Thursday 6 – Saturday 8 September 2012
Francois waited impatiently for Lucy. In her role as Queen Josslyn’s Lady-in-waiting, Lucy was always punctual, and it was a habit that transferred to her personal time as well. She’d agreed to meet Francois, in secret, and had set a rendezvous for an hour after lunching with Josslyn. She had promised not to inform her mistress of the meeting, as Francois had insinuated that wanted to plan a surprise banquet for Josslyn’s upcoming birthday.
They were to meet in the garden by the north entrance gate. Francois was early, and unable to quash his fear of being discovered, began to doubt that Lucy would keep the meeting. He was relieved when he saw she was hurriedly approaching.
‘I’m quite excited to help you make these plans, Francois,’ she breathlessly blurted out the words.
‘Good,’ he replied.
‘You said that you had a job for me to do.’
‘Indeed, I do. I have left a horse outside this gate for you.’ He gestured to the north entrance gate. ‘I need you to journey to Riverfall, and give this invitation to the Cardinal.’
Lucy was surprised by Francois’ request. He knew he had to sell the idea of the journey to her.
‘Lucy, it is a very important task, and I don’t trust anyone else to undertake it.’
She considered his request before speaking.
‘But I am expected to be at my mistress’ side in less than an hour, and the ride to Riverfall is an hour at least.’
‘I will make an excuse for your absence. The Queen will accept without question that I required you to run an errand. I will enlist the assistance of your girl to take your place while until you return. Trust me, Lucy.’ He held out the invitation to her. Hesitantly she accepted it.
‘If you’re sure, sir,’ she said. He tried to smile in a reassuring manner, and ushered Lucy to the gate.
Outside the north entrance gate Lucy saw not only the horse that Francois had said was left for her, but also a horse and small cart, and two people. The man stood by the cart, and the woman stepped forward.
‘Francois, what is this?’ Lucy looked suspiciously back and forth between the man and the woman standing opposite her, and Francois.
‘These two will travel with you, as guides . . . and for protection,’ he lied.
‘Protection?’ she asked.
It was the woman who answered her question.
‘There is much dissent in the lands surrounding the castle. The Queen is not revered in all parts of the land, not as she should be. One woman travelling alone is a target for outlaws, thieves, and dissidents. Three people travelling together are less likely to be . . . bothered.’
The explanation seemed to put Lucy at ease.
‘Then I am thankful to have travelling companions,’ Lucy said.
The woman nodded to the man at the cart. He retrieved four goblets and small barrel from the cart. The woman handed a goblet each to Francois and Lucy, and held on to the remaining two.
‘A toast then, to new travelling companions,’ the woman said. The man removed the stopper from the bottom of the barrel, and poured ale into each goblet, replacing the stopper when all of the goblets were full. He put the small ale barrel back into the cart and took his goblet from the woman.
‘To travelling companions,’ Francois saluted and raised his goblet. The others followed his lead.
Lucy was the first, and only to sip from the goblet of tainted ale. Patrick Miller threw his goblet to the ground and lurched forward to catch Lucy before she hit the ground.
‘Francois, get her legs,’ he called. Francois dropped his goblet and bent down to pick up Lucy’s legs. Together, the two men placed her carefully in the cart.
‘Nice job, boys,’ Elle said, ‘and now it’s time for me to do my part. You two should rally the men and get this cart out of here.’
. . . To be continued . . .