In her years of servitude at the castle, Sarah had developed a very keen eye for reading the servants around her. It was a skill that she had not expected to pick up. Many things about castle life had been unexpected. Back in the day, Sarah had looked up the people residing in the castle as if they were a fairy tale, removed from the world below and living in a paradise without hardship. Not just the nobles. Even the castle servants had seemed nauseatingly blissful.
Sarah had despised the lot of them for it.
But the maidservant very quickly found out how wrong she was. As it turned out, the world of servants was just as ruthless and cutthroat as that of the nobles above them, and just as dangerous as the life that she was used to. High positions were very sought after. Backstabbing to gain power was an almost daily occurrence, and ties to nobility were relentlessly exploited. As a member of senior staff, Sarah had managed to shield Guinevere from most of it. But in her days, the maidservant had learned very quickly that there were two types of people – those that she could use, and those that would use her.
Tonight’s guards were the former. Sarah grinned, chasing the distant memories from her mind as she clutched the bottle of wine to her chest. She knew which guards would be on duty that night. She knew how their minds worked. And she knew exactly which buttons to press to manipulate them.
Basil’s jail cell was located at the very end of the cell block. It did not take her long to reach it. The maidservant quickly put on her mask as she turned the corner, her eye falling on the two guards guarding his door. The druid on the other side of the bars looked rather miserable. His head was buried in his arms, with his knees pulled up to his chest.
She didn’t get a chance to look for more details than that. Both guards spotted her immediately, their heads turning her way with grumpy-looking scowls as she turned the corner. Sarah knew both of them. She was well aware that they hated the dungeons, and neither of them was particularly pleased with their new position as glorified watch dogs.
They were perfect.
Sarah lifted the dish in her hand up high, putting it on display together with the wine bottle as she flashed the two guards an open, friendly smile.
The guard’s face pulled into even more of a scowl in response. With an expression of angry disbelief, he eyed the perfectly cooked dish that she had brought with her.
“Not at all,” Sarah smiled at him. “Even prisoners have to be fed, you know. And with half of the senior staff sick at home, I’m doing double duties. I’m here to bring your prisoner his last meal.”
“Do you have a written order for that?” the guard to her left asked, his eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“Of course I do, Barden,” Sarah replied, immediately abusing the information that she had on him. “How diligent of you to ask. I’ll show you in a second- let me put this down on the ground first.”
Sarah could see the right guard – Burt – follow the plate with his eyes, tracing its movement like a dog traced a piece of meat. He glowered at it as she lowered the wine bottle to the ground. She could feel the disapproval radiating off of him in waves.
“Why does his last meal look like bloody King’s food?”
“Because it is,” Sarah smirked in response. “I just said I’m doing double duties, didn’t I? That includes cooking for the prisoners. And I’ll drop dead on the spot before I tarnish my reputation by making a half-baked dish for anyone.”
“You’re giving him blackened bass?!” Barden protested, his mood immediately shifting to outrage when he finally realised what was on the plate. “Are you kidding me?! We’re getting nothing but soggy potatoes! And we’re the town guard! Why does the bloody sorcerer get all the good stuff?!”
“Well, it’s his last meal-”
“Like hell it is,” Burt growled, snatching the plate from Sarah’s hand. “We’re not wasting a perfectly good bass on a filthy sorcerer.”
Sarah reached for the plate, masking her glee with an expression of fake anger as she pretended to try and snatch it back.
“Hey! That’s not for you! Give it here!”
But Burt didn’t listen to her. His glove locked around the delicate silver fork with the elegance and finesse of a drunken donkey. The guard crudely stabbed into the fish, breaking off a big chunk of it and stuffing it into his mouth.
“Give me that. I’m getting half.”
“Oh, come on,” Sarah complained, watching from the sidelines as her perfect bass was quickly reduced to scraps. “Don’t take it all – I can’t feed him nothing.”
“You bloody well can. We deserve royal food more than that clotpole in there does. You can just bring him something else later.”
“And what do you propose I tell the jailor? That I need to bring him another meal because you knob-heads gobbled up the first one?”
“Don’t know. Don’t care,” Barden mumbled in response, his mouth full of fish bits. “Burt is right. The wretch burns in the morning, anyway. We’re not wasting a good meal on the likes of him.”
They turned away from her, moving the plate out of her reach and shovelling the last bits of food into their gullets. Within seconds, there was nothing left. The entire plate was picked clean.
“Making prisoners royal food. Don’t make me laugh. Go give him gruel, or something. And leave the bottle.”
“That’s not for-”
“Leave the damn bottle.”
“…As you wish.”
It did not take long for the poison that was slipped into the meal to take effect.
As the minutes passed, Burt Barrell suddenly started to feel queasy. A strange sense of nausea overcame him, rising up from the pit of his stomach and slowly working its way through his torso. Burt winced, trying to keep a straight face and failing miserably as his abdomen began to hurt.
He wasn’t the only one to feel strange. On his right, Burt could see Barden suddenly stumble backwards. His armour hit the iron bars behind him with a loud clang.
“Whoa. I don’t feel so good.”
“You look pale, sir.”
“Shut your damn mouth, sorcerer,” Burt growled in response. His thoughts were rapidly turning away from silencing his prisoner, though – as another wave of nausea hit him, Burt suddenly couldn’t stop thinking about the location of the nearest bucket.
That wasn’t good. He couldn’t get sick now. He had a job to do. Agravaine would have him quartered if he found out that he’d abandoned his post. He couldn’t let that happen. He had to get a hold of himself.
“I’m serious, Burt. My head feels hot. And my throat is hurting. I’m nauseous, too – isn’t that how the servants started out? And now they’re bedridden.”
“Just suck it up,” he said, trying desperately to keep the queasy feeling down. it’ll go away again on its own and-”
The rest of his sentence got stuck in his throat as an intense wave of nausea suddenly hit him. Burt’s stomach groaned and rumbled in protest, his body shivering as a searing pain coursed through his abdomen. It felt like his guts were being stabbed from the inside. Cold sweat started to pool on his forehead. Burt could feel bile rapidly rising in his throat.
He had to find a privy. Immediately. Burt had to get out of there, royal adviser be damned. The balding guard turned on his heels, almost slamming into his Barden as he dashed past his colleague as fast as he could.
“Guard the doorillberightback!”
“What the-?! Burt! Where the hell are you-”
It did not take long for the sound of their armoured footsteps to fade away. Silence returned to the dark cell block – a silence that was eventually offset by the soft clicking of heels on stone. Basil looked up from the ground, coming face-to-face with Sarah. The maidservant flashed him a grin.
“Ah. That was your doing, wasn’t it?”
“You’re a sharp one,” Sarah replied. Basil shook his head in confusion.
“Why did you do that? Who are you?”
The maidservant’s grin widened in response.
“Who I am doesn’t matter. Now, do you want to see your son again, or not?”
The dungeons underneath castle Camelot were designed like a maze. Its layout was riddled with twisting paths, pitch-black corridors, sudden dead ends and secret passageways. It was created to be confusing and disorienting on purpose. Its dark, winding hallways kept anyone at bay that didn’t belong there, and many that tried to brave it became hopelessly lost.
The Pendragons did very little to protect people from wandering into the dungeons. New servants were warned not to go down there and most of the entrances were locked with heavy iron gates. That did not stop the curious from wandering in, though. Every few months, the guards did a sweep of the entire complex – but by then, it was way too late for anyone that had had gotten stuck inside. The occasional corpse that emerged from the dungeons served as more as a deterrent than warning signs ever could.
These days, nobody wanted to wander into the dungeons.
That fact made it a perfect location for a great many things.
Sarah skilfully led Basil through the winding corridors, turning left and right seemingly at random. Nothing could be further from the truth. The maidservant had spent months memorising the best escape routes and mapping out the shortest path to get there. That knowledge had lingered in her head for years, waiting in the back of her mind until it was needed again. Sarah never would have guessed that she’d use it to break out a druid of all things, though. The maidservant frowned as the memories came to her, slightly faded over years of history.
She had been a very different person back then.
Eventually, the two of them reached their destination. A small, winding passage ended in a single rickety ladder that was bolted to the wall. The stones around it had cracked from weather exposure, and a layer of grime and dirt coated the space between steps. Sarah stopped a few feet away from it. The maidservant turned around to Basil, nodding and pointing towards the structure.
“That ladder there. Climb it.”
“Where… where does it lead?” Basil asked, his voice hesitant.
“Outside. You’ll come up from an old grate in an alleyway, in the lower parts of the city. The guards don’t patrol that area at this hour. You’ll find Arthur waiting there with Yarrow.
At best,” she continued, “you’ll have five more minutes before they discover that you’re missing and ring the warning bells. They’ll close the gate soon after. Make those five minutes count.”
She nodded towards the rickety ladder again. But Basil wasn’t moving. He kept eye contact with the maidservant, his face a mix of gratitude and genuine confusion as he looked her over.
“You’re not one of my people. Why are you helping us?”
“Did you not hear me?” Sarah snapped back. “I said make them count. Now go. Scram.”
Basil moved past Sarah, grabbing hold of the rickety wooden ladder as he threw an uncertain glance upwards. It was already dark outside. The two of them could just about make out the shape of the metal grate above them – everything else was pitch-black.
Carefully, the druid began to climb up. The ladder groaned and protested under his weight. Sarah followed the man with her eyes as he slowly ascended, climbing his way out of the dungeon and towards freedom.
“Stick to the shadows if you can,” Sarah called up to him. “Torches in the lower district are easy to snuff out.”
“Good. And for Watcher’s sake, teach that skelpie-limmer of a child some manners.”
It took Basil considerable effort to open the grate above him. Rust and weather had done a number on it. The druid had to push against it so hard that he almost lost his balance when the grate finally came loose. It scraped over the tiles with a high-pitched metallic screeching. Basil winced, hoping that nobody above him had heard it.
Carefully, the druid ascended the last few feet and climbed out of the dungeons. He had emerged in an overgrown back-alley that was covered in vines and dirt. A drizzle fell down from the dark, cloudy night sky, slowly turning the surrounding roads to mud. Basil could see the backside of multiple houses. They were cracked and very badly maintained. He noticed a pile of wooden planks lying at his feet, long forgotten and rotting. The druid could see a worn-down outhouse, wedged in between houses. It was illuminated by the light of a single torch. And standing underneath it-
“Be quiet- argh, stop squirming, you little hellspawn!”
“Dada!” the toddler yelled, a smile spreading across his little face as he relaxed in the man’s arms. Basil barely even registered him as Arthur in disguise. The druid made a beeline for his son, bridging the distance between them in an instant.
Basil quickly took Yarrow from Arthur, scooping the little toddler into his arms. The druid buried his head in Yarrow’s hair, smiling with relief as he held him close.
“Thank the Goddess. I thought I’d never see you again.”
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Arthur spoke, highly on edge as he glanced around the empty alleyways. “We need to go. And he needs to keep quiet. Can you make him do that?”
“Of course. Yarrow is a good kid.”
“Then let’s go. We don’t have a second to waste.”
Sarah quietly exited the dungeons, slipping past the iron gates and avoiding the castle guards as she went. At the five-minute mark exactly, the maidservant could hear the sound of warning bells begin to echo through the darkened streets. It was an ominous sound, heavy and foreboding. The castle around her instantly came alive. Dozens of guards ran outside, weapons in hand and determined scowls on their faces.
They knew that someone had escaped from the dungeons.
Sarah ignored all of it. She calmly made her way through the darkened hallways, not paying any mind to the guards that were dashing by. There was nothing more that she could do. Not without implicating herself. It was out of her hands now. It was up to the Crown Prince to lead the two of them out of the city. Whether they lived or died rested squarely, entirely on Arthur’s shoulders.
Sarah had played her part.
Three minutes after the bells had started ringing, the maidservant reached Morgana’s chambers. She quietly opened the side door, slipping inside and carefully locking it behind her.
As she turned towards the bed, she could seethe familiar grey robes that belonged to Gaius. The elderly physician was bent over Guinevere’s unconscious body. She had called him in when she had first found the girl – Sarah knew that he could be trusted. The maidservant had relied on him many times in the past. Gaius carefully examined Guinevere, re-dressing her wound before sitting down on the bed next to her.
“How is she?”
“Mild traumatic brain injury paired with closed head trauma,” Gaius replied, his voice dripping with disapproval. “She will need bedrest. Lots of it. No activity for at least a week – not even reading a book. Her head received a serious blow and it will need time to recover.”
“He did hit her pretty hard,” the maidservant nodded. She looked away from Gaius and glanced in the direction of the end table. Finding Guinevere on the floor had been a grisly sight. For a split second, Sarah had been convinced that the girl was dead. A frown spread across her face as Sarah’s gaze lingered on the table’s sharp edges.
“Brings back memories, doesn’t it?”
His expression softened. The physician let out a long, tired sigh.
“It does. History repeats itself in very curious ways.”
“So it seems.”
“I take it that you have something to do with all the hullabaloo going on outside?” Gaius pressed, narrowing his eyes at her suspiciously. Sarah merely shrugged.
“If I denied that, would you believe me?” she asked. His eyes narrowed at her even more in response.
“No. I know you too well for that.”
The man let out another sigh.
“You are getting too old for this, Sarah. We both are.”
Sarah scowled at him, sinking down on the nearest sofa. She gently massaged the area around her forehead as she closed her eyes.
He was probably right.
“I need a favour, Gaius,” the maidservant said, her eyes still closed. “Before too long, two guards will show up at your clinic. They will be nauseous, dizzy and vomiting. I fed them a small dose of aconite.”
“They won’t die from it,” she continued. “But if they have half a brain cell between them, then they will accuse me of poisoning their food. I need you to diagnose them with the flu instead.”
“Wha- I will do no such thing!” the physician sputtered. “That is a gross professional misconduct, not to mention a horrible misuse of my position. I will do no such-”
“Gaius. For me. Please.”
“…oh, very well.”