Rain ran down the window, blurring the view of the gardens outside. So many people… So many places… All so close to her, but all blurred by the rain of untruth.
Beatrix shook her head, and turned away from the window. It did not do to dwell on such thoughts. What purpose could they possibly serve?
The door opened with a bang, and Beatrix peeped out through the curtains hiding her from view. The enterer was a man – Erl Annesdale, in fact. Beatrix was surprised to find his usually handsome face careworn and worried.
Quigley, who had looked up at the Erl’s entrance, smiled weakly, and greeted him nervously. ‘What brings you here?’ he concluded at length.
‘Sir… I shall cut strait to the point. I was wondering if you would help me in a small… venture of mine. It is no secret that you remain loyal to the Crown Prince – I, too, believe he is innocent.’
Beatrix, who had been planning to go back to her reading and ignore the two men’s conversation, sat up a little straighter, her interest aroused.
Annesdale reached into an internal pocket and pulled forth a piece of parchment. ‘I believe you know what this is,’ he said quietly. Quigley’s intake of breath told Beatrix that he did. She herself, however, was unable to see nothing of what was written on the parchment – that she could only speculate.
‘How did you obtain this?’ Quigley breathed, his hands dancing like butterflies over the parchment, his breath coming fast in excitement.
Annesdale let him look, satisfaction on his face. Finally, he said: ‘What do you make of it?’
Quigley blanched. ‘Me, Lord?’
Annesdale chuckled. ‘Of course. You spend your life around documents such as this – surely you must be something of an expert! The reason I ask this of you, Quigley, is strictly between us as friends. And it is because I have been informed that this document is a fake.’
Quigley gasped. ‘Ye gods!’
Annesdale continued: ‘I must ask you not to pass this on to any, no matter who they are. Do you understand me?’
‘Of course, Lord.’ He paused, but then his excitement showed through again: ‘This could change everything!’
‘Indeed. But I need your verification before we jump to any conclusions. If we are wrong, then we could be accused of treason. We must tread carefully. These are dangerous times, Quigley. Soon the time will come when what friends you have become the most valuable in the world. Truth is a valuable commodity, Quigley, and not something that grows on trees. Soon, loyalty will define who we are. You would do well to remember that. I hope we will be fighting on the same side.’
Quigley bowed deeply, and Annesdale smiled. ‘Good luck, my friend.’
He turned and opened the door suddenly to reveal a man coming down the corridor. ‘Oh, Dangloe,’ he said with a smile. ‘I was just leaving.’