"Here is our check for the property taxes owed by the Eternal Dungeon," said Layle, laying down the piece of paper with a most formidable string of numbers penned upon it.
The Commissioner, sitting behind his desk, raised his eyebrows. "You are certain that the royal bank will honor your check?"
Ignoring this remark, Layle laid down a second check with a longer string of numbers. "This will cover the income taxes of all the employees of the Eternal Dungeon: the Seekers, guards, laborers, and auxiliary employees."
The Commissioner stared at the check, bug-eyed.
"And this" – Layle tenderly placed the third check on the desk – "will pay the income taxes and property taxes of all prisoners currently held for questioning in the Eternal Dungeon. We would appreciate it if you would keep us up to date with any changes in the current laws regarding taxes, in case we need to cover the taxes of next year's prisoners."
The Commissioner finally found words. Or perhaps just his breath. "The Eternal Dungeon must be breaking prisoners at the rate of a dozen a minute, to be overflowing with such funds."
"We are merely frugal." Under his hood, Layle's smile was tight. "We save our money."
"You knew it was us?"
Elsdon's voice was soft. There were not many places for private conversation in the Eternal Dungeon, other than their own living cell, but Elsdon had happened upon Layle lighting a candle for his prisoner, who had been hanged that morning for premeditated rape. Mr. Boenick had offered his confession after it became clear that the Eternal Dungeon would survive.
Layle kept his voice equally soft, mindful of the reverent atmosphere in this place, where men's souls were reborn into a better life. "No, my instincts went awry for once. I thought the thief was the Commissioner, stealing funds from the treasury through hundreds of bank accounts, and then ensuring that he was assigned a duty that would allow him to send yet more funds into the treasury to be stolen. . . . We gave all of the trust funds' interest back to the Throne today, through payment of the taxes."
"And the trust funds themselves? Will you keep them secret?"
It had been very tempting to do so. The trust funds broke no laws, and their interest would be a steady source of income for centuries to come. The Eternal Dungeon need never worry again about paying taxes . . . or, for that matter, paying for cleaning supplies, which took up far too large a portion of the dungeon's annual budget.
But it would be theft, in spirit if not through actual law-breaking. A theft as insidious as the thefts Layle had committed during his youthful years of robbery and murder and rape, before he turned his talents to breaking prisoners rather than breaking laws. If he were to turn to thievery again, how could he face his prisoners and persuade them to repent of their crimes?
Layle looked at Elsdon. The junior Seeker was listening patiently. He always listened patiently, when determining whether his prisoners had committed crimes.
Layle smiled then, knowing that his smile would be reflected in his eyes, the only part of his face that Elsdon could currently see. "I told the Queen. She agreed with my solution for paying back the interest, and she is most generously permitting us to keep the money from the trust funds. . . provided that we move the funds into accounts that collect only simple interest."
Elsdon let out his breath the moment that Layle spoke the first sentence. Layle suspected that Elsdon had spent the last couple of minutes making plans for Layle's arrest and breaking. For both Elsdon and Layle, the Code of Seeking, and the Queen's law that lay behind it, surpassed their personal loyalties. It was one of the commonalities between them that fueled their love.
Layle added dryly, "It helped, of course, that a goodly portion of that money will go to taxes. The Commissioner is considering taxing interest next year."
Elsdon groaned. Smiling, Layle said, "Even with the trust funds accumulating only simple interest, we will not run short of money for a few years more; we can tap into the funds of the deceased Seekers. Therefore, we can continue to pay the taxes of our employees and prisoners for as long as this wartime tax continues."
"Perhaps we could also establish trust funds for living Seekers who were not rich when they came here, like Weldon Chapman," suggested Elsdon. "And perhaps we could distribute the trust funds of recently deceased Seekers to any destitute kinfolk they might have."
It was typical of Layle's love-mate to consider such matters. Layle reflected on the fact that, however serious the crisis might become when he and Elsdon began openly disagreeing about the need to torture prisoners, the disagreements between the two of them would never turn violent or spiteful. It was not merely love that would hold them back. The Eternal Dungeon, which gave some of its convicted criminals a new home to live in, had a way of nurturing compassion in its inhabitants. And Elsdon, whose generosity was inborn, was the most compassionate Seeker of all.
"Perhaps," said Layle, drawn into a new thought, "we could spend part of the funds to financially assist prisoners who are not fortunate enough to be incarcerated in a prison run by the Code of Seeking."
"Or a prison run by you." And Elsdon embraced Layle, in a manner that did not diminish the reverent atmosphere of the crematorium, but instead enhanced it.