likely to remember anything about it at all.â
âDid I hear a little bird sing of wine?â The man-at-arms gazed at the sky. âWhat a good idea.â He strolled off, leaving his mantle lying on the floor of the cage.
Etty lunged up, burst out of the bushes and ran like a deer toward her mother.
Elsinor of Auberon sprang to her feet, scattering mantles and blankets. âDaughter!â she cried. âOh, my darling!â She lunged to her knees at the edge of the cage, her bare arms reaching through the bars.
Etty spent only a moment in her motherâs embrace. Tears stung her eyes, but she blinked them back; she had to be able to see what she was doing. âWait just a minute, Mother,â she whispered, and she tugged herself free, her rough fingertips snagging the linen of her motherâs chemise.
âEttarde, your hands!â Mother said with shock in her voice.
Darting to the cage door, Etty had to smile. Mother hadnât changed.
âI canât keep my hands soft and white in the forest, Mother,â she called as she studied the large padlock that secured the cage.
âTruly. Not if I want to eat.â
âWell . . . have you at least been taking care of your teeth and hair?â
âYes, Mother.â Ettarde pulled from her pouch one of the strong steel bodkins she kept there. With a faraway look she probed the padlock.
âWhatâs going on here?â said a manâs gruff voice with phlegm in it; either he had a cold or he was getting old.
âOh, Captain!â Mother sang in nightingale tones, as sweetly as if she were receiving visitors in the solarium at home. âHow nice of you to come see me. You know my daughter, Princess Ettarde?â
âPleased to meet you,â Ettarde mumbled without looking up from the padlock she was picking. Mother was playing a desperate game, she knew, trying to get the captain to pretend with her that nothing untoward was happening. . . . Oh, blast. Out of the corner of her eye, Etty saw a second man join the first.
âAnd this is the sergeant of the men-at-arms, dear,â Mother said.
âDelighted.â Etty felt herself sweating. How long could Mother charm them into doing nothing? Confound the padlock, it was not cooperating. Etty thrust the bodkin into her belt and tried another one.
âCall your soldiers,â said the gruff voice to someone. âSeize her.â
âNo, let her go.â The new voice had to be the sergeant. âSheâll lead us to the king.â
âIs your head filled with fish guts? She has come for her mother. Why would they flee toward the king?â
A pox on everything, she had to get this padlock open now, quicklyâ
â Mon foi , shall I search for you the key, mademoiselle the princess?â asked an unexpected voice.
Etty jerked her head up, so startled she nearly dropped the bodkin. Then she blinked, startled anew, for right beside her stood a lovely white pony, saddled and bridled, its harness decked in crimson and yellow, with a yellow plume nodding between its ears. Beauregard, of course, held the reins, resplendent in his plumed hat once again, grinning wickedly in its shadow.
âYou!â Etty gasped.
â Probablement it shall be in the breeches pocket in the pavilion,â Beauregard continued.
Etty could not catch breath to answer. Her head spun, seeing him there, this boy who was supposed to be her accursed enemy, once again offering to befriend her. She couldnât think, let alone move, but she had to move, do things, free Mother. And it did not help her to see most of the men-at-arms gathered around as if for a cockfight, watching.
âI go search the key, non ?â Beauregard offered.
âNo,â Etty whispered before she knew what she was saying. âNo, stay here in case . . .â In case she needed him. She trusted him, blast it all, and she liked him. She had liked him