Tina opened her mouth to speak and closed it again. There was no point.
She shut the door gently behind her, embarrassed that it should squeak so noisily in the silent house. Not that anyone would hear. The house was empty now that all the mourners had left. The windows in her former bedroom had long been shut. The curtains were drawn and the air was stuffy. In the dim light that filtered through the curtains, she recognised her bed. Dolls’ heads peaked from beneath the eiderdown, just as she’d left them years before. A tiny ball-gown hung from a hook beside the dresser, its blues and greens now faded with time. On the table beside the bed lay the books of her childhood: adventures, love stories, but above all tales of music.
“Oh Mother!” she said tentatively, her voice cracking at the mention of the tyrant. “How could you?”
Tina picked up the uppermost book and brushed the dust from the cover. Unsung heroes. She must have read the story twenty times. She knew it off by heart. A young girl wrongly condemned and locked in prison, sang songs at the bars of her cell till one day the prince heard her sing and, delighted by her voice, had come to release her.
Tina had admired that girl with all her heart. She at least had had the courage to sing despite her despair. Tina had always wanted to sing. But she couldn’t. Each time she tried, her throat constricted and her voice croaked. Had not her mother told her. She was hopeless at singing. She could still hear her mother’s words: “Your voice is a disaster. Never let me hear you sing again.”
Tina clenched her fists. She would willingly have screamed, but even that she couldn’t do. Instead, she pushed aside the dolls and curled up on her bed burying her head in the lace-bordered pillow to muffle her sobs. When her tears ceased, she listened to the sounds of birds singing outside till she finally slipped into sleep.
When she awoke, the birds sang on, but her soft bed was gone. In its stead was rough stone and a stench of urine and cabbage soup. She heaved herself to her feet, alarmed to find chains around her wrists and ankles. The room was in darkness, but for a narrow ray of sunlight that entered nearby. Dragging her chains with her, she made for the light.
Solid bars protected the small opening, preventing any escape. Standing on tip-toes she glimpsed a stone courtyard below a tiny square of blue sky. A flash of red caught her attention. Pulling herself higher with the aid of the bars, she saw the prince strolling thoughtfully across the courtyard. Stopping from time to time, he cocked his head to one side as if listening for something. She had to sing. Now was the time. But she couldn’t, she daren’t. Forcing her mouth open, she filled her lungs but no sound issued from between her parched lips. Desperate, she tried again, bracing every muscle in the effort. A feeble croak was all she could manage. The prince turned away and strode towards the exit.
Her fingers relinquished their hold on the bars and she slid down the wall her face and bare arms chaffing against the rough stone till she sank to the filthy floor where she curled up in dumb despair.