Ellen stepped out into the draughty corridor, closing the heavy oak door behind her. With a long, deep sigh she leaned against it, allowing herself a moment to gather her thoughts. The palms of her hands felt the old pitted wood, each dent and scrape a reminder of the adventurous little boy she had grown to love and a permanent link to all his important milestones over the last nine years. As much as she wanted to reminisce, the increasing commotion outside wouldn’t allow her to wallow in her memories. Instead, it demanded her attention and forced her to focus on the task ahead.
Taking a deep breath, Ellen set off along the corridor as quickly as she could. The familiar hollow echoes of clunking iron handles and creaking hinges had been drowned out by the chaotic uproar this morning. Panicked skirts rustled, doors slammed and frantic voices all called out for a boy who, by now,
was too far away to answer. Farriers, stonemasons, blacksmiths and farmhands crashed around in the courtyard, intent upon their task of seeking out the precious child, even though they all suspected that their search was futile and the prince was already gone.
The Queen had ordered the townspeople to search the entire castle as soon as she had realised Henry was missing. No corner or hiding place was to be left undisturbed in a desperate attempt to find the missing boy. Rumours of a kidnapping spread thick and fast among the nobles who, having excused themselves from the task of actually doing anything to help, huddled in small groups to fuel the rising panic with their tittle tattle. They were so busy spreading their gossip that they did not notice the old woman as she silently walked past.
Ellen made her way across the courtyard to the far end of the castle. She was certainly not in a state of panic. She guessed why she was being summoned and, although surprised, she hoped she would finally be able to use her magic to put things right. As she approached the entrance to the royal chambers, she thought about the cottage in the woods that she had left behind. It had been almost seventeen years since she had been forced to leave, but her hastily cast protection spell should have kept it safe from harm. The King had outlawed magic after the mossamite mix up, rather unfairly in Ellen’s opinion. After all, she reasoned to herself, the mossamite spell had been a genuine mistake. How was she to know that army wasn’t invading? Perhaps if she could find Henry, then the King would relent, and she could go back to her cottage for good. Hopefully, she
would still remember the chants, even if she was a little rusty. She just had to hear it for herself that Queen Isabella had agreed to lift the ban in her husband’s absence.
The royal chamber was at the very top of a narrow winding staircase. Ellen could hear the Queen’s sobs from the bottom step. She had made this trip a thousand times before, always
with at least three or four excitable royal children but today, for the first time in all her years of service, she was alone and for that reason, her heart was heavy.
SCANDAL AND SCARE
“They’ve taken him! He’s gone!” shrieked the Queen leaping from her window seat the moment she spied Ellen approaching. “Do something Ellen, please!” she begged as she rushed into the open arms of her trusted aide. Ellen comforted the heartbroken young woman as best she could.
“Come now child, hush your crying, we can’t get to the bottom of it with all those tears, can we?” Ellen had become the royal nanny many years ago when she was first brought to the castle and had single-handedly brought up future kings and Queens for as long as anyone could remember. Even though she had initially arrived at the castle unwillingly, over the years she had grown close to the royal family and loved all the young princes and princesses like they were her own. Even the Queen, who had come to the castle as a young girl herself had been cared for by Ellen, so the news of Prince Henry’s disappearance was just as heart-breaking for the old woman as it was for the child’s mother. Ellen guided the distraught young Queen back to the chair and sat down beside her. She asked “Tell me child, what’s happened? Why do you think anyone would take our young Henry?”
“It’s those barons,” came the tearful reply, “I’m sure of it. They’re not content with going to war against us, they’ve kidnapped my boy!” Ellen frowned at this assumption because even though she knew King John was not popular, she did not believe the barons would steal away a future King of England. They were far too busy defending their wealth from the local sheriffs and now that the King himself had decided to take his army to Lincoln to force the barons to pay up, they had more than enough to keep them occupied. No, she was sure that there was another reason young Henry had disappeared and she suspected it was nothing to do with the unpopularity of the King and Queen. Henry was simply a 9-year-old boy who missed his father and wanted adventure. Ellen took the Queen’s trembling hands into her own and spoke softly with a knowing smile,
“No, my dear, that boy of yours is a willful one, you mark my words! I believe he’s gone to join his father. Remember how upset he was when he wasn’t allowed to go?” The Queen nodded reluctantly as Ellen continued, “He’s on his way to Lincoln, I’m sure of it. You see if I’m not right. You don’t need to bother everyone in the castle. I’ll find him and keep him safe.” The Queen looked up at Ellen, her sobs subsiding as she gathered her thoughts.
“You’ll need to use your magic,” she stated with a determined look “I don’t care about the ban,” she continued “just find my boy and keep him safe from those barons. If he has run away like you say, then he will need protection. Will you remember
your spells, it’s been so long?”
“I’m sure they will come back to me,” Ellen bristled, slightly annoyed that her skills as a witch were being doubted by the young woman, Queen or not. “I have friends in Ravenwood that can help, and he can’t have got very far anyway,” she added for reassurance. Seeing the relief on the young Queen’s face, Ellen’s tone softened as she gently suggested that they probably didn’t need to worry the King just yet, “by the time His Majesty returns,” Ellen predicted confidently, “it will be as if nothing ever happened.” With a defiant nod of her head she pulled the Queen to her feet, squeezed her hands reassuringly and was off back down the winding stairs before the Queen realised that even Ellen didn’t believe those words.