Exile’s Bane

Exile’s Bane by Nicole Margot Spencer

Book: Exile’s Bane by Nicole Margot Spencer Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nicole Margot Spencer
returned. He rushed in the door, closed it tight, his face drained of color, and jerked the window curtain closed. The rush of air from the door passed, and the flickering candles reclaimed their steady flame.
    “Well, what news?” Peg asked.
    He busily disgorged his pockets onto the table. Maybe three handfuls of oats for the horses, a withered apple, a hard loaf of bread, and four wedges of white, unhealthy looking cheese.
    “Did you get any information about the roads?” I asked.
    “No. The King is not in Oxford. He is in the field. There is no way to know where he is.”
    “And how do ye know this?” Peg asked. She watched his reactions carefully.
    “Actually, I have known. I just remembered while I was in town. Neighbor Sims, who lives beyond the church ruins, told me this not a week ago, hoping the King was headed to Bolton. Sims is a staunch Royalist, you know. Very few of those in Bolton.”
    He put his hands in his pockets and looked from one of us to the other.
    “Everyone I know in town is confined indoors or wandering the streets, homeless and starving. They’ve had to resort to looting and murder to survive. The gangs are no better than the Roundheads. Colonel Rigby has taken over. The townsfolk live under constant threat of violence.” He moved to the big chair, settled into it, his eye on me now, the expression on his face turned rigid. “I ran into that tinker friend of yours. He threatened me and told me I had to come back to the house, and I think I know why. A gust of wind whipped his cloak up and I caught a glance of his sword, too fine a sword for a tinker to own. He wore good cordovan riding boots, too. This fellow was on his way out of town. Isn’t that strange? With a nasty storm approaching? Eh? What could it mean?”
    “I cannot imagine,” I said, trying to appear nonchalant. I pretended to study the pathetic bits of food my precious gold had bought.
    “Well, I can,” Thomas railed, his voice an octave too high. “The King has treated with the Scots and they are out there on the moors ready to descend upon us.”
    “Eeewww! Bloodthirsty MacGregors come screamin’ down out of the highlands,” Peg cried, palms on her cheeks in mock terror. With an unbelieving look at him, she threw up her hands and laughed. “Thomas, y’re daft.”
    “Stop it.” He grabbed Peg’s shoulders and shook her. When he let her go, his eyes remained wild, though his words came out in the proper octave. “Whatever comes, I believe the Scot’s advice was good. We will wait here. No chasin’ after the King this night or tomorrow. Something untoward is going on.”
    Peg tried to break the bread, but ended up sawing it apart with Thomas’ knife. I took the apple to Kalimir and a small quantity of oats to the horses in the miserable stable. In my travels, I found the privy and happily relieved myself.
    When I returned, Peg was questioning Thomas about his neighbor, Sims. She handed me two pieces of hard bread and some cheese.
    “Roundheads are going around demanding provisions and housing,” Thomas said to me.
    “Have you seen any of them here yet?”
    “No, but I won’t be surprised if they come.”
    “We must barricade the door. If they find us we could be shot . . . or hanged,” I said, heart in my mouth. Peg and I looked at one another. “Or worse.”
    This, then, was one of the problems Duncan had referred to. But Duncan’s promised protection would not be here for many hours. In anxious concern, I clenched my hands together in my lap to keep from ravaging my fingers. Finally, I ate the bread by holding it in my mouth until it softened, then adding some of the rancid cheese. Famished as I was, I barely choked it down with a swallow of water from the cistern.
    “Maybe,” Thomas said, finger pressed to his lips. He looked at me from his wooden throne, eyebrows raised in expectancy. “Maybe Prince Rupert is coming. They say in town that he relieved Tor House.”
    “True,” I said, putting

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