Photo by Stefanie Gaither
I stare at the window, the light on the other side blinding my eyes. The red-haired girl is right beside me, smelling of lavender and vanilla. I step forward, not wishing to feel her hand in the small of my back. The stairs before me remind me of others I have ascended. I know they are nothing like those in another castle, where damp and despair linger in every hallway. Still, I cannot shake the fear that has followed me as long as I can remember, perhaps even from my birth.
“What is it, Laurel?” She is in front of me now, her green eyes close to my face and filled with something I do not recognize.
I do not answer her, only avert my eyes from her searching gaze.
“Ah, yes,” she says at last. “Of course. You wish to remain on the ground floor, in a room with a window in the outer wall.” Her voice is soft, sure, knowing. “So you may escape more easily if you find us cruel.”
Again, I give her no answer. My hand, still scratched and filthy, covers the firm spot on my belly, the spot for which I escaped my last prison. She sighs softly and makes a circle with her finger pointing downward, indicating that I should turn around. I am thankful she spared me her touch. Perhaps she, like the stranger who led me here, understands, after all.
I follow her the way we have come, through warm, rose scented hallways, across the great hall, and down another hall. We turn a corner and continue. Almost to the end of the long corridor, she stops and turns a doorknob.
“In here,” she says.
It is all I could have requested and more – isolated, ground level, with a window facing south across the vast fields surrounding the castle. A bed, not a worm-eaten blanket, invites my weary body to slumber. A rocking chair promises a place to cradle in safety the child who will never know his wretched sire. The stranger has exceeded my needs. A foreign emotion wells up beneath my fear. I dare to meet the girl’s eyes, but only for an instant. I hope she reads my meaning.
Tell him we might survive, after all.
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