The butler stood in the entryway to the kitchens of the Colagar estate and knocked sharply on the frame.
“Missus Cwendlwyn,” he said in that brisk manner that was both servile and superior, “there is a girl here to see you. A Miss Merry of Lady Gwenithel’s School for Girls.”
A flour dusted head turned to the butler with startled eyes. “Who?” Cwen used a doughy finger to pull back a loose bit of hair that fell over her eyes. Fruit muffins and loaves of bread, pies of all types, and biscuits that smelled like sweet cheese covered every surface around her. Her face was beet red from the heat of the ovens.
“Miss Merry of Lady Gwenithel’s School for Girls, mum. Shall I see her to the parlour?”
“Um. I guess so. I mean, yes, yes, please see her in…thank you.”
As the butler turned to leave, Cwen looked down at her hands and dress. She wondered vaguely if she should change first as she plunged her hands into a pail of water to wash away the flour and butter.
Approximately half an hour later, Cwendlwyn swooped down into the parlour where the small girl of about twenty stood by the window overlooking the sea. Immediately, Cwen recognized her from the library and she grabbed her bandaged wrist. Before she turned around, Cwen gave the girl a once over and noted the bundle she held in front of her, eyebrow arching.
The girl, Miss Merry, turned before Cwen could say anything and sank into a curtsy.
“My lady. Forgive me for not coming sooner.”
As the girl rose, Cwen frowned at the strain she saw around the girl’s eyes and the set of her mouth. The light fell across her dark gold hair and cast her features into shadow.
“I did not expect to see you again,” Cwen replied impassively. “But it is encouraging that you came.” She indicated the couch. “Please, sit.”
Merry sat and held up the package. “I brought the herbs you requested. I am sorry I could not bring them immediately. Something… I was detained.” She set the package on the cushion beside her and looked up at Cwen hopefully. “I do hope you forgive me for the delay.”
Cwen nodded and waved a hand. “Of course. As I said, I did not expect to see you again. But thank you. I appreciate you bringing them now.” She perched on a chaise opposite the couch and regarded the girl slowly. “May I ask you a question?” she said gently, but firmly.
Merry nodded. “Of course.”
“What detained you?”
Cwen watched the girl pale slightly.
“I…I found Sir Pengail, the knight who assisted you. He…” Merry averted her gaze and Cwen could practically hear the girl’s mind whirring. “He fell ill on his way back to the city. I helped him back to the Keep.”
Cwen sat up a bit straighter and her expression softened. “I am sorry to hear that. Does he need my assistance? I am the company’s healer. Though,” she flushed with embarrassment, “he probably has access to healers much more proficient than I.”
Merry’s eyes widened in surprise at the offer. “I thank you, though. He! Sir Pengail would thank you.” She pursed her lips and moved to stand. “I should return to the Tower. I-I hope your wrist heals quickly, my lady.”
“Miss Merry?” Her eyes narrowing, Cwen stared hard at the reaction of the girl. “What is it Sir Pengail fell ill with?”
The girl paused with one hand on the couch to push herself up.
“He…he has a cold, they said.”
“They? His doctors?”
“He. His commander.” Merry gave her a shallow smile and nodded. “He should be back at his post in the library…soon.”
“And you will be free to visit him again.” Cwen’s brow arched in question of the validity of her statement as the girl simply stared back at her. “Come now, you are not as subtle as you may think, Miss Merry. I’ve seen the looks you gave him before.”
“I beg your pardon, Lady Cwendlwyn. I really do need to get back to my studies.”
Cwen stood swiftly and placed a firm hand on the girl’s arm.
“Miss Merry, it isn’t my business whether or not you are supposed to be visiting that swan-knight. That, I don’t care about. But your face when I asked you what was wrong with him? That I care about. There’s something you’re not saying, and since my daughter and I often roam the streets of Dol Amroth and I care about her very much, I would appreciate your honesty.
“It isn’t just a cold, is it, Miss Merry?”
Merry looked down at Cwen’s grip on her arm and then met the lady’s cool emerald eyes. Without flinching, she said, “They tell me it is a cold, my lady. So it must be a cold.” Her smile was stiff as if carved out of the marble floors. “Good day, my lady.”
Cwen’s eyes widened as the girl pulled from her grasp and curtsied before taking her leave. She stood there for a moment before shaking her head and crossing to pick up the bundle of herbs. A frown creased her brow; it was heavier than it should be for just a bunch of herbs. Sitting down, she placed the package in her lap and carefully opened it.
Inside, nestled among the wolf’s bane and tumeric, was a heavy key with a blue ribbon tied to it. Attached to the blue ribbon was an address and a time. She turned over the little card and a single word was printed on the back: Please.
She looked up, but the girl was long gone. She frowned and tucked the key into her pocket as she rose to look out the window. Merry’s form could just be seen disappearing through the gate.
Looking down, she sighed and turned from the window. She wouldn’t go alone. But she would go. She just needed to decide who to ask to accompany her to the docks at midnight and who would keep such a secret safe.