Four years had passed since Winter had been imprisoned.  Valenzuela thought about him and asked if his room was satisfactory.  “He’s been there four years now.  Is it satisfactory?”
“Actually, he’s only been there two years.” said Nikko.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know what happened, but he spent two years in the dungeon.”
“But I asked for him to be transferred!”
“Apparently the message didn’t get through?”
“Who’s responsible for that?”
“I don’t know.  The gaoler hadn’t received the message.  You know Hano is working there?”
“Hano? What is he doing there?”
“Cooking apparently.  The gaoler said that Hano told him about the room change.  I don’t know if Hano knew and withheld the information or whether he’d only just found out.  I’ll look into it, don’t worry.”
Valenzuela looked concerned.  “That’s odd, and I’m not pleased.  Two years in the dungeon?” She frowned and sighed.  “But he’s definitely out of there now?”
“For the past two years, yes.”
Valenzuela nodded.  “Good.”

Meanwhile, over at the prison, Winter often thought about his family, and dreamed about his wife.

He spent his time studying.

Elle still missed her husband terribly.

She realised she had no idea how long Winter would be imprisoned.  Was it for life?  She decided to go and visit the queen.

“Elle is here to see you.”
Valenzuela looked at Nikko blankly.
“Winter’s wife.”
“She’s asking about Winter, of course.  She wants to know how long his sentence is.”
“Has no-one told her?”
“It seems not.”
“The poor woman!  I’ll go and tell her.” Valenzuela got up and headed for the door.
Valenzuela turned. “What?”
Nikko paused.  “Tell her the sentence is 20 years.”
“What? But it’s not!  It’s only 10 years.”
“Yes, but she doesn’t know that.  If you tell her 10 years, she will plead and you won’t be able to give her any better news.  If you say 20 years, she will plead and you can appear to give in and show mercy.”
“Nikko!  That’s dishonest!”
“She will feel grateful to you.”
“She will think I am cruel – 20 years!”
“Fifteen then.”
Valenzuela frowned at Nikko, then left to see Elle downstairs.

“Please, your majesty!  How long will be husband be… when will I see him again?”  Elle had been crying.
Valenzuela paused.  “Fifteen years.”
Elle cried out in anguish.  “No!  No, please!  That’s another 11 years!” she sunk to the ground.  Valenzuela got up from the throne and came down to her.  She put her hand on Elle’s shoulder then pulled her up.  Elle looked up at her, her eyes swollen with tears.  “You have taken my son from me, you have taken my husband from me, what more do you want?  Why are you so cruel?  What has he done to deserve this?”
Valenzuela let her go and stepped back.  She was stern.  “You know what he did.  Not only did he break the rules of the kingdom, he stormed in here and tried to attack me.  That is an offence normally punishable by death or at least life imprisonment.  Perhaps I should increase his sentence to 20 years.”
This brought another cry of anguish from Elle and renewed sobbing.  Valenzuela let her cry for a while until she calmed down.
“Majesty… ” Elle gasped, suppressing another sob “Please.. can I… can I at least visit my husband?  He… he’s missing out… on his daughters…”
“I’m sorry, Elle.  He is not allowed visitors.”
Elle slumped and covered her face.  She cried softly.  Valenzuela waited for a time.
“Elle” Valenzuela’s soft tone made Elle look up.
“Your loyalty and emotion have touched me.”
A tear rolled down Elle’s cheek.
“I will reduce his sentence to 10 years.”
Elle covered her mouth and cried again, this time with something closer to joy.
“Thank you!  Oh, thank you, majesty!”She clasped her hand to her chest, her head bowed.  Valenzuela placed a hand on her shoulder and Elle looked up at her.  Valenzuela merely nodded and pushed her gently to go.  Elle nodded in return and turned to leave “Thank you!” She stumbled out, wiping her eyes.
Nikko joined Valenzuela and watched Elle leave.  “Well done.”  Valenzuela felt no joy at what had just happened.  But at least it made Elle feel slightly better.  She understood Nikko’s reasoning.

Another two years passed.  Winter had no idea how long he was in prison for.  When Hano brought food in one day, Winter asked in desperation.  Hano merely smiled.  “Twenty years, I think… or maybe life.” he added cruelly.

Winter suppressed a cry of anguish.  He had already missed his girls growing up.  He estimated that Hivera must now be a teenager.  If he ever saw his family again, he would be an old man.  He cried quietly in the middle of the night.  How could he go on?

Hivera had indeed grown to a teenager.

Primavera had taken an interest in boys and would soon go to university.

Elle was heading for middle age.

She estimated she just had to wait four more years to see her husband again.  She would wait patiently.


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