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Mercy

In the end, they did not shut the princess up alone.
It had been discussed. But a few of the advisors of the king's court had seen prisoners dragged from cells after years of speaking to no one but their guards, if that. Prisoners who had not seen the sun. The princess was disobedient, yes, but she could still be useful--perhaps. If she was not driven insane.
If she still had some capacity for human speech.
If she could be reminded that she was still a princess.
No. She could not be imprisoned in the darkness alone.
That left the choice of her companion. A member of the nobility--one familiar with the proper manners that the princess would need to maintain, afterwards--would be the best, and certainly, the court had more than enough duchesses and countesses of questionable virtue whose imprisonments would be--well, perhaps not justified, but understandable. On the other hand, many of these ladies had powerful relatives, or could--potentially--be useful. Politically, at least. No one wanted to chance losing that. And of course, such ladies--even those in royal service--would know nothing of the daily chores of caring for a princess. Not that these chores would be all that burdensome, in those five tiny rooms, in the dark, without a single hint of sun or stars.
But still. Appearances had to be maintained.
A servant, then. But not too lowly of one--again, appearances had to be maintained, and the princess could not be allowed to coarsen her speech in the interim. Especially since she would not be allowed books--the king had forbidden that, and in any case, fires and candles were hardly safe in a prison without windows. Eventually, they found one--a maid who had been caught playing with the jewelry of a countess. To clean it, the maid said, but the countess claimed that her jewels needed no cleaning. It was enough.
They congratulated themselves on their mercy, then pushed the princess in gently, and the maid after her, less gently.
The princess screamed. A last farewell to her prince, perhaps.
The maid did not. She had never met a prince, perhaps.
It was discussed, of course, in whispers, with some speaking of the hardened emotions of maids, and others, knowing something of the princes of the court and the maids, keeping their silence. But soon, the court had other concerns. War, pestilence, famine--the last two not touching the court very much, protected as they were behind walls and gardens and coin, but still, matters to be discussed.
And if, years later, they found themselves locked in their own luxurious rooms, unable to emerge, their cries for food and water growing weaker each day--well. They never blamed it on mercy. After all, they told themselves, they had received none.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, October 15th, 2018

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