to speak to him directly and had been relieved to find him in his study.
Tyndie wondered if Drury had missed his two keys yet. With luck, he wouldn’t miss them until she and the Prince – Rilstrom, now that she knew his name – were gone. What a terrible shame, his wife with child, he’d lost not just his wife but a child as well. Tyndie just hoped he could follow her directions and not decide he knew better than she did when it came time to leave.
She had snuck up to the pigeon loft as soon as twilight had fallen. She’d never written so small before and had to burn two pages of pigeon parchment before she finally got it right –
“His Highness, Prince Rilstrom of Shaw, thought dead, has, unknown to all, been kept in a dungeon traitor cell. On a state visit, Lord Drury had him kidnapped, and has kept him imprisoned unknown to King Reaghann. I have set him free but you must find him before Lord Drury does. King Reaghann never knew of the visit. He will be told after this is sent. – Anonymous”
Tyndie wrote it out twice, to be sure it would arrive. She looked for the Shaw birds, but when she found the Shaw cages, both labels read, “Shaw.” – with a small dot after them. She stood there, wondering what that meant, and then looked behind the cages at the birds. Their labels read, “SHAW” and there was no dot after them. Tyndie glanced at all the other cages and saw that most of them looked the same, with labels written in capital letters.
Tyndie decided then that, given what she knew about Drury, those birds in front never went to Shaw at all, but flew to someone Drury knew, so that he was aware of all correspondence between Hardewold and Shaw. How obvious. Maybe it took a servant with an eye for detail who was used to cleaning to pick up on that. Tyndie scoffed.
She pulled the birds in the back cages out one by one and wrapped her parchments about their legs, though while she sealed the second with the general Hardewold seal, the pigeon pecked her and now she had a scab on the back of her hand. Miserable bird. But they flew off nonetheless.
So she had sent birds to Shaw, ousting Drury and telling them that the Prince lived. She’d told King Reaghann about Drury and all he’d done.
Now all that remained was to rescue the Prince.
Tyndie heaved a great sigh and banged the back of her head against the tunnel wall. She stared up into the darkness, where somewhere, the tunnel ceiling loomed.
If all went well, in a few hours, she’d never see these tunnels again….
The fourth bell tolled distantly. Well. This was it, then. Tyndie sucked in a deep breath. She slung the bundle that she’d been staring at for the last three hours over her shoulder and followed the flickering of her tallow candle into the dungeon tunnel.
If a year ago, back when she was chopping and peeling vegetables, scrubbing them clean, a year ago over in the kitchens, with Eliza and Killey and Rosie… if someone had told her that she’d be living in the dirt down in some hidden tunnels below the castles that no one knew about, that an assassin wanted to kill her, that she’d be sneaking into the King’s desk and talking to the King through the wall, watching Council Meetings, and helping a Prince from another country sneak out of the dungeon – Tyndie would have laughed herself silly, ’til she cried, in fact.
Yet here she was. She’d lived almost a month in the darkness now, at least as best she’d figured. Not the same as the Prince, for she’d had her candles, the wall sconces, torch lights, bathwater, food from the kitchens…. And freedom, most of all. Tyndie could have left at any time.
She hopped over a puddle and stood to the other side of the tunnel as a rat scurried past. Rats no longer bothered her. Tyndie wanted nothing to do with them, to be sure, but she didn’t yelp if one passed by, as she did during her first week. And she knew where spiderwebs were likely to be now. These were her tunnels, after all.
Tyndie wondered what King Reaghann was going to do with the information she had given him last night. Or King Rickstan. She hoped at least one of them believed her, for someone had to stop Drury before he killed anyone else. When the Prince arrived home, that should in itself be proof enough of Drury’s crime, but it would be a long trip.
She pushed the tunnel door of the dungeon open and peered about for Joshik. Good. No guards. Tyndie crept toward the Prince’s cell and held her candle up high.
“So soon? It’s not first light,” he questioned her as he scrambled to stand up while he shielded his eyes from the candle glow.
“What did I tell you about following my directions?” she whispered as she held the iron key up with emphasis.
Prince Rilstrom held his palms up and shook his head from side to side, making a clear show of silence.
“Good,” and Tyndie took an enormous breath. If all the acts she’d been committing up until now weren’t treasonous, this certainly was, and she would hang for it, if she was lucky. That is, if she was caught. She could live in her tunnels for another month and never be found.
Tyndie inserted the key, let it clank open….
And tugged the grimy cell door open.
Its rusty hinges creaked abominably and echoed down the passage as it swung open, prickling every hair on Tyndie’s scalp. But she looked up at the Prince.
His eyes were wide and his mouth had dropped open, but he looked scared.
“Your Highness,” and Tyndie curtsied. She outstretched an arm toward the corridor.
Prince Rilstrom then stepped out of the cell. He turned to look back at it.
“Oh, bloody hell, we haven’t got all day,” said Tyndie and she took hold of the cell door and swung it shut. “Let Joshik explain that. Now let’s go, hurry up,” and she spun around and stole down the passage again.
She glanced over her shoulder. “Or you can stay if you like….”
The Prince shook himself then and rushed up to join her.
Tyndie held her tunnel door open for him long enough to step in, then stepped in herself. On a whim, Tyndie slipped a piece of chalk from her apron pocket and, up near the top, close to the door, she drew two “x”’s. Then she slashed them both out and smiled with satisfaction.
Prince Rilstrom had watched this with curiosity. “What was that for?”
Tyndie turned her gaze to him, still smiling. “Well… it’s a long, long story. Now,” and she held her candle up. “Let’s go.”
“Where are we, exactly?” asked the Prince.
Tyndie knew he was frightened, for he was exposed and could be caught at any moment. He hadn’t been nervous in her tunnels, even once they’d run down a few castle corridors and into another tunnel.
But now Tyndie was pointing at a tub of water in the launderer’s room. She wanted to tell him to relax, for if he had to run, she could get him to one her nearest tunnels, and they could disappear before anyone knew where they went. Six months of living in the dungeon in a tiny cell had twisted his mind, as it would anyone, though, so Tyndie was patient.
“It doesn’t matter where we are. This is where you’re going. And hurry up about it. Go on, get in. And wash your hair first, that’s what people will see when they look at you.”
He looked down at his rag then and up at her.
“Oh, of course –” and Tyndie turned about. She hadn’t actually thought of him as a person until now, she realized, how sad. Of course they were to still observe manners, humility. Tyndie girl, were ya gonna stare at a Prince in his privates? came Auntie’s voice in her head.
“Oh hells, it’s cold!” breathed the Prince behind her. Bath water sloshed over the sides of the tub.
Tyndie couldn’t suppress a small smile.
“Ahem,” and she stepped backward, holding a bar of launderer’s soap out. “Remember, your hair….”
“Right, right then….” And more water sloshed over the side of the tub. Tyndie hopped forward to miss being splashed.
“Gods –” and the Prince’s teeth were chattering. But she smelled soap in the air suddenly, so she knew he was scrubbing.
Just as Tyndie was about to tell him to step out of the bath, she heard the Prince stand up and water run down into the tub.
He cleared his throat quietly. “Have – have you a towel?”
Tyndie’s eyes grew wide. She turned her head a little over her shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Your Highness, but we’re not in the castle baths, we’re in the launderer’s.” Oh. She hadn’t meant for that to come out as sharply as it had.
She was going to have to keep a tight lock on her tongue from now on – she was going to be traveling with a Royal.
Tyndie hastened toward some of the white linen sheets hanging up to dry overnight. “Sheet?” she offered in an obliging tone.
The water was still running off of the Prince into the tub. “Ah. No. If it’s found missing, or – worse, it will set off an alarm.”
Well, that was true, thought Tyndie. She covered her eyes with her hand and made her way back toward the tub.
Two dripping wet feet hit the stone and then the Prince asked, “What, then, will I be wearing, if I may ask?”
Well, she couldn’t make it over to her bundle blinded as she was, could she?
How could this get anymore awkward? “Could you… please?” And Tyndie twirled her finger about in the air for the Prince so he would turn himself about.
“Oh, yes, right. Of course.” She heard wet feet slapping about on the stone. Good. She should be safe then. Tyndie slid across the floor with her hand held up against the side of her face to shield her.
Oh, gods. She’d seen a Prince’s ass. Of all the things in the Land. Tyndie rolled her eyes. She would be so glad when they finally got out of here. With her eyes screwed tightly shut, Tyndie fumbled about in her bundle and pulled out the neatly folded uniform she’d snagged from the barracks. Some poor soldier woke up yesterday morning without a stitch to wear, but compared to a Prince who needed to escape from a dungeon, Tyndie rather felt one need outweighed the other.
“Here. Do – do please – hurry.” Blindly, she held out the uniform to the Prince behind her.
She heard him pull the wool uniform on and placed the boots in back of her as well.
“Is it safe to turn about yet?” Tyndie inquired. “We really must go, the fifth bell will toll any second.”
As she spoke, the fifth bell tolled.
“Yes, I am fully dressed. The boots –”
“I hope they’re the right size, I wasn’t sure,” Tyndie said as she turned around.
“They are close enough. Tight, but I can slit them open on the insides.”
The first thing Tyndie saw was the water. It was black. Entirely black. There was no seeing through to the bottom of the tub.
Then she looked up at the Prince. A soldier stood before her. With flesh, not mud, for a face and hands. And his hair, it was actually lighter than her own. Tyndie blinked.
The last toll of the bell stopped, jarring Tyndie.
“What of this?” Prince Rilstrom gestured self-consciously at the tub of filthy water. He held up his prison rag as well.
Tyndie shook her head. “Just leave it behind. And throw the rag into the water. Let them make of it what they will. The last thing they’ll think of is an escaped prisoner. Now let’s go.”
Once they were back in her tunnels, she led the Prince to where she spent most of her time camping out.
“You’ve been living here.” The Prince stared about, noting her lanterns, candles, the blanket and pillow she’d filched. Tyndie had learned the best times and places to thieve what she needed. And while she knew that thieving was wrong, and that if caught, she could be jailed at best, lose a hand or even executed at worst, Tyndie felt that her tunnel life had been imposed upon her by no choice of her own, and so if she stole a little to survive, then so be it.
Tyndie did not reply but instead held up a pair of shears. “For your hair. And that beard.”
“You don’t happen to have a – looking glass, have you?” asked the Prince.
Tyndie closed her eyes. Patience, she thought, he is a Royal. “Do you see one down here?”
Humbled, the Prince replied, “Right, of course.” And he held up the shears to his beard.
Then she produced the dress from her bundle. “Turn about while you’re doing that.”
“If you please, Your Royal Highness, it’s my turn to change clothing.” There went her sharp tongue again.
Without a word, he turned around. Tyndie heard the snip-snips of his beard and hair falling from the shears.
It was strange, having another person here in her shelter. She felt extremely self-conscious as she dropped her maid dress to the floor. Tyndie couldn’t remember wearing anything other than a castle dress, even as a child at her mum’s side. Her mum had spun a tiny version of a castle maid dress for Tyndie.
And this felt so – strange. The gown slid all the way down to Tyndie’s ankles. She was sure it was satin, for it glistened in the torchlight. There was nothing for her shoes but hope no one noticed them, for shoes were just not sitting about for thieving as often as dresses were. Those she had seen hadn’t been in her size.
Tyndie let her hair down from its servant bun. Odd, her hair about her shoulders like this. She brushed it and twisted some of it into a small braid, as was a common hairstyle for ladies of nobility. Tyndie was glad there was no looking glass down here, for she would never recognize her reflection.
Tyndie turned about to check on the Prince’s progress. Whole tufts of long hair lay about on her tunnel floor and on his uniformed back. Her first impulse was to reach out and brush his back clean, but she halted at the last second. The man hadn’t been around other people for six months, and he had shears in his hand… who knew what his reaction might be…. Slowly, Tyndie withdrew her hand and made a note to herself that she would have to be very careful with him in the future.
“If you please, Your Highness?” Tyndie asked quietly. He was taking far too long, and they needed to slip out unseen, before too many people saw them.
He turned about on the stone floor with raised eyebrows. Just as she thought, he was making a mess of it. Tyndie sighed with impatience.
The Prince licked his lips and then handed the shears to Tyndie. “All due respect, sir, you have to look as a soldier would.”
She chopped the other side of his hair and cropped it around his ears, hoping it was about the same height on both sides. She kept it even across the back of his neck and thinned his hair the best she could. Who would have thought peeling and chopping vegetables would come in such handy, she mused, enough to help her trim a prince’s hair. She kept her humor to herself. What a long, long story would this be… she wondered if she’d ever get to tell it someone someday… ha, her, cutting a Prince’s hair down in a secret tunnel of a castle….
“All right, your – your… beard.” Tyndie stumbled over this, for this was the closest she had ever been to a man before. Color stained her cheeks.
He had trimmed nearly all of it, anyway, but some of it was left. And they had to move on, already.
“I think I can take care of that,” the Prince said quietly and held out his hand for the shears.
Gratefully, Tyndie swallowed and handed him the shears.
“We do have to hurry on, though. If it please you, Your Highness.”
Tyndie rolled her maid’s dress into her bundle and stuffed the blanket in as well – she was sure she’d need it, wherever she went.
The Prince held the shears to her and turned about.
Wow. He looked – normal now. Though quite thin, his cheeks were clearly sunken. She hoped no one would consider that too out of the ordinary.
Tyndie had stolen several regular loaves of bread from the kitchen the other night as well as last night, and had given it a fond, last look around. The Prince would need to eat – a lot – before he passed muster by passing folk.
He studied her. “You look – quite different,” he remarked. “No longer a maid?”
“Maids rarely ever leave the castle. People would notice if they saw me leaving in a maid’s dress. You – you’ll be escorting me from the castle.”
The Prince looked down at his uniform. “Wherever did you get this?”
“I stole it, from the barracks,” Tyndie returned, masking her impatience. She wanted to get out of this castle before anyone noticed that anything was amiss. And if they were lucky, out of the city. And then she would be able to breathe….
“The barracks! You, in the barracks?”
“Well, there’s a tunnel there. And it was at night, and they were asleep. It was lying over the edge of his bed. I don’t know what rank it is….”
The Prince glanced at his arm and then nodded appreciatively. “Sergeant.”
“Well, Sergeant Rilstrom, you’re escorting me from the castle. I’m a lady-in-waiting who’s been dismissed but won’t leave and is causing trouble. You’re taking me to my family in the city.”
The Prince nodded as he thought this through. “You’ve got it all figured out, haven’t you?”
“Have to. Now keep your head down and don’t meet anyone’s eyes. If soldiers pass by, turn to me and act like you’re yelling at me, so we don’t run the risk of you being recognized as a Prince. Or worse, not being recognized as a Sergeant.” Tyndie held up a hand before him. “May I?”
The Prince had shrunken from it but steadied himself. “Yes, yes, of course.”
Tyndie brushed his uniform free of clipped hair. “There. Now.” She picked up her bundle. “Shall we?”
The Crown Prince of Shaw looked at Tyndie for a moment, took in a deep breath, then tugged his uniform down. “Lead the way.”
“Let up,” said Tyndie from between clenched teeth. “You’re bruising my arm.”
The Prince was squeezing her arm as if it were a raft and he couldn’t swim. “Sorry,” he muttered.
Walking straight and stiff, the Prince advanced proudly, but Tyndie knew he was at least as petrified as she was. He wore his headdress down lower so that the sun shaded his face more.
The Prince’s eyes had watered the second they’d stepped outside, and he’d stopped. She had hissed at him, “Let’s go!” but he’d refused to move, for he was breathing in the fresh air. Tyndie watched him inhale several breaths as a thirsty man might water and decided they could spare a minute or two. He hadn’t smelled fresh air for months, after all, nor felt the sun on his face.
Then he moved forward toward the Castle Gate with her. No one looked at them askance at all, for, Tyndie thought, just like a servant, no one looked twice at soldiers.
Just as they were almost at the end of the drawbridge, another Sergeant stopped in their way. “Stop!”
Tyndie’s insides froze.
“Sir!” The Prince stood rigidly to attention.
The Crown Guard before them asked nothing of Tyndie whom the Prince had by the arm. Instead, he reached out and pointedly brushed dirt off of the Prince’s shoulder.
“Watch you take better care of your uniform, Sergeant.”
“On your way,” and the Crown Guard strode past them toward the Castle.
The Prince said nothing but continued to haul Tyndie forward until they stepped off of the HarCourt drawbridge. From clenched teeth, he said, “I damn near pissed myself back there.”
“Me too!” she whispered.
“I don’t feel right, you know, having stolen all this,” the Prince told Tyndie as he leaned against a tree, staring into the fire. They were both spread out, waiting to fall asleep in the chill of the night air.
“Well, Your Highness, don’t think of it as stealing. Think of it more as… privately commissioned.”
The Prince snorted. “That isn’t much better.”
They’d stolen a horse, another change of clothing for the Prince, a commoner’s dress for Tyndie, two more loaves of bread, some coppers from a cheese vendor who was far and away over pricing his wares, several bunches of grapes, and two cloaks. Tyndie had also stolen a boot knife from a pair of boots sitting next to the side door of someone’s home, but she hadn’t told the Prince that. She was going to need protection, after all.
Once they’d broken free of the city, they had both relaxed enormously. For the chances of being found once outside the city decreased dramatically – after all, no one would have recognized them, nor knew when they left, nor in which direction. And as for Tyndie, well, she would see to it that Drury never found her again.
The horse – a fair enough little mare, though an old one, the Prince had said - had borne them several miles west of HarCourt, though Tyndie knew it would take many, many more miles, possibly a week, before the mare arrived at Roardstone, the Capital Palace of Shaw, from where the Prince had left to start with.
As for Tyndie herself, she’d changed into her commoner’s calico dress, seeing as how no noblewoman would ever be seen unaccompanied by any Lords with only a Guard, and walking the countryside at that.
Tyndie still felt odd in any dress other than her maid’s dress, but now that she was free, she knew it wouldn’t matter anymore what she wore.
Tyndie sighed and started dividing up the bread. He would need far more than she would, for he needed to put weight on, so she gave him a larger portion.
He sat up from his tree in the dark. “What are you doing?”
“Dividing up our portions,” she answered calmly. She suspected this he was not going to accept this well.
“Because you’re going home to Shaw. And I’m not going to Shaw.”
“What?” Prince Rilstrom leaned forward in the darkness. “What do you mean, you’re not coming with me?”
“Your Highness, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that people you trust may be the people you have to watch out for. I sent those birds to Shaw last night, so I don’t know when they’ll have arrived….”
“By this afternoon.”
“Good then,” Tyndie responded. “With luck, they will be watching for your arrival.” She paused in her packing. “Or… they may be watching for your arrival… if you follow my meaning, Your Highness.
“We never really did know who Drury was working with. So, if I were you, I wouldn’t trust anyone, anyone at all, unless you trust them absolutely. Don’t follow the roads, stick to the forest. For once they realize you’re missing, and they will, they will be looking for you, from both Shaw and HarCourt.
“In fact, if it were me, I would walk in to Shaw dressed just as you are, right into your Palace, in that Hardewold uniform, and then go to see your brother the King, so no one will recognize you between here and there.”
Prince Rilstrom stared at Tyndie, digesting this. She saw after a few minutes that he realized it was the better idea, rather than waiting to rescued along the way home.
“And where will you go?”
Tyndie stared at the Prince directly in the eyes and lied. “North of here, to Delsynth. I’ve kin there, cousins. They’ll take me in.” It was almost word for word what Eliza had said. Just not anywhere near Tyndie’s destination.
The Prince studied her for a moment, unsure whether she was being truthful. He finally nodded, as he knew he would never find out anything else. “Very well, then.” He sighed and told her, “I wish you’d reconsider. I – and my country – owe you a debt that will never, ever be repaid.”
Tyndie almost smiled. What would she do at Shaw, at Roardstone Palace? Go back to serving obnoxious Lords and Ladies again? She thought not. But she knew the Prince meant well.
“As it please you, Your Highness.” She held up his bundle. “Ration all this. I know you’ll want to eat good food again, but don’t gobble it all right away. You’ll need to ration it until you get home safe, understand me, then?”
Tyndie felt the need to explain all this to him, for she’d be gone just as soon as the Prince fell asleep, and he was just a mere babe in the forest – Royals, alone, in the forest? Hunting was one thing, but survival another. She felt a pang of guilt – but she couldn’t take the risk of being found in his company by anyone who might be working with Drury, or even Drury himself.
He gave her a serious nod, the reflection of the fire dancing in his eyes.
“And remember – they’ll all of them, east to west, be looking for you on the roads. So stay off the roads and stay back in the trees. Understand me?”
Prince Rilstrom smiled gently and replied, “As it please you…” then he paused. “…I don’t even know your name.”
Tyndie thought for a moment, then she met the Prince’s eyes.
“Shadow. My name is Shadow.”