by Miss Elliot
I’d like to share a bit of fiction that I finished about a year ago (but I started it three years ago). I can’t say it’s the kind of story I would write now (because I’m SO much more grown-up, of course. Okay, okay, I’m just kidding), but I thought you might enjoy it. So without further ado, here is Escape From the Castle, written by my younger self. And please don’t copy it and say you wrote it. That’s Not Nice.
Alice lay on her canopied bed. She had drawn up the covers to her chin, because of the cold. It was snowing outside Castle Suddene, and everyone’s teeth chattered when they went outside, and, on bad days, when they stayed inside, too. Castles, as you’ve no doubt learned in your history book, are not comfortable places in the winter, or even at any other season.
“How nice it is to be in bed,” Alice thought. She was tired, for she’d been romping with Francis, her ten-year-old brother. Alice was thirteen. She was high-spirited, tall, and pretty. She had deep brown eyes and dark hair that curled over her shoulders and down her back. Despite the discomfort of the castle, she loved it. High turrets, winding staircases, secret passages- the roof! The guards on the roof were always friendly and gave her and Francis sweets. Their mother disapproved of this. “You will ruin your teeth!” she would say with a gentle smile. Lady Anne was a beautiful woman, and Alice and Francis were immensely proud of her. “No one has such a wonderful mother as we do,” they would say. She was so gentle and understanding. Sometimes she would come exploring with them. Their father was jolly and came too, sometimes. He would smile at his wife and say, “Thank God for such blessings as children.”
“But Father isn’t here tonight,” thought Alice. “He’s gone to our summer home.”
So he was. Lords like him, in those days, had more than one castle. They had to manage each one. There seemed to be some trouble with Father’s steward. So he had to make the journey to Castle Richmond, their summer home, to see about things. Today it had just been Alice, Francis and their mother who explored the castle. Their mother seemed concerned about something. So did the guards on the roof.
“Fog comin’ in,” one had said.
“That’s no good. We’ll have to keep a sharp look-out, tonight,” another had answered. “Lord Suddene won’t be happy if he finds his castle burnt down, when he comes home.” Then they’d caught sight of Alice and closed their mouths. Alice wondered what they could be talking about, but she soon forgot about it in the fun of a game of hide-and-seek. Then came supper- Mother wasn’t at the table; she had gone to do something else-and now Alice was in bed, ready for sleep.
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She woke, a few hours later, to the noise of wind. “But the wind didn’t wake me up,” she thought. “What did?” She couldn’t hear anything above the noise of the wind. She sat up in bed and pushed the curtains aside. Quietly, she found her silken slippers, put them on, and padded softly over to the window. Alice’s high-ceilinged room faced north with a view of the countryside. But now the fog had, indeed, come creeping in. Alice could see nothing. But wait! A light- two, three- several lights! Perhaps Father was home!
“He’s come home early,” she thought as she bounded across her room to the door. She opened it and almost fell into her mother’s arms!
“Mother! I’m so sorry- is Father back?” Alice cried.
Her mother did not answer, and by the candle Lady Anne was carrying, Alice could see that she was very white.
“Alice, shhh. Keep your voice down. No, your father isn’t back. I wish he were!”
She paused, caught her breath, and then continued.
“The castle is under attack. Not two hours ago, Lord Mendoza of Stirlingshire Castle and a hundred of his men crept through the fog on the hills and are, even now, at the door! He has long coveted this castle and the surrounding lands, and who has long claimed it for his own, although he knows it is ours by right of lineage. We do not have enough men to ward off the attack. We must make haste and leave this place- to warn your father!” And then, as the dazed Alice tried to speak- “No, ask me no questions, there is no time. I must wake your brother. Dress quickly, Alice. Wait here for us.” And she was gone.
Alice gasped. For a long moment she could not even move. When she did finally begin moving, she ran to her wardrobe and dressed warmly, with wool kirtle and hose. She drew her cloak about her and put her boots on over her slippers. She took a deep breath. Alice was ready.
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Alice waited only a moment like this. Her mother and Francis appeared in the hall. They were both cloaked. Lady Anne carried a small lamp. Francis looked as dazed as Alice felt.
“Come,” whispered their mother, and she led them through winding passages. Alice thought, “How happy I was only this morning, when I was playing with Mother and Francis in these very passages!” Now everything was dark and rather frightening.
They came into a part of the castle that Alice had never been in before. By the look on Francis’s face, Alice could tell that he hadn’t either. It was very cold and very dusty. And how dark it was! Except for the small lamp that Lady Anne held, there was no light.
After about five minutes of fast walking, they came to a small hall. Lady Anne led them into a side room. It was very small, more like a closet than a room. Lady Anne closed and locked the door, laid her finger on her lips and then gently pressed on the back wall. It opened, swiftly and silently, in to a dark passage. She beckoned to her children. Blowing out the light, she led the way through and slid the wall back into place.
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As they went further and further in, or, shall I say, further and further out (for clearly they were heading outside; the cold said as much), it got rather lighter. Not a day- time sort of light, but the quiet, white light of moon upon snow. There was an outside smell of fresh air and trees, as well as snow-drifts blown quite far in to the passage. Alice was glad she had put her boots on. It was very cold. They were all shivering.
Then suddenly they were at the end. Alice saw two dark shapes at the mouth of the passage. One of the shapes moved as the three came into view.
“Lady Anne?” said the quiet voice of a guard. “Are you all right?”
“Yes. We’re all here. Were you able to gather the food I asked you about?”
“Yes, ma’am. I have it all in this sack here. It seems a wee bit quieter than a moment ago, as far as the fighting goes,” answered John the warder.
Lady Anne nodded, and then turned to her children.
“Alice, Francis. You must be brave, quite, quite brave. You must be quiet and stealthy. We must all be.” She sighed, and then went on.
“We are going to castle Richmond to warn your father of the attack. John and Alistair are coming with us. So is David.” The warders bearing those names bowed, and David came into the passage from just outside, where he had been keeping watch. Lady Anne continued.
“We all have horses; my grey palfrey, your brown one, Alice, and Francis’s pony. And the warders have horses; we have tried to ensure that they are all in the best condition. Now children, this journey is going to be hard and very cold. We are going to have to sleep in abandoned shepherds’ huts. Castle Richmond is far away: nearly one hundred miles of hard road. But,” she paused, “…those brave men who are staying behind to defend the castle Suddene are- are going to have the worst of it. Now- we must start. If you must speak, speak only in whispers. Come.” And with that, they all went outside.
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Five horses and one pony awaited them outside the passage. They were all saddled and bridled. As the six came out of the passage, Alice realized that they had gone under the moat and were now on the other side of it. The drawbridge, where most of the fighting was going on, was on the other side of the castle. John turned to assist Lady Anne into the saddle, but she sprang up unattended. Alice and Francis did the same. John shrugged and clambered up onto his horse. The other warders did the same, except for the shrugging. They were all grave-faced and they did not speak. Then Lady Anne spurred her horse into a swift canter and they all moved on into the night.
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It had stopped snowing, but it was still quite foggy. They could hardly see five feet in front of them.
There was a hill about a mile away from the west side of the castle. At the top of the hill they all turned their horses north. Alice was the last one to do this. As she reached the top of the hill the fog cleared and she turned in her saddle to take one last look at Castle Suddene. Then she turned her horse north and spurred it into a gallop.
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They continued north for several hours. At daybreak, they came upon a small croft. The party halted and ate some bread and cheese and took a sip of wine. Then one of the warders lit a fire at the hearth and, warmed by this fire, Lady Anne and her children went to sleep. Two of the guards, however, spoke together in low voices by the fire.
John began, “I don’t like this at all. Lady Anne, clearly, is not strong enough for such a venture.”
“She’s just a thin woman; she’s not ill, perhaps,” replied Alistair, “just thin, pale, and tired.”
“No. I don’t agree with that. She’s not strong. And anyway, no pale, thin woman should be out in the cold, with no hot food and no good wine; and, what’s more, she shouldn’t be runnin’ from home, with enemies on her heels!”
“No? Well, what do you propose doing about it?”
“There’s only one thing to be done- press on. Our enemies have surrounded the castle by now, no doubt about it. We can’t go back. We can’t stay here- we have food enough for ten days only. Conclusion: we must press on.”
“Lady Anne wouldn’t consent to going back or stayin’ here, anyway. Well, I’m turnin’ in.”
“So am I, or we’ll never get started again on the trail.”
As the warders John and Alistair rolled up in their cloaks and rolled over and began snoring, David, from a shadowy corner, rolled his eyes, then rolled over and went to sleep.
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Everyone was awake at mid-afternoon. They all ate a bit of food, and then saddled their mounts and got up on their horses. They then moved north, steadily, for about two hours. After a short lunch (or supper), they continued on their way.
At late evening, a snow storm blew up and they did not dare to move for fear of getting off- course. Alice saw the outline of another croft in the distance, on top of a hill. They tried to make their way toward this croft. It took half an hour to do twenty feet, what with the wind and going uphill. Finally they reached the croft. They all, even the animals, stumbled inside and as always, John began to start a fire. But he couldn’t. “My hands…they’re too stiff… my lady Alice, would you…?”
“Of course,” answered Alice, her teeth chattering. She took the tinderbox he held out to her and started the fire.
“Well,” said David, “I will go put the horses in the stable. No- I’ll have something to eat first.”
He moved over to the food bag and, in doing so, furtively pulled a small pouch from his belt. The others had by now laid down. Francis was already asleep; so were Lady Anne, John, and Alistair. Alice was almost asleep, but she saw, through half- closed eyes, David, taking food and slipping it into his pouch. But she was too tired to say one word. It did not even register in her mind that he was taking too much for just one meal. After drawing the strings tight, he slid the pouch back onto his belt. He then gathered the animals, took up his cloak and slipped quietly out the door. Alice was asleep.
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She woke, hours later, to still, heavy cold. The fire had nearly gone out and the snowstorm still raged. Alice got up stiffly, found a stick that had blown in some years ago, and poked and poked the fire until it blazed up, hot and strong. Francis groaned, rolled over and sat up.
“Good morning, Alice,” he yawned.
“Good morning, Francis,” she replied. “But- shhhh! Mother is still asleep.”
“Oh, Alice, it’s so cold!” And then, not waiting for a reply, “Are the warders still asleep?”
They both turned to look at the warders, all tangled up in their cloaks. Alistair was still asleep; his kind face was all that showed out of the tangle of cloaks. John was just waking up. Then Francis turned to look at his mother. She was very pale and her breathing was labored. She was still asleep. Then Francis’s gaze turned toward the corner where David slept.
“Alice!” Francis said suddenly. “Where’s David? He was just here!”
“Oh… he might just have gone to look at the horses… I’m sure he’ll be right back.” Alice had forgotten about seeing David take food and put it into his pouch. She remembered presently, as you will see. John sat up and yawned. “Oh!! My Lady Alice. Master Francis. Storm still ragin’? And then, “I’m awfully hungry. Is there any grub around here?” Alistair too was sitting up now, too. “I say,” he said, “where’s David?” Suddenly Alice remembered. “Oh no!” she gasped. “John, please go right outside and see if the animals are still here.”
“Yes ma’am,” he said, a little questioningly. But Alice was hurrying over to the food bag. She began rifling through it. John shrugged and went outside. For a moment snow blew in and a cold wind blew through the croft. Then as the door closed, Alice gasped. There was, indeed, much less food than there had been yesterday! But she said nothing until John stumbled in, the wind blowing around him, to gasp,
Amid the exclamations of Alistair and Francis, he continued, “One horse is missing! All the rest are fair enough.”
“Yes. I thought so!” said Alice. “I saw him last night, taking food from the bag! I just remembered a few minutes ago.”
“Speaking of food,” broke in Francis, “I’m hungry, Alice. Shall we eat?”
“Yes, yes. I forgot,” replied his sister; and they all had some bread and cheese and a little wine. As they ate, they discussed David.
“What I want to know is, why would he be leavin’?” said Alistair.
“Well, it’s simple: he’s tired of traipsing through snow and wind. He’s younger than you and me, and maybe he thinks fightin’s more exciting than dragging-” He looked at Alice and then rephrased it- “protecting noble folk through hard weather.”
“He must have stayed for a while in the stable resting, then rode off to join our side in the fighting,” said Alistair.
Alice, having finished her share, was meanwhile at her mother’s side, feeling her forehead, her wrists, and her heart. Then she came back. “John,” she said quietly, “Mother is ill.”
John got up quickly and strode over to Lady Anne. He and Alice got on their knees and John did what Alice had been doing- feeling her forehead, et cetera. He shook his head. “Yes, my lady Alice, you are right. She has a fever- not very bad, but a fever, nonetheless.”
“Is there anything we can do about it?” asked Alice.
“No….except keep her warm and give her sips of wine. We’re going to have to bide here for a while.” He shook his head again. “Yes, perhaps a week.”
Alistair started up. “A week?” he exclaimed, but John silenced him with a gesture. Their eyes met; they both knew that they had food for ten days. If they had to wait here for seven… John shook his head. How could they?
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The snowstorm continued through the day. At evening, Alice began to warm some wine on the hearth. John went to check on the animals, four horses, now, and one pony. Alice was warming the wine for her mother. Lady Anne continued unwell. She lay on a pallet of cloaks, groaning and crying out. Alice was a faithful nurse- she was attentive to her mother every second. Alistair had gone out to try to find game. “But,” he said, coming in with a flurry of snow, “there’s not an animal to be found in this part of the country.” Francis liked to go to the stable and visit the animals. It was a trifle warmer in the stable than in the croft; the stable was smaller and there were more living things.
Alice was worried about her mother. She would not leave her side until Alistair convinced her to go to bed.
“You need a bit of rest, milady. I’ll watch your mother for a while. You rest.” So she did.
At about midnight, Alistair rose and walked outside to stretch his legs. He looked out over the still, white world- for the snowstorm had stopped. The moon was bright and lit up the landscape perfectly. To the east, the countryside was hilly and to the west was the ocean, far away. Their croft was at the top of one of the largest of the hills. Suddenly Alistair gasped. He ran into the croft and shook John.
“John! John! Wake up, man! Come and see!” And then, pulling him to his feet, he took him over to the door. They both looked out to see a company of soldiers coming toward them. “Who is that, do you think?
“Lord Mendoza!” gasped John. “I recognize the banner. Quick, go to the stables and saddle the horses. I will waken the children.”
Alice was awake already. She sat up quickly. “What is it, John?” she asked.
“Lord Mendoza. Quick, lass, put on your cloak. Alistair is coming with the horses.”
Alice was already into her cloak by the time he finished. “But my mother…she isn’t fit to-”
“We’ll get her off somehow,” said John, helping Francis into his cloak. “Now, my lady Alice, do you help me to cloak your mother. She can ride with me.”
There was no time for any more talk. Alice and John quickly had Lady Anne cloaked and John began to pick her up to carry her outside. The first Alice saw of the soldiers was a twinkling line, coming from the east. It was nearly to their hill. Then- there was her horse, and the two warders lifted her mother onto John’s horse. John had said that Lady Anne could ride with him, but for the sake of speed and the horse, they had come up with a different plan. Lady Anne was bound onto John’s horse with rope, and John rode close by, with a hand on the horse’s halter. Lady Anne was still feverish and did not know herself.
They were all mounted by now and, with Alistair in the lead, they rode off into the night. They were heading west, because Castle Richmond was in that direction. It was cold, but no one noticed it, because the soldiers were gaining on them. They might have gotten away if Lady Anne’s horse had not stumbled, pitching forward. Lady Anne, still bound to the horse, was now hanging at the horse’s side! John jumped from his horse and tried hard to put her back on. In that instant, they blundered into a snowdrift. The horses lost their footing and reared up, causing the others –Alistair, Alice, and Francis- to be cast into the snow. John saw the soldiers coming before anyone else.
“Alice!” he gasped. “You- Francis- go on- Richmond- tell your father-”
“No!” cried Alice.
“Yes!” shouted John. He shoved her onto her horse, and then did the same to Francis. He slapped both their horses’ rumps, and they were off into the night.
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The next day, two bedraggled children rode up the drawbridge of castle Richmond. When halted by the guards, they demanded in imperious voices to see Lord Suddene. The guards looked at each other dubiously, but in the end, Alice and Francis were let in.
They were told to wait in the courtyard while the guard went to speak with Lord Suddene. Alice and Francis waited anxiously. The door burst open and their father came rushing out.
“Alice! Francis!” he cried. “What-?” Francis poured out their story. Alice added bits and pieces, too. As their father listened, his face grew hard. When they finally reached the end, he summoned his men and told them to be ready to ride within the hour. He would have left Alice and Francis behind, but they begged to be taken along. Their father consented. But they would have to stay behind the rest of the party with a trusted friend, Lord Edward Chesterton. And so, within the hour, Alice and Francis found themselves galloping away from Castle Richmond.
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At nightfall, Lord Suddene ordered their company to a halt.
“We are not so close to Lord Mendoza’s company of villains as I would have hoped. Therefore, we are going to ride on through the night.” His eyes ranged over the company, and fell upon Alice and Francis. “Alice, Francis…I am sending you back with-”
“Oh no!” Francis said. “Father, please! We can ride through the night, honest we can! We’ll not be any trouble. Please may we come? Please?”
“Well…” Lord Suddene’s eyes once again ranged through the company. This time, his eyes fell on Alice. Her eyes were pleading with him and he relented. “You may, but you must stay behind with Lord Chesterton, and if there is a battle, stay far away from it.”
“Yes, Father,” said Francis.
“Move forward,” commanded Lord Suddene, and off they went.
It was still cold, but the wind was not blowing. Twilight was closing in around them. The moon was beginning to shine upon the snow. Alice and Francis, who rode in the far back with Lord Chesterton, were not tired a bit! (Or so they felt.) So on they went for several hours, trot, trot, jingle, jingle.
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Alice did not realize she had fallen asleep until she was shaken by Francis. “Alice!” he said. “Wake up! We’re halting.”
“Uhh, what? Francis? Where are we?”
“Shh! Alice, look.”
She looked, and there ahead of the company was a ridge. Some of the horsemen were riding over it.
“Father went over the ridge a moment ago,” said Francis. “See, they’re dismounting and going through that low place in the rocks, so the enemy in the camp bellows won’t see them.”
“Enemy?” asked Alice. “Have we found Lord Mendoza’s company?”
“Yes, Alice; don’t you remember Lord Chesterton whispering to us that some men on foot had snuck over the ridge and found that Lord Mendoza was camping down in the valley?” asked Francis.
“No; I didn’t hear a word. Oh Francis, I hope mother is alright.”
“So do I. Surely they wouldn’t-“
“Master Francis, Lady Alice.” Lord Chesterton came riding up.
“Lord Chesterton,” said Alice. “What is happening?”
“Well, we want to take the enemy by surprise,” said Lord Chesterton. He was one of their father’s closest friends. He was tall and fair, unlike Lord Suddene, who, because of Scottish ancestry, was stocky and dark. “We are hoping that will spare us blood. So we are going down as quietly as we can. We will take prisoners, perhaps- and when the King comes, we will bring them to justice.
“But all this depends on our taking them by surprise. If they are alert, and we cannot take over that camp by surprise, then- well, we shall try to get Lady Anne and the two faithful guards, and get away.”
“And we can’t even get close!” said Francis. “This is just beastly! We can’t even see what is going on!”
“You can’t get close, Master Francis, but you can see,” said Lord Chesterton. “All of the horsemen have gone over the ridge,” and it was true, as they could all see “so, Master Francis, Lady Alice, I think we can go to the edge of the ridge and look over. But we must keep close to the ground.”
They dismounted and went to the edge of the ridge, lying on their stomachs and peering over.
It was dark, for a cloud had come over the moon. They could not see the camp or the line of horsemen silently approaching the camp, which was in the valley below.
Suddenly a shout went up, shattering the silence.
“Who goes there?”
Alice gasped. “Oh no! They’ve been seen!”
Lord Chesterton’s face was grim. “We prepared for this. If our strategy failed I was to take you as fast as I could to Castle Richmond. Now we must ride fast and hard.”
“Master Francis!” interrupted Lord Chesterton sternly. “No protest. Now, both of you, get on your horses! There is no time to lose!”
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Off they rode through the night. Their horses kicked up snow as they rode on and on. Alice grew more and more tired. Her eyelids began to close again and again. Francis, too, was drooping in the saddle. But still they rode on and on. It was now hours and hours since they started from the enemy camp: it was nearly sunrise. Finally they stopped and Lord Chesterton wrapped them and himself in all three cloaks. Then, after making a circle of cleared snow, he made the horses stand in a circle around it as a guard against any wind. Then he and Alice and Francis went to sleep.
Alice woke with a start about seven hours later at noon. The sun was very high, of course. Lord Chesterton was leaning pensively on his horse. Francis was still slumbering peacefully.
“You know, Lady Alice,” said Lord Chesterton slowly, and startling Alice because she thought he didn’t know she was awake, “I shouldn’t mind being a part of that- whatever’s going on down there. But-“ suddenly jumping up and startling the horses- “I must do my best for Lord Suddene. Come, Master Francis, wake up! ‘Tis time to be on our way!”
Francis did awaken, and after they ate a bit, they all got up on their mounts and galloped on.
The sun was sinking low when finally Castle Richmond appeared in the distance. It was reached within the hour. They rode up to the portcullis just in time, for the drawbridge was soon to be pulled up. Immediately upon entering, Lord Chesterton sent off reinforcements to the aid of Lord Suddene’s party. Now came a very tedious period- waiting. But they only had to wait for about a day and a half. Alice saw a line of horsemen coming towards the castle. She cried, “Francis, come quick! Look at what’s coming!” Francis came, and with him came Lord Chesterton, who had heard the commotion.
“It will take some time to tell who they are- your father or-“. He did not finish. They waited together, all three of them, for about ten minutes. But finally Alice, straining her eyes to make out the banner, cried, “It’s Father! Hoorah!” She and Francis rushed down the spiral staircase with Lord Chesterton close behind. So they were all three waiting in the courtyard when the company rode across the drawbridge, with Lord Suddene, with their mother up before him on his horse, at the front. And there in front was their mother. Up went the portcullis and the company rode into the courtyard. Their father jumped off of his horse.
“Father!” cried Alice. She and Francis ran and hugged him. He hugged them too. Then he turned and gently took their mother off the horse. He carried her into the castle, with Alice and Francis close behind him. Lord Chesterton followed slowly. When their father had laid their mother gently in her bed, he turned and led Alice and Francis out of that chamber. Lord Chesterton was waiting quietly outside the door.
“Now, Adam,” said Lord Chesterton, “tell us what went on. See how eager the children are to hear the story, and I am scarcely less so.”
“Well,” began their father, “we rode down into the camp and were seen, as you no doubt saw. So then I gave the order, ‘Out swords’ and we fought hard for about five minutes. Oh, by the way, we captured that traitor David. I could have tanned his hide. But there was no time for that- we had to fight for our lives.
“So we fought, and we did win, but I wish you would have been there, Edward; it was quite heavy fighting…So we found your mother, children, in a tent with the warders. They were bound and gagged, but your mother, on account of being a lady and ill, wasn’t. So we took all of the men prisoner, and Lord Mendoza too- cowardly knave! He ought to be horse-whipped! Anyway, we took them all prisoner. Then we made our way back here. And now, I shall go to bed. Edward, instruct the men to do so as well. Thank you for your help.” And, with a clasp of his friend’s hand, off Lord Suddene went to sleep.
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Not much remains to be told. Lady Anne recovered, and she soon had a child, a son, whom they named Edward, after Lord Chesterton. The vagabonds were tried in the King’s court and put into the Tower of London for five years. Needless to say, Lord Mendoza never bothered Lord Suddene again. Alice and Francis grew up in the course of time. They married into great, good families- Alice’s husband was named Guy Standish and Francis’s wife was named Marian Galahad- and their children and descendants down the line were happy and noble.
Only one thing more: David escaped from the Tower and disappeared in Scotland. He has not been heard of since.