I crave your forgiveness for the nervous torment I have undoubtedly caused you. For what refined lady could remain quite sanguine as she pored over a letter which informed her, in no uncertain terms, of her favourite sister’s perilous proximity to a massif of gunpowder barrels and their lit fuse. Might I suggest, my poor sister, that you continue your perusal when in the vicinage of a chaise and your smelling salts, for I am afraid that I cannot alter the tone nor the content of my missive if honesty is to exist betwixt us.
My Footmen and I stood in that crepuscular chamber of Windsor Castle, in the shadows of the gunpowder barrels.
I incline my head low over that wretched contraption and drew my dagger from my sash with my hands all a tremor. T’was not long before I began to feel nigh on overwhelmed by the disconsolate terror that has been my constant companion since this fearful affair began.
For no mater how I studied the elaborately complex instruments that both guarded and governed the fuse, I could not discover how it worked. And all the while cognisant that any false movement upon my part would surely hasten the burning of that wretched fuse and bring forth our deaths.
One glance at my footmen told me that I was not alone in these sentiments.
“Oh curse it all!” Said I in tones of frustration “It is quite unfathomable, I cannot make out how to render it safe.”
“Lady Woodville, mayn’t I inspect the device.” I turned to see Mr Burney, foot’s own nephew, step forward. Among the youngest of my household he had always had a pleasing eagerness to please. “My father was a clock maker and I have long been a student of such mechanisms.” Said he.
I handed him my dagger and he was soon bowed over the glass casing, his hands as dexterous as a lacemaker as he worked.
From the depth of the castle the unmistakable sound of a monarchy is torment was audible, and I was desirous that Mr Burney might work with the utmost promptitude.
Then, quite suddenly there came a disquieting sound from the fuse.
“Damnation to it all!” Cursed Mr Burney. “It would seem that I have only quickened the burning of the fuse, I am afraid we have but four minutes left.”
“Burney! Of what do you speak?” Enquired Foot.
“I beg your silence Uncle, that I might better devote myself to the task.” Was his reply.
We did as he bid and the parlour fell as silent as a crypt as the footman turned the blade of the dagger upon the brass screws.
“I have mastered it! Merely one more moment and I shall have made it wholly powerless.”
As Mr Burney’s declaration was met with cries of “Hazar!” From the footmen I was suddenly startled by the precipitous arrival in my mind of stratagem which filled me with sentients of both hope and great sorrow.
“Cease and desist, Mr Burney!” Cried I, displaying a severe want of civiity.
“Your Ladyship, we have but three minutes before the powder catches.” Was Burney’s earnest reply.
“This may be veracity Burney. But our foe shall be fully expecting us to extinguish it. T’was only ever an obstacle to slow our progress, which it has done. Allow us now to turn it to our advantage. We should allow it go up in flames.” As I uttered this phrase I saw my footmen’s complexions alter to the hue of the finest muslin gown, I continued regardless of their apparent shock. “I could lure a great many of Pravo’s men to this very parlour and, by and by, they would perish with the powder. Mr Pravos too will be caught quite unawares by so very surprising a surprise. It shall doubtless cast him into a frenzy and you shall once more have the advantage.”
“Madam, a blast of such magnitude would surely have the power destroy half the castle.” Said Mr Hand, who had regained neither his complexion nor his composure.
“Indeed Mr Hand.” Said I. “I am acutely aware of the fact, however Pravos has sufficient power to destroy the monarchy. Now, pray, make haste and take your leave of this place.” I cast my gaze now over Mr Foot and with my next breath said; “And Mr Foot, I beg of you Sir, when you see my husband you must be sure to convey to him my most ardent and undying love for him.”
As I spake my voice broke with the weight of feeling and betrayed my anguish for but a moment. It was long enough however, for Mr Foot to full comprehend my intentions.
“Lady Woodville!” Said he so wholly aghast that he paled further. “Your escape would be an impossibility. Then, you do not mean to accompany us; you mean to be consumed by the flames. Madam, this is nought but sacrificial folly.”
“Foot, my good man,” Said I to my most esteemed servant; “This is the only way I can assure the the expiration of a goodly number of pravos’ men.”
Foot’s visage moved in a manner that was indicative of one upon the very brink of an act of heroism, thus I continued determinedly. “This is my scheme, Sir, and there is not a soul on earth I would permit to take my place. Do not let this be in vain Foot, save the King and save my husband. Now, Adieu.”
And with no further glance at my footmen who were the very essence of loyalty, standing before me in their guises of peasant women, I raised my weapon and ran forth into the cavernous and regal passage beyond. Then, with a cry of “God Save The King”, that was, with every syllable both impassioned and melodic, I began to fire shot after shot into the ornate ceiling above me.
Scarcely a moment passed afore I heard the approaching villains. Every third footfall spoke of both inexpensively shod feet and murderous countenances. However, I did not waver as I heard their coarse cries; and I stood my ground even as they rounded the corner. I awaited them in a manner reminiscent of the most accomplished and well versed deer stalker, until my quarry was in range, afore I sent forth a volley of shots.
The charging mass of Pravos’ ill fated men faltered as several among them succumbed to my shot. I turned and ran as swiftly as though I were trying to prevent a most beloved ward from hastening into an imprudent marriage, back to the parlour I had just fled, which was now entirely devoid of footmen, drawing the churls into my artifice.
It was then that I saw it. my singular and final hope for survival. Catherine, across the way from the barrels stood a sizeable and elegant stone chest. Dear sister, it was the sort of object that would have looked exceedingly well in your own genteel home. Carved in the greek style from what was plainly the most beauteous italian stone, it was a worthy refuge. With admirable celerity I approached the kist and endeavoured to throw off the lid. It would not shift. My nerves were in considerable torment as I knew that every second that passed that detestable fuse smouldered nearer to my doom. It was, therefore with sinking spirits that I recommenced my efforts only to find I was inexplicably in possession the strength of above four and twenty plough horses.
The chest’s lid came free and I leapt in, with the agility of a debutante dancing the quadrille, casting several more shots over my shoulder to ensure the churls would pursue me to their expiration.
I lay entirely sans movement, my coiffure vexingly disarranged all about my head, scarcely daring to suspire. The fuse burnt it’s endmost quarter inch and, with a sound as savage three score and ten canons, took the powder with it.
My confined sanctuary was engulfed by flames and a heat far superior to that of the East Indies. My dear Catherine, I was quite torn betwixt praying to the heavens and a fit of the hysterics, as I heard Windsor Castle falling all about me.
I do not how long I remained entombed afore I took my leave of that place dear sister, though allow me to assure you that it was an amount of time that was exact in its quintessence of propriety; shewing at once my couth and humbled humour for the destruction I had just enabled, as well as the shocked sensibilities of a lady of elevated rank.
The sound of gunfire in the distance told me that Mr Pravos and his surviving confrères were refusing to surrender. I used the sounds of the distant battle as my guide through the tenebrous, smouldering ruins of the castle’s lower ward.
As I rounded a corner it became apparent that Pravos had still not relinquished his nonsensical notion to dissolve the sovereignty of our country. Indeed he seemed decided upon his pursuit of it; for he stood before the King and Queen, amid the tumultuous battle that raged all about him, delivering a sermon of prodigious length while one of his men held the Prince within their grasp.
I watched my footmen duelling with the churls, quite surrounded by the members of the nobility that Mr Pravos had taken captive, many of whom had fallen prey to nervous apoplexy. It became quite plain to me that the belief that I had perished, which was generally held by all of my acquaintance, had provided me with considerable ascendancy.
I drew my archers bow, which hap’s to be my preferred weapon for, not only because it is perfectly calculated for such clandestine tasks but it also shews one’s figure off to it’s best advantage, from beneath my outer skirts and chose my prey.
It was unfortunate that Mr Pravos stood in such close proximity to our monarch for it meant I was not able to train my arrow upon him. Thus, instead I settled upon the unfortunate looking fiend who clasped the prince. I took my aim and watched my arrow strike my target in the shoulder, forcing him to relinquish his grasp upon the heir to the throne.
As he fell to the ground, with a decided lack of dignity, the visages of every man, woman and child within that magnificent chamber turned upon me. My eyes met first with those cold ignoble orbs of Mr Pravos, then they found the beauteous lineaments of my husband’s profile. Upon seeing me his features were all astonishment and spake of every happy sentient.
However no opportunity for joyous reunification and declarations of amorous sentiments presented itself; for the Monarchy was still in considerable peril, the battle was far from won. Thus I gathered my skirts about me and hastened to Henry’s side, clasped his hand mine. United once more we prepared to re-enter the fray.
Yours upon the cusp of a battle to secure the crown, you affectionate sister,