Jane’s footsteps led her down the dimly-lit stone hallway, the tray in her hands. She felt tired but she knew she couldn’t drag her feet, servants weren’t supposed to make any noise.
She had accustomed to having light footsteps, being more careful and even breathing more silently. However, she also had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and an acute curiosity.
Eve was falling outside, she knew and the Queen wanted her daily foot bath at this time, so that she could watch the sunset from her chambers while her feet were being tended to.
Today it seemed, she would not have it.
As Jane walked down the low passage, without guards in view, she came upon a strange fold in the tapestry coating the walls.
She set her tray down soundlessly and ran her finger along the edge of the soft material.
It was a representation of a coronation, a bearded man in a thick, red coronation robe kneeling before a man clad all in white, a book in hand.
The tapestry lifted a little and Jane brought her eye close to the gap. Instead of solid wall she saw a hole in the wall.
Looking down and up she saw the hole extended to the ceiling and floor. It was a hidden entrance. Perhaps a hurried entrance or exit had left the tapestry carelessly folded.
Jane opened the flap a little more and peered inside. The scene that greeted her eyes made her want to scream.
A man lay on the floor, thick, red warm blood seeping from a deep gash in his neck, his crown cast from his head on the floor. A hooded figure stood over her body, a dagger in hand.
“At last I am rid of you. Your bastard son is next. Oh, yes, I’m coming for him and there’s nothing you can do!”
Jane’s breath quickened and she let the tapestry fall back against the wall.
With the last strands of sense left in her, she grasped the tray and ran down the hall, back the way she came as fast as she could.
When at last she reached the servants’ quarters, out of breath, wild-eyed and wild-haired she stopped running. She dumped the tray heavily on the table.
“Quick… king is dead… killed… coming for Prince Nicholas…” she heaved in between breaths.
“Come girl, sit down and explain yourself properly. Here.” Emma, the head cook said, guiding her to a nearby chair.
Jane had recovered her breath but was still as shocked as before.
“You don’t understand! Prince Nicholas is going to be murdered! The king has just been killed! In his chambers! Hurry, we must get him out and away!”
“Nonsense!” Emma tutted. “The King has been getting ready in his chambers for the feast, no one has entered or left! The guards would have told me to bring out the aperitifs.
And do you really think someone will have climbed all the way up the North Tower? Now go and peel the potatoes, girl.”
Jane tried to speak again but Emma had turned away, and no other servant girls would listen.
The feast was beginning. Queen Esmeralda stepped up on the pedestal where the King’s throne was, her hands clasped tightly together, a slight frown on her face.
The guests stopped talking and mingling amongst each other to look at the queen.
“I… regret to inform you that his Highness is unwell tonight. He has requested that his absence be excused. But let this not dampen our enthusiasm.
Let us dance!” she said, her hands thrown into the air. She sat herself on the seat next to the throne, her son Thomas by her side, and her step-son Nicholas on the opposite side of the throne.
Jane trembled while holding the tray of wine glasses.
Prince Nicholas was in danger and Jane hadn’t a clue as to whom was out for him, how they were going to kill him and how to convince the others she was not lying.
The queen has risen and gone over to speak to Nicholas. That woman had always been controversial in the kingdom, despite her well-liked counterpart.
She had had a son with the King, but he would not be king now, Nicholas as the first-born would. Which meant that if he died… Thomas would ascend.
Jane turned her gaze back to Nicholas, now dancing with his step-mother and with horror saw the colour in his face drain to white as the Queen sunk a blade in his back.