She hadn’t meant to kill him.
Looking over at Oliver, she said: “Olie, I didn’t mean to kill him.”
Rose wondered how he could communicate so much with one sigh. The sigh communicated displeasure, unrest, anger and exasperation all at once.
Oliver was the master of the sigh.
“Honest, I didn’t. I thought it was cocoa powder, honest and true.”
Oliver sighed and finished this sigh with a “Humph!” He must clearly be angry.
They walked along the dirt road, with nary a horse and cart in sight. They had been passed by some farmers bringing their wares to market some time ago, but they had been the only people that they had seen for some time.
Rose tried again. “Look, Olie. I think we’re in the clear. The fact that his regiment haven’t come after us mean that they haven’t found his body yet.”
“After you, you mean.”
Scuffing her boot on the dirt and kicking at a tree stump that was snaking through the dirt, Rose tried to sound nonchalant and innocent. “I don’t know what you are referring to.” Aw crumbs. She sounded snobbish, not innocent.
“You know exactly what I mean! You couldn’t keep from killing him. Why do you have to kill everybody that employs you? Why, Rose?”
She began walking again to catch up to Oliver. “I don’t mean to! But all these men forget that a rose has thorns. I have to remind them!”
“Yes, but why don’t you remind them by yelling at them or breaking a dish? Why must you remind them by taking their lives?”
Now it was her turn to “Humph!” She let out a breath. “Because that wouldn’t feel the sting of my thorns if I merely broke their chamber pot, now would they? Where would be the fun in that?”
Oliver grabbed hold of Rose’s shoulder to stop her in her steps. “Killing people isn’t fun, Rose.”
She gave him a devilish grin. “You’ve obviously been doing it wrong.”
Letting out a growl, Oliver said “Killing isn’t a game!”
“And neither is survival!” She looked at him with bright blue eyes. “Didn’t you swear to do whatever you needed to do in order to keep me safe? Didn’t you tell our parents that?”
“Yes, but you weren’t killing people at that point.”
“True,” She said. “My first one wasn’t until the next moon.”
“Why did he have to go again?”
“Because he called me a trollop. Me! A trollop! I’m only nine years old.”
Oliver scoffed. “You were trying to take his coin purse when you were supposed to be cleaning the silver. I don’t think he meant trollop in the biblical sense.”
“Even so, saying it and thinking it are two different things.” She crossed her arms in front of her chest and looked up at him. “He might as well have called me a whore.”
“And what about the next one, or the man after that?”
She batted her eyes. To Oliver, it looked as if her eyelashes were spiders trying to find purchase on her face. “They disrespected me.” Rose said. “And I had to teach them a rose has thorns.”
Oliver threw up his hands and let out a loud, guttural roar. “What about this time? And don’t tell me that you didn’t mean to kill him!”
“I didn’t. Honestly and truly I didn’t.”
Oliver gave her a stern look. “Rose, you’ve killed every employer that you’ve ever had.” He sighed. “Why is this time different?”
He didn’t think that Rose would answer him, that she would keep the secret to herself. To Oliver’s surprise, she spoke.
“I loved him.” Rose said softly.
‘Him’ had been Prince Franklin Artemis Rogus Tegaine. He was a princeling of only twelve moons. Rose had been hired to answer the princelings every demand. Rose and the Princeling had become close. Apparently, very close.
“You didn’t poison him?”
“No, truly I didn’t. I was making him a cup of cocoa, just as I said. I chose the yellow glass jar just like always, the one with the label on the front with the drawing of a cup and saucer drawn on parchment.” She reached inside the pockets of her apron.
“But there was something hidden beneath. See?”
Rose held out the jar to Oliver and he took it. It was indeed a yellow jar with a wooden lid. On the front of the jar was the drawing of a cup and saucer. However, the parchment seemed to be coming away from the jar.
“Did you look at what’s under the parchment?” Oliver asked.
“No,” Rose said. “That jar is always the jar for his cocoa. I didn’t even think to look.”
Ever so slowly, Oliver pulled away the piece of parchment and handed it to Rose with shaking hands. They looked down at the jar. With the parchment free, they saw that the jar what was written upon the jar.
“It’s the skull and crossbones, only the skull is drawn in the shape of a rat’s head.” Rose said.
“Rat poison.” Oliver whispered.
“See, I was telling the truth! I didn’t know it was poison!”
Oliver pulled Rose closer. “Rose, do you know what this means?”
She shook her head. “No. What can it mean?”
“It means that there was someone in the castle that wished him harm. They knew your habits, what jar you got the cocoa out of. They knew your movements.” He gasped as something occurred to him. “Perhaps they even knew about the men you’ve already killed.”
Looking down at the jar in his hand, he shivered. “It means there is a traitor to the throne in the castle.”
Before Rose could respond, there was a noise of hooves on the dirt road. Someone let loose a battle cry from a horn. There was the sound of hounds as well.
It seemed the king’s men had found them at last.