Treas could only assume that the Clan Lord had imprisoned a player. This was a prestigious wing of the prison. She had no doubt any number of the high-born residents had the talent for the piano, harp, or guitar. She just didn’t believe any one but a professional player would bother to turn her half-hearted kicks at the iron-striped door into the drum beat of Lord Tiern’s Hope and Threat.
Treas hadn’t even intended to give a rhythm to her kicks. It was an empty room, and her only options were to bang on the door and annoy the guards that brought her meals, or sit meekly in the corner until she became one of the stones in the wall. It wasn’t much of a choice. Not that she did a good job of annoying anyone but herself.
Boredom must have made it a rhythm, steady as the breath coming in and out of her lungs. Or nothing had, and the player in the next cell over decided to fit the melody around it as best he could and she made the rhythm fit afterward.
She couldn’t decide if that mattered. The song was a gift from somewhere either way.
The player might have had a tin cup, or a stick, or maybe he just struck the door in a different place to get that higher sound that held so well over her kicking. He pounded out the melody, and she wasn’t sure how he made it clear, just striking a thick wooden plate.
Then the next prisoner echoed it, matching the player’s strikes exactly so that the sound began to echo.
The next cell clattered with a faster, complementary drum beat and somewhere else down the hall, someone echoed Treas’ steady kicking.
She didn’t know how many cells were on that hall – she’d only realized days after being locked inside that she might have counted as she was led inside, might have done something to feel like she knew this place a little better – but one by one they picked up a piece of the Hope and Threat and drove it through the stone walls. For an hour, it only grew louder. An hour after that, it echoed, steady, and then went on for another hour.
Treas almost didn’t hear the guards come down the hall at the end of the day. She heard the player clapping between his beats, and someone across the hall singing the words, though not in the language she had learned them. She heard the key scratch the lock. Backing away to keep out of its way, she watched the door swing open. The sound from the hall echoed like a ballroom, like a battlefield, like an army on the move and every sound was deep and warm and heavy.
The guard put her meal on the floor as usual and pushed it in with her toes. The sound of her chainmail was lost, even as she moved with her prescribed quick efficiency. Treas saw her shaking.
Before the door closed, the guard met Treas’ eye. The woman’s gaze was a little too wide, her shoulders a little too stiff.
Treas smiled. It made the guard look away quickly, but it hadn’t been meant for her.