Winter disappeared after the meal. Elle had gone to change out of her black dress and came back to find him gone. She was worried. Where had he gone? “He went outside, for some fresh air, I expect.” said Primavera.
They found him outside at the roadside. He seemed to have gone quite mad. He was begging for money.
Primavera gently guided him inside and drew a bath for him. She worried, but not as much as Elle, who was beside herself. He had seemed sane, but perhaps he wasn’t?
However, the bath seemed to work its magic. Winter was glad to have a long bath and get out of the clothes he’d worn for years. Luckily they had been good quality and lasted, but he couldn’t wait to shed them. It was a luxury to wear clean, soft clothes again. He apologised to Primavera after she asked if he were alright. “I’m fine. I don’t know what came over me…” He didn’t know why he had gone to the roadside and begged. Perhaps he thought he was dreaming, still.
He joined Elle in the bedroom afterwards, feeling more human after the bath. Elle wondered if he had become a raving lunatic, yet he seemed quite calm and “normal”. She waited, apprehensive. Perhaps he would have bouts of insanity. It was too early to tell. Her mind was busy with worried thoughts. Yet Winter spoke to her, and everything seemed normal.
They talked for a bit, Winter, hearing about the latest in the realm, how Arya had married the big yellow-haired man that Winter remembered from the castle, how Silencia had had an illegitimate daughter, that Yohanes’ son was now a teenager. Winter grunted. “The older prince is now a teenager too, I think.” she was saying.
“Older prince? How many are there?”
“Two of course. Just two. The queen had sons.”
Winter burst out laughing. He hadn’t laughed in such a long time, it quite astonished him. It made Elle smile despite her surprise. Perhaps he was mad. She thought he’d be angry. She relaxed a little, but gave him a questioning look.
“Come here.” His voice was still a little croaky. He didn’t seem to care about the princes. Elle moved closer to him.
“Did I ever tell you that I love you?” he whispered to her unexpectedly. She gazed into his eyes.
No, he wasn’t mad. He was her husband. He was hers, back home at last. Elle thought this must be the happiest day of her life.
The next day Hivera left for the school. Elle accompanied her, but was worried about leaving Winter. Primavera said she’d keep an eye on him.
“Will father be alright? asked Hivera once at the school. Elle could only nod and pat Hivera’s shoulder. She was so overcome with emotion, she couldn’t say anything without crying. She was still worried.
The new headmaster of the school, none other than Rick Contrary, father of Silencia’s daughter, waved Elle goodbye, assuring her of Hivera’s well-being.
Back at the castle, Winter appeared to be perfectly fine, Primavera thought. She had given him a haircut at his request and he had changed into better clothing.
That evening Winter was missing yet again. “Where is he?” Elle asked of Primavera. She took her mother by the hand and led her outside. She pointed to her father standing under a tree by the moat. Elle turned a worried face to her daughter. “Go to him.” Primavera said softly.
Elle approached Winter apprehensively. Was he having another bout of insanity? Yet he wasn’t begging or acting strangely. “What are you doing out here?”
“Just having some time.. out here…” he indicated the world around him. “I… I was surrounded by four walls…”
Elle interrupted him. “I understand.” She had been imprisoned herself when she had given birth to…. she quickly suppressed the memory…
“Promise me..” she said. “Promise me you’ll never do anything…”
“I promise.” Winter said before she could go on. He silenced her with a kiss.
“I should have listened to my father…”
Elle was so happy. She hugged Winter tight to her. All would be right with the world.