The page stopped dead in his track. He shook his head slowly, side to side, his eyes huge. “No.”
I bent down to whisper in his ear. “We heard a story about a man who was a traitor to the king. He was locked up and died, but his spirit haunts the palace because his bones were never found.”
Young Will shivered. “I think a friend of mine saw him once! He was so scared he had to sleep with a lamp on for a whole fortnight.”
“What if you could find the bones? You could put the ghost to rest, proving just how brave you are.”
“Braver than Simon?” An inordinate amount of glee made Will skip in place, and he clapped his hands. The sound, loud in the empty hallway, made him freeze. He snatched his hands behind his back, looking around. “What do I have to do?” he whispered.
“There should be a stairway, one that’s probably out of the way and doesn’t get used, that leads under deep inside the palace. Do you know of something like that?”
I stood up and Teddy put his hand on my back as we waited while Will thought about it. This was the chance we’d been waiting for, the break we needed after all the disappointments. It was a lot to pin on a boy just barely hitting double digits, but we were desperate.
“There’s one,” he said slowly, “off one of the meeting rooms. One of the maids, Louisa, found an old door when she was ordered to go in and dust the draperies and wall hangings.”
“Can you show us?” Teddy asked.
“No one’s supposed to go in there,” Will said. “Not unless they’re ordered by the chamberlain. Do you really think there might be a skeleton in there? That would be really scary.” The prospect of adventure and acclaim was warring with his fear.
“Oh.” I slumped my shoulders and sighed. “Well, we wouldn’t want to get you in trouble….”
Will looked undecided. “Sir Varket didn’t tell me I had to take you directly out of the palace.”
“You could just show us to the room, and Teddy and I could take a look. Since you know where to go and we don’t, if there’s really a skeleton, everyone would know you’re the one who found it.”
“And if there’s not, maybe we can tell Sir Varket we need some help with our assignment from the king, and then we could keep looking,” Teddy suggested.
His eyes lit up at that prospect, and I just knew Will was aware, at least on some level, of the disquieting way Varket looked at him. With a way out of looking scared, and the idea that he might get some time away from Sir Creepy Stare, Will was off like a shot, leading us through the corridors to the meeting room.
He really did know his way around; we didn’t encounter anyone on the journey through the narrow servant corridors.
I was still surprised there were no guards near the room; the door wasn’t even locked. There was a large chair on a raised dais and a table below it. The windows were high and narrow, so the room was dim, but there were nicely maintained drapes and a large tapestry on the wall covering the smooth, pale stones.
“Behind there,” Will whispered, pointing at the wall hanging.
I crouched down again, so I was looking Will in the eyes. “Thank you, very much. Now, until we find the skeleton and can banish the ghost, we need to keep this a secret, okay?”
He nodded, clasping his hands in front of him. “I promise.”
“Very good.” I held my hand out to him. “Shake on it?” He very solemnly shook my hand and then Teddy’s. “Okay, you go about your duties. We’ll be back to see Sir Varket, and we’ll tell you what we found then.”
“Very soon.” And if we were lucky, we’d be back that night… not that Varket would know.
I made sure the door was shut firmly behind Will when he left. “You ready?” I asked Teddy.
“As I’ll ever be. Here.” He pulled a lamp off the wall and handed it to me. I set it alight and pushed aside the heavy fabric. The wood door didn’t even have a lock. I turned the handle and pushed it open, wincing at the loud creak of the hinges.
It definitely wasn’t well used.
The dust was thick on the stairs, puffing about our feet. “Don’t sneeze.” If this passage went down to the cells, there might be branches that led to the device—and who knew how many guards. The meeting chamber wasn’t a logical location for Schvesla’s device, but I was betting we’d find it now that we had access to the hidden areas of the palace.
Once the path leveled out, there were two directions we could go. I stopped. “You’re better at mapping things in your head than me. You should lead.”
Teddy rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t know….”
“You don’t have to because I do. You’re not stupid or slow just because you need to go into a fugue state in order to process information. Just take a few moments and review our path through the palace. I trust you. We’re going to find the cell, then come back tonight when we’re less likely to run into anyone. We’re going to stop the king’s abuse of power, once and for all.”
“Then what, Will?”
I’d been wondering the same thing. “I don’t know yet. Maybe we’ll just go any way the wind blows. All I care is that we’re together.” I reached out and squeezed his hand. “No matter what, I’ll never leave you.”