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A Touch of Poison

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That first night, at midnight, Gwen hadn't been able to drop anything but a hastily scrawled note out her window for Rhosyn.

"Well," Gwen murmured quietly to herself, looking over the collection of things spread over her bedsheet, "I'm certainly making up for it tonight."

It had been harder than she'd thought, preparing for a one-way journey like this one. The first time she'd tried, she had ended up with a veritable mountain of things she'd wanted to bring with her. She'd included everything from riding outfits she had yet to grow into, all the way to a small collection of ceramic dolls that had once belonged to her mother, or so she'd been told.

When she had looked at the first pile of stuff, she soon realized that bringing everything she wanted would not be practical at all. She'd have to leave a great deal of things behind - things that were precious to her. It had taken several long hours for her to completely understand and accept what that meant.

Now, her collection of items consisted of three changes of plain, sturdy clothing, a cloak, two standard-issue daggers she'd 'borrowed' from the guard barracks, a large travel satchel, a small flint box, two waterskins, two heavy blankets, a purse with twenty-nine silver in it, and a small wooden chest that contained every necklace, bracelet, or potentially valuable piece of jewelry she'd ever been given. When properly rolled up and packed, everything fit snugly inside the travel satchel, and the whole thing looked as though it'd fit through her bedroom window without issue.

Gwen looked around her bedroom at all the items that hadn't ended up on the blanket. She knew it would be difficult saying goodbye to all her stuff, some of which she'd never even dreamed she'd be parting with.

And things were about to get even more difficult.

She drew a deep, relaxing breath, glancing at her bedroom door apprehensively.

Tonight, she had to see how hard it would be to sneak down into her father's study and root around in his desk. And that meant, well . . . actually sneaking down to her father's study and rooting around in his desk.

If she got caught, she might not get into too much trouble. She wouldn't be trying to take anything tonight, after all, just verify that there was indeed a leather pouch with a red cord sitting in her father's study desk. But if she was found out, or seen snooping around the king's study, it would definitely rouse suspicion and make things harder later on.

Gwen also had to confirm that she'd have access to the pouch - that she'd be able to fetch it when the time was right. And, if all went well tonight, that time might be as soon as tomorrow evening.

It all depended on her being able to get down to the study, verify everything she needed to know, get back up to her room, write a quick note, and then toss her bag of stuff outside the window . . . all of which had to be done by midnight if she was going to catch Rhosyn in time.

Which meant she only had about an hour left.

Gwen sighed. She'd stalled long enough.

Grimacing privately, she gave her bedroom door another nervous look, steeled herself, and took a deep breath. Then she pulled her door open and ventured through it.

There were scant torches lighting her tower stairs, but the darkness was manageable, even a little comforting. She'd prefer not to be seen, of course, but she knew it would be unavoidable once she got to the bottom of the stairs and into the main hallway. However, the castle staff that ran into her might not think twice about seeing her roaming the hallways at this comparatively late hour, since most of them hadn't been working there for more than a couple of months anyways. Still, a stray piece of servant gossip making its way to Anifail might be enough to undo her whole plan, so the fewer people she ran in to, the better.

Once at the bottom of the stairs, she peeked left and right into the hallway before proceeding into it, dark grey shawl wrapped around her shoulders and covering a fair bit of her light brown dressing gown. The stone of the floor felt cold against her bare feet, and made her want to shiver, despite the fact that the rest of her seemed unreasonably warm. Her stomach was a tight ball of worry, and her lungs felt like they weren't getting enough air.

Instead of heading straight to her father's study by way of the library hallway, Gwen opted for a less-traveled route near the inner courtyard garden, a trip that took her no more than a couple of minutes. Once there, she slipped through the courtyard door and into the blessedly dark, night air. Grass poked between her toes, as did the odd bit of dirt from the gardens as she tip-toed through the garden, heading for a similar entrance located clear on the other side.

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