“Mary, go draw the morning beer for the prisoner and take it to him,” Cook said.
Mary looked up from her cup of the cider. She’d drawn her portion early to avoid being seen. She finished, shook out her cup and started for the door.
“No, take him a proper mug. The Dragon ordered he’s to have an honest meal plus his morning draught. If he’s to be worth anything by the time he gets out, he’s got to have food. Take that stoneware mug. It’s a proper measure for a man what won’t get naught else till dinner.”
She hugged the heavy vessel to her chest as she climbed the stairs to the main level. The beer and wine stores were controlled the steward’s clerks. Every day, each person had to collect his own morning draught of cider or beer.
As she approached the kegs, Mary saw Captain Ulrich and the steward sitting at a nearby table. Between them lay an unfolded sheet of parchment on which the steward made small marks while the line of soldiers and staff filled their mugs. She stopped in the shadow of what used to be the chapel’s entrance. Dead animal carcasses hung there under the Dragon’s rule. The captain and steward mumbled names and searched for them on a list.
Though no one said as much, Mary recognized it as a clever way to check the troops. Or identify who was in the castle. Was her name on that list? No one checked when the kitchen crew drew their morning ration earlier. And if her name wasn’t on the list, what would they do? She couldn’t run away. Sooner or later they would realize that she’d been here since before the Dragon arrived. At least she had an idea of how to deflect attention this time.
She breathed in and stepped into the line. Before she reached the keg, she turned to the table and announced, “This isn’t for me. It’s for the prisoner in the first dungeon. Cook sent me.”
“That’s right: Will of Uberbache.” Ulrich pointed toward the bottom of the document. Steward made a mark.
Mary turned away, holding the mug with both hands. Now she had to figure out how to fill it. The beer barrel sat on a stand with its tap three feet off the stone floor. If she set the mug down, it’d splash, but she couldn’t lift it with one hand and turn the tap. Just as she resigned herself to the splashing, a meaty hand reached around her and fastened itself on the tap.
“Lift mug,” a deep, familiar voice rumbled.
Mary obeyed, and the hand turned the tap. Once the foam reached the rim, the hand closed the tap. As she hugged the now-heavier stoneware to her, Mary turned to look. Her benefactor was Oaf, next in line, holding an equally large mug in one hand. Standing upright he was much taller than he looked crouching by the postern door.
“Thank you.” Mary bobbed her head, then scurried away toward the tower doors. The full mug was as heavy as one of her partly-filled water buckets. She heard a guard by the gate call out, “Guard sergeant. Got someone at the gate asking to come in.” She hurried to not be seen by whoever was arriving.
She carefully climbed to the level of the first dungeon and approached the door openly. A guard slouched across the passageway from the door. She lifted the mug and announced, “For the prisoner.”
“I might take a drink of that myself,” said the young man, whom Mary had often seen about the castle. “To make sure you’re not trying to poison the prisoner or sneak something in to him.” He winked as he slid the bar back and opened the door for her. He looked in. “Awake, you loafer. Kitchen girl’s brought your draught, and here you are lounging like fancy folks.”
Mary slipped into the room. She wasn’t sure how Will would react to her presence. He looked thinner after two nights without food in the second dungeon, but he didn’t look abused. She held out the mug. “Here’s your morning draught.”
“Breakfast.” Will’s lips smiled, but his eyes still looked worried. “How’s my favorite kitchen girl?”
“We can’t keep up without you. Neither Steward nor Captain Ulrich sent anyone else to help us.”
“Well, the Dragon will find out I’m a good sort and let me back to my duties soon enough. Just you hold on.”
Mary stared at him. “Do you believe that?”
“What else can I believe? What else … dare I believe?” Will stared at her, showing the enormity of his despair. “They must let me out. I’ve been loyal. I don’t know why the Dragon thinks I’m a spy or traitor.”
Heavy feet running up the stairs distracted both of them. Someone told the guard to secure the prisoner. The young man leaned in and looked at Mary. “Out. His nibs is having visitors soon.”
Mary bobbed her head and scurried away, running around the passage away from the stairs. At the first opportunity, she ducked around a post and climbed to the ceiling. She was exposed here, but this hall was dark and deserted. She moved quickly hoping to be gone before anyone happened by. She found the opening she sought and worked her way back toward the dungeon, using the same route she had when she talked to Will the day before. She could see nothing but felt the wood framing move as several men entered the dungeon.
“Will, you have a visitor.” The voice sounded like the Dragon, but Mary couldn’t understand why he would bear such tidings himself.
“Who’d visit me?”
“He calls himself ‘Rolf’ and claims to be your brother.”
“What’s he doing here?”
“My question exactly. Just yesterday I am posed with the mystery of your joining us so recently and, behold, this morning a boy appears at the gate claiming to be your brother and asking to speak with you. I don’t believe in happenstance as a mover of men’s actions, do you?”
“Uh, no, my lord.”
“And yet here is your brother. Tell you what I’m going to do, Will, I’ll go down and tell your brother that you’re indisposed and to come back later. In the spring, perhaps. What do you think of that? As opposed to my throwing him in here with you. Or maybe one of the deeper dungeons.”
“No, my lord. Rolf’s just a shepherd. He can’t mean you any wrong.”
“And you do mean me wrong?”
“No, my lord, I—I just mean that you should just send him away and—”
“Silence. I will keep my own council as to what I will or won’t do. While I question him, you need to think harder about that book. What you told the clerk was no help. That book, if I can find it, may verify your story. Think as if your life depended on it … for it may.”
Mary heard the door close, and the bar slide fast. She listened until the steps had gone and then a bit longer as she tried to puzzle out what she had heard. She sighed, then climbed out of her hiding place and sought her viewing spot above the hall.
Copyright © 2022 by Ron Andrea. All Rights Reserved.