"If you're the intruder," said Vito, "then I'd like to meet my real prisoner, please."
It was the fifth day of searching. After the previous day's revelation by the prisoner – "Or," Vito found he was thinking of the prisoner – the young man had grown silent and withdrawn from conversation, apparently regretting his outburst. This morning, though, he had jumped to his feet when Vito entered the cell, and he looked as though he were hanging upon every word that Vito spoke.
Now the prisoner paled. He turned a sickly white, all in an instant. Vito said sharply, "Sit down."
The prisoner sank down onto his bed and gulped air. More gently, Vito said, "Hang your head over. You'll be all right in a minute. Do you feel dizzy?"
Or said nothing, but he nodded, bowed his head, and continued to gulp air while Vito wondered what he would do if his prisoner fainted. It was the senior guard's duty to revive fainting prisoners with smelling salts, but if Or woke to find a large, grim guard looming over him . . .
"I'm sorry," whispered Or. "I'm sorry."
Again, Vito moved to the center of the cell, this time to hear Or more clearly. "It's all right. I didn't mean to startle you. You would rather I didn't speak to Mr. Gurth?"
"It's not that." Or stared at his hands, which were once more clutching his trousers.
"You'd rather not go away?" Vito ventured.
Or licked his lips and said nothing.
"I should think that you'd prefer to escape from this place." Vito gestured at the walls.
"I . . . I would if . . ."
Vito waited. As he did so, he tried very hard not to think, just to listen and watch. Elsdon's accusation had kept Vito awake until the small hours of morning. He had no doubt the accusation was true; Elsdon was far too talented to have gone astray in so important a matter. And other people had noticed this too, Elsdon had said. Vito wasted half the night rolling back and forth in his bed, caught in the humiliation of having his lapse in duty noticed by the High Seeker.
Then he came to his senses. Layle Smith didn't matter; what mattered was Vito's prisoner. Somehow, Vito must find a way to exert control over himself in the breaking cell and keep his attention firmly fixed upon—
It seemed the cap of his embarrassment that Vito had to ask Or to repeat what he was in the midst of saying. Or stared at him, fear on his face, and Vito found himself saying, "It's my fault. I let my thoughts stray. I apologize for my inattention."
"Oh," breathed Or. "Oh, I – I don't mind, sir. Really, I don't. You see, it's the first time—" He stopped abruptly. A blush crept up his neckline.
"Yes?" Vito asked politely. During the ensuing silence, he tried to focus himself on Or's hands, long-fingered, with well-trimmed nails.
"It's the first time anyone has spoken to me," Or said in a rush.
Vito remained silent a moment, his gaze raised to Or's face, flushed and breathless, the red extending under the line of his chestnut hair, which fell across his brow in a stiff wave. Then Vito said, "I'll be glad to talk with you for as long as you wish. But I'd like to talk to Mr. Gurth as well."
Or stroked the backs of his hands in nervous jerks, apparently unaware of what his hands were doing. He said, "I don't know . . . I don't know whether I can fetch him."
"He decides when to come and go, then?"
"And when you come . . ."
"No one has guessed," Or said. "No one has ever known that I'm me. They think I'm Gurth."
"And you haven't told them?"
Or shook his head. "They'd help Gurth get rid of me. Because I'm the intruder. I don't . . . I don't want to die."
There were tears in his eyes now, rimming his lashes and making them sparkle under the light. Vito said in as matter-of-fact a manner as he could manage, "Is that why you're here now? Because Mr. Gurth wanted you here, in his place?"
"I . . . I suppose so."
"Well, then, he'll want you back afterwards if I talk to him, won't he?" Vito smiled at the prisoner, frustrated once more by his inability to convey friendliness through facial expression. A Seeker's face-cloth must remain down whenever he searched a prisoner; the Code dictated this. The High Seeker had very firm opinions on that rule. Vito supposed that, in Layle Smith's case, it was a way of hiding from the prisoner his essentially vicious nature, lest the prisoner take fright—
". . . if you want me to," Or was saying. "I don't want to go against your orders."
"It's not an order," Vito said, wondering what he had missed hearing. "It's just a request. I think it might help you if I got to know your 'either.' And then we can talk later about what I saw. Agreed?" His smile still couldn't be seen – blast the High Seeker and his inflexible rules – but he tried to make his voice as warm as possible.
Or said softly, "I'm not sure how to tell him to come. I've always wanted him to stay away, before."
"Just let yourself go, as though you were falling asleep," Vito suggested. "Let him come to the surface."
Or gnawed at his lip, before saying with a burst, "You'd better stand back!"
"Is he dangerous, then?" He took several steps backwards, until his back was against the door again.
"I think so," whispered Or. "People are afraid of me . . . afraid of him. I think he's very dangerous."
If Gurth was as dangerous as all that, Vito ought to fetch his guards into the cell. Vito thought that, and then dismissed the idea. He had been a guard not long ago, charged with controlling dangerous prisoners. Although he was handicapped now by the Code's rule that Seekers should avoid touching prisoners, the Code was realistic enough to make an exception if someone's life – including the Seeker's – was under immediate threat. Whatever happened when the dangerous prisoner arrived, Vito thought he could handle it.
"Thank you for warning me," Vito replied quietly. "You can . . . wait outside now."
Or said nothing. He was staring at a point above Vito's head, glassy-eyed, as though he had ingested silver pot-herb. Vito waited, curious to see what sort of transformation would take place . . . and how convincing it would be.
In fact, he missed the moment of transformation. If he'd been less skilled at his work, he'd have missed the transformation altogether.
Nothing happened. The prisoner's face did not take on the expression of a cocky criminal. The prisoner did not snarl, "What d'ya want, copper?" or any other clichéd line from shilling-shocker stories.
Nothing happened except that Vito became aware that the prisoner no longer looked glassy-eyed, and that he was breathing heavily.
Slowly, as though with great caution, the prisoner looked around the cell. It took him a moment to notice Vito, and when he did, nothing dramatic happened. The prisoner's hands formed slowly into fists, but that was all. He said nothing, and after a moment, his gaze returned to the spot where it had been before. He closed his eyes and whispered.
Despite his awareness of the danger, Vito found himself walking forward, drawn to that whisper. By the time he was halfway down the cell, he could hear what the prisoner was saying: "Gotta get 'im back. Gotta get 'im back. Gotta think – aye, gotta think."
The accent was that of a commoner. So was the grammar. Yet the prisoner was making no effort to speak loudly enough to be heard at the other end of the cell, and the whisper was clearly not meant as a lure to draw Vito closer, for in the next moment, the prisoner opened his eyes. He blinked several times, as though awakening from sleep.
"Did he come?" asked Or.
The healer was not available. Vito's immediate response to this news was relief.
Vito's encounters with the dungeon healer, Mr. Bergsen, had been pleasant ones; the man clearly had strong feelings against the use of torture upon the prisoners whom he healed. But the healer worked for the Codifier, and his usual seal of secrecy on medical matters was lifted in cases of mental illness. If Mr. Bergsen determined that Vito's prisoner had a mental disease, then the Codifier would be notified and, in all likelihood, the prisoner would be removed from Vito's care.
Vito did not think that pride alone made him reluctant to give up his prisoner. To persuade a frightened prisoner to talk was a skill not all Seekers possessed; some possess greater talent at intimidating harsh, hostile prisoners into offering their confessions. Intimidation would only cause Or to bury himself more deeply than he had already done, with the possibility that he would not emerge a second time.
No, Or was best suited to remain Vito's prisoner. With both the High Seeker and Mr. Bergsen gone from the dungeon, Vito need not worry about interference.
But he did worry about Or's health. After thinking a moment, he asked a second question to Mr. Bergsen's medical aide, a nurse who tended the inner dungeon's sick and tortured in the healer's absence. The nurse, pausing from his task of refilling a locked medicine cabinet, directed Vito to the Eternal Dungeon's lending library.
The library was relatively new. It had been added during the renovation of the dungeon, part of Layle Smith's long-term plan to keep the outer-dungeon workers happy and satisfied with their work and, Vito suspected, too secure in their employment to want to risk questioning the bloody activities of the Seekers.
Whatever the High Seeker's motives, there was no question that the Eternal Dungeon offered unsurpassed luxuries to its laborers: a nursery for the laborers' children, an evening school for any laborers who wished to improve their minds, and a ranking system that awarded hard work and creativity. Vito had heard from Elsdon that Yeslin Bainbridge, the famous leader of the Commoners' Guild, had visited the dungeon, intending to stir up its laborers against unjust working conditions, only to learn that there were no injustices in the outer dungeon for him to correct.
The lending library was the latest luxury offered to the laborers. It was modelled after the lending library in the capital, where many of the laborers lived, but unlike the library in the lighted world above, this one charged not even a token lending fee. It did not need to; laborers who failed to return books in good condition and in a timely manner would have their pay docked.
During non-work hours – the two-hour dawn shift and the two-hour dusk shift – the library was clogged with laborers borrowing penny dreadfuls and shilling shockers and other such lurid literature suitable for commoners. The library had been half filled with such books before a Seeker, very quietly, had suggested that prisoners liked to read also – even prisoners of the better class.
Nobody had mistaken his meaning. A consultation had followed, and at the end of the consultation, the remaining half of the library was filled with higher-class literature, donated by inner-dungeon workers, primarily Seekers who had used their small allowance over the years to buy books. The High Seeker – who proved to have surprisingly cultured tastes – donated his library of books on theater and the visual arts. Elsdon donated a few books on engineering, as well as some collections of ballads penned by Yeslin Bainbridge. The High Seeker's senior night guard, Seward Sobel, was able to offer a very large collection of books on military history. Mr. Chapman – purportedly blushing as he did so – gave the library a small stack of volumes of love poetry, many inscribed to his wife. And there was, of course, an impressive collection on the techniques of torture, though this was kept in a locked room within the library, accessible only by special permission.
Very few of the prisoners in the breaking cells borrowed any of these books. Virtually all of those prisoners were commoners, and the few who had interest in anything other than their continued survival were more likely to request a shilling shocker filled with tales of crime and gore.
It was the other prisoners who borrowed high-class books in great quantities from the library: the Seekers, who had vowed to spend the rest of their lives in the Eternal Dungeon.
Because they were classified as prisoners, they could not afford to build up the sort of large libraries that these elite men would doubtlessly have owned if the Seekers had remained in the lighted world. The lending library, where their individual small collections were pooled into a large collection, was a boon to such men.
Eyeing the books of revolutionary ballads by the leader of the Commoners' Guild, Vito reflected that Elsdon possessed a talent for creating rebellions in a most subtle manner. When he became a full Seeker, Vito thought he could follow suit by donating all the books he had accumulated over the years on the ethical dangers and practical uselessness of torturing prisoners for confessions. That sort of reading ought to give the book-hungry Seekers a few sleepless nights.
But his immediate need was in another part of the collection.
After consulting with the librarian – a suitably taciturn woman – Vito was led to another locked room, where he was given free use of the books for as long as he desired. This room contained the healer's medical library.
The medical library was especially rich with books on mental healing, for Mr. Bergsen had tended the High Seeker during the worst years of that man's mental illness. It said something about the Eternal Dungeon, Vito thought grimly, that it allowed itself to be led by a man who had almost ended his days in a mental sanitarium. But Mr. Bergsen's interest in mental illness was to Vito's benefit now. Vito had sought out many books on mental healing over the years, but this was a collection beyond imagination, filling six full bookcases. There were even imported books on the topic from foreign countries. Taking into hand the fat volume of the latest revision of the Mental Healing Encyclopaedia, Vito sat down to begin his research.
Seven hours later, nearly buried under the volumes he had piled on the table after consulting, Vito stretched wearily. He glanced at the grandpapa clock, ticking between a bookcase containing leather-bound volumes on mental disorders. Hysteria, hypochondriasis, paralytic insanity, puerperal insanity . . . Vito's mind buzzed now with the names of all the diseases which native and foreign mental healers had identified.
None of them fit what Vito had seen in his prisoner's breaking cell. Nowhere could Vito find a case history of a man whose personality had evidently split in two.
Vito covered his face with his hands. The smell of old books tickled his nose. He could hear the deep, reverberant tick of the clock and the shuffle of papers by the librarian in the main room. The dungeon was otherwise silent. It was well past midnight now; the midnight meals had been served, and the outer-dungeon kitchen workers had been released to go home. Aside from a few ancillary workers, such as the night nurse, the only men still awake in the dungeon were the Seekers and guards on the night watch, as well as their prisoners. Having talked to Or beyond the end of the dusk shift, Vito had left his own night-shift guards keeping vigil over his prisoner. The guards were both young, the older of them only recently promoted to senior position, and both were eager to follow orders and prove themselves worthy of their titles. Vito wasn't worried that his prisoner would come to harm at their hands.
But if Vito did not resolve this problem soon, the High Seeker and the healer would return to the dungeon, and Vito would likely be removed from Or's searching. Sighing heavily, Vito stared down at the volume. No case of a personality splitting . . . That did not mean no such case existed. It might be written up in some obscure volume within the library. But if it was so obscure as this, it was unlikely that Mr. Bergsen had any more knowledge to offer than Vito himself possessed. So Vito must use his own wits to decipher the case.
Pushing aside the book, he crossed his arms upon the table and laid his head onto his arms. He was tired, but he was too well-trained to fall asleep while he remained – in his own mind, at least – on duty. Resting his eyes alone, he began to try to recall the words and actions that Or had spoken since their first meeting.
The trouble he had in recalling those words and actions made him uneasy. He had a good memory; the problem was simply that he had not been paying enough attention to Or to easily recall their time together. There were gaps in his memory that he could fill only with his thoughts at the time, not with a recollection of what had taken place while he ruminated in the breaking cell.
It was becoming increasingly clear that Elsdon was right: Vito had allowed his interior monologues to drown out his awareness of his prisoner. With the wrong sort of prisoner, that would not only be professionally careless but downright dangerous. Vito was lucky that Or wasn't the type of prisoner to have attacked him.
He heard again the tick of the clock. He tried to hold onto the sound of that ticking, but it drifted away after a moment, drowned out by his thoughts about the antique water-clocks which stood in the rack room, necessitating their refilling every twelve hours by dungeon workers, when the last of the water dripped away. . . .
Vito sighed. No doubt, if he'd been in the rack room at this moment, he'd be allowing his thoughts about grandpapa clocks to drown out his awareness of the water-clocks. He had a very serious lack of self-discipline which Elsdon had been generous enough to point out in his gentle manner. Somehow Vito would have to resolve that disciplinary problem before it caused him to harm his prisoner. But for now . . .
For now he must do his best to help Or with what memories he possessed. He tried again, recalling every word, every gesture that Or and his alter ego had displayed in the breaking room. He ran over and over the memories, seeking the slightest bit of evidence that his prisoner had lied.
For of course that was the most obvious explanation of all for the prisoner's behavior: he had lied to Vito, pretending to be mad, because madmen could not be sent to the gallows. Indeed, thanks to a petition from the Eternal Dungeon to the magistrates' courts some years ago, mentally ill prisoners could not even receive a sentence of life imprisonment for their capital crimes. Instead, prisoners with mental diseases were sent to mental sanitariums, from which, if they were cured of their illness, they might be released in due time.
Only a very naive and inexperienced prison-worker would treat uncritically a prisoner's apparently mad behavior. Vito considered himself neither naive nor inexperienced. From the moment that Or first spoke Gurth's name, as though Gurth were separate from himself, Vito had considered the possibility that his prisoner was lying to save his own skin.
He ran the memories through his mind again, dwelling especially on the moment when Or transformed into Edwin Gurth, and when Gurth transformed into Or. If the break had been clear-cut . . . But it had not; the difference had been subtle, extremely subtle. Far too subtle to be effective as a deliberate display intended for the benefit of the Seeker.
Vito finally drew himself up, taking in a sharp breath. No. Vito would gamble his life on the fact that Or and Gurth were separate men. Not even the finest actor in Vovim could have made so complete a transformation, in so subtle a manner. Every word, gesture, value, and emotion in Gurth was completely different from Or's, yet there had been no attempt on Gurth's part to so much as speak to Vito in order to convince the Seeker that Gurth was a separate personality. The prisoner Or might still be lying to Vito – that possibility could not yet be ruled out – but Vito was quite sure that Or was not lying about the fact that Gurth was a different man from himself.
In which case . . . Vito pulled from his pocket the clipping he had torn from the newspaper he had confiscated shortly before searching Or on the first day. The clipping about conjoined twins.
It was a brief news item from the magistrates' court. One of the magistrates was currently receiving testimony from the Theological Union as to whether conjoined twins had two souls or a single soul. It was a difficult theological case, made more complex by the medical testimony already received, indicating that the conjoined twins could not live separately – that one would die if the other did. The twins functioned bodily as though they were a single human being.
But were their souls separate? Did they have separate consciences? That was the key issue, for one of the twins had been proven guilty of premeditated murder of a nobleman. If the souls were separate, there was a chance that the magistrate would spare the murderer, for the sake of the twin who claimed he had not wished the murder to take place, and who would inevitably die if his twin died.
But if the Theological Union gave witness that the twins' souls and consciences were one, as their bodies were, then both twins would die for the murder that one twin had committed.
As Or would die, if Gurth had committed a capital crime.