“Wakey, wakey.” The guard nudged Mary with his foot. “No sleeping.”
Mary tried to ignore the guards coming into the dungeon every hour, but they made a point of waking her. Maybe they were instructed to harass her. Or they were just mean.
She never got any drinking water. She didn’t want to call attention to the hot water coursing down the channel periodically, so she began asking the guards where her water ration was. Her nagging finally generated a visit from the steward.
“What’s this about my bringing you water?” Steward demanded. He stood outside the door and looked in.
“My Lord Dragon told me that you would arrange my water ration,” Mary said. Since the steward didn’t know of that portion of the Dragon’s orders, Mary suspected he knew nothing about the rest of them. “Ask the guards.”
“What about her water?” Steward asked.
“I don’t know nothing about water,” answered the voice outside.
“Why isn’t the cook caring for her? She’s his helper.”
“Don’t know. We was just told to keep the door open and watch that she didn’t escape.”
Steward looked at her. “You’re more trouble than you’re worth. If it was me, I’d turn you out.” He sighed and left.
Mary thought that interesting. The Dragon’s word had not reached these guards. Maybe Cook didn’t know either. Maybe she could talk Cook into giving her food. She waited.
Shortly Cook appeared at the door with two bowls, one steaming. “Here, you, this is all you get, and you’d best not complain since you’ve been no help preparing it.” Once he was completely inside the cell, he winked.
Cook had entered far enough to hand her the stew first, which she gobbled as fast as she could. He threw her the towel he carried over his shoulder, which she put under her. As she ate, Cook asked in a whisper how she was.
“The Dragon says I’m to stay here without food or contact with anyone except him,” she whispered back. “He’s mad at me. He also said you weren’t to bring water, that the steward was to bring it, but he was never told. I’m scared, Cook.”
“We’ll watch out for you, girl. Is the hot water helping?”
“Oh, yes. Thank you. I’m sorry to make extra work.”
“This time of year, we need hot water for lots of things. The cistern was full and getting water from the melting snow. We’re covered. Mary girl, you just hold up. We’ll keep an eye on the guards.”
“Thank you, dear Cook,” Mary said. “Bless you and all the girls. Meg too. Have you heard from Will? How is he?”
“Ain’t seen Will. Maybe he be laying low. He’d be doing outdoor duty and the like. Not outside the walls, you understand.”
“Not back helping you?”
“Oh, no. He won’t be working for me no more. I’m what you call out of favor, too, but I’m safe. The Dragon he likes my cookin’. I take good care of him and his.”
“His? I didn’t know the Dragon had family here,” Mary said.
“He don’t, but other men come from time to time. They get up in the top of that tower of his and carry on all night.”
“Oh, prayin’ or something. I never go up, but I cook for them before and after.”
“I haven’t been up the tower in years.”
“Better that way. Not a safe place for little girls. And this won’t be a safe place for me if steward or Dragon find me talking to you.” Cook gathered the bowls and leaned close. “Mary, if there were a place we could send you, I’d be all for getting you out of here and safe.”
“Thank you, Cook. God bless you.”
“Ain’t no one here blessed.” And he was gone.
A guard looked in. He nodded and left, pulling the door mostly closed behind him.
Mary slumped into a corner. She knew which stone came out, but it only led somewhere else inside the castle. Even if she could reach it, which she couldn’t, and get it out without alerting the guards, which she couldn’t, the Dragon would find her. He seemed able to hear her thoughts; he hadn’t lied about that.
With a towel under her and her stomach full, Mary rolled herself into as small a ball as she could and slept.
Copyright © 2022 by Ron Andrea. All Rights Reserved.