Chapter Twenty Four
Nothing changed that whole week. All day I was confined to my rooms. Every morning Mme. Fraise woke me up and shuffled me into the sitting room to eat lukewarm porridge and drink cold coffee. Afterwards, M. Arsnault and I spent the day playing cards, reading, or playing on the Internet. I reviewed the documents I had brought with me from Solis and the files of stolen items. Governor Richard and Antoine had been unavailable to see me since my arrival and my schedule had remained empty. Tours came in and out of the castle all day, making it impossible for me to go and explore anything outside of my suite. Plainly, I was bored and frustrated. By Thursday, I didn’t even bother to change out of my pajamas.
There were only two things that broke up the monotony. The first was the calls from my friends and family. None of them could offer much advice as to how to improve my current situation, but they at least helped to keep my mind off of it. There was still no news from the hospital; nothing had changed.
The second distraction was my nightly unauthorized excursions with M. Arsnault. Every night, after all the tours had ended and Mme. Fraise had done her final round for the evening, my guard and I would go exploring. Some nights we just walked the halls, stretching our legs, while other nights we spent hours hunting for any of Hector’s items. We would go into one of the few rooms we had access to and search through all the ornate trinkets and decorations for anything that looked important. So far we had come up empty.
Between the late night treasure hunts, the inactivity all day, and the constant worry about Leopold that gripped my mind whenever I wasn’t distracted, I found myself plagued with insomnia. It felt like as soon as I finally did fall asleep Mme. Fraise was waking me up only five minutes later. Friday morning though, it had gotten to the point that I was also awake even before Mme. Fraise had come for me. I lay on my back, staring up at the stupid carvings on the ceiling, trying to decide whether to look at trading documents, to practice French verbs, or to download a Meg Cabot novel. The options were riveting. The tours would end early today though, and the Adams family’s shifts were shorter for the weekend. That meant that M. Arsnault and I could stay out longer tonight. I wondered vaguely what time it was. I had no idea what time Mme. Fraise normally came in, but judging by the consistently lukewarm temperature of my breakfast, I’d have to guess that she waited a while before she woke me up. I would be sure to make a note of the time she came today.
I rolled onto my stomach, reaching for my laptop, which I kept in the drawer of the bedside table. I could read the news, check the time, and keep myself occupied until something happened. I’d just pulled on the drawer when I heard a door open behind me. I looked over my shoulder to see Mme. Fraise emerging from my closet. She startled when she saw me staring at her.
“Oh, Princess, I did not realize you were awake,” she croaked, halfway in the closet still, her boney hands like claws on its frame.
I stared at her bewildered. How long had she been in my closet? I had to have been lying awake in bed for at least a half hour. “What were you doing in there?” I asked before I could think about whether or not I should.
Pursing her wrinkled lips and stepping fully into my room, she finally stated, “Putting you clothes away.” I didn’t buy it, but I didn’t have any other reasonable explanation to counter with.
“Would the Princess like to move into the drawing room?” the maid asked, approaching the bed with a dressing robe in hand.
I shook my head and finished fishing my laptop out of the drawer. “I think I’ll stay here a bit longer.” Settling in to the pillows, I opened the computer, watching the screen blink to life, hoping that Mme. Fraise would leave me alone and go off to do whatever it was she did. No such luck though.
“You should not do work in your bedroom, Princess. It is not good for your health,” she said, stepping up to the side of the bed. She held the robe up by the shoulders, waiting for me to get up and shluff the silk onto my shoulders.
“Nah, I’m alright. Thanks though,” I said, not getting up.
“Your breakfast will be ready shortly, Princess,” she persisted. “I must insist you move to the other room so that you can eat your breakfast comfortably.”
I looked up from the computer screen and into her cold eyes, her face a practiced mask of emptiness. It didn’t look like she was going to leave anytime soon though, so with a heavy sigh, I gave in, flipping back the sheets. “Fine,” I grumbled, shoving my arms into the offered robe. I picked up my laptop and stomped through the door to the living room and flopped down onto the leather couch. My silk robe was slick on the leather, making me slide down until I was slouched in a very undignified position that was no where near as comfortable as my bed. The maid didn’t follow. Opening a browser, I pulled up the homepage of the main Solisian news network. The headlining article read “Sleeping Beauty’s Princess Missing”. Skimming the article it seemed that people were starting to get upset with my absence. After being seen leaving the hospital at the beginning of the week it had been released that I had gone to Arcadis for preplanned meetings. Now that a week had passed though and I hadn’t been spotted out in public or at any of the events I had been supposed to appear at, the article was questioning where I was and what I was doing.
“They’re mad I’m not with him,” I muttered, shutting the laptop. M. Arsnault raised an eyebrow as he stepped in from the hall. He had his suit pants and dress shirt on, but no jacket. It seemed that even he didn’t see the point of getting dressed anymore.
“You have responsibilities,” he stated, then yawned. “Or that is the theory.” He was trying to be comforting. I pushed myself upright, folding my legs underneath me. He sat on the couch across from mine.
“They are right though. I am not getting anything done here, I should just go back. Then I can be there when he wakes up,” I reasoned.
“You need to stay here a while longer, Mademoiselle. You know that. This may be the only chance we get,” my guard’s voice was still thick with sleep. I knew what he meant, what he wasn’t saying. I needed to be here on the off chance I might actually find something that could help uncover who was plotting against Leopold, or at least implicate Gov.Richard and Antoine in criminal activities.
“I know, I know, but I feel useless. I wish -”
Grandma Addams reappeared, carrying a tray full of food from my bedroom into the sitting room. “Voila, Princess, your breakfast is served. If you require me for nothing else, I will go and perform my regular duties.” She placed the tray on the table, making the china and silver rattle.
“Sure, you may go,” I said dismissively.
The maid bowed in gratitude. “Remember that the tours end at four today and I will be departing shortly afterwards.”
“Yes, thank you,” I agreed, putting down my documents and picking up the bowl of porridge. It was cold. Apparently my wake up time had nothing to do with the food quality.
“Be sure to ring for me if you require anything, Princess,” she said, backing out of the room the way she came.
I rolled my eyes and slouched back into the couch. “I miss Angela.”
“I miss food,” retorted M. Arsnault as he wrinkled his nose at the cold porridge. He pushed his away and reached for a mug and the carafe of coffee instead.
I spent the day reading a French book by a Solisian author, or at least trying too. Some of the French vocabulary was still too difficult for me to read. The book was on the historiography of the Solisian Revolution so I had a feeling I would have missed a few things even if it were written in English.
Around four in the afternoon, Mme. Fraise returned and made me get off the couch and take a bath. She promised they would have dinner on the table by the time she left at five. I sat in the tub for an hour. After washing my hair twice, I decided that I could probably go the third day without shaving my legs, and continued soaking well past the time it took my skin to shrivel. It was only once I had heard the maid come and go with the dinner trolley she promised that I deemed it safe to get out of the bath. I dried off quickly, pulled on a pair of jeans and a tee shirt, and piled my damp hair up in a bun.
M. Arsnault was eating a forkful of peas when I returned to the sitting room. “Chicken pie,” he told me and pointed at the plate that had been left for me. “It’s not bad actually, best meal so far at least.”
We ate in silence for a while. I picked the crust off the top of my slice, letting the pastry dissolve on my tongue. “What do you think about having a look at the throne room tonight?”
“We haven’t been down that bit of hall yet,” M. Arsnault agreed. “Have you heard anything else from them today?”
I nudged a burnt carrot to the edge of my plate. “Nope. You?”
“Nothing outside of the usual reports.”
“That’s good though, right?” I asked him softly. Was it strange that we had heard so little from the castle?
“It’s good, Mademoiselle. We would know if something were wrong,” he assured me.
A clock chimed six. Everyone would be out of the castle by now. I put my plate with the pie down on the table. It wasn’t that good. “You ready?”
M. Arsnault looked down at his dinner and pursed his lips. “Yeah,” he agreed, “May as well. It’ll be easier with the daylight anyway; we won’t have to hunt for the light switches.” He stood, brushing out the wrinkles in his shirt and pants.
“One sec,” I said, running into my bedroom. I went to the bedside table and grabbed my phone. It had all the pictures that Hector had sent in it. As I turned back around to leave I noticed that the light in my closet was on. I frowned. I was pretty sure I had turned it off after I had gotten dressed. I shrugged, and went over and flicked the switch off before joining my guard.
Together, we went out into the hall and headed towards the sweeping staircase of the atrium. The air smelt funny, like all the colognes and perfumes of the visitors that day were trapped in the giant dome of the entrance. I wrinkled my nose.
“Do you have the map?” I asked M. Arsnault. He had stolen one of the tour pamphlets for the castle our second day here. It had the layout of the castle on it. There were X’s over the rooms we had checked so far. The frustrating part was that we couldn’t even get to half the rooms on the map; they were locked down.
When we reached the bottom of the stairs, he pulled the well-creased paper and pen out of his back pocket and unfolded it. “We did this whole side already,” the guard said, indicating the left hand hall I had been in on my first day here. The dining room and ballroom had come up blank for stolen priceless artifacts.
“And the crown room is down here, right?” I asked pointing to the right.
“Yes, past the greenhouse. I can’t imagine there would be anything in there though,” M. Arsnault said.
“Doubt it,” I agreed. “If we finish the crown room quickly though, we can go down to the Violet Room. That’s where the King would hold meetings with foreign dignitaries. He may have kept some fancy knickknacks in there to show off.”
We started down the right hand hall. At first, it was a replica of the left. There were big mirrors against the interior wall reflecting the watercolor light of the sunset shining in through the windows on the wall opposite. About thirty feet down though, the wall of mirrors became windows too, a whole room of them, containing a tropical forest. Leaves and flowers of varying kinds and colors crawled across marble counters, statues, and columns.
“Wow,” I said, pressing my hand up against one of the warm panes. “I didn’t think they would still have it functional.” The garden had been kept by one of the Arcadian Queens, Marie III. She had been a healer, and used her garden to make ointments and medicines for soldiers wounded in her husband’s army.
“The Queen collected some very rare plants, Mademoiselle. Luckily, the people who took over the castle recognized that and maintained them after Arcadis was taken. Also, the French had a weak spot for beauty. We should continue though,” M. Arsnault urged, “before we lose more light.”
“Look though,” I said pointing toward a tree with little fluffs on it, that I was pretty sure was a willow tree. “M. Fraise is in there. I thought he had gone home with Mme. Fraise.”
“I suspect that they are taking shifts. He will probably be taking care of us for the weekend instead of his sister. I doubt they would leave us alone in the castle, Mademoiselle.”
I pulled on the door to the green house. “It’s locked. How did he get in there?”
M. Arnault pointed across to the other side of the greenhouse where a panel in the marble wall was propped open by a spiky green potted plant. “There’s a secret entrance to the servant halls. They probably use them to cross the castle when the guests are here in the daytime.”
I thought back to the servants’ corridors that Leopold and I had used to escape from the castle. If only we could find an unlocked room with one of those open doorways. Then, we would have access to the whole castle. I tried the door one more time for luck, but it was no use.
“Come on,” I sighed to my guard, “let’s go see the crown room.” We would have to keep doing this the slow route until a better opportunity presented itself.
We marched on down the hall for another forty feet or so until a roped off doorway appeared. A pair of huge gold doors with the St. Clair crest emblazoned on them opened into an extremely Arcadian room. The floor was made of green stone, the walls striped with white and blue marble. Huge tapestries hung from the walls laced with branches and spotted with faces that formed the Arcadian royal family tree. In the center of the room on a pedestal, was a very large, very gold chair that had been carved to look like a wave breaking against a rock. In its center was a green velvet cushion with a heavy looking crown and scepter encrusted with jewels sitting on it. To top it all off, there was a white fur cap draped over one of the splash-like armrests.
They were fakes, of course. The real ones, I had been told, were in safe keeping in the DuMont’ vaults somewhere under the castle in Solis.
“That’s it?” I asked. I mean, sure it was a flashy room, but besides the old carpets on the walls, the uncomfortable looking chair, and the fake crown and scepter, there was nothing in it. I checked my phone.
“What were you hoping to find, Mademoiselle?” M. Arsnault asked. I handed my phone to him.
“Hector said that there is supposed to be the sword from the painting of Queen Winifred and suits of armor guarding the room. I thought for sure they would have it in here. It’s part of the crowning ceremony for Arcadis and it’s been missing for centuries. They didn’t even have the decency to make a fake like those made of the other missing artifacts.” I tapped the screen of my phone so it was showing a close up of the sword as it was depicted in the painting of the crowning of King Charles IV. The hilt and handle were embedded with sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds.
“It is unusually barren for a throne room,” said M. Arsnault. He leaned closer, his breath fogging against the plastic that blocked the doorway.
“The room’s contents have been placed in storage until they can be sent to specialists to be restored and appraised,” said a deep voice from down the hall.
I jumped as M. Arnsault stepped in front of me and jammed my phone into his pocket.
“I did not mean to frighten you,” continued the voice in a thick accent. My skin prickled as I recognized the sickeningly sweet tones.
“It is no problem, Antoine,” I said, poking my head around my guard’s broad shoulders. I wasn’t sure if I was going to need protection or not.
“There is a problem though, Princess,” Antoine said, coming towards us. His voice had taken on a harsh note. “What are you doing here?”
“I needed a walk. I’ve been trapped in my rooms for days,” I said, smiling brightly. “And how about you? I thought you and your uncle were away.”
“I just returned today. I was working in my office,” Antoine explained, pointing back down the hall towards a cluster of closed doors. “Uncle will return Monday.”
“Well how about you take a break and come for a walk with us?” I offered. It wasn’t exactly my idea of fun but I figured I might be able to get some information out of him.
“Sorry, Princess, I must insist that you return to your rooms. It is not prudent to have you wondering the halls.” He held his hand out towards the atrium, “Allow me to walk you back.”
“We could go outside instead?” I tried as I let him lead me past the greenhouse. M. Arsnault was a quiet force following close behind us.
“I am afraid not, Princess,” Antoine said again.
I decided it was time to pull out my last card, and pray that it would lead me somewhere. I stopped at the bottom of the stairs, making Antoine stop and pivot to face me. “Please,” I begged him. “I need fresh air and exercise. I am going crazy in here. I need something to do.” I put my hand on his biceps, “Please?”
Antoine sighed heavily. “Come and see me in my office tomorrow evening. I will put a call in to my uncle to see if he will let me walk you outside.”
“Oh thank you!” I cooed, playing the damsel in distress. “That means so much to me.”
“I am not promising anything, Princess,” Antoine insisted, pulling me towards the stairs. “We cannot have you feeling unwell though.”
“It really has not been good for my constitution,” I agreed, hoping it sounded good. I was pretty sure I had read that line in some wanton historical romance Tess had been reading.
“Yes, well, I will see what I can do. Good night, Princess,” Antoine said, stopping at the door of my salon.
“Goodnight, M. DuBlaise,” I said smiling, and offered him my hand. He took it, placing the obligatory kiss on my knuckles before he swept away.
M. Arsnault cocked an eyebrow as he pulled the door open for me. “What?” I asked, in mock defense, throwing myself onto the couch. “We need answers. Either I will get him to talk or this will give us a chance to take a look at the grounds. We need all the information we can get.”
“I am impressed, Mademoiselle. That was very ingenious of you,” M. Arnsault said, smiling.
“A girl has gotta use what she can,” I shrugged, smiling smugly. “Let’s just hope it actually works.”
I wasn’t even mad when M. Fraise woke me up the next morning, a little creeped out yes, but not mad. The day was uneventful, but I was even more anxious for the evening to come. I watched tourists bobble across the lawn, snapping pictures of the gardens, and finished reading the historiography book. Around four, I decided to shower, figuring I should probably shave my legs so I didn’t scare Antoine away. When I was done, I dried my hair into soft waves and put on a green sundress. I even put a little makeup on.
“What do you think?” I asked M. Arsnault, twirling for him as I reentered the salon.
“Beautiful, Mademoiselle,” he assured me, looking up over the top of my computer screen. “Are we leaving now?”
“Might as well. It’s after five, so the tours have ended. Dinner will still be cold when we get back.”
“Very well,” my guard chuckled, standing. “After you.”
“Do you know which room it is?” I asked him, realizing I hadn’t seen where Antoine had appeared from last night.
“Yes, Mademoiselle. I spoke with M. Fraise and he said that M. DuBlaise uses the salon attached to the Violet Room as an office while he is here.”
“Interesting,” I noted, jumping off the last step. My heels cracked against the stone floors.
We passed the greenhouse and throne room again until we reached the fifth door of the hall. It was open, showing green walls and the edges of cracked leather sofas. I stopped in the doorway, facing Antoine who was seated at a large modern looking desk across from the doorway. “Hello,” I said, knocking lightly on the doorframe.
Antoine looked up from the computer he was working on, but when he realized it was me, jumped to his feet. “Hello, Princess,” he purred. “I was just about to call M. Fraise to go and fetch you. Please come in.”
“Thanks,” I said, taking a seat on the couch. M. Arsnault stepped into the room, settling into position just inside the doorway.
“Did you speak with your uncle?” I asked, trying to sound hopeful.
“I did,” Antoine confirmed as he sat back down, folding his hands in front of him on his desk.
“And?” I pressed eagerly.
“Like myself, he did not like the fact that you were out of your suites. He does, however, see the necessity for some fresh air so he has given me permission to take you out on the grounds in the evening,” Antoine explained. He sat back in his chair, waiting for me to answer.
“That’s fantastic!” I exclaimed. Antoine didn’t look so excited though. I guess he didn’t like that he had been charged with babysitting me. “Thank you so much! Can we go now?”
“What?” he blurted. He looked down at his desk, “I mean, there is some work I should finish. I supposed it could wait, though we cannot be long.”
“Excellent!” I said, cutting him off before he could change his mind.
“I do hope I am not interrupting anything,” said a voice from the doorway. I turned around to see Governor Beaucage standing halfway into the room. “Oh, Princess,” he said, nodding his head as he saw me, “I am sorry, I did not realize you were here.”
“No problem,” I told him tightly.
“I just came to discuss some matters of business with M. Dublais here. I should have called before I popped in.” The man chuckled, carefully watching my face. Something about this didn’t feel right. What ‘matters of buisness’ could the two of them possibly have here in Arcadis?
“Perhaps I should come back later?” he suggested.
“It is alright,” I said standing. “Antoine and I were just about to go for a walk. I need to change my shoes though, so why don’t you boys talk and then Antoine can come and get me when he is ready.”
“Thank you, Princess,” Beaucage muttered, sliding further into the room. “May I say though, before you leave, I am so very happy to see you here. It is positively thrilling to see you so comfortable in your rightful home. With you and M. DuBlaise, Arcadis will be whole again.”
“Erm, well, yes, we can hope,” I said, frowning. I wasn’t completely sure what the governor was talking about. I wasn’t too sure I wanted to know either. “Well, I will see you later.”
“Goodbye, Princess,” the two men called as I scuttled out of the room with M. Arsnault behind me.
“What do you think that’s about?” I asked under my breath, hurrying down the hall. “And what is a governor of Solis doing here in Arcadis?”
“I am not sure, Mademoiselle, but I do not like it,” said M. Arsnault. We passed the greenhouse. M. Fraise was inside watering the plants again, the door in the wall still propped open.
“Maybe I can get Antoine to tell me on our walk,” I thought out loud.
“Do be careful though, Mademoiselle. You cannot be too obvious or Antoine may suspect something.”
“I’ll be careful,” I told him. We were back in my room now. “Start eating if you like,” I called to my guard as I went into my bedroom. “I’m just going to change.”
I stepped out of the heels, leaving them in the middle of the carpet, and pulled the green dress over my head. The jeans I had worn yesterday were still on the floor too, so I tugged them on. Obviously, M. Fraise was not as fastidious in his duties as his sister. As I pulled the tee shirt on, I noticed that my closet light was on again. That was two days in a row; it couldn’t be a coincidence. I always turned it off, and Mme. Fraise seemed to spend half the day in there and it hadn’t been left on once. M. Fraise hadn’t even put clothes away and the closet light was suddenly on. Something wasn’t right. I padded carefully across the room, suddenly nervous. The closet was empty, but my heart still stopped, because along the back wall there was a seam in the paneling and a crack in the shelves that wasn’t usually there. I pushed a row of sweaters aside and tugged on the shelf, making it swing forward. It was a door and there was a staircase behind it. It was one of the servants’ corridors!
“M. Arsnault,” I called excitedly. “M. Arsnault!” I heard shuffling in the other room as my guard jumped up. “M. Arsn-” I started again but a ringing noise interrupted me. My phone. I ran back into my bedroom and picked it up off the bedside table just as M. Arsnault came barreling into the room, looking ready to kill someone.
“Hello?” I said, trying to contain my excitement about finding the door and trying not to laugh at my overly anxious bodyguard.
“Fred? It’s Phillipa,” said the tired voice on the other line.
I sobered immediately. “What’s happened?”
“You need to come home,” she said. “He’s awake. Leopold is awake.”