The door opened quietly and a tall man entered the dark room. He held a silver candlestick topped by a flickering taper in one hand, while the other rested on the well-worn hilt of his great sword. Stopping just inside the room, he listened intently for a moment, and then said, "My lady." His voice was soft, but carried a hint of urgency.
In a large bed located near the center of the room, something stirred beneath the covers. "Umm..." came a muffled response.
Taking another step into the bedroom, he looked quickly over his shoulder at the open doorway and turned back to the bed. "My lady," he repeated, a bit more urgency now evident in his tone, "you must arise."
"Humphrey?" a young voice, edged with sleep, asked from beneath the covers. A small head appeared as the heavy quilt was pushed aside; blond, tousled hair covered the girl's face. She pushed her hair back and blinked at the candlelight, then glanced toward the dark windows. "It is still night, Humphrey," she stated, and covered a yawn.
"Indeed, my lady," he agreed. "That is why we need act with all haste. Please arise and dress, quickly; we must be away." He moved over to a table next to the bed and lit another candle from his own.
Finally noticing that Humphrey was quite serious in his odd request, Isabelle turned to him, suddenly very awake and quite frightened. "What has happened?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
"There is no time for questions, my lady," he told her. "Dress quickly and warmly. I will await without." He dipped his head and backed up a few steps, then turned and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Isabelle stared at the closed door for a moment, her fear at the situation growing, then threw back the covers and quickly got out of bed. She hurried across the cold floor--even the thick rugs could not keep a chill from her bare feet--and opened the doors of her wardrobe. She paused long enough to glance out the high window across from her bed. The curtains were drawn back--she liked to be able to see the stars from her bed, but tonight the sky was black as coal. No moon or stars shone forth; it was a cloudy and dark night.
'Dark nights are for dark deeds,' her mother, Queen Francis, had often quoted. Some dark deeds must have been done tonight, Isabelle thought, else Humphrey would not be pulling her from a warm bed without explanation. Groping through her wardrobe, Isabelle remembered the many times her mother had coached her through the possibility of a situation, just such as this.
"There may come a time, my pet," her mother had said, on more than one occasion, "when you may have to leave here quickly and unexpectedly."
"Why, mama?" she had always asked.
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