The pain woke Elle like a starved animal.
She remembered chasing after the villagers who were poking around the castle and stomping through the gardens. She had just followed them out of the rose garden and had leaped from one piece of the castle’s sloping roof to the next. But it was black, and Elle miscalculated her landing. Instead of hitting shingles she hit glass and plummeted straight through. She didn’t remember much after that besides pain and a beastly shape.
Someone touched her leg, and Elle groaned.
When she finally opened her eyes there were three people in her room. A woman stood at a fireplace on the far end of the room, a second woman stood at the door, and the third person in the room was a man who was nodding at her bare leg.
The bedroom was posh, better than any room Elle had ever stayed at in her life. It smelled woodsy, probably from the pile of herb roots the man was grating and stirring into a large bowl.
Elle rubbed her nose, pausing to consider the bandages wrapped around her arms. The gesture drew the man’s attention, and he straightened up and smiled at her, giving Elle the chance to see his face—or what little of it wasn’t hidden. A black mask edged in blue partially covered his forehead, swooped down over his nose and cut off just above the lips, running across his cheeks. It was too dark to see what color his eyes were, but he smelled like the herbs in his concoction.
The man hefted a slate in the air, holding it steady for inspection.
You broke your left leg when you fell. I already set it with some aid. I am preparing a pack of Comfrey herb.
Elle stared at the words for a moment before looking him in the eyes and lying. “I cannot read.”
Elle’s words caused the woman by the fire to tumble across the room. She threw herself in a wooden chair that was placed at the bedside, across from the man—who was presumably some sort of barber-surgeon. The woman behaved more like a hunting hound, eagerly wriggling in her chair, than the ladies maid she was very likely to be based on the fine cloth and elegant cut of her dress. Both she and the maid at the door wore masks identical to the man’s, although theirs were edged in the maroon shades of fine red wines.
The barber-surgeon let his mouth hang open in dismay as he looked back and forth from Elle to the slate. He wiped away the words and wrote something new on it with chalk before showing the slate to the ladies maid and the woman by the door.
One of the women covered her mouth in a gesture of horror. The other whipped out a small slate and began writing on it.
Elle briefly closed her eyes, the pain was incredible. Her leg throbbed and ached with a fierceness Elle thought only torture could deliver. The cuts on her arms stung and prickled. She tried to clear her mind and think through the haze.
Elle hadn’t seen the chateau staff before—she always took the night watch, when everything was quiet and no one stirred.
The gossiping servants of Noyers—the capital of Loire and home of the Royal Family—said the illegitimate prince’s servants had been cursed along with him. The stable boys claimed they were turned into animals, and the kitchen staff insisted the servants were completely invisible, but Elle put the most stock in her superior’s guess. Farand said they had lost their voices and faces. Apparently he was right.
The shush of skirts scraping across the floor prodded Elle from her musings. She opened her eyes just in time to see the maid leave the room, the door closing behind her.
The remaining female servant—the one that looked like a ladies maid—perched at Elle’s side, wearing an eager smile.
Elle gasped in pain when the barber-surgeon began wrapping her leg in bandages that were dripping with the odd smelling sludge. It was hot on Elle’s bare skin, and it oozed, but the bandages were skillfully wrapped.
Elle clenched the blankets on the bed, but the barber-surgeon’s hands were gentle. He gave Elle a sympathetic smile, but did not pause in his task.
The ladies maid reached out and patted Elle’s hand before retrieving a comb and teasing Elle’s black hair out of her face. The two servants worked silently. Elle’s unsteady breathing and the crackling fire were the loudest sounds in the room.
The silence was broken a few minutes later by a thunderous voice that stalked towards the room. “—makes sense she can’t read. She’s an unschooled peasant. That means she is an idiot.”
The barber-surgeon plunged his hands in a bucket of water and hastily wiped them clean before he started scribbling away on his slate. The ladies maid at Elle’s side did the same, and both of them leaped to their feet and held their slates out when the door was nearly thrown off its hinges.