At Acton Court Gibb had little trouble in persuading Bandy’s soldiers that he was a fool. He passed up no opportunity to stumble and then fell headlong when he brought in their food. Chunks of bread skittered across the hall floor while Gibb tripped several times as he attempted to retrieve them all.
“Get out, you worthless shit!” snarled one of the soldiers, kicking Gibb’s backside as he scampered away.
Outside the hall Gibb, grinning with satisfaction, hurried out into the yard and made his way swiftly to a small chamber by the north wall. There he paused for a moment to make sure that he was not being observed. Then, without knocking, he opened the door and crept into the dark chamber. Almost at once he crashed into a bed and tumbled over on top of its occupant.
The startled woman cried out and Gibb went very still as he felt ice-cold steel come to rest against his throat.
“It’s me – it’s Gibb,” he hissed. “It’s Gibb!”
“I know it’s you, Gibb,” replied a scornful voice, “because I can smell you! Now, are you getting off me, or am I ruining what’s left of your good looks?”
Only when Gibb backed away, did Mistress Mary Ford put up her blade.
“Gawd save us,” he grumbled. “You always sleep with a knife in yer ‘and?”
“I do when Hal’s not with me. It pays to, if you’re Eleanor Elder’s servant,” retorted Mary. “Now, what are you doing in my bed? Because, young tanner, it’ll be my Hal who does the skinning, if he finds you in here.”
“I’m sorry, mistress, but the ‘ouse is taken over and the ladies… well, I fink they’re in trouble.”
Mary Ford, he noted, accepted the devastating news as if he had told her there was a slight chance of rain.
“Go on then,” she said. “Tell me what you know.”
It did not take Gibb long to do so, since he knew very little.
“So,” Mary concluded, “the two ladies are with this Master Bandy, he’s got half a dozen men posted about the house and Lord John and Master Poyntz are still out somewhere on the estate.”
“That’s it,” said Gibb. “It’s as bad as it could be, ain’t it?”
“Hah, you’ve not been in Lady Eleanor’s service long enough, lad,” scoffed Mary. “Trust me; it’ll get a lot worse than this before it gets any better…”
“But what do we do, Mistress Ford?” cried Gibb.
“Do? We do what all good servants do, Gibb,” said Mary. “We use our wits to help get our ladies out of the shit they’ve landed in. Now, go and see if you can find the steward, Master Legge.”
“But can we trust him, mistress?”
“If this Master Bandy’s our traitor, then Legge isn’t, is he? So, find Legge; because he’ll have all the keys – and try not to be noticed.”
“It’s alright,” confided Gibb. “They fink I’m a fool.”
“So do I, at times, Gibb,” murmured Mary wearily. “So do I.”
“What am I asking Master Legge to do then?”
“Get him to let you out one of the postern gates so that you can warn Lord Elder what’s happened.”
“But what will you do, mistress?” he asked.
“I’ll go up to Lady Meg.”
“But they won’t let you, will they?”
“I have my own skills, Master Gibb – and don’t you forget it!”
Opening the chamber door a crack, Gibb peered out into the passage and, relieved to find it deserted, slipped out of the room and back down the steps to the yard. Ignoring the soldier shivering on the threshold of the screened passage, Gibb made to walk past him to the far side of the yard.
“Where are you going?” grumbled the deputy sheriff’s man.
“Kitchen,” mumbled Gibb.
With a sigh that seemed to encapsulate the fellow’s miserable night so far, he nodded and allowed Gibb to pass by him and on to the kitchen. It was soon apparent that the steward was not there – only two servant girls and the cook – the latter bemoaning his misfortune.
“I’d have been up baking the bread in an hour or so,” he complained. “So why did they have to wake me now?”
“Did Legge wake you?” enquired Gibb.
“Master Legge to you,” said the cook, “and yes the bastard did wake me – God rot him! But what’s that to do with you? You mind your place, lad.”
Gibb, who had shambled into the kitchen like a drunken jester, drew himself tall and declared: “I’ll tell you my place, master cook. I serve Lady Meg Elder and what I need to know to keep ‘er safe, I will know. Now, where’s Legge?”
“Last I saw him,” replied the disgruntled cook, “he was going to the hall to see what these fellows want.”
Without another word, Gibb turned on his heel and crossed the kitchen yard to the pantry to cut through to the hall, hoping to avoid the attention of Bandy’s guards. Even before he entered, he could hear two men arguing; and, once inside, he found the steward in angry dispute with one of the guards. When they saw Gibb, both men fell silent and the guard stormed out with the words: “If you don’t like it, then you can take it up with Master Bandy.”
“Trouble, Master Legge?” asked Gibb, adopting once more his role of obsequious dolt.
“The business of a steward, Gibb; so nothing for you to concern yourself with,” replied Legge, muttering, as he turned to go: “This invasion of my master’s house is a grave mistake, I fear…”
“Master Legge,” whispered Gibb. “I need to go for ‘elp – if you let me out one of the gates, I can fetch yer master and Lord Elder.”
Legge was a strange fellow, Gibb thought – one moment he was all kindness, but the next he could be snapping hard at your heels. You never knew where you were with him, which was one reason why he had always suspected Legge of being the traitor. But, as Mistress Ford said, it was a relief that they knew now who the real traitor was.
Legge stared at Gibb for a long moment before replying: “Alright then, lad. It’s a good idea. Come with me.”
Leading him into the screened passage adjacent to the hall, Legge passed the guard at the rear door and took Gibb out into the yard once more. When he hurried past the brew house to a store house against the outer wall, Gibb followed close behind.
Wrenching open the storehouse door, Legge said: “Wait in there.”
“But-” Gibb protested.
“You can’t be seen loitering about in the open, lad,” explained Legge. “Just wait in there until I can let you out of one of the gates.”
“Well enough, Master Steward,” agreed Gibb, squeezing into the small lean-to store. “But don’t be long!”
“One more thing, Gibb,” said Legge.
Gibb half-turned in time to see the steward’s fist, but too late to avoid it.
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