“He’s your cousin?” Rosalyn said with enthusiasm. “That’s great! So we can go over there and…” her voice trailed off. Four pairs of wide eyes were staring at her. “Oh, that cousin.”
The room suddenly felt ten degrees cooler and darker as if a shadow had passed over the window. Rosalyn felt their fear of him, but couldn’t understand it. His driver seemed like a jerk, but surely cousin to cousin they could work something out. Were they afraid for themselves or for Jason? Was he going to torture her brother to find out where she was and then put them both to work in his mines? Something didn’t add up. “At least we know where he is, right?”
Marcella, sitting on a chair behind them fanning herself, grunted as if to say, “Fat lot of good that’ll do you.”
“Connected as you are with the nobility, Lutetia, we wondered if you might have heard anything else or have any ideas,” said Nora.
“The strange thing is I haven’t heard anything,” Lutetia mused. “I hear it all, upstairs gossip, downstairs gossip. Two days ago, you said?” She stood up and paced back and forth in front of the window, her silk dress swishing behind her. Her long fingers parted the sheer drapes to look out, as if Jason or the answer to their problem would appear in the busy street. A bell sounded from below and the woman moved crossed back to the door. She paused with her hand on the knob. “My dears,” she said with with a half-smile, “I cannot think sitting down. I’m sure, you can appreciate just how pressed for time we all are today. Nora, let us see your lace and send good Marcella on her way. I’m sure something will come to us, but for the moment, I simply cannot see a clear way out of this predicament. If the child weren’t fixed we could send her on an errand or two, but as it is…” With that, she left the room and went back down the shop. Nora and Marcella rose to follow, taking the basket of carefully packed lace.
An awkward silence descended on the room. If Gaétane hadn’t been there, Rosalyn would have picked up each painted figurine, stared at each pale landscape or still life on the walls, read the titles of the books in the glass-fronted cases. Rosalyn wondered what Gaétane would do if she wasn’t there: kick off her hiking boots and stretch out on the glossy fabric sofas, mashing a tassled bolster into a comfortable lump behind her neck? It must have been tiring, carrying her all the way to town.
Rosalyn went to the window, but just as she was about to pull back the drapes and look out, Gaétane caught her wrist and said, “No! Stay back! Too many people out there who might see you and start asking questions.” She closed the striped pink silk curtains, blocking out the light. “There, you can stand behind this and peek out. Careful.”
Standing at right angles to the curtain and making a gap a fraction of an inch, Rosalyn looked out at the cobblestone street and the pastel-stuccoed townhouses across the street. There were hand-painted signs hanging above most of the doors letting people know the town’s cobblers, tailors, fabric merchants and milliners were open for business. It was both funny and disconcerting to see how tall everyone was. Lightweight open carriages pulled by horses trotted up and down the street, forcing pedestrians to squeeze up against walls. There were no sidewalks and both sides of the road sloped down to a central gutter coursing with grey-brown slurry. All of a sudden, she noticed a young woman dart out from somewhere beneath the window, walking at top speed, weaving between the clusters of shoppers. When she reached the corner, she paused for a split second and seemed to look straight up at the window before turning down a side street. After the girl in a hurry, nothing else of interest was happening down below and Rosalyn sighed, walked slowly back to one of the smaller chairs, sat down heavily and studied the embroidery on her white frilly dress.
After a long and silent wait, footsteps came quickly up the stairs and Nora burst in smiling. “She’s bought all of it, for a handsome sum. Marcella’s in such a hurry to be off she said she’ll wait for us at the fruitier.”
“Do I have to go back in the basket?” Rosalyn moaned.
“Unless you prefer to stay here alone.”
“No, thanks.” Resignedly she held out her arms and braced herself for lift-off.
The market was noisy. In addition to the stalls of sellers hawking asparagus, (“Fresh cut this morning!”), cheese, (“Beautiful bleu from Rompigny!”) and handkerchiefs, (“Two for a dozen, best deal in town!”) two fiddle players were busking at either end of the square. In the line up at the baker’s in the centre of the market both melodies criss-crossed in energetic discord.
By now, Rosalyn was hungry, thirsty and headachy. Gaétane must have read her mind, because just when she thought she couldn't stand it any longer, the lid opened and a paper bag landed on her lap containing an apple and a golden bun. The sweet juice of the apple helped quench her thirst, and the salty, chewy bun was so fresh it didn’t need butter.
When the women met up some time later, they went over their purchases, ticking things off on a mental list.
“I got apples, leeks, dried plums and split peas.”
“I have the flour, salt, pepper (I could only get a little) and butter.”
“Did you get eggs?”
“No, they were out of your brown ones already.”
“No matter, Cookie will have some.”
“If we hurry we’ll be just in time for dinner.”
“And she won’t mind if we’re there?” Nora asked.
“What are two more mouths among so many?”
“It’s the captains at the gates we have to worry about, not Nonette.”
Rosalyn whispered, “Can I talk now?”
“Ok, but you can’t show yourself yet.”
“Aren’t I supposed to be your mother’s cousin’s daughter’s niece if anyone asks?”
“Yes, but that won’t help us here. No one brings their young relations to the castle on a busy day like today.”
“What would happen if they did discover me? I still don’t understand why I have to stay hidden like this. I thought riding in the basket was just an easier way for me to get to town.” She was dreading the thought of another long walk with her knees up around her chin.
“Too many awkward questions,” said Gaétane. Rosalyn wasn’t sure if she meant that other people would be asking the awkward questions or whether she was asking too many herself.
Nora’s gentle voice said, “We want to pass as servants. We don’t want anyone to know who we really are because with the Renewal of the Search so near, we could be turned into scapegoats, especially if we’re seen with another fixed child. Not that it’s likely. But don’t forget they think somehow that Gaétane’s brother was involved in kidnapping the prince.”
“We’re hoping they’ve forgotten what we look like, or that we look different from any descriptions that may have circulated four years ago.”
“The guards inspect every load going in and out of the palace, so you’ll have to hold very still and pretend to be a bag of flour or something. Here, you can have one last stretch while we repack the baskets.” They were in a narrow alley between two houses. A large ginger cat looked at Rosalyn while she stretched her fingers down to her toes and back up to the sky. She wondered whether the cat was normally that size or whether it grew and shrank with the weather, too.
When the women had finished concealing her colourful backpack deep in a different basket and had re-arranged the food with Marcella’s cookies on top in case the guards needed a little help deciding whether to let them in or not, Rosalyn was repacked with apples on her lap and a layer of leeks covering her head. “Don’t let your hands go to the sides, in case any skin shows,” they cautioned. “When we get to the gates, don’t wiggle, whatever you do.”
Rosalyn felt like Peter Rabbit, smelling of onions, trapped by the cat under a plant pot. “How much longer?” she asked, her voice muffled.
With apples and leeks blocking out the gaps in the wicker, she could see even less this time. She started to feel sick. Was it the motion sickness from facing backward and rocking to and fro with no view of the horizon, or was it that nervous feeling before seeing someone you thought hated you? Or was it the leeks? Either way, her queasiness increased until she began to worry that she would need to throw up. She tried to breathe, to focus on the smell of the apples, not the pungent smell of the leeks. She swallowed hard over and over, willing her stomach to stay in one place. The women had made it sound so scary. Scapegoats? Like they’d be blamed for something they didn’t do? Blamed how? Thrown in the dungeon? And would Gaétane be able to pass for a servant? She carried herself like a queen. Her aristocratic lineage showed in her posture and jawline. Well, fingers crossed.
The relatively short walk to the castle seemed as long as the hours it had taken to walk to town. At last Gaétane said in a low voice, “Well, this is it, we’re joining the queue.”
As they inched nearer, Rosalyn began to hear the commanding voices of the guards asking names, reason for wanting entry, what they were carrying.
“Just copper pots, sir,” a thin voice whined. “Sent out for repairs. I can unpack my load if you want.”
Rosalyn’s heart skipped a beat. What if they made Gaétane unpack this basket? She suddenly felt a surge of gratitude to the women for risking so much for her. It just didn’t make sense that they were being so kind to a strange child. But then her thankful thoughts were overtaken by a rush of resentment toward Jason. It was his stupid impulsiveness that had landed them all—him, her and three grown women—in this pickle.
“Aunt Marcella!” boomed a man’s voice from above. “What are you doing here?”
Marcella laughed, a little nervously. “George, dear, how lovely to see you! How’s your mother? Miss Nora, Miss Bonvent, my cousin’s son, George. Have you already made captain, then?”
“No, auntie, still a sergeant. But all in good time. Here to see Cookie?”
“Why, yes. We’re just stopping in after market to lend a hand.”
“Well, I’m sure we all appreciate it. It’s a circus in there today.”
The three women hurried through the gates, wishing George good day. “Thank goodness for all your cousins,” said Nora when they were out of earshot.