In the parlour Meg sat beside Lady Margaret, thinking through what she must do. Escape was uppermost in her mind for as long as Bandy held them hostage, John’s hands would be tied. She still had her knife blade for, as her aunt once pointed out to her, men rarely ever searched well-to-do ladies. It was as if they could not admit that a lady might be both willing, and able, to defend herself. Well, they would learn soon enough that Meg Elder had no such reservations.
Yet, blundering about with a knife blade by no means ensured a safe escape. She could only make her attempt when she reckoned there was an excellent chance of success. While they were alone with Bandy, Meg was confident that she could surprise him, but then what? No, she needed more of a plan than that.
The knock at the door surprised them all and Bandy flung it open to reveal Mary Ford bearing a tray of drinks.
“What are you doing up here?” demanded Bandy. “I didn’t ask for more refreshment.”
“I serve the ladies, not you,” declared Mary, with a boldness which made Meg smile. “And they’ve not had so much as a drink for hours. So your men let me come up.”
For a fraction of a second, Bandy hesitated, but then relented. “My men are not paid to make decisions,” he grumbled. “Come in, damn you; but you can stay in here. I’m not having you wandering about the house as you please.”
Though Meg glanced across at her, Mary’s face betrayed nothing. When Mary handed her a cup of spiced wine, Meg said: “Thank you, Mary. You’re always so prepared aren’t you?”
Handing another cup to Lady Margaret, Mary replied: “Always ready to help, my lady.” Then, lowering her voice, she murmured: “Gibb’s gone for help.”
“Alright, alright,” interrupted Bandy. “Now you’ve served them, you can go and sit down over there on the floor – and stay there.”
After sipping some of her wine, Meg smiled at her captor. “Thank you, Master Bandy,” she said, in the meekest voice she could manage.
Mary’s confirmation that she was “ready to help” told Meg that Mistress Ford had come armed. But even if, between them, they succeeded in overpowering Bandy, they could still not escape past several more armed men. Though Gibb might get out and find her brother, she doubted that John could get in to rescue them. And if he could not, as dawn drew ever closer, how long dare she wait before she acted?
She was still pondering her decision when the steward, Master Legge walked in. Surprised that he was permitted to wander up at will, she soon understood when he engaged Bandy in a whispered conversation.
Lady Margaret, quiet until now, stood up at once. “Legge?” she cried. “Don’t tell me you are in league with this man?”
“Surprised, eh?” said Legge.
“But why?” breathed Lady Margaret. “Your father served as a loyal steward before you – why would you betray us?”
“Yes, my father, Walter served as steward,” said Legge, “but only after your husband’s father cheated him of his land. What choice did he have then? Service, or ruin? Robert Poyntz owes me some land, my lady. But, when I asked him about it, he told me to carry on serving as steward while he considered it. Well, Master Bandy here has found me a quicker way to get justice. Since your husband’s a traitor to the king and will be condemned for it. I’ll be granted my father’s lands – and, I dare say, a lot more besides.”
Lady Margaret, utterly bewildered by Legge’s accusations, crumpled back down onto her seat in despair.
“Drink some more wine, my dear,” consoled Meg.
“But we are lost,” muttered Lady Margaret.
“Yes, my lady, indeed you are,” agreed Bandy, “as all traitors should be.”
Meg met Bandy’s confident stare with one of her own. “The night’s not over yet, Master Bandy,” she said softly, before draining the rest of her wine.
Ignoring her riposte, Bandy opened the door and, leaving it ajar, carried on his privy exchange with Legge on the landing outside. It was a conversation, thought Meg that was not entirely without tension; so, perhaps all was not going too well for the traitors after all. She hoped it meant that Gibb had got out safely.
Meg thought they would probably only get one chance to escape – but was this it?Mary Ford had turned to face her, waiting only for a signal to move. Meg was bold enough to act but, unlike her Aunt Eleanor, she was not rash. Nothing had changed in the past few moments – indeed Legge’s involvement surely only weakened their chances. Thus, she gave a shake of the head to Mary, who turned away again, disconsolate, to face the wall.
A sudden banging on the main door below interrupted Legge and Bandy. Meg did not miss the worried look that passed between the two men.
“You go down,” Bandy told Legge.
Having despatched the steward to find out who was at the door, Bandy stood on the parlour threshold, watching down the stairs. Events were still moving, decided Meg, so the moment she needed might yet come.
“What are we to do,” whispered Lady Margaret.
“Wait,” said Meg.
“But how long for?” hissed her companion.
“Until I get a clear chance to kill Master Bandy,” replied Meg.