As I had expected, the journey through the Crown-in-Between lasted for less than a bell, not including the time it took to see us through the Watergate, past the Inner Wall and back out onto the Groan. Once past the gate, the river changed around us - the magical cleansing of the water as it passed beneath the Inner Wall held back not only the last vestiges of the fae magic that poisoned the earth outside, but also the more mundane human waste - excrement, sewerage and dead animals.
By the time we passed through the Queen’s Gate, I was switching between hot and cold every few moments and my shivers were becoming noticeable. My eyes began to scan the river bank to my right for a first glimpse of the Tower. I needed to get to Tess.
Located on the very edge of Cordeliers, the Tower squatted over the river like a massive frog, casting deep shadows over the surface of the river. All of the privates palaces and houses we passed paled in comparison. Eighteen towers formed the complex, each one connected or separated from the others by two curtain walls. And every tower housed prisoners of the state, incarcerated there by the Lord Justice.
As we drew closer, de Vayre’s man climbed into the back, settling next to the rudder. He began to guide the barge towards one tower in particular, and when I saw which one, I felt a surge of relief. Godling’s Tower. The Traitor’s Gate. Only one person had entered through that gate and lived. And luckily for me, she still resided within the Tower’s walls.
As the barge pulled up to the gate, I began to hear the thrumming of machines, vast alchemycal devices designed by the Royal Society. Like most of the other machines installed throughout the Inner Crown, they drew their power from vast iron steam engines buried beneath the surface and surrounded by iron plating to protect them from magic’s effects. These machine pumped water from the Groan up to the top of the White Tower, providing running water for the noble prisoners.
The gate creaked open as we drew closer and I glimpsed two guards waiting on the edge of the pool inside. Glowglobes reflected off the skull and moon clasps that kept their cloaks closed, and the drawn swords they held in their hands.
Within a few feet of the gate, the current caught us up and began to draw us in. The oarsmen lifted their oars, stowing them in the brackets at their side in a single fluid motion. I closed my eyes as the gate drew nearer, preparing myself for what I feared came next. With a roar of running water, we burst through the gate and onto the small pool.
I opened my eyes to see de Vayre’s man toss a rope to one of the two guards, who caught it out of the air and began to draw us in. De Vayre stood as we reached the edge of the pool, her gun trained on me.
“I’d rather not.” I curled up in a ball, my back aching and my every muscle tense. “It’s really quite comfortable in here.”
She cocked back the hammer. “Please. Just give me an excuse to use this.”
Sighing, I stumbled awkwardly to my feet, swaying as the boat bumped against the steps. De Vayre waved her gun. “You first.”
I walked past her and stepped off onto dry land. I felt light headed, and everything appeared througha haze. Climbing a few steps, I reached a wide stone landing surrounded by a wall separating us from a courtyard and Godling’s Tower itself. I stood there, waiting for de Vayre and her man to join me, staring into space.
The soldiers stood at attention as de Vayre and I filed past them and up. We passed through the door and out into the wide cobbled courtyard. The door banged behind us, carrying a sombre tone.
“Come on,” de Vayre said, pushing the barrel of her gun in between my shoulder blades.
I turned and scowled at her, then took a few faltering steps, barely needing to exaggerate my lack of balance. Off to one side stood the winged form of a godling. I pretended to stumble, my feet slipping on the cobbles. Reaching out as if to catch myself, I pressed my hands to the cold stone face of the godling and prayed that Tess’ magic still worked.
De Vayre’s man reached down and grabbed me, lifting me back to my feet. He turned me around to face him, then smacked me across the face. “Don’t do that again.”
Thrusting me out in front of him, he pointed his gun at my face. “Now walk.”
I turned and started to walk across the courtyard towards a doorway cut into the tower stone. Had I actually seen the light flare in the godling’s eyes or had I had imagined it? I prayed the light had flared; if so, I might actually get out of this. If it hadn’t…
Once through the door, we marched down a series of steps that spiralled into the underground heart of Godlings’. De Vayre and her man herded me down, flight after flight passing us by. Finally we arrived in a small circular chamber with a heavy wooden door on the other side.
A gaoler sat at a broken table, eating nuts and spitting the shells at three mice who sood on their hindlegs in the shadows, peering at him with tiny pink eyes. He looked up at us as we arrived and farted.
“What do you want?”
“Prisoner for the cells.”
“No more room.”
De Vayre’s man sighed and pulled out a coin that he flicked through the air. The gaoler caught it in one fat hand, squeezing it between his fingers, then pocketed it. Dragging a leather bound log book across the table, he picked up a pencil and dabbed it on his tongue.
“Name?” he asked, looking at me.
By now I could hardly make a coherent sentence in my head, let alone out loud. De Vayre nodded to her man, who darted forward, pushing me back against the wall,. I banged my head against the stone, almost blacking out again. He leered at me as his hand reached into my coat, seizing on my leather wallet. Pulling it out, he glanced at my papers, then snorted.
“Damn it all to hell! He’s a bloody thieftaker!”
“Let me see that!”
De Vayre stepped forward, accepting my papers from the tattooed man. She rifled through them, then looked at me. “You work for the Lord Justice?”
I bowed my head, dropping my knee and almost collapsing on the floor “Daniel Therwood, at your service.” I slurred the words ; my tongue felt three times too thick.
The gaoler noted the information down on his ledger while de Vayre stared at me. Finally, she sneered. “I always knew you thieftakers were bad news. At least now I’ll have some proof for the Lord Justice.”
Her tattooed man dragged me back to the middle of the room, while with a heavy sigh, the gaoler picked up his lamp and struggled to his feet.
“Come on then.”
Limping slightly, he led us over to the door, pulling a set of keys from one dirty pocket. Sniffing, he turned one of the keys in the lock and herded us through, holding the lantern up to light the way. The mice watched us go.
The wet stone beneath my feet smelled of piss. Every so often, huge metal doors appeared in the circle of light, each one leading to a different cell. With de Vayre’s man in front of me and de Vayre herself behind, I had no choice but to follow them to the door at the furthest corner.
The gaoler stopped in front of the door and looked at de Vayre’s man, who nodded. Grinning, the gaoler pulled out a second set of keys, selecting one and turning it in the lock. Pulling the door open, he sniffed the air, then grinned at me.
“Go on then. Put him in.”
De Vayre had come up behind me and she stuck me in the kidneys with her pistol. I grunted, stepping forward until I stood in front of the cell. The overwhelming smell of shit and overpowering heat put me in mind of a chamber pot someone had left simmering on a fire. I took a step back, but the gaoler pushed me forward with one meaty hand. I tripped over my own feet, tumbling to the floor. My face hit the wooden boards, pain erupting along my sinuses.
I rolled over and saw de Vayre stood in the doorway.
“I’ll come back to see you tomorrow, Therwood. We’ll see how much you really know about the Ghost,” she spat.
I opened my mouth to make some witty rejoinder, but she stepped back. The gaoler slammed the door. I heard the sound of the lock and the darkness closed in.
I was trapped.