One day, Nobs came to Winter, a rarity in itself. He only delivered the food and usually went without a word. This time, he hung around.
“You’re free to go.”
Winter was stunned into silence. Did he hear right? “What?” he croaked. He had barely used his voice in nine years.
“Your time is up. The queen allowed you to leave a year early.”
“A year early? How long have I been here? Hano said 20 years.”
“Hano? That fool is dead. He died last night. 66 he was. He told you 20 years? He was jesting. The sentence was 10 years. He told me he’d told you.”
Winter merely shook his head. What was happening? He couldn’t take it in.
“I can go?”
Nobs nodded. “We’ll drop you off.”
“Your home, of course.”
Home? Home. He still had one. Had Elle waited for him or somehow got an annulment and remarried? Perhaps she had found someone else. All these thoughts went through his head as he was led away.
And suddenly, there he was. After all that time in one little room, the world was his again. He stood, looking at his home, anxious at what he’d find. Presumably his family still lived there.
He slowly made his way across the moat and up the steps.
Inside the castle, Primavera was sharing a story of life at university with Hivera. She had just returned and had told her mother of the man she met there, a man named Edmund. They had got engaged, much to Elle’s delight. Soon the house would be full again.
Primavera was telling a funny story about him to Elle. She was able to laugh. The young man sounded delightful.
Just then, Primavera saw an old man standing behind her mother. “Mother!…”
Elle saw the look of shock on Primavera’s face and slowly turned to follow Primavera’s shocked gaze.
Winter came closer and gazed at Elle. Was she the same? She was older… “Winter?” Elle could not believe her eyes. How he had aged!
“You wear widow’s weeds?”
They were silent for a moment, gazing. Elle touched him gently, as if checking he was real.
Then the spell of shock was broken and they hugged.
Primavera was so happy for them both.
It was only when Winter and Elle were kissing that Winter registered who was watching them.
He broke off in shock. “Primavera?” She was an adult!
Primavera was so happy to see her father again. She squeezed him tight.
Then Winter noticed Hivera who stood up from where she was sitting.
“Hello father.” she said shyly. “Hivera…” she had grown from the small girl he’d left behind. He was amazed. She looked more like her grandmother.
Then he hugged her fiercely. He was home!
Winter couldn’t believe how much he had missed out on. It was all like a dream, one that he had had often enough in prison.
Primavera made a flaming dessert for them all to eat in celebration.
They sat as a complete family for the first time in over ten years.
They shared all the events that had happened, but Winter was only half listening. It was all so overwhelming after 9 years of silence and loneliness.