Light from the world outside fought to enter through the tiny, barred window, but failed. When the sun rose, Montague would discover what covered the cell's floor. The prospect didn't fill him with joy.
Huddled in the corner, knees drawn to his chest for warmth, he tried not to move, because every time he did a waft of—
"No," he muttered. "I don’t even want to think about what that smells like."
His stomach rumbled, an unpleasant reminder he had yet to eat. He’d taken impromptu and involuntary holidays in such places before. The caretakers fed the inmates once a day if at all.
How long had he been here? If he stayed too long his captors would grow tired of extracting his secrets. Then the troublemaker—and if Montague was anything, he was that—would be silenced, permanently, and no doubt painfully.
Unless a disease took him first, such as an infection caught from the unsanitary floor.
"There’s a cheerful thought."
Without other distractions, and having become used to the cries from other cells, he dwelt on what had happened to Harm.
"Alas, poor Jeffery. I knew him well."
Montague sighed. The events of the last week must have worn him down. Separated from him for more than half a day, the gaoler's had doubtless questioned poor, simple Jeffery Harm using the back of their hands, but Harm wasn't dead yet.
Harm didn't have the secrets the gaolers wanted, because Montague hadn't told him. The legendary warrior anything but simple, Harm would understand the guards interrogated him because they weren't sure they could prise the answers from Montague. After all, he was a Magician.
He snorted to himself. "Some Magician I make. Can't even get myself out of this pathetic excuse for a boarding house. And I let my best friend come to harm."
Montague let out a bark of a laugh, then fell silent. Unintended puns were never a good sign, and the words held a painful truth. His actions had led to their capture, and no matter how much Montague might berate himself, the prison wasn't that poor. If it was, they wouldn't still be here.
Montague wrapped himself tighter in his many-pocketed cloak, then remembered for the umpteenth time the gaolers had taken it from him. He shivered, stirring up whatever lay beneath him, sending another noxious blast up his nostrils.
"Damn it. I’m a Magician. This does not befit my station."
The sharp sounds of boots on the stone floor outside interrupted his lament. Two guards dragged something heavy; Harm had returned, and he couldn't walk.
The corner in which Montague crouched lay opposite the door: a standard thick, heavy, wooden affair bolted from the outside which opened inwards. He stood so the guards would spot him when they opened the peep-hole, a politeness appropriate to receive visitors, though they wouldn't open the door until he did. But upon standing, he felt diminished anew without his cloak, not as impressive, no different from any other person in a no-longer white shirt and brown pants belted to keep from falling.
The peep-hole banged open and the guard's eye scowled through the opening, a satisfied grunt indicated everything was to the gaoler's satisfaction.
"Ready to tell us what we want to know, little man?"
Montague winced inside as the gaoler's bad breath stuck at him like a knife. He drew himself up to his full height and thrust an imposing finger at the guard. "Fool!" He kept his tone low and ominous. "Fool! I know such truths to make you gibber in the corner as the fear drove you mad. No one must know the truths I do."
The guard quailed, before remembering on which side of the door he stood. "Er, is that a 'no'?"
The guard's confused expression didn't clear. "Do you mean 'yes' as in yes, or 'yes' it's a no?"
"Inept moron!" Montague raged, his patience never the strong suit. "Yes, it's a no!"
The eye withdrew, and the guards held a whispered conversation. "He called me an in-thingy. What's that mean? Well, yes he also called me a moron, so I guess it doesn't matter, but should I be offended? I mean, he is a Magician. Yes, I know the boss said magic can't pass this door, but it wouldn't be the first time the boss forgot to tell us something. You can talk—you won't be the one turned into a toad if this door doesn't work."
The whisper ended with a growl and the eye reappeared. "Right. This door is magic-proof, so save your breath and don't bother making me into anything unsavoury. And I'm not offended that you called me a whatever-it-was. You said 'no'. Boss said you'd say that and to give you an encouragement to change your mind. So here it is!"
The bolts withdrew with a shriek and the two overweight guards threw Harm through the doorway. Montague rushed forward before Harm hit the floor, but found again that a five-foot-nothing Magician cannot lend much physical aid to a three-hundred-pound Legend. The gaolers didn't laugh as Harm collapsed on top of the Montague and drove him to his knees. They were too busy dragging the door closed, thrusting home the bolt, and pulling the key from the lock. Then the guards yelled in malicious glee, extra loud for his benefit.
Montague kept his silence until the laughter faded in the distance. "You're a tad heavy, old friend. Any chance of some help?"
As though awaiting the question, life returned to the massive limbs. In slow, painful movements, Harm stood upright. Montague didn't know how Harm did it, had never known how the Legend had such vast stores of strength, but he scrambled to his feet and led the swaying warrior to the corner. Though the floor wasn't as horrible as Montague had imagined, covered with a pungent growth, the corner remained familiar.
Back to the corner, head lolling against a wall, the huge warrior lay, now comatose once more as the need to move had passed. Montague crouched next to Harm and dug from his pants a glass marble no bigger than a thumb-nail that the guards had missed. The Magician rubbed the sphere between his hands until it emitted a soft glow that lightened the cell. He tore off a strip of linen from the inside of his shirt and dabbed at the blood that seeped from the Legend's eye.
"Oh, my poor Jeffery. What have I done to you?"
The unfocused eyes of the warrior wavered until they alighted on Montague. As though that recognition summoned the hidden reserves of energy once more, the eyes held steady. "Not your… fault."
The words little more than a whisper, a croak indistinguishable from a draught of air, nevertheless comforted Montague. "Save your strength. You might need it. Thadeiv has caught us—he's chased us long enough—and I'm uncertain how we'll get out of this one."
Another croak, words that might have been, "I… faith in you."
At least, that's what Montague decided he had heard, though another part of his mind asserted that the word 'give' fitted better. He shook his head. "Sometimes you have too much faith in me. And it is my fault you're like this. They're only hurting you to soften me up. No, don't argue. I suspect Thadeiv is aware that you know very little."
The Magician heard a whisper of a laugh. No doubt words that repeated the huge man’s long-standing lamentation that he knew nothing, because Montague had never told him. Would never tell him.
Montague chuckled, dabbing again with the linen. "Ironic, really. We're almost there, you see. It's almost time for me to tell you—well, not the truth, no one must know the truth—but more." He babbled as relief at Harm's return overcame his usual reluctance to tell anything that resembled the truth. "I doubt they'll have another go at you, and, if I know Loom, he'll be here soon. So perhaps I should tell you. It's the quest—to find out why the world is so strange, so unreal. We've worked out what to do next, and funnily enough it's because of that idiot Nolsun." Montague barked a short laugh. "Sad to say, but if we hadn't kept him with us, we wouldn't have reached so far. Of course, you wouldn't be lying here either, but when I tell you, I'm sure you'll agree it's a small price to pay."
The Legend didn't respond, didn't move at all, without doubt sinking back into a state that conserved those vast reserves, but Montague didn't mind. He figured Harm would hear him, and if not… Montague wasn't sure he should speak anyway, but he couldn't stop himself.
"It all began when we met Nolsun. You remember the village, or maybe you don't—the whole point being you remember nothing after you've had too much to drink. And, of course, that's how everything began in the first place, but that's a much longer story." The bubbling words liberated, lightening his soul. "No, we'll start with Nolsun. I didn't witness everything, but I can guess the parts I didn't. The fight was a rout, but you were amazing as always. Anyway, dawn had broken, and you'd woken well beset by the Spirit of Lohocla—"