Jaera watched Norei turn the key and settle both hands on the iron bars of the door to yank it open. Even unbolted, the door was weighted to stay shut and she had to lean back to earn her first inch of motion. At the same time, as if pushed by the same wave, Jaera’s cell mates leaned back too, shoulders to the wall, though it looked lazier on them. They didn’t look at the door, and didn’t pause in what idle chatter echoed between the stone walls. Jaera herself stayed as she was, sitting in the corner. She thought Norei was coming for her, but she wasn’t sure what time of day prisoners were released.
The door thudded with heavy security, but the boy on the other side of the bars still shivered as he faced me. I rammed my shoulder into the thick wood one more time, more for the satisfaction of the motion and the way the boy jumped and closed his hand around the hilt of his sword, than for any progress it made. I gripped the bars in the little square window, and gave them one last tug as I turned away.
I took three steps and my shoulder brushed the far wall.
“You know,” I called to him. Rocking back on my heels, I looked up at the stone ceiling then glanced at the shadows in the corners. “From the looks of it, you don’t actually have to stand there. These four walls are holding me just fine.” I put my shoulders to the wall and slid down. I intended to sit, but half way, I just stopped, settling into a rough crouch. Rest suddenly didn’t seem appealing when I came that close to it.
There were worse places to be stuck. Off the top of her head, Agata could list five other prisons, a few run-down homes where she had spent a night or two, and at least six of the circles of hell…
As prisons went, it was clean. Either they had few enough prisoners that any old dirt had faded to dust a long time ago, or they actually bothered to scrub them out. The walls were stone, not wood, and the cell was divided from the hall by a series of sturdy iron bars that bit into both floor and ceiling. Windows spilled yellow-white light across everything but a few corners. The stones gleamed gray-blue in contrast, worn to a shine in twisting pathways where too many people had walked over the years. The bars kept the air sweeping in and out, and the whole thing smelled hollow as an open field, instead of wet and close as a sewer.
It was a little too cold – and Agata couldn’t help feeling the restriction of the locks and steel – but it was actually quite nice. She was moving up in the world.
If it wasn’t haunted, she might actually enjoy her two weeks off in the quiet little room.
Vardan shut his eyes when he heard the key in the lock. After years in the dark, he’d earned the kind of vision that turned the shifting black of a windowless room into clear shades of gray, and he wasn’t willing to give it up for a few moments of the torchlight in the hall. Coins clinked a steady rhythm. Someone stepped into the room. The door shut behind him. The man shuffled forward, searching for the opposite wall maybe.
“Vardan?” he asked.
Slowly, Vardan opened his eyes. He didn’t bother moving, seated on the floor, the corner supporting his shoulders. Everard stood like a blind man, one hand to the wall, staring ahead.
“Still here,” Vardan said.