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I had thought of pleading a continuing headache in order to get out of recreation time, but the thought of an evening alone brooding on the coming night's work was not a happy one.

The Archdraxite was in the games room from the start, and when Finola and I arrived she came straight to us. I had to fight back an urge to back away from her! "Rollo tells me you have been having a rotten day, Diken," she said.

I took a deep breath before answering. "Well, not really rotten, Your Grace. Matron gave me a pill, and Finola sat with me a while. She read to me. I'm a lot better now, thank you."

"That's good. You are well, I hope, Finola?"

"Yes, thank you, Your Grace."

"You look a little pale, that's all."

Finola felt a little pale!

When to our relief Nell had moved away, Finola and I carried on with the game of Royal Armies we had begun the previous evening, and which we had left set up with a PLEASE LEAVE sign against it; but our hearts were not in it, and we soon agreed a draw. We watched cueball and pong ping for a bit, before wandering over to one of the big windows, ostensibly to look out of it. I pointed to the sliding bolt. Finola nodded.

"Crossword time, I think," said Nell. "Are you up for it, Diken?"

"I expect so, Your Grace."

This was not one of Crypticus' harder puzzles, and it was soon knocked off - but not until my stomach had knotted, and my blood had run chill. "Rat mixed up in riot, for a deceiver," Nell read out to us. "Sounds like one for Diken."

She knew! She knew that I was plotting against her!

"Traitor," I said, as calmly as I could manage. I could hardly have pretended not to have been able to solve such a simple clue!

"Too easy for the anagram king!" Nell exclaimed with a laugh. "Oh dear, Diken, are you still not well? Has your head come back?"

My life had come back, but the head would do! "Yes, Your Grace. I'm afraid so, Your Grace."

"Finola, why don't you take Diken to the kitchen, have an early cocoa together, then see that he gets to his bed."

Until that day one would have basked in such kindness; but it was not the same now, nor could it ever be again.

Finola and I said our goodnights in my room, and we were brief about them; anything drawn out would have been quite unbearable. We knew that it was possible that we would not see each other again. If I was caught trying to get out, what might Nell do with me? And if I did manage to meet up with the King, he might want me to go away with him. To be separated from my friend would break my heart. As I listened to her footsteps descending the stairs from my landing I felt more utterly alone than I had ever been in my life.


When I had lain down on my bed fully clothed I had had no intention of going to sleep. Perhaps it was the acrid smell of an oil lamp in need of a fill and a trim burning itself out which had woken me. A little light from the Moon came through the window, but it was not enough for me to be able to read my bedside clock. I fumbled for the match box, and in my clumsy haste I spilled most of its contents on the floor, before taking hold of the single match with which I lit the candle. The clock accused me most horribly, for it read twenty past eleven: I had planned on being out of the building and on my way to the tree by half past! Supposing I had slept through to Big Bertha! The thought made me feel physically sick.

There were four other rooms on my landing, mine being the nearest to the staircase. Having closed my door with never a sound I began my spiral descent; I had never before noticed how loudly some of those ancient wooden steps creaked.

Once on the ground floor I listened to the quiteness for a few moments before tiptoeing down the narrow stone flagged passageway which led to the building's main corridor, where I listened again, and peered left and right, before darting across to the games room door. It was locked, which was unfortunate, for of course one of those bolted terrace windows was to have been my way out. It had never occured to me that with a smashed pane of glass it could have offered someone else a way in!

What about the dining hall, which was always open, so far as I knew. There was no way out it except into the kitchen, and there would be a duty cook there; but I wasn't going to give Hamlet up just yet and simply slink feebly back to my bed. I had to try something, if only to regain a little self estem.

After creeping along about twenty yards of frighteningly exposed corridor, I was soon making my way between dining tables and benches, then past the battery of servery hotplates, before pushing through the swing doors into the kitchen proper.

Footsteps in the hall behind me! Footsteps in the kitchen out of sight round a corner in front of me! It would have to be the sleepwalking routine after all. Arms stretched out straight ahead - that's what they do, don't they? - head up. See up! A trapdoor! A large waste bin with a lid. Too heavy for me? No, it must be empty. Pick it up, place it, hop on it, push trap door, which swings easily upwards, and stops on a jamb just beyond the vertical. Kitchen footsteps nearing the corner, dining hall footsteps threatening to burst through the swing doors. Reach up, grab edge of trap, push up and through, move aside, lower trapdoor, fear bang. There is just a gentle hiss of squeezed air. Oh, most excellent carpenter, my grateful thanks!

Voices beneath.

"Here comes the laggard!"

"Sorry. Overslept a couple of minutes. What's that bin doing here?"

"Nothing to do with me."

"Anything cooking?"

"There's a pie in 4 oven, for the two o'clock sentries. There's plenty of eggs and bacon, if you want do yourself a fry."

"Great. See you tomorrow."

"See you."

Footsteps went their respective ways, then there was silence.

It was treacle black in my loft. Fortunately I had put my matchbox in my pocket, just in case; unfortunately, I had not thought of collecting up the matches I had scattered all over my bedroom floor! I counted, by touch, and found I had only four.

I was very relieved to find that I could stand upright. By the light of the first match I could see that I was in sort of lumber room, a depository of junk so absolutely useless as to make it a wonder that anyone had ever bothered to lug it there in the first place. There was a one legged table, a chest without drawers, drawers without a chest, half a pong ping table, and goodness knows what else. I felt quite cheered by it all, for it was obvious that none of the larger items could have been squeezed through my trapdoor; ergo, there had to be another way out! The match burned my finger and thumb, and I dropped it.

The second match showed me a wooden crate, just made for standing on. I held the light high, and peered into the deepening gloom. I was looking for a door, or a staircase, or...Ouch! Another match bit the attic dust.

When I had got down from the crate, and was beginning to to grope from one piece of junk to another, I heard a scurrying sound; my involuntary moan came from a shivering dread of meeting a rat, especially in the dark! I lit my third match. The little grey mouse stared at me before, with a twitching of nose and whiskers, and a little squeak, it was off, scampering between bits of this and that, then onto and over a large folded over piece of lino - on which sat a half burnt down candle in a metal holder complete with handle.

Was it before or after I had used my last match to coax the tired old stub of begrimed wax into spluttering light that the glorious smell first began to tickle my nostrils? Anyway, someone, not far from, was frying bacon! I followed my nose, and came to an open doorway leading to a short flight of stairs, at the very top of which was a grill set in the wall, through which there came the full, generous waft of the duty cook's feast in preparation. I had never before felt that hungry, at that time of night!

At the foot of the stairs was a door, which opened to a push. I found myself in a small room packed with cleaning materials. It was not dark, for high up in the wall facing me was a window through which the Moon shone brightly. There was a door to my right. I was just about to try its handle when I heard footsteps the other side of it. I blew out the candle. A light showed under the door. A voice - which I had heard already that night - said crossly, "There it is! Why can't people leave my tea mug alone? It doesn't live here, for Draxy's sake!" There was nothing more from the duty cook, and light and footstep retreated. Enjoy your midnight breakfast, I thought.

I now knew that my way out was through that window. There were some empty soap boxes in a corner, and suitabl placed they made a fair staircase for me. The window was hinged at the top, and it opened outwards. With a bit of luck, it should close behind me by its own weight. There was a deivice to enable it to be fixed in a wide open position.

There I was, then, sitting on the window ledge, with my legs dangling outside the building. I estimated the drop to the grass below to be about seven or eight feet. I unfixed the window, and let it rest on the top of my head. I eased my bottom over the sill, while supporting myself behind on my elbows. Then came the unavoidable moment of truth: there was a painful bang on my forehead from the widow's frame as I launched myself into space. When I had landed softly on the spring turf, I heard just a gentle thud as the window fell backwards into its housing. Perhaps it all been the work of the person who had made my trapdoor!

As I was scampering away from the scene of my escape, I suddenly realised that I had no idea how I was going to get back in, assuming the King wanted me to. Well, that was for later.

The Moon could hardly have shone more brightly, and I sought the shady cover of walls as I made my scampering getaway. When I was well clear of the domestic quarters, I cut through a corner of the kitchen garden towards one of the tunnels in the box hedge. Once through it, I made straight for the tree. I had run very hard, and I needed a few moments of breath catching before jumping up to catch hold of the lowest branch. I heaved myself onto it, and peered into the heart of the great oak. There was no one there.

"Bother!" I exclaimed.





"'You come most carefully upon your hour.'"

I knew that, from Village. "Do I, Your Majesty?"

"'Upon the stroke of midnight, my boy!'"

kelson.philo's picture

Hahahah...the sure fire way

Hahahah...the sure fire way to relieve tension is with the smell of bacon. There is no doubt. For a moment, i almost thought diken was going to burn the palace down in his race to get out of it!

You are so good for me!

Oh, Kelson, you are so good for me! It is worth all the sweated effort just to get one of your responses. I have now finished the chapter. And Diken is in that tree! Many thanks to you.