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As a Seeker (Rebirth #5)

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Rebirth #5
AS A SEEKER

The year 356, the tenth month. (The year 1880 Clover by the Old Calendar.)
 

Some historians have argued in recent years that the first High Seeker of the Eternal Dungeon deserves little or no credit for the astounding improvements in the handling of criminals that took place during his lifetime. A man who began his life as a murderer and rapist, and who capped his achievements by going mad, does not merit the praise he has been given. Or so the argument goes.

Whichever side one takes in this debate over who did what, it is important to point out that what united the Seekers of the Eternal Dungeon's Golden Age is more important than what divided them – for one quality all Seekers shared. Much as modern historians would like to turn their heads in shame from this period, it is in the tale of Layle Smith's mental illness that we must seek the most shining example of this quality. . . .

Psychologists with Whips: A History of the Eternal Dungeon.
 

CHAPTER ONE

The body flopped down, its limbs sprawling asunder as it fell. It landed with a shudder, then lay still, its eyes staring blankly toward the ceiling.

Cursing, Weldon Chapman reached down and pulled the dead chicken back into the basket from which it had fallen. If the inhabitants of the Eternal Dungeon must pile gifts at this doorway, he wished that they would at least have sense enough to give food that was cooked. Already the chicken was beginning to smell.

Pushing aside the basket with the unplucked chicken, he picked up a basket containing fruit and cheese and knocked lightly upon the door facing the outer dungeon. Beyond the door he heard nothing except silence, but the door swung open almost immediately to reveal a Seeker, his black hood hiding his face. Weldon noted the smooth youthfulness of the hand resting upon the doorpost.

He felt almost dizzy at the sense of being plunged into his past, but the memory cut off abruptly as the Seeker lifted his face-cloth, revealing himself to be Elsdon Taylor. Elsdon smiled at him – a weary smile – and gestured him into the plainly furnished Seeker's cell.

Weldon was about to raise his own face-cloth – a privilege of his friendship with the junior Seeker – when he noticed a second figure in the cell, sitting in a chair facing the door to the inner dungeon, his back to Weldon. His arms lay motionless upon the rests of the armchair.

"Is he . . . ?" Weldon could not finish the soft question aimed at Elsdon.

"He is alive," came the cool answer from the armchair, "and would appreciate your not acting as though he's a corpse."

Weldon became aware that he was still clutching the food basket. He thrust it onto a nearby book-counter and said, "I apologize, sir. I thought you were asleep."

"You did not. You thought I had gone mad. Well, I haven't. Not yet." The tall figure rose and turned toward Weldon. His face was naked.

Weldon felt his heart beat hard and wished he could remember, from his schooldays, the Vovimian curse of the torture-god. This honor of seeing the High Seeker naked-faced had nothing to do with the High Seeker's feelings for him, he reminded himself. Weldon was there as a carekeeper, and as such, the High Seeker must raise his face-cloth to him, in the same manner that he would raise his face-cloth to the dungeon healer. Layle Smith's intimate gesture had nothing to do with what had happened ten years ago. Nothing at all.

Layle – Weldon always thought of him as just Layle, even after all these years – gestured him into a seat, and Weldon realized belatedly that he had not responded to the High Seeker's bitter remark. Once Weldon was seated, the High Seeker returned to the armchair, which Elsdon had unobtrusively turned round for him. It was not the austere, straight-backed chair upon which the High Seeker had sat ten years before, Weldon realized. Instead, it had all the marks of being a comfortable chair Layle had obtained for his love-mate during the two years since Elsdon moved into the High Seeker's cell. That shook Weldon as nothing else here had.

Elsdon himself did not sit down. Instead he carried the basket over to the small serving area at the end of the sitting room and began unpacking it, keeping his back to the conversation. Layle, as usual, made no soft preliminaries.

"I approved to the Codifier your offer to help Mr. Taylor," he said, "but I cannot say I am happy about adding to your work hours. I have left you with a heavy enough burden as it is."

Weldon gave a small smile, then realized that Layle could not see it. Sweet blood, what must Layle think of him, leaving his face-cloth down after so generous a gesture? He pulled the cloth up with fumbling fingers, slipped it under the clips at the top of his head, and said, "Not so great a burden as you might think, sir. I'm not the High Seeker, after all. Any important decisions are awaiting your return." Too late, he wondered whether the thought of all this labor would break the High Seeker further. He added quickly, "Though the Codifier is able to take care of most such decisions in your absence. My job seems to consist solely of sitting around doing documentwork. I might as well sign papers here as at – the office."

He had nearly said, "your office," but decided in time that it would not help to remind Layle that the High Seeker's office lay empty of its true owner. The collection of gifts outside the door must be a painful enough reminder to Layle that the Eternal Dungeon was in a state of abnormality.

"You've done this work before." Elsdon's voice was slightly muffled. He was still turned toward the serving counter, sorting the food.

For a moment, Weldon could have cursed the young man for reminding Layle of this. The last time the High Seeker had been suspended from his duties, it had been for assaulting a prisoner. But then Weldon saw Layle's body relax at this reminder that the day supervisor of his dungeon was a competent substitute for the High Seeker. Of course, Weldon thought to himself. Elsdon knows Layle Smith. He knows Layle better than I do.

Layle persisted, though, saying, "I'm not pleased that you're neglecting your duties to your prisoners."

"I'm between prisoners at the moment, sir," Weldon responded. "Besides, my primary duty is to see that you get better and return to work."

The words echoed in his head, and he realized with dismay that they were all too close to words he had spoken ten years before. He waited rigidly to be ordered from the High Seeker's cell, but his tension was broken by laughter. "I rather think," said Elsdon, coming forward and placing a bowl full of cut fruit upon the High Seeker's knee, "that your task is to keep a certain frenzied young Seeker from having to search out the services of a mind healer."

For a moment, the horror of Elsdon's remark so overwhelmed Weldon that he forgot to breathe. Then he saw the faintest shadow of a smile touch Layle's lips, and he cursed himself again. The junior Seeker was skilled; Weldon had learned that when he had taken over Elsdon's training during Layle's earlier suspension. It had not occurred to him then that Elsdon's talent for knowing which light-hearted remark would reassure a prisoner could be extended into his private life.

Layle ignored the bowl on his knee, saying, "Mr. Taylor's burden is indeed a great one, and I'm grateful to you for being willing to lift it at least a little. He has been receiving broken sleep for the past fortnight—"

"Because you won't tell me when you wake up!" Elsdon sat down abruptly at Layle's feet and frowned up at the High Seeker. It was an incongruous image: a subservient posture joined with an expression that could only be held by someone who had mastery over his love-mate. It confirmed everything Weldon had already guessed about the nature of the relationship between these two.

He shifted uneasily in his chair.

Layle ignored him; his gaze was fastened upon Elsdon. "There is no need for you to share my pattern of sleeplessness. I have no duties at the moment; you have duties to your prisoner."

Weldon held his breath in the next moment, but Elsdon simply replied, "And how well do you think I can do my duties, going into my prisoner's cell each day, knowing that you won't care for yourself while I'm gone? If you refuse to let me share your sleeplessness, then all the gods of Vovim must know what else you're refusing to share with me."

Again the touch of a smile edged Layle's lips. For Weldon, it was like seeing a miracle occur twice in one day. "I doubt that the gore-loving gods of Vovim will take much notice of you. If I have any hope at all, it lies in that fact." Then, as though suddenly aware that he was stripping himself in the presence of a stranger, he turned his gaze back to Weldon and said, "Mr. Taylor refuses to follow common sense in this matter, so your duty will be to sit with me whenever I awake and keep me company until I feel ready to sleep."

Weldon nodded and was searching for a commonplace response to make when he felt his stomach jolt. The High Seeker had leaned forward. His green eyes were glitter-cold.

One of the jokes of the Eternal Dungeon was that Layle Smith had designed the Seekers' hoods, and that he had done so for the sole purpose of forcing prisoners to focus their attention upon his cold eyes. It was a joke that inevitably brought nervous laughter.

The High Seeker's voice was cold as well. "One other duty you have, and I cannot overstress how important this is. Under no circumstances shall you allow me to leave this cell, unless I am accompanied by Mr. Taylor. My day and night guards are presently quartered in the rooms opposite to this one, in the outer dungeon. If I should attempt to leave here without Mr. Taylor, you are to call upon them for assistance to restrain me. That is an order."

Weldon dared not look toward Elsdon. Such a gesture would only remind the High Seeker that he was presently stripped of his power to give orders. Instead he said, "I understand, sir." Then he added more lightly, "It will be a relief to me to have you close at hand. Every day, matters come up that I wish I could receive your advice about."

Layle settled back into his chair; his expression had returned to its normal coolness. Weldon chanced a glance at Elsdon, who had pulled the fruit bowl from Layle's knee to prevent it from falling when the High Seeker leaned forward, but Elsdon kept his gaze averted from Weldon.

"What sort of problems have you been facing?" Layle asked.

"Small matters, not enough to bother the Codifier with. But . . . Well, take the matter of Mr. Rowan. Do you remember the prisoner you assigned him last month?"

Layle nodded. "A difficult man to search. How are matters proceeding there?"

"Ill, sir; the prisoner physically attacked Mr. Rowan yesterday. I gave Mr. Rowan permission to place the prisoner upon the rack, as all methods short of brute force seem to be failing to work. Mr. Rowan has asked leave to take the prisoner up to level ten on the rack. I know that you don't usually allow Seekers to take prisoners that high . . ."

His voice trailed off. He had seen the look in Layle's eyes. He waited for Layle's attention to return to him; then he realized, with a twist of the stomach, that it would not.

Layle's gaze was focussed, but not on him – not on anything in this room. He stared at that which was beyond the sight of the other men in the room, his eyes dancing slightly. His breath had grown rapid.

Elsdon rose slowly to his feet. He bent over and placed his hand on the High Seeker's shoulder, saying softly, "Layle . . . we have a guest."

For a breathless moment, nothing happened. Then the High Seeker blinked rapidly, as though he were emerging from deep water. Weldon looked away, trying to pretend that he had not been staring.

"I apologize, Mr. Chapman." The High Seeker's voice was abnormally deep; it was the voice he usually reserved for prisoners he was breaking. "I am sorry to have left you so abruptly. I'm sure you understand, though, that it was in the best interests of the dungeon for me to do so."

"Layle, that's folly!" Abandoning the fruit bowl to a table nearby, Elsdon dropped to his knees and took hold of the High Seeker's hands. "If you won't listen to me, listen to Mr. Bergsen! He says that you're endangering yourself by continuing to retreat further into your dreamings."

"Better that I should be endangered than that the other inhabitants of the dungeon should be." Layle's voice was crisp as he fixed Elsdon with his cool gaze. "And you of all people should know how great that danger is."

Elsdon opened his mouth, then pressed his lips tight together in a thin line, like a father whose anger has grown so great that he dare not continue scolding his child. After an awkward pause, the High Seeker said, "I'm rather tired. Mr. Chapman, if you will excuse me . . ."

"No need for you to ask permission to depart, sir," Weldon replied. "This is your home."

He hoped that Layle would take the hint. He had always found Layle's insistence upon formality to be oppressive. Layle was the sole Seeker who, when locked in a room filled only with fellow Seekers whom he had known for nearly twenty years, would not raise his face-cloth. Now, listening to Layle address him in formal language only seconds after he had linked eyes with Elsdon in the most intimate manner, Weldon thanked the fates that he had not been born with violence in his soul. He doubted he could have resisted the impulse to use it by now.

Which led to more unpleasant thoughts. He watched as the High Seeker silently disappeared into his bedroom, shutting the door behind him; then Weldon turned his attention to Elsdon. The junior Seeker rose to his feet with torpid movements. Taking the bowl of fruit over to the counter, he slid onto the stool there and buried his face in his hands.

Weldon came up behind him and placed his hand upon Elsdon's back, but when the junior Seeker raised his head, Weldon could think of nothing to say but, "You should sleep too."

Elsdon gave a half-smile. "I was just trying to decide whether it would be worth my effort to prepare some food for myself."

"Let me." Weldon allowed his voice to reveal his relief at finally having a task to do, and Elsdon laughed. He had all the energy of youth, the ability to spring back from weariness and tackle a problem anew. Examining Elsdon out of the corner of his eye, Weldon decided that matters must have reached a crisis indeed if Elsdon was welcoming assistance from him.

Bread lay on the counter. Weldon reached for it, saying, "Where do you keep your knives?"

"You'll have to tear it with your hands. We don't have any knives."

Weldon stopped abruptly in the midst of taking hold of the bread. He looked over at Elsdon, who was reaching for a metal wine bottle. "Is that necessary?" he asked the junior Seeker quietly.

"No. But he thinks it is. He made me get rid of anything here that he might use as a weapon."

Weldon sighed and let the bread drop from his hands. Pulling himself onto the second stool, he leaned onto the counter with his arms and contemplated the lines at the corners of Elsdon's eyes. He had no memory of those lines being there upon the young man's arrival at the Eternal Dungeon.

"Elsdon," he said, "how did this all start? During the time you and the High Seeker have been together, he has seemed more at peace than I have ever seen him before. Why now, of all times?"

Elsdon, trying to pull the cork from the bottle without assistance from a corkscrew, bit his lip before saying, "It started after I returned from Vovim."

Weldon was silent a moment before taking the bottle from Elsdon. "I can imagine that learning of Layle's past was a shock for you. It was a shock for all of us, when he announced the truth upon his return—"

Elsdon shook his head. "It wasn't that. I was shocked, yes, but nothing I learned in Vovim changed my belief that I'd chosen the right man for my love-mate. The change was in Layle."

Weldon reached toward the cups – they were all made of unbreakable pewter, he noticed – and occupied himself with pouring the wine as Elsdon said, "Layle sent me to Vovim, knowing that I would be tortured there. He did it for the sake of the prisoners in Vovim, and he rightly knew that I would have agreed to the mission if I'd known in full what I was facing. That in itself wasn't the trouble. The trouble was that he hadn't told me before I left about his past, and when I learned from my torturer that Layle had gleefully abused prisoners when he was a young torturer in Vovim . . . When my torturer tried to persuade me that Layle had sent me to Vovim in order to murder me . . . All of this made my suffering twice as hard as it should have been."

"Did you tell him this?" Weldon asked, the wine forgotten. Like Elsdon, he was keeping his voice exceedingly low.

Elsdon gave something resembling a laugh. "Does one ever have to tell the High Seeker anything important? He knows, and this knowledge is what has been driving him to retreat from the real world. He has convinced himself that the harm he did me is only the first step in a campaign of destruction that he will inflict upon every inhabitant of this dungeon."

Weldon fingered the wine bottle for a minute before asking, "Do you believe he is a danger?"

Elsdon raised his gaze from the counter. "Do you?"

Weldon did not have to think before shaking his head. "He has been a Seeker for nearly twenty years, and in all that time he has broken from his duties only twice – both times under circumstances that anyone could forgive. If he hasn't lived out his dark past during all these years, I see no reason why he should do so now."

"Tell him that," Elsdon said, rubbing his palms across his face. "He won't listen to me."

"At least he has sense enough to keep you by his side."

"He has tried to send me away." Elsdon's voice was grim. Weldon felt incongruous laughter rise in his chest as he imagined the High Seeker attempting to throw out of his cell this stubborn young man. One might as well try to lift all the rocks of the cavern in which the Eternal Dungeon was housed.

He held back his smile and said, "Elsdon, these dreamings . . ."

"He has always had them, ever since he left Vovim as a young man. It's his mind's way of finding a substitute for the deeds he committed there."

"I'd guessed that. Nobody has ever known in detail what the High Seeker's dreamings are, but since they happen most often when he is torturing prisoners, it's easy enough to guess their dark nature. But now . . . Elsdon, the High Seeker has never before allowed his dreamings to interfere with his work, nor has he needed another person to call him back to this world. In the past, his spells of unawareness lasted no more than the space of a breath or two, and then he would draw back from his dreamings of his own will. That he should have to take healing leave because his dreamings have become so frequent . . ."

Elsdon did not look up from where he sat, hunched over the counter. "If you asked Layle, he would say that he asked the Codifier to suspend him from his duties because he believes that he can no longer control his actions. He believes he is in danger of torturing and raping and murdering every person in the Eternal Dungeon."

"That's what the High Seeker says. And the dungeon healer?"

"Mr. Bergsen says what I say: Layle's only danger is that he is retreating more and more into the dungeon of his dreamings. He is losing his mind, Weldon."

Elsdon's voice ended in a choke. Weldon laid his hand upon the junior Seeker's arm. After a long while he said, "He has you. That's the best guarantee that he won't leave us altogether."

"He has me only half the day. The other half I spend with my prisoner, or doing work connected with my prisoner." Elsdon raised his head and took a deep breath. "I'm planning to ask the Codifier to relieve me of my duties to my prisoner."

Weldon felt a chill enter him. He tried to ignore it for the moment, saying, "I thought your searching of the prisoner was going well."

"I think it is. I know that Layle will be angry with me – he assigned the prisoner to me because he thought I was the best Seeker for the job. But Weldon, I can't let Layle slip further into his dreamings. If putting my prisoner aside can help him . . ."

The chill increased. Weldon reached for the cheese on the counter and said, "Elsdon – did Layle ever tell you how it was that our friendship ended?"

Elsdon was silent a long moment, and then, with the devastating directness that he had shown in his training as a Seeker, he replied, "No. Nor how your love-bond ended."

Weldon swallowed back his next words. He stared down at the cup, dark with wine and with his memories.

o—o—o

Weldon Chapman was ten years older than Layle Smith. As far as he knew during his early years in the dungeon, he was also more experienced in the ways of the world. The High Seeker, judging from his accent, had lived the privileged life of a gentle-born boy during his childhood, while Weldon had been forced to struggle as a commoner.

None of this made any difference when the young High Seeker invited Weldon to his cell two years after Weldon became a Seeker, and announced, without preliminary, that he was in love with Weldon.

Not until much later would Weldon ask himself whether he had been in love with Layle Smith. It seemed an irrelevant consideration. The High Seeker had chosen him, out of all the other Seekers, as his love-mate. Weldon's spirit soared.

It remained at a height for several minutes as the High Seeker spoke of how his love had grown for Weldon and of what he hoped to give him. Layle Smith even went so far as to say that he was honored to learn that Weldon shared his feelings.

Then he asked Weldon whether he would mind being tied up.

The shock that went through Weldon then brought him close to vomiting. Worldly-wise as he was, he knew that such things took place – in brothels and other sordid houses of wickedness. Weldon had certainly witnessed worse than that in the cramped tenement buildings where he had lived as a child. But his parents had been good, upright people who made clear to him that poverty was no excuse for iniquity. Their relationship to one another had been that of pure, gentle love. That they should find it necessary to bind one another in order to make love was a ludicrous idea. That Weldon should take part in such an exercise was a sickening notion.

Because of the friendship they had established several months before, both Weldon and the High Seeker had raised their face-cloths to one another at the start of the conversation. The High Seeker was too good at his work not to be able to read the expression on Weldon's face. There was a long pause, unbroken by Weldon. Then carefully, painstakingly, the High Seeker explained that he thought he might be able to make love to another human being in this way, but in no other way.

Later – far too much later – Weldon would realize the implication behind Layle's words: that the High Seeker had never made love to anyone. At the time, Weldon could only conclude that the High Seeker was gravely ill in the mind and required his assistance. He broke his silence finally to tell Layle eagerly that he would help him to find assistance for his trouble – that he would make arrangements for him to meet with a mind healer so that he could rid himself of these terrible impulses.

Not until ten years later, during a conversation with Elsdon Taylor, would Weldon learn that the first step Layle had undertaken when he arrived at the Eternal Dungeon was to consult with the dungeon healer about ridding himself of his dark desires. With Mr. Bergsen's assistance, Layle had consulted with the finest mind healers in the queendom.

The last mind healer to meet with him, three years after Layle's arrival, had been the Queen's own private healer. The man had finally shaken his head and said that, if Layle wished to break down in both mind and body, he should continue in his present course of trying to rid himself of his desires. Such healings could take place where the desires had come about through trauma or deliberate decision, but it was clear to the royal healer that Layle's desires lay too deep for such change. If he persisted in trying to rid himself of them, he would destroy himself. The only safe course Layle Smith could take, the healer suggested, was to find a way to shape his desires in order to gift others.

This Layle had already trained himself to do in his work, letting his dark desires manifest themselves only when they would help his prisoner. But could he turn his darkness into a form of love?

The High Seeker explained none of this to Weldon. He simply pulled down his face-cloth, thanked Weldon for his consideration, and led him to the door.

It was the last time that Weldon would visit the High Seeker's cell for ten years.

o—o—o

"He made two more tries," Weldon said, staring down at the mess of shreddings that had resulted from his attempts to slice the cheese with a spoon. "First he approached an elderly Seeker – I suppose he thought the man would be less shocked at his proposal. He was right. The man was amused; he spread the story far and wide, embellishing the tale considerably, so as to add to Layle's already formidable reputation as the darkest Seeker in the Eternal Dungeon. Later, when the High Seeker made the most tentative of proposals to a Seeker who was about to complete his training, that Seeker was so terrified by the stories he'd heard about the High Seeker's sexuality that he fled the dungeon, which resulted in an explosion of rumors that the High Seeker had raped him. . . . At least I was discreet. If nothing else."

Elsdon, resting his head upon his arms as he listened, said, "I'm glad you told me this. I'd heard bits of the tale from Layle, but he wouldn't tell me the parts that were private between you two. I'm not sure, though, why you're recounting this now."

"Because," said Weldon, "that wasn't the end of my private relationship with the High Seeker. The day after I spurned his offer of love, he appeared at my door, and when I let him into my cell he raised his face-cloth. I realized afterwards that he had decided that, however painful it might be for him to continue seeing me privately, he had no right to withdraw any part of himself I had not rejected. I had rejected his love, so he offered me his friendship." Weldon took a longer look at the mangled cheese and pushed it aside with a jerk of the hand. "I was fool enough to bring up the topic of his dark desires again. I told him that, if he refused to see a mind healer, I would help him myself – I would spend every minute of my days ridding him of his desire to overmaster his bed partners. As though I had any qualifications for healing. . . . He was polite to me; he told me that would interfere with my duties to my prisoners. I said, 'I don't care. You're more important to me than any prisoner.'"

Elsdon sucked in his breath. Weldon nodded. "He left my cell quicker than a whiplash. That was the end of our friendship. I was angry at first; only gradually did I realize that he'd withdrawn from me as much for my sake as for my prisoners'. He was keeping me from breaking my oath as a Seeker."

Elsdon stared down at the counter, tracing the woodgrain with his finger. He said softly, "I would gladly give up what I have with Layle if it would help him."

"But you know that it would not. You're the only person who knows how to call him back from his dreamings; without you, he would withdraw further into his dreamings. And if you place his interests above that of your prisoner . . ."

Elsdon closed his eyes and nodded. After a while he said, "Thank you, Weldon. Without your advice, I would have made a calamitous decision."

His eyes remained closed. Weldon touched his shoulder and said, "Sleep. If the High Seeker has need of you, I'll wake you."

The junior Seeker nodded and rose to his feet. His movements were lethargic, and he was already covering a yawn before he turned away. Watching him go, Weldon thought to himself that the young man had endured too heavy a weight for too long.

All the more reason for Elsdon not to know that Weldon hated him.

Weldon set to work nibbling at the pile of food that Elsdon had abandoned. It was a shame – a sweetly bloody shame. Elsdon deserved all the praise that could be given for the way in which he supported Layle. He had accepted duties that no one should be asked to undertake toward a love-mate.

It was not Elsdon's fault that he held the place which Weldon could have held. And Weldon would do all he could to prevent Layle's love-mate from guessing what black jealousy poisoned Weldon's feelings for him.

The High Seeker knew. He must know; nothing took place in the Eternal Dungeon that he did not know of. Weldon could guess that this was why he had been accepted as second carekeeper to the High Seeker: because Layle hoped to heal Weldon's injured feelings and jealousy.

For Elsdon's sake. Not Weldon's.

So unworthy a thought was this that Weldon turned away from the counter, seeking some way in which to distract his mind. It occurred to him that he had forgotten to bring documentwork, through which he had planned to occupy the long hours that Layle was asleep. He would have to remedy that the next day. In the meantime, this cell was well stocked with books—

He hesitated on the point of pulling a book off the shelf. Every book before him, he suddenly realized, was about imprisonment or torture. In any other Seeker's cell, he would have regarded these books as professional reading. Not here. What if Layle had lined the margins with private thoughts brought out by his reading? The very thought of what Weldon might read made his skin chill.

Elsdon would know whether it was safe to read the books. Maybe some of these books were his. Any notes from Elsdon about torture, Weldon knew, would be dryly professional. Cautiously he moved toward the door of the bedroom. It was still open a crack; perhaps Elsdon had not yet gone to bed.

Weldon stopped at the doorway. Through the crack he could see the two-person bed at the far end of the bedroom; on it sat Elsdon. He was stripped for bed, and he was cradling Layle, who had his head buried upon Elsdon's shoulder. Weldon could see the bloodline beating lightly in Layle's neck.

Weldon turned away. On second thought, he had no need for a book. What he had just seen would distract him from any reading during the hours to come.

And blacken his night's sleep.