“You have done well tonight,” says the Lord, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He is a large, ugly man.
“I have had nothing but time,” replies his wife. She is sprightly, with a child’s face. But she does not smile.“Winters last long upon the mountain. You will grow used to them.”
“Yes, my Lord.”
* * *
It is twilight again. Shadows lie like snow in the deep crevices. The table is set for dinner.
“You look sad, wife.”But the Lady Delia does not answer as she stirs the wilted beans about her plate.
“I know you must miss your family. When spring comes, you can visit them. You see how lonely I was before we wed. It was only I in this castle, alone. But now you are here. Let us enjoy the long winter together.”
The Lady nods demurely. “Of course.”
The Lord sips his wine. “Do you hate me?”
There is no answer.
* * *
It is twilight again. Shadows lie heavy in the halls, like a pregnant woman upon her bed. The table is set for dinner.
The Lord is distracted. He has brought papers from his study, and he is scrawling out astronomical calculations.
“Why have you no servants?” the Lady asks.
The Lord reaches a satisfying answer. “Yes, I’m right. That must be the explanation for the star’s retrograde motion….”
“Husband,” the Lady says, her voice golden, “why have you no servants?”
“You know why. The curse. This is an empty castle.”
“But if there were a child?”
He looks up at her. “It would die.”
“My mother died instead. That is the choice. I will not allow it to happen to you.”
* * *
It is twilight again. Shadows lie cold and shivering in the corners, huddled for warmth. The table is dispensed with. The Lord and Lady sit near the blazing fire.
“More?” The Lady pours wine into her husband’s empty cup.
“Thank you.” His speech is slurred. “I—I don’t know how I lived here, alone. Before I married, it was just me. And the bats. So much work and sweat. You’re beautiful, you know. I was afraid you’d hate me. There’s so much misery in my family tree… But—you’re smiling. It’s not winter when you smile. Even in this blasted storm, I don’t feel so cold.”
“That’s the wine.”
“Is it?” He studies his half-empty cup. “Maybe it is. More then.”
The Lady hesitates. “Surely, you’ve had enough.”
“More—to keep us warm?”
She makes a decision. “Of course, husband.” And she fills his cup.
* * *
It is twilight again. Shadows lie sad and barren like corpses in their graves. The table is set for dinner, but the Lord’s food is untouched.
He is coughing as he tries to swallow a sliver of mountain goat. He reaches, trembling, for his wine, to wash it down. His wife does not look at him, but concentrates on her food.
With a final hack, the Lord gains control of himself. “You are very pale.”
“As are you,” answers the Lady.
“Are you afraid?”
“Of what, husband?”
“This sickness. It’s nothing unusual, I assure you. It’s the cold that causes it. I won’t leave you alone.”
“I know,” the Lady says. “You love me too much.”
“I do,” he says. The coughing starts up again.
* * *
It is twilight. Shadows loom over the rooms like the hand of Death. The table has not been set in days. The Lord lays in his bed.
The Lady holds his cold hand. She is crying.
“I….” She finds it difficult to speak. She could not tell him when he was alive; she must tell him in death. “I had to. Bit by bit. In the wine you loved. I hated you when I first married you, but now I.… But I had to. The curse—the curse, that only two can live in the castle, that only two can survive in the family line….”
She touches her belly. She is just beginning to show.
The candle goes out. It is night.
This story has been sponsored by Summer Moser.