The Duke and the Duchess

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Chapter 15

They arrived in an odd empty square room. The walls and ceiling were white, except for large black lettering on the wall in front of them that said simply "palace". On the floor was painted a large green circle leaving only a little white in the corners.

Prince Matthew and Princess Francine immediately escorted him to a white door that blended into the wall. As they walked through Nick noticed there was no handle on the outside and he realized the room was designed solely for dragonmasters to transport into. It was unique and therefore easy to visualize, and there was nothing and no one inside to cause a possible hazard. Undoubtedly there were other similar rooms sprinkled around Incelia that made it possible for one dragonmaster to move around the entire island in a day. If he knew the color and lettering of the one in the foreign harbor, he could probably transport to it too. Well maybe, transporting was one of his weaker abilities, although he'd just gotten a lot of practice.

The other two dragonmasters came out of the door within seconds as well and followed them up a flight of stairs and through another door. The duke recognized where he was then. He was accompanied to his suite, and his three bags were taken from him and emptied out onto a table. Nick expected them to confiscate the contents, but all they took were the books and the bags.

"You are restricted to your suite," Prince Matthew said sternly. "I will send Rodrigo to clean up this mess and bring you some dinner. Your door will no longer open from the inside."

The four of them left. The duke secured his pages of notes and his money, and left the remaining food and clothing for the valet to sort out. He was tired from all the tension, trotting, and magic he'd done that day and was glad to sit down. Rodrigo entered within a few minutes, and Nick caught a glimpse of someone in yellow and black robes outside his door. No more simple guards, he apparently had at least one dragonmaster ensuring he didn't get out of his rooms again.

The valet put a large tray on the table, cleaned up the leftover food Nick had carried with him, and started sorting out the clothing into piles to be put away, or taken for cleaning or just pressing. The duke sat down and ate lamb chops, potatoes, and salad. At least they hadn't put him on bread and water.

It wasn't that late but he felt very weary after he ate. It occurred to him that he was a great deal more tired than before he'd eaten. Drugged? Nick staggered a bit heading for his bed, and never knew if he reached it or not.

When he woke up, he had a splitting headache and felt cold and uncomfortable. He blinked open his eyes and realized he wasn't in his suite. The second thing he realized was that he wasn't wearing anything above the waist. Edging his way carefully up into a sitting position, he got a better look at where he was.

It was a small gray room, dimly lit from one little barred window high up in the wall. He was sitting on a cot, on top of a scratchy blanket. To his right there was a little rough table with three unlit candles in a holder and two chairs against one wall, and across from it was a wash stand near a door with a peephole. Against the fourth wall was a des, and on top of the desk were a lantern, writing materials, and his package of notes.

Nick saw his clothes lying on one of the chairs at the table and leaned over, reaching for his shirt. He stopped in mid gesture. On his wrist was a heavy red oval. He raised his other hand to find the match. While both bands were shaped to his wrists, well-padded, and covered in soft red cloth, he knew immediately that the center of each was iron. While he was unconscious he'd been carefully manacled so he couldn't do magic.

The Incelians had stopped being nice, stopped pretending he was a guest. He was a flat out prisoner now, and without magic how could he possibly escape? Nick's heart sank. He would never get home, never see Elizabeth or Ralph or his brothers again.

The duke stood up slowly and went to the wash stand. He poured a little water into a bowl from a full pitcher and drank some of it before splashing his face. He didn't have a cup, soap, razor, or a mirror. A clean chamber pot sat on the stand's low shelf. Primitive facilities, but at least the water eased his headache.

Picking up his shirt on the way, he walked the few steps to the desk and surveyed it. There were pens, ink, blotters, and paper as well as his untouched package of papers. What exactly did they think he was going to write? Letters that they wouldn't deliver? His memoirs that no one would ever see?

He shook his head a little at the absurdity of it, which made his headache come back, although not as much as before. Once he had his shirt buttoned and tucked in, he pulled over one of the chairs and sat down at the desk, going through everything in it. There were two drawers which just held more writing materials. He unwrapped his package of notes and spells and made sure everything was there, although what good any of it would do him he didn't know.

There was the sound of footsteps approaching, the jingle of keys, and his door opened. A guard came in followed by a servant woman with a tray holding a plate and a cup that she deposited on the table and left without looking at him. Prince Matthew entered and the guard closed the door behind him.

"As you can see, your foolish attempt to escape has resulted in us taking a new approach. Prince Henry, you have your choice of four women to marry: Princess Katrina's daughters Bella and Connie, and Princesses Jeanette and Nora. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say these four have their choice of you."

Nick stood up and said hoarsely, "I'm not marrying anyone."

"It isn't your decision. If you don't choose to participate in the ceremony, you will be married by proxy. You will participate in the marriage. Your wife will be a dragonmaster and your magic is hobbled, so you will have no choice. She will do as she pleases with you, so I would suggest you start cooperating."

The younger prince had no answer to that. Prince Matthew continued harshly, " Put on your jacket and follow me, Prince Henry, or I'll have the guards drag you."

Nick did as he was told. He followed the older prince and two big guards followed him. They didn't go far, down the hall, up a flight of stairs, and into a shabby sitting room. Four expensively dressed women waited for him there. He recognized Bella and Connie and assumed the other two were Jeanette and Nora.

They were seated, sipping tea and nibbling delicacies when he came in and he was shown to a chair opposite them while the guards and Prince Matthew stood to one side and watched. No one offered him refreshments.

Princess Connie spoke first. "You are sixteen years old, correct?"

Nick nodded, and she said, "Understand, none of us particularly wants to marry you, but it's our duty to marry a dragonmaster and it's either you, someone much older, or wait until one of the boys grows up."

A slender dark-haired woman he hadn't met yet said, "I'm Princess Jeanette, I'm twenty-six years old and I certainly don't want to wait another ten years for one of the children to mature."

A short, blond, plumper woman added, "I'm Princess Nora, the youngest of us at seventeen. But ladies, how are we going to decide? Is anyone willing to marry Prince Augustus?" To Nick she added, "He's a widower in his forties, and right now he's our only other option."

"I am," said Princess Bella, and Jeanette and Connie nodded too. "But I'd rather have a younger husband. We all know Augie, but we don't know this Henry at all. What are you good at, Henry, what do you like to do?"

He sighed and responded, "I like to read, and study magic." That got nods and smiles of approval. "I ride and hunt, and I'm learning to run my duchy. I don't suppose you have land divisions for princes and princesses to administrate?"

All four princesses shook their heads as he added, "I've spent some time fighting a war against the Francks, and to be perfectly honest, I love my Anglian wife and I always will."

Bella said, "That's irrelevant, since you'll never see her again and this is not a love match for any of us. What else?"

Nick shrugged. "Before the wars I was a child going to classes, so that's about it."

The four princesses glanced at each other. Princess Jeanette asked, "What about music, or poetry, or art?"

The duke shook his head. "I like listening to music, but I don't care much for poetry and I really don't know anything about art."

Princess Connie cleared her throat and said, "This is a little awkward and not at all in good taste, but we've been ordered to make a decision within the next two days so we're going to have to be a little crude. We need to know what we're getting and there isn't time to accidently happen upon you going for a swim, so take off your clothes, Prince Henry."

Nick shot a startled glance at Prince Matthew, who gazed blandly back. He turned to the princesses and asked, "Well, what about me knowing what I'm going to get? Are you going to strip for my assessment?"

"Of course not," Princess Connie replied angrily. "It's our decision now, not yours. Get your clothes off or we'll rip them off of you."

Princess Nora giggled, turned pink and said softly, "That might be fun."

The Anglian prince didn't like the turn the conversation had taken, but it didn't seem he would be given any choice. No one moved to interfere; everyone was waiting for him to comply. Better to maintain a little dignity and undress himself than have four women taking his clothes off magically. He stood up and started stripping, dropping his clothes on his chair behind him. He stopped when he was down to his underpants.

"Everything," Princess Connie said coldly. Blushing, Nick complied. The princesses got up and walked around him, examining him from all angles. Princess Bella stopped in front of him and said, "Open your mouth." At Nick's outraged look she added, "I don't want a man with rotten teeth."

He opened his mouth and bared his healthy white teeth at her, and then snapped them shut. Someone behind him slapped his butt to a chorus of giggles. He wasn't going to give them the satisfaction of reacting and stood rigidly, through with being embarrassed and now just angry at being treated like a horse they were considering buying. Princesses Jeanette and Nora were a little pink-faced too, and Nick assumed they weren't used to seeing naked men.

The four princesses resumed their seats. Princess Connie said, "We've seen enough, Prince Matthew, thank you. We'll confer now and let the king know our decision."

The guards advanced on Nick who realized he was about to be escorted out buck naked. He grabbed his underpants and put them on before the guards closed in on him, and carried the rest of his clothes. Fortunately they didn't meet anyone in the halls as he was taken back to his new quarters.

He dropped his clothes on his cot and slowly got dressed. He was still angry and a little frightened. Whoever married him would be completely in charge and could treat him any way they wanted. And from what he'd just been through, he was going to be a slave or at best a pet; he certainly wouldn't be treated with the respect due a prince, or even an ordinary person. Things were moving far too fast. How long did he have before the wedding and what would happen to him when he belonged to one of them?

After he'd dressed, Nick sat down at the table to see what he'd been brought to eat. The cup held room temperature bitter tea, and his plate and one piece of plain stale bread, a cold boiled potato, a bruised orange, and a small, dried-up piece of cold mutton. Maybe they thought bad food would make him eager to marry just to get a decent meal. He knew it could be far worse, he could have nothing to eat or just something horrible like maggoty bread, and he slowly ate it all.

He didn't know the rules of his new situation. Maybe there was something he could do with the writing materials. Nick thought a moment and then wrote two notes, one to his uncle and one to his grandmother asking them to visit him. He had his signet ring but no sealing wax but it didn't matter. He was sure anything he wrote or anything written to him would be read and evaluated for plots before being delivered.

The duke took his missives to the door and spoke through the peephole.

"Guard, can I have these notes taken to my relatives?"

The guard didn't reply, but Nick saw him reach over and tug on a bell pull. In a few minutes an officer appeared. The guard just nodded toward the prisoner.

"What is it?" the officer asked.

"I've written a couple of notes to Queen Mother Magda and Lord Simon. Could someone deliver them for me?"

"Push them out."

Nick folded them and pushed them through the small hole and heard them fall on the floor. The officer poked them with his toe like they might bite him, and then picked them up and carried them away.

The young prince asked the guard, "Is he going to deliver them?" The guard ignored him.

He went back to his table and climbed up on one of the chairs so he could look out the window, hoping he could at least determine where he was in the castle. The window was only about a foot above ground level, so he couldn't see much, but he could hear someone in the distance barking out orders drilling soldiers, so he decided he must be over near the guard barracks.

Nick got down off the chair and sat at his desk. He leafed through his notes, trying to find some way he could do magic without using his ejectors. The closest he could find was a node in the wrists that could be used to absorb magic, but it was a one way flow. That must be what Magda had used at their first meeting. But he couldn't see what value it was to him, he could pull in as much magical energy as he wanted, he just couldn't use it. He could store it in his reservoirs or ground it out through his feet.

He took off his shoes and socks and examined his feet. He could push excess energy out through them but he couldn't shape it; no ejectors in his toes. Nick pulled in energy and tried to push out a large amount to see if he could use unshaped energy as a weapon as he could with his hands. But what came out had no force to it, it just dissipated in the air or radiated harmlessly into the stone floor. He put his socks and shoes back on.

So no magic. Somehow he had to get off of Incelia without it. Step one, get out of his cell. Step two, get out of the palace. Step three . . . he wasn't sure. Where should he go? Would he have a chance if he tried for the Anglian Embassy again? He had planned to ask Spider for things like soap and a razor, but perhaps he should ask him for money, another knife, and information.

It was hours later when Lord Simon was admitted to his cell. The dragomancer looked around nervously and said, "Well, you've done it now, haven't you? But you needn't worry, I'm sure you'll be married and in better circumstances soon."

Alarmed, Nick asked, "Why, what have you heard?"

"Your potential brides have visited the king, and the rumor is a decision has been made. It's up to her now, whichever one she is, to decide how elaborate a ceremony she wants and when to hold it. I'm sure it won't be more than a few weeks, or even just a few days."

The duke gestured him over to the table and when they were both seated said, "Thanks for coming, Spider. Keep your voice down and I don't think the guard will be able to hear us."

Gesturing to his iron wrist bands, very quietly his uncle asked, "Are you still trying to escape? Don't you know it's hopeless without magic?"

"I'm not giving up. When we're through here, please see if you can bring me some of my things like my razor, a mirror, my little eating knife, soap, a cup to drink from and a change of clothes. And I need a fire starter. I have candles and a lantern but no way to light them. That will be the explanation for our meeting, if anyone asks. But tell me, if I can get out of here, how do I get to the foreign port?"

"Its name is Exomer. And it's to the southwest. Here, let me show you." Simon drew invisible lines on the table with his finger, showing the location of the palace, the route Nick took before and where he should have gone. "If you had turned right and kept going down the road where your horse was found, you would eventually have come onto a main road and you could have just turned left there and gone directly to Exomer."

"How far is it? I'll probably be on foot, so how many days will it take me to get there?"

"I'm not sure, I've only been there a few times and I've never walked it. If you go by the direct route here," he showed Nick on his imaginary map, "I would guess about two weeks. But it won't do you any good, there's a wall and guards at the gate. As soon as you are found missing, a dragonmaster will transport there and alert everyone to watch out for you, and they'll be checking passes and probably wrists."

"Maybe I could go over the wall?"

"Only if you can fly, which at the moment you cannot."

"How about hiding in a wagonload of something?"

"In what? A load of ore or casks of wine? I think a farmer would notice you after a couple of days in a load of produce. You know if you do get out of here and make it that far, when they catch you they will likely chain you in your room and might go so far as to cut off one of your feet. You don't need to be able to walk to make little dragonmasters."

Nick went pale. He hadn't thought about how serious this could get. After a moment he said, "I have to try. There's got to be some way off of Incelia. Could you steal me a pass?"

"I couldn't and I would be foolish to try. I've no talent for such things, I would be caught and end up in here with you or worse."

"What about a fishing village, they would have boats. Maybe I could bribe one to take me somewhere else."

"When our ancestors first came here they used magic to ensure this place is impregnable. There are three ports which are closely watched. Everywhere else there are sheer cliffs, or sharp rocks, or they raised a portion of the seabed or a lot of rocks some distance out from shore so that there may be a nice beach and an area for fishing, but the boats can't come and go out to the open ocean. Access by sea is strictly controlled."

"What about access by air? Maybe I could get the dragons to take me back."

Spider snorted. "Good luck with that. The dragons are willful beasts and you'd have to give one a very nice bribe to get it to do anything, especially something the dragonmasters wouldn't want it to do. I can't imagine that one would want to take you all the way to Anglia, but part of the price would be a lot of magic for it to use, and how are you going to provide that?"

"I can still pull power and ground it. They can absorb it from the ground, can't they?"

"I think so, but I don't deal with them myself." Lord Simon sat silently and thought for a few minutes. Finally he said, "There are two groups of shore dragons, and they each have a beach of their own on the west coast. I'm not sure exactly where they are, but neither is too far to the north. The land rises in that direction and most of the northern coast is mountains and cliffs. If you go too far that way you'll encounter the war dragons, and I strongly recommend you avoid them. They're not supposed to eat people, but they have to hunt their own food and if they find one man alone in an isolated location, he could disappear forever."

"I think I developed a relationship with the shore dragon that brought me. If I could find him, maybe he would take me back."

"The dragonmasters don't check the dragon beaches very often, there are offshore rocks as I recall, and the dragons alone are a pretty good deterrent to anyone landing there. But I've never seen one of them alone. They travel in groups, and I don't know how you could convince all of them to fly that far for something you want rather than for something they want. And if they refuse, which is likely, what would you do?"

"I don't know. Incelia isn't as big as Anglia, but it's pretty big and I could hide out somewhere until the dragonmasters stop looking for me and then try for Exomer."

Spider shook his head. "And if you get into the port somehow, then what?"

"I go to the Anglian Embassy and they help me get on a ship to go home."

"If the dragonmasters find out you're there they'll likely go in and get you, even if it causes a diplomatic incident. And they won't go out of their way to avoid killing anyone who tries to stop them. You'll be putting your ambassador and his staff at risk."

Nick nodded his understanding. "If I can get there, what happens after that will be up to the ambassador. Spider, try to sneak me in some money and a big knife too if you can. There was a lot of money and all three of my knives lying on the table in my old suite when I was drugged and brought here. I don't know if it's still there."

"Prince Henry, I'll try to help you, but there's a limit to what I can do."

"I understand, just do what you can. I've asked Grandmother to me see me too. She could probably bring me anything hidden under her skirt."

Lord Simon stood up and said a little loudly, "All right, Prince Henry, I'll see if they'll let me bring you some items to make you more comfortable."

Nick stood too and replied in a normal voice, "Thank you, Uncle, I appreciate your help."

He waited all afternoon, but Magda didn't come. Maybe she wouldn't, he could understand that associating with him wouldn't help anyone's reputation right now. Dinner was fatty overcooked ham, another boiled potato, slightly burned turnip, and more of the bitter tea. All of it was cold and brought by the same servant who thumped it down on his table and left.

He was long finished and the tray taken away when she came. She wore a dark blue dress heavy with lace and held a handkerchief to her nose as she entered. She stopped just inside the door and asked, "Are there rats?"

"No, I haven't seen any, Grandmother."

"Mice? Centipedes? I hate centipedes."

"As far as I know, there's nothing alive in here except us."

"Very well, then." She came all the way in, handed Nick a bundle and he seated her in a chair and took the other himself.

"Here is your fire starter and some clean clothes, including some very nice handkerchiefs. You do need them, you know," she said with a little emphasis.

Nick nodded his understanding that there was something special in the handkerchiefs and replied, "Thank you, Grandmother. Have you heard any more about my wedding?"

"Not directly, but the local dress makers have gone into a frenzy so I expect it will be in just a few days."

"Do you know who?"

"Jeanette is the oldest; she'll be matched with Prince Augustus. Nora will have to wait for one of the boys to grow up since she's the youngest. That leaves Connie and Bella, and of the two Connie is the stronger personality and generally bosses her sister. So I suppose it will be Connie."

Nick made a face; he would have preferred someone with a gentler disposition. But with a little luck it might not make any difference. He spoke quietly so the guard couldn't hear him. "Grandmother, I need to escape. I don't know what to do. Spider seemed to think I couldn't get out through Exomer or the other ports and told me there isn't any way off of the island except by dragon, and that's a long shot."

"Spider may be right. There's very little chance of convincing a dragon to do anything it hasn't taken a notion to do itself. I've heard there are smugglers that operate out of Westport--that's where you went before--but I know of no way to contact them and you are known there now. If you can't stand the thought of marrying any of the princesses, you must get out of the palace and disappear. Incelia is a big place, you could live out your life quietly in a distant village and no one would ever find you."

"If I can't get home, I may have to. Can you help me?"

"I plan to." She rose and wandered over by the desk and used her left hand to leaf through his notes. Blocking the view from the peephole with her skirt, she opened the right hand drawer and reached deep into her skirt and started putting things into the drawer. Nick grinned to see that the skirt slit with a long pocket through layers of petticoats was known by Incelian women as well as Anglian. When she'd finished and gently closed the drawer again, she came back and sat down.

"Now you have money and a few other small things to help you. I don't know if they'll search your room, but there's nothing there that they would find very alarming."

"Thank you. Can you help me get out of the palace?"

"I intend to. Put on the clothes I brought you before you go to bed tomorrow night. Spider will bring other things for you and I will get you out if you give me magical energy as you did before. I'm sure I can take care of a guard or two and open a few doors. But where will you go?"

Nick shook his head. He didn't know yet, but he said, "If you don't know you can't let anything slip. Besides, it doesn't matter. If I succeed, you'll probably never see me again. If I fail, I'm sue the entire palace will know about it."

"True. Give me a hug goodbye--a long hug and pull power while you do it."

They both stood up and Nick complied. He was facing the door and watched for a reaction from the guard, but there wasn't one that he could see through the peephole. His arms were around her shoulders while her hands and forearms were pressed to his sides.

"It will take a bit longer in this position," she whispered. "Load up you center reservoir and keep it full and I'll pull from there. It won't hurt, but it may be uncomfortable since I'll have to pull power away from your channels."

They stood that way for a good ten minutes before she released him. Queen Mother Magda said in a normal voice, "Don't worry, Henry. Simon will be by tomorrow with a few things for you, although they won't allow him to give you a razor since it could be used as a weapon. I suppose you'll just have to grow a beard, which I can see you have a good start on." Quietly she added, "I will brush up on the spells I will need tonight."

"Thank you Grandmother," the duke replied and pocketed the fire starter. "Visit me tomorrow too, if you can."

"I will try, my boy. Now good night."

She left and Nick had to restrain himself from going straight to the desk and examining what she'd brought. But he checked the bundle and to his surprise found simple peasant style clothing in good sturdy material, boots, and a box of hankies. Looking through them he found a square of thin hide with a hand drawn map of southern Incelia. It was small but showed the palace, the three ports and the main roads to them, a village on the western shore called Pech and places labeled "shore dragons" both north and south of it. The writing on it was in a spidery hand that was legible even though the writing was tiny.

There really wasn't anyplace in his cell to hide anything. He studied the map for a few minutes until he knew he would remember it, and replaced it in with the handkerchiefs. He slid the entire bundle of clothing under his cot just to get it out of the way.

Nick went to the desk and lit the lantern, took up a pen and started writing nonsense. It didn't matter what he wrote, he just wanted to lull the guards. He kept writing until he heard the guard change. Once the night guard was in place and had checked on him through the peephole, he waited another half hour before casually opening the right hand drawer and examining what was in it without lifting anything out.

There was a pair of leather gloves, and inside one glove was a purse with gold, silver, and copper coins. There was also a soft hat, a ball of fishing line with a number of fish hooks buried in it and another ball of heavier twine. There was also a leather strap he didn't recognize at first, and then realized it was a sling. Connidian had had him use one a few times, just for the experience, but Nick hadn't been much good with it. To an arms master training a prince it was a weapon of desperation, a last chance with a loop of anything and a stone to survive an attack. Nick realized he might have to get very good with it very fast if he had to depend on it for food. If the guards found it, they probably wouldn't recognize it either. He closed the drawer, wiped off his pen, blew out the lantern and went to bed.

Grandmother didn't come the next day but Spider did. He brought soap, a tin cup, Nick's little eating knife, a hair comb and a small mirror. There was also a purse with a few silvers and coppers that the dragomancer was allowed to bring so the duke could tip his servant and the guards. They exchanged a humorous glance when Spider explained that. It wasn't enough for a bribe and Nick couldn't imagine giving money to the surly woman who plunked down his cold food. The duke didn't know what good the mirror was without a razor, but he took it anyway. He could check his shaggy hair in it when he combed it, and it might be useful for something eventually like signaling someone, but he had no idea who.

"How are you doing?" Lord Simon asked.

"All right. Any news on the wedding?"

"You are marrying Princess Connie by proxy the day after tomorrow."

Quietly Nick asked, "Will I be here the day after tomorrow?"

"No, you'll be leaving tonight, or rather very early tomorrow morning. Queen Mother Magda will come for you before dawn. I'll be waiting with everything else you'll need, your other knives, a cloak, food and water, and whatever else I can think of."

"I don't suppose there's any hope of enlisting a blacksmith to remove these?" Nick asked, holding up his iron-bound wrists.

"There isn't one on Incelia that would dare touch them without express orders from the king. You aren't the first dragonmaster to be considered dangerous and so bound, you know. Someone who is not a blacksmith might be willing to try for a big enough bribe, but a slip could result in serious injury or even the loss of a hand. Such a person might also report you to the authorities or attack you and try to capture you himself for the reward. And I'm sure there will be a reward if you manage to elude the dragonmasters for more than a day or two. Have you decided where you will go?"

"Yes, but I'm not telling anyone, even you and Grandmother. I do trust you, Spider, but I've read a number of spells relating to detecting lies and even forcing the truth from someone."

His uncle nodded. "I understand and agree. The less we know the better, but I hope you have a plan. We'll be rushed tomorrow, so I . . . I want to say I'm pleased you've come to Incelia and we've had the chance to meet. You were brought against your will and haven't had a very enjoyable stay, I know. Mother and I have written you a letter with memories of Ariella, since we didn't have time or leisure to tell you much, and this way you can reread our stories as often as you wish."

"That's wonderful, I really appreciate it. I'm glad I got to meet you and Grandmother too. I hoped I would get to come here someday, but I expected it to be years from now on a diplomatic mission when things at home are more settled. Maybe eventually that will happen and I'll get to come back, but if I do I'm bringing my wife so no one can pretend she doesn't exist."

Spider chuckled. "Hopefully by then our excess of young female dragonmasters will all be settled and there won't be any trouble. I'll see you very early tomorrow then."

After he'd left Nick had nothing much to do. He spent the day studying his spells in case he was able to find a way to get the bands off of his wrists. Once he got back to Anglia he could get an expert smith to remove them, if he couldn't get out of them before then.

He shocked the serving woman who brought him his cold, unappetizing lunch by tipping her a copper. She was wary about taking it, but she did and his supper was actually slightly warm and a little sugar had been added to the bitter tea. Nick hadn't realized that paying would get him better food, having no experience at being an official prisoner. He gave her two coppers when she picked up the supper tray even though he wouldn't be there for breakfast.

The duke dressed in his clean peasant costume in the dark so the guards couldn't see what he was doing when he went to bed. No one knowing what he was wearing when he escaped would make him harder to find. But he couldn't sleep. He didn't have a bag to pack, but he'd put everything he wanted to take in one place and hoped Grandmother thought to bring him something to carry it all in. He dozed off a couple of times, but wakened at the slightest noise. Eventually he woke to the right noise, the thump of the guard's head hitting the door as he fell. There was a pale glow outside his door, and then it opened and Magda was there in a long hooded black cloak.

Nick could see the guard sprawled on the floor. "He's asleep," she whispered. She handed him a carrying bag, a hooded cloak like her own, and his two larger knives. He quickly put the knives on his belt, donned the cloak and tossed everything else in the bag. He grabbed up his other clothing as they left.

They ghosted through the halls, staying on the lower level and taking small side passages whenever possible. They waited silently in shadows for others to pass, but the halls were mostly empty and there was only one time they had to retreat from a pair of patrolling guards. She finally led him upstairs and into a cloakroom where Simon was waiting with a knapsack, bedroll, two water skins and a walking staff.

Nick quickly outfitted himself and gave his uncle his discarded clothing.

"Destroy these so no one else will know I'm wearing something else."

Spider took them and replied, "Done. Good luck, I hope you come back in ten years or so."

The duke flashed a grin and they shook hands. "Thanks, ten years, if I can," he agreed.

Grandmother stepped forward. "I'm going to make us both invisible, otherwise we'll be seen from the walls. The spell won't block other senses so be very quiet. We will move slowly, quick movement causes ripples in the invisibility that can be seen. It would not be very effective in daylight, but in darkness we shouldn't be noticed. If anyone comes near, stop and be very still. Stay close to me and our spells will merge and we will be able to see each other."

She raised her hands and performed the spell. There was no sensation but everything around him seemed to become gray and a little fuzzy, except her. Nick stayed at her shoulder as she led him out of the cloakroom, through a short hall and outside into the gardens.

The night was partly cloudy with a half moon, but there were torches burning on the outside of the castle as well as being carried by patrols. The sky to the east was just barely beginning to lighten. They moved slowly through the paths meeting no one, but they could see the lights of distant patrols and she motioned him to stop when guards crossed their path just behind them.

She led him to a group of trees near road to Oakbranch and once they were safely hidden, she whispered, "I will leave you here. Without you powering it, the spell will only last an hour so be sure to be hidden by dawn. Good luck, Henry, go with my love and write me when you are safe."

"My family calls me Nick, and I want you and Spider to call me that too, since you are part of my family. Thank you, Grandmother, and I will write if I reach Anglia. But if you don't hear from me don't assume the worst, I may just have to hide out on Incelia for quite a while."

"Of course, Nick." She hugged him lightly, not easy to do with all his gear, and headed back toward the castle. Two steps from him she disappeared from sight.

He turned and went out into the road, but turned south away from Oakbranch. He soon reached a crossroad and turned right, heading west toward the coast.

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