"He doesn't remember his early childhood," Vito reported to Elsdon. "He can't recall a time before his personality was split in two."
Elsdon nodded as he knelt down next to the stove, pushing the remaining coal out of the firebox, into the coal-hod. "Have you discussed his case with Mr. Bergsen? For that matter, have you discussed it with Mr. Boyd?"
"Yes. Mr. Boyd did his best to be helpful, but he says he has no recollection of the moment when his previous self transformed into his current self, during his beating. As far as he knows, the two Barrett Boyds were never in the same body together, at the same time. As for Mr. Bergsen, he says he hasn't read of a patient like this in his medical journals. He says he has only had one case similar to this during his time as a healer, but of course he can't discuss the case with me, due to medical confidentiality."
"I wonder who it could have been," Elsdon murmured as he rose and reached toward the cover-lifter. "Someone he treated while he was an army surgeon, I suppose."
Vito said nothing. After a moment, Elsdon looked up from his work of pulling open the stove covers. Vito merely raised his eyebrows.
"Oh!" Elsdon straightened up. "I hadn't considered that possibility. I've never thought of him as having split his personality."
"He's different when he's dreaming, you've said." Vito reached over to hand Elsdon the small, flat shovel he was reaching toward.
Elsdon took the shovel in hand and began to scrape ashes from over the oven, into the fire-box, but his mind clearly dwelled elsewhere. "Different, yes, but . . . It depends on when you're talking about."
"He has changed, then?" Vito sat down on the bench to watch Elsdon as he knelt to scrape ashes out from under the oven.
"Very much so. When Layle first decided to seek refuge in the Eternal Dungeon, he was an abusive torturer, good at his work and enjoying it a great deal. But he was also afire with a desire to change what he was: to become the sort of torturer that the Code of Seeking described, who helped prisoners into their transformation and rebirth." Elsdon carefully banged the flue with his shovel to bring down the remaining ashes. "I suppose you're right. In a way, his personality was split at that time."
"So how did the High Seeker resolve the split?" Having nothing better to do, Vito picked up a cloth and began wiping off the rest of the bench, where some of the gently drifting ashes had landed. He had been more than a little taken aback to discover that, as a Seeker, he was expected to clean his own stove. It had required a gentle reminder from Elsdon to recall Vito to the fact that, should he take his oath of confinement, he would be legally classified as a prisoner. Seekers had privileges beyond that of ordinary prisoners, but occasional menial tasks were intended to remind them that their lives were not so very different from that of the prisoners they searched.
As Vito was well aware, having come all too close to being hanged for his previous disobedience to the High Seeker's orders.
"He imprisoned his dark side," said Elsdon. "He shut it into his dreamings, so that he wouldn't be tempted to unlawfully abuse actual prisoners."
Vito paused as he passed Elsdon the ash pail. "The dreamings that came upon him during the daytime, against his will? That could have been dangerous."
"It would have driven him mad in the end. It very nearly did." Elsdon's voice was disconcertingly matter-of-fact as he scraped all the ashes into the pail. Vito, who had long thought that Elsdon's love for the High Seeker blinded him to Layle Smith's dark qualities, had begun to suspect during their recent conversations that Elsdon had a clearer-headed perspective on his love-mate than anyone else in the dungeon. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Elsdon alone had played out Layle Smith's dreamings.
"Your bed-play . . ." ventured Vito uneasily.
"Lovemaking," Elsdon corrected. "If we just did this for play, it would be far too dangerous."
"Because the High Seeker would truly abuse you in bed?"
Elsdon gave a sad little smile as he sat back on his heels. "You have no idea how unlikely that is. No, I meant dangerous for Layle. Have you forgotten why I was imprisoned?"
Vito felt – as he so often did when conversing with Elsdon – as though Elsdon had just cracked his head open with an iron beam. "You're worried that you might kill him?"
"I killed my sister," Elsdon said calmly. "And I did so because my father bound and beat me for years, since the time I was a small boy. If I thought that Layle was truly abusing me . . . Well, it has been many years since my temper was roused in a rage, but I wouldn't want to risk it happening again. What keeps our play-acting safe, for both of us, is that we do it in love."
Vito thought about this as Elsdon took up the broom to clean the ashes off the floor. "You told me once that you play he is rescuing you from captivity."
"That's one of our plays. We have many." Elsdon leaned over to brush the ashes into the dustpan. "In some manner or another, all of them involve me being hurt, and Layle doing something that heals me. We play out abuse – the abuse I suffered from, and the abuse that Layle inflicted on his past victims. And then we turn that darkness into something bright and beautiful."
"I see," Vito said slowly. This tale certainly cast a unique light on the High Seeker's dark dreamings. Vito found that his gaze was drifting to the side, over to where Elsdon had placed his shirt when stripping to his waist in order to clean the stove. A small, black volume poked out from his breast pocket.
Elsdon caught sight of where Vito was looking and smiled. "You can sense it in his revision of the Code, can't you? That was what cemented our relationship in the end. I already loved the Code of Seeking; then I realized that the parts in it which I most loved arose out of Layle's struggles to transform his darkness into something that would benefit the prisoners. . . . But I'm not sure any of this will be of use to you with your own prisoner. He certainly doesn't seem to have any struggles of conscience over what he has done."
"Not in that way," Vito agreed. "Gurth told me once that he does whatever is needed in order to survive. And Or . . . it's the same for him, I suspect. He had no scruples when I knew him last; he was willing to sacrifice me in order to gain his freedom."
"And your prisoner has been willing to sacrifice the lives of all the young girls he prostitutes, and all the men who suffer from the sweetweed and opium he sells," Elsdon concluded as he set aside the implements of his cleaning. "He certainly hasn't entered into his transformation, much less his rebirth, the way Layle did."
"Your love-mate came from Vovim to Yclau for love of the Code," said Vito, thinking aloud. "And he managed to heal the split in himself – as much as it could ever be healed – through love of you."
Elsdon nodded. He had his eye on the blacking liquid and brush, but he made no immediate move to start his polishing of the stove. "Well, that tells you something, doesn't it? You can't make love to your prisoner; your duties as a Seeker don't permit that. But you can find out what else it is that your prisoner loves, and draw upon that to help transform him."
"You seem very sure that he loves something," Vito commented.
Elsdon smiled as he finally sat down on the bench next to Vito. "He's sane enough to do his work, isn't he? Without love, he'd be utterly mad."