Two years passed. We stayed in Stonebridge. Toeryn thought that it was big enough that we could just disappear in the crowd. He had warned me that he had eyes everywhere, and that if I got away, he would hunt me down. Keeping true to his promise, he often gave me reports of what I had done through the day, as proof that he was always watching. At night he locked our door, preventing me from getting away. This isn’t to say I didn’t try. Toeryn had forbidden me contact the knights, or anyone I knew. I felt scared, alone and desperate to escape my prison.
My chance for freedom came one late morning when I stood in the main square. I was careful to blend in with the crowd, not to be noticed as I nicked coin purses of the townsfolk. That’s when I saw him. It was a smile I knew I would never forget. Mandrel. He was feet away from me, chatting with some people as he made his way down the stairs. My heart did flip-flops in my chest as I stared at him. Happy to see that he was safe and untouched by Toeryn’s goons as far as I could tell. For a split second, he looked directly at me, I could have sworn he winked at me. Adverting my gaze, I stared at one of the tailor’s displays. The most beautiful dress of blue and gold sat on a dummy. The deep blue satin shone in the sunlight. The light blue satin overcoat had a delicate gold filigree pattern. A gold border trim wove along edges of the light blue fabric and corset lacing on either side of the bosom. Never had I wanted something so badly, yet knew I would never be able to claim it for my own.
I was poor in all sense of the word. My clothes baggy, and hid my girlish figure. My hair constantly kept short to add to the boyish appearance I was portraying, was dirty and very tangled. My heart sank as I realized that I would never see myself in that dress.
“Why the long face?” A familiar voice said behind me.
I shrugged slightly, not wanting to turn towards the voice.
“I think it would look splendid on you,” He told me.
Words caught in my throat, my voice cracking softly as I realized it was Mandrel standing behind me. My eyes darted around, knowing this would be reported to Toeryn.
“How did you know it was me?” I whispered, careful to not move my lips.
“Who else do I know with flaming red hair that stands out over a crowd of people?” Mandrel countered.
I snorted softly still not looking at him.
“What happened to you?” Mandrel asked, obviously sensing my hesitation. “Waien was livid when you weren’t there. Everyone was worried. We all thought you had just runaway.”
“I can’t about it here,” I replied. “He’s watching and I don’t know where he is.”
“Alright, then answer me this,” he started, “Are you in some kind of trouble? Just nod or shake your head in response.”
I nodded slowly. I could sense the wheels in his head turning.
“Look at me,” he said. Slowly I turned to look to Mandrel. My heart beat against my chest threatening to break through.
As I looked at him, I kept my expression neutral. His eyes searched mine for the truth, but there was nothing to explain my situation other than I was scared.
“The festival is coming up. Do you think that you can go?” He asked with a smirk.
“Probably not,” I replied softly.
“Well…” he paused to look around before he leaned down to whisper in my ear. “I’ll hope that you can make the carriage leaving the south gate early morning in three days time.”
“I’ll talk to Toeryn,” I said noncommittally. When he didn’t pull away I became nervous. I heard a soft clink of coins in my pocket and frowned.
“We’ll get you out of this.”
I watched him walk away with a flourish. Sighing heavily, I looked at my purse. It was easy to spot the coins Mandrel gave her. Three platinum coins gleamed up at her along with a small handful of gold. Without realizing he had done it, Mandrel made himself a future target. But perhaps this was his intention in the first place. I chuckled and shook my head as I wove my way through the crowd and back to the little hovel of a room Toeryn and I shared. My spirits were visibly lifted as I threw the coin pouch on the table, less the three platinum.
I smelled Toeryn before he walked through the door. As he clambered up the steps, I remained motionless on my bed. When I heard the giggle of a female with him, I rolled to my side and sighed heavily. It was going to be a long night. If I was lucky, I would get some sleep. This wasn’t the first time he came home with a woman. Usually she was too drunk to care who was in the room. The door squealed when he opened it.
“’oo’s that then?” The woman said. I rolled my eyes and forced myself to sit up.
“I’m his sister,”
“Oh. Well why ain’t ‘choo in yer own room then?”
“My brother doesn’t trust me,”
As she stood there and took this in, I threw the coin pouch to Toeryn. His eyes widened with the weight of the coins and he grinned.
“I want to go to the Brockton Festival,” I told him, while his companion wrapped her arm around his waist.
“Why?” He asked with a cocked brow. “You ain’t never wanted to go before.”
“Well I want to go this year. I’ve done everything you asked of me. I might of been mean and spiteful and downright hateful but I did it. The least you could do for me is let me go to the festival.”
“Ah, let ‘er go love.” his companion crooned. One good thing about her, she was on my side. “Then we can ‘ave the room to ourselves and I’ll show you what I can really do.”
My insides turned as my dinner wanted to march it’s way back up my throat. Swallowing it back, I forced a weak a smile on to my lips.
“I have a way there, and I don’t need money.”
“I’ll think about it.”
Inwardly I cheered. Excited that he said he would at least think about it.
“But,” He said, opening the coin pouch and tossing me a gold coin. “Get your own room for tonight.”
“Would you mind if I went to the pub?”
He waved me off as the woman began to drown him in kisses, telling him how compassionate and kind he was to look after me. Not taking a second glance back, I bolted out of the stay house and into the darkening streets. With a rush walk, unable to hold back my excitement, I moved through the small crowds.
When I reached my destination, I peeked in the window of the pub. Mandrel, Waien and Sywyn sat at the table. Waien was drinking his preferred ale, Mandrel and Sywyn both drinking from wine goblets. Giggling slightly, I fought hard to contain my excitement. Quietly, I entered the pub, Mandrel looked at me for a second with a smirk on his lips. Waien was distracted with his mug and Sywyn had his back to me. I walked to the counter and ordered a bottle of rum. Setting the gold coin on the counter. Once I got my change and bottle, I sauntered over to their table and just plopped down in the fourth empty chair.
“Who the hell…” Waien’s words froze on his tongue as he stared at me in disbelief.
“I was just telling them that I had seen you today lo-,” Mandrel said.
“Where in the hell have you been?!” Waien screamed. The bar fell silent as his voice rose. I knew it was going to be a long night as I explained my disappearance.
Waien listened and asked questions, Mandrel sat and listened, a smirk on his lips every time my eyes met his. But the one who concerned me the most was Sywyn. His face was stony; cold and hard. He didn’t ask many questions, and I danced around some to protect myself. All three of them knew that I was hiding things, but none of them pushed me into telling them.
“Do you need help to get away?” Waien asked.
“Not at the moment. He’s told me that he’ll think about allowing me to go to the festival.” I replied, my eyes falling on Mandrel once again. He gave me an award-winning smile and a wink.
“He gonna let you start your lessons up again?”
“No and that isn’t something I’m going to push.”
“What we need is a plan,” Sywyn said. “A plan to get her out of there and get Toeryn out of Stonebridge once and for all.”
Everyone looked at the knight. It shocked us all that he would suggest something like this.
“Look I understand I am part of the law here, but I refuse to sit back and watch someone innocent become broken and corrupt from her living station. If I can help just one person change, then I will know I have done my job.”
“Spoken like a true knight,” Mandrel chortled.
“Unfortunately, Lyssa, I will have to exclude you from the discussion,” Sywyn said pointedly.
“Simply because we will need the element of surprise on your part,” he explained. “To put it quite simply, we have to create something that will make you and your brother become prisoners. For that to happen, we’ll need to know all we can about what you and Toeryn do throughout the day. Mandrel, after the festival, I want you to follow Lyssa around.”
The smirk that formed on Mandrel’s face made me turn a deep shade crimson. All he could do was chuckle.
“With pleasure,” he said after a moment, raising his glass in my direction. “I would go to the end of the block for this fine lass.”
Waien lifted a brow and gave a sidelong glance to Mandrel. “That’s the tenth woman you’ve said that ’bout in the past week.”
Mandrel gave Waien a playful shove, causing a small amount of ale to dribble on to his shirt.
“‘ey! Watch it!” Waien said in response. Sywyn chuckled before taking a small sip of wine and then turned to me. I giggled softly, but it still felt a bit awkward, like I was standing outside looking in.
“Pay them no heed,” Sywyn said softly, in hopes of easing my anxiety. “Now, why don’t you tell me what I need to know, so we can plan accordingly.”
Several hours passed and the pub grew rowdier, then began to quiet down. I didn’t pay attention the darkness filling the streets, rather I kept telling the three men exactly what Toeryn had me doing. I could see in Sywyn’s eyes that he was becoming tense with each passing moment. I had my guard up the entire time ready to run at a moments notice should Sywyn be ready to clap my wrists in irons.
“Sywyn,” Waien called several times. “Ease up a bit, yer makin’ my girl a bit nervous.”
“Your girl?” Mandrel chuckled.
“Well I teach her don’t I?”
“More like taught, it’s all past tense.”
There was a few more minutes of bickering, but Sywyn seemed to take his old friends advice and relaxed a little.
“Is there anything else we should know?”
“Nothing that I can think of.”
“This will all take place after the festival. You won’t know when, just be ready and on guard. I will not be the guard to interact with you. I will make apologies now, just in case he’s a little too rough.”
“Can’t be any worse than my slave driver teacher and whacking me with an arrow shaft.”
Sywyn chuckled and looked to Waien. “Oh really? Child abuse mate?”
“Huh? What?” Waien stammered.
“Well it would seem that your girl said you were whacking her with arrow shafts.”
The expression on Waien’s face was priceless, it was a mix of shock, fear, and maybe a dash of humor. “I did not. I only made her word twelve hours a day without food or water.”
As Waien spoke his pitiful defense, everyone laughed, including the barmaid who heard us talking.
“Aye! The dog does the same thin’ to me,” she commented playfully. Waien lifted his fist jokingly and shook it at her.
“Back in the kitchen wench and fetch me some meat!” He jested.
“Well I think it’s time for me to head back before my brother realizes that I’ve been gone too long. It was great to see you all.” I said with a hint of hesitation. I didn’t really want to leave, but I didn’t have much of a choice. “Hopefully, it will end soon.”
“I could give you a lift if you’d like,” Sywyn offered.
I shook my head. “No, I don’t like horses, they’re usually associated with trouble and that doesn’t have a hard time finding me. I’ll be alright. Remember. I grew up on the streets.”
I left them sitting there looking after me as I carried what was left of my rum bottle. The streets were practically devoid of life as I walked down them. There was the occasional cat call, or panhandler asking for any spare coin, but I kept going until I reach the stay house. Once there, I took the steps two at a time, I hit the door and turned the knob. Lock.
I could hear snoring from Toeryn and the rustling of his companion next to him. Remembering that he told me to get my own room, I retreated down the steps and looked for the inn keeper. He was a tall man with long blond hair. It was often loose, but neat looking. His arms were
“Lyssa, vhat can I do for you?”
“Toeryn’s got company, and locked me out. Again.”
“Got a spare for me?”
“Yah, I do have a spare room. Many in fact. Vhat you say to the special suite?”
“Really? How much?”
“For tonight, since you were so helpful to me, I give you free.”
I beamed happily and jumped on to the counter giving him a kiss on the cheek.
“Thank you so much.”
“Is nothing really. Just make sure you clean it up.”
I took the keep and flitted up the steps. I loved the special suite, it was an entire floor. The red velvet drapes blocked the sun from the window. The goose down mattress was covered with soft linens and every thing was spotless. My favorite feature of this room was the bath tub that was as large as a pool. I opened the door and found a warm cloth robe sitting on the bed. Immediately I stripped down, leaving my dirty clothing outside the door. Picking up the robe, I slid it on to my arms with ease and tied the belt.