Location: Carriage/Gates of the village of Chevrette (Afternoon)
It was a long, uncomfortable ride to Chevrette.
(I will never understand pants. And I hate wearing my hair wound and braided!)
Heroine “This cap itches.”
Henri “Should have warned you – Pierre has lice.”
Pierre “What lies are you spreading about my hygiene, Henri?”
Henri “Bathe more often and your ears will be clean enough to hear me.”
Heroine “I appreciate that you’re trying to distract me from my discomfort, gentlemen, but you must admit this is an odd situation.”
Alexandre “No need to fear, Highness. You make a fine looking boy.”
Henri “I’m not sure that’s quite the compliment you intend, Sir Alexandre.”
Heroine “Indeed, Sir Alexandre, it is not.”
Sir Alexandre refused to meet my eye as a red flush crept up his neck. All of us chuckled at his obvious discomfort.
(Laughter is a good tonic for jangled nerves.)
Nicolas “Quiet all of you. The gate guard is approaching.”
Guard “What brung you lot to Chevrette?”
Nicolas “Just passing through on our way to the capitol.”
Guard “How long you plan to stay?”
Nicolas “More than a day, less than a week. We have some business in town as well.”
Guard “What be the nature o’ that business?”
Nicolas “It is the king’s business, sirrah, and none of yours!”
The guard looked none too pleased by Sir Nicolas’s response. He eyed us all carefully up and down before focusing on me.
Guard: “Who’s the scrawny one here. Don’t look like no knight, him.”
Henri “He’s my younger brother, Cyrus Monville.”
Guard “Fair enough. Here be your entry certificate. You get your exit certificate from the magistrate before you got leave to go out any city gate.”
Nicolas “What is the purpose of these certificates?”
Guard “Helps us see that no one slips in or out of town without the guard know. It’s dark times. Can’t be too careful.”
Location: Yard of The Running Boar Inn, Chevrette (Outside) (Afternoon)
We drew many a suspicious glance and glare on our way to our inn, The Running Boar. Chevrette was indeed an unwelcoming place.
Nicolas “The horses are properly stabled, but the innkeeper says our rooms are not yet ready for so fine a company as we.”
Henri “A chance to see the village, then, Cyrus?”
Heroine “I’m curious, but somewhat wary. My disguise . . . “
Henri “It withstood the scrutiny of the guard. And I shall accompany you to ward off unwanted attention.”
I looked to Sir Nicolas for guidance. He shrugged.
Nicolas “Jaques or Pierre could go along, High – em . . . Cyrus, but a group of knights and a . . . boy . . . will draw more attention.”
Heroine “I would like to see more of my father’s kingdom. Come, then, brother!”
Location: Streets of the Village, Chevrette (Afternoon)
The sullen suspicion of the villagers toward strangers in their midst did not abate as Henri and I walked the streets.
I was, however, beginning to enjoy the deception of posing as a boy. There was a certain freedom in learning how to spit and swagger from Henri.
Henri “You take to manhood with alacrity.”
Heroine “I merely learn through imitating my big brother. Does masculinity suits me better than my usual state?”
Henri “Far from it. But I see no alternative at the moment.”
Heroine “I will say that, as my brother, you are far better behaved than formerly.”
It was the first time I had ever seen color rise to Henri’s cheeks.
My enjoyment was cut short when a large, lumbering brute of a fellow brushed by me. His mass was such that I was thrown to the ground.
Henri “Hold, sir! What do you mean by such rudeness!”
The fellow stopped and turned, eyeing Henri with that mixture of distrust and hostility we’d seen so often since arriving.
Big Villager “Beg pardon, sir knight. Your squire be such a featherpuff, I did hardly feel the blow.”
I rose from the mud, carefully readjusting my cap, which had gone dangerously askew in my fall.
Henri “This is not my squire, sirrah, but my dear younger brother, of whom I am most fond.”
Henri pulled me to him with one arm and planted a kiss firmly on my cheek. My hands were too busy keeping my cap on to impede him.
(The impudent scoundrel! Using my misfortune as an excuse to steal a kiss!)
Big Villager “I’m more like to punch my brothers than kiss ‘em, but I s’pose manners be different where knighthoods and such come into it.”
Henri “Indeed, sir, we are a tightly braided family.”
(If he “braids” me any tighter, I’ll pop!)
Big Villager “My advice: you’d be better takin’ your foreign ways elsewhere. Chevrette don’t take much to strangers or fancy folk. You be both.”
Heroine “That has been made plain by the cold reception we’ve had here.”
Big Villager “We don’t ask for naught from outsiders. Outsiders should expect naught from us. Good day to you.”
As the fellow tromped away, Henri’s hand slipped from my shoulder to my back with the warmth of a caress. I flinched away, hissing fiercely.
Heroine “How dare you take advantage like that!”
He responded with a reply in the same low register.
Henri “I simply reinforced the strength of your disguise, Highness. With his attention on me, he was less likely to look closely at you.”
(The villagers are looking now. This will have to wait.)
Heroine “Come, brother. I need to get out of these muddy clothes.”
Henri “Of course, Cyrus. Let’s go back.”
(He let that go very easily. He must recognize our danger as clearly as I.)
Location: Running Boar Inn, Tavern. (Night)
By the time I had bathed and changed, it was time for dinner.
The knights and I sat together around a large table where the plain-but-hearty fare was doled out in great bowls and platters.
Henri sat across from me, more subdued than usual.
Jacques “Henri tells us that the cloud of suspicion spreads across the whole village, Cyrus. Was that your perception as well?”
Heroine “Have you read Brevin Tallowmead, Jacques? There is the part of the story where Brevin returns from his wanderings after many years . . . ”
Jacques “Yes! And no one believes his tales of adventure or will hear the truths he learned because the village has not changed, though he has changed much.”
Heroine “I felt much as Brevin must have felt. This village resembles my own. I see faces that remind me of those I knew . . . but they look at me with such . . . “
Henri “Malice. That is how it seemed to me. They not only distrust us but actively to wish us gone.”
(Oooh! That is it precisely!)
Nicolas “I saw you shiver, Cyrus. Are you well?”
Heroine “This is a dark and dreadful place, Sir Nicolas. How soon may we be away?”
Nicolas “I shall call on the magistrate at first light tomorrow and see what can be done about our certificate of exit. Meantime . . .”
Nicolas “I have . . . ah . . . bethought me that it would be unwise to our purpose of concealment were we to lodge you in a separate room.”
Alexandre “It would seem odd were the younger brother of one of our party to have private quarters.”
(I see where this is going!)
Nicolas “The innkeeper has only two rooms to spare for us. One has beds for four, the other for only two . . . “
Nicolas “What say you, Cyrus?”
(What do I say? If I refuse, Henri will believe I no longer trust him. If I agree, I subject myself to his teasing attentions!)
[Please select one]
a) “I will stay with my brother.”
b) “I will share the larger room with three of you.”
c) “I will sleep in the barn.”
Heroine “I will stay with my brother, of course.”
(Henri looks relieved. Did he fear I would choose otherwise?)
Henri “Of course! Where else would Cyrus stay but with me?”
Heroine “I will stay in the larger room with three of you. My brother can share the room with whoever shall draw the short straw.”
Only rarely was a joke had at Henri’s expense. But Henri did not join in the loud laughter.
Pierre “Well-played, Cyrus!”
(Henri looks crushed! I had no idea it would hurt him so!)
As the laughter died down, I punched Henri lightly on the shoulder. It seemed the right gesture between brothers.
Heroine “Of course, I shall stay with Henri!”
Heroine “I will sleep in the barn. Pigs snore less loudly than my brother.”
Only rarely was a joke had at Henri’s expense. Even Henri joined in the loud laughter.
Nicolas “I presume that means you feel confident in Henri’s protection this night?”
Heroine “I do, sir.”
(The village today showed me the dangerous poison of mistrust at work. I chose to trust Henri, I will stand by my choice.)
Location: The Inn’s double room (Night)
As we prepared for sleep, Henri gave me ample privacy. He gave me, in fact, no reason at all to doubt his honorable intentions.
(This sudden change in him makes me restless!)
Henri “Am I the cause of your sleeplessness, Highness?”
Heroine “I do have others things than you on my mind.”
Rising to stand at the window, I pulled by nightgown close around me. Each night seemed colder than the last.
Heroine “The moon is behind the mountain tonight.”
Henri was suddenly beside me. His locket gleamed from the open neck of his undershirt, nestled in the dark hair of his chest.
Henri “We cannot expect every night to be as clear as last night.”
Heroine “Nothing about last night is clear to me at all. I . . . “
[Please select one]
a) Ask about the locket.
b) Ask about his life before you met.
c) Ask if he has feelings for you.
Heroine “Your locket. Will you tell me whose image it contains?”
(He’s looking at me with such intensity!)
Henri “It is empty, Highness. A mere bauble. I wear it out of habit and vanity. Nothing more”
Heroine “Will you speak anything to me of your life before we met?”
(He’s looking at me with such intensity!)
Henri “There is so little of import to say, Highness. I was born, I grew, I apprenticed myself to study chivalry . . . and I am here, now, in this moment.”
Heroine “Henri . . . do you . . . do you care for me?”
(He’s looking at me with such intensity!)
Henri “It is my duty to watch over you, Highness. To offer more than my loyal service would violate that trust, whatever I might suggest otherwise.”
He reached out to me with one hand and brushed his fingers through my hair. The suddenness and tenderness of it startled me.
Henri “Did you fear I would kiss you, Highness? No, I know your feelings on that score.”
Heroine “I . . . I am sorry if I flinched. I was — Your gesture surprised me.”
Henri “It was merely a thread in your hair.”
He held it in out to me, caught between his slender fingers.
Heroine “I never know what to make of you, Henri. You are teasing when I expect you to be serious, serious when I anticipate playfulness – “
Henri “Women are permitted the luxury of paradoxical behavior, but men are not?”
(He’s standing so close. I should move away, but I cannot.)
Heroine “You . . . you make a fair point. Yet the things you say . . . something in your eyes, in your reluctance to speak of yourself . . .
Henri “I do not make sense to you.”
Heroine “No. You do not. I see hints of a deeper feeling, a complicated but honorable heart . . . “
Henri pulled me to his chest and murmured his next words in my ear.
Henri “And if I were to tell you that my playful flirtation was, in fact, not in jest but in deadly earnest? What would you do then?”
A loud rapping at the window made us jump apart. Philippe’s white snout and brown eyes loomed through the glass.
Henri flung the window open.
Henri “Philippe! There are no apples for you tonight! Back to the barn.”
Instead of obeying, the stallion thrust his head into the window, pushing Henri away from me and then nuzzled into me with affection.
Henri “Oh, I see . . . you are here to protect Her Highness from your master!”
Philippe snorted loudly, nodding his head in agreement.
Heroine “It seems I have a second guardian tonight.”
Henri “One watchman to watch the other. This strikes me as the work of Sir Pierre, whose concern for Your Highness knows no bounds.”
Philippe whinnied. Henri seemed to be right.
Henri “With great regret, I bow to the inevitable and surrender the field . . . for tonight. Goodnight [USER_FIRST_NAME].”
He was asleep within minutes. I lay awake for some time after.
(Not “Highness” or “Princess”! He called me by my name!)
Location: The Inn’s double room (Morning)
Sir Nicolas’s firm knock brought me awake the next morning. Henri was gone from his bed, Philippe was gone from the window.
Nicolas “May I have a word, Your Hi—ah . . . Cyrus?”
Throwing on my nightgown, I opened the door a crack. Sir Nicolas held a piece of parchment in his hand and a fretful look in his eye.
Nicolas “We have our certificate of exit . . . but we have received an urgent message from Isabelle. Your room seems the most private place – “
Heroine “Give me . . . ten minutes, then have everyone join us here.”
Nicolas “I shall bring your breakfast.”
Good as his word, Nicolas returned in ten minutes with a hot meal and four knights in tow. As I ate, Jacques unfolded a scrap of paper.
Jacques “Isabelle sent us a coded message by carrier pigeon. She is satisfied that none of her compatriots betrayed us in Sackville.”
Heroine “But . . . it must have been one of them, surely?”
Jacques “Her message goes on to warn of an ambush that has been laid for us just north of Chevrette, along the Old Forest road.”
(We never discussed which road we would take after Chevrette! Not in Isabelle’s presence at least!)
Nicolas “I see you catch the significance. Our decision about our route from here was not made until we’d left Sackville far behind – “
Alexandre “There is only one conclusion we can take from this circumstance . . . “
(No! It’s too horrible! It can’t be!)
It was Henri who stood, surveying his fellow knights with his coldest expression.
Henri “One of us is passing information to the enemy. One of us is a spy and a traitor!”