We passed a corridor that looked exactly like all the others, walking in frigid silence ahead of the Inquisitor. My skin crawled like the maggots had got to it already. Not that there would be enough of me left for the maggots to take.
“The fire will not take us.”
You’re awfully confident of that.
Aidan broke the silence before Grannine could continue.
“They must be busy in the armory,” he said, behind us. “Preparing for the day. Have you been yet, Edwyrd? I imagine I’ll go after this and collect my armor.”
The Inquisitor wore no armor, only a long red and black coat, forked at the end, cut for mobility. I glared at his shoulder blades, entertained a very detailed and specific fantasy about how his blood would run down the seams.
The Inquisitor stopped. I almost ran into him, and the nearness of him froze the breath in my lungs.
He turned and extended a hand.
“Go,” he said. “I will take this to the dungeons.”
This. My lip curled. My palms burned, and cold, clammy sweat ran beneath my woolen waistcoat.
“I couldn’t impose,” Aidan said. “Please allow me to fulfil my duty.”
“I insist.” The Inquisitor half-turned, looking past me, to Aidan. Looking at his face was worse. It moved and breathed like a man ought, but there was a hollowness to him like a rabid animal.
Aidan didn’t hesitate in the slightest. I didn’t bear him any ill will for that. Hesitation would have damned us.
What I did resent was that he hadn’t trusted me with the key before we entered the fortress. Or a knife. Or fucking anything else, for that matter.
The Inquisitor stepped around me like I was made entirely of shit.
He took the rope that bound my hands.
“Thank you, Edwyrd.”
“Blessed be the peacekeepers,” the Inquisitor said, and I had never hated anything more than I hated his voice speaking those words. “Go with God, Sir Aidan.”
“And you, Inquisitor,” Aidan said. He walked away without hesitation, shouldering through the doors. That must be the way to the armory. I hope you’re paying attention, lass. I’ve not got the faintest idea of which way we’re going now.
“Walk,” the Inquisitor ordered.
I shuddered all over with the effort of restraining myself from turning around and punching him in the face. But to do so would be death. And worse, it would mean abandoning what remained of our plan.
I walked on ahead, trying to put as much of the length of the rope as possible between myself and the Inquisitor without giving him an excuse to yank on it, because if he yanked on the rope, I felt as if I might snap and charge him.
No key. No weapon. So, essentially, instead of pretending to be captured and imprisoned for execution, we’re just being captured and imprisoned. And eventually, if we fail to escape, we‘ll be executed. Lovely.
I coughed, choked, tried desperately to force air through my throat, and realized I was facedown on the floor, somewhere between lying and kneeling.
“Up,” the Inquisitor said.
I was up on my feet before I was really at all aware of moving, and I lurched to a halt without even thinking about doing so. Every muscle in my body locked up, and the sensation of intense cold flooded my limbs. Midwinter cold, cold as the blue of the Inquisitor’s eyes.
I hadn’t stopped myself. Very faintly, as if in the back of my head, I felt Grannine withdraw, and the feeling came back to my fingertips. Her absence left a feeling of warmth, but a swollen, wounded kind of warmth, the heat of a split lip, a sickly sensation.
I was two feet away from the Inquisitor, and while he still held the rope in his right hand, his left was on the hilt of a sword.
Six inches of blade glimmered above the mouth of his scabbard.
“I would much rather see you graced with God’s justice,” the Inquisitor said, and this time I was ready, able to restrain myself, to hold back from trying to crush his nose with my forehead. “But if you give me even the slightest excuse, revenant, I will smite you, and the familiar you carry in your black heart, and you will both be deprived of God’s judgment and sent shrieking into the Void.”
“Well,” I said, and I felt very aware of every muscle in my neck and throat as I tried to keep from ripping his tongue out with my teeth. “That’d be a shame, wouldn’t it?”
It was a struggle, getting my mouth to close, to control the wolf smile on my features. It was Eris, of all things, that grounded me, the memory of her on that fucking stoop back in Caer Liath. The memory came back crystalline, the fire in her voice and the warmth of the sun on my skin, with a clarity I could not have mustered on my own.
The Inquisitor sheathed his sword.
“Walk,” he ordered. “And do not insult me again by consorting with your familiar in my presence, or I will consign you to the hellfire you wield.”
Hellfire? If only.
We passed through a set of double doors and down a flight of stairs.
The walls changed. From white stone to grey.
We passed through another set of doors.
The halls grew darker. The sconces were still evenly placed, but now only one or two were lit by oil, the others holding unlit torches, or nothing at all. Shadows danced unevenly, making the way even harder to recall. Lass, are you there?
We passed through a final set of double doors, and this time instead of a four-way intersection, there was just the one iron door, with a heavy viewing slit.
I stopped. The Inquisitor let go of the rope. I remained where I was, holding every muscle still and trying not to think. I listened to my heart. Beating fast. Blood hissed in my ears, or maybe that was the lass, making Herself known.
The Inquisitor struck the door with the palm of his hand. Iron rang as if he’d hit it with a battering ram.
The viewing slit did not open. Someone on the other side of the door fumbled with the bolts in a blessedly human fashion, undoing a chain, a bar, and one of Teague’s new padlocks, judging by the sound.
The door swung open. A very nervous man in Church livery stood there, poorly shaven and fat, with scars on his hands and a sword and cudgel on his belt. A ring of keys swung on his hip. I would have said he had a cruel face, if it hadn’t been pale with fear.
Behind him, a long hallway, forty feet of dark lit by a single torch that only illuminated the near end. Iron bars gleamed, the cells open-sided, a set of cages that occupied the room rather than being built into it. An afterthought. Like animals.
“A cell,” the man-shaped monster said.
“Of c-c-course,” the guard didn’t, quite, keep from stammering. He rushed down the hall.
Three cells occupied. Daily executions must have kept things moving quickly.
The first cell held a thin figure that said nothing, only huddled broken in one corner. The second held a corpse in a pool of blood. The last cell played host a figure in tattered rags that knelt on the straw-covered floor, hands clasped and shaking. The smell of iron, piss, and death hung in the air above the smoke.
Our brave guard fumbled with the fourth cell. Nearly dropped the keys before he got the thing to catch.
“Walk,” the Inquisitor said.
I was almost glad to hear the bolt slam home. It was the safest I’d felt since the Inquisitor had appeared. I turned around, to look the thing in the eyes, and a part of me regretted doing so. Even looking at him felt unclean, contaminated, provoking the same squeamish warning as rotten meat.
“Just an hour too late for today’s execution,” the Inquisitor said. No emotion. “Be patient. Justice will be done.”
He turned and walked away without a word, left me standing there shaking in every limb. His absence warmed me like the sun coming out from behind the clouds, a tangible relief. I dropped to my knees with the force of it, didn’t even mind bruising them on the iron bars underfoot.
Iron bars underfoot. Not even a proper cell. Eight feet tall and four feet on a side, a space enclosed in hammered iron, held together by bolts. Not enough room to lie down fully, only enough to huddle in a ball. A hutch for wild heretics.
The Church soldier shot a nervous look at me. Scurried back up to his chair by the door.
I let out a long breath, heaved once, and threw up on the floor. Luckily I hadn’t eaten much, so it was only the familiar taste of bile, and most of it settled in a puddle beneath the bars, out of reach. Luxury.
The door to the prison closed. The jailor shut the door behind our Inquisitor, bolted it, barred it.
I was trapped beneath Bridgeport, unarmed, hands tied, locked in a cage within a cage.
All according to plan.