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Mercy's Prisoner

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CHAPTER THREE

"Don't worry about Mad Milord," said Oslo as he met Ulick on the landing of the steps that zig-zagged their way round the southern curve of the tower of Mercy Life Prison. "He's harmless enough. Doesn't even beat his prisoners unless they deserve it – with the exception of his so-called slave, of course."

Ulick turned his eye away from the staircase in order to look at Oslo in the wavering lamp-light. It was time, he decided, that he followed up on Oslo's earlier hints. "Are there many beatings here?"

Oslo nearly fell off the landing laughing. He had to hold onto the railing to keep his balance. "Oh, my," he said, wiping away tears of amusement. "I can see that you're new to the life prisons."

"There's a certain amount of undue harshness by guards at the holding prisons too—"

"Not like at the life prisons," Oslo said firmly as he straightened up. "Nowhere in the world will you see as many punishments as you do here. Some guards beat their prisoners morning, noon, and night – whenever it suits their fancy."

"I take it from your tone that you don't approve."

"Most of the guards here are animals," Oslo replied in a matter-of-fact manner. "They slake their beastly desires with the unwilling help of their prisoners. Those guards are the ones who deserve to be imprisoned for life."

"And the prisoners?"

"Oh, they deserve life imprisonment too." Oslo paused with his foot on the next step as Ulick glanced again at the level he had just left. More prisoners were emerging through a door. They were being carefully corralled into cell doors by the guards on watch-duty.

"They're finishing up their work for the day," Oslo said when Ulick enquired. "Over there, in the tailoring shop, is where the uniforms are made and repaired. The tannery is the door next to it; the prisoners make all the boots and belts that are issued here. Prisoners also work in the kitchen and laundry on the third and second levels. We keep the convicts busy during the daytime. Idle hands are likely to lead to insolence and indolence – that's the Keeper's theory."

"He would know," Ulick murmured, taking care to keep his voice too low to be heard. The sound of his voice was covered by the crack of a whip nearby, accompanied by screaming.

Oslo grimaced. "That's a sure sign that the night shift has begun. The day guards always like to round out the day with a good beating. I'd better get you upstairs." He began hurrying up the stairs, taking two steps at a time, not pausing when they reached the next landing.

"What is on the fifth level?" Ulick asked, poking his head through the doorway. The cells here all had solid doors in place of bars; there was no fire in the pit. No guards stood on duty.

"Infirmary. Don't worry; you won't be assigned there, unless Sedgewick takes a dislike to you. He used to work there by choice, back in the days he was trying to convince everyone how repentant he was for his treatment of the prisoners." Oslo grabbed Ulick's sleeve, urging him onwards, and then stopped abruptly. In the next moment, his whip was in his right hand and his dagger in his left.

Ulick followed suit. He too could hear the faint sound of breath around the curve of stairway, accompanied by muttered curses. Oslo mouthed, "Stay here," and Ulick nodded. He knew the maneuver well enough: Allow the escaped prisoner room enough to escape down the stairs; then place a guard at the bottom of the stairs, to await the prisoner's arrival.

He was not long in waiting. When the prisoner arrived a moment later, he was already collared by Oslo, who was shaking the man as though he were a mangy rabbit. "What in Hell's name are you doing here, Merrick?" Oslo demanded in an irritated voice.

The man named Merrick – middle-aged, white-skinned, with a shock of light blond hair which told clearly that his family was of Yclau origin – merely cast Oslo a look of scorn. "How the fuck should I know? Ask that sisterfucker Sedgewick. He's the bastard-of-a-slave who planted me here and told me to wait."

For the briefest of moments, darkness flashed in Oslo's eyes, but he had evidently meant what he said when he derided the guards who used excessive force, for he merely said, "Watch over him, Ulick. I need to fetch his guard."

Ulick nodded without moving his gaze from Merrick. His hands still gripped the whip and dagger, though he very much doubted that any attempt at liberty would do Merrick good. The architect of Mercy Life Prison had designed the most fool-proof system of exit gates that Ulick had seen in his life.

Perhaps knowing this, Merrick made no attempt to leave. Instead, he scrutinized Ulick with an idle eye. "You're new, aren't you?" he said.

"Yes, I am." Ulick kept his voice polite. He had always believed that politeness was the best policy when dealing with prisoners who, more often than not, had received no training in restraining their tempers.

Rather than be amused, as most prisoners were by Ulick's politeness, Merrick gave Ulick another look of assessment. Then he opened his mouth and took in a deep breath, as though preparing himself for a lengthy recitation.

"I keep the Boundaries," Merrick said. "I attack no one, even in self-defense. I take no one unwilling—"

"Stop!" shouted Ulick. Once he had gotten his own breath back, he added, "Not another word of that illicit ethical code of yours, unless you want to feel my whip on your back."

Merrick shrugged, as though to say, "It was worth a try." Then he was silent.

Ulick's heart raced. He resisted the urge to look behind him to see whether anyone had overheard the conversation. It was ridiculous – ridiculous! – for him to think that Sedgewick had planted Merrick on this stairway for the sole purpose of testing Ulick's loyalty.

Rescue finally came, in the form of a capless guard; his skin was golden, though it wasn't clear whether the glow came from Vovimian ancestry or from working in the sunshine. He raged up the stairs, grabbed Merrick by the collar, and began banging him against the wall.

"Bastard!" he shouted in Merrick's face, which was beginning to turn purple under the combined assault of the blows against the wall and the guard's hand tightening on his collar. "Just when I was about to leave for supper! You're more trouble than my other dozen prisoners combined."

"Sir," said Ulick, taking gentle hold of the guard's sleeve, "the prisoner's head is hitting the wall. If you continue that way, you will give him brain damage."

"And why the fuck should I care?" The capless guard turned his wrath on Ulick.

Behind him, Oslo rolled his eyes, then said briskly, "You could kill him. Our Keeper would have you up before a death squad if you let a life prisoner die prematurely."

The capless guard immediately released Merrick, who slumped against the wall, his throat rasping.

"Just you wait till I get you back in your cell," the capless guard said through gritted teeth. "I'll take off so much of your hide with my lash that the tannery will be busy for a week."

Hidden behind the capless guard, Oslo gave Ulick a significant look. Then he said smoothly, "Don't bother with Merrick. I can take care of him for you. I know you're already off-duty."

The capless guard flung Merrick like an unwanted parcel into Oslo's waiting arms. "Who's this?" the capless guard asked, pointing his thumb at Ulick.

"New man. Show him up to the sixth level, will you? He's due on duty. —Come on, you." Oslo turned Merrick gently away from his guard. Merrick responded by turning a furious eye on him, as though Oslo had been the one who had committed the abuse. But he allowed himself to be escorted downstairs, with Oslo's left arm still tight around him.

"Bastard-of-a-slave," the capless guard muttered.

"Merrick?"

"The Keeper's Wolf." Then, seeing Ulick's blank expression, he added, "The Assistant Keeper, Sedgewick. Taking my prisoner out of his cell without telling me, and then dumping him here." He took a longer look at Ulick. "You appear a bit rumpled. The Keeper's Wolf has been welcoming you in his usual loving manner, has he?" The guard's smile suddenly appeared, and he thrust out his arm. "Rufus Mason. And you?"

Ulick made no move to introduce himself or to shake Rufus's arm. After a moment, Rufus dropped his arm and gave a sour look. "Hell and all his torturers. Oslo's been talking to you. He has been telling you about the cruel, cruel guards here, and how he alone is the soul of purity. . . . Did he happen to mention that he fucks his prisoners?"

"What?" responded Ulick weakly.

"Like clockwork – morning, noon, and night. Several times a night. That's the only reason he took Merrick off my hands; he loves fucking the man, in every possible position." Rufus took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped off the sweat from his face. "Not that there's anything wrong with that. Helps to keep the prisoners in line. But gods be my judge, I can't stand a hypocrite, and that's what Oslo is. A first-rate hypocrite, whining about our cruelty at the same time he cheerfully fucks his screaming prisoners." Rufus shrugged as he pocketed his handkerchief. "Sometimes I think he and Milord should be sent to the same madhouse. —Come on."

Ulick followed him, trying to think through the muddle of information being thrust at him. "Do many guards here rape their prisoners?"

Rufus glanced over at him and laughed lightly. "You're as bad as Sedgewick."

"How so?"

"He likes to use words like that: 'rape' and 'abuse' and 'molest.' It's his way of amusing himself; it shocks some of the guards who are hypocrites like Oslo."

"You don't consider it rape?" Ulick kept his voice quiet; they were approaching the landing to the sixth level.

Rufus shrugged again. "It's legal. Look at the prison laws when you have a chance; the magistrates gave us guards at the life prisons full power to control the prisoners in whatever way we consider best. Our way works; we've never had a breakout from Mercy, never had a riot. As long as it works, I don't care what the Keeper's Wolf calls it."

He swiftly unlocked the gate in front of them and swung it open. Ulick entered the top-most level of the prison cautiously. By now, he wouldn't have been surprised to find that the cells were filled with old-fashioned torture racks.

"Right," said Rufus. "My shift is over; I'm overdue for a night out on the town. I'll just give you over to Denley here. Den, here's the new guard your level has been expecting. Don't teach him any seditious behavior, will you?"

This was evidently intended as a stinging remark, for Denley's mouth twisted. He was a stocky man of about Ulick's own age, in his thirties, wearing one of the moustaches that were becoming fashionable in Vovim, but he had the cream-and-rose skin of a man of Yclau descent. He wore two stripes on his sleeve, making him the same rank as Ulick, so Ulick offered his arm.

Denley shook it in an absent-minded manner; his thoughts were evidently still on Rufus's remark. "Hell damn and rack you, Rufus," he said. "I've told you before: I'm all finished with that lot. Was, from the moment they picked that self-sucker Sedgewick—"

But Rufus had turned away, disdaining to listen to Denley's defense. Ulick waited until the gate to the sixth level had clanged shut before saying to his latest guide, "Mr. Staunton seems not to be popular in this prison."

"Sedge? He's a treacherous, foul beast – but at least he's obvious about what he is. Not like certain men in this prison, who smile at you before stabbing you."

Ulick waited, not saying anything. After a while, Denley sighed and reached toward a lamp on the wall. "Here, you turn off the gas in the other lamp. . . . You might as well know, I suppose. Everyone is likely to tell you, whether or not I do. I used to be one of those who kept the Boundaries. It seemed sensible enough at the time. Punish the prisoners when they ought to be punished; leave them alone the rest of the time. How in the names of the racked prisoners of hell was I to know that it was all a scheme by Merrick and Tyrrell to get the prisoners released through pardons they didn't deserve?"

"That's what they planned?" Ulick said as he reached up to turn off the gas in the lamp that Denley gestured toward.

"So Sedge says. He was in the thick of it, before he turned traitor."

Ulick waited until they had gone three paces to the next lamp along the wall. He could now see the whole of the sixth level; it looked no different from the other levels. The same fire-pit, the same cell doors encircling the pit. The prisoners here were quieter, though. He heard a muttered conversation coming from one of the cells – cell-mates talking to each other, he realized as he looked closer. In another cell, someone was whistling; in yet another cell, someone was moaning. No talking was taking place between cells; the silence would have been unusual in the holding prisons.

At the opposite side of the level, a couple of guards patrolled, peering into each cell. They looked bored.

"So you stopped keeping the Boundaries when Sedgewick announced Merrick and Tyrrell's plan," Ulick suggested.

"Well, no. Three years before that, actually, when Sedge joined them." Denley was staring at the lamp that Ulick had just turned off, as though doubting that the new guard was capable of performing his task properly. "I figured that anything Sedge was involved with would get dangerous, and so . . ."

"So you didn't want to be around when the danger started." In the act of turning off the gaslight in yet another lamp, Ulick glanced at the cell beside the lamp. A prisoner was sitting there on the floor, wearing an ordinary grey prisoners' uniform; unlike Merrick's uniform, this one had no stripes on it. The prisoner had his back to the bars as he read a book. As the lamplight disappeared, he sighed and closed the book, making no sign of protest at this loss of light. Ulick expected him to move toward his bed, but the prisoner simply pulled the blanket closer around his shoulders and remained huddled against the bars. Nearby, his cell-mate snored.

Denley looked at Ulick sidelong, evidently trying to judge whether he was being mocked. Whatever he saw must have reassured him, for he said firmly, "That's right. We're in enough danger as it is, what with having to guard murderers like Merrick. Why make things worse for ourselves? I figured I'd cut and run before things got bad for the Boundaries-keeping guards. And sure enough, they nearly all got sacked or transferred or had to quit. I was one of the lucky guards."

Ulick nodded as he reached the cell where the conversation was taking place. He had been wrong, he saw; this was not a two-way conversation, as he had thought, but a lecture, for one of the prisoners was standing on his feet, pointing as he made garbled accusations at his cell-mate, who was resolutely ignoring him by pretending to sleep.

Ulick would have liked to have paused to hear what the accusations were, but Denley had taken him by the elbow to hurry him along, so instead he asked, "Are there any other lucky guards in this prison?"

Denley shrugged as he paused in front of a lamp, its glass as bright as a looking-glass from the flickering flames in the pit. He carefully pressed together the hairs at one end of his moustache as he said, "A few. The bright fellows, the ones who didn't wait for the boom to fall. Not that you can really trust any of them. They might still be working for Merrick."

Ulick said nothing. By now, they were halfway through eliminating the lamplight, and between the increased darkness and the smoke from the fire, it was becoming hard to see what was taking place on the other side of the level. However, he could still hear the tap of the boots as the other guards continued to patrol.

As though he had responded, Denley said, "Of course, it's different with me. I mean, I got out long before they did. It wasn't like I waited till the last minute."

Ulick nodded as his eyes followed the figure of one of the patrolling guards, just emerging from the murkiness. The guard paused at a cell doorway, pulled out his keys from beneath his vest, and opened the cell door. He entered the cell and locked the door behind him. Then he closed the solid door. The second patrolling guard, passing by at that moment, watched the solid door close without breaking a step.

"Did you hear me?" Denley's voice was sharp.

Ulick nodded again as he turned his attention back to the guard. "Is it always so smoky in here?"

Denley frowned, the skin upon his forehead folding inward like a lizard's scales. For a moment, it appeared that he was aching to turn Ulick's lack of a satisfactory response into a battle. Then, as Ulick had guessed he would, the other guard took the safer route. "Always. We receive the smoke drifting upwards from the floors below. There's a ventilation system here, or so it's claimed, but if it ever worked properly, that was before my time. Almost as many guards here die of consumption as the prisoners do." He paused, as though he had passed on a challenge.

Ulick merely nodded. They had circled back to their original position; now he could see little in the dimness other than the flames of the fire-pit, continuing to claw the air. From behind the door where the guard had gone, a voice began to plead for mercy in a high, hysterical voice.

Ulick glanced at Denley, but the other guard acted as though he were deaf to the noise. "You're on night watch at the start," he said. "You'll be elevated to day watch once you've proved you can handle the prisoners – not that that's likely to take you long," he said, glancing at the stripes on Ulick's sleeve. "Been working in prisons for a while, have you?"

"Seventeen years this spring."

Denley nodded, his expression looking approving. "Good. I'm tired of all those guards who leave here after a short time because they don't have the stomach for this type of work."

His voice, unaccountably, had risen in volume. Glancing to the side, Ulick saw that the cause was the day guard walking up to them. He was grinning, as though he'd heard this speech on more than one occasion.

"I'll believe that," the day guard said, still grinning, "when I see you fucking your prisoners."

Denley's lips thinned. "I don't fuck in a crowd. My prisoners can tell you I keep them properly tamed."

"This lot?" The day guard hooted, as though Denley had made a particularly choice jest. Denley began to turn red in the face.

Ulick said hurriedly, "Magisterial courts?"

The day guard frowned. "Yes. How the drilling gods did you know . . . ? Oh, Mercy, it's you!" He passed a hand over his forehead, as though wiping away a barrier from his eyes. "Forgive me, sir – I didn't recognize you."

Denley's frown was now directed toward Ulick, who said to the day guard in a mild voice, "We're of the same rank now."

The day guard's mouth turned up on the side. "Old habits. I forgot it's been fourteen years – and oh, yes, they don't give guards in the holding prisons their second elevation till after twenty years' work, do they? Otherwise, you'd be first-ranked for sure by now. This fellow," he said, pointing to Ulick as he addressed Denley, "is the fucking best sharpshooter I ever knew. Back when I worked in the magisterial courts, we had a prisoner suddenly go wild on us. He managed to get loose of his chains and was headed in the direction of a group of schoolchildren – to take a hostage, most likely, given what he'd done in the past. This guard here, he wasn't even on duty that day, he'd dropped into the court to deliver a message, and he was all the way at the back of the room. Yet he managed to bring the prisoner down with one shot, without harming a single spectator. Amazing shooting; never seen the like of it before or after."

"You killed the prisoner?" Denley eyed Ulick with a half-suspicious, half-wary look, as though he had discovered that his companion were Hell in disguise.

"Shoulder wound," Ulick replied briefly. It never ceased to puzzle him how the episodes in his life that he least liked to remember were the ones that most enthralled other folk.

The day guard clapped Ulick on the back. "No need for you to give this man lectures on not being a namby-pamby, Denley. I heard that Sedgewick himself signed the approval for this man's transfer. That gives you some sense of what sort of grit our newcomer has."

"Oh." Denley's expression had changed from wariness to clear hostility. Ulick opened his mouth, and then quickly shut it. What could he say? That he wasn't Sedgewick's tool? He most certainly was, and this new knowledge that Sedgewick had intended him to be an informer from the moment of his arrival deepened his disquiet.

The day guard took a watch from his vest pocket and squinted at it under the dim light. "I'm off." He glanced at the closed door. "Tell Sam when he emerges that I'll wait for him at the saloon if he's not too late with his everlasting fucking."

"He's in competition with the rest of us." Evidently, Denley had decided that it was safest to approach this topic through humor. He had the earnest look on his face of a man trying out an unaccustomed form of mockery.

The day guard glanced at Denley, and the corners of his mouth turned up. "I doubt we'll be giving any blue ribbons to you for your performance. Don't blame us if one of your oh-so-tenderly-cared-for prisoners decides to knife you some bright day."

Denley scowled. The day guard, catching up his cap and greatcoat from a hook on the wall near the level's entry gate, tipped his cap at Ulick before turning to leave.

Denley waited until the boom of the gate was resounding through the entire level before he turned to Ulick. He said briskly, "Duties."

"Yes, duties," said Ulick, grateful for the return to a safe topic. "We patrol during the night, I take it. What do we inspect?"

"Inspect?"

Ulick, his mind still filled with memories of nightly patrols at the Magisterial Holding Prison – the guards' lanterns checking every corner of the prison, the inspection of the roof and exercise yards and cellar, the bolting of the passage doorways, the visits outside to check that the cell windows remained secure – opened his mouth and then closed it again. It was clear, from Denley's expression, that he had no idea what Ulick was talking about.

"Well, we check that the prisoners are still in their cells, of course," Denley said in a doubtful voice, as though he thought Ulick might need to have this elementary fact pointed out to him. "You could check the doors to see that they're secure – sometimes the day guards forget to lock them properly when they leave a cell. Beyond that . . . Try not to fall asleep on duty."

"There's not much to do on night watch, then."

Denley snorted. "Bloody little, except to recite train tables to oneself. Oslo claims he taught himself Vovimian by reciting verb forms while on night watch. Most of us take plenty of visits downstairs to the guardroom, under the excuse that we're inspecting the stairwell for escaped prisoners, or simply that we're using the water closet downstairs. You'll find that the guardroom is the liveliest place here at night, though it's considered bad form to spend more than a quarter of an hour there during any given visit. Mind you, nobody will object if you decide to pay a long visit to one of your prisoners. Just be sure to let the other guard on duty know before you enter the cell."

It took Ulick a minute to figure out how to formulate an answer to this. "I'll be assigned particular prisoners, then?"

"Oh, you already have prisoners – as junior night guard, you're in charge of that half of the level." Denley made a sweeping gesture toward the left half of the level, his hand pausing as it pointed toward the closed cell. "Better leave that cell alone tonight, though. Day guards have first dibs on the prisoners, since there's not a lot of opportunity to fuck prisoners during the daytime. Not that that's ever stopped Sedge."

His voice was acid as he finished this commentary. Ulick took out his handkerchief and coughed into it for a minute, as much to delay his response as to clear his throat of the acrid smoke that was accumulating there. "Is that part of my duties?" he asked finally.

Denley eyed him. Ulick waited, guessing that the delay was due to the earlier linking of his own name with Sedgewick's. Finally the other guard shrugged. "In a roundabout way. It's the easiest way to impress upon your prisoner who's the boss-man. Some guards prefer to use their daggers and whips to show this; maybe that will be your way, if you're good with weapons."

Ulick carefully folded his handkerchief and returned it to his jacket pocket. "You know," he said, "with every word you speak, I'm beginning to get a clearer notion of what those Boundaries of Behavior must have consisted of."

For a moment, he thought he had broken past the other guard's defenses. Then the sound of squeaking hinges screeched across the fire-pit as the solid cell door on Ulick's side of the level opened. The second of the day guards emerged, in the midst of tucking his shirt-tails into his trousers. Behind him in the cell, someone sobbed.

Denley glanced at the day guard, then looked back at Ulick. His voice grew stiff. "Well, I wouldn't know about that," he said. "That was all a long time ago for me."

o—o—o

The fire in the pit was beginning to die down to glowing coals. After consulting with Denley – who had seemed indifferent to such matters – Ulick had replenished the fire twice from a log pile nearby and had stoked the fire several times. Now it hardly seemed worth the effort to renew the flames, for the accumulated heat from the fire-pits below had brought the sixth level so close to the warmth of a midsummer's day that Ulick would have been tempted to discard his jacket, had he not been trained against such informality while on duty.

Denley – who had taken off his jacket hours ago – had disappeared for the fourth time down the stairs to the guardroom. His visits there lasted considerably longer than a quarter of an hour, but Ulick had made no protest, for being alone gave him time to think. The gods above and below knew that he needed to think.

Rufus was the obvious suspect. As Merrick's own guard, he would have ample opportunity to communicate with his prisoner. And his evident renown for mistreating his prisoners could easily be a cloak to disguise the fact that he was actually helping to lead the battle to preserve the Boundaries of Behavior.

Yet the same could be said for Vere. "Mad," Oslo had declared him, and Ulick would have been inclined to agree, except that Vere's conversation was just a little too sane for that of a madman. And even if the guard were as insane as he was rumored, would that necessarily be a barrier? If Merrick was so desperate for assistance as to have sought the help of Sedgewick, then he would hardly be likely to turn down an offer of help from the guard who held the keys to the prison's armory.

Oslo . . . He was the mystery of the equation. He publicly disdained other guards for their treatment of prisoners, yet he evidently raped his own prisoners with glee. Or was he gleeful? Could his disdain be the truth, and his supposed rapes an elaborate cover-up for that truth?

Denley – a coward seeking to compound his folly by going against what little conscience he had – was the least likely suspect for the brave leader of a revolution. By all the laws of sensationalist dime-novels, that meant he was the leader.

Ulick sighed as he took up a lantern and began to inspect, for the dozenth time that night, the nooks and crannies of the level that he had not been ordered to inspect. Anyone in the prison might be Merrick's hidden ally. The mysterious man hiding behind the scenes might be Keane or one of the guards whom Ulick had not yet met. Or perhaps Sedgewick was wrong, and Merrick's ally was a prisoner. Gods, for all Ulick knew, Mercy's Keeper might be at the center of all this.

Maybe Sedgewick himself was the goddess Mercy, in disguise.

Ulick entertained himself for a while with the image of Sedgewick in a ball-gown, trying to murder Ulick, then tripping over his gown and falling off the balcony. Soon, however, Ulick's thoughts grew sober. The only thing that his various suspects were agreed upon was that Sedgewick's double treachery had earned him the title of most hated man in the prison. Scarcely more popular was Denley, with one treachery to his name. Even Oslo and Vere and Rufus came in for their share of criticism. Evidently, backbiting between guards was a favorite pastime here, so that guards were eager to discover some reason to condemn their colleagues.

Ulick sighed. His sole hope, it seemed, was to discover that Merrick's ally was a prisoner. Then Ulick would only be hated by the prisoners when he informed on the man, not by his fellow guards.

He paused to scratch the night-bristle on his chin, wondering whether he ought to let his beard grow. The Keeper at Ulick's previous prison had always insisted that his guards remain clean-shaven, in military fashion, but a military look was quite clearly not the style in this prison. Sedgewick was the only entirely clean-shaven guard whom Ulick had met here . . . and he had a certain military air about him, now that Ulick came to think of it. As though he were commanding a vast army with each twitch of his finger.

Bending over to cast his lamplight into a dark corner, Ulick found himself pausing. Sedgewick had told him that Merrick's goal was to persuade the guards to treat their prisoners with undue softness. Yet Denley was under the impression that Sedgewick believed Merrick's goal was to obtain pardons for the prisoners. Not incompatible goals, yet Ulick couldn't help but wonder whether these different tales were a sign of Sedgewick's deviousness. Perhaps Sedgewick was telling different tales to different guards, and then listening to see which of the guards he talked to gossiped about what he had said to them. Perhaps he was using his tales as a way to manipulate the guards in this prison.

Perhaps Merrick's goal was entirely different from what Sedgewick claimed.

Ulick sighed. His problem was that he lacked information. He could think of only one place in which to gain information – one place where Sedgewick almost certainly would not learn that Ulick was checking his story.

And that one place was the place in the prison where Ulick least wanted to go.