Of the nearly eighty female prisoners that had answered my request, I had narrowed my choices down to two of them. The first was a voluptuous, porcelain-skinned brunette that would make my brother drool in seconds. The second was a golden-haired, frail little piece of work, and normally I would have dismissed her during the first round of eliminations, but something kept her there. Maybe it was the way she stared at me with her venomous green eyes, but I couldn't be sure. In any case, I had my two choices set before me, each isolated in separate cells on opposite ends of the jail so that I might observe them more personally.
I turned to the prison guard. "What can you tell me about this one?" I was starting with the brunette.
"Number 67," he practically spat. "Don't believe a word she tells you. She's as good a liar as they come."
I wondered at what sort of lies she had told the guard because clearly he had believed them. Perhaps she had said he wasn't quite so fat or offered to show him the night of his life if only he would let her out for a little while. He'd have to provide the product first and then she'd make good on her deal, but I wager she never did.
"What else?" I prodded, watching as 67 curled languidly around the sparse padding of her cell. I'm sure she hiked up her tunic on purpose.
"There have been rumors around the prison that she is in fact a demon in disguise," the guard continued, patting his girth.
This latest bit of information made me chuckle. I'm sure most of these rumors came from my portly friend.
"Is that so?" I said with a grin, nudging the guard in the shoulder.
"You can laugh, sir, all you'd like, but if it were up to me, you'd forget about this one and choose another for your brother's next plaything."
Plaything? My brother was doing these women a favor, having me pick one out every year for his birthday for the past eleven years to live as his servant. It not only saved them from prison, but it put a roof over their heads, put food in their bellies, and on the occasions when my brother was careless, he'd sometimes put a child there too. Sometimes he kept them on, sometimes he sold the women to other families, and sometimes he'd have them killed if they became too much of a hassle, but no one really investigated that detail. It was a public service if anything.
"I thank you for your warnings," I said graciously, "but if I may, I'd like a few minutes alone with 67. To get to know her a little better"
The guard huffed. "Suit yourself."
He took me to the barred door, unlocked it, and left it wide enough for me to slip in. He locked it behind me and began to walk away.
"Aren't you going to keep an eye out? These ARE prisoners, you know," I called over my shoulder, curious as to the guard's breaking of protocol.
"You've dug your own grave with this one," he called back, disappearing around a corner. "Call for me when you're ready." His voice faded away.
I turned my attention to 67. The beauty was lying on her stomach on a threadbare mat in the far corner of her cell. She was twining her hair between her fingers, trying to make it attractive though the stone walls of prison weren't conducive to the effort. The tunic had bunched above her knees revealing shapely, albeit dirty legs. What had she done to get herself thrown in here?
I was about to begin my series of questions when she spoke first.
"I'm not a demon," she purred. "They really say I'm a witch."
"Is that why you were put in jail?" I ask, pacing the door of the cell, watching her curl her limbs around in a way that would best show off her dazzling, poverty-free figure. She must have been a fairly new inmate to have it at all.
"They say I'm guilty of bewitching men," she replied, her cobalt eyes fixated on me. "They say I can do it with just a touch of my hands or a kiss of my lips."
"They also say you're a liar," I chuckled, continuing my walk around the cell.
"Apparently they say a lot of things."
"I'd like to know what the truth is. I can't take you home if I don't."
She pouted a little. "You make me sound like I'm a puppy."
"If it makes you feel any better, you're the pick of the litter."
She rolled her eyes. "And they call ME the liar."
I was becoming impatient with the little minx. She was a treat to look at and my brother would have all sorts of fun with her, but she seemed like the wrong kind of crazy. She was a criminal without real purpose. Boring. It was time to move on.
"Guard!" I called and immediately I heard a clanking of keys approaching.
"Wait!" she gasped, rising to her feet only to fall down on her knees in front of me. "I can give you anything you'd like. They say I'm a witch, and I am! Anything you'd like!"
I left the desperate witch behind and moved towards the second of my choices, who was hopefully much better than the first.
"What can you tell me about this one?" I began again, desiring better results.
"Not much to say," the guard began, leading me to her cell. "Number 13 is quiet. Keeps to herself. You won't have any trouble from her."
As before, the guard let me into the cell of the woman and left me. His excuse this time was that she was too timid to do anything. He could leave the door open himself and she wouldn't leave. He said she was an honest criminal who'd owned up to her crimes and was willing to serve the time. I'm sure that was the reason and it wasn't lunchtime that he was hurrying to.
13 was sitting in the middle of the cell with her bony knees pulled up to her chest, her tunic wrapped tightly around her, trying to cover up as much of her as she could manage. Her hair hung close to her shoulders like an additional cloak. She was rail-thin and filthy; clearly she'd been here for a long time. Unlike with 67, I'd have to be the one to start the conversation.
"So how'd you end up in here?" I asked, getting down on the ground to sit across from her. She seemed nervous, and I wanted to soothe some of her worries. I was a friend.
"They say I'm guilty of bewitching men," she answered quietly, her eyes on the floor. "They say I can do it with just a touch of my hands or a kiss of my lips."
I was taken aback. I was far away from 67's cell; there was no way she could have heard that, yet I was hearing the same phrases verbatim.
"Is that so?" I asked. Part of me was amused while part was perplexed.
"They really say I'm a witch."
It couldn't have been a coincidence that she'd repeated another series of 67's words. It must have been a plot between the women to tease me; there was no other solution. My yearly visit was always a popular ritual.
"The guard says I'm honest," she continued, finally speaking words that I hadn't already heard. "You could ask me anything. I always know the truth."
"Tell me a truth that you know, then," I said, rising to my feet and moving closer to the door. 13 was another wrong kind of crazy, but this one bothered me a lot more than the other had.
"I know that you're going to pick me and take me to your brother," she said, unflinching even though I'd moved away. "And I know that I will make him unhappy and he will try to kill me and put me in the well like he did the others that made him unhappy. But he won't succeed."
That was it. I was leaving. There was no way she could have known that. I yelled for the guard, but I barely got the first sound out. 13 was behind me, her bony hand clamped over my mouth.
"They say I'm guilty of bewitching men," she whispered, pulling a key out from inside her tunic. She pressed it into the palm of my hand, and I unlocked the door for us. "They say I can do it with just a touch of my hands or a kiss of my lips."