Buck paced his little room at the tavern. He still felt kind of unsteady, but his head was a lot clearer. Buck couldn’t believe he…and the queen…and then Chris… “We’ve got to talk to Chris. We have to tell him that Mary and I weren’t cuckolding him. He’s got to know that!”
Vin moved away from the window. “I know. He doesn’t want to talk to anybody, though. I tried to get in to see him, but he wouldn’t open the door. I know he’s sitting in there in the dark, drunk. He has somebody bringing him bottles, but I couldn’t seem to catch him when he opened the door to take them. I thought I’d give him a couple of days while you got your head back on straight. Maybe he’s come to his senses, too. If not, we’ll just have to break down his door.”
JD frowned. “If he’s holed up in his rooms, who’s in charge?”
“Ezra. He’s been doing a fine job taking care of all the affairs of state and such. Everything was running smooth when I was up there a few days ago. More power to him. All that stuff is just a bunch of headaches.”
“What about the queen?”
“Nathan’s keeping an eye on her. She seems to be recovering, too. She’s just too mortified to come out of her chambers.”
Buck punched the wall. “Who!? Who would do such a thing? Who would put some kind of potion in our food and drink? Was it an accident that me and the queen got it or was that the plan?”
“Don’t know, Buck. If it was meant for you two, though, that means somebody knew what would really hurt Chris.”
Buck spun to face him, his eyes wide. “There are only a few people who’d want to hurt him that bad. One of them’s been on all our minds lately. Ella.”
“She’d have to have somebody on the inside to do it. One of the servants?”
JD shook his head. “All the servants have been with Chris for years. They’re like family. None of them would do something like that to him.”
“No new servants. No new soldiers, either. The soldiers are all loyal to Chris, too. He treats them a lot better than Uther ever did. Most of them fought alongside Chris in one campaign or another. Some of them owe him their lives. It ain’t none of them.”
JD didn’t want to say it. It was too far-fetched. It came out as a whisper. “Ezra’s kind of new…”
No one said anything for a while. Finally Buck spoke up. “Can’t be him. He’s proven himself. He’s one of us.”
Vin didn’t want to think on it, either, but now that JD mentioned it, the thought wouldn’t let him go. “He has been acting kind of strange lately.”
“What do you mean?”
“Avoiding everybody. Coming and going from the castle at odd times. And for a talkative man, he ain’t been saying much all week.”
“You don’t really think..?”
Josiah should’ve listened to his instincts. The message had been a fake. He’d had such misgivings about leaving—especially after Ezra had asked him not to go. The young man had been trying to tell him something, but Josiah hadn’t listened. All he could think of was his sister and how much she needed him. He hadn’t been there for her when they were younger, but now he’d vowed to never let her down. His heart had overruled his head.
He hid in the woods near the castle. He’d been there for a few hours, sitting on a rock with his eyes closed. He’d sent a crow to fly near it so he could magically look through its eyes. He knew all of Chris’s guards. Those men on the towers and gate were not guards of Camelot. He didn’t want to arouse anyone’s suspicion by sending the bird into the castle so he couldn’t tell for sure what was going on, but it seemed the castle was no longer under Chris’s control. Only soldiers left the grounds. On a normal day, servants and villagers would be coming and going. The place seemed tightly sealed and guarded. The crow had seen soldiers in the village, too, searching for something…or someone. As the crow returned to him, it spotted three familiar figures lurking nearby.
Buck, JD, and Vin stealthily approached the castle. They were worried now that something bad had happened. Soldiers had been looking for them in the village. They’d had to sneak out of the tavern and take backways to get out of there. The soldiers weren’t Chris’s.
Vin heard a sound behind him in the bush. He spun with his bow drawn.
“Are you boys lost?”
“Josiah. You know it’s not a good idea to sneak up on a man in the dark. Good way to get poked full of holes.”
“I had every confidence you wouldn’t shoot.” His smile faded. “What’s going on at the castle and why are you all out here?”
After several minutes of agitated discussion and explanation, Josiah was apprised of all that went on in his absence. He couldn’t believe what the others were thinking. “It couldn’t be Ezra.”
“I don’t know, but it wasn’t him. How much more does he have to do to prove he’s a good man, an honorable knight?”
“You said yourself he tried to persuade you not to leave. Don’t you think that proves he knew something was going on?”
“That proves to me that he perhaps suspected something and wanted to prevent it.”
“Then why didn’t he just tell you?”
“I don’t know. But I can’t believe he was part of any plot to take over the Camelot and hurt Chris like this. I just can’t. Until we know more, I don’t want to hear it!”
No one spoke for several minutes. Vin’s soft voice broke the silence. “I can get in. I bet those soldiers don’t know about the secret tunnels, passageways, and rooms.”
Buck smiled. “And Ezra don’t, either.”
Josiah shut him up with an angry look.
“Maybe we should all go.”
Vin shook his head. “Not yet. Not until we have a plan. We need to know what’s going on in there first.”
Josiah nodded. “You’re the best at moving quietly, Vin. Don’t get heroic, though. Just find out what you can and come right back. Then we’ll decide where to go from there.”
“Alright. Wish me luck.”
“I’ll do better than that, Brother Vin. I’ll pray for your safe return.”
Vin darted in and out of the secret passageways, lurking in the shadows and watching. He’d gotten an earful from Nettie about what was going on. He was hoping they’d been wrong about Ezra, but it seemed he just came to Camelot to destroy it. What she told him about the conversation she and Casey had with him didn’t make any sense, though. Why would he help Chris now after he betrayed him? If it was some kind of trick, then Casey was probably already dead. JD would kill Ezra himself if that happened.
Vin peeked through one of the spyholes. No one coming. He slipped out into the hallway. He turned to sneak down the hall when he spied Ezra. The other man froze. They both just stared at each without a word.
A sound from the adjoining hall made them both look that way. Soldiers were making their rounds and headed towards them. Ezra hurried around the corner to meet them.
Vin quickly got the secret panel open and ducked inside. Was Ezra going to alert the soldiers? He was sure Ezra didn’t know of the secret passageways so he quietly watched through a hole. Several minutes later Ezra and the two guards came around the corner laughing and talking. The two men walked off, leaving Ezra alone in the hall. He looked around curiously. A huge grin brightened his face before he left as well.
Vin was really confused now. Ezra had distracted them so he could get away. Why? He hurried to make his way back to the others waiting for him in the woods, a puzzled frown still on his face.