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to her if she hadn’t come round in time. Merry shivered, pulled on thick socks and her fleece dressing gown and headed downstairs. She went through into the boot room and opened the back door. A good two feet of snow was piled up behind it and she had to put her shoulder against the door and push. The cold stung her nose. Snowflakes blew in and coated her eyelashes. She blinked them away, gazed out at the fields. It looked like a foot of snow had fallen. Huge drifts lay banked against the
years. The courtyard echoed to her steps. Merry paused at the giant door and rapped the lion’s head knocker against the solid oak. Nothing. She opened the door and stepped inside the Great Hall. ‘Mrs Baskerville? It’s Merry,’ she called out, breaking the heavy silence that hung like a living hush, like something holding its breath. Heavy footsteps echoed up the far staircase. Mrs Baskerville heaved into view. ‘Sorry, bach!’ she panted. Bach was a term of endearment. It meant little one in
would. I am ready. All I ask is that Your Majesty give me the chance to show what I can do. And then abide by the results.’ There was a low murmur of disbelief. ‘Impudent wench,’ Merry heard someone say. The king looked at her speculatively. ‘Abide by the results?’ he asked slowly, the smile leeching from his eyes. His huge, jowly face turned hard. Merry felt her breath catch in her throat. She kept her gaze fixed on his, feeling that to look away, to show weakness to the bully would be fatal.
you.’ He would already have tested it, making the cord just the right length to give the bow the perfect draw length. Her perfectionist father. Merry slipped the knotted string over the lower nock, pulling it tight. She found a soft piece of ground to rest the lower nock on, then, placing her knee on the handle of the bow, she pulled with her left hand until the upper limb bent towards her while with her right hand she worked the loop of the string towards the groove of the upper nock. With a
and sword. ‘God! He always gets me!’ ‘Gets the dogs too,’ remarked James. ‘They still growl at him.’ They walked across the age-darkened slate floor, buffed smooth over the centuries, and headed up the broad staircase. From the dark wood panelling, generations of de Courcys glowered down from their massed portraits. At the bottom, most prominent, was the current countess, the twenty-first, James’s mother. Anne de Courcy was a girl from Swansea, the daughter of a steelworker, blessed with the