Careful so the guard wouldn’t notice, he tossed his handkerchief over the side of the cart, someone would find it. Whoever would pick it up would notice the Crest of the Lake Family, and take it to return it to Annamarie in the hopes of getting a gold piece or two. She had to know that Lewis wouldn’t have lost it on accident. She had to realize that he usually wore it close to his heart, where it could never just fall loose onto the road. And he could only hope that she would follow the train of thought and realize he’d dropped it as a plea for help.
Lewis looked across the cart at Marcus, also sitting with his knees tied together, his wrists loosely bounded, pretending to be far more restrained than he actually was. An old trick they had learned from Marcus’s less than reputable biological father, who didn’t understand was appropriate for entertaining seven-year-old boys. Of course, Marcus and Lewis thought it was great fun.
Marcus raised his eyebrows at the careful little toss but said nothing. Lewis smiled a cheeky grin and gave a little shrug. Like this was just a silly night out on the town that they had done a thousand times, rather than an arrest by the royal guard. Marcus rolled his eyes, slumping back against his side of the cart.
It wasn’t that long of a ride. They hadn’t been walking too far from the high city jail when the guards had demanded they face the wall and stand still, waiting to be tied and all but tossed into a cart. The guards unloaded them with all the care of a sack of potatoes, and lead them down two flights of stairs, awkwardly waddling with their knees together, until they reached a stone room with a barred door. They sank together onto the rough wooden bench, waiting silently until the guards finished sneering at them, and returned to their desk at the top of the stairs just outside their door.
“So—What was that?” Marcus asked in an undertone.
“Nothing that needs mentioning right now,” Lewis replied sweetly. “If it works, I’ll explain it, if it does not—well, I’d rather not embarrass myself.”
“A little late for that,” Marcus sighed, resting his head against the wall behind him. “Wake me up if they decide to kill us so I can go out of this world screaming like the baby I was when I entered it.”
“Of course,” Lewis laughed, tapping his foot nervously in his waiting.
He didn’t have to wait long. She wasn’t the kind of woman to do anything subtly, so he heard the ripple of her arrival as soon as she entered, even three floors down. Moments later, she heard the commanding voice. “Well, the people upstairs tell me that you are holding my men here? Are they right or do I need to contact someone about the way this place is run?”
“Your men?” some poor soul asked, unaware of exactly he was facing, “They are your men?”
“Of course they are my men,” She answered, portraying her anger without actually raising her voice, “Do you think that I would come all the way down here to free some ruffians off the street?”
“Who is that?” Marcus whispered, causing Lewis to jump. With Annamarie’s arrival, Lewis had forgotten all about him.
“It’s complicated…” Lewis began.
“Well, they weren’t wearing the Lake Crest,” the poor man upstairs continued to stutter.
“Good man,” Annamarie’s voice was somehow even cooler than before, “I was raised to believe that the City Guards and Royal Guards were some of the bravest and truest men of the nation, but I am beginning to believe you are a few marbles short of a full game.”
“Do you ever see the Crest of the Noble Houses on the street without an armed guard? If I sent two men out to do my shopping covered in the Lake Crest, aren’t I just inviting them to be pickpocketed or mugged during the errands? Do you think that the Noble Houses keep their wealth by advertising on the street what their servants carry in their pockets?”
Lewis couldn’t help but laugh at that, and when he did, he heard the quick walk of Annamarie’s shoes come towards the stair, her shadow darkening down to his view. “Lewis? Are you down there?”
“Yes, Milady,” Lewis called back, laughing, “I’m down here with Marcus. We regret to inform you we were not able to complete your shopping list today.”
“I suppose that I will have to let it slide this time,” she yelled down the stair again, and then her shadow disappeared. “Well, are you going to release my men or not?”
There was a great commotion as the guards scrambled for keys and rushed down to untie the two prisoners, all bows and apologies now that a Noblewoman was upstairs waiting for them. Marcus was at least well-versed in the art of deception to keep his amazement and confusion off his face. They made their way upstairs, and both dropped into low bows in front of Annamarie. Lewis fought to keep the cheeky grin of his face. This would go very badly if he smiled at her like he’d seen her naked.
“Well, that took long enough,” Annamarie sniffed, “Come along, boys. I suppose I will have to wait until tomorrow for my goods.”
She led them out to the street and crawled into the awaiting carriage. Lewis and Marcus followed her in as if it was something they did every day. It was only after they started to move, that Annamarie dropped her cold demeanor and dissolved into a fit of giggles. “Oh, Lewy, what did you do to get yourself there?”
Lewis let that grin he’d been fighting before spread across his face. Marcus looked back and forth between the two of them with an eyebrow raised. “Okay, what is going on here?”
“It’s a long story,” Annamarie offered.
“I’ve got time,” Marcus countered.
Lewis looked to Annamarie, who shrugged and gave a dismissive little hand wave. “Alright then,” Lewis smiled, “Let’s start at the beginning.”