Christopher Key, chapter eight scene two

Meanwhile, Crown goes off by herself and seethes …


Crown sat atop the roof of the palace, a letter in her lap.

She’d found the letter on the floor of her bedchamber—her cold, dark and comfortless bedchamber, with no Mere, no ladies to wait on her. Anyone could have left it there, from a bribed page to the lowest of the palace maids. Though it was probably Red Meg, who swept the hearths and carried the ashes away, and would do anything for a penny, according to what the halberdiers talked about when they didn’t know Crown could overhear. As bold as her nose was long, Red Meg, to the despair of the usually omnipotent Lady Dunster, who had held the post of palace housekeeper for the past dozen years.

An unmarked envelope sealed with plain wax, no stamp. But the instant she opened it, she knew the penmanship—a masculine hand with regrettable and obsessive flourishes, as fancy as a law-court clerk’s. At once she had taken the letter and a lantern up to her old bird’s-nest on the roof; she’d been climbing on the palace rooftops since she was small, and could make the ascent one-handed in the dark. No one would disturb her here.

As she read the sheet of paper by lantern-light, she ripped it apart a sentence at a time, and fed the pieces to the flame so they could not be found later and betray her.

My dear delight … wracked with doubts that I’ve insulted you somehow, or wronged your pride, which is not merely regal but imperial …

… for you, any risk. Any challenge, any battle. Short of the unforgivable, there’s nothing I won’t dare …

I fear your father.

… write me back, one word even, or send a message somehow, I know not how but you, sweetheart, know who can be trusted here. Always, always count me in that number.

And for a signature, there was the single word Yours.

There, all gone. The last fragment vanished in a cinder and a wisp of smoke. Crown snuffed out the lantern, sat staring into the indifferent gulfs of the night. She stuffed the back of her hand into her mouth. Then with a muffled shout, she hurled the lantern to smash in a thousand pieces on the slates of the roof.

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