Having made his decision the Fool slept peacefully until late the next day. Despite the promise of impending danger his heart was light as he dressed, eager to explain the decision to his hosts and be on his way.
On descending the stairs he met his host on the second landing. The Lord still appeared somewhat harassed, with a rather haunted and weary air about him, yet he smiled kindly at the Fool. They wished one another good morning, and the Fool explained his decision to travel back to the Tower.
"You are brave but I think perhaps a trifle foolish to make so hasty a decision. However, stay today at least my young friend. I myself must leave the estate on affairs of business but treat this as your home. All that you may find here is yours to use and enjoy. So farewell and let us exchange tales of our day this evening."
The Fool made his way to the banqueting hall which was abuzz with activity as preparations were made for another evening of festivity. The Lady of the house greeted him warmly and kissed his cheek with a conspiratorial smile.
"It is good to see you refreshed and so saucily attired," she laughed, playfully tugging at the Fool's coat which, being bright in hue and charmingly cut, set off his boyish figure to perfection and matched well his spirit that wintery morning.
"Good morning, my Lady and my thanks for your gracious hospitality. I slept better than I have done for many a night." The Fool took her hand and kissed it lightly.
"The view from my room I found truly inspiring, for I must say that gazing upon your estate, lit as it was by the brightest of stars I became aware of my true duty. Some ten days ago I made a vow to learn the secret of the Tower. In truth I have not met that promise, and although you have honoured me greatly, treated me as a hero in fact, I am not the man you believe me to be. Yet your belief has given me the courage to return to honour my obligation."
The Lady was not unimpressed by this show of bravery and yet the thought of losing so quickly such a brave and fascinating companion was not at all to her taste.
"Why, Fool you must not go back. There awaits you only horror and destruction. Stay here with us and keep me company through the long winter. I have many a courtier but they lack your experience. My husband the Lord lacks your good looks and is in any case too troubled by the problems of the estate to have time for me.
Also, he has left on business and taken with him the gate keys. Neither exit nor entry is possible until he returns.
Tomorrow's day break is in fact your last opportunity to take your leave. For tonight shall see the mid-winter full moon and from tomorrow until full moon's eve in mid-winter next year, the waters rise so deep around this accursed Castle that no person may breach them, to enter or to leave."
"Am I to understand that if I fail to leave by daybreak I must remain for the full year?" asked the Fool.
"Indeed," said the Lady, "You speak the truth."
"Then I am sad that my time with you is so limited," replied the Fool. "Yet, as this is the case, so much the greater reason for us to spend it well and enjoy these hours with which we are blessed with each other's company."
True to his word, the Fool remained firm in his decision to return to the Tower, yet spent the day laughing and joking with the Lady, her maids in honour and courtiers, as if he had no care in the world.
Late in the afternoon the Lord returned and all gathered once more in the main hall for feasting and singing. The wine flowed freely and the food was indeed both tasty and plentiful. The Fool, treated once again as the hero of the occasion, enjoyed himself laughing and joking with the best of them, despite a sense of his imminent departure. When the time came to retire he bid his hosts farewell, thanking them profusely since he fully expected this to be his last supper.
Once alone in his room the Fool was no longer quite so gay. He undressed, laying out carefully his clothes for the morning's journey, and donned once more his purple nightshirt. He turned to the window as he had done the previous night. This time, instead of stars twinkling invitingly, the full moon nestled among gathering clouds, shining harshly upon the waters of the lake which appeared to rise even as he watched, lapping in places against the castle wall.
Leaving the curtains open, allowing moonlight to illuminate his bed, the Fool retired, to lie once again between the silken sheets. This night was to be a long one and as he tossed, the wind howled and the sound of foxes calling to their mates reminded him of his impending fate - to be endured alone.
Lying half awake in the no-man's land of fantasy, strange yearnings stirred within him, tides of desire pulled as relentlessly as those mounting waters reaching towards the moon. He imagined the Lady again, naked in the moonlight, dressing, undressing, touching him. He could think only of her and occasionally he imagined his return in a year from now. Truly the hero this time, not a fake. Never before had the Fool been gripped by such desire. Passion was a new experience for him, or so his feeling for the Lady appeared to him. Yet to remain here for the year would ruin his chances with the Emperor, and in any case the Lord of the manor had first claim on her. There was nothing for it but to leave and make his own way in life.
As the night wore on the Fool fell into a troubled sleep. Elsewhere in the castle, a figure dressed in sheer, shimmering, organza crept stealthily down the corridors. On reaching the door to the Fool's chamber the Lady, for it was she, had no trouble opening the door and stealing to his bedside. So lightly the Fool slept, he sensed immediately her presence but feigned sleep for quite some time, so afraid was he of the Lady herself in the flesh as it were. Unable to continue his play any longer, the Fool made as if to stir. No sooner had he moved an arm than her lips were upon his, her body pressing upon him.
"Stay here with us, Fool. " she begged. "Venture not into the harsh world again. Outside lies only disappointment and heartbreak. Here, and only here, life will stay forever sweet, uncontaminated by hardship, free from burden and full with pleasure."
"Good morning, gracious Lady, "smiled the Fool, with an ease which belied the turbulent and conflicting emotions her presence had aroused. Yet he found honeyed words leaving his lips, though he himself could not hear them above the beating of his heart.
"Had I the choice, ten thousand wild horses would not drag me from your enchanting home. Yet I dance to the tune of a piper no less compelling than the moon, for my destiny is no longer in my keep."
As he spoke she leaned across him, placing one finger upon his mouth. Her robe revealed firm breasts which rose and fell as rapidly as his own heart, and her eyes, framed by the half-open curvingly lashed lids, showed pupils fattened by desire. She reached for the tassels which hung from the canopy above his bed.
"You need time to meditate, for you have merely an intention to leave, and cannot choose wisely until you have tasted what could be yours. If you have even a thought to stay I shall bind you here until daybreak. I will tie you gently but firmly, and you, fine Fool, will have no say in the matter. I crave amusement and much that I offer will bring you certain pleasures which, I suspect, you have not known before."
"Such a fate would tempt the sun itself to give up its restless travel and submit to your silken bonds," replied the hapless Fool as beads of perspiration broke out upon his brow. At that moment the sound of a footstep penetrated the tattoo wrought by his boiling blood. "But I could not love thee half as much, loved I not honour more!" he gulped. "My mind is made up and I leave at daybreak," he added, with more conviction than he would have thought possible.
She arose as if sensing his determination, no further words were exchanged, and kissing him gently she went on her way. Alone again, the Fool lay waiting for the first light of the day that would seal his fate, for good or ill.