They hurried to the dungeons as the sun started to sink behind the horizon. When they cleared the last step into the oppressive place, a guard standing duty shook his head.

“The servant girl?” Prince Toril said.

“You are a moment too late, My Lord. King Torgen had her taken to her to a room full of flax,” the guard said.

“Then we will find her and claim her there. Do you know where they went?” Prince Toril asked.

The guard shook his head. “I’m afraid not, My Lord. But you will need to speak to your Father to free her.”

“Why?” Lady Linnea asked, her mask of temperance and serenity back as she clasped her hands together.

“Because she’s locked up, and King Torgen is the only one with the key,” the guard said.

Lady Linnea went as white as a snow. She reached out and placed a hand on the dungeon wall to stabilize herself.

“I see. Thank you,” Prince Toril said to the guard.

“Of course, My Lord.”

“Come,” Prince Toril said, taking Lady Linnea’s elbow and guiding her along.

“I can’t leave her,” Lady Linnea whispered. Desperation permeated her words.

“No,” Prince Toril agreed. “But you can’t hang about the palace the entire night either. Return home. I will speak to my father. Your servant will not die, I promise.”

Lady Linnea wasn’t exactly reassured, as Prince Toril was as terrifying as butterflies. But he was right: her reputation would not recover if she gadded about the palace unaccompanied after dark. She would go home to gather additional resources and return in the morning.

“Very well. I must thank you further, My Lord, Prince Toril,” Lady Linnea said when they left the terrible dungeon staircase and emerged in the palace.

“Thank you, Lady Linnea. You have helped me more than you know,” Prince Toril said, bowing over her hand.

Lady Linnea wanted to roll her eyes at the prince’s dramatics, but she didn’t. Idiot or not, if Prince Toril saved Gemma, Lady Linnea would be his most loyal subject ever.

Chapter 4

Gemma stared at the wads of flax dusting the room. There wasn’t as much as she expected. Bundled up, it was roughly the size of a rectangular hay-bale. The small amount was most likely because King Torgen knew she would fail at the task.

The flax fibers were a shade of dirty cream and smelled like the outdoors.

“Set to work, Gemma Kielland,” King Torgen said, pushing the wheel of the spinning wheel so it clacked and rotated. “And if, by tomorrow morning, you have not spun this flax into gold, I will have you beheaded,” he said, giving Gemma a dark smile that made her skin crawl. “Work well,” he said. He started laughing as he headed for the door.

The three guards accompanying King Torgen gave Gemma pitying looks before they followed their master out of the room.

King Torgen was still laughing when she heard the ominous thud of a bar falling into place over the door and a loud clank as the room was locked from the outside.

Gemma shook her head when King Torgen’s laughter faded as the monarch walked away.

“Right,” Gemma said, lifting her chin up and setting her shoulders. “Time to try escaping.”

Gemma walked the perimeter of the room, ignoring the panic coiled in her stomach like a snake as she knocked on the walls and peered out of the window.

The room was plain. It was the size of Gemma’s workroom back in Loveland manor, but empty and barren. Besides the flax, a chair, the spinning wheel, several oil lamps, a little pot of water to use for wetting the fibers, and a cup of water to drink—probably provided by one of the guards—there was nothing else in the room.

The window was stomach height—which boded well—but the view from it revealed that the room was three floors above the ground.

This narrowed down Gemma’s escape plans, but if she had to choose between the possibility of a broken limb and certain death, Gemma would jump.

Reaching in her dress, Gemma unearthed the fork and knife she was given with her supper—a tasty stew. King Torgen likely didn’t know about the utensils, or that she had been fed, but Gemma internally thanked whatever kind soul ordered it as she tried prying at the two boards expertly nailed over the open window.

When the board bent Gemma’s fork instead of being wedged from the window, Gemma changed tactics and tried sawing through the material with the blunt knife.

Gemma had to press hard to make the knife even scratch the surface, but after a few minutes of sawing, there were a few specks of wood shavings. Encouraged, Gemma pushed down harder and kept sawing. The motion made her arm ache, and eventually scream in pain, so after a few minutes more, she switched hands. Gemma was at it for an hour when both her arms were numb and heavy. She stopped sawing and let her arms drop while she inspected her work.

There was barely a gouge in the wood.

Gemma was no carpenter, but she knew it would take her days, not hours, to hack her way through the boards and to freedom.

The panic and desolation Gemma was keeping under tight control threatened to overwhelm her.