Saturday, January 1, 2011

Chapter One: Springtime

It was spring in the land of Deheubein. A warm breeze blew through the courtyard of Deheubein Castle. The sun gleamed off of gray stone walls, and for the first time since the spring rains had come, the packed dirt of the courtyard was not a great sea of mud. The clatter of wooden practice swords and grunts of exertion filled the air as the squires in residence were out for their morning drills with the castle's Master-at-Arms, Sir Rhydderch.

At the other end of the court, Lunessa Deheubein stood in the shade of a roofed gallery. She leaned against the wooden railing that separated the gallery from the courtyard proper, and watched the shirtless young squires as they went through their drills. She wished she could get closer, but she was wearing her nice blue dress, the one that matched her eyes so well, and she couldn't risk getting dirt on the hem. The wind blew her red-blonde hair every which way, but she paid it no mind, except to occasionally push it out of her eyes. Every so often, she would notice Sir Rhydderch glancing her way, his normally fearsome mien muddled by a nervous scowl, but she did her best to ignore him.

He made for an imposing figure as he shouted orders at the scurrying youths, thick arms crossed over his chest. Though only five and a half feet his presence lent him height, and the shock of red in his now mostly-gray hair only added to his warrior's bearing. Yet despite that, and despite the obvious terror he inspired in the youths going about their exercises, he seemed uneasy. This didn't bother Lunessa much, though. He always seemed agitated when she came down to watch the squires, but he never said anything. In return, she never used her old nickname for him, Puff-cheeks, in front of his students. Well, mostly never.

“Begin!” the Master-at-Arms shouted, and the two squires raised their fists and began to circle each other warily. Lunessa's vision was riveted to Rosalynn's lanky form as the girl weaved and feinted, patiently waiting for an opening to land a telling punch. Her opponent, Davyd, was a burly youth with a thick cap of blonde curls. Lunessa supposed he was fairly nice looking, despite the buck teeth. Rosalynn on the other hand wasn't nearly as large, but the years of grueling training had left her with a sculpted, well-muscled body. Lunessa bit her lip, watching the girl's taut stomach flex as she swayed away from a punch, her legs as she danced in to launch a flurry of jabs, her hips as....

Lunessa fanned herself. The mid-morning air suddenly seemed uncomfortably warm.

Looking away for a second, she nearly missed the final blow in the sparring match. Drawn back by sudden motion, Lunessa saw Rosalynn duck Davyd's jab and swing with her left, every muscle working in harmony to put all her power behind the blow. Completely taken, Davyd spun a quarter circle and crashed to his hands and knees. Sir Rhydderch threw a hand up to signal the end of the fight. Lunessa grinned and clapped, overjoyed at Rosalynn's victory. A couple of the squires who had also been watching the match cheered as well, though the rest seemed disappointed.

“Enough!” Sir Rhydderch yelled, and turned to Davyd. “How many times do I have to tell you, lad? Watch her left! You keep those fool eyes stuck on her right hand, and the left will be free to ring your thick skull like a bell.”

“Hmph,” said a voice next to Lunessa's ear. She started, her grin growing sickly, then dying entirely as she looked over to see her brother, Roliff Deheubein, standing next to her. He didn't seem to notice.

“Davyd shouldn't have lost,” he went on. “I would bet he let that little peasant bitch win.” Lunessa scowled and opened her mouth to protest, but he kept on talking right over her. “Hah, maybe I'll go have a bit of fun with her. Shake her up a little.”

“Don't you—” Lunessa started, but Roliff was clearly paying her no heed. She stamped her foot in frustration. “Oooh....” He stepped around her, striding toward the yard. As soon as he stepped out into the sun, all attention fell on to him. Sir Rhydderch stopped his haranguing, and eyed Roliff warily.

Roliff was a big lad, well over six feet tall and built as solidly as the castle itself, with a mop of the same strawberry blonde hair Lunessa had. Twenty-one years old and having recently finished with his own squire-ship, he had just received his knighthood, and he wasn't half proud of the fact. Lunessa had no idea why he was down in the courtyard at this time, aside from being a nuisance. That may in fact have been the only reason. Roliff seemed to have made it his mission to make life miserable for as many people as possible, starting with Lunessa herself and working his way out from there.

“Ho there, peasant,” Roliff called, eyes squarely on Rosalynn. “I saw your little win over that simpleton Davyd. Would you care to pit your skills against a real knight?”

Rosalynn stared, eyes wide. She glanced at Lunessa, who could only shrug apologetically. Lunessa wasn't sure where Roliff was going with this, but she had an inkling, and it wasn't anywhere nice.

“My lord?” Rosalynn said, clearly at a loss.

“Saints save us from fools...” Roliff muttered, loudly enough that everyone in the courtyard could hear. “I'm telling you to spar with me, peasant,” he said.

“You... wish to box, my lord?” Rosalynn asked, her voice quavering with uncertainty.

“Heavens, no!” Roliff said with a snort. “You'll not have me rolling about in the dirt like a low-born fool. Pick up a sword, peasant. We'll fight like men. Though for you I guess that would be impossible, would it not?” He laughed nastily, and didn't seem to mind that no one else joined in.

“No more than it would be for you, brother!” Lunessa called from back in the shade of the gallery, and was rewarded with hastily suppressed laughter from the youths in assembly. Roliff dismissed the jibe with an angry toss of his head. He folded his arms and glared impatiently at Rosalynn.

Rosalynn glanced at Sir Rhydderch for direction. With great hesitation, the old knight nodded. “Yes, my lord,” she said finally, and scrambled to take up one of the practice swords. Roliff then sauntered over to select one for himself.

“Ready, peasant?” Roliff asked with a sneer as they squared off. But before Rosalynn could answer, he charged.

“Rosalynn!” Lunessa cried. “Watch out!” Rosalynn barely got her practice sword up in time to deflect Roliff's overhand strike. She staggered under the impact, and was only just able to jump back out of the way of his follow up. He pressed his attack, forcing Rosalynn back as she frantically parried his blows.

“Roliff, you sodding bastard! Stop this this instant!” Lunessa screamed, unmindful of the looks that her language was garnering. Roliff paid her no mind whatsoever. A snarl was setting on his face. He was a lot stronger than Rosalynn, and was in truth more skilled with a sword, but she was quicker, more agile. He grew more and more visibly frustrated as she ducked and checked his swings, often at the last possible second.

“Hold still, you little worm!” Roliff shouted. “Honorless little bitch! Stop–! Blast it, stand your ground!” But Rosalynn was far from a fool. His attacks grew wilder by the second, and even with a wooden blade, a single hit could be the end of her.

“Don't be afraid of him! Give that ass what for, Rosalynn!” Rosalynn glanced at Lunessa and their gazes met for a moment, before a near hit from Roliff forced Rosalynn's attention back to the fight. But now Rosalynn started to fight back. Sidestepping a wild swing from Roliff, she stabbed at his midsection, grazing his ribs as he swayed to avoid it. He knocked the wooden sword away before she could capitalize, but now off balance, Roliff found himself on the defensive as Rosalynn made a spirited effort to put an end to the fight quickly. 

“That's it! Get him!” Lunessa cheered.

Rosalynn's momentum was short-lived, however. Their wooden blades crossed, and they stood for a moment, straining to get the advantage. Then Roliff kicked out and up, hard, catching Rosalynn dead center with his boot. Rosalynn fell to the ground, clutching her stomach, her breath blasted from her body. Roliff stood above her, sword raised, his face contorted into a manic grimace. “Rosalynn!” Lunessa screamed, preparing to vault the railing in front of her to run to the dark-haired girl's aid, knowing all the while that she was far too late. Before she could move, though, a roared command stopped everyone in the courtyard cold.

“Enough!” Sir Rhydderch marched toward the startled Roliff, and snatched the practice sword from his hands. “You've won alright, Sir Roliff,” said Sir Rhydderch. “But I'll not have you braining one of my lads in front of my eyes.” Roliff glared at Sir Rhydderch, the new knight towering over the old. The Master-at-Arms met his gaze levelly.

After a long, silent moment, Roliff turned away. “Pfeh,” he said, and spat in the direction of Rosalynn. Lunessa hurried around the railing to come check on the girl, glaring daggers at Roliff the whole way. She came face to face with him, and the smirk on his face told her that her scowl meant nothing to him. So she kicked him in the shin as hard as she could. “Guh!” he grunted, hopping on one foot to clutch at his now-injured leg. Lunessa swept past him without a further glance, doing her absolute best not to limp as she did so.

Her face softened as she neared Rosalynn. The dark-haired girl was sitting up, but slumped, and still seemed short of breath. “Are you hurt?” Lunessa asked, extending an arm to the girl.

Rosalynn glanced up, and her big, dark eyes widened slightly as they met Lunessa's. Then Rosalynn cast her gaze down. But she accepted the hand. “No, milady,” Rosalynn said, as Lunessa helped her to to her feet. “I am fine.” Lunessa made a face at the formality, but said nothing about it.

“I am so sorry,” she said instead. “I'm sure I don't know what has come over him. He and I shall have words over this.” A small smile crept over Rosalynn's face at last, but before she could reply, Sir Rhydderch interrupted.

“Uninjured, Rosalynn?” the Master-at-Arms said, glancing the squire over.

“Yes, sir!” Rosalynn saluted, fist to heart.

“Good. Now what the the Saint's Names was that display back there?” the man yelled. “Have you not learned a thing I've taught you? You should have hand him flat on the ground in ten seconds, the way he was fighting! I want you doing sword drills until your arms drop off! Maybe then you'll learn something! Move!” The girl gave a squeak, picked up her practice sword, and ran to do as ordered. There was a snicker from the other side of the courtyard, which cut off suddenly as Sir Rhydderch rounded on the squires gathered there. “And what are you lot doing just standing around like a bunch of spirit taken fools?” he thundered. “All of you, grab a sword and join her!”

Lunessa watched the squires scramble about with half a smile for a moment. Eventually, she said to the old knight, “Whatever could have come over my brother? He has always been a bit of an ass, but this....”

“I'm sure it's not my place to say, lass,” Sir Rhydderch said. “But–”

“My lady!” A lilting voice cut in. Lunessa, heart sinking, saw Madam Croft picking her way across the courtyard toward her. She cursed under her breath. The woman, skirts held daintily out of the dirt, had come from the capital the previous year to teach Lunessa dance and all things musical. She was the most recent of the many tutors and instructors her father had hired to educate her in what seemed to be every conceivable subject. Some she enjoyed learning. Dance she did not.

The squires halted in their drills to watch the music tutor approach, eager for more entertainment. But Sir Rhydderch rushed to berate them back into line, conveniently putting him out of the path of the oncoming instructor. “Coward,” Lunessa muttered, before turning her brightest smile on Madam Croft.

“Oh, madam! What might you be doing out here?”

“That would be my question for you, my lady!” Madam Croft exclaimed. “Your poor cousin and I have been looking for you for nearly an hour! We can't begin the lesson without you.”

Lunessa doubted very much that her cousin Mabyn had been looking for her. She would know very well where Lunessa was and why. But that wasn't something she was about to mention to Madam Croft.

Not that she had a chance, anyway. The woman still had plenty of momentum left. “And just what have you done to your dress?” Guiltily, Lunessa glanced down at her skirt. The foray into the courtyard had left smudges of dirt along the hem.

“I can expla--“

But Madam Croft would not hear it. “Come along, my lady. As much as it shames me to teach someone wearing such filthy clothes, there is no time for you to change. We've already wasted too much of the day, and there are so many things you need to work on. Honestly, provincials...”

Lunessa gave up, and allowed herself to be dragged along in the woman's wake. She turned and waved at Rosalynn as they crossed the courtyard, but the girl was focused on her drill, and didn't respond.

* * *

Sunset, and the warm spring air was cooling rapidly. Inside the castle, the servants lit candles and torches to stave off the gathering night. In one hallway, shadows flickering all around, Lunessa stood uncomfortably. She leaned against the wall, staring into the middle distance, waiting. This hall led to the northeast tower, where the castle's men-at-arms were quartered. Among them, the handful of squires in residence. Occasionally a servant would bustle by, intent on some chore, or a guard would pass on the way to his bunk. She would acknowledge their bows and curtsies with a nod and a smile, and continued to wait. Once in a while someone new to the castle would wonder why the lord's daughter would haunt this bare stone and wood corridor, far from the lush tapestries and carpets that covered those parts of the castle that the noble family usually inhabited. Those that had been in the family's employ for any time just smiled knowingly.


Lunessa turned to see Rosalynn coming down the corridor. She wore the same burlap trousers she had that morning, still stained with dust, but now she wore a loose fitting white shirt over her torso as well. Rushing forward, Lunessa threw her arms around the dark-haired girl. Rosalynn winced, but returned the hug, albeit stiffly. Lunessa noted the grimace on Rosalynn's face, and stepped back contritely.

“I'm so sorry, I forgot!” she said. “How are you feeling? Does it hurt?”

“I am quite well, milady. Just a bruise,” Rosalynn replied, though the way she clutched at her ribs gave a bit of a lie to that. Still, Lunessa didn't press the point.

“I'm glad,” she said. “I will speak with my father about what happened this morning. He'll sort Roliff out, I am sure.” Lunessa had every confidence that their father would do as she asked. He'd never denied her anything before, after all.

“Oh, but there's no need to do that, milady,” Rosalynn replied. “If I was a better fighter, I wouldn't have been taken like I was. It was a valuable chance to see my own weakness.”

“Oh, you've been listening to old Puff-cheeks too much,” Lunessa said. Rosalynn smirked ruefully at Lunessa's use of the nickname. “I thought you were quite the gallant figure out there. Not weak at all.” She smiled, and laid a hand on Rosalynn's arm.

“Thank you, milady, but I still have much to learn,” she said, placing her own hand over Lunessa's. “I think I should be grateful to Lord Roliff for showing me that.”

“Hmph,” Lunessa snorted. She pulled back, and folded her arms under her breasts. Rosalynn gave a little sigh. “The only thing anyone should be grateful to Roliff for is if he graces us with the lack of his presence.” The very thought of Lunessa's brother was enough to irritate her.

“Now that's no way to speak about your lord brother, now is it, 'Essa?” Lunessa growled under her breath as she heard the voice come down the hallway. Rollif came in to view, stepping out of the shadows. “I thought I'd find you here.”

“Speak of a demon,” Lunessa muttered. “My 'lord brother',” she said sweetly, “can kindly take his pompous backside up to the top of this tower, and throw himself off of it!” The last came out a snarl, and Roliff raised his eyebrows at the sudden viciousness. He made no comment, however.

“This is a private conversation, peasant,” he said instead, sneering at Rosalynn. “See your way off.”

“Yes, milord.” Rosalynn curtseyed deeply. But before she could go, Lunessa caught her sleeve.

“Good night, Rosalynn. Sweet dreams.” She said it warmly, and meant it of course, but she also was proving a point.

“You as well, milady,” Rosalynn replied, with a ghost of a smile on her lips. Then she hurried down the hall. A moment later the sound of the door to the northeast tower opening and closing echoed up the corridor, and only then did Lunessa look back to Roliff.

“Do not speak to her like that,” she said. “And what in the Saint's Names were you trying to do in that courtyard? Have you lost what little mind you had?”

“Hah!” Roliff barked a laugh. “Just having a bit of fun, 'Essa. Besides, what does it matter what I do or say to some low-born bitch?”

“It matters to me. She's my friend.”

Roliff must have heard the heat in her voice, because his perpetual sneer softened for a moment. “'Essa, come now. You are the family's one great hope,” he said, with just a trace of mockery, “and she's just some low-born girl. You can't possibly be friends. All she's going to do is hold you back. Honestly, the sooner you drop her, the better off everyone will be.”

Lunessa shook her head, lip curling in disgust. “What is it you want, anyway?”

Roliff rolled his eyes. “Father sent me to fetch you. He wants to speak with you. In the library, of course.”

“Really?” Lunessa asked, her surprise partly genuine. “How rare. He never has time for me anymore. Too busy finding someone to marry me off to.” Roliff just shrugged. “Very well, I suppose I shall go to see him right now.” With a 'humph', she brushed past her brother and headed for the castle interior.

* * *

The library was a tiny room tucked away on the second floor, and new to its purpose. The Deheubein family had never been a scholarly one, and had not spent much time gathering books. But Lunessa's father, the current Lord Deheubein, was always looking for ways to improve his tiny fiefdom and his family's station. And he was willing to look to the knowledge of the past to do it.

Lunessa had heard it said that it was her mother's death from illness that had driven her father to sequester himself away in this cramped, pouring over histories and books of philosophy. She didn't know if that was true, it did seem as if he spent more of his hours in this room than any other in the castle.

Many, many candles made the room nearly as bright as day, and in the center of that mass of light sat the Lord Deheubein at his oaken desk, books piled around him. He was a slender man, still fit though his hair, once the same reddish color as Lunessa and Roliff, and long since gone to gray. A pair of spectacles, a recent addition, rested on the bridge of the nose of his deeply lined face.

Lunessa approached him, and waited, hands clasped behind her back. But after several minutes passed, it became clear that Lord Deheubein was too engrossed in his tome to notice her. “You wished to see me, father?”

He looked up and blinked at her, before recollection finally set in. “Ah, yes, Lunessa. Good of you to come so quickly. I have been speaking to Roliff, and....”

“Oh, Father,” Lunessa broke in, “whatever he told you was a lie! It was so horrible! He attacked poor Rosalynn for no reason at all, and I think he was going to kill her! You must do something about him, I swear he's gone mad.” She paused, breathing heavily, and watched her father's reaction. She was laying it on pretty thickly, but she found that an all-out attack from the get-go usually yielded the best results.

But not always.

Lord Deheubein cleared his throat, unperturbed. “Yes, well,” he said. He peered at Lunessa over the rims over his spectacles. “Roliff may have gone too far this morning, but in the end, he is correct.”

“Oh, how can you say that, father?” Lunessa cried, her hands clutching at her skirts. She started to go on, but Lord Deheubein held up a finger to silence her.

“I heard from Madam Croft that have been skipping out on your lessons again,” he said severely. “She found you down in the courtyard, where the squires were doing their drills, yes?”

“Y-yes, father,” Lunessa mumbled, feeling heat rising up her neck.

“You spend far too much of your time with that peasant girl. I have turned a blind eye in the past, but time is growing short, Lunessa. In less than a year, you will be eighteen, and marriageable, and we still have much to do to ensure that we find the best possible marriage for you.”

“But Rosalynn is my friend!”

“The daughter of a penniless peasant family is hardly a suitable friend for a young lady, Lunessa. Besides, what will you do when you are married, and have to leave her behind?”

“Well, I shall take her with me, of course. As...” Lunessa faltered for a moment, but rallied quickly. “As my maid.”

Lord Deheubein laughed aloud. “A maid, trained by Sir Rhydderch...! I should almost like to see that,” he said.

“Well then,” Lunessa said, face heating, “as my guard! Or something; it doesn't matter!”

“It does matter, Lunessa. A lady having someone of such a low station in her entourage, think of the scandal! The nobles at court would never accept her,” Lord Deheubein said, shaking his head.

“I shall make them accept her!”

“You can't change the way the world works, my lamb.” Lord Deheubein smiled kindly for a moment, before his expression grew serious again. “And even if you could, the fact remains that your time and energy are better spent learning the skills you will need to attract a husband from a good family.”

Lunessa knew what came next. Through sheer rote memorization she knew little speech of her father's probably better than he did. She kept quiet, though. There was no point in antagonizing him any further.

“Lunessa, as I am sure you know,” he said. She had to stop herself from nodding. “you are this family's greatest hope to lift us out of this tiny, backwater corner of the kingdom and make the Deheubein name matter!” His eyes shone in the candle light. Once his fervor had frightened Lunessa a little, but now she found herself waiting impatiently for him to finish. “Already I've been hearing from my friends in the capital that there are whispers about the beautiful Deheubein girl. When you come of age, you will have suitors lined up for miles! Suitors from powerful families! Why, within a handful of generations, one of your line could sit on the throne! Think of it, lamb! From this little patch of moor and woodland to the capital, the palace.”

Lunessa sighed. “Yes, father, I understand. I know my duty,” she said. “But, father, I beg you, please don't take Rosalynn from me.”

Lunessa's father gave her a long look. Lunessa, back straight, held her ground.“I remember,” Lord Deheubein said after a long moment, a wistful smile curving his lips. “when she first came here.” He leaned back in his chair, stared up into the rafters. “You threw an almighty fit until we agreed to take her in.”

Lunessa said nothing, wondering what point her father was trying to make. “From the day she arrived, there has been a bond between the two of you,” he said. “If, in your free time, you choose to associate with the girl, I will not stop you. However,” here his face grew sober once again, “one day you will have to leave her behind.”

“Thank you, father.” There was no point in arguing further, she knew.

“In return, I expect you to attend to your lessons. And try not to give your tutors any further grief, understand?”

“Yes, father.”

“And,” he continued, to Lunessa's surprise, “I suppose I shall have to find some task to occupy Roliff, if he is so idle that bullying squires in the midst of their training is the best use he can find for his time.”

Lunessa smiled broadly, and curtseyed to Lord Deheubein. “Thank you again, father.”

“Of course. Now, go get your rest. I'm sure that your tutors have another full day planned for you tomorrow.”

“Yes, father. Goodnight,” Lunessa said, retreating toward the door.

“Good night, my lamb.”

* * *

She would indeed have a full day tomorrow, Lunessa decided as she made her way across the castle to her own chambers. But her instructors would have nothing to do with it. She needed to speak with Rosalynn, to confide in her, and to get her opinion. And for that matter, simply a chance to spend time with Rosalynn would be wonderful as well. But events – and possibly various people – had conspired to make that all but impossible.

Lunessa tried to remember the last time that she and Rosalynn had been able to sneak off to some out of the way corner of the castle and just be together, chatting and gossiping and giggling over nothing. Though come to think of it Rosalynn rarely had much gossip, or did much giggling. But she listened. And she always had a tale or two about the other squires to share that would have Lunessa laughing until her ribs ached.

She couldn't remember the last time they'd had a chance to do that. Had it been last fall? Or earlier? There had been that trip to the capital in the summer, when Lunessa had been away for nearly a month. Had they talked – really talked – since then?

That tore it. She and Rosalynn were going to spend a day together. Clearly they had a lot of lost time to make up for. The question was how, though. The servants had ferreted out all of their secret spots, even the one in the southwest tower, and were quick to strike with some chore for Rosalynn, or to push Lunessa back to whatever dancing or etiquette or music lesson she was dodging at the time. So thus, the answer was clear.

They would have to go out of the castle.

Lunessa's father would throw a fit, of course, and she would have to find some way to get Rosalynn out of her chores to keep her from getting into trouble with Sir Rhydderch. But it would be worth it, in the end. The chance to go on a stroll in the countryside, just her and Rosalynn, the thought alone was enough to cause Lunessa to break out into a wide grin. She'd steal a little food from the kitchens, they could take their midday meal together....

“Well, you seem in good cheer this night, cousin. Did something happen?” Lunessa blinked, startled. She'd been so wrapped up in her plans, she'd hardly noticed as she'd completed her journey through the castle and entered her rooms. There, sitting at the edge of Lunessa's bed, was her darling cousin, Mabyn.

Mabyn was the middle daughter of her late mother's sister, and about the only other person in the world that Lunessa could think of as a friend. She had been sent to Deheubein Castle in the hopes that she could also benefit from Lunessa's education, and perhaps that she might even be kept out of trouble. The former was a definite success, and in fact Mabyn had thrown herself into learning politics and the nuances of courtly romance, often with more enthusiasm than Lunessa could muster. As for the latter, results had been more mixed. Mabyn, with her green eyes and upturned nose, was a very pretty young lady, and had quite the way with the young men in and about the castle. Lunessa had found her tales of her various trysts during their many late-night conversations as educational as anything her tutors could offer, if a little more mortifying.

“Haha, not yet. But something will!” Lunessa winked, recovering from her surprise quickly.

“Oh, do tell! You must!” Mabyn clapped her hands giddily, blonde hair flying as she bounced with excitement.

“Oh calm yourself, my dear. I shall tell you, but you mustn't tell anyone else,” Lunessa said, sitting down on her bed.

Mabyn looked scandalized by the very idea. “I would never, cousin! In all the time we've know each other, have I ever...?”

“Oh hush,” Lunessa broke in impatiently. “Just listen!”

Mabyn did as she was directed, her mouth snapping shut with a click. “Tomorrow,” Lunessa went on, pausing to make sure she was getting the proper reaction, “I shall... leave the castle!”

“What, forever?” Mabyn asked, eyebrows shooting up to her hairline.

“No, silly. Just for the day. And I shall take Rosalynn with me.”

“Oh, I see.” The confusion faded from Mabyn's face, replaced with a knowing grin. “But how did you plan to be getting out? Surely the guards at the gates won't let the two of you just stroll out on your own.”

“I had planned on sneaking out the little gate in the western wall,” Lunessa said, but much less sure of herself now.

“Oh no, cousin.” Mabyn patted Lunessa on the shoulder, shaking her head. “Begging your pardon, but there's just no way; the gates are all guarded, at all times. A mouse couldn't sneak out without being seen!” Mabyn looked thoughtful for a moment. “Ah! But there may be a way,” she said, excitement returning to her voice.

Lunessa listened, and a plan began to take shape. Rosalynn was going to be so surprised, she thought. This was going to be a wonderful day, for the both of them.

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