Chapter 21: The Gardener's Tower

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The guards fell on us, knocking us to our knees. My kneecaps connected with the marble floor and sang out with pain. Rough hands wrenched our arms behind our backs and bound our wrists together with rope.

They dragged us to our feet and pushed us back towards the doors. I looked up at Gerda, my face contorted in desperation but I could read nothing in her expression. Her features were set in the same calm, determined expression they'd worn all day. The guards shoved us, stumbling through the palace, to the kitchens and down the stone steps to the dungeons. I hurried to stay far enough ahead of them that they wouldn't be able to push me down.

One guard shoved us into the nearest cell, clanged the door behind us and locked it with an enormous key. As soon as he was out of earshot, Gerda turned to me.

"Don't worry, Daisy. There is no poison. All the bottles contain the remedy. I had to give Edmund the chance to make the right decision but it looks like it's not him who's in charge anymore. We'll wait till nightfall, then you can shift and go and see what Morwain's up to."

We sat down with difficulty, our hands still tied, the ropes cutting into our wrists. I lay my head on Gerda's lap and she sang me the same Moonrun lullabies Mum had sung to Poppy and me when we were small. Emotion welled up inside me and soon my tears were soaking into her skirt and my chest heaving with sobs. I cried and cried, my heart wringing itself out until all the emotion had emptied out of me and I was calm and quiet again. I felt Gerda share her poise and energy with me, building me up, giving me strength and determination for the upcoming mission.

Underground in the dungeon it was impossible to know how much of the day was left, but when the slaves trudged down the stairs from the kitchen, I knew it must be after dark. Hoping for a glimpse of Meghan, I sniffed and pushed myself up onto my knees. I shuffled over to press my face against the bars and watch the black-tuniced slave girls file past. Before long I spotted her rosy-cheeked face and dark curly hair. When she saw me she let out a little squeal of delight.

"Shut up, slave!' A heavy-set guard cuffed her around the ear and then she was out of sight.

Once the slaves were installed in their cells there was quiet again. Gerda knelt by the bars and whistled to the greyhound. He trotted over and sniffed us through the bars, his tail wagging happily.

"Morwain will be in the Gardener's Tower. If you're a dog you can sniff around and nobody will pay you any attention." She looked me in the eye. Her forehead was wrinkled with concern. "Be careful, Daisy."

I nodded and prepared to empty my mind. Breathing in deeply, I settled myself within. When I was ready, I turned and pressed my hands through the bars. I felt the dog's sharp teeth dragging at the ropes until they frayed and broke. Then he pushed his nose into my palm and licked it. As soon as I felt his rough tongue, the wave rippled through me and before I knew it I was standing on four skinny legs, my head reeling, stunned by all the different smells I could suddenly identify. Each smell was distinct: Gerda, the prisoner next door, the guard with the sausage in his pocket for a snack later on, the mice that lived in the straw and the cats they used to keep their numbers down. I could hear exceptionally well too: someone was scratching their head three cells away and the guard's stomach was rumbling.

I shook myself out of Annifer's dress, licked Gerda's face by way of goodbye and squeezed my thin body through the bars and out into the corridor. The greyhound and I sniffed each other briefly and then I ran up the stairs, my claws clicking on the stone steps, through the kitchen and out into the courtyard. It looked eerie, sinister somehow, the colours reduced to monochrome in the moonlight. I steeled my nerves and padded up to the base of the Gardener's Tower. Outside the door stood our wagon, the horses' harnesses still dangling from the wooden struts that stuck out in front. Morwain had obviously had it searched for anything that might be useful to him. My ears twitched. I could hear voices coming from a room high up inside.

"Is it ready?" This was Morwain's hiss. A shiver shook my skinny body.

"Yes." I recognized this soft, weary voice as belonging to Ilfred.

"And you're sure: a few drops on a man's food before he goes to bed and he'll go to sleep and never wake up?"

"Yes, I'm sure."

"And you're sure it's untraceable? No one will know they were poisoned?"

"I'm sure."

"Guard, wake the King's Head Cook and bring him here."

There was the sound of a door opening and heavy footsteps on the stairs. Morwain's voice again.

"At last, I'll be rid of my stupid, weakling brother and his puny son. Quain will finally have the strong king, the worthy king it so rightly deserves."

Oh Goddess! I thought. He's going to poison the king and the prince and take the throne for himself!

Thanks for reading 😊
Sorry it's such a short chapter, more coming soon. Please comment and vote if you liked it.
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