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She prepared the tray the same way she always did. A bowl of warming soup, a loaf of fresh bread, a large piece of cold meat, and a mug of good ale.

When she first started, she had been sure to spit into the soup and the ale; after a few weeks, however, the novelty of this wore off. She had instead taken to slurping down some of the soup, cutting off a piece of the bread and a piece of the meat for herself, and taking her fill of the ale, watering down what was left in the mug.

There were a great many stairs up to the tower, after all, and she needed her strength to make the climb each day.

It had been some four years now; four years of soup, bread, meat and ale, four years of the same trays and the same climb up to the tower.

Four years of the same screamed curses from behind the bricked up door.

She tried to close her ears as she reached the last flight of stairs. She knew that her footsteps rang out in the silence of the rooms at the top, that her approach was never silent. She was, after all, too old to walk lightly.

She ascended slowly, her feet heavy and tired. Each footstep rang out like a bell, echoing off the bare stone walls where sumptuous tapestries had once hung, bouncing through the silence until it died away.

She stopped, listening to the silence. The faintest smile began to flicker across her lips. Was it possible?

She hurried up the last of the steps and knelt on the landing. A few bricks had been left out when the doorway was bricked up, just enough to pass a tray through. Yesterday’s tray should have been out here but no, she could see it on the other side, still full.

She grinned and took a last slurp of the soup before she shoved it through the hole.

“Hey,” she shouted. “Hey! Did you choke at last? Are you gone? Have our daughters dragged you to hell at last?”

When her words stopped echoing, there was only silence.

She almost felt young again as she ran down the steps. One ignored meal was not enough to prove anything, but the silence – that told her everything she needed to know.

She grabbed her shawl hurriedly as she reached the kitchen and ran out of the castle towards the village. Many mothers would celebrate tonight.

© Kari Fay

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