“He’s an ugly crier.”
Pru refused to look at the village bellman as he rang out the day’s announcements.
“Oyezzz, Oyezzzz, Oyezzzzz!” He shouted, drawing out the words to coax the townspeople into the square. Dressed in his familiar tricorne hat, white britches and red coat, from behind he cut quite a figure. It was only when he completed his turn that his frightful face ruined the illusion.
“There is no rule that a crier must be fetching,” Agatha said, inwardly agreeing with her friend’s assessment.
“Still, if your profession puts you in the public eye, forcing everyone to look at you as you deliver vital news and proclamations, there should be a implied stipulation that a candidate must demonstrate a certain level of attractiveness.” Pru made a discreet warding sign in the crier’s direction. “Even good news has a taint from his vile visage.”
“It would make hearing bad news more tolerable if a handsome crier pronounced it,” Agatha said. A word creeped into her consciousness – “King.”
As Pru continued her rant against the homely, Agatha tried to discreetly listen to the crier.
With the royal court taking over the beach, townspeople were ordered to stay away. The King did not want to be disturbed. There was, of course, no mention of a decline in the monarch’s health. Agatha remembered what Duncan told her about King Ráfa’s mental instability. She promised the young prince that she would return for another visit with him, and she wondered if guards would be posted to stop her.
Going through the motions, Agatha ambled among the market stalls, occasionally inserting an “uh huh,” and “yes,” into Pru’s one-side conversation.
Breaking away when she could, Agatha made her way to the beach, taking rabbit trails to avoid detection. She saw the boy a few yards away, digging in the fine, tawny colored sand. He appeared unattended.
Stepping out of the underbrush, Agatha walked slowly toward the boy wary of guards posted at the tent court further down the shore. Looking up from his sandcastle construction, Duncan broke into a huge smile when he saw his new friend approaching.
“Noone! You did come.” Duncan brushed the sand from his clothes before running to Agatha. “I wasn’t sure if you would.”
Agatha resisted ruffling the boy’s unruly hair, still unsettled by his strong resemblance to his father.
Duncan took her hand and pulled her toward the tumbling masterpiece he was building.
“Do you want to help?” Duncan held out a small, wooden spade. “You can make the bastions, and I’ll get water for the moat.”
The two bent to their task, speaking about how tightly to pack the sand, and if more water was needed to protect the castle.
Once the boy deemed their stronghold complete, he offered his hand to Agatha, and helped her to her feet.
“I want you to meet my mother,” Duncan said, leading her toward the smallest of the colorful, royal tents.
Agatha stopped, nearly pulling the boy over. Still holding his hand, she struggled against the urge to run.
“It’s all right, my mother wants to see you.” Duncan said. “You will like her, she’s nothing like Father.”
Agatha looked to the tent, then back to Duncan, turning slightly to judge the distance back to the rabbit trail where she entered the beach.
Tugging on Agatha’s hand, Duncan kept chattering about inconsequential matters. Stopping suddenly, he leaned close to Agatha, and spoke to her in a quiet, but excited voice.
“Besides, she said she remembers you.”
Looking up Agatha saw a woman’s form standing inside the Queen’s marquee, and panic welled up in her chest. When Maud stepped to the edge of the shadow, Agatha’s heart leapt. Dropping the young prince’s hand, she ran to the tent. The two women embraced, as only long-lost friends could.
“I feared you were dead,” Maud hoarsely whispered.
Agatha let herself laugh. “That was my plan.”