For at least an hour the path, still passing through the wood, had been leading along a high stone wall, a few thicket-filled yards to my right. I knew that behind this wall had to be the castle gardens, and somewhere the castle itself, but neither sight nor sound gave anything away about their existence. Not even treetops could be seen behind the wall, and no birds could be heard from the other side.
The road led gently upwards. To my left, the ground was equally gently sloping down, but the wood was too dense to allow a view of the valley that might have lain below, or the landscape beyond. After having walked along the wall for maybe half an hour, I came to a place where the uniformity of the wood and the wall was broken thrice.
First, in the wall there was a small door. It was a solid door, and it had no handle to open it from the outside. I did not have to try it to know that it was locked.
Then, to my left, maybe thirty feet away from the wall, there was a small spring, a rock with a metal pipe in it, from which a stream of clear water flowed into a stone basin that was about one foot deep, two feet wide and four feet long; from the basin, a rivulet followed the direction down, away from the path, deeper into the wood.
And third, down the path of the rivulet, just visible through the trees, was a glade, and a small wooden hut in it. I smelled a whiff of smoke before I saw the smoke coming out of the hut's chimney. It carried with it a delightful scent of roast meat that made me aware of my hunger. I carried some food with me, but I also carried some coins, and I decided to ask whoever lived there if for a fair price they let me join their meal. Before I went, I knelt down next to the spring and drank from its cold and fresh water.
It was a solitary old man who lived in the hut, and he offered me his hospitality, and he even refused to take my money — he had all he needed, he said, and food was plenty.
There was nothing unusual in his hut, with one exception, a very surprising sight in the middle of a wood: one wall was covered with drawings. All the drawings were done in black and white, and they all showed women, sometimes only their faces, sometimes also their bodies — they were all naked. All the women were pretty, though some looked tired, or worn out, but some had an expression of quiet and peace on their faces that made their beauty stand out from the others.
"Have you drawn those?" I asked.
"It is what I am here for," he said.
"Who are those women?" I asked, curious, "where do you meet them?"
"Where I meet them? Well, here of course, I never leave this place. And who they are? Who they've been before I do not know, but when they come here, through that door in the wall, they are the Prince's discharged concubines."
"He sends them to you?" I asked, incredulously.