The door shut behind him, and the sound of the lock sliding home felt like a physical blow to the gut. I did not run to try it, as I wanted. What would be the point? Even if it opened, there was no escape for me. And even if there was, there was no escape for my village. For my father.
Tear burned in my eyes, and I tilted my head back. I would not cry. Tears would afford me nothing. Instead I blinked rapidly, then looked around the room to see if I’d missed anything in my initial assessment. There was the blasted straw, and a small, three-legged stool for me to sit upon. Next the stool sat a smooth spindle made of honey-colored wood. I walked over to it, picked it up, felt its weight it in my hands. Normally I’d have been thrilled to work with such an exquisitely crafted tool, but… well, I wouldn’t be working with it, would I.
Part of me wanted to dash it against the wall in rage in despair, but in the end I placed it carefully back upon the ground. It wasn’t the spindle’s fault I was in this mess, and I couldn’t bring myself to destroy such a beautiful piece of craft. I hoped the next woman to use it would fare better than myself.
I drifted over to one of the tall, narrow windows. As I’d thought, the view was spectacular- but try as I might, I couldn’t make out my village. Perhaps I was facing the wrong direction. I moved to the next window, and the next- there were six in total, circling the room, but none of them showed me my village- although I could see the same mountains that were visible from the top of my favorite climbing tree. They were closer, here, but still so very distant. The world was, indeed, larger than I ever could have dreamed.
I sighed and sat down upon the humble stool, picked up a few handfuls of straw, and began to idly twist them into a braid, thinking all the while. The sun was at its zenith, and I knew it would be a long, long time before it set. Would they bring me lanterns when it did? Or torches? There were hooks set in the wall to hold either. If they brought me flame, could I bring myself to set the piles afire, making it look like a tragic accident? Only the thought that the king might still punish my father kept me from pursuing that line of thinking any further.
My stomach let out an irritable rumble. I’d neither eaten nor drank since we’d broken our fast at the final inn, and the protest of my innards was bringing it to the forefront of my mind. Dare I ask for food or water?
I went over to the door and knocked- there was no answer. I tried the latch,knowing it would not open. It did not. I knocked again, louder. Still nothing. So I called out- and did not hear even a whisper of movement.
“Wonderful,” I muttered, realizing the king must have heard me, after all, when I’d told him the process didn’t work if anyone was around to witness it. I kicked around in the straw a bit, to see if he’d thought to leave me anything. He hadn’t- I wasn’t shocked- but I found that someone, at least, had had the foresight to provide a lidded bucket.
“Probably didn’t want to sully the merchandise,” I said bitterly, and for a moment I was tempted to do just that. But I knew it would make no difference whatsoever to this mad king, whereas I had no desire whatsoever to befoul my sleeping place.
I spent the next few hours thinking and praying- I tried calling my mother’s true name, but she didn’t respond. I didn’t expect her to- I knew she was tied to her grave- but I couldn’t help but hope. I tried calling the names of all the small nature spirits she had taught me- but they, too, were tied to their homes far from here. I didn’t even know what one of them would do, if they’d appeared. As the sun sank, so did my hope, until I curled up in the corner, unable to hold back the tears any longer. As the moon rose I rocked back and forth, whispering, “Help me, please help me. Please, please, please help me."