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1. chapter one

November 3rd 1543

 

Scanning my eyes across the board I planned my next move. I looked at Niall but his blank expression gave nothing away. 

I couldn’t make up my mind. Picking up once piece I put in back down; I switched two pieces before switching them back. 

“For God’s sake Louis, we’ll all be in our graves but the time you’ve made your move,” Niall joked.

“I just can’t decide!”

I moved my queen piece before moving it back again.

“It’s a good job we have all day,” said Niall lounging backwards in his chair. 

Drumming my fingers on the table I made several more fake moves which had Niall groaning. Finally, I settled on a move. 

With the smug look on Niall’s face, I knew it was the wrong move. 

“Checkmate!”

Niall stole my piece a big grin on his face. 

“Sorry, Louis you can’t beat the master.”

“Since when were you the master?”

“I’ve been practising.”

A pang of annoyance rose inside of me. For years we’d played chess and Niall had never come even close to beating me. Now in seemed as if he only ever won. I couldn’t understand how he’d become so good. 

“Who’s been teaching you?” I asked setting up the pieces for another game. 

“Mrs Jones, in exchange for helping her milk the cows she gave me a few pointers.”

Mrs Jones lived in the farm just down the hill for my house. She was a cheerful and caring woman who’d looked after both Niall and me since I could remember. Although she cared for both of us it was clear Niall was her favourite. She used to give him special treats and sometimes take him down to the market on the old Shetland pony. 

I’d stand in the doorway watching them leave. My sentence meant I wasn’t allowed to leave the house grounds.

Even the rare times I was allowed down to the farm I was heavily guarded. Mrs Jones would try and be sweet letting me pet the old donkey and watch her sheer the sheep but it was clear she couldn’t stand having the guards around. 

It was easy for Niall he could go whenever we wanted.

It sucked being a prisoner in your own home.

“I could ask her to give you a few pointers too,” Niall said clearly noticing the disappointed look on my face. 

I shrugged, “I doubt I’ll be able to go to the farm, Thomas has been acting extra nervous recently.”

“Perhaps she could come here?”

“As if Thomas would let her every guest has to  have the third degree before their even allowed through the front door!”

Mrs Jones used to be a welcome guest until her husband became involved with catholicism. I was unsure why this was such an issue, but Thomas forbad her to come anywhere near our house afterwards. 

“All right, all right, I take your point,” Niall sighed putting down his pieces, “you start.”

We didn’t get very far into the game before we were interrupted by Thomas. He’d clearly just been hunting. He came in with his shirt hanging loose over his breaches and his sheath still slung over his shoulder. I noted how his bow was splattered with blood. 

“Any good catches, sir?” Niall asked.

Thomas blew upwards, his face the same startling red as his hair.

“The bloody deer didn’t half give us the run around, but we did it. Five large deer and four rabbits, cook will be making us a feast.”

He turned to us although he was panting he fixed me with a smile. 

“We might have cause to celebrate soon, child.”

“Celebrate what?” I asked. 

I said it matter of factly but my heart was pounding. My day to day life was ridiculously boring and repetitive. The same went for Niall and Thomas. Although by law they weren’t prisoners they very rarely went anywhere. Every day was so similar that any pathetic little event was celebrated. Niall and I had even got to celebrating half birthdays. 

Perhaps it was somebodies half birthday soon.

“Edward and Lord Alex are due to arrive in the next few days.”

Edward was Thomas’ twin brother. When we fell out of favour Edward somehow managed to stay a favourite. He continued to raise his station, until he was third only too Lord Alex and the King. 

The less said about Lord Alex the better.

“Why would they come here?” Niall asked.

“I don’t know,” Thomas admitted removing his sheath and sinking into an armchair, “but for my darling brother to come here, it must be important.”

Thomas always spoke negatively of his brother. Even before my arrest they never seemed to get on. Edward was the “Perfect” brother, in a stable marriage and adored by the people. Thomas was as he quoted the other one. 

“Do you think-?”

I couldn’t finish my sentence. My mind flashed back to the tower and all its horrors. Although it was years ago I still regularly woke up screaming, sweating and panicked. Niall would crawl out of his bed and see to me. He’d Place a wet flannel on my burning forehead and rub my shaking hands until I calmed down. 

It was somewhat awkward that I was older yet Niall was the one who looked after me.

“Don’t think like that,” Niall reached across the board and tapped my knuckles, “you haven’t done anything wrong.”

“I doubt my brother would give us pre-warning of an arrest anyway,” said Thomas. 

I started to calm down. Thomas was right, I was already under indefinite house arrest what else could they really do to me?

“So why are they coming then?” I though out loud. 

Thomas shrugged, “Like I said Louis, I don’t know.” 

The thought of my unknown fate made me feel nauseous. I’d rather die than repeat my past.

“So who’s winning?” Thomas asked quickly changing the subject. 

“Niall he’s a master at chess.”

Niall gave a satisfied nod, “Too right I am.”

Thomas cracked his knuckles, “Fancy a game then, boy? I have to warn you though I’m good.”

Niall nodded looking surprised it wasn’t often Thomas spoke to him. It wasn’t often Thomas spoke to either of us. The rare times he wasn’t out hunting he was off with his current mistress. Although he was pleasant I noted how he sighed whenever he saw me.

I knew he blamed me for the fact he was here.

This new Thomas was like a stranger. He said opposite Niall and they started playing. Straight away they were laughing and chatting like friends.

I sat and watched them for a while but I eventually got bored. Niall and Thomas both appeared to be brilliant players and neither one of them was making any mistakes. I knew the game could go on for ages. 

I made my way downstairs to the kitchens to see what cook was planning for supper. 

I’d always liked the kitchen, so different to my own chambers which were filled with guards. As I reached the bottom of the stairs I smiled to myself at the wafting scent of food. The bare white walls and dim light were a welcome difference to the harsh patterned wallpaper and bright cruel candle lights of upstairs.  

Cook was crouched over the table stuffing something into a pigeon. I couldn’t help feeling sick at the sight of the bird still being covered in feathers. Usually I only saw my meat when it was cooked and being served to me on a silver platter. 

“Sir,” Cook jumped in surprised rubbing her greasy hands on her apron, “sorry I didn’t see you there.”

The other kitchen staff quickly turned and bobbed their heads at me. 

I couldn’t understand why they were bowing; I wasn’t a prince anymore. 

“I was just wondering what was for dinner?” I asked.

“Pigeon hopefully,” Cook looked down at the half stuffed bird, “although Master Thomas didn’t give us a whole lot of notice.”

“He’s always liked to eat his catches the same day,” I laughed absentmindedly dipping my finger into the sugar bowl, “do you need any help?”

Cook gave me a look as though I’d asked her something shocking.

“I could not ask you to do such a thing, sir, you know that!”

I was confused. Since I could reach the table cook would let me help. I wasn’t allowed near the fire or knives as woe betide if I cut or burnt myself, but she’d let me help with the mixing. My personal favourite was rock cakes, large crumbly cakes filled with currants. I couldn’t help thinking that raw cake mixture tasted even nicer than the cooked. I would dip my hands in the sticky mixture enjoying the delicious taste of raw cake mix with currants. 

Cook would scold me telling me I’d get a tummy ache but I simply ignored her. It was all right, after all she worked for me. 

“I know you used to help us sir, but master Thomas-“

“What?” I interrupted.

I should’ve known this was down to Thomas. 

“Well, he came down the other day and gave us a talking to and said we were to stick to our positions.”

“What does that mean exactly?”

“That we shouldn’t except our masters” her eyes flicked to me, “to help us.”

“But I choose to help,” I argued.

“I know sir, but I suppose things change. You’re not a child anymore.”

“I’m 15 that’s still a child!” I replied indignantly.

She chuckled brushing a speck of flour off her face. 

“I was married at your age, sir and excepting my first child, weren’t you as well Sal?”

She beckoned to one of her assistants Sally a thin faced women with dark straggly hair who was probably only a few years older than me.   

Sally had never been as willing to let me help as cook. She’d get hot and flustered pacing in front of the doorway as if Thomas was going to burst it at any time and catch us.

“I was married at 13, sir,” Sally said smacking a lump of dough on the table, “my parents planned the marriage with their friends son when I was merely an infant.”

I was betrothed once to some french princess light years older than me. I met her once at court when I was around six and she a teenager. She didn’t seem pleased about her betrothal to a foreign prince younger than her and let us know about it. 

She was pleasant in front of my face but I heard her muttering angrily with her lady in waiting late at night in her chambers. 

We were due to be married when I turned 14; I couldn’t help but wonder what our marriage would have been like. 

“I don’t think I’ll ever have a chance to be married,” I said shutting down their marriage stories.

They turned to each other shame faced. I had this knack of making people feel guilty. One little moan about poor ex prince Louis was all it took. 

Cook reached for a bucket on the window sill, “Perhaps you could fetch us some water, sir if you really want to help.”

 I bit back a grin as I grabbed the bucket’s handle and put it over my arm.

The well sat just outside the kitchen in a small courtyard. It was the one area I was allowed to outside without a guard in tow. This was due to the fact that escape from here was impossible as the courtyard was enclosed in the building. When I was younger I used to think about scaling the stone walls, shuffling across the roof and jumping to my freedom.

I thought about it so much that it almost became a reality. Thomas told me a story about a man who attempted to escape the tower by tying his bedsheets together and dropping them out of his window like a rope. His attempt failed as he made the rope to short, fell on his head and died.

Thomas shouldn’t have told me this story as I tried desperately to recreate it, minus the unhappy ended. I worked it all out and even had the bedsheets together. Niall was going to climb onto the roof through the attic window and tie the rope, then from down it the courtyard I was going to climb it. 

Thomas thwarted our plans however; I barely he made it to the first floor when he caught us red handed. His mistress, a different one to now had been in her room and noticed me swinging from my rope of bed sheets.

I tried desperately to make out that Niall and I were just playing a game but not even an idiot would fall for that lie. Thomas starting panting his face turning the same colour as his hair, he wasn’t interested in my explanations.

 With one hand pulling my ear lobe and the other pulling Niall’s he dragged us inside and whipped us. I lost times of the amount of times he beat us too busy crying and begging him to stop. One thing I did know was that he beat Niall more. When he stopped and I was taken and dunked in cold water by my servants to stop the bruising Niall's cries continued.

I asked Niall afterwards why and he told me it was because he had responsibility for me. 

“I messed up,” he wept the cold water from his bath still dripping down his body. 

“You’re not a prisoner Niall why don’t you just leave?” I asked him an obvious question. 

He looked at me tears in his eyes, “I don’t have a choice, I’m as trapped as you!”

I never got to the bottom of this. Since we were children Niall had told me almost nothing about his previous life. The most I’d learnt was how his Aunt had sent him here to be my companion.

“What did your parents think?” I asked.

I couldn’t imagine how they would just send their child away.

He never answered. 

Filling my bucket up to the brim I placed it on the edge of the well and sat beside it. I shivered as I looked up at the wall I’d tried to scale all those years ago. Even the first floor seemed miles away from the stone ground. I must have been mad, I could have easily died.

I sat on the edge of the well a while longer swinging my legs and gathering my thoughts. I heard the creak on the back door and hastily jumped down. 

It wasn’t cook 

 

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