“I know this ain’t the most original question, between prisoners,” said the Prisoner to her cell-mate, “but what did ye get done for?”
“I’m a thief,” he replied, shrugging and leaning against the bars of their cell.
“A good one?”
The Prisoner scoffed, “I doubt’t.”
The Thief raised a brow, “Excuse me?”
“I’ve no love for thievery nor any talent for’t,” the Prisoner replied, “but I do know that a good thief doesn’t get caught.”
“That’s just it,” said the Thief, “I didn’t get caught.”
“I didn’t get caught stealing. Someone just dropped down on me, took me to the Witch-Queen, showed her a list of charges and I wound up here. I have been here for just over a year, I think – and will probably be rotting here for a few more years to come.”
“The fellow who ‘dropped down on’ ye… What’d he look like?”
“Cloaked, hooded… Big guy, had a thing for solitude. I don’t know. I recognised him from somewhere. From my days in the Guild. Not that I begrudge him, or anything. Just because your part of the Guild, doesn’t mean your loyal to everyone in it. Besides, the Witch-Queen probably forced him into doing it, anyway.”
The Prisoner paused, as if taking in the details. The Thief saw the light of recognition spark in her eyes for just a second, before it faded again, “The Guild?” she queried.
“Oh, right. It’s just a banded bunch of crooks, a place for them to hang out.”
“What did you do? To, you know, be locked up and tortured like this?”
The Prisoner eyed the Thief for a while, her gaze angry. But not angry at him. At least, he hoped not, “It’s a long story,” she said, “but t’make’t short – I’m a friend o’ the Witch-Queen. Or I was. But we became enemies over some foul-play that she participated in,” the Prisoner paused, “I s’pose she ran from our realm and enslaved some starvin’, dyin’ little village. She does that. She can hold sway on a people, with malice and feigned innocence and lies. Then she enslaves them and they’ve no means o’ escape but t’fight.”
“So… it’s not because you’re a crook?”
“I’m a type o’ crook, I guess. I’m a mercenary.”
The Thief paused, staring for a while, “Ah,” was all he could say.
The Prisoner laughed at the Thief’s reaction, “Ah, indeed.”
“We don’t get along with mercenaries, in the Havens.”
“I know. Gunnhild o’ Battersea got killed just before I got taken. Mithrim poisoning, not the nicest way t’go,” the Prisoner stretched and leaned against a wall, gazing intently at the cell door, “So, Thief… can ye pick a lock?”
“I wouldn’t try that,” scoffed the Thief, following her line of vision.
“I’m not suggestin’, just askin’. Can ye?”
“It was my specialty, as a thief – to pick locks and let my pack in to take all the goods. Some thieves are good pickpockets, some thieves are good con-men – but me? I’m a good lock-picker.”
“Both magic and mechanical?”
“Are you thinking of breaking out?”
The Prisoner regarded the Thief, “Which prisoner doesn’t?”
Suddenly the air became colder, and all the prisoners were shackled rigidly to the walls and the floors. The Prisoner sat in that horrible, undignified position and waited, watching the corridor. The Thief gazed at her intently.
He wondered how long it would take to break the Mercenary.
“Oh, Prometheus!” called the Witch-Queen mockingly, her delicate steps tap-tap-tapping their way towards them, “It’s that time of day again!”
The Mercenary didn’t say anything. She just waited, looking calmly ahead, accepting what was going to come. The Witch-Queen came into view, an evil smile playing on her beautiful lips.
She pulled down her hood and stood behind the bars, still and silent for a moment, before she said, “Oh, what is this? Is the great Mariqah de Saint-Omer at a loss for words? A shame.”
The Mercenary closed her eyes and sighed, losing her funny accent, “Just do what you’ve come for. It’s no fun mocking someone who doesn’t seem to get it.”
The Witch-Queen scowled, “This is supposed to be painful.”
“It is painful,” the Mercenary replied promptly.
“Then…?” the Witch-Queen growled and her eyes turned black. They leaked inky-black tears that rolled down her pale cheeks. She raised her hand and the Mercenary flew back against the bars, chained in mid-air. She grunted, trying to move her mid-section in discomfort. The Witch-Queen held her hand open for a moment longer, before she closed her hand into a tight fist.
The Mercenary screamed as five thick gashes – slowly, painfully – tore across her torso. Blood and gore splattered around the cell. The Witch-Queen turned her fist, and the marks swirled – turning and tearing further, deeper, harsher. All the while the Mercenary writhed and screamed and cursed. The Thief pulled up his legs and buried his head in his knees, covering both ears with his hands. But nothing could block the image and the sound of the Mercenary’s torture. The only thing he found any gratitude in was that all the other prisoners were doing the same as he – sitting curled up in a ball and trying not to watch…