The three day ride to the capital did nothing to settle my nerves; I was not given time to get my affairs in order, merely loaded into a carriage and sent on my way. Neither the lady designated to escort me, nor her handmaiden, made conversation with me- not in the carriage, nor in the inns where we passed the night. They were not rude, per se- they just didn’t encourage conversation. I think they were uncertain of my status- prisoner or honored guest- and were afraid of either lowering themselves or else offending a woman of great power. To be honest, I wasn’t certain of my status, myself- although I felt like a prisoner, and the fact that I had nothing of my own but the clothes on my back reinforced this feel. Prisoner or not, I was more worried about those left behind than I was myself. More than anything I wished I might have consulted my mother before going. Alas, it was not an option: I would have to rely on what she had taught me, just as every woman before me has. I moved my thumb absently over her wedding band, and thought longingly of my small flock, now abandoned.
When we arrived at the castle at noon the next day, I was not given time to collect myself- the king himself opened the door of our carriage, and helped me down the steps. I tried not to shrink at his touch, but instead keep my expression calm and unreadable.
“I sent ahead to prepare your room,” said the king, tucking my arm into his own. I eyed him warily- was I perhaps to be treated well, after all? The king led me down hallway after hallway, and up one flight of stairs and then another, which in turn led to a spiral staircase into a tower. I wondered, briefly, what the view would be from such a room- would the entire kingdom stretch out below me in impossible miniature? Is that what led these people to feel they could treat ordinary people like insects?
“Ah, here we are,” said the king, and pushed open the door at the top of the stairs. Rather than the bedroom I was expecting, I found a small, bare chamber. Well, bare save for piles and piles of hay on the floor. I looked up at him, confused.
“You will spin all of this to gold by the morning,” he said cheerfully, “Or I’ll have your head. And your father’s. And I’ll burn the village for good measure. Can’t be encouraging liars in my kingdom.”
I tried not to whimper- I must, somehow, turn his punishment to me alone- but I could not think how.