Mary squinted her eyes and fought the tears. All she did was sleep and cry. Her fingers and toes hurt so badly. She wanted to rub her toes, but Stefan had strictly warned her not to touch them. They hurt, they hurt, they hurt. If she thought it would remove the pain, she’d break them off herself. She shivered at the thought.
She heard voices in the hall. The latch bar slid back.
“You better appreciate all we’re doing for you.” Meg pushed her way in carrying three small mugs, two of which steamed. “And you leaving just us to do all the cookin’.”
“Thank you.” She suspected Meg brought Mary’s rations to get out of work, not as any sacrifice. But she also knew Meg liked to gossip. Since there was no one no one else to talk to, Meg would do. Mary waited as she set the mugs of water, small beer and broth on the table. This must be her dinner. Since they took her lamp, she couldn’t even gauge time by the oil level.
“Can’t I have real food?”
“This is what Stephan said.”
“Why? Why can’t I have real food?”
“Don’t know. Be happy to get this. Hard enough feeding all them other folks, without me having to nurse you.”
“Isn’t Will helping you?”
“That one be no help to anyone. Yeah, he’s there, but he’s mostly in and out toting things. Cook asked for Irmele to be sent back, but I don’t expect to see that one stooping to no work. Too fancy for us, now that she’s been among the men. No good. That’s what she is. So she ain’t gonna come.”
Mary wasn’t so sure Irmele numbered among the fancy folks. Being fancy didn’t make them all bad. Mary had carried food to the wives of the officers. They ignored her, but they weren’t mean, like Meg. Mary remembered a tall, pale lady who was nice to her. Giving her that ribbon and soft, white bread. Years ago. “Well, you’ve got Will anyway.”
“Ain’t seen him tonight. I suspect he’s trying to find out about his brother.”
“What about Will’s brother?”
“He came in an hour ago. All cold and covered with snow.”
“Why would they bring him back when they chased him away yesterday?” She suspected even Meg knew Mary had been out to meet him when she froze her fingers and toes. But she wasn’t going to confirm it because Meg talked to everybody. “He’s come back?”
“Come back? Dragged back, more like it. Took him right up to see the Dragon, too.” Meg made a funny sign with her fingers. “And that ain’t all. Just now they brought in some old man.”
“Who?” Mary wondered whether this would be the mysterious Jordanes.
“Don’t know. Took him up to the Dragon’s fancy room. Nothing good never comes from goin’ there.”
“You best drink that before it gets cold.” Meg pointed at the no longer steaming mugs.
“You have to help me.” Mary raised her bandaged fingers.
“I ain’t no body servant to the likes of you. Serve yourself.” Meg stood and turned away. At the door she looked back. “You best make yourself real small like. I suspicion you ain’t going to be in here much longer.”
Mary stared at the door after Meg left. What did she mean by that?
Her more immediate concern was how to drink from these mugs. She was on her own. Mary wiggled in the bed until she was sitting upright. Trying to keep her fingers extended, she clasped the broth mug between the palms of her hands. It was still hot. No one had ever brought the warm bricks Cook ordered. She suspected that was Meg’s doing. She let the heat soak in until her fingers hurt more.
Transferring her hands to the small beer, she palmed that mug and raised it carefully. She breathed in the warm, toasted grain smell. Her first sip revealed this was watered dark beer. Regardless, she emptied the mug so quickly that she was gasping for breath after.
She repeated the process with the warm broth, leaving the water for later. As it was, she was taking in plenty of liquid. Her immediate question was how she would get rid of it.
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