The sound of horns came echoing down the cold stone corridor. Lhorrenhelm was opening its harbour to an incoming ship. There were voices too, but he couldn’t pick out what they were saying.
“How long will they keep us here?” Jamie asked his comrades. Felicia’s amethyst hung cold against his chest.
“Until they have decided what to do with us,” said Hektor.
“Until they hang us,” said Mavis.
“Until you die,” said the darkness. The man in the cell next to them was such a torment, Jamie wondered whether the guards had placed him there to drive prisoners mad. The man the voice belonged to gave a different name every time they asked it of him, and seemed to want nothing more than to dampen their spirits even lower than they had fallen. He spoke often of death.
The trio had been half-dragged, half-carried through the city square gates and up the steps to the High Keeper’s tower. There was a moment where Jamie thought the guards were taking them to the High Keeper herself, and he had smiled in relief. It had not lasted long. The guards took them down, down, over steps carved into the stone of the headland on which the tower stood. Their possessions were taken from them – food, tools, weapons all. The small bag of rings brought a grim expression to the guards’ faces when they seized it, and in a second of panic Jamie had cried “Shalsa! Shalsa and the raiders. The Oyen is with them!” but the guards merely stared at him and locked the bars shut. The darkness had laughed and welcomed them to his home.
It was the third morning since their capture, judging by the sliver of light that was poking through the slit of a window down the corridor. It was the only other light besides a torch that flickered a few cells down. Mavis had spent most of his time pacing. Hektor, bickering with the darkness. Jamie, staring into the barred hole in the center of their cell that plunged out of sight. He had no idea how deep it went, but at times he thought he heard waves crashing below.
“She wont talk to you. She don’t talk to crazies,” said the darkness.
“Shut your mouth,” said Hektor. His voice was hoarse.
“Hehe, you’re crazier than me. Crazier than old Yanny. They hung him,” said the darkness.
“Gods, would you shut it?” Hektor rubbed his eyes, clearly frustrated.
“Yanny-yilly, swinging silly, hanging in the wind, hehe!” the darkness sang. He clapped at delight when Hektor cursed him, his mother, and his mother’s mother.
“Lyca,” Mavis said. “Gods above and below, Jamie, we said we’d bring back help.”
“I know,” he said, staring into the hole. “But they have to let us out, they have to at least listen to us. We haven’t done anything.”
“Swinging, swinging in the wind. You’ll hang, you will, you crazy lot,” said the darkness. Hektor ground his teeth.
“He’s right,” Mavis said. “They think we killed those guards and took the rings. You saw, Jamie, they all wear rings. Every guard, man or woman.”
“Murder, murder, lies and flies,” said the darkness.
“They can’t,” said Jamie. “They have to at least listen.”
“It was a stupid idea.” Mavis looked at Jamie, his face flushed. “Your stupid idea.”
“Easy, Hunter,” said Hektor. “It’s bad enough with sing-song over there getting under our skins. We best not fight each other.”
The darkness laughed. “Sing-song, hang-long…”
“SHUT UP!” they yelled in unison.
“Well it was my stupid idea or what, Mave? Sit around and starve? Let Geoffrey die?” Jamie’s face felt hot.
“We could have persuaded Mikhal to be a little more generous, if you ask me,” Mavis said.
“Gods, Mavis, he saved our lives-”
“Your life,” he interjected. “It was you who needed saving. Your plan and your life. Whose fault is it we’re here?”
Jamie stood up, fists tight. Why is he being so damned idiotic? “My fault, is it? If you could’ve kept your mouth shut when those raiders showed up-”
“Lads…” Hektor said, helplessly.
“And what, Jamie? Huh? Let them kill us? Gods, at least I give a shit about making it back. I’d swear you were trying to get us killed, leading us here.”
“Of course I care. And what’s your big push? So excited to run back to Lyca and be the big hero for her, are you? Did you forget why we left in the first place?”
“I’m doing this for Geoffrey, you ass.” Mavis glared at him.
“You don’t give a shit about Geoffrey, you’re just-”
Mavis slammed a fist into Jamie’s face and sent him reeling backwards into the stone wall. “Fight, fight! Kill, KILL!” said the darkness. Hektor jumped to his feet and grabbed Mavis by the shoulders, holding him back.
“Say what you want,” Mavis said, through gritted teeth, “the only reason you wanted to do this was because you wanted to find Felicia. You selfish ass.”
Jamie rubbed his jaw, thinking desperately for something to fire back with, but he couldn’t find the words. Mavis’ words hit so close to the truth that he simply let them sink in for a moment. The two friends stared at each other. Slowly, their breathing quieted, and Mavis stopped struggling under Hektor’s hold.
“I’m sorry, Mave,” Jamie finally said. “And you, Hektor. I’m sorry I dragged you both into this.”
Mavis seemed to be suddenly fascinated by the ground at his feet. He stared down, rubbing his knuckles. “Yeah… well… sorry about the… you know…”
Hektor shook his head and sat back on the cold floor. “Y’lads got it out then?” They nodded. “Good.”
“Oh, why so quiet, friendly-friends?” asked the darkness. Nobody bothered to answer, not even Hektor. The three of them sat in silence, each awkwardly tending to some small, irrelevant task. In the distance Jamie could hear more horns, and some commotion echoing up through the hole in the floor.
“Two mice outside my cell. Squeak!” said the darkness suddenly.
“Gods, do you ever speak anything that isn’t nonsense?” asked Hektor. Jamie was convinced that if he rolled his eyes any farther, they might get stuck inside his head.
“Oh, I know lots, friendlies. Lots of good squeaky things. Ask me one question, and I’ll give you two answers, hehe!” the darkness replied.
“Oh gods, here we go,” said Hektor.
“Alright then, sing-song. What’s the Oyen? Make yourself useful, ’cause I’m dying to know.” Jamie asked.
“Oh, don’t encourage him, Jamie,” Mavis groaned.
“Hehe, I know lots of that,” said the darkness. “Two answers for you.”
“Go on, then. Surprise me,” Jamie said.
“It’s near and far away,” he said.
“That’s very helpful,” Mavis said.
“No no, I’m not done,” the darkness said. “It’s old and new to you.”
“Kill me,” said Hektor.
“No, better is…” The darkness paused. “No, never mind. Stupid question, friendlies. You asked it all wrong. Hehe.”
It looked as though Hektor was about to erupt into an insult session with the man, but at that moment voices could be heard coming down the corridor. “D’ya hear that?” Mavis asked. The others nodded. They walked cautiously to the bars and tried to peer out. It was a group of guards. Three men, two women. Each was armed with a short spear, and one of them was carrying rope.
“Yanny-yilly, swinging silly…” the darkness sang.
The guards stopped in front of the trio’s cell, and the man with the rope stared for a moment before speaking to them.
“You spoke of a name when you were arrested,” he said. “Speak it again, clearly.”
Jamie nodded nervously, and said, “Shalsa.”
The guard with the rope looked at his fellow guards. They each returned his glance with a short nod. Finally, he turned back to Jamie. “Very well. Hold your hands behind your back.”
“Where are you taking us?” Mavis asked.
“Quiet, prisoner. Hands behind your back. We’re granting your wish. You’re coming to see the High Keeper.”