Christopher Key chapter eleven next scene

Now, when last seen, Crown had just got a passionate love-letter from Perry, whom she adores but is forbidden to be with …

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“Where’s Mere?”

Christopher looked up. He’d been thinking gloomy thoughts—about running away, about how the knights would likely hunt him down, about the dragon on Folly Hill, the queen in her seclusion, all the things he’d been told. Poison tea. Keys. About ways to escape the castle, if he decided not to stay. About staying.

Well, there was the princess, Crown. As always, she seemed to fill the room just by walking in, and the other girls had broken off whatever they’d been doing—fretful whispering in the corners, mostly—and rushed to curtsey to her; halberdiers looked in at the door behind her. She stood tapping a folded letter against her forearm. When one of the girls fussed at her hair, straightening the untidy strands, she jerked away abruptly.

“Where’s Mere?” she repeated.

More curtseys. “She went out. Your grace, how does the queen?”

Crown let out her breath. “She does well,” she said, “she’s still sleeping,” and the girls all sighed deeply. “Mere’s gone? Then the rest of you can get out too. I want to talk with the boy. Go, go, are you deaf? Now.”

They went, protesting to the end, shooing the littlest ones along with them. Christopher thought: This is the first time I’ve been alone with a girl. Is it different from being alone with ten of them? Maybe. But Crown hardly seemed like a girl, with her borrowed uniform and her horrid hacked-off hair—she was a different being from the fairytale princess he’d first seen in the procession, going to be married amidst knights and pageantry. She was staring at him, brows drawn together, her lower lip caught between her teeth. And mangling the folded letter between her hands, until she started and smoothed it again, as if it was precious.

“So now you know what you’re here for,” she said

He didn’t know. He stared blankly at her—no, wait, did she mean about marrying her?

Marrying the crown heir. He hadn’t taken it in before, too much had been flung at him, and all completely unexpected—he’d never have guessed at the half of it. Not in his wildest dreams.

Too sudden, too confusing, and too ridiculous. Like some kind of joke.

He didn’t believe a word of it, except apparently he had to, because everyone else took it seriously.

It seemed like he was supposed to answer now with a meek, “Yes, your grace.” Maybe a tug on his forelock too? She’d crossed her arms and uncrossed them, and tapped one foot, waiting. Now she flung up her hands. “You look a perfect donkey. Were you dropped on your head as a child? You should be thanking us.”

“For what?”

“Aha. He has a temper. Well, we didn’t make you a Key—we’re merely going to give you everything you could want for the rest of your life, that’s all. Because you’re my Key.”

What made her think she knew what he wanted? “No. I’m not yours. And I’m not a, a Key.”

“Yes you are.”

“No.”

“Yes, you are!”

He couldn’t answer. She was over a head taller than him, for all that was holy. How could he marry a girl that tall? Or one who shouted, the way she did. And he had to stay here, the rest of his life, with her? He felt as if the walls were closing in. It wasn’t as if she was going to listen to a word he said anyway.

He still said it. “I’m not this Key thing. I’m not marrying anyone.”

“You are, you will, and I’ll thank you to show some enthusiasm. You’d think I was the pig-faced girl. And as for those blackguards who were holding you prisoner, you should be kissing our feet for rescuing you from them!”

He’d wanted to run away from his magicians, but never because he disliked them. But this girl was crazy.

“Look at you, backing away like a coward. I have no respect for anyone who backs down from a challenge.” All the while she spoke, she clutched her letter, pressing it to her heart. “What’s wrong, cat got your tongue?”

Christopher was actually shaking. He couldn’t hit her, because one didn’t hit a girl; he turned his back on her and went to the windows, right out onto the little balcony.

“You’re a fool!” she said, behind him.

The doors slammed.

No, he wasn’t staying here.

Christopher Key chapter eleven scene three

Crown paced the palace halls, worrying. Mother mustn’t die. No, she won’t die, and to fear it was absurd. But still, if Mother died … Round and round she went, always ending by shaking herself and then chewing on the heart of the matter: Someone poisoned Mother. I’ll find out who. Never mind Father’s orders, I’ll find out and I’ll kill them.

Round and round and round.

What brought her back to herself was a page’s piping voice. “Your grace?” She blinked. Her guards were eyeing her warily.

“Is that you, young Rob?” she said. He looked exactly like a very small copy of his father Sir Basil.  “When did you become a page?”

He blushed up to his eyebrows. “Yes, your grace. I’ve been serving in the palace a fortnight now, your grace. This is for you, your grace.”

She took the sealed paper he held out. No superscription, no stamp marking the red wax seal, but she could guess who had sent it. Yes—at the thought, her cheeks flushed and her heart leaped with pleasure. Crown broke the wax and read, My own, I am well, though still under arrest. The good ambassador says he can arrange that this message is sent. I pray he does not pry under the seal, for I cannot be discreet. I ache for you, my delight, my goad and madness; lay to with your whip of intoxication, I am your drunken slave … She clapped the letter shut, and looked around to see if her halberdiers were close enough to read any of it. Then she opened it again.

Line after line of delirious scandal, the whole page filled. She should burn it right now. No, wrong—she should have burned it before reading it. Nevertheless, it ended almost with restraint, the beautiful copperplate script only slightly roughened: I call you ‘my own’ but the truth is, I’m yours. Then, finally: No other will ever yearn for you as I do.

state of the cat

She’s caught a couple of birds this week, after a long time without.

She brought them both home (as is the way of cats). The first was dead, so I did that thing you do with hunting cats: praised her and carried her indoors. Leaving the bird; by next morning it was gone, of course. There are other cats in the neighbourhood and they cruise through my back yard every night. They trip the motion sensor light and I’ve seen them strolling past, looking around.

The second bird was alive, so I praised Greymouse again, brought her treats and then carried her indoors. The bird flew away. By the time we went outside again, Greymouse had totally forgotten about it, too. As is the way of cats …

Christopher Key, chapter eleven cont’d

Here’s the second half of scene two. Mere learns a little about her new power. But it’s not all roses …

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“This was another test?” Mere said. “To see if I felt you looking at me?”

“Yes,” he said. She’d always liked him, the way his whole face creased when he winked, and his bristling eyebrows and shock of rust-red hair. Uncle Surrey could wear a helmet all day, and when he took it off to greet a lady, his hair would spring upright like startled broomstraw. She wished she could see him now. “I laid a wager with your father,” he said, “that you’d see me, and look here, I’ve won. Time for a lesson, Mere.”

She’d hoped for this, but decided it wouldn’t happen. Not with Queen Amily laid low. “But the queen,” she began.

“She sleeps,” Sir Surrey said, “and Mistress Cecily professes herself satisfied that she will make a full recovery.”

“Oh, thank the angels,” Mere said.

“Indeed, thank them—whatever angels watch over Westminster. And I’d welcome a distraction just now. I’m glad you could see I wanted you, child.”

“But I didn’t really see you. I just knew you were looking at me, somewhere.”

“And you knew how to find me. I knew a spy once who said there were ten kinds of different glances, and he could tell all of them apart by the different ways they made his skin prickle. The look of the eye holds power. It’s my pleasure to teach you, as I was taught by a knight from the court before Amily’s, Sir Howard Drake—he was your father’s great-uncle, but died when you were still in swaddling.”

“I know about him. He had the Eye of God too.”

“Yes, like us. Now, I chose this place for a reason. If you looked across Westminster to the old town and St. Paul’s, could you count the cathedral pigeons?”

She pictured the cathedral, standing proud over the roofs of old London, with its famous double spire that was a landmark from everywhere in the city. “No,” she said. “It’s too far away.”

“I can see,” Sir Surrey said, “every detail of the cathedral. Down to the chisel marks in the stonework, and the panes in the rose windows. I can indeed count the pigeons. More, I can see their nests—they’re tucked in around the gargoyles, mostly—every nest, every bit of straw, each twig, each loose feather. I can count the eggs in the nests.”

“But I am blind,” Mere whispered. “Why can’t I see like you?”

“You will, soon. Sir Howard could count the petticoats of milkmaids as far away as the fields beyond Limehouse. He taught me all he knew, though he saw differently than I.”

“Differently?”

“Sir Howard’s Key was a frivolous woman, eager to hear every old wives’ tale, obsessed with the uncanny. So he could see ghosts, he said, and invisible black dogs that roam the city streets and go in at the house-doors of the dying. Spectral soldiers walking on Highgate hill, airy spirits flitting along the Thames. Strangenesses such as that. But Queen Amily does not believe in the supernatural. I never saw those things.”

“I … didn’t know any of that.” She’d thought that those who had the Eye only saw useful things. Important things. Like buried treasure? Or hidden weapons, in case an assassin lay in wait for the king. But then Sir Surrey had not seen the poison being put into the queen’s tea.

Beside her, Sir Surrey must be thinking much the same. He sighed heavily. “We see what our Keys need us to see.”

“So different Keys need to see different things?”

“And mind you this, Mere. When we first come into the power, that’s when our sight most clearly reflects what our Keys need. When I was new to the Eye, for instance, I saw mostly into the hearts of those around me.” He sighed. “Amily was troubled then. I won’t say more.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Your blindness won’t last. You too will see many things. One warning. Do not depend too much on the power of the Eye. Or any knightly power. Prize your wit and judgment instead, for anything else is a mistake. Sir Howard made that mistake, and died of it.”

“What? How?”

“He lost sight of ordinary things. He could not see the obvious, but was always raving of an invisible world around him—dangers that never materialized as far as I know—I myself witnessed how he would draw his sword upon shadows or nothing at all, or wander lost through familiar rooms, not recognizing his friends. Eventually he said it was dark in broad daylight, and sunny during the night. He died in a fall, from this very rooftop. That’s why I brought you here. I was not present, but witnesses said he walked over the edge—stepped confidently over the rail in broad daylight, and plummeted to his doom.”

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.

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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.

Christopher Key, chapter eleven scene one

I’ve been away for a week! In Glasgow. It was great.

Now, when last seen, Crown’s mother had been struck down by poisoned tea …

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Time passed for Crown in a blur of terror.

She’d been barred from her mother’s presence since, oh, she was three years old. Maybe four. She didn’t remember her exact age, only that Father, blast him, had decided she was old enough to be turned over to governesses. Mother had wept. But Mother had never said a word to stop it; Mother knew her duty too well. Alexander had always been allowed to visit, because he was crown heir. Alexander could straighten a horseshoe with his bare hands. She’d seen him do it. The touch of a Key could give the strength of ten.

Never her, though—a mere younger princess wasn’t important enough to waste a Key’s power on.

Now it didn’t even matter. She sent all her halberdiers to guard the boy Christopher on his way back to his chambers: not a long walk, he’d be safe. She herself stayed, standing in the furthest corner of Mother’s sickroom, making herself very still and quiet. If she reminded Father she was there, he’d probably send her away.

She couldn’t remember ever wanting to be invisible before.

The patch of sunlight through the big windows inched across the floor. The bells of the passing hours chimed faintly from the palace heights. Her clearest memory of those hours was an image: the king and all eleven of the knights-royal gathered around Mother’s bed, their faces stark with fear. How often did anyone even see all eleven knights together? Even Alaric and Sherwood, both fresh from their own sickbeds. She didn’t even know how Sir Sherwood could stay on his feet—not the way he’d been burned by dragonfire just yesterday on Folly Hill. They were, after all, the queen’s own first and foremost.

Doctor Cecily’s calm voice gave orders. The knights obeyed without protest. Mother lay on her bed, wrapped in warmed blankets, fighting to breathe. Crown craned for glimpses of her. Her skin was as white and bloodless as wax. But she didn’t get worse, and finally she slept, and Doctor Cecily tiptoed toward the door where Crown waited. She had a finger pressed to her lips, but she was smiling at last.

The knights began to talk among themselves, in low relieved voices. Doctor Cecily went out. So too did several of the knights: back to their duty, no doubt, though reluctantly. Father stayed, standing over Mother’s bed, very straight with his hands joined behind his back; Crown couldn’t tell from his back how he felt. Eventually, though, he stirred and clapped Sir Percevale on the shoulder, and spoke in a low tone to him as man to man.

He spied Crown where she hovered. But instead of throwing her out, he nodded curtly and crooked a finger.

She crossed to him. The knights moved quietly around them, neatening things and putting them away, having a bite to eat; Sir Sherwood had collapsed into an armchair and seemed to be just as fast asleep as Mother. Better not shout.  “Who did this?”

“Now, the only way I could know for sure,” Father said, “would be if I was the poisoner. I don’t know. Once I do, though—” He turned his hand over and closed it sharply, making a fist.

She approved. Something else struck her, an absence. “Where’s Alexander?”

“Your brother is no longer admitted here.”

“Good, he’d exhaust Mother,” Crown said heartlessly. It was always easy to be heartless about Alexander, because he was Alexander. “Listen, Father. He burst into Christopher’s rooms today and made a beast of himself.”

He raised an eyebrow. “I believe a report on the subject has crossed my desk.”

“Have you done something about it?”

“That is,” Father said, “a fool’s question. Of course I did. Are you going in some direction, or just being exhausting?”

“Christopher needs to be better guarded, and not just by the Royal Halberdiers. Two knights both day and night. I’ll take a pair of them back with me now. What if the poisoner tries for him too? Like Mother—” She let out her breath in a sudden low growl. “I’ll help you find who did this. And kill them.”

“No, you won’t. You’ll keep your big feet off the trail, girl. Let me do the hunting. And stay away from the Gloxian prince. Go.”

Crown backed out of her mother’s bedchamber. Only then, safe away and unobserved, she let herself shake.