Christopher Key, chapter eleven scene two

This is a new scene; that is, I’ve come back and rewritten this chapter with two new scenes, and this is the first. I’ve just finished fitting them into the continuity.

—————–

Mere became aware that someone was looking at her.

She didn’t know why. Here she sat useless in the dark, and she could not even go to the privy without someone to lead her there. The other girls were working, setting the table in a clatter of cutlery and plate. They sounded subdued. Christopher had retreated to his bed and drawn the curtains shut; Dimity had come and whispered it in her ear. That wasn’t good. He was always retreating, backing away as if overwhelmed. And he’d had several shocks this afternoon—she assumed they’d told him what a Key was, and then what had happened to the queen—

Her mind shied away from thinking about that. He’d told them about it, when the halberdiers brought him back. The only consolation was that Queen Amily hadn’t died. If she’d died, surely word would already be spreading through the palace. Mere devoutly hoped that the queen was receiving the very best care.

She couldn’t let herself worry about it. Christopher was supposed to be her main concern. But she didn’t know what to do about it, and anyway someone was looking at her … The back of her neck itched with it. Then she realized it was someone outside the room.

It could only be one person. She got unsteadily to her feet, and heard at least two of the others hurry toward her. Merriment and Seventh, both their voices upraised in alarm. She said, “Sir Surrey wants me. I have to go.”

“I’ll lead you,” said Merriment, taking her hand.

A stir of curtains came from the vicinity of the bed. Christopher’s voice said, “Can I come?”

“What! No. I won’t be long.”

“I want to—”

“You can’t,” Mere had to say. “I’m sorry. Maybe another day.”

Poor Christopher.

Merriment led her to the doors. The guards let them past without a word, and then a calm voice said, “Ah, Mere. Good girl. I’ll take her from here, Merriment,” and Sir Surrey took her arm and escorted her onwards.

She walked, blind and obedient, at his side. She found she knew which way they were going, down the hall and down the stairs, and then to the left. Here was a stair that led up, to the roof of the palace. “Mind the steps,” Sir Surrey warned. They began to climb.

The stair climbed a fair distance, very crooked and uneven, the stone steps slippery under her feet. Sometimes the walls narrowed in, so they had to climb single file, and the ceiling came low enough to brush the crown of her head. Sir Surrey did not utter any curses, but growled sometimes under his breath. Perhaps he’d knocked his head upon the stonework. They didn’t talk.

At the end of the long climb, they went through another doorway. No buckets of water or sticks of wood had been left balanced atop it, Mere hoped. Beyond it was fresh air, cooling her hot face—it was hard to climb stairs while blind—and Sir Surrey said, “Now do not take a false step, my girl. You’ll fall to your death.”

She knew where they were: on the rooftop parapet, where soldiers sometimes patrolled. Perhaps after cursing every turn of the long stair up. She’d been up here with Alexane from time to time. Alexane liked heights. The roofwalk had a cursory wrought-iron railing barely knee-high, more a courtesy than anything else, looking out over a dead drop.

Sir Surrey drew her to sit down on what must be the edge. Their feet dangled. Distant voices carried up from below. She held very still, thinking of the distance to the courtyard.

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