On Guard 9
The year 360, the tenth month. (The year 1881 Fallow by the Old Calendar.)
One question I am often asked in the classroom is how the Eternal Dungeon came to be structured along military lines. The answer is simple: Yclau's royal dungeon originated as a military enquiry unit. It was set up, many centuries before it adopted the name of the Eternal Dungeon, as a means to question enemy soldiers who had been captured. As we might expect from those primitive times, the methods of enquiry were brutal.
Gradually, as the Thousand Years' War between Yclau and Vovim became punctuated by longer and longer intervals of peace, the Queen's torturers began devoting more of their attention to enemies of the state, and then, at the beginning of the modern era, to prisoners who were believed to have committed especially heinous crimes. At no point, though, did the royal dungeon cease to be regarded as a military unit; to the final years of the Thousand Years' War, it continued to question military prisoners who could not be broken by other army investigators. It may be recalled that Layle Smith's first prisoner after he returned to his duties as High Seeker in the year 359 was one such man, Thatcher Owen.
The Code of Seeking bears testimony to the dungeon's military origins, for example in the passage that permitted condemned prison workers to opt for a military punishment. But even without such clauses, it is clear that many of the workers in the Eternal Dungeon were familiar with military discipline, for many of those workers came from military backgrounds. Layle Smith's father was a soldier, and the High Seeker would no doubt have heard tales from his father about the importance of discipline in the army. Layle Smith's senior night guard, Seward Sobel, had formerly served as a member of the Queen's guard, an army unit. Elsdon Taylor's senior night guard, Barrett Boyd, had been a soldier for three years before he became a prison guard. It cannot be said, therefore, that these men were unaware of the consequences for disobedience . . .
—Psychologists with Whips: A History of the Eternal Dungeon.
His mind was focussed, his goal clear. He no longer felt the fear that had torn at his soul the night before, weakening his body. Now he was driven, like a dagger finding its mark.
But he found, as he approached the cell, that his path was blocked by Clifford Crofford.
The young man said, "I was wondering . . ."
"Yes?" Barrett looked past him. The day guards had left, Mr. Phelps having arrived on duty. Mr. Phelps looked sleepy; for the past fortnight, all of the dungeon dwellers had spent long hours discussing what the High Seeker had done to Mr. Ferris.
"Would you like to come visit my parents tomorrow?" Mr. Crofford blurted out.
He turned his attention back to Clifford. The junior guard was staring at him with uncertainty, his cheeks pink. But his gaze did not waver from Barrett's.
Barrett said, "I have extra duty tomorrow. I'm sorry."
Clifford lowered his eyes and nodded, running the tip of his tongue nervously over his upper lip. Barrett glanced over his shoulder again. Mr. Phelps was looking curiously their way.
Barrett took hold of Clifford's arm and pulled him into the nearest cell. The renovations of the breaking cells were completed now, but this one still lay empty, awaiting its next prisoner. Barrett closed the door and put his hands on Clifford's shoulders. "You know I love you."
Clifford's eyes flashed up. A smile appeared on his face. He nodded.
Barrett tightened his grip on Clifford's shoulders. "I want you to keep that thought present in your mind. Remember that I love you and will always love you."
Clifford's smile disappeared. He searched Barrett's face with his eyes. Barrett braced himself to stave off the questions he could not answer.
But Clifford asked no questions. He simply pulled Barrett into a tight embrace.
They stood for a while like that, heart near heart, loin near loin, resting their heads on each other's shoulders. Then Barrett turned his head and found Clifford's lips. The junior guard's mouth tasted sweeter than anything Barrett had ever known in his life.
He pulled himself away before he should lose courage. "I must go," he said. "I'm on duty."
Clifford said nothing. His expression was bleak, but he did not try to pull Barrett back as Barrett opened the cell door.
This time Barrett did look back. He gave Clifford a small smile. Clifford gave him a small smile in return. Then Barrett walked on to where Mr. Phelps was awaiting him in front of their prisoner's cell.
Somewhere down at the end of the corridor, a prisoner was screaming. Barrett checked his step as he reached the door to his prisoner's cell. The scream sounded as though it were coming, not from the breaking cells, but from the entry hall or one of the rooms surrounding it.
The scream halted abruptly. Most likely it came from another Seeker or guard who was enduring the High Seeker's discipline under Mr. Sobel's lash, Barrett decided. Still, it gave him the excuse he needed.
"Go find out what that sound is," Barrett told Mr. Phelps, who had been standing next to their prisoner's cell, looking uneasily in the direction of the scream.
Mr. Phelps needed no further encouragement; he raced off, in the direction of the entry hall. Barrett noticed that Mr. Crofford and several other guards had abandoned their posts as well, though at least one guard remained on duty in front of each occupied cell.
Barrett took a deep breath and unlocked the cell door. He was not surprised to find, when he entered, that the prisoner was curled up in a ball in the corner. Mr. Holloway lifted his face. Moisture ran from his eyes and from his nose, which was red.
"Have you come to . . . ?" the prisoner whispered.
Barrett shook his head as he closed the door behind him. He did not bother to lock the cell. "Your racking has been delayed until tomorrow. Mr. Taylor has work he needs to do for the High Seeker today."
He walked forward. The hard, regular sound of his boots upon the paving stones was echoed by his heart. When he reached the prisoner, he squatted down beside him and offered him his handkerchief.
"Have you thought about what I said two weeks ago?" he asked softly as Mr. Holloway wiped his eyes and nose.
"I can't," sniffed the prisoner. "I don't remember. If I remembered— But I don't remember anything about that night."
Would the mere absence of memory be considered a confession of guilt? wondered Barrett. But he knew the answer: The Code of Seeking required an explicit statement that the crime had been committed or not committed. Under normal circumstances, the High Seeker might be willing to bend the rule for this case, where the prisoner obviously had no choice but to say that he did not know whether he had committed the crime. But these were not normal circumstances.
"I think I did it," whispered the prisoner. "It must have been me, mustn't it?"
"Yes," said Barrett. Like Elsdon Taylor, he had no doubt that this prisoner was the murderer.
"If I said I thought it was me . . ."
If he said he thought it was him but was not sure, it would not be a complete confession of guilt. The rack would be used to obtain that complete confession, a confession that the prisoner could not deliver.
Barrett did not know he had moved until he saw Mr. Holloway's breath quicken. The prisoner stared down at the dagger in Barrett's hand.
"Please," Mr. Holloway pleaded, "put it away. I can't . . . I mustn't. . ."
Barrett pressed the hilt into the prisoner's hand. Mr. Holloway stared at him, uncomprehending.
"Do you need my help?" Barrett asked softly.
Understanding entered Mr. Holloway's eyes. He stared at the dagger again, curling his hand hard around the hilt. A faint smile touched his lips.
"No," he said. "I don't suppose I do, do I?"
His breath was coming faster now. Quickly, Barrett reached forward and traced the circle of rebirth on his forehead. Mr. Holloway looked up from the dagger, startled.
"You have made reparation," Barrett explained as he rose. "You are transformed."
"Oh," said the prisoner, and he stared at the dagger with wonder in his eyes. Then his eyes grew unfocussed.
Mr. Holloway was right; he did not need help. He slid the dagger into his own heart with as much ease as though he had done it a dozen times – as he no doubt had. Barrett waited until the prisoner's body was still, and then he knelt down and took the dagger back. The prisoner's heart must have still been pumping faintly, for some blood spattered onto Barrett as he pulled the dagger out. Barrett reflected, with grim amusement, that it was just as well that he himself had not decided to take up the career of a secretive murderer, for he could never have carried off the deception.
He rose and remained staring down at the body, mentally lighting a flame of rebirth for the prisoner's journey into his new life. As time passed, many other flames appeared in his mind, marking the deaths of prisoners he had racked.
Then he heard excited voices in the corridor: the guards who had gone to investigate the sound of the screaming had returned. Barrett sheathed the blade, not bothering to clean it of its blood. For a moment more, he stood in place, wiping the moisture from his face onto his sleeve. Then, in preparation for his own reparation, he made the sign of rebirth upon his forehead.
He turned and went to tell the High Seeker what he had done.
. . . It cannot be said, therefore, that these men were unaware of the consequences for disobedience; but Elsdon Taylor is a different matter.
Elsdon Taylor's activities in 360 remain an enigma to scholars: to this day, historians disagree virulently as to what extent his ignorance of the military structure of the Eternal Dungeon led to the tragic fate of Barrett Boyd. It can be said with fairness that Elsdon Taylor exacerbated an already delicate situation by continually confronting Layle Smith in public with his opposition to the High Seeker's new policies. Under such circumstances, he made it impossible for Layle Smith to ameliorate the policies he had previously announced; the High Seeker was left with the choice of either admitting he was entirely wrong or enforcing his policies to the fullest extent. This would have been particularly the case in any situation involving Elsdon Taylor's prisoner.
Yet when all is said and done, it was Barrett Boyd alone who decided, on that autumn day in 360, to give Elsdon Taylor's prisoner the means to kill himself – a capital crime by Yclau law (which, in the fourth century, still outlawed both suicide and assistance to suicide) and also by the Code of Seeking (which forbade prison workers from assisting prisoners in illegal activities).
However much one may fault the High Seeker for bringing matters to this pass, one can only view with sympathy the situation he found himself on that day not long after Antonius Ferris's hanging: leaving the room where Elsdon Taylor barely clung to life, only to find himself confronted by Elsdon Taylor's senior night guard, who proceeded to confess to a death-sentence crime.
It was at this point – and perhaps the only point in Layle Smith's career – that his military origins showed itself. His next act, like that of Elsdon Taylor's fierce opposition, remains an enigma to scholars who wish to provide easy answers as to whether Layle Smith was as brutal as the torture he sought to defend.
—Psychologists with Whips: A History of the Eternal Dungeon.