The year 364, the seventh month. (The year 1883 Barley by the Old
The breaking-cell corridor was chaos. Men dashed to and fro – not merely guards but also Seekers, who were famed among the world's prison workers for their calm under crisis. Some of the guards, especially quick-witted, were ushering Seekers into breaking cells. Other guards dashed in the direction of the gunfire that was continuing in the hallway that held the Seekers' cells. Barrett Boyd took a swift glance around the breaking-cell corridor, but no Seekers stood within reach . . . and in any case, it was far more important that he seek safety for the man running at his heels. Barrett jerked open the door of the closest breaking cell.
The cell was filled with blood.
Much of it lay in a pool near the door. It glistened under the electric lamp-light that had replaced the light from the old coal-furnace. Or so Barrett had been told; he had no memory of that transition, only an occasional, far-off image of flickering flames behind the glass blocks at the ends of the breaking cells. The light in this breaking cell seemed stark by comparison. It fell upon the blood, red and moist, and upon the prisoner who lay facedown upon it, the top of his head blown off.
There was more blood on the wall – too far away to come from the prisoner. Barrett wondered whether it belonged to a guard or to a Seeker.
"This way!" Clifford Crofford had made no attempt to follow Barrett into the breaking cell. He had already reached the crossroads of the inner dungeon, where the breaking-cell corridor met the narrow cross-passage leading to the outer dungeon . . . and before that, to the hallway where the Seekers' living cells continued to endure gunfire.
Barrett slammed the breaking-cell door shut and raced to join Clifford. The breaking-cell corridor was nearly empty now, efficiently cleared of its Seekers by the guards who were trained to protect the torturers who questioned prisoners in the Eternal Dungeon. Though not all of the Seekers were torturers now, Barrett reminded himself as he reached Clifford. He was feeling within himself the usual conflict of duties. Should he protect the Seekers, or should he join in killing the men who had stained their hands with prisoners' blood?
As he reached Clifford, Barrett took a quick look down the narrow cross-passage to the outer dungeon. All that he could see were the Codifier's four guards, armed with revolvers, clustered in front of the exit door. The Codifier's guards were evidently intent on keeping the dungeon's invaders from reaching the outer dungeon where both male and female laborers worked, and where a few children of senior-ranked guards lived. Barrett thought fleetingly of Mr. Sobel, married with four young children. Then he wondered what had happened to the Codifier. And then Barrett and Clifford were past the most dangerous point of their journey and had reached the shadowy portion of the breaking-cell corridor that led to the crematorium.
The crematorium was a death trap; Barrett knew that without having to think about it. It held three entrances, but two of those entrances were kept locked at this time of night. The third – the great doors that Clifford and Barrett were approaching, of ceremonial height – could not be locked. Anyone who entered the crematorium would be easy prey for the shooters.
Seemingly Clifford had reached the same conclusion, for he grabbed the handle of the nearest door in the corridor. It opened to his touch, although these rooms were supposed to be kept locked at all times, even – or rather, especially – when they were in use.
Barrett followed Clifford's hasty retreat into the room . . . and then his eyes were blinded.
He shielded his face at once with his arm, but the light had been too bright; his eyes could see nothing. His arm was bare; he had been in the guardroom when the crisis began, naked as a newborn babe, just emerged from the showers in the guards' washroom. All he had on now was a pair of his off-duty trousers, hastily pulled on; his chest and feet were bare.
A key scraped metal as Clifford locked the door – which was odd, since Clifford shouldn't have a key to this place. There was no bar to pull down, but the doors of these rooms were somewhat more secure than the doors of the breaking cells. The breaking-cell doors opened outwards, but the rack-room doors opened inwards, since it was assumed that the only men using the doors would be Seekers or guards or the occasional outer-dungeon laborer, come to clean up the room's sweat and urine and blood.
Barrett could smell the sweat now; by that alone, he would have known that this room was in use, even without the light. Beside him, Clifford was saying, "I think that will hold, at least for a while. The doors are iron, so— Sir, what's wrong?"
Clifford was evidently treating this as a work situation, which was reassuring. Forcing himself to breathe evenly, Barrett said, "Prisoner."
Clifford gasped. Cautiously, Barrett lowered his arm. The light was still there, but now that he knew of its presence, it was bearable.
From where he stood, next to the door, Barrett could barely see the prisoner. The great wheel of the rack, nearly as high as a man, obscured most of the prisoner's body. Through the spokes of the wheel could be seen a bit of straw-colored hair, while just on the edge of the wheel, bound in chains and leather, lay a hand, very pale.
All of the prisoner was bathed in light. Barrett glanced at Clifford, knowing that Clifford's view of the prisoner was very different.
Clifford, who had never before entered one of the rack rooms when it was in use, had turned very pale. He had worked in the Eternal Dungeon for many years and knew very well what took place in these rooms; indeed, he had guarded the doors while the Seekers did their work. But knowing that prisoners were racked was a very different thing from seeing one racked.
"Should we let him go?" asked Barrett aloud. He wondered, indeed, whether the prisoner was dead; the still figure on the rack had made no sound.
Clifford – used to having Barrett turn to him for questions like this – made no reply to Barrett's enquiry; his throat was throbbing. "Oh, sweet blood," he whispered after a moment.
This was odd. Clifford hated torture as vehemently as Barrett, but he was in no way squeamish. Squeamish guards never lasted out their training period in the Eternal Dungeon. Barrett stared at him, curious, faintly aware of shouts in the distance.
Clifford shook his head, as though awakening from a nightmare. "It's Rupert Raupp," he whispered.
The name meant nothing to Barrett. Names usually didn't. "You know him?"
Clifford nodded. He was hugging himself now, as though he were a small child rather than a much-decorated guard in the Eternal Dungeon. "I used to work with him," he whispered.
Which meant that the prisoner must have worked in the Eternal Dungeon at one time; Clifford had never held any job except here, Barrett knew. Yet more curious, Barrett asked, "Did I?"
"For two years." The voice, faint but firm, came from the rack; the accent was mid-class. "I was junior guard under you for part of the time you were senior day guard to Weldon Chapman."
Barrett stepped closer to look. Within the cocoon of light lay the prisoner, stretched upon the rack. His shirt and trousers were black with sweat, but there was no blood. There rarely was, Barrett had been told; the racks were designed to frighten rather than maim. Barrett had often wondered whether, if he delved far enough back, he would remember whether this was true.
He ran his hand lightly upon the iron bed of the rack. The touch brought back no memories. It was hard to believe there had been a time when he had stood at that wheel, turning it as prisoners screamed in agony. This particular prisoner appeared in no hurry to scream, though he was breathing rapidly, and his face was shining with sweat.
"Guard?" said Barrett. His language had shortened, as it invariably did when he was in the presence of other guards and Seekers. Only a handful of men working in the inner dungeon could be trusted.
"Till I was dismissed." The prisoner's voice was very level, despite his evident pain. "By the High Seeker, in the eighth month of the year 360."
Shortly before Barrett's own punishment, then. This must be one of the guards who had been swept up by Layle Smith's determined purge of rebellious dungeon-workers, back in the crisis of 360. Barrett wondered what Mr. Raupp had done to attract the High Seeker's wrath.
Whatever Mr. Raupp had done in 360, the High Seeker was evidently not through with him. Barrett took a more careful look at the prisoner, his eyes adjusting to the dim light. "Murder?" he asked politely. "Or rape?"
Mr. Raupp was not afforded the chance to describe the charges against him, for at that moment, Clifford called low, "Sir! The gunfire has stopped!"
He looked back at Clifford. The junior guard was swathed in his own light. Only recently had Barrett realized that the light was evidence of his love for Clifford. It was still a strange revelation to him. Until he met Clifford – or rather, until he took notice of the guard who had been desperately trying to attract his attention for three years – he had thought that nobody in this world mattered except the prisoners.
It had been a severely limited perspective on the world; he knew that now. That being the case, Barrett spared a thought for the Seekers. There was no knowing how many of them had been in their so-called living cells when the gunmen burst into the Eternal Dungeon. Some would still have been sleeping; Barrett had come on duty early. The remaining Seekers would have been scattered in various portions of the dungeon: in the breaking cells, in the rack rooms, in the entry hall . . . perhaps a handful in the common room or the crematorium or the healer's surgery. Some might even have been in the outer dungeon or in the judging rooms in the palace above; those Seekers were presumably safe from the gunmen.
Though there was no way to know what was going on in the palace, Barrett reminded himself as he returned to Clifford's side. This might be a general attack on all who worked for the Queen.
"How did they get in?" he asked Clifford.
The junior guard shook his head rapidly. He was dressed in his uniform; like Barrett, he had evidently intended to arrive for duty early, but he kept his uniform in the outer-dungeon apartment where he lived. "I don't know. I was just entering the inner dungeon when the Codifier's guards reached that entrance. They were about to thrust me back into the outer dungeon, but Mr. Sobel appeared and grabbed me. He had a gun in his hand. He asked me where you were. I told him I didn't know. He gave me his extra key to the rack rooms and ordered me to find you and to come here. He said he'd come for us."
To kill them? Barrett contemplated that possibility. In the midst of so much bloodshed, it would be easy enough for the High Seeker's senior-most guard to shoot Barrett and Clifford and any of the other guards and Seekers who had recently raised a rebellion against the use of torture in the Eternal Dungeon. The High Seeker had seemed mild-mannered when Barrett spoke with him privately two nights before, but Layle Smith frequently seemed mild-mannered. Killers often were.
"Gun?" He fastened on that image.
Clifford gulped air, the first sign he had shown that he was struggling for composure. "He has special permission to use a gun in the dungeon, if it's necessary in order to protect the High Seeker."
Whereas the remainder of the Seekers' guards, working in a cramped dungeon where it was too easy for bullets to ricochet, were bereft of all weaponry except daggers and whips. And neither Barrett nor Clifford were armed with even that, Barrett was acutely aware.
"There's only him and the Codifier's guards," said Clifford, misery permeating his voice. "They're the only ones with revolvers. The guards at the main gates have rifles, but if the gunmen killed them—"
Barrett held up his hand. A moment later, Clifford's face changed. He too had heard the approaching men.
There were voices and bangs on a nearby door, and then more gunfire, followed immediately by a scream. Barrett found himself wondering whether the gunmen had sighted one of the guards, or whether they had managed to shoot their way past the locks on the iron doors of the breaking cells. Without thinking further about it, he pointed silently. Clifford hesitated only a moment before obeying his order, sliding under the rack. The room was dark, and the shadows under the rack were darker still; Clifford could not be easily seen now, with the great wheel blocking view of him.
More gunshots. There were no accompanying screams, which was reassuring. Barrett stepped toward the prisoner. The man was showing admirable restraint; he had said not a word since introducing himself, though his tendons were taut from the stretching, and sweat poured from his forehead.
Barrett's instinct was to let the prisoner free. That was always his instinct. But he had learned, through hard experience, that this particular instinct was not to be trusted. He had helped a prisoner to escape from a Seeker once, believing the prisoner's story that the Seeker had raped him. Only afterwards had he realized that the prisoner was a dangerous criminal, skilled in deceit. This prisoner might be the same.
And right now, he might be contemplating ways to kill Barrett and Clifford. Barrett's hand moved to his trousers pocket.
The prisoner, Mr. Raupp, looked at what lay in Barrett's hand, and then said, in the same even voice as before, "May I have a drink of water first?"
Barrett shook his head. The Code of Seeking, which bound even ruthless torturers such as the High Seeker, required that racked prisoners be given water when they required it, but there was no time for that now. The gunmen were coming closer.
Barrett stuffed the handkerchief into Mr. Raupp's mouth.
The prisoner's eyes teared immediately from the thrust of cloth, but Mr. Raupp made no attempt to evade the gag. He simply looked up at Barrett, like a magistrate sitting in judgment upon a perpetrator.
Feeling sick, Barrett turned away. He reminded himself that he might be protecting Mr. Raupp as much as Clifford. The gunmen had killed the prisoner in the breaking cell. There was no way to predict how many men in this room the gunmen would kill, if they knew that the room was inhabited.
Barrett moved into the corner, behind the door. This too was instinct. Apparently he had done this before, at least once in his life. He wondered whether it was during his time as a guard, or whether instead he had been hunted during the army career he had not known he possessed till Clifford had happened to mention it, three nights before. It was mildly inconvenient, at times, having a memory that stretched no further back than four years.
But his instincts as a guard and a soldier stretched back further than that. He waited, heart pounding, as the men reached the door.
There were yet more shots; one of the shots caused their door to vibrate. Someone shouted, "Don't waste bullets, fool!"
"Aye, and how are we to get in, then, tell me that?" replied the gunman.
"Leader will have a plan. Leader always does, aye? Let's go check that guard's body. Maybe there's keys."
The gunmen moved off. Barrett felt his fists loosen. His mind was moving rapidly forth from what he had heard.
Commoners. He was not really surprised; if there were any men in the queendom who were likely to attack the Eternal Dungeon, it was commoners. Far too many commoners had screamed with agony in the breaking cells and rack rooms of this royal prison. Some were now ashes, buried in the communal pit in the crematorium, condemned to execution through judging-room testimony provided by the Seekers who had broken them. There must be hundreds of commoners alive, maybe thousands, whose kinsmen and kinswomen had suffered in this dungeon. Reason enough for a group of armed commoners to attack the Eternal Dungeon.
But were they just a random group of commoners, banded together? "Leader" suggested organization and planning. Which meant . . .
"The Commoners' Guild?" It was Clifford, whispering from under the rack.
Barrett shrugged. There was no way to know. It made a difference, though. If a hastily formed group of commoners had attacked the Eternal Dungeon, then sooner or later such amateurish attackers would be subdued, if not by the dungeon guards who were ill-prepared to fight invaders with guns, then by the Queen's guards in the palace above. The only wonder was that the Queen's guards hadn't already arrived, bearing their bayoneted rifles.
Unless . . . unless the Eternal Dungeon was not alone in being attacked. Unless the Commoners' Guild, with its thousands of members and years' worth of experience in fighting elite men and women, had made its canny plans for months on end before attacking the palace, intent on killing the Queen and all who worked for her.
Barrett felt indignation swell in him. Which was a surprise; he had not known that he possessed such loyalty to the Throne. His past was always surprising him.
"Sir," said Clifford breathlessly, "if it's the Commoners' Guild . . . We may be alone. We may have to fight the gunmen ourselves. And if we do—"
Barrett held up his hand in a sharp gesture. Clifford fell silent. A moment later the footsteps were clear. They were rapid. The door rattled. Barrett squeezed himself back into the corner.
Then came the sound of metal against metal. A key in the lock.
Barrett glanced quickly in the direction of the rack. Clifford remained silent, barely visible under the shadow of the rack. The prisoner was straining, clearly trying to attract attention, but his chains were too taut to rattle. Barrett pushed himself harder against the wall, and as he did so, something poked him in the back. He looked behind him in an automatic manner.
Never, in all his remembered life, had he been so grateful for the High Seeker's lustful desire to cause pain.
Barrett removed the instrument from the wall. It was one of a couple of dozen antique instruments of torture on display in the rack room, purportedly to elicit fear from the prisoners. In all likelihood, Barrett had often thought, the bloody instruments were there simply because the High Seeker enjoyed looking at them. No doubt Layle Smith regretted that the Code of Seeking forbade use of these older methods of creating agony.
Hidden within the shadow of the door, Barrett could not easily see the instrument he held, but from the shape under his hands, he suspected that it was an iron which had once been used to burn prisoners. He shifted his hands into proper position, raised the iron over his head, and waited.
The door opened quickly; the intruder was inside within a second, closing and locking the door behind him. Clifford cried, "No!" but there was no need. Barrett had already lowered the iron to his side.
Mr. Sobel's gaze flicked toward him. The High Seeker's senior-most guard was indeed carrying a revolver. Some long-ago portion of Barrett told him that Mr. Sobel knew how to use that revolver.
Mr. Sobel did not point his gun at Barrett, though. He simply said, in his usual quiet voice, "Mr. Boyd, why is the prisoner gagged?"
There were advantages to living in a dungeon with a code of ethics, Barrett reflected as he assisted Mr. Sobel in releasing the prisoner from his gag and bonds and offering him water from the nearby pitcher and cup. The prisoner could not hold the cup, nor even sit upright; on Mr. Sobel's order, Barrett and Clifford carried Mr. Raupp to the bench at the far end of the cell and propped him up between the corner and Clifford. Mr. Sobel waited until the prisoner had received his fill of the water; then he said, "Mr. Raupp, I must ask you to cooperate in this crisis."
Mr. Raupp nodded and opened his mouth.
Barrett hit his head with the iron.
Clifford stared aghast at Barrett as he caught hold of Mr. Raupp, preventing the prisoner from falling forward. Mr. Sobel, on the other hand, simply sighed and said, "Thank you, Mr. Boyd." He added to Clifford, "Mr. Raupp was about to shout for help from the gunmen."
Easing the prisoner down so that he lay on the bench, Clifford said, "Does he know the gunmen, then?"
A rare look of frustration appeared on Mr. Sobel's face. "I have no idea," he said. "I wish I knew."
The gunmen had gained entrance to the inner dungeon, not through the heavily guarded main gates to the underground royal prison, nor through the lightly guarded side entrance in the outer dungeon, which led to winding cave corridors that served as a maze to all but the most experienced dungeon-dwellers. Rather, the gunmen had entered in a manner that nobody, not even the High Seeker, could have anticipated: through the door in the Codifier's office.
It was a door that no one except the Codifier was supposed to step through. From the inside, it looked like the door to a bank vault; most visitors to the Codifier's office assumed that it led to a vault filled with the dungeon's valuables. In fact, the doorway was carved out of the hillside's limestone. The outside of the door, which faced the palace grounds, was so heavily screened with vines that the door could not be seen at all when it was closed. Only two times a day did the door swing open, under an automated locking mechanism similar to that of a bank vault. At both those times of the day, the Queen's guards were supposed to ensure that no strangers came close enough to that portion of the palace grounds to know of the Codifier's private entrance.
The secret entrance was designed to provide protection to the Codifier, the most valuable member of the Eternal Dungeon, for he had final say within the dungeon on how the Code of Seeking was interpreted. Even the High Seeker must bow to his will. In past decades, any man holding the title of Codifier would have endangered his life if he had walked through the portion of the dungeon controlled by the head torturer; hence the private entrance to his office, as well as the private guards whose role remained to protect the Codifier's life against anyone entering his office's antechamber from the entry hall. In recent years, as tensions between the Codifier and the High Seeker eased, the hillside entrance that led directly into the Codifier's office had become more symbolic than practical.
On this day, for reasons that Mr. Sobel did not yet know, something had gone wrong. The first sign of disaster came in the form of shouts from the Codifier's office. Not, needless to say, from the Codifier himself, a man of supreme calm. The Codifier's guards – the only men in the Eternal Dungeon who were normally permitted to bear firearms – immediately responded to the noise by pushing open the door to the Codifier's office.
They were overwhelmed by a mass of men, all wearing commoner clothes, and all carrying rifles and revolvers and pistols. The invaders made no attempt to shoot the Codifier's guards; nor did they harm the Codifier's secretary, who was quivering with fear in the antechamber. Instead, they surged past the Codifier's guards, too quickly for the guards to take action.
A moment later, a massacre began in the entry hall.
It was toward the end of the night shift. Night-shift Seekers who had already finished their work were beginning to drift into the entry hall, joining guards who had no duties that day except to pen documentwork. A few of the day-shift Seekers and guards had already arrived.
It was the Seekers who became targets for the invaders. Within seconds, there were bloody bodies everywhere.
A handful of the invaders found the door to the breaking-cell corridor. They forced their way past the guards there and opened the first door they saw. A Seeker was shot at once; so was his prisoner, who had tried to flee when the door opened. Two other Seekers who had been brought in to consult with the first Seeker were left unharmed, but the invaders took them prisoner, pushing them back into the entry hall. A senior guard who was present in the cell to witness all this managed to slip away.
After a brief visit to the healer's surgery, the senior guard raced to the outer dungeon and hammered at the door of Seward Sobel, who had already gone off duty. Leaving orders with his family to lock the apartment door and admit no one but himself, Mr. Sobel raced back to the inner dungeon.
Matters had not proceeded much further than when the senior guard left. The Codifier's guards, seeing themselves vastly outnumbered, had wisely retreated to the hallway where the Seekers' living cells were located. Mr. Sobel advised them to guard the door leading to the outer dungeon; in the confined space of that narrow cross-passage, they had a better chance of holding back the invaders. Mr. Sobel sent the senior guard to alert the off-duty Seekers as to what was happening; he paused long enough to send a junior guard, Mr. Crofford, in search of his senior partner; and then Mr. Sobel raced to the heart of the slaughter.
"Seekers are their target," Mr. Sobel said, leaning over to inspect the bump on Mr. Raupp's head from Barrett's light tap of the iron. Mr. Raupp continued to breathe evenly, looking as though he were taking a restful nap. "They've made no attempt to kill guards unless a guard attacks them. I spoke briefly to a civilian visitor who had just arrived at the entry hall when the attack began. He said that the guards in the entry hall realized at once that the Seekers were in danger and built a protective cordon around the Seekers with the guards' own bodies. Some of the guards managed to help Seekers escape to the breaking-cell corridor. All of the breaking cells are locked from the inside now, filled with the prisoners and their cell guards, as well as any other guards and Seekers who managed to reach safety. The Seekers who were asleep in their living cells have barred their inner-dungeon entrances and escaped to safety through their cells' outer-dungeon entrances. The guards who were on duty in the outer dungeon are protecting the Seekers and laborers there and have barred the outer-dungeon exit to the palace grounds, lest more gunmen try to attack through that door. Before they did so, the majordomo sent one of the laborers with a message to the Queen, telling her of the attack."
Barrett had a moment to reflect that the High Seeker had chosen as his senior-most guard a man quite as brilliant as Layle Smith. Barrett knew that he himself could not have done as much, nor acquired as much knowledge, as Mr. Sobel had managed to do in the brief time since the beginning of the attack.
Clifford had only one question: "Who is dead?"
Mr. Sobel shook his head. "It's too soon to say. There were many bodies in the entry hall, but most of them appeared to me to be wounded rather than dead. The civilian I spoke to said that the guards acted admirably quickly in forming a barrier around the Seekers who had not yet been shot, and that the gunmen have not yet attempted to shoot their way past the barrier. . . . The Seeker who was shot in the breaking cell was Mr. Chapman. Mr. Urman managed to carry Mr. Chapman's unconscious body to the healer's surgery while the gunmen were busy taking Mr. Taylor and Mistress Chapman hostage."
"Mr. Urman?" Clifford paled visibly. "I thought he left the dungeon yesterday evening. Mr. Taylor granted him leave to visit his family."
"Mr. Taylor asked him to take a later train; he wanted Mr. Urman's thoughts concerning Mr. Chapman's prisoner," Mr. Sobel murmured.
Clifford said nothing more, but his knuckles were white as he shoved his fist against his mouth. Belatedly, Barrett realized why.
"Friends," he explained to Mr. Sobel. "Mr. Urman?"
It was one of his typically incoherent speeches; he was still having difficulty communicating with other guards and Seekers, despite Clifford having finally impressed upon Barrett the reasons why he ought to make an effort to communicate as clearly with other dungeon dwellers as Barrett did with Clifford and the prisoners.
Until a few days ago, matters had been simple. The prisoners needed to be protected. So did Clifford, who, for some reason, glowed with the same sacred light as the prisoners. Everyone else, the dark figures, were enemies.
It was not that simple, Barrett now knew. The world had never been divided between light and dark in so easy a fashion. The punishment he had received four years ago from the High Seeker – the breaking of his body and mind – had caused him to regard the prisoners and Clifford with tender concern and even reverence. But the other men, whom Barrett had assumed were all his enemies, were also Shining Ones, their souls renewed through sacred rebirth to live out their lives as best they could. Barrett simply could not see them like that. Yet among these men, some might be his allies.
Not this one, though. Barrett eyed Mr. Sobel warily as the High Seeker's guard examined the prisoner's bruised head with care. One of Barrett's earliest memories was of Mr. Sobel coldly counting as Barrett was lashed nearly to death by the High Seeker. Mr. Sobel was ice to the High Seeker's fire, the two men closely allied together in an attempt to keep firm control over the dungeon.
Barrett had nearly died from that punishment. He had lost his memories of earlier days, and he now knew – from Clifford's gentle explanation and from a discussion with the dungeon's healer on the previous evening – that his mind had been damaged. Not badly enough to prevent him from continuing his work as a guard, but badly enough that he was leaning heavily now upon Clifford to help him to disentangle what was true danger and what was merely his mind playing tricks on him, persuading him to see danger where none existed.
Whatever else he might be, Mr. Sobel was evidently gifted at interpreting incoherency. He said in an absentminded manner, "D. Urman remains in the inner dungeon, guarding the civilian visitor. I can bring both of them here."
Barrett narrowed his eyes, wondering why the offer was made. Clifford simply let out a long breath. "Thank you. I'd feel better if I could see D. – Mr. Urman, I mean – and know that he's safe."
Mr. Sobel nodded, straightening up. "It may take me some time. Gunmen are still roaming the breaking-cell corridor, trying to figure out how to force their way into the breaking cells. Though all they'd need to do is search Mr. Taylor if they wanted a way in."
Barrett raised his eyebrows. Clifford said, "He has a master key to all the cells?"
"Mr. Taylor has had a master key since he was a Seeker-in-Training," Mr. Sobel said dryly. "An early gift from the High Seeker. I doubt that Mr. Taylor understood in those days that he was being granted special privileges. Now, of course, he is second-in-command of the dungeon. I hope that nobody lets the gunmen know that."
Which left a far more important question. Barrett was the one to voice it: "High Seeker?"
Mr. Sobel rubbed his hand over his face, his icy reserve chipping somewhat. "I don't know. He was still on duty in the dungeon when I left him, about two-thirds of an hour before this began. The civilian visitor didn't see him in the entry hall, and the visitor had his eye out for the High Seeker. Mr. Smith may have gone to the palace before this began, or he may be in the outer dungeon . . . or be in hiding somewhere, here in the inner dungeon."
"The gunmen will kill him if they see him," Clifford said slowly.
Mr. Sobel nodded. "I think it unlikely he'll be taken hostage. The only reason that Mr. Taylor was taken hostage was because Mistress Chapman clung to him – not for her own sake, I'm sure, but to protect Mr. Taylor. The gunmen were evidently reluctant to harm a female Seeker, so they took both Mistress Chapman and Mr. Taylor prisoner. But the High Seeker . . . If the gunmen want to kill Seekers, then they'll want to kill the High Seeker above all."
"But why?" cried Clifford. "Is this some sort of commoner protest? Like the strikes in the capital? Is this a plan by Yeslin Bainbridge to destroy the Eternal Dungeon?"
"I can only hope so. If that is the case, Mr. Taylor is unlikely to be killed." Satisfied with the health of the prisoner, Mr. Sobel backed away.
Barrett and Clifford exchanged looks. They had both been present on the day when Mr. Taylor announced, to a group of the revolutionist guards who wished to abolish torture in the dungeon, that his own adopted brother was Yeslin Bainbridge, leader of the Commoner Guild. In the wake of the events that followed – the struggle of the New School of revolutionists against the Old School of Seekers and guards who wished to retain the traditional methods of questioning prisoners – Mr. Taylor's announcement had dropped like a stone in a pond, forgotten in favor of more important matters.
But if Mr. Taylor was indeed brother to the man who had coordinated the attack on the Eternal Dungeon . . .
"I must go," said Mr. Sobel. He kept his voice to a murmur; he was glancing now at the door. "Stay here; keep watch over the prisoner. If the prisoner's health looks to be in danger, you may take him to the healer's surgery; Mr. Bergsen and his nurse are caring for a number of the wounded. I'll return as soon as I have new orders." He slipped out the door, closing it behind him.
Barrett immediately locked the door. He did not possess a master key to the cells, but three-and-a-half years ago he had pickpocketed from various Seekers the keys to the rack rooms, when he had been making plans to free all of the dungeon's prisoners.
That had been before he realized how dangerous most of the prisoners were. He glanced at the glow upon the bench. The prisoner was still breathing steadily.
Clifford shook his head. "I don't understand. Why, among all the concerns he has, is Mr. Sobel willing to reunite me with D.?"
Clifford's long-time friendship with D. Urman certainly did not seem reason enough for Mr. Sobel to risk his life to reunite the two guards. Nor to risk his life to visit Clifford and Barrett in their refuge. Nor to take the time to urge Clifford to rescue Barrett.
There were many mysteries here, but only one really mattered. Barrett raised his eyebrows again as he said, "If the High Seeker is nowhere to be found . . . and Mr. Taylor is taken hostage . . . and Mr. Chapman, the dungeon's day-shift supervisor, lies unconscious . . . Who is giving orders to Mr. Sobel?"
The sound of continued shooting was faint but noticeable. It came sporadically, in short bursts. It was not clear whether the invaders were challenging the Queen's guards, still attempting to broach the breaking cells, gunning down the guards who had formed themselves into a human barrier around the Seekers, or simply murdering the hostages.
Clifford knelt next to the bench, checking the prisoner's pulse. "He's still unconscious. Do you think we should try to take him to the healer?"
Keeping far enough away from both Clifford and the prisoner that their glowing heat did not hurt him, Barrett contemplated this suggestion for a minute. If he and Clifford left the rack room, they might die within seconds; there was no knowing where the gunmen were presently, and ancient instruments of torture would be no match for rifles, revolvers, and pistols. But if he and Clifford died, they would simply be carrying out their duties. The Code of Seeking was quite clear about such matters: in any case where the life of a helpless prisoner must be balanced against the life of the guards, the guards' lives must be sacrificed.
On the other hand . . .
"By this point, I imagine that Mr. Bergsen has sealed his surgery against intruders," Barrett mused aloud. "It would take time for him to open his door to us. And in the meantime . . . One prisoner has died already. Ours might as well, if we took him from this refuge."
"You don't suppose that killing was anything but an accident, do you?" Clifford's voice was strained. Clearly, he was envisioning the worst of possibilities: that the gunmen had invaded the Eternal Dungeon, not merely to kill Seekers, but to kill prisoners as well.
Barrett was silent a while. In a situation like this, where two men who loved each other were essentially alone in a room where they might die at any moment, convention dictated that Barrett, the older of the two, should take Clifford into his arms and offer him comfort.
But theirs was not a conventional relationship. They were mates but not love-mates: paired together in heart but unable to make love or even touch each other, due to Barrett's limitations.
During the last three days, since Clifford had revealed to Barrett the damage done to his mind, Barrett had made several, painful attempts to remember what he had been like before the High Seeker's punishment essentially killed the man he had been before. He was still delving into that mystery; it would likely take years before he regained as much of his memory as possible. But he had received enough images by now to know that he did not wish to return to what he had been. His concern for the prisoners – indeed, his love for Clifford – had not been so deep in those days. The "damage" to his mind was no damage, so far as those two facts were concerned.
But still, there were parts of his past that he would like to have back. Not lovemaking; that act held no appeal to Barrett these days. And to do Clifford credit, he had never once suggested that Barrett should try to change this aspect of himself, even though Clifford and Barrett had agreed to be love-mates shortly before Barrett's punishment. Barrett had sought to persuade Clifford three nights ago that he should take a love-mate; Clifford had responded that he would take no love-mate unless that man or woman accepted Barrett as an intimate part of Clifford's life – a highly unlikely possibility, they both knew.
So that much was settled between them. Noncarnal touching was another matter. Barrett would have liked to be able to touch Clifford, not only for Clifford's sake, but for his own sake. He adored Clifford in more than a figurative sense: to him, Clifford – like every prisoner – was a sacred being. Clifford had his faults; Barrett had been forced to acknowledge that to himself. But still, to be able to touch so pure and great a man . . .
"Barrett . . ." said Clifford.
Clifford had asked him a question. What was it again? It was still far too easy for Barrett to get caught up in his own thoughts, after all these years of refusing to speak to anyone, except on matters of duty. "Question?" he asked.
Clifford stared down at the prisoner, who continued to sleep like a contented love-mate after a pleasant session of lovemaking. "You know how you said that I could take a love-mate someday?"
Barrett nodded. Clifford had an uncanny ability to follow Barrett's thoughts. It was a large part of the reason why the younger guard had been able to penetrate the meaning of Barrett's terse replies.
Clifford continued to stare at the prisoner, as though absorbed in the man's welfare. "I was just wondering . . . How long, do you think, should I wait before I take a love-mate?"
It seemed an odd moment to make such an enquiry. Barrett was distracted from answering by a loud boom that caused half the instruments of torture to fall off the wall.
Clifford jumped to his feet, startled. "What was that?"
"Dynamite." He knew the answer without knowing how he knew the answer. That happened to him often. Although he could not remember his past, his past remained buried in his mind, allowing him to draw upon his experiences back then. It was why he was still capable of working as a guard.
Clifford's eyes widened. "They're blowing off the doors to the breaking cells?"
Barrett hoped that was all they were doing. If the gunmen penetrated the outer dungeon, where women and children lived . . . Barrett thought again of Mr. Sobel, the family man. However cold Mr. Sobel might be on duty, thoughts of his family's safety must be crowding his mind at this moment. Yet he had left his family in order to protect the Seekers and prisoners.
As for the gunmen . . . "Is it just my mind playing tricks," Barrett asked aloud, "or is there something odd about the Commoners' Guild attacking the dungeon?"
Clifford drew in his breath and then let it out, as though releasing silent words he had been about to utter. Then he said, "I suppose it is strange. I've heard that Mr. Bainbridge has always spoken against the use of violence in his guild's battles against employers who exploit their commoner workers. He has said that the commoners' war must be a war of words and moral force. Would he approve of gunmen killing Seekers?"
"Or of gunmen taking his brother hostage?" Barrett added.
Clifford pressed the back of his hand against his lips. "I hadn't thought of that."
Barrett nodded. "Whoever these gunmen are, I doubt they're under the control of the Commoners' Guild."
"Which means we don't really know anything about them at all." Clifford's brow furrowed into a frown. "Perhaps they're a splinter group of the guild? Commoners who adopted the guild's mission to fight the elite, but who want to do it with guns?"
"But why here?" asked Barrett. "The Commoners' Guild has always fought against employers, not prison workers. And why now, of all times?"
Clifford shook his head. "They couldn't know that Mr. Taylor has been appointed to revise the Code of Seeking and that he's planning to abolish the use of torture in this dungeon. That hasn't been publicly announced yet."
"Yet for the past few months, the New School has been fighting the Seekers and guards who wish to continue the use of torture," Barrett pointed out. "And the gunmen arrive now, three nights after we won our revolution. That seems too great a coincidence."
He was proud of himself for being able to articulate the problem so well. Clifford was having a good influence on Barrett.
Clifford seemed to agree; his face was shining now with affection. Then he cried, "I know! Vito de Vere!"
"Vito de Vere is attacking the dungeon?" Truly, lawsuits were taking a strange turn if Vito de Vere had taken up arms to force the Eternal Dungeon to reinstate him as a Seeker.
Clifford laughed then. "No, I don't mean that. I mean that his lawsuit against the Eternal Dungeon is well known. We started our revolution this year because of his lawsuit. And up in the lighted world, where the gunmen live . . . Mr. de Vere has made no secret about the fact that his essential conflict with the High Seeker is over whether Seekers should torture their prisoners. Maybe the gunmen heard about that and decided that this was the proper time to raise a revolution, just as we did."
Revolutionist commoners, taking up arms to defend the commoner prisoners against their torturers. That made sense. It would certainly explain why Seekers were being killed, rather than guards. Although the guards racked prisoners under the Seekers' orders, it was commonly thought that the Seekers themselves inflicted agony upon the prisoners, while the guards stood helplessly by, unable to prevent the Seekers from wreaking havoc.
Barrett had heard the ballads. There were a great number of ballads about the Eternal Dungeon, many of them composed by Yeslin Bainbridge, who used incendiary ballads as his primary weapon in his battle against the elite. Barrett remembered the first time he had hear one of Bainbridge's ballads, about a guard who had dared to defy the High Seeker and who had died on the whipping post, a martyr murdered by the High Seeker. . . .
Another explosion, closer this time. Clifford said, "If they blow up our door . . ."
Barrett looked at the door. He had a very strong distrust for the effects of dynamite. He wasn't sure why, but he knew that he wouldn't give much for the chances of any men who were trapped in a room whose door was being exploded. He murmured, "If we stay quiet, they may not realize we're here—"
"To my aid! I am here!"
Cursing in his thoughts, Barrett looked toward the prisoner. Clifford had smothered any further cries by Mr. Raupp with his hand, but it was too late; footsteps were rushing forward. Barrett had only a moment in which to balance the various dangers they faced. Then he leapt forward, crying out in a voice that he hoped sounded like an excited prisoner, "Over here! There are no Seekers or guards here, but one of us is hurt! Please aid us; we've unlocked the door!"
He did so as he spoke. The dangers of having that door exploded far exceeded the dangers of having gunmen walk through it.
The footsteps slowed. Someone said, "You take care of them, Mac. I don't think this dynamiting is a good idea; I need to consult with Leader about it."
The reply was too quiet to be heard. Barrett looked around at the fallen instruments of torture. The iron he had used before had come far too close to killing the prisoner. He didn't want to risk killing a prisoner. And he fully intended that, within a minute's time, this rack room should hold two prisoners.
By the time that Mr. Raupp managed to free himself from Clifford, it was over. Clifford stood with the gunman's revolver in hand, aimed at Mr. Raupp. Clifford managed to look for all the world like a practiced marksman, though Barrett happened to know that Clifford had not touched a firearm since his boyhood. Whether or not Mr. Raupp suspected this, he made no attempt to move. The newly arrived gunman stood pressed against Barrett's chest, the blade of an ancient pike against his throat.
"I'm sorry, MacDonald," said Mr. Raupp in a grave fashion. "I should have known better than to call for help. These men" – his gaze took in Clifford and Barrett – "are two of the finest guards in the Eternal Dungeon. You had best do as they say."
When Mr. Sobel arrived back at the rack room, he showed not the slightest drop of surprise at finding two prisoners in a room where he had left one.
After double-checking that Mr. Raupp and Mr. MacDonald were secure in their chains – the High Seeker's antiquities were coming in handy, Barrett was forced to admit – Barrett came forward to join Clifford and Mr. Sobel in their low-voiced conference near the door. As he reached them, Barrett realized that Mr. Sobel was speaking to Clifford in the ancient tongue that had been widespread in the Old World at the time that the Midcoast nations of the New World were first settled, and which had served as an international language among the Midcoast nations for several centuries. All of the Midcoast tongues – even Old Vovimian, the most difficult language to master – owed part of their vocabulary and grammar to the ancient tongue, but the ancient tongue itself was long dead. Barrett had tutored Clifford in the language during the months after he had realized, belatedly, that he had pledged his love to Clifford before the loss of his memory. It had provided him with sufficient excuse to get to know Clifford better, as he tried to decide what he should do. It was during those tutoring sessions that he had fallen in love with Clifford once more.
Barrett glanced back at the prisoners. They were whispering to each other, apparently taking no notice of the guards' conversation. With any luck, Mr. Raupp would be unacquainted with the ancient tongue. Mr. MacDonald would certainly not know it; commoners were not taught foreign languages at school, much less dead languages.
Mr. Sobel was saying, ". . . safe in the guards' washroom."
"But there's nowhere to hide there!" Clifford's face was screwed up in an anxious manner. "There's just the open shower stalls and the sinks and the waste-trough; he couldn't hide in there if any of the gunmen burst in!"
"There's no entirely safe place for any of us to hide in the inner dungeon," Mr. Sobel pointed out in his usual chilly manner. "The washroom is as safe as any. The gunmen already made a quick inspection of the guardroom. They'll be too busy for a while to want to make use of the washroom's facilities. —They are all secure, then?" He turned his attention to Barrett.
Barrett nodded. "High Seeker?" he asked. He could not think of who else's welfare Mr. Crofford would be discussing with such passion.
Mr. Sobel shook his head. "The High Seeker is still missing. We were speaking of Mr. Urman; he has been guarding the civilian visitor I mentioned before, but I've had to move the visitor out. Mr. Crofford, I'd like you to come with me to the guardroom. I don't like leaving Mr. Urman alone there; you two can do your best to protect each other."
Barrett waited for Clifford to protest this order.
Clifford looked at Barrett uncertainly. He swallowed. He said hesitantly, "Do you mind? I really need to make sure that D. is all right."
Barrett stared at him, frowning with confusion. He couldn't understand. Of course D. Urman was all right; Mr. Sobel would have said so if he wasn't. And why would Clifford abandon Barrett now, when the danger to both of them was so great? Granted, Clifford had been close friends with Mr. Urman since before Barrett's memories began . . . but would his mate really prefer the company of Mr. Urman when Clifford and Barrett were so close to dying?
"Not safe," he replied, unable to think of what else to say.
"I'll be taking Mr. Crofford to the guardroom by way of the back passage," demurred Mr. Sobel. "The gunmen haven't discovered that passage yet; it's the only corridor in the inner dungeon where we can move safely."
"Come with you?" Barrett said. He couldn't think what else to say; Clifford still wasn't protesting their separation.
Mr. Sobel shook his head. "I need you here, guarding the prisoners. I'll return as quickly as I can."
Barrett was still trying to decide what to say when Mr. Sobel pushed Clifford out of the room. Clifford took one last, yearning look at Barrett; then he was gone.
The prisoners' whispers stopped as Barrett halted in front of them. Mr. MacDonald looked apprehensive. Barrett knew that must be because he was glaring at them. The more he considered what had happened, the angrier he was that Clifford had left him. It was Mr. Sobel's fault, of course; Clifford had only been following orders. But Clifford and Barrett might never see each other again. Clifford could at least have said goodbye.
It was Mr. Raupp who broke the silence. He said, "Mr. Boyd."
Barrett simply raised his eyebrows. There was no way of knowing whether he and Mr. Raupp had been the closest of acquaintances in the past. It was best not to say anything that might reveal his loss of memory.
"You know this gent?" said MacDonald, leaning forward as best he could, given that he was chained to an iron ring on the wall.
Mr. Raupp nodded without taking his eyes off of Mr. Boyd. "'Lashed to the last, lashed past the last, his back a bloody battlefield . . .'"
Barrett felt a chill travel over him, just as he had felt the first time he had heard the ballad that Yeslin Bainbridge had composed about him. The chill helped to cool Barrett's fingers, which were still burning from when he had touched the prisoners to ensure they were secure. It was always hard to touch prisoners; it was impossible to touch Clifford. He had another moment to regret that. Would Clifford have given him a farewell embrace if it had been possible?
MacDonald was staring openmouthed at Mr. Raupp. "No! It couldn't be! He's dead, ain't he? The song said so."
"Look at his back, man." Mr. Raupp continue to lock eyes with Barrett.
Barrett did not make the mistake of turning round to show off his back. He had entirely forgotten, amidst everything else, that he was shirtless. It was a wonder that Clifford hadn't burst into tears. Barrett knew well enough, from having inspected himself with the aid of two mirrors, that his back was a raw testimony to the High Seeker's skill at destruction.
"I suspected that it was you, when I first heard the ballad," said Mr. Raupp in his grave manner. "You had begun to question the High Seeker's orders, even before I left the dungeon. I mourned your death. I did not expect to see you here."
Following the High Seeker's orders, Mr. Raupp meant. Barrett contemplated him a moment before saying, "You were dismissed. On what charge was it, again?" It was always easier to speak to the Shining Ones than to other men.
A smile flitted over Mr. Raupp's face. He was younger than Barrett, as most junior guards were. "I sipped a glass of wine when my late great-grandmother was toasted at her feast of rebirth."
Barrett waited. No further words were forthcoming.
Mr. MacDonald exclaimed, "The High Seeker threw you out for that?"
Mr. Raupp shrugged. "The Code of Seeking has a rule about drinking on duty days. I was in breach of the Code. A minor matter, but I was one of the first guards to protest the High Seeker's reign of terror in 360. That single sip of wine provided Layle Smith with all the excuse he needed to dismiss me."
Mr. Raupp's voice was distant, as though he were speaking of an episode barely worth mentioning. It was clear that, however much he might have resented the dismissal at the time it occurred, Mr. Raupp had not given it much thought in recent days.
Barrett considered this fact, as well as the manner in which Mr. MacDonald was leaning forward, listening with avid interest to everything that Mr. Raupp said. Finally Barrett added, "You never said. Rape or murder?"
Mr. Raupp's small smile returned. "Murder and treason. Those are the charges entered against me."
Charges which he had not yet admitted to, since he had been placed on the rack. Barrett considered the possibility that Mr. Raupp was innocent. It occurred far oftener than the Old School was willing to admit: the racking of innocent prisoners, many of whom would offer false confessions in order to escape the pain.
The rackings would soon end. Elsdon Taylor had promised that. He had been entrusted three days before with preparing the new revision of the Code of Seeking. He would not – he had assured Barrett Boyd in private conversation – permit the future use of torture in this dungeon.
But for now, the torture continued, and the men sitting before Barrett – one a man of violence, the other an unknown mystery – could not know that the Eternal Dungeon was on the cusp of reform.
Barrett decided to make an effort to explain. "Changes here. Not like the dungeon you worked at. The—" He sought a word and found it in his earlier conversations with Clifford. "The revolutionists have won."
"Yes, we have." Mr. Raupp's voice was calm.
We? Barrett looked from Mr. Raupp to Mr. MacDonald, both of whom seemed singularly unimpressed with what Barrett had said. Barrett tried again. "Changes are coming—"
"And you are helping bring them about, no doubt." Mr. Raupp leaned forward, as far as the chains binding him would permit. "Mr. Boyd, I know that this may be difficult for you to understand. I gather, from the way you speak, that you have also undergone changes. But you were once a martyr to the Cause" – he spoke the word as a reverent man might speak of rebirth – "and you could be again, if you wish. None of this" – his gaze encompassed the room – "is necessary. None of this is wise or good or just. It must all be destroyed, if we commoners are to be free from the tyranny of the elite."
Mr. Sobel received Barrett's report with a nod of approval. "I suspected Mr. Raupp would be more forthcoming with information if I left you alone with the prisoners, unarmed," he said softly in the ancient tongue. The prisoners were absorbed in conversation again at the other end of the room.
"Knew what he was?" He didn't usually bother to ask Mr. Sobel questions or to speak any words not required by his duty, but this was an important mystery to uncover. Clifford's life might depend on it.
"I suspected. The Commoners' Revolutionary Army. That's what they call themselves. They broke off from the Commoners' Guild earlier this year, vowing to use violence to defeat the elite. They consider themselves soldiers in an army to liberate the oppressed commoners."
There was not the slightest note of sarcasm in Mr. Sobel's voice. It was training that all guards received in the Eternal Dungeon. Even the High Seeker would speak in neutral terms about prisoners' crimes, though in the breaking cell he might use sarcasm to great effect to break his prisoners.
Barrett thought about Mr. Sobel's words and then said, "Not a coincidence."
"That Mr. Raupp chose this moment to murder one of the Queen's magistrates? No, I think not. The identity of the murderer was never in question; Mr. Raupp's murder was witnessed by dozens of people in the judging room. He was brought here to be questioned about his motives and any possible confederates. It had not occurred to us," Mr. Sobel added dryly, "that he would have so many confederates, and that they would be so vigorous in their methods to gain his release."
Barrett shook his head. "Not that. Not only that. Destruction. Utter destruction of the dungeon. And palace?"
Mr. Sobel sucked in a breath. "I don't know. I haven't been able to get word out of the inner dungeon, though the Queen will certainly have received by now the message from our majordomo. The fact that the Queen's guards have not yet attacked the invaders to our dungeon isn't necessarily a matter for alarm. They may be awaiting word from the High Seeker before doing so. The Queen's law does not permit them to draw arms in this dungeon, except with permission from the Codifier and the High Seeker."
"Codifier?" It was an important question, one he should have asked before. With the High Seeker missing, Mr. Taylor taken hostage, and Mr. Chapman in the surgery, the Codifier would be in direct charge of the Seekers and their guards. Perhaps he was the man who had been giving orders to Mr. Sobel.
But Mr. Sobel shook his head. "I don't know. He might be dead, he might be held hostage. . . . The Codifier's guards are the only ones who may know, and they were forced by gunfire to retreat to the outer dungeon. All entrances to the outer dungeon have been blocked from within the outer dungeon, and the gunmen hold control over the entry hall. We are alone."
Once again, Barrett was struck by Mr. Sobel's skill in obtaining information in deadly circumstances. He envisioned the dungeon's senior-most guard flitting from doorway to doorway, eavesdropping on conversations, checking which rooms could be entered . . .
A man very like his work-master, in fact. Only the High Seeker could have moved around the dungeon in so unobtrusive a manner.
"Leader," Barrett heard himself say. "Leader to them. Not Mr. Raupp. Mr. Crofford and I heard them say."
He was not doing a very good job of providing a coherent report, but Mr. Sobel nodded. "That's good to know. And it makes sense; Mr. Raupp might have planned this attack beforehand, but he could not have coordinated it. Someone else must be leading the attack. I'll try to figure out a way to discover which of the gunmen is in charge of the others. In the meantime . . ."
Mr. Sobel glanced to the side. Barrett did the same. The prisoners were still deep in conversation with each other, whispering secrets back and forth. There was no sign that they were listening to the guards . . . though based on what Barrett now knew, he had the terrible feeling that Mr. Raupp had eavesdropped on every word he and Clifford had spoken, during the time when Mr. Raupp was "unconscious."
"If their goal is to destroy the Eternal Dungeon, and not just the elite Seekers who torture commoners, then the danger to this dungeon is far greater than we suspected," said Mr. Sobel, his voice lowering to a whisper. "Mr. Boyd . . . There are aspects to this matter that I have not shared with you until now. The civilian visitor to this dungeon . . . I need to bring him in here, to have him speak to Mr. Raupp. And I need you to stay here until then; we daren't take our eye off so dangerous a prisoner. But when the visitor enters, it's important that he not see you. Can you secrete yourself behind that door?"
Barrett was becoming familiar with the space behind the door. Mystified, but seeing no reason to object to this order, he nodded his head.
Mr. Sobel drew in his breath as though to say more, checked himself, and added merely, "I'll be back in a few seconds. I left him in the crematorium."
Alone? Barrett raised his eyebrows. It was not the custom of the Eternal Dungeon's guards to leave visitors alone in the inner dungeon, much less leave them alone while gunmen were prowling about. But Mr. Sobel offered no explanation; he simply slipped out the door, pausing only to check that his path was clear of minor obstacles, such as bullets and dynamite.
Barrett moved into position behind the door. The prisoners were too engrossed in their conversation to notice. Barrett contemplated them while he waited. Mr. Raupp's glow shone as brightly as before; Mr. MacDonald had gradually acquired a similar glow from the moment that Barrett captured him. It was a phenomenon that Barrett had grown to take for granted, in the same manner that he took for granted Clifford's burning light.
But there was a difference between Clifford and the prisoners: Barrett could touch the prisoners. Not easily, but he could do it. Might the day come when he could touch Clifford? Perhaps, if Barrett did so, Clifford would be less likely to slip away without a word, in the next crisis they faced.
Barrett was feeling once more the insecurity of his position with Clifford. He had nothing to offer Clifford: not lovemaking, not a simple embrace. His mind was damaged; he was constantly making mistakes and unintentionally hurting Clifford. By all that was sacred, why did Clifford still love Barrett? How long would his love last?
There were footsteps outside. Mr. Sobel's footsteps, accompanied by the footsteps of another man. The visitor. And yet those footsteps sounded familiar. . . .
The door opened. A man entered. Barrett swallowed a shout of outrage.
The visitor was Vito de Vere.
His back was to Barrett. Barrett could easily have felled him with a single blow. He was tempted to.
In retrospect, Barrett was willing to admit that he had made errors too with Vito de Vere's prisoner. He had been fooled by the prisoner into thinking that man an innocent who had been ravished by his Seeker. Barrett was as much to blame as Mr. de Vere had been in mistaking the essential nature of that dangerous criminal.
But Barrett was quite sure that, even if he had been in Mr. de Vere's position, and even if he had been such a fool as to fall in love with the prisoner, he would not have lied to his guards, secretly taken the prisoner to a rack room – this rack room – and proceeded to touch him in a sexual manner.
The last was unforgivable. Comprehensibly unforgivable. The Code of Seeking said quite clearly that any sexual contact between a Seeker and his prisoner constituted rape, for prisoners had no choice but to submit to their Seekers' sexual demands. It didn't matter that the prisoner had been willing – had indeed seduced his Seeker in order to obtain his escape. No Seeker of any integrity would ever touch his prisoner, unless a life was at stake. Only the vilest of Seekers would touch a prisoner sexually.
Vito de Vere, vilest of the vile, had still not shown any sign of awareness that his back was open to a guard who had once threatened him with a drawn dagger. As Mr. Sobel quietly closed the door behind himself, Mr. de Vere walked slowly toward the prisoners. He did not possess the air of contained menace that the High Seeker did; in fact, he was so short that the dungeon's guards had exchanged rumors, during Mr. de Vere's earliest days in the dungeon, that he had bribed his way into the queendom's academy for patrol soldiers.
That had been before anyone had seen Mr. de Vere at work in a breaking cell. Barrett still did not know how good a patrol soldier and prison guard Mr. de Vere had been, during his earlier careers. It hardly seemed important. Vito de Vere possessed far too many skills as a Seeker.
Mr. Raupp looked up at Mr. de Vere, saying nothing. Mr. de Vere – no longer a Seeker, since his dismissal by the High Seeker – said quietly, "Mr. Raupp? We have not met before, I believe."
"No," replied Mr. Raupp. "But I have seen your image in the newspapers, and I know of you by reputation, Mr. de Vere."
Mr. de Vere nodded. "I would like to discuss with you what connection you have with the men who are currently holding this dungeon in a state of terror, and what plans you may have for this dungeon."
"'Discuss,' you say." Mr. Raupp's voice had turned tense.
By contrast, Mr. MacDonald was grinning. "It's all right, Rupert," he said excitedly to Mr. Raupp. "I know about this gent. You're the one who started the lawsuit, ain't that right?" He directed this comment to Mr. de Vere, who did not reply. Turning back to his companion, Mr. MacDonald said, "We're safe with him. He's a Seeker, but he don't use torture."
"No," agreed Mr. de Vere, still in that quiet voice. "I don't need to."
The grin dropped from Mr. MacDonald's face. Mr. Sobel gestured slightly with his head. Barrett hesitated a moment, watching as Mr. de Vere crouched down so that his eyes were level with Mr. Raupp's. Then, as Mr. Sobel gave a more urgent jerk of his head, Barrett slipped out of the rack room, leaving the prisoners with their Seeker.
The gunmen had clearly visited the crematorium. Several of the stalactites had shattered onto the floor, while the lowest of the shallow cave-wall shelves, which ordinarily held lit candles for the dead, now held only splinters of wax and glass. Barrett looked in an automatic manner toward the glass-windowed bookcase next to the crematorium's main doors. That locked bookcase normally held the oldest books in the Eternal Dungeon, including the original, handwritten copy of the Code of Seeking, hastily penned by a group of revolutionist torturers from the old royal dungeon. Those revolutionists had successfully overturned centuries' worth of despicable methods of destroying the bodies and souls of prisoners.
Dozens of museums around the world had offered to buy that manuscript, Barrett knew. After one hundred and sixty-two years, the Code of Seeking was the oldest and most famous work of prison ethics in the world. The Eternal Dungeon, cherishing its past, had refused to move the manuscript to a more secure location.
And here was symbolic proof of the Eternal Dungeon's hope for the future: the bookcase stood untouched by violence.
The crematorium normally held nothing more than the bookcase, the candles, a grate for holding the bodies of the newly dead while funeral prayers were sung for them, and an immense stone lid that covered the ash-pit and the vigil chamber below the ashes. With few exceptions, Barrett's memories went back only four years, yet he knew dozens of men whose bodies lay in that pit. Prisoners whom he had guarded and who had been executed for their crimes . . . though he had not assisted when some of those men were racked. Barrett's own sense of ethics was delicately balanced: a desire to help the prisoners in a way that they could be genuinely helped, balanced against a flat unwillingness to aid in torture. The High Seeker, apparently unwilling to risk Barrett becoming a martyr again in the eyes of the dungeon's revolutionists, had excused Barrett from the duty of racking prisoners.
Yet some of the prisoners whom Barrett had guarded had given their confessions under torture, and some of those prisoners who were later hanged had undoubtedly died from giving false confessions. Was Barrett fooling himself when he claimed to work in the dungeon in order to aid prisoners? Was that not like taking up service with a tyrant on the excuse that one might be able to help the victims of the tyrant?
Feeling uneasy, Barrett went over to the smaller doors set on the west side of the crematorium. There were two of them. The first led into the outer dungeon, to permit outer-dungeon laborers access to the crematorium in order to mourn their dead – for not only prisoners were interred here, but also Seekers and any guards or outer-dungeon laborers who requested this burial place. Barrett himself was on the list of guards whose ashes would be spread in the pit someday.
The door was unlocked, but it was barred. Quite firmly barred, by something heavy shoved against the other side of the door. It seemed that Mr. Sobel had been right when he said that the outer dungeon had protected itself against the invaders.
Barrett went down on his hands and knees to check the bottom gap in the doorway leading into the healer's surgery. Yes, that door was jammed as well, no doubt by the immensely heavy bookcase that normally stood near the door, within the surgery. Faintly, through the door and the bookcase, Barrett could hear the babbling sounds of voices and screams. He laid his ear against the door. Mr. Bergsen's voice was unmistakable; it had that brisk tone he took on in the midst of medical crises. Barrett thought he recognized a few other voices, belonging to guards and Seekers he knew.
Not Mr. Chapman, though. Either Mr. Chapman was staying stoically silent in his pain, or he was shrieking inarticulately, or he remained unconscious. Or, quite possibly, he was dead.
Barrett jerked back from his eavesdropping as he heard the crematorium's main doors creak open. His hands automatically went to his belt, which ordinarily carried his dagger and whip. He was still naked of arms.
Fortunately, the intruder was Mr. Sobel, sliding through a slight gap in the doorway and leaving the doors ajar, as though to tell any passing gunmen that the crematorium was hiding nothing. Barrett walked forward to meet him.
"Shouldn't leave," was all he said when he met Mr. Sobel, which was not the clearest manner in which he could have voiced his protested.
But Mr. Sobel grasped the gist of his comment and shook his head. "Mr. de Vere is trained as a patrol soldier and a guard. I left Mr. MacDonald's revolver with Mr. de Vere. I'm sure he can protect himself against chained prisoners."
"Not what I mean." His voice had grown fierce. It always did, in moments of danger. Matters were growing worse by the moment; Mr. Sobel had stripped Mr. Crofford of the gun which Barrett had taken from Mr. MacDonald, and who knew what that meant?
Mr. Sobel did not reply immediately. He was a few years older than Barrett; he had worked for the High Seeker since Layle Smith first arrived at the Eternal Dungeon, Barrett had gathered. Mr. Sobel was one of the strongest guards in the dungeon, as any guard who had received a disciplinary whipping from him could testify.
Barrett wouldn't know. The only disciplinary beating he ever recalled receiving was at the hands of the High Seeker. But Mr. Sobel had helped; Barrett remembered again Mr. Sobel's cold voice as he gave the count on each of the hundred lashes. And afterwards . . . One of Barrett's first memories, after the beating, was of waking to find Mr. Sobel leaning over him, like a vulture checking whether its meal is dead yet. A death watch – that was what it was called, Barrett later learned. A watch to see whether a tortured prisoner would die. Ordinarily, the Seeker who ordered the torture conducted the watch. Barrett thought it said all too much about Mr. Sobel's character that the senior-most guard had evidently insisted on watching Barrett during his utmost agony.
Barrett wondered, sometimes, whether he might have committed some personal offense against Mr. Sobel. The senior-most guard seemed more eager to hover in Barrett's vicinity than even the High Seeker's vigilance would seem to warrant. Mr. Sobel never spoke to Barrett, though, except to give orders. No doubt Barrett had made clear enough, during the early days after his punishment, that he would countenance nothing more than duty words from the High Seeker's loyalest henchman.
Now Mr. Sobel said in a low voice, "Whatever else his faults may be, Mr. de Vere does have a strong desire to protect prisoners. And I think it's safe to say that the particular circumstances which occurred the last time Mr. de Vere searched a prisoner will not occur today."
Barrett thought about this as he went over to the table with the extra candles and began automatically placing them in the blue glass bowls that were designed to hold vigil candles. It was true enough that Mr. de Vere's previous breaking of the Code had come from overprotectiveness of his prisoner. Barrett himself had made a similar error soon after he returned to work as a guard; he had mistaken the prisoners' sacred worth for an indication of the prisoners' characters. He had soon realized that most of the prisoners, however sacred they might be, were twisted men who had committed terrible crimes. Mr. de Vere, having been fooled by a prisoner he loved, was unlikely to let himself be fooled by prisoners he loved not at all.
Even so . . .
"Code," said Barrett. It was the best word he could find to sum up the situation.
Mr. Sobel nodded. "Under normal circumstances, I would not permit a Seeker to question a prisoner without guards on watch to ensure that the Seeker did not abuse his power. I would certainly not allow such questioning to be conducted by a man who has been dismissed from being a Seeker. These are not normal circumstances, Mr. Boyd. I am permitting Mr. de Vere to search the prisoner because he is available, he is unharmed, and he is skilled at his work. Officially, though, I cannot let his work in this dungeon to be known. You, Mr. Crofford, and Mr. Urman all know that Mr. Raupp is being searched in an unauthorized fashion; that is as far as I dare allow that information to be spread."
"You'll tell High Seeker." Barrett's voice was flat. He could not imagine Mr. Sobel doing otherwise.
Mr. Sobel's gaze slid away to the candles that Barrett was busy lighting. "If I have the opportunity."
Barrett placed the lit candles on the shelf, in place of the shattered vigil candles, before he said, "Dead?"
"I fear so." The strain in Mr. Sobel's voice was quite clear now. "I have searched everywhere for him – questioned every member of the inner dungeon that I can. He's not in the Seekers' living cells, he's not in the common room, he's not in the closets or engineering room, he's not in the surgery, he's not in the breaking cells, he's not in the guardroom, and the majordomo, with whom I held a conversation through one of the living-cell doors, assures me that he is not in the outer dungeon. Either he is being held hostage by the gunmen—"
"—or he is dead." The latter seemed far more likely to Barrett. Mr. Taylor and Mistress Chapman might still be alive, held hostage in exchange for any prisoners that the Seekers held captive. But the High Seeker, whose infamy was the subject of countless commoner ballads, would surely have died the very moment that the gunmen sighted him. He was the only olive-skinned Seeker; he could not have hoped to hide amongst the lighter-skinned Seekers in the entry hall. Indeed, there were a few Seekers and guards in this dungeon, such as Barrett, who would have been tempted to shove the High Seeker in front of the commoners' guns.
Mr. Sobel took a long, shaky breath. "There remains a faint chance that he is in the palace, seeking aid for us. The Queen's law forbids the Queen's guards from entering the dungeon except to deliver prisoners; the guards cannot assist us except with explicit permission from the High Seeker or the Codifier. So Mr. Smith may be with the Queen at this very moment. But in any case, I cannot speak to him; nor can I seek orders from Mr. Taylor or Mr. Chapman. Now that Mr. de Vere is busy with the prisoners, I must proceed on my own initiative." He had taken his gun from his pocket and was fiddling with it, like a boy untrained with the use of deadly arms.
"Help?" Barrett suggested. The last thing he wanted to do was help Mr. Sobel, but clearly the High Seeker's guard was in dire need of assistance in this terrible crisis.
Mr. Sobel nodded as he cocked the hammer. "Yes, you can." He raised the revolver and placed it against Barrett's temple. "Please stay very still, Mr. Boyd."
In all his remembered life, Barrett had never seen such a neatly ordered battlefield.
The Eternal Dungeon's entry hall, like the crematorium and the Codifier's office, was housed within the bare cave walls that embraced the far more civilized housing within the remainder of the underground dungeon. Iron laths covered with plaster hid the cave walls from the remainder of the dungeon, though Mr. Urman, who possessed a peculiar sense of humor, had reputedly drilled a hole through the plaster of his apartment wall in the outer dungeon, placed a picture frame around the hole, and declared this to be his "window."
The rest of the dungeon remained stiflingly windowless and without access to the "lighted world," as the dungeon inhabitants termed it. Only four exceptions existed: the crystalline skylight in the Seekers' common room, the side entrance in the outer dungeon, the vault entrance in the Codifiers' office, and the main gates of the Eternal Dungeon, which lay at the top of a stairway hewn out of rock.
The foot of the stairway in the entry hall was currently clogged with gunmen, whose line extended all the way down the west side of the hall, ending at the entrance to the Codifier's office, which was fully blocked by the commoners' human barricade.
On the opposite side of the entry hall, to the east, was a different sort of human barricade. Packed arm-to-arm, a grim line of guards stood in front of the men behind them, their daggers and whips in readiness. These guards were of senior rank. Clustered behind them were several more rows of guards – junior guards, at a guess – and behind them, Barrett could barely see, were the Seekers in their distinctive black hoods. The hoods – the traditional garb of torturers in the Queendom of Yclau – were worn even by the revolutionist Seekers who now refused to torture prisoners, though those Seekers had raised their face-cloths in silent protest of the torture.
Barrett could not tell how many of the revolutionist Seekers, if any, remained alive. Though blood stained the floor between the gunmen and the guards, any corpses or wounded men had been removed from sight. Nor could Barrett easily see the living Seekers behind the guards. Although the ballads spoke of "towering Seekers," in actual fact it was guards, not Seekers, who were hired for their height. Only two Seekers in the dungeon stood as high as the average guard: the revolutionist leader, Elsdon Taylor, and his love-mate, the High Seeker.
Unless one of those men was crouching down to hide himself among the other Seekers – a scenario so unlikely that Barrett dismissed it from his thoughts at once – Elsdon Taylor and the High Seeker were not in the entry hall. Nor could Barrett catch sight of Mistress Chapman's distinctive skirt and shirtwaist.
He glanced at the north end of the entry hall, which was closest to where he stood. Gunmen roamed there, examining the documents on the desk, while the Record-keeper, standing hand-bound between his captors, glared at them in a manner suggesting that he would cut off heads if any of the gunmen so much as wrinkled a piece of paper on his desk. Other gunmen were carefully examining the giant slate-board on the wall behind the desk. Barrett took a quick look in that direction. Mr. Raupp's name was there, but the slate-board declared him to be in the breaking cell where he had originally been housed, not the rack room that bore only the name of his Seeker.
Barrett took careful note of that name. If he survived, he wanted to ensure that Mr. Raupp's Seeker and guards were hung for their crime of abandoning a racked prisoner to danger. That the racked prisoner had subsequently proved to be one of the dungeon's dangers was irrelevant.
Some of the gunmen were trying to force open the door to the Record-keeper's documents library. Envisioning a gleeful rifling of centuries' worth of valuable documents, Barrett pulled silently back from his observation post. He left the guardroom door into the entry hall open slightly, so as not to tempt the gunmen into breaking down another locked door.
Mr. Sobel looked at him expectantly. The hammer of his revolver remained cocked, but he kept the revolver pointed toward the floor, and his finger was off the trigger. His earlier, abrupt behavior he had not deigned to explain, but Barrett thought he could guess one of the reasons behind Mr. Sobel's unexpected threat of violence.
The High Seeker's guard needed to be sure of Barrett Boyd's loyalty. Pointing a gun at Barrett and seeing whether Barrett responded with violence was a simple but effective test of loyalty.
Now Barrett shook his head. Mr. Sobel reacted by beckoning Barrett to follow him. Barrett hesitated; he could hear someone crying in the nearby washroom, and he knew who that someone must be. But Mr. Sobel's gesture was urgent, and Barrett knew where his primary duty lay. There would be time enough for him to comfort Clifford's fears later.
Barrett and Mr. Sobel made their way past the arms rack, which had been plundered by the gunmen. All of the daggers were gone, though the whips had been thrown to the floor by gunmen who evidently did not recognize that, in the right hands, a whip could be as deadly weapon as a gun. The leather straps were missing from the pillar that was designed as a place to beat disobedient guards and Seekers. Barrett slid his gaze away from the pillar. His own beating, he had been given to understand, had taken place in the entry hall, with the entire dungeon to witness his punishment and to "benefit" from that witnessing of what happened to any guard so foolish as to defy the High Seeker's orders. Most of the men who had watched Barrett's beating could no longer look him in the eye. Barrett had been glad of that for many years. Only recently, in a long conversation with Clifford, had he realized that his reasons for wishing to remain isolated from other dungeon dwellers were not the best.
It was due to the damage to his mind, he and Clifford had agreed, after exploring the subject at length. The damage had brought about a great good: it had allowed Barrett to see, in a manner more clearly than most other men, that the Code of Seeking was right when it declared the prisoners to be of sacred worth. Barrett possessed visible proof of that, through the glow of light that surrounded the prisoners – a perpetual reminder to him that he must treat the prisoners with due care.
But other aspects of the change to his mind had not been so fortunate. The bright light that surrounded the prisoners – and also Clifford, who had been Barrett's love-mate at the time of Barrett's beating – made everyone else look exceedingly dark by contrast. As a result, Barrett had developed the notion that the dungeon housed precious prisoners of light who were held captive by evil, dark men.
"Dark and light," Clifford had said toward the end of that long conversation. "You have dark-and-light thinking about people. That's what it's actually called. You see people as entirely bad or entirely good, with no shades of grey in between. So you either fail to notice the flaws in those of us who appear lighted to you, or you judge overly harshly the people who appear dark to you."
It made sense, what Clifford suggested. Barrett already knew that he had been naive at one time about the prisoners' potential for evil – had been naive even about Clifford, who was no god but simply a young man of great integrity and warmth, capable of making mistakes.
If Barrett had been wrong about the Shining Ones, then it seemed likely he had also been wrong about the dark ones. He had tested this theory two nights ago through his conversation with the High Seeker, providing the man with the opportunity to apologize for nearly killing Barrett. The High Seeker had promptly done so, though in a subtle manner that Barrett might have missed if he had not been deliberately eliciting such an apology. The High Seeker was always a subtle man – subtle in his destruction and subtle also in the good deeds he did. He had penned the current revision of the Code of Seeking, that great work which urged Seekers and guards to sacrifice their own best interests in favor of the best interests of their prisoners. The High Seeker could not – as Barrett had initially thought – be entirely evil.
And Mr. Sobel? Barrett stole a look at Mr. Sobel as the senior-most guard pushed back a wall-hanging that hid a little-used door. Mr. Sobel had not killed Barrett a short while ago, in circumstances where he could easily have done so with no one knowing. At the very least, Mr. Sobel was not a murderer. What exactly he was, Barrett did not know. And Barrett did not know – he reflected ruefully – because he had never made any attempt to know. He had kept the High Seeker's guard at an arm's length.
"It's part of the damage, you see," Clifford had said, leaning forward, but taking care not to touch Barrett, because he knew by now that his own shining could burn Barrett. "Your mind was changed to focus entirely on the welfare of the prisoners."
"And you," added Barrett.
Clifford smiled as he shyly dipped his eyes. "And me, because you loved me. Just me and the prisoners . . . but no one else. You believed that you were the only man in the world who cared about us. Your mind distorted your protectiveness into a paranoia. You still can't see any good in other guards or in the Seekers, can you?"
No, he couldn't. But he was trying. He recognized, with effort, that his fellow revolutionists – Mr. Taylor, Mr. Urman, Mistress Chapman, and Mr. Bergsen – were allied with him in their determination to protect the prisoners from torture. There were other guards and Seekers like that in the dungeon. Even the guards and Seekers who wished to torture the prisoners did so out of the misguided belief that torture would help the prisoners to repent of their crimes and transform in character.
Rationally, Barrett could grasp all this now. But he could not believe it. His earliest memories were of dark men trying to destroy him through fierce agony. He had then seen these same men torture prisoners – torture the Shining Ones, sacred in their worth. Against imagery like that, his reason could make no headway. He still could not believe that there was any man in the world he could trust, other than Clifford, who loved Barrett dearly – loved him enough to remain Barrett's mate, even when it became clear that Barrett had no capacity or desire to give Clifford pleasure in bed.
Clifford was a clear marker in Barrett's life of what was good and trustworthy. Everyone else – the High Seeker, Mr. Sobel, even the revolutionist members of the Eternal Dungeon – remained bitterly dark in Barrett's eyes.
As dark as the passage that he and Mr. Sobel now entered.
He had only the faintest memories of the back passage.
Most of what he knew about it he had learned from Clifford, who had also worked in the dungeon during the back passage's years of use. The back passage had originally been an extension of the narrow cross-passage that led from the outer dungeon to the breaking-cell corridor. In those years of past, the cross-passage had continued beyond the western row of breaking cells, turned at a ninety-degree angle to the south, and travelled behind the western row of breaking cells until it reached the back entrance to the guardroom, which connected up with the entry hall. The back passage's purpose had been to provide access to the furnaces behind the western breaking cells, which needed to be fed coal, night and day.
The furnaces had been converted into a vertical hypocaust long ago. Well, four years ago, actually, but before Barrett's memory began. As long as he remembered, there had been no back passage. All that there had been was a heavy tapestry on the wall of the guardroom and a hatch on the wall of the breaking-cell corridor where the cross-corridor ended. The hatch was barely two feet high, looking as though it led to some of the electrical equipment that now permeated the Eternal Dungeon.
What the hatch actually was – Barrett had learned when Mr. Sobel hurried him down the breaking-cell corridor at gunpoint – was a secret access to the back passage. As soon as it had become clear that Mr. Sobel would not need to use civilian-clothed Barrett as a "hostage" to get them past any gunmen in the corridor, he had quickly released Barrett, knelt down to unlock the hatch with his master key, and wriggled through the tiny opening without waiting to check whether Barrett followed. Barrett, who had no desire to test whether the gunmen recognized him as a guard, had followed suit.
Now they were in the back passage again, which was utterly black. Mr. Sobel took Barrett's arm, as he had on the first occasion that they'd journeyed down the lightless corridor, but he proceeded only a few steps before he stopped and felt along the wall. A moment later, metal screeched and faint light entered the passage.
Its source was initially unclear. Ducking down, Barrett saw the outline of a thick iron door, and behind it a dark space that he guessed must be the furnace-turned-hypocaust, because hot air batted his face as he looked in. Beyond it was frosted glass, glowing.
The frosted glass blocks at the end of a breaking cell, Barrett realized. And beyond it . . .
"Two?" he whispered.
"Breaking Cell 2, yes," murmured Mr. Sobel. He was a dim shadow in the faint light.
Straightening up, Barrett managed to find his ear and whisper into it. "Cell door open. Blood. I saw."
Mr. Sobel nodded. In the same low voice as before, he replied, "The door is closed now. I suppose that at least one of the gunmen didn't care for the sight of blood." The dryness in his voice was as parched as a desert. "As long as we keep our voices low, we're unlikely to be heard, even by the refugees in the breaking cells." His sweep of the arm embraced the prisoners, guards, and Seekers who were now hiding in the cells.
Barrett could not help but notice that, so far, the only shout for help he had heard from a prisoner had come from Mr. Raupp. Which was exceedingly odd, when he thought about it. The dungeon was currently filled with commoner prisoners who had been arrested when they turned violent during the Cordage Manufactory strike. Or were claimed to have turned violent, by the Queen's soldiers; the Seekers, long used to the penchant for patrol soldiers to exaggerate or falsify crimes, had begun searching the prisoners to determine the truth of what had happened. Many of the prisoners were members of the Commoners' Guild; others were workers without guild affiliation or simply passersby who had been caught up in the violence. The violence had left dead bodies on both sides: the bodies of strikers and the bodies of detectives who had been hired by the manufactory owner to protect the strikebreakers. The detectives – the Seekers had already determined to their satisfaction – had used firearms against the strikers in an attempt to slip the strikebreakers past the picket line.
Whether or not any of the prisoners was innocent of violence, surely they would all welcome an attempt by their fellow commoners to free them from prison? Surely they would call out to let the gunmen know where they were?
"Mr. Boyd," said the High Seeker's guard, "I cannot proceed any further without orders."
Barrett nodded. He was straining his ears to hear whether Clifford was still crying. But with the door to the guardroom closed and the tapestry over it, he could hear nothing except the far-off hum of the machinery that ran the hypocaust. If any other guards or prisoners or Seekers were crying in the western breaking cells, they were muffling their sobs.
Mr. Sobel continued, "I must get into the palace to determine whether the High Seeker or the Codifier managed to escape there. If they have not, then I must consult with the Queen to determine whether she intends to send the Queen's soldiers to the dungeon."
Barrett considered this for a moment before saying, "Code."
Mr. Sobel passed a hand over the back of his neck, as though kneading out an ache there. "I know. The Code does not permit the Queen's soldiers to enter the dungeon, except in pairs, to deliver prisoners. The Queen's law says the same. There's good reason for that rule; the dungeon is run under a separate law system, the Code of Seeking. If the Queen's soldiers were to take charge here, it could dilute the power of the Code and lead to the loss of the sovereignty which the Queen has granted this dungeon in the past. . . . Fortunately, I won't have to make that decision. The High Seeker or Codifier will, if they're in the palace; otherwise, the Queen will decide. But I must know whether the Queen's soldiers are planning an attack, or whether we are entirely alone in our efforts to defend the dungeon."
"Attack on palace?" Barrett suggested.
Mr. Sobel's mouth twisted. "I'd thought of that. I don't think the commoners' group which attacked us has grown large enough to attack the palace as a whole. Even the Commoners' Guild isn't that large yet. Let us pray they never are."
It struck Barrett that, for a man who had helped the High Seeker try to kill Barrett, Mr. Sobel was being remarkably forthcoming. Barrett thought again of Mr. Sobel's efforts to quietly stalk him, staying just far enough away that Barrett could not accuse the guard of invading his privacy.
There could be other reasons for Mr. Sobel's interest. Barrett paused to figure out how to phrase the question; then he said, "Long time since we worked like this."
Mr. Sobel was not as good as his work-master at hiding his expressions. There was a flicker across his face before he said, "Five years, actually. One year before your punishment. We only worked together briefly, in a case involving an army officer. Beyond that, you consulted me from time to time on work matters. You never worked directly under me when you were a junior guard."
So Mr. Sobel knew about Barrett's loss of memory. Barrett supposed that wasn't surprising. He had always assumed that the High Seeker knew; the High Seeker knew everything important that happened in the dungeon. And Mr. Sobel was said to be one of the few men in the dungeon with whom the High Seeker would speak candidly.
There was a faint sound of voices through the glass blocks. Relaxed voices, travelling past. Gunmen. Mr. Sobel glanced their way, and then lowered his voice further as he put his hand on Barrett's shoulder. "We may not have much time. Right now, they're holding the Seekers in the entry hall trapped, and they likely have their hands directly upon Mr. Taylor and Mistress Chapman. I don't know how long it will be before they start killing their hostages because they have given up hope of exchanging those hostages for the prisoners in the breaking cells. We need to move quickly. . . . Mr. Boyd, I am leaving you in charge of this dungeon."
Mr. Boyd raised an eyebrow. He knew, and Mr. Sobel must well know, that Barrett was not second-in-command among the guards. Barrett and Clifford had recently been assigned as guards to Seekers-in-Training. Since guards derived their guard-rank from the rank of their Seeker, Barrett and Clifford were the lowest-ranked guards in the dungeon.
"Mr. Urman?" Barrett enquired.
Mr. Sobel shook his head. "Mr. Urman is officially the second highest ranked guard in this dungeon, since he is senior night guard to Mr. Taylor. But he was raised to that rank only two days ago; all of Mr. Urman's experience is as a junior guard, following orders. I discussed the matter with him, and he agrees that you are the better man to take charge in this situation."
And the better man to enter into the primary danger? Barrett swept that thought aside. It was his dark-and-light thinking overwhelming him again, he knew. Mr. Urman was one of the dark figures, but he was Clifford's long-time friend. That must mean he had shining qualities. "Orders?" Barrett enquired.
"Free Mr. Taylor and Mistress Chapman if you can. If you can, ask Mr. Taylor what you should do. Even leaving his rank aside, he's one of the most brilliant Seekers this dungeon has; if anyone can plot a plan of rescue, he can. Beyond that . . . You'll have to decide on your own. I can't anticipate what problems you'll face." Mr. Sobel reached forward and closed the iron door. It screeched again.
Barrett tried to think as Mr. Sobel guided both of them back into the guardroom. He could understand now why the High Seeker's guard had tested Barrett's loyalty by placing a gun against his head. It was a necessary step before giving Barrett greater responsibility. Yet something wasn't right here. Mr. Sobel was leaving the dungeon – the entire Eternal Dungeon, with its hundreds of Seekers and guards and prisoners and outer-dungeon workers – in the hands of a guard of low rank, with whom Mr. Sobel had never worked for any extended period, and whom Mr. Sobel had once tried to kill. Something was missing here.
Which left only one possibility. As they reached the door to the entry hall, Barrett turned and whispered urgently, "You knew me? Off-duty?"
For a moment, it appeared that Mr. Sobel would not answer. Then, in an exceedingly gentle voice, as though breaking the news of a terrible tragedy, he murmured, "Before you were punished, you considered me your closest friend." He drew his revolver and pointed it again at Barrett. "Let us proceed."
The entry hall was much the same as it had been before. Gunmen milled about, looking as though they didn't quite know what to do, now that they had gained victory over the elite. The guards and Seekers remained in a tight knot, outnumbering the gunmen, but lacking their firearms. There was no sign, anywhere in the entry hall, of leadership.
The conversations between the Seekers and guards came to an abrupt halt as Mr. Sobel walked through the door from the guardroom.
"If you touch me, he dies," announced Mr. Sobel succinctly. "All I want is a safe passage out of this dungeon. Let me go, and I'll release my hostage once I'm free."
An older gunman standing near the closed door to the High Seeker's office spat on the ground. "You'll kill him once you're free. We ain't letting you pass. What do we care about your hostage anyhow? He ain't one of us."
"Looks mid-class," agreed another gunman, who appeared little older than a boy. "Look at those hands. Soft. He ain't never seen the inside of a manufactory."
There were nods all around. As coolly as though he were discussing duty rosters, Mr. Sobel said, "Oh, I don't think you'll risk this man's life. He has already died once." Still holding Barrett firmly with one hand while he held the gun against his head with the other, Mr. Sobel swung Barrett around so that his back faced the gunmen.
It was then that Barrett understood why Mr. Sobel had chosen him as the hostage.
The gunmen, who had begun to mutter amongst one another, fell into utter silence. It was the youth who broke the silence: "It's him! The martyr guard! He didn't die!"
"Bloody blades." It was the older gunman near the High Seeker's office; he sounded disgusted. "You're as bad as the High Seeker, showing that off." He hesitated, then added, "I need to talk to Leader. Don't let them go nowhere while I'm gone." He disappeared into the High Seeker's office.
They all waited. Barrett cast a worried glance at the guards. Any of them, through word or expression, might reveal that he continued to work for the Seekers. But the guards were all used to following orders from Mr. Sobel, and none of the gunmen were looking in the guards' direction anyway.
The older gunman reappeared. "Leader says, Let them go. —But if you kill him, man, you'll spend a thousand years in afterdeath," he warned Mr. Sobel with a growl. "Hostages are sacred."
Were they? Barrett certainly hoped so. Depending on how this went, he might end up as one.
Mr. Sobel spared no further words; he simply gripped Barrett more tightly and pulled him through the dangerous empty space between the gunmen and the guards. Then they were on the stairway, with Mr. Sobel skillfully positioning Barrett so that the gunmen could not shoot Mr. Sobel without shooting Barrett also.
He did not let Barrett go, even when they were past the point where the gunmen could see them. It felt strange, going up these empty steps where pairs of guards usually stood at intervals, preventing prisoners from escaping. When he and Mr. Sobel reached the top of the steps, Barrett saw that the gates were closed – not only the barred gates, but also the solid gates behind them, which were closed only under extraordinary circumstances.
Still Mr. Sobel did not release Barrett. He thrust his boot through the bars and softly kicked one of the solid gates. Kicked several times – a code, giving his guard name and the signal for "Open door cautiously."
The solid gates opened almost immediately, just a crack. Then the solid gates were open, and so were the barred gates, as a junior guard rushed to open the entrances for Mr. Sobel and his companion.
"Is there a riot, sir?" asked the senior guard there; he had his rifle trained on Barrett, and he was looking distinctly uneasy. Barrett could well imagine that, if any riot took place in the Eternal Dungeon, he himself would be one of the men suspected of starting the riot. "We heard the gunshots and closed the gates, so that none of the prisoners would escape."
"Keep the gates locked till you receive further orders," said Mr. Sobel succinctly. "No, wait." He reached out to prevent the junior guard from closing the gates. "Here." He slipped the revolver into the pocket of Barrett's trousers. The gun was a compact model, designed to be easily concealed. "Good luck," Mr. Sobel said as he pushed Barrett back into the dungeon. The gates closed before Barrett with a boom.
The gunmen escorted him to the High Seeker's office with such tenderness that Barrett might have been the original Martyr whose Sayings were read aloud in Yclau chapels every week's end. Many of the gunmen he passed touched him lightly, murmuring words of sympathy. It was all very confusing. Barrett was relieved when they finally reached the entrance to the office.
"Here he is, Leader," said the older gunman. "Shall I stay?"
"No need," said a youthful voice. "He won't harm us."
Barrett stopped dead at the threshold of the office, startled by the glow in front of him. Cocooned within the light, the commoners' Leader was sitting on the High Seeker's desk, which would doubtless have resulted in a trip to the whipping post if the High Seeker had witnessed this. Dressed in the usual drab clothing of commoners, Leader swung boots backwards and forwards, as though nothing more than an unconcerned boy on holiday. Hair fell down in front of Leader's eyes.
No, not Leader. The commoners' accent had deceived Barrett. The youth before him was not Leader.
She was Leda.
The door closed. The young woman got up, came forward, and took Barrett's hands. "I'm so very glad to meet you finally, Mr. Boyd. Rupert told me all about you."
Barrett managed to extract his hands before the pain made him scream. "Mr. Raupp?" It was all he could think of to say. It was too much: the light, the revelation that the gun-toting mob outside was led by this delicately framed young woman. But she was no younger than Rupert Raupp, Barrett reminded himself. And she had invoked Mr. Raupp's name. . . .
"Aye," agreed Leda. "He spoke of your bravery, your strength, your intelligence, your integrity. All murdered on the execution pole, we thought. But you survived! They've kept you prisoner?"
"Wanted to leave. Couldn't." This was true enough. He had thought of leaving the dungeon in the early days after the punishment, till he realized how much the prisoners needed him.
Leda was frowning now, scrutinizing his face. She was still far too close, but Barrett dared not step back to avoid her heat. She said slowly, "They hurt you?"
This was the easiest question of all to answer. "Mind damaged. During punishment. Not . . ." He tried to think how to phrase it. "Not intelligence. Healer said so. Not damaged there. I just . . ."
"Became a child," Leda said softly. "Oh, Barrett, I'm so very, very sorry."
She stepped forward to hug him – tenderly, Barrett saw, as she might hug a small child. This time, Barrett stepped back. "Hurts. Please."
"You were damaged that way too?" exclaimed Leda, moving hastily back. "How dreadful! It's good luck we'll be able to free you from your chains. That's why we're coming here, see? To free the prisoners. To make sure no prisoner is ever trapped here again."
There was a certain sweet naivete to her plans – to the plans of both her and Mr. Raupp. Did the two of them really think that, if the Eternal Dungeon was destroyed, all the prisons in Yclau would shut down? Or that the Queen wouldn't immediately build another dungeon? Most likely the Queen would dispense of the Code of Seeking if she did so; that would allow her more control over the searching of the prisoners. If that happened, prisoners would invariably be questioned by dirty means and be found guilty, regardless of how innocent they might be.
Feeling distinctly uneasy at this vision of the future, Barrett said, "Prisoner?"
Leda nodded, understanding his shorthand question, perhaps merely because commoners had a tendency to speak succinctly too. "Aye, here. Don't remember seeing you then. I was searched by Mistress Chapman, five years back. Rupert was my guard. He went looking for me, he did, after the High Seeker fired him. The magistrate, he'd only thrown me in prison for a short time, since they couldn't prove I'd killed anyone in the protest I took part in. Hangman didn't swing me. Rupert, he wanted to make sure I was all right. That's how we got to know each other, aye? . . . Barrett, we need the keys." Her voice turned suddenly practical. "The keys to the breaking cells. You know what those are, aye? Rupert said the High Seeker's got them, but I ain't found the High Seeker yet. Do you know who else might be carrying those keys?"
"Taylor," Barrett replied without hesitation. "Young Seeker, dull blond hair, blue eyes, very white skin. Guard who captured me said you'd taken him hostage?"
"He's the one who has the keys?" cried Leda. "How exciting!"
She sounded like a girl at a party held in her honor. Barrett wondered whether she'd witnessed the bloodbath in the entry hall, or whether the gunmen had found a way to shield her from that.
Her gaze had passed beyond him. Quickly, Barrett turned around. He saw the faint glow at once.
The prisoner was in the corner of the room, near the door. He was bound to the chair that normally stood in front of the High Seeker's desk; that was where the leather straps from the whipping post had gone, Barrett realized. The prisoner's Seeker hood had fallen off, and his mouth was gagged. Normally among the lightest-skinned of the Seekers – his ancestry was very elite, Barrett had gathered – Elsdon Taylor now looked so drained of blood that it was clear he was close to the point of passing out.
Clifford had told Barrett very little about Mr. Taylor, but Barrett had himself seen, during the weeks in which the revolutionists planned their dangerous revolt, that the High Seeker's second-in-command was normally the bravest of men. Something here had broken that courage.
The High Seeker's death?
"Must be on his body," declared Barrett. "I'll search him."
"Oh, that ain't needed," said Leda. "I'll get one of my men to do it."
Barrett shook his head, moving forward. "Seeker. Has hiding spots, only guards know. He's tied. Won't take long." He knelt down next to the chair.
There was a soft rap at the door, and then the older gunman poked his head in, saying, "Leda? Speak to you a bit?"
Leda walked toward the door.
Barrett would have mere seconds, likely, if only because Mr. Taylor's heat was already burning Barrett. Running his hands over the straps, Barrett determined that the straps were too tightly bound for him to release Mr. Taylor without a blade. Barrett still had no dagger. He thought about his options, and then, under cover of the conversation outside between Leda and the gunman, Barrett murmured, "Prisoners in cells, outer dungeon safe, Weldon Chapman in surgery, Crofford hiding, Urman hiding, Sobel in palace, Codifier missing, High Seeker missing. Tossed key?"
There was pain in Mr. Taylor's eyes as Barrett pronounced the status of Mr. Taylor's love-mate. Well, that answered one of Barrett's questions, whether Mr. Taylor knew where the High Seeker was. Wisely, Mr. Taylor did not nod; instead, with one of the hands that was bound behind his back, he gave the hand signal for "Yes" that all Seekers and guards were taught, in case they should need to communicate privately in a prisoner's presence.
Only time enough for one more question, and it was unlikely to be one that Mr. Taylor could answer through hand signals. Barrett tried anyway. "Plan?"
The hand signal for "No." Mr. Taylor looked very white. Whatever had broken Elsdon Taylor, it had also evidently fogged his brilliant mind. Barrett found himself wondering whether Mr. Taylor had been gagged simply to prevent him from screaming, the way racked prisoners often screamed.
Barrett risked a brief touch to the glowing arm – the touch didn't hurt too badly, and Mr. Taylor looked as though he needed all the reassurance he could get. Then Barrett rose and stepped back, just as Leda closed the door and looked his way. "Did you find the keys?" she asked with the same eagerness as before.
Barrett shook his head as he came forward to the desk. "He must have thrown them out of sight." It was easier to talk to her, now that he knew she'd once been a prisoner. She did not have the bright light of one of the Shining Ones – just an afterglow, as though demonstrating visibly her past credentials. "I'll search. I'll find."
"I can't let you do that," protested Leda. "It's too dangerous—"
Barrett reached down to the desk, grasped the letter opener there, and proceeded to throw it. It tore through the plaster of the wall, a couple of inches from Mr. Taylor's head. The Seeker didn't flinch. Evidently the breaking hadn't succeeded in stripping him of his courage.
"Didn't lose intelligence," Barrett explained to Leda, who was staring at him openmouthed. "Didn't lose skills. Damaged, but not that way."
"Aye, that's clear." Leda spoke admiringly, as though she had waited all her life to meet a dagger-thrower whose target was a hostage. "Right, then; I'll send you. Can't really spare the other men anyhow. Alf, he's the man who brought you here, he says there's danger the Seekers' guards will try to attack. We don't want to kill guards unless we got to."
Barrett imagined not. Some of the guards had no doubt been friends with Rupert Raupp in the old days. One last question remained, a question he should have asked previously, especially in light of Leda's past history with the Eternal Dungeon. "Lady Seeker?"
"We let Mistress Chapman go," replied Leda, hopping back up onto the desk. "We ain't going to hurt women or children. I made that clear to Rupert, I did."
Whereas Rupert Raupp was opposed to such a policy? Barrett stored away that information for later use. He had a good deal of information to work on now; from this point forward, what he needed most was swiftness. Drops were dripping down in an hourglass; the prison workers here might not have long to live.
Since he had to go back by way of the breaking-cell corridor, he checked Breaking Cell 2. Nothing there. It would have been too obvious a place to leave a key. The door to Breaking Cell 1 was closed; faintly through the iron he could hear the murmur of a Seeker, trying to comfort his prisoner.
Beyond that the corridor ended; there was only the door to the entry hall, on the wall beyond Breaking Cell 1. The wall beyond Breaking Cell 2 was blank. Putting his ear against it, Barrett could hear D. speaking to Clifford in the washroom. The words were too muffled to identify.
It was when he reached Breaking Cell 4 – immediately next to Breaking Cell 2 – that part of Barrett's past touched him. He hesitated, letting his mind slide away into that nothingness which was the past. It was less painful now to do this than it had been only three nights ago, but still his breath caught as he eased his thoughts past the fire which represented his punishment.
"Mr. Boyd." Mr. Chapman's voice was sharp. A guard wearing Barrett's body turned from the process of locking the door of Breaking Cell 4. To that guard's shock, the dungeon's newest Seeker-in-Training was clutching the wall of the breaking-cell corridor, his eyes closed. Mr. Chapman continued, "Go to Mr. Bergsen and tell him that Mr. Taylor has immediate need of his services."
The memory faded, leaving Barrett only with the impression that Breaking Cell 4 had some deep, dark meaning to Elsdon Taylor. A cell that Mr. Taylor would remember. A cell that he might think of in the midst of danger.
The door was closed but not locked. Barrett opened it. There it was, lying just inches from the door, almost invisible in the dark, disused cell: Elsdon Taylor's master key, which, under the cover of gunfire, he had managed to slide under the door as he was being dragged to the entry hall.
With Mr. Taylor's master key, Barrett was able to unlock the hatch. He encountered no gunmen on the way to the hatch; apparently they had all given up hope of breaking down the cell doors and were awaiting further orders in the entry hall.
The back passage was almost oppressively black. He stepped along, guiding his path by lightly touching the furnace doors as he passed them. He was faintly accompanied by a memory of having traversed this passage before, in the company of Mr. Taylor. That would have been shortly before Barrett was punished; Barrett had been Mr. Taylor's guard at the time, Clifford had said. In Barrett's memory, the man who called himself Barrett Boyd was blithely unaware of what awaited him.
In the dark, it took Barrett some time to fit the key into the lock of the door leading to the guardroom. Barrett spent the time wondering where Mistress Chapman was. "Released," Leda had said. Released where? If Mistress Chapman had any choice in the matter, he imagined she would retreat to the healer's surgery in hopes of finding her wounded husband there. At any rate, she was safe. Mr. Taylor and many of the other Seekers remained in peril.
The gunmen had entirely closed the door between the guardroom and the entry hall, evidently believing that nobody else remained here. Barrett carefully locked that door; he dared not have any interruptions to the coming conversation. Then he made his way back to the west entrance to the washroom, which faced the punishment pillar. He eased the door open.
And just barely managed to keep himself from slamming it shut.
Through some long-ago training – bloody blades, he must have spent a good deal of time in the Queen's army being stalked by danger – Barrett eased the door closed without being heard. He retreated to the back of the guardroom. Then he retreated to the back passage, closing the door behind him.
Then, and only then, did he give vent to his feelings by saying, "Kill them. Kill them both. Urman and Crofford."
The image remained vivid in his mind: D. Urman and Clifford Crofford lying on the floor together, locked in a passionate kiss. They were still clothed, but they had given every appearance of being on the way to a coupling.
Amidst his rage, Barrett tried to think straight. He'd given Clifford Crofford permission to take a love-mate three days before. Could Mr. Crofford have fallen in love with Mr. Urman in the space of three days? They were friends, after all.
But no. Clifford Crofford was so warm and affectionate that he might have fallen in love in a short space of time. He might even have offered his body to D. Urman out of compassion, rather than love.
But Mr. Urman was notoriously prickly. Even if he had secretly lusted after Mr. Crofford, Mr. Urman could not possibly have pulled up the courage to proposition Clifford Crofford in three days. Not when he knew that Barrett had been Mr. Crofford's love-mate.
Had been. Had been his love-mate. Barrett Boyd had, for a short while, been Clifford Crofford's mate. All that was gone now.
"Strangle them," Barrett said aloud. "Torture them."
In retrospect, it was obvious: Mr. Crofford must have been lying to Barrett. Not lying to him about the damage to his mind; the healer had confirmed that part of Mr. Crofford's story. But lying to him about everything else – about Clifford Crofford not wanting to take another love-mate until Barrett asked him to, about Barrett's need to consult with Clifford Crofford before making important decisions, about the dark figures being Shining Ones. Why the younger guard had done this, Barrett could not imagine. Was it Mr. Crofford's revenge because Barrett could no longer give him pleasure in bed? And what was Mr. Urman's role in all this? Had he trained Mr. Crofford in deceit, or had the two of them conspired together to make a fool of Barrett? Had they been love-mates the whole time that Mr. Crofford had said he was Barrett's love-mate?
Was that the only reason that Mr. Urman and Mr. Crofford had taken part in the New School's revolution? In order to fool Barrett into thinking they were good men?
"Murder them," Barrett said. "Deserve to die. I'll make their deaths painful."
Something was missing here – something very important. Something he mustn't forget. He thought a while, shivering in the cold dark, with his arms against his chest, where a hardness was missing. Then he remembered.
The Code of Seeking, which he usually carried in the breast pocket of his jacket. The Code that guided everyone in the dungeon, even the High Seeker. The High Seeker had stopped himself short of killing Barrett because of the Code. The healer had healed Barrett because of the Code. The Code had helped Mr. Taylor and others recognize that torture was wrong. The Code required sacrifice from every member of the Eternal Dungeon.
"Won't kill or torture them," Barrett promised aloud. "Code forbids it."
He wouldn't kill or torture Clifford Crofford and D. Urman. But he needed to find out why they had fooled him and, if possible, take his revenge.
At the doorway to the washroom, he paused. Should he enter immediately, letting Clifford Crofford and D. Urman know that he knew of their betrayal? Or should he appear oblivious, biding his time for revenge?
After a minute's consideration, he knocked. There was a pause, no doubt to hastily don discarded clothing. The very thought made him hot with anger.
As D. Urman opened the door, though, Barrett's anger was swept away by uncertainty. Clifford . . . He was really Mr. Crofford, now that he was no longer Barrett's mate, but it seemed easier to think of him as Clifford. Clifford was sitting on the floor, trying to scrub away the tears on his face. His expression was utterly crushed.
Barrett's first thought was that he had been wrong. What he had witnessed was not a session of love-making but a rape, perpetrated by D. Urman. When he looked at Mr. Urman, though, he saw that Mr. Urman's expression matched Clifford's. Both of them were filled with woe.
It took Barrett a minute to understand. It still took him by surprise, when other men felt emotions he had no acquaintance with. Concern, curiosity, awe and worship toward the Shining Ones, anger, fear, pain . . . the last two usually confined to his dreams of the punishment. That had been his full range of emotions until he began to desire Clifford's companionship. Clifford had taught Barrett love, and, during the past couple of days, a modicum of humility.
But other men had a wider range of emotions. He would have known that simply from the broken memories that came to him occasionally now. Sorrow at the death of friends and fellow workers – he had known that emotion in the past. Other men knew that emotion in the present.
Whatever Barrett had interrupted – a love-making session, a crying session, or a combination of the two – it appeared that D. Urman wasn't inclined to dispute the interruption. Pocketing the pistol he had been holding – Mr. Urman was always well supplied with items that were contraband in the dungeon – the newly promoted guard opened the door wide to let Barrett in.
"Barrett!" Emerging from behind his handkerchief, Clifford caught sight of Barrett. "Oh, thank the Fates! I was so worried about you!"
He sounded utterly sincere. He always had. Barrett said nothing. Clifford – who had sprung to his feet, apparently ready to fling himself at Barrett in a show of affection – faltered in place. There was an awkward moment of silence. Then Mr. Urman demanded, "Well? What's the odds?"
Mr. Urman had a regrettable tendency to lapse back into the commoner dialect he had learned when he attended a commoner school as a child. Barrett looked at him a moment, wondering for the first time where Mr. Urman's true loyalties lay. Then Barrett said, "Placed in charge."
"Aye, Mr. Sobel told me." Mr. Urman's tone sounded easygoing. "Not a problem, mate. I'll take orders from you."
Mr. Urman also had a regrettable tendency to act as though he and Barrett were long-time friends, though Barrett knew from both Clifford and his own snatches of memory that this had never been the case. Indeed, it could be fairly said that Mr. Urman had no friends in the dungeon, other than Clifford. He had a rough tongue and was disinclined to follow authority.
Again, Barrett wondered about Mr. Urman's loyalties.
"What shall we do, sir?" Clifford's tone was reserved and formal. Evidently, he believed that Barrett was angry at not being addressed formally on duty.
Barrett didn't bother to correct him. Without looking Clifford's way again, Barrett provided D. Urman with a succinct summary of the conversation between himself and Leda. He concluded by saying, "Need help. Need you to talk to Vito de Vere. Can't, myself."
Mr. Urman's mouth quirked. "I can imagine. Right, then – I ask him about his searching of the prisoners, I'm guessing?"
"Crematorium," Barrett replied. Not bothering to wait to see whether Mr. Urman understood, Barrett turned his gaze toward Clifford—
—and found his mouth stopped. It had been like that, in the early days, before he grew to love Clifford. He had no reason to speak to Clifford; therefore he hadn't.
But he was duty-bound to do so now, he reminded himself. He forced himself to say, "Need you to go to the outer dungeon. Mistress Chapman freed. Probably fled there. Need you and her to organize defenses in the Outer Dungeon."
"You think the gunmen are going to attack the outer dungeon?" It was Mr. Urman, ignoring, as usual, the usual custom of waiting to be addressed by the senior guard in charge.
Barrett ignored him in return. Clifford replied, "Yes, sir." And then, more hesitantly, "How do I reach the outer dungeon?"
It was tempting – oh so tempting – to send Clifford defenseless toward whatever gunmen might be roaming the corridors. But Barrett had promised himself to follow the Code, and he could imagine what the Code's latest author – Elsdon Taylor – would say if he learned that a senior guard had sent a junior guard into needless danger.
Besides, Mr. Urman was still holding the pistol. Barrett needed to get rid of that pistol.
"Gun," he said to Mr. Urman, who promptly stepped over to hand Clifford the gun. Barrett rattled off, "Back passage. Cross-corridor. High Seeker's cell." Barrett removed the appropriate key from his own keyring and tossed it to Clifford. It was the key to the cell shared by Layle Smith and Elsdon Taylor, which Barrett possessed by right of being a senior guard working directly under the High Seeker. Layle Smith had given him the key two nights' before – his ostensible reason for visiting Barrett's cell, though in fact the visit had been a subtle attempt to check on Barrett's welfare. A dangerously complex man – that was the only way to describe the High Seeker.
"High Seeker hasn't shown up yet, has he?" Mr. Urman asked, echoing Barrett's thoughts.
"Probably dead," Barrett said bluntly. "Just us left. Go," he added to Clifford.
Clifford paled at the order, but he nodded and promptly came forward. As he reached the doorway where Barrett stood, he paused, looking into Barrett's eyes for something. Then, not seeing it, he lowered his eyes and said softly, "Goodbye, sir."
Mr. Urman already had the door open for him. Barrett turned his gaze away, not wanting to see what look Clifford exchanged with D. Urman. His heart was pounding. Clifford had appeared so forlorn, so genuinely in need of something from Barrett. . . . Was it possible that Barrett had misjudged the situation? Could it be that Clifford was the victim of a seduction by Mr. Urman?
If that was the case, then all that Barrett need do was rid himself of D. Urman. Then Clifford would be Barrett's mate again.
Mr. Urman halted abruptly when Barrett opened the door to the back passage. Barrett looked at him curiously. Faintly, he could hear the sound of the gunmen talking in the entry hall. The door to the washroom was now open, revealing its emptiness. Clifford had left for his dangerous mission a short time before.
Mr. Urman cleared his throat. Sweat shone on his face. "Don't like dark passages," he explained in a hoarse voice. "Always think something dangerous is going to pounce on me." Then, being Mr. Urman, he stepped promptly into the blackness.
No predator pounced on them as they made their way down the night-black passage. Barrett ran his hand lightly along the furnace-side wall to guide himself; Mr. Urman was close enough behind that Barrett could hear his heavy breath. After a while, Mr. Urman said, "You going to tell me what we're up to?"
His tone was belligerent. It was the tone that had landed him in the guardroom, tied to the whipping post, more times than Barrett was capable of remembering. Barrett paused, then flinched as D. Urman came into contact with him. His pain was not from heat; the dark figures always felt chilly to him. Coldness travelled through his body, retracing the paths of old wounds . . .
"Sorry." Mr. Urman knew enough to step back quickly. There was a long moment as Barrett strove to catch his breath – strove not to scream. Through the fury of the lingering iciness, Barrett could hear dim voices from the cell they stood beside, as well as Mr. Urman's breath. Nothing more. The passage was as black as the entrance to afterdeath.
Finally Barrett said, "Need your help."
He recited his orders in a near-coherent manner. This was talk of duty; this he could do, for sake of the prisoners. He managed to get nearly three-quarters through before Mr. Urman said, "Now, wait one bloody minute . . ."
Barrett was not particularly surprised. Mr. Urman was notorious among the guards for only following orders when it suited him to do so. That the High Seeker had not stabbed Mr. Urman long ago was a wonder to everyone in the guardroom. Taking a position of senior supervision over Mr. Urman was considered a hardship. When news had arrived in the guardroom that Mr. Urman – D. Urman, of all the men in the Eternal Dungeon – had been promoted to be Mr. Taylor's senior guard, one of the other senior guards had voiced the guards' general sentiment: "At least he's no longer our problem."
". . . can't fucking well expect me to stand still for this." Strong vulgarity was Mr. Urman's warning sign that he was about to explode like an ill-tended steam engine.
It was the only thing Barrett could have said that would have shut Mr. Urman up. Mr. Urman subsided, muttering only, "Wish to fuck that the High Seeker was here."
Barrett was beginning to wish that as well. Like Mr. Urman, Barrett had been driven this far only through thought of the prisoners and the Code which governed everyone in the dungeon. He was not sure he had the courage to take the next step.
Oblivious to Barret's thoughts, Mr. Urman said, "It's just like that idiot High Seeker of ours to go and play hide-and-seek when the dungeon needs him most."
Barrett said nothing more. After a moment, Mr. Urman sighed and asked, "What's the rest of it, then?"
By the time that Barrett had finished telling Mr. Urman as much as he needed to know, there was urgency in the air. Barrett wasn't sure how he knew this. The sounds around him had not changed in any way. Perhaps it was simply the High Seeker's ghost hovering beside them, reminding Barrett that the minutes were dripping down before the bomb would explode in the entry hall. At any moment, the dungeon guards might decide to attack the Commoners' Army. . . . .
"Right, then." Mr. Urman's voice had the briskness it took on when he was undertaking an especially distasteful task. "Let's get this over with. Sir," he added.
Barrett was surprised. He wasn't sure whether, during all the years of his memory, he had ever heard Mr. Urman say "sir" before. Well, except to the High Seeker, but that was a different matter. Failing to show due deference to the High Seeker would be like failing to give way to a mountain lion in one's path.
"This way," said Barrett tersely.
They reached the hatch to the main corridor soon afterwards. Barrett opened the hatch, wriggled through – it was barely wide enough to have encompassed Mr. Sobel's broad shoulders – and then waited impatiently for Mr. Urman to follow.
And waited yet again as Mr. Urman, newly emerged from the passage, gaped at the breaking cell at the corner to the cross-passage.
Or rather, gaped at what remained of it. The bomb had sent the cell's wall-stones tumbling down onto its inhabitants: a guard and his prisoner. The guard's body was over the prisoner's; the guard had evidently sought to protect the prisoner during their final moments of life.
Barrett glanced that way, and then away. He knew the guard. They had shared the guardroom together for years, had showered in each other's company in the washroom, had shared tables in the crowded dining hall of the outer dungeon.
Barrett felt nothing. He reflected that, just a few days earlier, he would not even have realized that he ought to feel something for the death of a fellow worker. Just a few words from Clifford had changed Barrett that much.
Clifford. Had he reached the outer dungeon yet? Or had he been killed by the gunmen as he sought to fulfill Barrett's orders?
Something clutched at Barrett's stomach; he made a noise in his throat.
Mistaking the cause of Barrett's reaction, Mr. Urman whispered, "Let's get out of here, aye? They might see us."
It would make no difference if the gunmen saw them now. Mr. Urman would learn that in due time, Barrett knew.
Barrett waited until Mr. Urman had lured Vito de Vere into the crematorium; then he opened the door to the rack room.
Rupert Raupp looked up as Barrett entered. His eyes showed no surprise. Beside him, Mr. MacDonald had his face in his hands. At some point, someone – Vito de Vere? – had redone the fastenings on the two prisoners so that their hands were bound in front of them. Mr. MacDonald was covering his face with a handkerchief.
Mr. Raupp turned his attention back to his comrade. "It's not your fault, man."
"I'm a traitor to the Cause. . . ." Mr. MacDonald's words came muffled through the handkerchief.
"It's not your fault," Mr. Raupp repeated. There was no anger in his tone. "Few men can hold out against the searching of a skilled Seeker."
"You did!" Mr. MacDonald flung back, raising his head from his hands. His face was pale and streaked with tears.
"I've had some experience with them." Mr. Raupp's gaze drifted over to Barrett. "Well?" he said.
Barrett walked over till he was within a body's length of the rebels. From this distance, he could see that even Mr. Raupp showed signs of strain. An extra-quick searching by a Seeker would do that to a man. Barrett said, "Prisoners dead. Two of them. Killed by the gunmen."
Mr. MacDonald's look of anguish was replaced by a look of shock. Mr. Raupp said calmly, "I know. They died as martyrs to the Cause. They will be remembered."
"Surely you didn't want them to be killed!" protested Mr. MacDonald.
"Of course not." Mr. Raupp did not move his gaze from Barrett. "But I knew that some prisoners would die. It was unfortunate but inevitable. A few must die to gain freedom for the rest."
Barrett thought about this for a minute before saying, "Talked to Leda."
Mr. Raupp nodded as Mr. MacDonald stared at Barrett. "All's well?" Mr. Raupp said, as though speaking to an ally.
Barrett thought for another minute before saying, "Need to know a bit more. Not sure yet."
"Mr. Boyd." Mr. Raupp leaned forward, his muscles tightened now. "Be sure of this: the terror that the High Seeker unleashed upon you and the rest of this dungeon is only a faint shadow of the terror that the elite unleash daily upon defenseless commoners. I doubt you realize this, any more than I did till I became a commoner myself. We both were raised in secure, happy, mid-class homes. Perhaps the elite will continue to leave the mid-class alone. Perhaps they'll continue to find the mid-class useful, as the lackeys to carry out their will. But know this, Mr. Boyd: the High Seeker and the other elite will never, ever rest until they have ground the commoners to dust. We must rise against them – we must rise now – if we're to have any hope of saving the prisoners."
Barrett was spared having to articulate an answer; a soft knock came at the door. Without a word, Barrett turned and left the room.
Outside, Mr. Urman was as restless as a boy at his lessons on a summer day. Without preliminary, he whispered, "You were right. All three of them are in conspiracy together: Raupp, MacDonald, and Leda. MacDonald poured it all out to de Vere. The three of them have been living together for the past year in a 'commoners' commune,' as they call it. All the money they earn goes into common funds to support them. They managed to persuade other commoners to join them in their mission two months ago; then, when they heard about our rebellion, they decided this was the moment to strike. Raupp told the others that, if they killed the Seekers, commoners throughout the queendom would rise in rebellion against their oppressors."
Barrett considered this a moment before saying, "Haven't killed yet."
Mr. Urman nodded. His eyes were avid with hunger to fight the growing danger. "That's because of the guards. Raupp thinks some of the guards will join the Commoners' Army; he wants those guards to be given a chance to join the revolution before the Seekers are executed. The three of them had all of this planned out, every step of the way. They're the leaders. But Raupp says that, once the dungeon's prisoners have risen against their oppressors, the army will have no need of leaders. All of our queendom's commoners will rise and overwhelm the elite, with the help of some of the mid-class."
The plan solidified in Barrett's mind, like a shaken pool growing still until it reflects what lies above. "Now," he said softly.
They did not kill Mr. Urman immediately; Barrett managed to wave the gunmen off when they caught sight of his companion. "Leda," he said succinctly. The gunmen escorted him and Mr. Urman to the High Seeker's office.
Mr. Taylor was sagging in his bonds. There was no sign of wounds or even bruises on him, so Barrett guessed that the Seeker had fainted from his ordeal. Taking no notice of him, Leda was pacing back and forth in front of the desk. She stopped short, though, as she caught sight of Barrett. "Did you find it?" she cried with eagerness.
Barrett nodded. Ignoring Mr. Urman's sharp look, Barrett took a step forward. "Found Rupert and Mac too. Can release them." He held up Elsdon Taylor's master key. "Can release them all."
"What the bloody blades are you doing, you fool? Give me that!" Mr. Urman tried to swipe the key from Barrett's hand.
The gunmen behind stepped hastily forward to take hold of Mr. Urman, but Barrett scornfully waved them back with one hand. With the other hand, he drew his gun.
"Hands behind your back," he told D. Urman as he pointed his gun at the guard's forehead. "You're our prisoner."
The gunmen took Mr. Sobel's revolver away from Barrett. Barrett thought this was sensible of them; he wouldn't have wanted to be around a mind-damaged guard with a gun either.
In all other respects, though, he was now a trusted member of the Commoners' Army. Leda released Mr. Taylor from his bonds after Barrett explained that, of all the Seekers, Mr. Taylor was most likely to ally himself with the commoners.
She refused his proposal, though, that he talk to the other guards and see which ones he could win over to the revolt. "Rupert will take care of that when he arrives," she said firmly. "My love-mate, he has a golden tongue."
Already prisoners were pouring into the entry hall from the breaking cells, under tight supervision from the gunmen who had released them from the breaking cells. The guards and Seekers, hands clasped behind their necks, where hurried within a circle of gunmen on the steps. The guards' expressions were grim, while the Seekers' eyes seemed darker than usual under their hoods. A few of the Seekers had their face-cloths raised, to show that they were part of the recent revolt in the Eternal Dungeon. They had evidently already heard what role Barrett had played in their capture, for their eyes raked over him in a manner suggesting that they might rethink their policy against torture.
Mr. Raupp and Mr. MacDonald arrived last of all. Leda, who had been supervising the release of the prisoners and the capture of the remaining Seekers and guards, greeted them with a cry of joy. "Sweet one!" she cried and rushed into Mr. Raupp's arms. They exchanged a passionate kiss as the gunmen smiled and nudged one another.
Leda finally surfaced for air. "Oh, and sweet one!" she cried, and proceeded to kiss Mr. MacDonald just as passionately.
After a minute, Barrett glanced over at Mr. Urman. Only Barrett's intervention had kept Mr. Urman from being trussed tighter than a racked prisoner; Mr. Urman had cursed Barrett at the top of his lungs when he discovered Barrett's betrayal, adding in a few choice words about the High Seeker's decision to rehire a mind-damaged guard. Barrett hadn't bothered to reply.
Now Mr. Urman looked as stunned as he had in the moment that Barrett turned the gun against him. Clearly he hadn't expected the leaders' "commune" to take this form. Barrett looked back, half expecting Mr. Raupp to smash Mr. MacDonald's jaw. But when Leda finally released Mr. MacDonald from her embrace, Mr. Raupp slung his arm over Mr. MacDonald in a relaxed fashion. Mr. MacDonald barely glanced that way; he was grinning.
"We let go our hostage," said Leda in a doubtful voice. She glanced over at the still figure slumped against the Record-keeper's desk. Mr. Taylor had made it as far as that point before his knees gave way; now he seemed barely conscious of what was taking place. Dimly, Barrett was beginning to recall Elsdon Taylor's early history: a childhood spent bound and beaten by his father. This had not been a good day for the High Seeker's love-mate.
And the day was not over.
"It was on our new comrade's advice," Leda added, indicating Barrett.
Mr. Raupp appeared unsurprised. He gave Barrett a grave nod of approval – nothing more.
By contrast, Mr. MacDonald slapped his thigh, delight written upon his face. "That's the stuff!" he said. "We knew there'd be a few like him, aye, loves?" He addressed both Leda and Mr. Raupp.
"Any others?" Mr. Raupp addressed this question to Barrett.
Barrett hesitated. "Not sure. Wanted to talk to them. Leda said no."
"If they haven't come forth by now, they never will. They remain creatures of the elite." Mr. Raupp dismissed the guards wholesale and turned his attention to the prisoners.
They had been whispering amongst themselves as the leaders talked. Barrett ran his eye over them, recognizing each one. A large group of men from the arrest at the strike, mostly members of the Commoners' Guild. A young man arrested for battering his grandmother to death in order to steal her purse. An older man charged with rape. A murderer who had already given his confession and was awaiting his trial, at which he would no doubt be ordered hanged. Two men who had conspired together to kill the Queen – one less would-be assassin than there had been the previous night, Barrett noticed. A prisoner who had been found innocent was missing too. Barrett thought of the blood in Breaking Cell 2 and the broken prisoner in the dynamited cell.
What was left was a motley crew, and none of them were looking happy at the moment. The three leaders of the Commoners' Army were exchanging whispers. Mr. MacDonald slapped Mr. Raupp on the back in a laudatory manner, and Leda said, "Speak, my sweet one!"
The mutters among the prisoners died down as Mr. Raupp approached them – somewhat slowly, for he was evidently still recovering from the effects of the rack. One of the gunmen had given Mr. Raupp his cloak; Rupert Raupp looked like a noble actor on the stage as he strode forward. He looked in the eyes of each prisoner, as though taking in the souls of each newborn revolutionary. Then he said, "We are here to bring liberation, not only to you, but to all the commoners who slave under the oppression of the elite."
The prisoners exchanged looks. Mr. Urman rolled his eyes. Unnoticed by the rapt gunmen, the Record-keeper knelt down beside Mr. Taylor; still bound, the Record-keeper could do nothing except speak softly to the Seeker, who was beginning to show signs of life again.
As for the guards and Seekers, they too were rapt with attention. One of the guards – Barrett noticed with amusement – had taken out his notebook and was jotting down Mr. Raupp's words. It wasn't clear whether the guard was doing this for posterity, for his own edification, or simply because guards were duty-bound to inscribe the confessions of criminals.
"I know what you've undergone," Mr. Raupp told the prisoners. "Like you, I've been a prisoner of the Seekers. Like you, I've sweated in manufactories, earning pennies as the rich elite who own the manufactories earn yet more mountains of gold out of our backbreaking labor. Like you, I've watched treacherous mid-class men ally themselves with the elite.
"All that ends today. The revolution has begun. With your help, and with the help of millions of commoners like you, we will rise against our hated masters and wrest control of the queendom from them. We will live in common, sharing all that we earn. We will dwell in peace, having rid ourselves of those parasites who have enjoyed elite and mid-class comforts at our expense!"
Mr. Raupp's voice rose to a crescendo. The gunmen tucked their firearms under their arms and applauded. Mr. MacDonald blew an appreciative whistle. As for Leda, her face glowed.
There was a pause. The prisoners looked at one another again. Finally a prisoner stepped forward to speak. It was the rapist.
He said, "Have you lost your bloody wits?"
His remark released a storm of comments from the other prisoners.
"I got a good job, one that's earning me more than layabouts like you earn. And you want to take my money from me?" It was one of the would-be assassins.
"We've told you time and time again at guild meetings, Raupp," said one of the members of the Commoners' Guild. "No violence. If you start a revolution with violence, the violence will never end."
"You're just trying to set yourself up as the new elite," said another member of the Commoners' Guild. "When did we elect you guild leaders? When did we say you could come shooting guns, killing people?"
"I saw my mate's body." It was another of the assassins, openly weeping. "He'd been shot in the head. Seekers don't do that. You going to tell me you had nothing to do with his murder?"
"My Seeker has taken two weeks to help me see what a despicable life I've lived." It was the murderer. "I never would have recognized that, if it hadn't been for him. He didn't so much as touch me; he just talked. Why should I trust you lot, who have come here intent on hurting anyone you don't like?"
"My Seeker had me whipped."
Silence fell throughout the entry hall, the shouts of the prisoners dying as they turned to look at the young man. He glanced over at them, scornful. "These are torturers," he told them. "I was scheduled to be racked tonight. Don't tell me they're goddesses of mercy, here to help me. They want to destroy me. They want to destroy all of us." He looked over at Mr. Raupp, who was beginning to smile. "Aye, I get what you're saying, man. You're here to kill men like that. You're here to protect us."
There was a breathless silence as the guards and Seekers shifted closer together. Mr. Urman's face had turned grey.
"Well, you can take your bloody guns and shoot them in your mouths!" cried the young man. "I don't need anyone teaching me how to murder. You lot, you're just amateurs. One hour from now, the Queen's guards are likely to line you all up against the wall and shoot you. And I'll be cheering."
There was a round of applause from the other prisoners. Several of the Vovimian-born prisoners started stamping their feet in approval, while the members of the Commoners' Guild – used to being more outspoken – hooted their approval.
Barrett looked over at D. Urman. Mr. Urman let out his breath slowly, then gave Barrett a lopsided grin. He'd contended, right up to the last minute, that Barrett's plan would fail – that the prisoners would side with the gunmen. Being who he was, Mr. Urman had risked his life anyway.
Some of the guards had begun to shout now, joining their voices against the would-be liberators. Mr. MacDonald tried to shout too, but his voice was swallowed up by the dissenting crowd. Leda simply looked stunned.
Mr. Raupp didn't waste words. He grabbed the revolver from the older gunman and pointed it at the ceiling. He shot.
A stalactite fell, narrowly missing Barrett. The few bats who had not abandoned the dungeon during the initial attack wheeled around the ceiling. Nobody looked at the bats. They were looking at Mr. Raupp, whose revolver was now pointed at the prisoners.
"You are enemies of the Cause," said Mr. Raupp tersely. "You are all going to die."
Mr. MacDonald looked uncertain now. He stared at Mr. Raupp, as though seeing something there he had not seen before. By contrast, Leda had fire in her eyes. She impatiently waved forward the other gunmen. They came, some reluctantly, some with eagerness, ready to start the bloody revolution that their leaders had proclaimed.
A movement against the east wall of the entry hall caught Barrett's eye. It was the guards, beginning to shift in readiness. Barrett wasn't surprised. In any case where both a Seeker and a prisoner was in danger, the Code made clear that the prisoner's life was of greater importance. The guards were preparing to fling themselves between the prisoners and the guns. Although the Code did not require this of them, no doubt the Seekers planned to sacrifice their own lives as well.
Mr. Urman had somehow managed, during Mr. Raupp's speech, to edge himself over to where the guards protected the Seekers. One of the guards was helping him out of his bonds. Mr. Urman caught Barrett's eye on him and raised his eyebrows, clearly waiting to see what Barrett would do.
Barrett didn't know how to respond. He hadn't anticipated this.
In retrospect, it was exactly what he should have anticipated.
Another movement, closer by, caught Barrett's eye. His head jerked round to watch a figure creeping along the north wall, close to the door from the corridor holding the Seekers' cells.
It was Mr. Crofford. Barrett couldn't tell what the junior guard's intentions were. To rescue Mr. Urman? To rescue Mr. Taylor, who was groggily rising to his feet as he gripped the shoulder of the kneeling Record-keeper? To join the other guards in dying for the sake of the prisoners?
He had not looked in Barrett's direction. For all Barrett knew, Clifford Crofford had forgotten about him entirely.
"All of you shall die!" It was Rupert Raupp; he had sensed the movement of the guards and was whipping his revolver toward the closest guard.
That guard happened to be Clifford.
Barrett didn't think. He never had to think, when drawing upon the experiences that his body knew better than his mind. Sixteen years of experience as a soldier in the Queen's army and as a guard in the Queen's dungeon enabled him to move quick as a whip, past three sets of gunmen who tried to intercept him. With a final burst of speed, Barrett hurtled himself into the fire that was Clifford and pressed his body against his love-mate.
Clifford stared at him. Standing as they were here, against the wall, Barrett could see every aspect of Clifford's face: the brows drawn low with concern, the nose that was just a little too straight for beauty, the lips . . . the lips Barrett had once kissed, long ago, when he had been a different man.
The expression on Clifford's face changed. He reached up and placed his palm against Barrett's cheek. His eyes were touched with wonder.
It was only then that Barrett realized what he had done.
He turned his head cautiously to look to the side. He was inside the ball of light that surrounded Clifford. By joining himself to Clifford in likely death, he had become a Shining One as well.
Clifford's gaze shifted; his eyes widened. Barrett quickly looked over his shoulder.
The bullet had not arrived – not yet. The reason for that was clear in the scene behind. As Mr. Raupp tried to push her aside with his hand, Leda forced herself in front of his revolver barrel, crying, "Sweet one, no! You promised! He's naught but a child in his mind!"
Meanwhile, tugging at Mr. Raupp's free arm, Mr. MacDonald said, "Let go, man! He's the martyr in the ballad! Think of what people will say if you kill him!"
"He is a traitor to the Cause," responded Mr. Raupp, grimly determined to see justice done.
His love-mates drew closer to him. A bevy of gunmen closed in, obscuring Barrett's sight of the battle. Then there was a shot.
This time, no stalactite fell. After a moment, the gunmen drew back, revealing what had happened.
It took Rupert Raupp less than a minute to die. He spent that minute writhing on the ground as Leda held him in her arms, calling out his name, over and over. Mr. MacDonald was on his feet, shouting for assistance. The revolver remained tight in Mr. Raupp's grip, turned by horrible mischance toward his chest.
It occurred to Barrett that he ought to fetch the healer. This was a prisoner of the Eternal Dungeon, after all. But it was too late; with one final choked rattle, Mr. Raupp's soul departed the dungeon, and his body went limp.
Leda was crying now, sobbing over his body. Then, in one lightning-quick movement, she made her decision. Abandoning what remained of her love-mate, she grabbed the revolver from Rupert Raupp's body and rose to her feet. Her hand was trembling as she tried to aim the gun at Elsdon Taylor.
Mr. MacDonald took the revolver gently from her. With his mouth set hard, he rested his revolver-hand on his left arm, taking aim at Leda's target—
—and gasped as a fiery line of blood traced its way across his left arm and right wrist. The revolver fell from his hand, skittering across the uneven cave floor, but mercifully not discharging. Clifford, wriggling free of Barrett's embrace, put his foot upon the gun before it smashed against the wall.
Nobody looked at him. Everyone looked in the direction of the Codifier's office. There, standing in front of the open door, was a hooded Seeker, calmly rolling up his whip.
"Madam," said the High Seeker in a cold voice, entirely ignoring Mr. MacDonald, who was gaping at him through tear-filled eyes, "you may wish to reconsider that plan of action. The true Commoners' Army has arrived."
As he spoke, the doors to the main corridor and to the corridor of the Seekers' cells burst open. Into the entry hall marched the women and children of the Eternal Dungeon.
Barrett recognized many of them; they were a quiet but integral part of his life as a senior guard who lived in the Eternal Dungeon. They strode past him: The junior cook who brought him meals on the days when he was too ill from his past back-injury to visit the dining hall. The maid who filled his tub on washing days. The laundress and her assistants. The girl who mopped his floor and dusted the furniture and cleaned the stove and ran errands for him when needed. . . .
A few of the women were mid-class. Most of those women immediately went over to the guards, embracing them. Some even broke past the tight cordon of gunmen who were trying unsuccessfully to imprison the guards and Seekers they had captured in the breaking cells. Guards' wives, reunited with their loved ones.
Mistress Sobel was there also, along with her children. The two young daughters were trying to hide behind her skirts, and the youngest boy was hanging shyly by her side. But the eldest boy, seven-year-old Finlay, tugged eagerly at her hand, urging her forward, as though he wished to lead the army charge.
The Seekers possessed no female family members here, nor children. Quite noticeably, none of the commoners from the outer dungeon greeted the Seekers. But some of the outer-dungeon laborers went over to mingle with the commoner prisoners, who looked understandably bewildered by this change of events. The assassin who had wept before was now weeping at the rescue, while the young man who had beaten his grandmother to death seemed unable to know how to respond as the matronly Cook paused in front of him and, in her booming voice, enquired after his welfare.
The gunmen too appeared uncertain how to react. Some of them looked toward the only open door to the outside, but the High Seeker continued to stand in front of door to the Codifier's office, and none of the gunmen seemed eager to check whether his whip was more powerful than their guns. Most of the other gunmen looked in the direction of their two remaining leaders, who were whispering together. Beyond them, the last of the newly arrived army entered the hall: Mistress Chapman, who had evidently not hidden herself in the safety of the healer's office after all. She glided softly over to the side of Elsdon Taylor, who was staring around the room with wonder shining in his eyes.
The conversation between Leda and her love-mate had reached an end. The two revolutionaries exchanged a passionate kiss. Then Mr. MacDonald turned away. Carefully he raised his hands behind his neck.
The other gunmen put down their firearms and followed suit.
"It was all the idea of the commoners," said Clifford. "They decided everything."
They were standing three hours later in the entry hall, which was as cramped with people as Barrett had ever seen it. Nearly all the male Seekers had retreated to their living cells, while Mistress Chapman had gone to the healer's surgery to help care for her husband and the other wounded prison workers. The unwounded guards, though, evidently felt bound to remain on duty through the aftermath of the attack. Most of them were standing in clusters, holding low-voiced conversations.
The Eternal Dungeon's female laborers were here too, energetically mopping up the bloodstains as best they could while the male laborers of the dungeon settled furniture back into place and mended broken objects. The Record-keeper had disappeared into his beloved documents library to check that all was well there.
Added to this crowd were clerks and magisterial representatives and guards from the Queen's palace above. The Queen's guards were escorting out the dungeon's prisoners – both the breaking-cell prisoners and the newly arrested gunmen. Both sets of prisoners would be sent to nearby prisons, since it was clear that the Eternal Dungeon would need time to recover from the attack.
"But Mistress Chapman planned it, didn't she?" said D. Urman. He was sneaking occasional drags from a cigarette, which on any other occasion would have earned him a disciplinary beating. Barrett stole a glance at the High Seeker, who was deep in conversation with Elsdon Taylor. No doubt the High Seeker was aware of this flagrant violation of dungeon custom, but on this occasion, at least, he seemed to be willing to overlook minor peccadillos. More than one guard was drinking surreptitiously from a flask.
Clifford shook his head. "Once Mistress Chapman had sneaked into the outer dungeon by way of her living cell, she went straight to see Mistress Sobel. They gathered together all of the guards' wives and children who had been hiding behind locked doors, and then they headed for the dining hall. By the time they reached there, all of the commoner laborers in the dungeon had already voted to march upon the gunmen, in order to protect the prisoners and other inner-dungeon residents from harm."
Given the commoners' stalwart support of the dungeon's own revolutionaries, the debate must have been a lively one, Barrett reflected. He decided it was exceedingly lucky for the Seekers that the attack had taken place after Elsdon Taylor was appointed to revise the Code of Seeking.
"They all assumed that the men would make the march," Clifford continued. "But when I arrived and reported to them what Mr. Boyd had told me, about Mistress Leda being unwilling to harm women and children, the women voted to take charge of the march."
"And the men let them?" Blowing out a ring of smoke, Mr. Urman raised his eyebrows.
Clifford gave the hint of a smile. "The men tried to stop them. But the Eternal Dungeon's women—"
"—are bloody stubborn. Aye." D. Urman dropped his cigarette and stepped upon it. Turning, Barrett saw the reason why.
"All women are stubborn creatures," added Mr. Urman as he sought to subtly grind his illicit cigarette to death. "You'd know all about that, wouldn't you, Mr. Sobel?"
The High Seeker's senior-most guard gave a faint smile but said nothing. He had been waiting outside the gates with the Queen's guards when Clifford knocked on the gates to inform the dungeon guards there that the gunmen had been captured. Now Mr. Sobel was without his jacket, having given Barrett his jacket until Barrett could properly clothe himself.
"Was the Queen the one who decided to hold back her guards, sir?" asked Clifford, curiosity in his voice.
Mr. Boyd shook his head as he pulled his gaze back from the High Seeker. "When I arrived, the Queen was in conference with her Secretary and the Codifier, who managed to escape from his office during the confusion of the initial attack. The Secretary was arguing that the Queen's guards should attack at once; the Codifier was firm in his belief that this would weaken the autonomous power of the Code of Seeking, which he is entrusted with preserving."
"So how did the Queen decide?" Looking more relaxed, now that it was clear that Mr. Sobel wouldn't be handing out a disciplinary whipping to him, D. Urman leaned against the cave wall. An artist strode by, busy scribbling. Frowning, Barrett turned to watch, but after a moment he recognised the man drawing the bloodstains: the man was one of the magistrates' clerks, not one of the pressmen whose presence was forbidden in the Eternal Dungeon. Barrett turned his attention back to the others.
Mr. Boyd's faint smile this time was rueful. "Her Graciousness left the decision to me. She believed I knew best what the High Seeker would have decided."
"Blood—" Mr. Urman quickly cut off the oath. "So how did you decide?"
"It was quite simple." Mr. Sobel turned his gaze upon Mr. Urman, and then Clifford, and then Barrett. "I told her I had left the dungeon in charge of the finest guards I knew. If they couldn't bring a stop to the violence, no one could."
Mr. Urman suddenly became very interested in nudging the remains of his cigarette with his boot. Clifford had turned bright red, but he managed to say, "You as well, sir. I heard that the High Seeker said much the same about you when the Codifier asked him why he had hadn't intervened until Mr. Taylor's life was in imminent danger. . . . Where was the High Seeker hiding? In the Codifier's office?"
Mr. Sobel shook his head. "In the back passage."
D. Urman had a coughing fit. Mr. Sobel helpfully slapped him on his back. Breath recovered, Mr. Urman said, "But that means . . . He must have heard . . ."
"Every word we spoke in that passage. Yes." Mr. Sobel's voice had turned rueful again.
Barrett looked over at Layle Smith. The High Seeker was still in conversation with his love-mate, but as Barrett looked his way, the High Seeker's gaze suddenly met his. Mr. Smith gave a slight nod, then returned his attention to Elsdon Taylor.
Clifford's hand touched Barrett's back. Clifford said softly, "That's his way of praising his subordinates. He must be pleased with you for having helped to rescue the dungeon."
It still felt odd, to be touched by Clifford without experiencing pain. Barrett glanced around at the line of prisoners being escorted out of the dungeon, handcuffed. The light from them was growing dimmer by the moment. It stabbed at Barrett's heart, to see the light depart, even though he knew that the light was leaving because he no longer needed it. It had served its purpose, during the first confusing years after his punishment, in showing him that he must protect the prisoners. But in recent days, the light had become an encumbrance, keeping him separated from ordinary men. Now, like all other men, he must learn to recognize the shining qualities of mankind through more subtle means than a visible light.
The Code would help, he knew – the Code that had prevented him from committing murder. He heard again the words he had spoken in the back passage, which the High Seeker must have overheard.
"No," he replied to Clifford's remark. He said nothing more; he would have time enough to explain that the High Seeker's odd approbation had not been in reference to anything Barrett had done, but to what he had failed to do. He would tell Clifford in private . . .
. . . if Clifford had any interest in meeting with Barrett in private again.
Feeling the hollowness of his continued uncertainty about Clifford, Barrett turned to look at his former mate. Clifford looked cheerful. Beside him, D. Urman was positively peart. Mr. Sobel was more subdued, but that was nothing unusual; the High Seeker's guard was a reserved man.
Something was not right here. Barrett turned his attention back to the cluster of dungeon guards. More than a few of them, he noticed for the first time, were wiping away tears. For a moment, Barrett was confused; then his gaze turned to the bloodstains on the floor.
He had forgotten. He had entirely forgotten the bodies that now lay in the crematorium, in preparation for their burning. He had not realized that the three guards next to him must be deliberately masking deep grief for their fallen workers. He had not realized this, because he himself was incapable of such grief.
Barrett looked again at Clifford. This night had revealed to Barrett his own, continued limitations. It was not merely that he did not yet feel emotions that other men felt. It was worse than that.
He had let himself fall again into dark-and-light thinking. He had come perilously close to killing Clifford Crofford and D. Urman. He still didn't know why Clifford had lied to him or why D. Urman had sought to make Clifford unfaithful. But Barrett knew one thing with certainty, a fact that had caused him to hurtle himself into seemingly certain death that night: he still loved Clifford. That being the case, Barrett knew that neither Clifford nor D. Urman must be the simple villains he had mistaken them for.
"I'm curious," said Mr. Urman, turning to Barrett. "Why did you decide to stick with us?"
Frowning, Barrett contemplated Mr. Urman. Clifford was staring at D. Urman. Even Mr. Sobel seemed surprised by the question.
Mr. Urman shrugged at their reactions. "He was thinking of siding with the gunmen. Let's be honest. Which of us rebels didn't think, for at least one second, that we'd be better off allying ourselves with the men who were trying to save our prisoners from torture?"
Clifford turned bright red again. Mr. Sobel – the only guard of the four of them who had not taken part in the recent rebellion – looked thoughtful.
Mr. Urman persisted, "You must have thought about it more than the rest of us, Mr. Boyd. When did you decide to stick with us? And why?"
Barrett's thoughts were cut short by an interruption: a stirring among the guards nearby. Barrett, and the three guards next to him, turned to look.
The stirring was prompted by the arrival of Mistress Leda – now accorded a title, since she was a prisoner – and Mr. MacDonald. They were both under the heaviest escort Barrett had ever seen, with Queen's guards four men thick in a cordon around them. They were unbound, though. The Code forbade the binding of women in the Eternal Dungeon, while Mr. MacDonald's right wrist and left forearm were wrapped in bandages.
Barrett caught only a glimpse of them before the guards hid the prisoners from view again. Then, abruptly, the escort came to a halt. There followed what appeared to be an argument between the guards and the prisoners. Before matters could worsen, Mr. Taylor broke free of his conversation with the High Seeker and came forward.
A low-voiced discussion took place between Elsdon Taylor and one of the guards. Then Mr. Taylor stepped back, and the Queen's guards shifted. A moment later, Mistress Leda – but not Mr. MacDonald – was permitted to walk forward, under escort, to where the magistrates' artist was sketching Rupert Raupp's corpse.
The artist hastily withdrew. Barrett caught sight of Mistress Leda as she knelt beside her late love-mate. She said in a clear voice that rang through the dungeon, "You paid shot for all of us commoners, my sweet one. You died for the Cause. Mac and I will not forget. We will continue to serve the Cause in our next lives, after they hang us."
Barrett glanced at D. Urman. "'Paid shot'?" said Mr. Sobel softly as the two dangerous rebel-leaders were taken from the dungeon.
Mr. Urman shrugged. "Commoners' dialect. It means Rupert Raupp paid the price for the others. I notice she didn't say a bloody thing about any of the other corpses, even the prisoners they killed." Mr. Urman's voice turned sour.
Barrett thought for a moment more, then said, "That's why."
"What?" said Mr. Urman.
"Why I stuck with the Code. They didn't care. Mr. Raupp said. All that mattered was the Cause. If other commoners died, it didn't matter, as long as the commoners died in the Cause."
All three of the other guards nodded slowly, understanding and appreciating what Barrett had said. It was so deeply ingrained into the four of them that Barrett had not needed to explain: the Code's stricture that they must sacrifice themselves, not for any Cause, but for the human beings who were their prisoners.
Mr. Sobel said, "Well, I must return to help the High Seeker. Mr. Urman, please inform the other guards that they are released from duty. Mr. Boyd—"
Everyone turned to look at Clifford. He had turned crimson again. He added hesitantly, "Er . . . I have a question. —We're off-duty now?" He glanced at Mr. Sobel for permission, who quickly nodded. Clifford licked his lips and then said, "Barrett, I . . . You remember when I asked you how long you thought I should wait till I took a love-mate?"
Now it was coming. Barrett braced himself.
His expression must have looked positively thunderous, for Mr. Sobel's brows lowered in apparent concern, while Clifford stared at his boots, shuffling them. Mr. Urman looked no more happy than the rest of them. But with the same sort of resoluteness with which he'd allowed Barrett to turn a gun against him, Mr. Urman said, "Look, I'll tell the tale, aye? It's my fault it happened. . . . See now, Mr. Boyd, I've always had a yearning for your mate. For years now, since before you two pledged to each other. Knew enough to keep my hands off. I mean, it was plain to see that you were the one he wanted, and while there were a few years there where I wasn't sure whether you'd want him back . . . Well. Didn't want to interfere, is what I'm saying."
Barrett glanced at Clifford, who continued to blush. He was still staring at his boots.
"So that's how it was. You and him, and me wishing the both of you good luck. Only—" Mr. Urman took a deep breath. "Cliff told me a couple of days ago. About how you and he had agreed to still be mates. But not love-mates; that was clean gone from the choices. He said you wanted him to find someone to keep him happy that way. And Cliff said he was all right with the idea, except he didn't think he'd ever find a love-mate who understood about you and him. How you were the one who mattered in his life. . . . Well. Figured I could give him that much, at least."
An image entered Barrett's mind. A memory. It had never happened before, that one of his older memories should come to him before he reached for it. The image was clearer in his mind than any previous ones.
Three men, sitting at a table in the outer dungeon's dining hall. Clifford Crofford. D. Urman. And someone wearing Barrett's body, who had owned that body before Barrett did. Before the present version of Barrett was born from the fire of the High Seeker's whip.
D. Urman was grumbling in that memory. Speaking words against the High Seeker that would sow the seeds of revolution in Barrett's mind. Clifford was turning his attention to and fro between his friend D. and his mentor Barrett. And then another man joined them: a tall man with broad shoulders and a voice relaxed with amusement.
Grinning, Barrett turned to pull an empty chair forward from a nearby table. Seward Sobel sat down beside him. . . .
The image faded then, leaving Barrett bemused. He had thought this ballad – the love ballad he had been singing in his mind all day – was about a triangle. Him and D. Urman, fighting for the heart of Clifford. Or, as D. Urman was now making clear, the two of them joining together for the honor of keeping Clifford happy.
A triangle: Barrett, Clifford, and D. But it had never been a triangle at all. Not in the old days, and not today.
D. was saying, "—told me that you and he are moving in together. I thought maybe, if I wasn't in the way, I could visit on week's breaks. Or maybe once a month, if me being with Cliff every week was too much. Or I could stay away altogether. Don't want to be in the way—"
Barrett did not need to reach back to faded memories to know that D. was pulling himself into one of his downward spirals of self-recrimination. Barrett needed to move quickly, if he was to prevent D. from ending up sullen and distant.
For a moment, Barrett was nonplussed. He'd never been called upon to undertake such a duty, in all the time that he remembered. Then some long-ago etiquette lesson came to his rescue. Not exactly the same situation, but the words would do nicely for this occasion.
"Mr. Urman," he said, cutting off the guard's spate of words, "it gives me great pleasure to welcome you into our family. I know that you will make my" – he caught himself in time from saying the word in the etiquette lesson, son. "I know that you will make my mate very happy." He reached out his arm.
D. shook Barrett's arm eagerly, gratitude clear in his eyes. Clifford put his arm around Barrett and buried his face against Barrett's shoulder; he was crying in sheer relief.
That left the fourth man. The man who was not in the triangle but who had been there all along. Four guards. A quadrangle.
"Mr. Urman," said Barrett, releasing D.'s arm as he resurrected another long-ago lesson. "Allow me to make a presentation."
He placed his arm across Mr. Sobel's shoulders. Seward Sobel turned startled eyes toward him. The frosty glass that the High Seeker's guard used to hide his shyness had shattered.
Barrett said to D., "I believe you know my good friend, Seward."
Chapter 6: Historical Note
On July 23, 1892, a twenty-one-year-old man named Alexander Berkman burst into the office of Henry Clay Frick, manager of a steel factory in Homestead, Pennsylvania. Frick had recently hired Pinkerton detectives to break the picket lines of the workers' union. The detectives shot at the workers; the workers shot at the detectives. Killings occurred on both sides.
Berkman, who had no connection at all with the factory or the strike, shot Frick twice before nearby laborers restrained him. Frick survived the attack.
It would be many years before the full story emerged of what had happened that day. Berkman was a Russian American who had become convinced that the only way to free the working class from the oppression of the rich was through anarchy. By 1889, he had become lovers with another Russian-American anarchist, Emma Goldman, encouraging her in her work, for equality between men and women was an anarchist principle. The two of them became committed to the belief (not held by all anarchists) that violence was necessary to bring about the revolution.
They moved in with Berkman's cousin, Modest "Fedya" Aronstam. Goldman then took Aronstam as a second lover. Although he admitted to feelings of jealousy, Berkman assured Goldman that she had every right to love whomever she wished. The three of them continued to live together, along with others who took part in their small commune.
There were tensions, however. Berkman was single-minded in his belief that every deed should be undertaken for the Cause. He criticized Aronstam for spending money on frivolous matters such as flowers. Goldman enjoyed the contrast between the two men: the more relaxed Aronstam and the more committed Berkman.
Then came July 1892. Berkman later described what happened next.
It is the sixth of July, 1892. We are quietly sitting in the back of our little flat – Fedya and I – when suddenly the Girl enters. Her naturally quick, energetic step sounds more than usually resolute. As I turn to her, I am struck by the peculiar gleam in her eyes and the heightened color.
"Have you read it?" she cries, waving the half-open newspaper.
"What is it?"
"Homestead. Strikers shot. Pinkertons have killed women and children."
She speaks in a quick, jerky manner. Her words ring like the cry of a wounded animal, the melodious voice tinged with the harshness of bitterness – the bitterness of helpless agony.
I take the paper from her hands. In growing excitement I read the vivid account of the tremendous struggle, the Homestead strike, or, more correctly, the lockout. The report details the conspiracy on the part of the Carnegie Company to crush the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers; the selection, for the purpose, of Henry Clay Frick, whose attitude toward labor is implacably hostile; his secret military preparations while designedly prolonging the peace negotiations with the Amalgamated; the fortification of the Homestead steel-works; the erection of a high board fence, capped by barbed wire and provided with loopholes for sharpshooters; the hiring of an army of Pinkerton thugs; the attempt to smuggle them, in the dead of night, into Homestead; and, finally, the terrible carnage.
I pass the paper to Fedya. The Girl glances at me. We sit in silence, each busy with his own thoughts. Only now and then we exchange a word, a searching, significant look.
To the shock of all three conspirators, Berkman's assassination attempt did not result in America's workers rising in revolt against their oppressors. Indeed, a few of America's workers had helped to foil the assassination.
Nor was Berkman hanged for his deed, as he had expected. Instead, he was sentenced to twenty-two years in prison. Goldman and Aronstam were investigated by the police, but the police could uncover no evidence of their involvement in Berkman's crime, despite the fact that Aronstam – carrying out the prior plans of the trio – had made an aborted attempt to serve as backup to Berkman on the assassination.
During the years that followed, Berkman remained in prison, illicitly running a newspaper with two other anarchists who had been arrested, agitating on behalf of all his fellow prisoners, and generally upholding the Cause despite his own ill treatment at the hands of his keepers. Goldman wrote to him regularly, disguised herself in order to visit him in prison, and joined with other anarchists in battling to have Berkman released from prison early. The group finally succeeded in 1906.
For the next few decades, Berkman and Goldman fought for the Cause, frequently together. Although they did not remain lovers, they both advanced anarchist principles, they both fought against the drafting of American men in World War One, they both were imprisoned for their anti-draft activities, they both were deported from the United States due to the authorities' fear of the recent communist revolution in Russia, and they both continued to fight for workers while exiled in Europe, sometimes co-authoring books together.
In 1936, in failing health, Berkman shot himself. He did not die immediately. Berkman's lover alerted Emma Goldman, who rushed to his side and was with him when he died.
By contrast, Fedya Aronstam began to distance himself from the Cause during the time that Berkman was in prison. Aronstam eventually rejected anarchism in favor of communism. He married, changed his name in order to protect his family from the assassination scandal, and under the name of Modest Stein he established a good reputation as a commercial artist. His illustrations are remembered today.
Yet it was Stein who helped to support Berkman financially during the anarchist's final years, when so much of Berkman's time was spent on furthering the Cause. And when Emma Goldman died in 1940, it was her old lover Fedya who carved her tomb.
I learned about the lives of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman primarily from their memoirs: Berkman's Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist and Goldman's Living My Life. Modest Stein left no memoir, but relatives' accounts of Stein's involvement with Berkman and Goldman appear in Paul Avrich and Karen Avrich's Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman.
I've borrowed the emotional dynamics between the three lovers for this story, as well as their motivation for using violence to achieve their goals. However, the personalities and characters of Raupp, Leda, and MacDonald are my own invention.