His eyes met hers. Her eyes met his. Their eyes met. Above their heads, black clouds formed, the winds began to howl and shake. Someone must die.
“In these terrible times, sir, I find it best to speak rarely and gently,” she said, looking back down at her needlework. Her voice was light and firm.
“Yes, indeed, m’lady, I understand that a raised voice would be improvident,” he said, reaching to take the needlepoint from her hands. She resisted only briefly. Pulling the white linen back, he revealed beneath it a letter, open and sitting in her lap. One eyebrow lifting slightly, he took the letter, folded it and slipped it into his cape.
“No need to worry about this, madam,” he said. “I will look after it until it is needed.”
“Yes, of course,” she responded, remaining seated, remaining composed, remaining convinced as ever that someone must die. Now quite certain which of them that might be.
Outside were the sounds of preparation that had become common over these past few months. Horses and men, the smell of burning hooves as the animals were shod, the excited yells of small boys chasing soldiers and knights-in-training through the muddy streets. Enemies came in all forms in those days: enemies of state, illness, criminals and people made mad by poverty and dirt. The men in the castle held council after council, each beating the drum for his own reason. War. Glory, wealth, religion, property, power.
Who holds a woman’s letter over her head, leaving behind an unspoken threat? This young man has just taken a letter from the most dangerous woman of her place and time. Pity he did not recognize her; they’d met before, in other circumstances. If he had realized from whom he took the letter, the situation in which he eventually found himself might have been avoided altogether.