Location: Town of Sackville (Afternoon) (Light rain)
After we deposited our prisoner with the local sheriff, I was anxious to explore the bustling town of Sackville.
Heroine “Look at all the people! Is that a market? I love markets!”
Nicolas “We will indulge you, Highness, but you must again pose as my niece. Henri and the others will be your brothers and cousins.”
Heroine “I honor your judgment, Sir Nicolas.”
Location: Sackville Market (Afternoon) (Light rain)
After leaving Alexandre to stay overnight at the stables, guarding our horses and luggage, the rest of us entered the busy market square.
Heroine “What a wonderful selection of fruit! I never knew there were so many different kinds of apples and melons!”
Nicolas “The Sackville Market attracts merchants and farmers from all of Valois’ provinces.”
Heroine “Oh! What is that strangely shaped one over there – the one with the top like a crown?”
Henri “A pineapple, cousin Priscilla. Sweet as honeywine on the inside, but sharp and prickly on the outside. Much like yourself.”
Heroine “You will not bait me today, Henri. There’s too much to see and do here!”
Pierre “Did you see the fabric stalls down the way? Perhaps you could find something to catch your eye there?”
Jacques “I know the booksellers here very well. I’m sure they have many fascinating volumes.”
Nicolas “And I will happily take you on a tasting tour of the wine sellers and ale merchants.”
a) “We’ll shop for fabric, first.”
b) “New books are always a joy.”
c) “Let us taste some wine!”
Heroine “We’ll shop for fabric, first. I’ll make a new dress when we reach . . . our destination.”
Pierre “That seems a worthy mission. I’ve always wanted to see you in some of the finer fabrics we couldn’t get in the village.”
Henri “Or see her out of them, Pierre?”
Pierre “As always, you mistake me, sir!“
Heroine “Now boys! The rain may cut us short, so let’s us get on!”
Nicolas “Well said, Your . . . ah . . . Priscilla. Well said.”
Heroine “New books are always a joy. And I have finished the one you loaned me, Jacques.”
Jacques “Then by all means let us choose something new. Poetry, perhaps? Or stories of romance?”
Heroine “More history. I feel a need to think on serious subjects of late.”
Nicolas “An excellent plan, my . . . ah . . . Priscilla.”
Heroine “Since I know it would please my uncle, let us taste some wine!”
Nicolas “An educated palate will stand you in good stead at cour– . . . ah . . . at your father’s house.”
Henri “Sir Nicolas can also acquaint you with the underside of every table in that house, since I have drunk him under each of them.”
Nicolas “I will take your jibe in good humor this once, Henri.”
(It’s nice to see everyone so relaxed for a change . . . or did I just speak to soon?)
Sir Nicolas’s smile turned to a look of concern as he spied something over my shoulder. He spoke to Pierre from the side of his mouth.
Nicolas “Do you see the fellow in the green cloak?”
Pierre “Yes. He seems suddenly interested in the chandler’s wares, though he doesn’t look the type to buy candles.”
Heroine “What’s happening?”
Henri “We have been discovered. Stay close.”
Jacques “I see three more, Sir Nicolas – two from the market entrance and one on our right flank. There are likely others.”
Nicolas pulled me close to whisper in my ear.
Nicolas “It seems our market day will have to wait, Highness. Be guided by Henri in all things and do not leave his side.”
I nodded, unable to speak.
(What are they going to do? And how are we going to escape when we don’t even know where all the enemies are?)
Henri took me by the arm. As we dove into the market crowd, Nicolas and the others drew their swords.
Nicolas “Have at them, men!”
I heard screams, angry shouts, and the clash of steel. Then Henri and I were running, pell-mell, through the press of market-goers.
Henri “We are pursued.”
A glance behind us confirmed this sorry state of affairs.
(The man in the green cloak! And another in grey!)
Henri overturned a cart of vegetables in the path of our pursuers, followed by a rack of baskets.
The angry shouts of the stall owners joined the general chorus of dismay, but our pursuers were not men to be slowed by produce or wicker.
A women’s urgent voice cut through the growing din.
???? “Sir Henri! M’lady! Over here!”
Henri saw her first and dragged me in her direction. To me, she was a swirl of red cloak as she spun away down a narrow passage between stalls.
Heroine “Where are we going?”
Henri “Wherever Ser Isabelle is leading us, Highness.”
(Ser Isabelle? She’s a female knight?!)
Henri’s sudden stop almost cost me my balance. Only his strong arms kept me from going over the low wall we’d come to.
Looking down, I could see another part of the market. Stalls jammed together along another street clogged with foot traffic.
The woman who’d saved us stood nearby, looking back along our path.
Isabelle “We are not yet safe, Henri. Get behind those barrels. I’ll lure them away.”
No sooner did we follow her instructions than the two men appeared, looking this way and that.
Henri “Be silent, m’lady. Allow Isabelle to work her charms.”
Peeking through a gap in the barrels, I saw our rescuer fling the hood of her cloak back, revealing a cascade of dark hair.
(She’s beautiful! I’ve heard of women as knights, but never expected to meet one!)
Green Cloak “Which way did they go? You must have seen them – a man and a girl.”
Isabelle “I’ve seen many a man and girl this market day. None of the men were as handsome as you, and you seem to lack for female companionship . . . “
Grey Cloak “Lars, you fool! They’re getting away!”
Green Cloak “Let them go. I suddenly I have other plans.”
Isabelle “Come with me. We’ll have a drink and get to know each other better.”
Green Cloak “All I need to know of you, vixen, is the taste of your lips!”
He grabbed at her and, though she darted back, his huge hands caught her cloak. He pulled her toward him.
Henri “Nice try, Isabelle, but a more direct approach seems necessary!”
Henri threw his weight against the stack of barrels, toppling them onto Green Cloak and Grey Cloak.
Isabelle “Now you’ve done it, Henri! Never one to take the easy way when the hard way beckons, are you?”
Our pursuers struggled free amid the shattered barrels, impeded by the rain slick cobbles. We had a chance.
Isabelle “Follow me, then!”
Isabelle stood on the low wall at our backs, surveyed the street below, and leaped!
Henri “Your pardon, Highness, but I shall be taking certain liberties.”
(He smile dazzled me for a moment. For once, there was actual warmth in his eyes.)
Heroine “What do you – ahhh!”
Henri swept me up in his arms, leaped to the top of the wall and flung me into the air.
I landed on the fabric awning of one of the merchant stalls below and rolled down its slope in a very undignified way.
Isabelle “M’lady, your hand!”
With Ser Isabelle’s help, I soon joined her on solid ground. Henri plunged after us. The awning collapsed this time. He cut himself free with his dagger.
Heroine “Are you all right?! You could have warned me!”
Henri “In fairness, I did tell you I’d be taking liberties. And need I point out that we are safe?”
In fact, Green Cloak and Grey Cloak were nowhere to be seen. It seemed they’d not witnessed our leap over the wall.
Isabelle “Can we go now, or would that interrupt the flow of your flirtation?”
Heroine “I – We aren’t . . . There has been no ‘flirting’!”
Isabelle “Whatever helps you sleep at night, Highness.”
Before we could move on, Henri dealt with the angry merchant whose fruit stand we’d just descended on so unceremoniously.
Henri “Here, good sir, these coins should cover your losses . . . and I’ll take a few of those fine apples of yours, too.”
He tossed me one of the apples, cutting into another with his dagger.
Henri “Freshest fruit in the kingdom, m’lady. Sweet, tart, and full of juice. They’re called Princess apples.”
We followed Isabelle as she led us from the market. Not wanting to sound flirtatious, I ate my apple in silence.
(This apple tastes exactly as he said it would . . . and I will not give him the satisfaction of telling him that.)
Location: Safe house in Sackville (Afternoon)
Isabelle knew where she was taking us, though the twists and turns soon befuddled me.
Isabelle “We’re here.”
She gestured to a private house, not an inn. The street-level floor was a woodcarver’s shop, the upper floors were a typical residence.
Isabelle “I sent the woodcarver out to guide the others here.”
Henri “Highness, this is Isabelle Lavigne. She is your father’s chief agent here in Sackville. Thank you for coming to our aid, Ser Isabelle.”
Isabelle “Always a pleasure to retrieve your fat from the fire, Henri. Contributing to Her Highness’s safety is just a bonus.”
Heroine “I should have been the first to offer my thanks, Ser Isabelle.”
Isabelle “It is my honor and duty to serve, Highness.”
Henri “Exactly how safe is this safe house, Isabelle?”
Isabelle “I’ve no reason to suspect the Guild knows anything of it.”
(The Guild? Who are they? I’ll have to ask later.)
Henri “Good. When the others arrive, I’ll go reimburse the merchants whose stalls we damaged and gather provisions. We’ll stay here tonight.”
Location: The Safe House in Sackville (On the Roof) (Night)
Though a quorum of knights made the safe house feel even safer, sleep again eluded me. I arose and wandered into the small garden behind the house.
???? “Highness, you should not be outside without one of us to guard you.”
(Who — ?!)
Henri sat on the roof behind me, just outside the window to his own room. There was something in his hands. The locket I noticed earlier?
Heroine “May I join you, then?”
I returned to the second floor, and climbed out the window to join him.
Heroine “An interesting perch at a late hour. Are you a knight owl, Sir Henri?”
Henri “Your Highness really needs to reconsider her sense of humor.”
Heroine “If only I knew someone who had one worthy of emulation.“
Henri “Did you come for our assignation?”
(Why does he always have to be like this!)
a) “I’ll return to my bed.”
b) “I’ve no more patience for your games.”
c) “If I said ‘yes,’ what would you do?”
Heroine “I’ll return to my bed.”
Henri “Don’t go, Highness. Am I really so repellant?”
(I’ve never seen such sadness in his eyes.)
Heroine “No . . . of course not, Henri. Yet teasing banter wears thin with no honest expression of feeling at its core.”
Heroine “I’ve no more patience with your games, Sir Henri.”
Henri “Have I offended Your Highness?”
(He looks genuinely hurt, but he can’t be that dense!)
Heroine “Of course you have, Henri. But I’m not angry. I merely wish to know what truth you hide behind your teasing banter.”
Heroine “If I said, ‘yes,’ what would you do?”
Henri “I – would be shocked by your boldness, Highness.”
(He looked genuinely surprised for an instant.)
Heroine “That is no answer, sir, merely more of your teasing banter. Cleverness cannot substitute for some revelation of the truth in your heart.”
Henri smiled his most charming smile.
(This smile actually reaches his eyes.)
Henri “Please join me, Highness. Who knows, perhaps a moment of truth is near?”
(Is he offering something real this time?)
Heroine “On that chance, I will grant you a few minutes.”
I settled beside him – close, but not so close as to invite more of his seductive remarks.
(That is the locket he’s holding!)
Heroine “What brought you out here?”
Henri “Did you not notice the moon tonight?”
I looked up at the sky. Clouds scudded across the moon’s full face like glowing galleons.
Heroine “For some reason, the moon always strikes a note of sadness in my heart.”
Henri “I feel the same way. Its cold beauty appeals to my streak of melancholy.”
Heroine “Is that what lies beneath your constant attempts at witty seduction?”
(He rarely fails to respond like this. What could it mean?)
Heroine “I wonder if Grandmother is looking up at the moon right now and wondering how I’m faring?”
Henri “It gives me some comfort to think that the same moon and stars that watch over us also watch over those we love, however distant they may be.”
(He’s thinking about someone too! A lover?)
Heroine “Is the loved one you’re thinking of the one you carry in your locket?”
Henri gave me a look I’d never seen before. Anger? Sadness? Longing?
There was a shout from inside the house.
????? “To arms! We are attacked!”
Henri “Inside, Highness, and bar the door. We’ll make short work of these brigands.”
He leaped from the roof and ran into the house to join the battle.
Henri was as good as his word. The fight only lasted a few minutes, with most of the attackers fleeing into the night from which they’d come.
After we cleaned up the mess and treated a few minor wounds, we gathered in the woodcarver’s shop. It was still hours ‘til dawn.
Isabelle “It was the Guild, without doubt.”
Henri “One day, they’ll learn to fight and we’ll be in trouble.”
Heroine “Who or what is the Guild?”
Nicolas “The Most Excellent and Deceitful Guild of Assassins, Poisoners, and Executioners, m’lady.”
Pierre “They’re based in Gladius, but have agents throughout Valois. Their numbers have increased in recent months.”
Heroine ”How did they find us here?”
Isabelle “This concerns me as well, Highness. Only I and a few trusted friends know of this place. And the six of you.”
Nicolas “I suggest you re-evaluate your comrades, Ser Isabelle.”
Isabelle “Indeed I will, Sir Nicolas.”
(That little crease between her eyes tells me something about this still troubles her.)
Alexandre “I see a further complication. Clearly the Guild knows we travel with the Princess. Our final destination must be equally obvious.”
Nicolas “Five knights and one lady. And our next way-station is Chevrette, near Silver Mountain.”
Alexandre “Not a place that trusts outsiders.”
Jacques “Why not disguise the Princess as a boy?”
Everyone stared at him as if he’d just suggested I assume the guise of a pink unicorn.
Alexandre “We could not expect Her Highness to compromise her dignity – “
Heroine “Sir Jacques’s idea sounds a worthy one.”
If possible, the shocked silence that came on the heels of my consent was even deeper than that which followed Jacques original suggestion.
But then, the mood turned topsy-turvy.
Henri “We cannot risk another market trip. It will have to be a disguise devised from what we carry with us.”
Alexandre “I’ll fetch the carriage with our luggage!”
This notion was met with acclaim. Within the hour, Alexandre returned and I found myself the center of a fashion event.
Jacques “Perhaps these breeches of mine will serve – “
Henri “Those are the pants you wear to the stables, sir. What about your blue velvet?”
Pierre “I have a vest that might do.”
Nicolas “Not that bespangled horror! I’m embarrassed to be seen with you when you wear that thing!”
They spent the remaining hours until sunrise using me as a dress-up doll and arguing over which of their loaned clothing made me look more like a boy.
(Of all my experiences on our journey so far, this is the strangest!)