She knew she had aroused only mild suspicion; none had yet drawn a weapon. If they had sensed any real danger, she would have had a blade at her throat. Her confidence buoyed by this first small victory, she forced into her voice that semi-guttural, grunting tone most calculated to disguise her sex; if they guessed she was a woman, she would have to kill them. The trick was not to artificially lower the voice: it never sounded genuine. The technique worked best when mimicking the peasant classes, because she could combine the change in her voice with the sullen but subordinate aspect of the downtrodden man whose hope has not yet entirely abandoned him.
“Fetching in the deer for my lord, the Earl of Hertford,” she had replied. “Fell off the back of the cart—they sent me back to find it.”
“Has t’ Earl gone in yet?” the guard to the right had asked. His small, pointed nose seemed almost to sniff her like a dog, as though he could smell out the truth.
“Course,” she had scoffed, “Think I ran ahead on me own with this over m’ shoulders?”
“Quiet!” the first speaker had said. His air of mastery suggested he must outrank the others. “No one’s asking you.”
While he had rubbed his chin, considering, she had stolen a glance at the guard in the middle, who had as yet said nothing. More than the terrier-faced man and the blustering leader, this third unsettled her. So few people actually looked, and even fewer thought about what they had seen, but he was clearly doing both. If she ended up having to shed blood to enter, his steady attention would lie at the root of it.
She reminded herself none of the three deserved death, and she choked down the rising thud-thud-thud of her own pulse in her throat—the storm before the calm that washed over her whenever she killed.
“I reckon you can go on in,” said the leader, and he stepped back to let her pass. The man in the middle did not, though, and she found herself looking up into his face as she perforce came to a halt in front of him.
Reminding herself to avoid direct eye contact, lest she betray the inner sense of dignity and authority that would have seemed so out of place in someone of her apparent social stature, she growled, “Well, you letting me in, or what?”
“The Earl’s man didn’t say nothing about another deer,” said the third man, without taking his eyes off her face. “We should send to find out.”
The leader frowned, but nodded. “Danny, go ask,” he said to the sniffer, and Danny turned to pass into the castle.