My cell mates immediately fall silent. There is one set of boot steps, the jangle of chain. They’re here to move somebody.
The ward keeps humming. I don’t know what to do. As the steps near, I settle for sitting at the back of my cell, against the wall. Keys turn in the door. It opens.
Ears stands there, legs splayed awkwardly, squinting for me in the dim. His shoulders are hunched, gangly arms hanging, trailing a length of metal links. In his right hand he grasps a wooden pole which they use to keep me at arm’s length.
I shift so he can find me in the gloom. His adam’s apple bobs.
“Are you making magic back there?” he whispers, eyeing the ward.
Heavy iron thunders and I’m conscious, bit by bit and then all at once. From a corner of my stone-walled cell, the scent of burning violet flowers chokes me. My stomach curdles. I try to roll away from the corner with the incense stick, and my ribs sear with pain. Right. Beto kicked me so hard I couldn’t breathe.
At the thought of the guard captain’s name, I want to spit, but my lips are mashed. The inside of my mouth and half of my face is bloodied. With my tongue I probe the slanted edge of a front tooth. The exposed roots tingle. Guess they’re done using me for my looks.
Footfalls sound heavily at the end of the hall, and I relax my body against the crackling straw. If they think I’m waiting for them, planning something, they’ll do worse than break my ribs. Then voices banter, muted through the stone and wooden door. Shift change.
The newcomer is the basso voice, the heavyset guard with piggy eyes. Replacing the young one with the deformed ear. The one who sometimes gives me a little extra food or water. Slitting my eyes, I see he’s put rations through the slot for me. If only I can get to them before Piggy realizes I’m awake.
“What’s happening outside?” asks Ear, stopping too close to my cell. “I heard the sound of troops, horses leaving. Are we at war?” His voice cracks.