A few weeks ago I ran a story titled To Be Unseen involving the spy Menna. I heard from several people the story wasn’t long enough, so here’s a continuation of Menna’s adventures.
If you missed To Be Unseen, you can either click on the title under categories and read the story or here’s the cliff notes version.
Menna goes to spy on Duke Milens for Princess Cicyllia and overhears a plot to have the king killed. Before she can warn anyone, she’s caught due to the Duke’s use of dogs and ends up taking Mettadon, which makes her appear dead. When she wakes, she finds the king is already dead and the Princess is being held in the palace. She rescues the Princess and they escape to the Burning with the help of Menna’s maid, Hilga.
Now on to this week’s story. Enjoy=)
“This is insanity, My Lady,” Hilga tossed a pair of pants at Menna and shuffled to the second dresser to find a shirt.
Menna held up the pants and scowled. She envied Hilga’s simple maroon dress but it wouldn’t do to crawl in the palace’s tunnels in a dress.
“I can’t be seen, Hilga, you know that. Besides, weren’t you the one to suggest I wear men’s clothing?”
Hilga pitched a shirt at her.
“You look dashing in men’s attire, My Lady. It’s insanity to enter the palace. You’re supposed to be dead.”
It’d been a month since the king’s untimely death and Menna’s rescue of the princess.
“The Duke had dinner with Lord Yomen last night, right?” Menna asked.
“That’s what his coach driver said.”
“Lord Yomen agreed to support him.”
Duke Milens had been solidifying his control of the city since the King’s death. Although he was in line for the throne, the fact that Princess Cicyllia lived and there had been rumor of her marrying made his claim a bit shaky. Both parties had equal right to the throne. Rumor now spoke of his move for a coronation. It would be the last move in his game for control.
Menna needed details. Princess Cicyllia could reclaim the crown but only if they had a way to expose the Duke.
Menna was working on that. Cicyllia was working on the people, maintaining her good name by feeding the poor and aiding in building projects.
“Think Cicyllia’s all right?” Menna asked as she doned the pants and shirt.
“The girl’s marvelous. A day alone in the Burning’s not gonna bother her.” Hilga held out two daggers so Menna could strap them to her calves.
If Duke Milens found Cicyllia, they’d all be up a creek. So far she only showed up in public where he couldn’t do anything to her and they hid her in the Burning at night. A forest east of the city that burned ages ago. People avoided the blackened husks of trees because they creaked in the wind. People claimed the trees were haunted.
Menna loved it. When the moon rose, it cast the tall spires in silvery light and the creak meant safety to her.
After faking her death, she couldn’t return home as Lady Menna Raydon. So she was as stuck in the trees as the Princess.
“The Duke’s meeting tonight–you’re sure it’s in the west room?” Hilga held up a heart shaped locket and Menna turned as she pulled her hair to the side so the woman could clasp it around her neck. She added a string bracelet to her adornment.
“As sure as I can be.”
“Insanity,” Hilga grunted as she folded her arms around her ample self in distaste.
Menna hugged her before leaving. Without her provision of supplies, they would’ve starved a month ago.
The palace glowed under the full moon like a gray blob with narrow black holes for windows.
Cicyllia loved the place but Menna couldn’t see why. It was ugly.
But her Lady wanted it back so Menna crawled in the trench that used to be a moat until she reached the bridge and then she used its cover to reach the gate.
The Duke kept the gate open to keep up appearances of ‘all’s well’ but he’d beefed up the guard.
A man passed with a black dog at his heels.
Menna tied a a handkerchief to the chains of the gate and hid again underneath to wait. The tread of the guard returned but paused. A dog sniffed loudly right above her and then the beast sneezed.
“All right, Ignor?” the guard asked and then chuckled as he walked away with the dog.
Hilga had soaked the handkerchief in something which she swore would deaden a dog’s smell.
Let’s hope it works.
Menna pulled herself onto the bridge and darted toward the palace wall.
No warning bark sounded. Finding a ground level trap door by the north tower, she lifted the latch and lowered herself in.
Lighting a lantern, she saw the underground tunnel still had small scuff marks from her last visit a month earlier. It didn’t look like any one but herself and the Princess had passed since.
She navigated toward the west room, which was a small meeting room that showcased oil pantings from the 2nd Dynasty.
It was favored for secret meetings precisely because it was difficult to spy on. It sat high on the west wing where the walls were thick and solid. There were no passages that Menna knew of. Nor were there balconies to climb to or tapestries to hide behind. It was a circular room with paintings on the walls. That was it.
Using the service halls, she made her way to the third floor of the tower. From there every staircase was guarded by two men and a black dog. The Duke must think himself very clever posting those dogs every where.
Menna dropped another handkerchief before hoisting herself up into the narrow window. It was a good thing she was small. The windows in the palace halls and stairwells were only wide enough to shoot an arrow through. They weren’t made for sight seeing and they definitely weren’t made to enter or exit through.
But Menna was frail in stature and she had room to spare as she slid sideways.
She looked down the outside of the palace and her head swam.
Maybe Hilga’s right.
She’d never had a head for heights but this was the only way she could think of to spy on the Duke.
Don’t look down.
She braced against the window frame, hoping the vertigo would calm. Finally it did and she reached out into the night.
Duke Milens had draped the walls with black and yellow banners. Black for morning the King. Yellow for the Duke’s crest.
It was something the King never would’ve done. Menna suspected he knew of the security rick such banners posed. Apparently the Duke didn’t think of it.
Menna snagged the edge of a banner. For being small, she was strong. Now she just couldn’t look down. Grasping the back of the banner, she swung free of the window. Logic told her the banner was secure, it had to be because it was heavy, but just because her mind said the banner would hold didn’t mean her body understood. Air hissed from her lunges and she barely kept from screaming as she hit the wall.
Don’t look down. Don’t look down. Don’t lo…
She looked and froze.
Her vision swam and her hands started to sweat.
It was another moment before her limbs obeyed. Scaling upward until she came even with the fourth floor windows, she grasped a wad of fabric and rolled her bracelet from her wrist to around the wad. Then she cinched the bracelet, creating a ball.
Climbing higher, she wedged the ball between her feet and stood on it. It wasn’t ideal but it created a small hold so she could rest one arm at a time.
The window directly to her right entered into the west room.
She hadn’t been sure if she’d be able to hear anything from inside. It was the gamble she’d played.
At first all she heard was the wind whistling and the flutter of the banner.
“…needs to be packed.”
Menna sighed. Duke Milens voice.
“We hired the criers. By tomorrow night the whole city’ll know the date and time.”
This new voice she didn’t know.
“Then it’s settled,” Duke Milens said, “by the end of the week everything’ll be done and I’ll be on the throne. Good evening, gentlemen.”
She’d missed the whole meeting. Disappointment knotted in her stomach. All this effort and she’d timed it wrong. The coronation was confirmed but that didn’t help. The whole city would know about it by the morning.
She started to lower herself and froze.
“I’m still waiting,” said a slow, purposeful voice. “You messed up when Lady Addina and Lady Merlow died too. Now there’re questions. I want payment and I’ll be gone.”
Menna frowned. The voice was familiar but who?
“My dear Lord Sh…”
“Now, Milens. I’m in no position to be patient.”
Menna never wouldn’t guessed Sheruk was the assassin. She’d always thought him a bit slow.
“Come back tomorrow for your thrity…”
“We agreed per body.” Sheruk interupted. “You messed up and killed three, not one. Fifty’s a discount.”
“You insisted the Cerroline would only affect the King.”
“I said it’d only affect someone taking Giscerin. I warned you the King might not be the only one taking the med.”
“Get out. If tomorrow’s not soon enough, then go hang yourself.”
There was a snort and then the stomp of feet.
The chill wind shifted against Menna’s face. Her fingers were already numb.
A bark sounded in the room.
Daft, not again!
A head peeked out below. She barely swirled around in time not to be seen but Duke Milen’s looked out the window to her right just as she moved. He saw the banner move if not her. He grabbed the banner and shook it.
Menna’s world spun and her hands slid as the fabric snapped back and forth.
Milens growled at her.
“SPY!” he shouted.
Menna heard the chaos of more shouting and another bark but her head was spinning with the height. She tried to climb higher but Milens was joined by a guard from the other window and between the two of them, the banner was flapped and ripped from her hands.
She grabbed blindly and caught a handful of fabric. Pulling herself in, she held tight. Something smacked her shoulder. She turned her face away form whatever new device Milens was using to dislodge her.
It smacked her other side.
It was a rope with a stick tied to the end hanging from above.
She didn’t question her sudden fortune. She grabbed the rope and placed her feet on the stick. As soon as her weight left the banner it snapped free and Milens cursed. The banner fluttered by her, cut from above.
The rope swung as someone pulled her up. Menna hid her face against her shoulder so she didn’t have to see the falling banner or the ground far below.
“Grab the parapet,” a low voice ordered.
Menna looked and grabbed hold, not taking the time to consider the move. Hands clasped her shoulders, then the waist of her pants and finally she sprawled across the roof.
“Graceful,” she muttered.
“Truly ladylike,” said a man. He wore gray that blended perfectly with the palace stone as he hauled the rope up. Another spy?
“Who’re you?” Menna asked. She’d never seen him before, she was sure of it. She’d remember that distinctive arch to his brows.
He shot her a crooked grin and pulled a white handkerchief from his pocket. “A friend.”
“Does my friend have a way down?”
“Maybe, but you’re not gonna like it.”
Shouts came from across the palace walls. There was only one way down from the tower and it was a walkway leading across the palace to the east tower. In the middle of the walkway was a staircase. Men emerged from within and started up those stairs.
“We only have a few minutes,” Menna said, “I don’t have to like your plan, it just has to work.”
He gave her another crooked grin as he held up the rope. “Let’s go then.”
“Ah, Gered,” Hilga greeted Menna’s companion with a giant hug.
Menna scowled at the woman. “Didn’t trust me?”
“My Lady, I trust you implicitly. I just like to have backup plans, which, judging from Gered’s presence, was fortunate this evening.”
Menna snorted. Gered’s escape had involved rappelling down the tower until they reached a lower floor. Then entering the palace through a window and using the tunnels from there. She was still reeling from the crazy decent.
“Gered?” Menna asked, “Lord Gered Monter?”
He swept her an accomplished bow. She blushed horribly. Of all people to see her inept moment, it had to be the man who led the king’s elite force.
“Never thought I’d see a Lady climb better than my men,” he grinned at her.
“Hate heights,” she muttered.
“Never would’ve guessed.”
Oh… She bit her tongue before she said something truly embarrassing. He’d already heard her squawk when they repeled.
“I’ve got an idea,” she turned away from them and joined Princess Cicyllia in front of the tent the Princess slept in.
“Heard something useful?” Hope filled the Princess’ eyes.
“I did. Lord Sheruk provided the poison that killed your father and he hasn’t been paid for the service. He’s supposed to meet the Duke tomorrow night but I’m thinking we confront Sheruk first…”
Hilga and Gered joined them as she outlined her plan.
Lord Sheruk loved his brandy. It was a well known fact, he usually took a glass into his study every evening after supper to enjoy an hour to himself.
Menna shifted to the right on her perch and carefully let down the filament overtop the man’s glass. He was staring out the window and his glass sat lightly in his hand on the arm of his chair.
When the filament was close enough, she squeezed a few drops onto the tiny fiber from her necklace. It wasn’t Mettadon this time but something Hilga said would paralyze. Hilga was turning into a wealth of knowledge about such things. It was a bit disturbing but Menna didn’t question her. She was just glade the woman was on their side.
Lord Sheruk took a drink and the first drop hit the arm of his chair. Menna winced. She shifted the filament to the right just a tinch as he rested his glass again.
Several drops hit the brandy. It was enough. Menna pulled up the filament and waited. Her part was done for now.
Sheruk took a sip and picked up a book he’d had resting on his knee. Another sip. He set his glass down to turn a page and then picked it back up to rest on the arm of the chair.
The book tilted and then thumped to the floor. Lord Sheruk’s head tilted as well. His lips worked soundlessly. Menna frowned. The drug shouldn’t affect his ability to speak. They needed him to be able to converse.
A curse whispered from his lips just as the door opened and Gered slipped into the study.
“Lord Sheruk, I’m not sure we’ve met,” he moved a chair over so he could sit in Sheruk’s line of sight.
“No,” Sheruk whispered.
“Then let me introduce myself. I’m the man hired to kill you.”
Another whispered curse.
“Yes, I could kill you and be paid by the end of the night but I’ve a problem, what’s to say Duke Milens doesn’t betray me like he’s betraying you? Plus, I kinda like the Princess. She hires an assassin, she pays up front. It’s just better for business.”
“True,” Sheruk agreed. His voice, although slow as always, came out stronger than before. Hilga warned the paralytic wouldn’t last long.
“So I’ve a proposal. I’m assuming, one assassin to another, that you used Cerroline on the King, which, as we both know, leaves a slight discoloration under the eye lids. Hard to detect but not impossible. How about, at the coronation, you reveal the Duke’s darker side. The healers who examined him after death can confirm the discoloration. They just didn’t know what caused it.”
Sheruk’s jaw worked as he eyed Gered. “You’ll kill me if I don’t agree?”
Gered gave his lopsided grin. It was far more appealing when it wasn’t aimed at her in derision.
“Yes. And keep in mind, you’ve never met me before because I’m good at what I do. I can kill you at the coronation just as easily as I can kill you now, if you decide to… renege on our agreement.”
Don’t call the bluff. Menna watched the play of thought through Sheruk’s eyes. He was far smarter than she ever gave him credit for.
“You’ve a deal,” he said.
The Duke got his wish. The hall was packed for the coronation. Menna watched from a tunnel in the wall behind the throne.
Lord Gered Monter had pulled his weight for this. He’d brought in his men, anticipating the Duke running when Sheruk confronted him. Gered stationed his men at all the doors as commoners. Menna kinda hoped Milens ran. She’d love to see him taken down in front of everyone.
A pounding sounded and the hall quieted as Duke Milens appeared at the door to the hall. A red carpet led the way to the throne, where the magister stood with a girl at his side who held the crown.
He made his way to the front, his head high and his shoulders back.
The magister started, intoning the ceremonial words. He droned on about duty and justice and…
Bla, bla, bla. Come on, come on.
Menna leaned closer as the magister asked, “do the Lords find this man, Duke Milens, worthy to be their King?”
She’d never heard of a time the Lords said no. There was a chorus of ‘aye’ and the Magister turned to lift the crown.
What? Where’s Sheruk?
“I do not find him worthy.” The words were slow but clear. The hall gasped.
The Duke spun. “You!?”
“The Duke hired…”
He didn’t head for any of the doors, however. He darted around the throne to duck behind a yellow banner on the wall.
Menna heard a scrapping and then light filtered into her tunnel. Another entrance? It had to be. She’d never tried to get into the tunnels from the throne room, so she’d never really looked for such an entrance.
The scrapping came again and her tunnel went dark.
He’ll get away.
None of Gered’s men were stationed in the tunnels. The Duke had free reign of the passages to escape.
Menna scootched out of her little cubby and crawled until she reached the larger tunnel Milens had just passed through. Then she ran after him. His pounding feet thumped in the hall ahead. Turning a corner, she spotted his back as his cape flared behind him.
She darted into a side passage and turned right, then left and came out in front of him. Pulling a dagger, she sucked herself tight against the wall and listened to the Duke’s pounding feet.
He whooshed past her and she swung. The butt of her dagger made a satisfying thwap against the back of his head. He went down on his face and didn’t move.
“Smooth,” said a voice.
Menna grinned, “I do what I can.”
Gered nudged the Duke with a toe. “That’s gonna leave one splendid headache.”
Menna shared a lopsided grin with him. “So we’ve got a room full of people, think we can coronate a Queen?”
P.S. I love feedback, so if anyone has suggestions, questions, or comments on what they like or what doesn’t seem to work, please let me know. Just be gentle to my poor thin skinned feelings. Thanks.