The Brat Chapter Eleven

"Here we are."

Murie glanced around as her husband slid from the saddle and reached up to lift her down. Smiling at him as he set her on her feet in front of the stairs to the keep, she glanced around as people began to draw near. Most of them were men, as she'd noted, but now the keep doors were open, female faces peered out with excitement. Women began to hurry down the stairs, followed by two small boys and two men, one tall and slim, and one short and round.

"Who are these?" she asked Balan as she waited for the group to reach the foot of the stairs.

"The cook and steward," her husband answered. Murie nodded. Both men were wearing brown tunics made of very rough and heavy cloth, as were most of the people at Gaynor, but it didn't take a genius to guess which was cook and which steward. Obviously, the round little man with the welcoming smile worked in the kitchens, and the tall, skinny, scowling man was the steward.

She blinked in surprise when Balan began introductions, and it turned out she was wrong:

"Wife, this is Clement, our cook," he announced, gesturing to the tall, skinny man.

Murie's eyes widened in alarm. In her experience all cooks were short and round or tall and round or round and round. They were always round. They got that way from sampling their food, or so she'd always assumed; but this gentleman was tall and thin. So, either his food was terrible, or ... She blinked as his name sank in. Clement? Didn't that mean kind, or something? There was nothing the least bit kind-looking about him.

Well, this wasn't very promising, she thought as she nodded politely, almost afraid to speak and give the man an excuse to be rude. He truly didn't appear a very friendly sort.

"And this is Thibault. He is the steward here." Murie was almost as happy to turn her attention to the little man as he apparently was to receive it.

"Oh, my lady! You cannot know how happy we are to receive and welcome you into our small family. You bring hope to all of us. I pray you will be very happy here, indeed," he cried effusively, clasping her hand and pressing a kiss to the back of it.

"And this is Gatty," Balan continued, gesturing to the oldest of the women present. "She has been my sister's nursemaid since she was born."

"My lady," the woman murmured.

"And these are her daughters Estrelda and Livith. They are maids in the keep."

"My lady," the two dark-haired girls chorused, giving pretty little curtsies.

"And this is Gatty's son, Frederick." A boy nodded and smiled shyly, eyes large in an elfin face.

"And this. . ." Balan stepped forward to catch the last little boy by the collar who'd tried to shrink behind Gatty. He pulled him out front, finishing, "Is my little sister Juliana." Murie stared wide-eyed at the child. Her hair had been hacked off quite viciously, and it hung in short, uneven clumps around her head. Her face was filthy, as was the rest of her, including her clothes, which were the same rough cloth everyone else here seemed to be wearing. There was nothing that could have told Murie she was a girl, though Murie still felt horrible for making the assumption.

Taking a breath, she managed a smile and held out her hand.

"How do you do, Juliana?"

The girl reacted like a trapped animal. With her brother and the others behind her, hemming her in, and Murie in front of her, her eyes darted left then right before settling on Murie with a sort of panic. She blurted, "Yer stupid and ugly, and I do not care if you like me. I hate you!" The girl then stomped on Murie's foot and turned to run across the bailey as fast as her little legs would carry her.

"Juliana!" Balan roared furiously, even as he stepped forward to sweep Murie into his arms. Casting a scowl after the retreating child, he hurried up the stairs with Murie, his gaze concerned as he glanced at her. "Are you all right? Did she break anything?"

"Nay, of course not," Murie assured him, holding on for dear life as she was jostled in his arms by his jog up the stairs. "You need not carry me, husband. She merely stomped my toe."

"Aye," he muttered. "And I shall tan her bottom for it when she finds the courage to return."

"Nay," Murie said sharply, and kicked her feet now that he was carrying her into the keep. "Put me down, please."

"Not until we reach the table. I wish to examine your foot." Murie drew a breath for patience. Her foot was fine; a bit sore, but fine. The girl hadn't stomped as hard as she might have, and Murie hated being fussed over.

At the speed Balan was moving, they reached the trestle table in moments, and he set her down in the head chair, then knelt to lift her skirt and remove her shoe.

"Husband, please. I am fine," she insisted, then sat back abruptly as she realized they were not alone. Osgoode, Cecily, Habbie, the servants and soldiers and even the wagon driver from Reynard were now crowded around them, most hunched forward, eyeing her toe with concern. The only one missing from within the walls was the young girl who had caused all this fuss. She was off alone somewhere in the bailey, no doubt weeping from fear of her brother's retribution.

Putting aside the child for the moment, Murie felt a blush rise up her cheeks at so many eyes on her ankle and foot, and leaned down to hiss in a whisper, 'You are showing my naked ankle and foot to everyone."

"What?" Balan asked absently.

"She says yer showing her naked ankle and foot to all," Habbie announced helpfully.

Balan glanced about with surprise, then promptly dropped her skirt and stood, forcing everyone to straighten away from them. He scowled at the gathering, then reached out to pat Murie's shoulder. "I do not think 'tis broken."

"I did tell you that, my lord husband," Murie replied with a scowl.

"Aye, she did," Thibault agreed, eager to be of assistance.

"Outside, in front of the steps."

"Aye, well..." Balan frowned slightly and glanced around. "I shall leave you in Gatty's capable hands. She shall give you a tour of Gaynor and explain how things work. I must get a reporting of what has occurred in my absence and see that all is well."

"Of course, husband," Murie said, managing a smile.

"If Juliana returns while I am gone, you just send her out to me, and I shall tend to her," he said as he started to turn away. Murie's mouth tightened. "Husband?"

"Aye?" he turned back.

Terribly aware of the people surrounding them and of her desire to make a good impression, Murie forced a smile and said,

"Do you not think I should be the one to deal with Juliana?"


Her smile twisted into a scowl, but she forced it back into a smile. "I am sure you would agree that it would be better if I deal with her."

"Nay," he repeated.

"Husband," she tried again. "I am the injured party here, and I am now her sister and guardian. I should be the one to deal with the child."


"It is like talking to a boulder," she muttered to herself.

"Honestly, Emilie could have warned me he was as stubborn as a stone wall."

"Wife, I can hear you," he said dryly.

"So can we," Gatty spoke up, amusement sparking to life in her eyes.

Murie scowled at them all and suddenly announced, "I am quite overwrought. I think I shall cry.

Osgoode's eyes widened in horror, remembering. He beseeched his cousin, "Balan, please, let Murie handle the girl."

"Aye," Thibault agreed. "We do not want the lass unhappy here."

"I am sure she will not hurt Juliana," Habbie added. Balan ignored them all, his gaze locked on Murie as he returned to stand before her. He froze, staring silently at her for the longest time, then asked, "How will you handle it?"

"I will not hurt her," Murie assured him with annoyance. "I shall simply talk to the child. Obviously she is very unhappy. She has been orphaned, like I myself was, and was terrified I would not like her or some similar thing. She responded out of fear. I will just reassure her and ... talk to her," she ended helplessly. Balan was silent for another moment, then bent to kiss her lightly on the lips. At least, it started lightly, but when Murie instinctively let her mouth open he couldn't seem to resist deepening it, if only briefly. As he ended the kiss, he whispered,

"You are too soft."

Murie scowled at the claim as he straightened.

"I shall allow you to handle her this time," he announced, ignoring her expression. "But you may tell her from me that if she does something like that again, I shall deal with her immediately  - and much more firmly than you."

Murie smiled widely. "Thank you, husband."

Nodding, he started to turn away, then turned back to add,

"And Murie?"


"You are very bad at pretending to sob. Even the king said so." Apparently satisfied by the stunned look on her face, he turned and marched to the keep doors.

"I think I shall join Balan." Osgoode excused himself with a smile, then turned to follow his cousin.

Balan reached the keep's main doors, paused and turned back with a scowl. "Anselm, I am wanting an accounting," he said.

"Oh, aye, my lord." A soldier broke away from several others and hurried after Balan, who had turned and marched out of the keep. At the door, he also paused and scowled. "Are the walls to be left unmanned?" he said.

Murmuring amongst themselves, most of the soldiers who'd swarmed inside with them stepped reluctantly away and began to make their way after Anselm.

Murie glanced around almost expectantly, but no one else made a move to leave. It seemed that none of the others felt any great need to get back to whatever they had been doing. Instead, they stood there smiling as if she were a performing jester about to tell a joke or juggle something.

"Yer the king's goddaughter," Frederick said suddenly into the silence, only to be cuffed by his mother.

"Yer not to speak 'til yer spoken to," Gatty reminded.

"Nay, 'tis all right," Murie said quickly, and she offered a smile to the boy before saying, "Aye, I am. How did you know that?"

"Lord Aldous and his party stopped here on their way home and told us," the boy said, his chest puffing up with importance.

"He said Lord Balan had married the spoiled, sobbing goddaughter of the king known as the Brat and should have been home with her by now. He was wondering if something had happened to slow down your party."

Murie managed not to react to Malculinus's unpleasant description and once again thought she was most fortunate she had not married the man.

" 'Tis sorry I am, my lady," Gatty murmured, catching her son by the ear and dragging him backward. "He should not have repeated what Lord Aldous said."

"Nay, 'tis all right," Murie said, and sank thoughtfully back into her chair. So, Aldous wondered if something had happened to slow down their party? As far as she'd known, Lauda and Malculinus were still at court. Glancing at the people surrounding her, she asked, "When were they here?"

"Nearly a week ago," Clement answered.

"They must have left on our heels. They would have had to, to reach here a week ago. We were at Reynard a week."

"So, you simply stopped to visit Reynard? There was nothing that happened to slow you down?" Gatty sounded relieved and explained, "We were all growing quite worried as the days drew on."

"As it happens," Cecily said, drawing everyone's attention from her mistress. "Lord Gaynor was nearly killed twice on the journey from court, and my lady once. In fact, if not for my lady, Lord Gaynor would most like be dead. Someone poisoned his meat, you see, but she ate half of it and thereby saved his life. She nearly died herself. She was unconscious and delirious the entire week we were at Reynard."

Murie flushed as everyone peered at her wide-eyed. Really, Cecily could have kept the exact method of how she'd saved Balan's life to herself and allowed the staff to draw their own conclusions. There wasn't much less flattering than the truth. Realizing that a curious silence had fallen over those around her, Murie glanced about to see everyone staring at Cecily.

"Oh dear!" She stood and moved to her maid's side, her expression apologetic. "I am sorry, Cecily. You should have been introduced as well. Everyone, this is my maid, Cecily. She accompanied me to court as a child and has been with me these past ten years."

There were murmurs of greeting all around, and Thibault stepped forward, wringing his hands nervously. "Is it true, my lady? Did someone try to kill you and his lordship?" Murie hesitated. Balan had not seen fit to inform his people of what had happened on the journey out, and she did pause to wonder if she herself should, or leave it in his hands. It did seem that the cat was rather out of the bag already, thanks to Cecily's comments. And besides, it was probably prudent to keep the people informed as to what was going on so that they might keep an eye out for trouble and help keep Balan safe until Murie could find the culprit.

Decision made, she settled back in her chair and considered the faces around her. These were the servants loyal to her husband, those who had remained behind while others left in search of greener pastures. Or more money, as the case may be. They deserved to be aware of what was going on.

"Aye, someone tried to kill my husband twice between court and Castle Reynard," she announced, then waited for the sudden murmuring of those around her to quiet. "Someone put a thistle on his horse's back, under his saddle, so that when he mounted and put weight on it the stallion reared and ran off with him. Fortunately, Lord Reynard gave chase and managed to catch up to the panicked animal, and my husband was able to leap from his mount to Reynard's."

"Oh, my lady, his lordship could have been killed!" Thibault said with distress.

"I do believe that was the whole point," Clement pointed out.

"And the second time was by poisoning?" Gatty asked.

"Aye." Murie grimaced. "I chose to make my husband's sup when we camped the second night. I skinned and dressed one of the rabbits the men brought back and roasted it over the fire."

"How did someone poison it if you are the one who prepared it?" Clement asked with arched eyebrows.

Murie glanced at him sharply, her eyes narrow. "I left it briefly while Reynard took Emilie and myself down to the river to clean up. When I returned, it was nearly finished, and it smelled so good I began to pick at the meat. We both fell ill not long after eating."

"Did no one see the culprit near the meat while you were gone?" one of the remaining soldiers asked.

"Emilie - Lady Reynard," she explained for those who did not know her friend, "told me that her husband did ask that night, but no one seemed to see anything."

The man nodded thoughtfully and asked, "And no one saw anyone near Lord Gaynor's horse on the morning it bolted?"

"Nay," Murie said; but she wondered if Balan had thought to ask. She hadn't thought of it herself until the soldier mentioned it just now, and she didn't recall her husband speaking to anyone. They had returned to camp, he'd tied his stallion to the back of the wagon and then mounted her mare and they had left. Of course, that did not mean that he hadn't asked later, but she did wonder if - in his rush to get them to Reynard - he'd not overlooked the necessary inquisition.

"You do not look sure," the man-at-arms pointed out. Murie shrugged and said apologetically, "I never thought to ask my husband. And I am not sure that he thought to ask around."

"He would have asked," the soldier assured her. "If he has not said anything, or confronted anyone, then no one was seen." Murie nodded and glanced around at the people surrounding her. "Obviously, we must keep an eye out for him." Everyone nodded.

"I was thinking about how to keep him safe on the ride from Reynard," she confessed. "And I do have some ideas."

"We will help," Gatty said solemnly. The others nodded.

"What ideas did you have?" Thibault asked eagerly. "Is there anything we can do tonight?"

"Naught but keep an eye on him," Murie said with a sigh, her gaze moving toward the keep doors. It had been late in the day when they arrived, the sun finally setting. It had still been light out as they rode up, but the gray light of coming dusk. Though, she acknowledged that could last a long time at this time of year, when the days were still longer than the nights. "But I shall need to find some things on the morrow and may need direction as to where to find them."

"Certainly, anything you need," Thibault said. Murie nodded. "We shall discuss it in the morn. In the meantime, it has been a long journey, and I daresay my husband and Osgoode would enjoy a meal of some sort when they return from speaking to ... Anselm, was it?"

"Aye," Gatty said.

"A meal is it?" Clement muttered bitterly. He nodded.

"Certainly. I can make fish stew, fishcakes, or fish roasted over the fire."

Murie bit her lip at this news. "I gather there is little but fish available?"

"There is nothing but fish available," Clement announced.

"Nothing?" Murie said with dismay.

"Nothing," the cook repeated. "It is fish to break our fast, at the nooning and at sup."

She shook her head with disbelief. "There must be something else, surely? A chicken that lays eggs? A bit of beef? Pork, even?"

"Nothing," he repeated.

"But... I mean I knew that Gaynor was short on people to bring in the harvest and so the ground went fallow, but surely the plague did not strike the animals as well?"

"Saying the fields went fallow suggests that the harvest was plowed under and left to fertilize them," Clement pointed out shortly. "With so few of us here, we could not even manage that. The crops have been left to rot where they grow."

"My lady," Gatty said quietly, casting a sharp gaze at the cook.

"Allow me to explain."

Murie nodded, and Gatty continued: "Half our people were taken by the plague. A good portion of the remaining half fled for fear of contagion. This left very few to try to keep body and soul together. With no one to watch over them, many of the animals wandered off or simply died of starvation. And then we began to hear tales of lords willing to pay large sums of money or rewards such as fine cottages and extra food for workers to tend their fields. Most of those remaining promptly picked up and left.

"Unfortunately, many of those also chose to take what livestock was left behind ... in lieu of payment, they claimed," she added bitterly. "Those of us standing before you now are all who stayed behind and remained loyal to our lord, and we were left with little more than what we could harvest from the fields or the orchard ... and the new large pond. Fish."

Murie sank back against her seat, her eyes slipping over the people around her. They all wore rough woolen clothes made from a cheap brown fabric. Each had a hollow look about the eyes - including the roundish Thibault - that suggested they had lost weight of late. And they had the slump-shouldered bearing of the defeated. Their morale was obviously low; but then, Murie supposed, if all they'd had to eat for the last year was fish -  morning, noon and night - she could not blame them.

Truly, while Murie had known things went badly at Gaynor, it was heartbreaking to realize just how bad. But then, it had been bad everywhere. The plague had struck London violently, taking almost half of the population. Everywhere had been chaos. Many of the nobility had fled to the country, hoping to find safety there, but the majority of Londoners had not had the option. A good number had become nothing better than animals and, seeming to think it was the end of days, they had consumed all the drink and food they could, moving from empty dwelling to empty dwelling, whether homes of the already deceased or of owners who'd fled to the country. They'd taken what they wanted with no one to stop them. Meanwhile, others had simply shut themselves in their homes and tried to avoid and ignore anything that went on outdoors in an effort to stay safe. The terror had been so bad that brother abandoned brother, son abandoned parent, and even mothers abandoned their children at the first sign of a cough or a redness, all for fear it was the plague.

Of course, Murie had only heard of this secondhand. She, like everyone else connected to the king, had been locked up in Windsor Castle where the revelry was nonstop and seemed almost manic. One would almost have thought that no one at court had any idea of what was going on outside ... if it were not for the fact that it was on everyone's lips. And the king's favorite daughter, Joan, had been taken by the plague. She'd died in Bayonne at the age of fourteen. She'd been on her way to marry Peter I of Castile.

"Very well," Murie said finally. "Fish roasted over the fire sounds delightful, and I thank you for troubling to make it. I shall speak to my husband about purchasing some livestock when he returns from getting his accounts from Anselm."

Nodding stiffly, Clement turned and made his way to a door that she presumed led to the kitchens.

They were all silent, and then Gatty stepped forward, her shoulders squared. "Well, his lordship said I should give you a tour. Where would you like to start, my lady?"

Murie waved a hand vaguely. "Wherever you deem it best to start, Gatty. You know this castle better than I." Nodding, the servant turned and gestured the others out of the way. As they moved to the sides, she announced, "The great hall."

Murie stood, smiling faintly, and moved toward the small grouping of chairs around the fire across the room. The chairs were well-made, no doubt having been commissioned during better times. A chessboard populated with finely carved game pieces was obviously also from earlier days. Murie took it all in, then turned to survey the rest of the hall. It was large, with tapestries hanging from the walls. From a distance they appeared dull and colorless, but on approaching them, Murie saw that this wasn't the case at all; they were simply coated with dust and soot. Obviously, with so few people left to manage the castle, a chore such as beating and cleaning the tapestries would go long neglected.

"We have done the best that we cou - " Gatty began with a hint of defensiveness, but Murie cut her off.

"It shall be beautiful again once we have the manpower necessary to set things to rights," she said quietly. Gatty peered at her for a moment and then allowed her shoulders to relax. "Would you care to see the kitchens?" Murie nodded and followed.

The kitchens were large, made to feed hundreds, as one would expect in a castle this size, but only a small corner showed any recent use. Murie supposed it didn't take much room to make fish stew for so few people, and it appeared Clement was the only person generally here of late. However, she had no trouble imagining it as the hot, bustling beehive of activity it must once have been. She was determined to see it returned to that state.

"My daughters often help Clement in the kitchen as well as with serving the food," Gatty announced quietly. "However, before the plague they were housemaids."

"And they shall be again," Murie assured her. She turned to leave the kitchens.

"Did you not wish to see the pantry?" Gatty asked, following her.

"There is time enough for that tomorrow," Murie said, not wishing to see the empty shelves. She was depressed enough by all these people had endured, and simply wished to get the tour over and done.

They moved above stairs, and Murie was silent as Gatty showed her room after room. Juliana's bedchamber was small and mean, with little in the way of comfort. There was a bed, a chest and filthy rushes on the floor. There was not a single tapestry covering the windows to help keep the breeze from creeping through the rickety shutters. Murie could only imagine how cold that must be in the winter.

"How ... Why?" Murie asked, turning to Gatty. The woman's mouth tightened, but this was the only sign of her anger. She said, "Lady Gaynor died giving birth to Juliana. Lord Gaynor had loved his wife dearly and blamed the child for her death. He never forgave her. He brought Juliana to me moments after her mother died, handed her into my care and - as far as I can tell - never gave her another thought. I did the best I could, but with her father treating her so coldly and uncaring of her comfort or happiness ..." She shrugged wearily.

"And what of Balan?" Murie asked.

Gatty's expression softened. "He loves the child dearly, but he has been away battling for most of her life. He tried to reason with his father when she was first born, but there was no arguing with the old man's grief. His lordship has tried to make things better since his return, but Juliana has been so long without - "

"She no longer thinks she deserves it and cannot accept it," Murie finished on a sigh. It seemed she had more than a newly orphaned child to deal with. In truth, Juliana had been orphaned at birth, losing both parents with her mother's death. Unfortunately, her father had stayed around to torment her with his lack of love.

"Aye." Gatty hesitated and then said, "I hope you will not be too hard on the child for what she did to you in the bailey. She is  - "

'You need not fear," Murie interrupted. "I was orphaned at ten and raised at court. It is not the best place for a child to feel loved and nurtured. I think Juliana and I have a lot in common." Gatty relaxed and even smiled faintly. "Thank you."

"There is no need to thank me," Murie assured her, hesitated and then announced, "I would appreciate it if you would disregard whatever gossip you have heard about me, whether from Lord and Lady Aldous or elsewhere, and judge me on my own merit."

"I never judge on gossip, my lady. Besides," she added with a grin, "we had all already decided you could not be the brat you are reputed to be, else his lordship would never have married you."

Murie raised her eyebrows slightly. "Not even to save you from the winter ahead?"

"Not even then," Gatty assured her. "He would have continued to hunt game and done what he had to, to keep us all alive, and waited until he found someone he felt he could deal well with. Balan is smart enough to know that a lord's marriage affects the castle and its inhabitants as much as the couple themselves. A battling couple can bring about divisions in the people beneath them as each takes sides."

Murie's was taken aback by this bit of wisdom, but she asked,

"Then there is sometimes food other than fish?"

"Aye, but not often. There's too much to do around here to take the time for hunting more than once every couple of weeks. And there hasn't been anything but fish since his lordship and his cousin left for court. That left us with even fewer men to work, and no one could take the time to hunt."

"I see." Murie glanced around Juliana's room one more time, then headed for the door. She would begin to make this room more hospitable first thing on the morrow, right after she tended the great hall.

"The master's bedchamber is the only room left above stairs," Gatty commented as she pulled the door closed behind them. Nodding, Murie followed along the hall to the last room and managed not to gasp in horror when the woman pushed the door open for her to enter.

"This . . . This is ..." Murie shook her head, unable to give words to how horrible the room was. The rushes here - as in the rest of the castle - had not been changed for quite a while, perhaps not since before the plague. They were a stinking, soggy mess. And whereas the rest of the castle had shown the neglect of the last year or better, this room had obviously been neglected much longer. Cobwebs strung the ceiling overhead; a huge, heavy, framed bed was the only furnishing; and its curtains hung in tatters around it, no protection at all from the draft allowed in by the open and broken window shutters. A fireplace sat cold and empty.

"The old lord insisted on keeping the room exactly as it was when Lady Gaynor died ten years ago," Gatty explained quietly.

"He would not allow us in to clean."

"But..." Murie shook her head.

"We only managed to change the rushes when he was away from the keep, and then we all pretended, including he, that it had not been done."

"Aye, but why has Balan not - "

"Lord Balan has been sleeping in the garrison with the soldiers since returning from France."

"Oh," Murie said weakly. It seemed obvious she could not join her husband in the garrison, but they could not possibly sleep here. Yet, it was late in the day to make other arrangements. Obviously moved to pity by her hopeless expression, Gatty suggested, "Mayhap with some fresh linens and furs it shall not be so bad for one night, and then on the morrow we can perhaps do something with the room to make it more comfortable."

"Aye," Murie said weakly.

"I am sorry," Gatty said with a sigh. " 'Tis a poor homecoming to be sure, but with so few of us left, we are kept running from morning till night and simply did not have the time to - "

"Nay, of course not," Murie interrupted, straightening her shoulders. " 'Tis fine. If you would send Cecily up and have someone bring along my chests, she and I can set to work preparing it for the night."

"I could help," Gatty offered.

Murie shook her head. "I have taken enough of your time. You go about whatever you would normally be doing. We shall tend this."

Nodding, the woman turned and left the room, and Murie spun in a slow circle, her eyes roving over everything as she tried to decide where to start.

The bedcurtains were the biggest eyesore; not just dirty, but ragged. In the end it was those she decided to tackle first. Hitching up her skirt, she marched across the room to the side of the bed, grabbed two handfuls and gave a firm tug. The next moment she was bent over, coughing up the dust and debris that had billowed around her in a gray brown cloud from the musty old cloth.

Finally able to catch her breath, she waved her hand in front of her face to displace the remaining dust cloud and peered up at what she'd achieved. Her shoulders slumped as she saw that the cloth was so fragile that it had torn away where she'd grasped it and no higher.

Murie glared at the results, then squared her shoulders and clambered onto the top corner of the bed.

Clinging to the post there, she reached up to grab the cloth as near to the frame as possible, having to stretch up on to her tiptoes to manage the task.

"Oh! My lady! What are you doing? Get down! You shall hurt yourself!"

Murie glanced down with surprise to find Cecily had arrived. Her maid was looking absolutely frantic as she rushed across the room to her side.

"I am just going to pull down these curtains. I thought if we remove them and remake the bed with fresh linens, it would do for the night." She reached up again, tugging at the cloth, adding,

"I wish we could change the rushes as well, but that is not possible at this hour. Those shall have to wait until the morrow."

"My lady, this is ..."

Murie glanced down again to see the maid staring around the room in horror. Sighing, she turned back to give the cloth another tug.

"It is rather awful, but - Aiyeee!" Murie squealed as the cloth suddenly tugged free and she lost her balance, falling back on the bed. A cloud of dust immediately rose up to envelope her, and then Murie gasped in alarm as the bed itself suddenly collapsed beneath her, crashing to the floor.

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