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Escort Duty – Part 23

Erika was pulling the gown over her head when the matron and the rest of the servants came through her door. Behind her, the sun was just touching the horizon.

“My lady, you should have waited for us,” the matron gently scolded.

“Oh, I’m not used to servants anymore,” Erika replied airily, “My apologies.”

The servants closed the dress up around her and pinned it in place. One laid the heavy gold chain around her neck, while another pulled her hair back and braided it for her. Soon, her reflection in the mirror was of a china doll in a yellow dress.

“Oh, my lady, how nice you look,” the matron said, ushering her out the door, “The duke will be so pleased to see you.”

Erika let herself be led down the stone stairs to the ground floor, then through long corridors to a great hall. Its walls were festooned with tapestries and dusty trophies of long-forgotten hunts. A long table, its dark wood polished so that it gleamed in the light of candles and torches, ran down its center.

The duke waited for her there, wearing black silk and suede. A lion, embroidered in gold, lay across his chest, while a gold chain, matching the one around Erika’s neck, hung from his neck. It matched the topaz studs which were affixed to his ears.

“My lady,” he said as he bowed, “you are the most beautiful creature I can imagine.”

Erika said nothing for a moment. Most beautiful creature you could kidnap and imprison, she thought as she gazed down on the thinning hair on the back of his head.

“My lord,” she said primly.

The duke straightened and reached to take her hand. Holding it aloft, he gently guided her to a seat at the end of the table. Gold and crystal wine goblets, along with polished silver plates and flatware, were laid out at two of the chairs.

A servant filled Erika’s glass after she sat down, and the duke walked to his own chair across from her. Kyrali picked his cup up and raised it in salute to the princess.

“To happier days and prosperity for our lands!” he said before tipping his glass back.

Erika brought the cup to her lips and took a sip. Her eyes flitted across her place setting, and she had to fight to not curse when she saw that there was no knife next to her plate.

A servant brought out a steaming tureen and ladled green broth into her bowl. Erika smiled emptily at the duke as she picked up her spoon and tasted it.

~~~

Simon and Hollo stood in the alley’s shadows, watching the guards standing watch at the tower’s gate. Every so often, an officer would come by on his rounds. The guards seemed to know his routine, because a moment before he arrived, they would stop their idle conversation and push themselves off the wall to walk their post. A moment after his departure, they had their backs to the wall and discussions of women or work resumed.

“There’s about half an hour between visits,” Hollo said, “Might be enough time to do away with the guards, grab the princess, and get out.”

“I think I’ll try something a bit more subtle,” Simon replied, “Think you can fly up to that tower and see which room she’s in?”

Hollo nodded, and reached for his amulet. A moment later, a large crow flew through the courtyard and over the gate. The guards watched it go, then shrugged and returned to their discussion of the merits of blondes versus those of brunettes.

Simon waited patiently as the officer made another round, then heard a rustle in the alley behind him. Hollo kneeled next to the wall beside him. He panted with fatigue, and his brow was wet with sweat.

“Barely had enough to get back without falling from a house’s height,” he said tiredly.

“Did you have a look up there?” Simon asked.

“Yeah, she’s not in any of the rooms with windows.”

“Damn it. She has to be in there somewhere. See anything else?” Simon asked curtly.

“See that long building at the base of the tower? Something’s going on in there. Heard voices and smelled food.”

“Have to start there.”

“How’re we getting in?”

“You’re getting back to the horses and meeting me at the top of those bluffs over there. Bribe your way across the river if you have to, but don’t raise an alarm,” Simon said, rising from his crouch, “Wait for us until an hour after sunrise, then head for the border.  Find some of the Prince’s troops and tell him what’s happened.”

“And you?”

“I’m going to get in there, fetch our fair lady, and get out, hopefully without being seen.”

Hollo snorted and shook his head.

“Good luck,” he said, stepping back up the alley and heading toward the city gate.


Other episodes can be found here.  The entire anthology can be purchased at Amazon.

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1 Comment

  1. OldNFO

     /  June 4, 2018

    And now the ‘fun’ begins…

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