There was a great commotion and the key was shot into the door. With a loud click, and the grinding of old hinges, the door opened a crack and Barnaby stepped passed the frame, a lantern in one hand, and the ring of keys in the other.
“By moon and stars,” he breathed, glancing at me, and then my roommate.
I followed his gaze and saw that my new friend Angelo was indeed a large man, wearing torn breeches and nothing else. The muscles that rippled across his chest spoke of great strength. He had the head of a bull, which surprised me, but his eyes were gentle.
“Does my appearance startle you, friend Merric?”
I shrugged. “You are taller than I thought.”
He laughed and Barnaby shook his head, closing his mouth. “Whither did you come?” he asked.
Angelo turned his piercing eyes to the halfling and held up his manacled wrists. “I did not come here by my own volition.”
I laughed at that. “Dear Angelo, are the accommodations below your normal standards of comfort?”
The great bull-headed man turned to me. “I pray you jest,” he began, but seeing my face he nodded. “I see you are young and fair for your people. But what happened to your arm?”
“That is a long tale, better suited to better lodgings.”
Barnaby set the lamp down and went out into the hall. He returned with a bucket of water and a ladle. “I will bring this to you,” he said. “If you promise not to harm me.”
Angelo turned to the halfling and squinted.
“I have drunk my fill,” he said. “What I seek is a draught of fresh air, and the sun upon my face.”
“Merric?” Raucous cried. “Help us.”
I looked at Barnaby. “You have your full head of hair, I see. And you know me, so things are not too far amiss. Will you free us then, so that I may attend to the others?”
Barnaby took a deep breath and nodded. “Better to be hung for a sheep as a lamb.” He walked toward me and I held out my arm.
“I have not seen you here before,” he said, to me, and then glancing to Angelo. “Nor you. The last I knew I had taken Gracie out to the time rift and set her near enough to watch the age peeling off her like mud in a rainstorm. When we returned you were unconscious and the master was in a towering rage.”
I rubbed my chafed wrist against my thigh as he freed my legs. Barnaby hesitated when he turned to Angelo. “You are very large,” he said with a gulp. “Please don’t hurt me?” He stepped forward and fumbled with the keys, his hands were shaking so much.
Angelo squatted, lowering his profile and turned his hands palm up. “Would it ease you if I worked the keys?”
Barnaby glanced at me and I nodded. Then he handed Angelo the keys. “There are others we should free. Do not tarry.”
We found Raucous two cells down. Festering wounds covered her wrists and her eyes were swollen shut. When I knelt beside her she loosed a single sob.
“We thought you had been killed,” she said. She stank of sickness and her face was ashen.
“May I lay hands upon you?” I asked, holding out my hand.
She nodded and her eyes filled with tears. The green sight came to me as a thin veil. The shielding had been put back into place, but perhaps at this level underground, it was weak. Instead of reaching for the divine of The Green Lady, I teased out a thread from Old One Eye. This was stronger by far and I touched Raucous’s face, gently cupping her cheek. She stiffened as the power flowed into her and she let out a moan. The swelling in her face began to recede.
“Marvelous,” Barnaby whispered. “So, you healed the master before somehow being locked here?”
I shook my head. “I healed him, for his mind had suffered greatly in his trials and experiments in the time stream. But the healing fatigued me beyond my strength in the end and I fell into a dreamless sleep.”
Barnaby tutted and tapped his front tooth with the nail of his index finger. “Neither Gracie nor I helped get you here. How did he manage to transport you hither?”
“Wizards,” I said. The light from the hall was suddenly blocked and I turned to find Angelo in the doorway, holding out the keys.
“Free her,” he said and Barnaby did as he was requested.
Once the shackles were off, Angelo carried Raucous out of the cell and laid her on the floor by a barrel of water.
“Free the others,” I commanded, and Barnaby began flipping through the keys. Angelo went with him and I returned my attention to Raucous.
The infection was rampant in her. If she had not already been strong, she would have died ere I could help her. As it was, the power I needed to purge her body of the poisons would exhaust her. Still, I had to do what must be done.
I remembered her tryst with Thunder Jack, so I pulled a bit of his will along with Old One Eye and wove them together in a healing web that I lay over her with care. These were earth gods, strong and deep, yet their powers were generally weaker than some of the others. Not enough worshipers, I reckoned.
She let out a gasp as the wounds on her wrists healed, dead skin sloughing off like ribbons. Vapors rose from her as the infection was expunged from her body. I sang to her a chanty we often shared on the Tabula Rasa and stroked her hair. A small smile touched her face as the color returned and she took my hand in hers as sleep overcame her.
“Sleep, stout heart. I am here for you.”
I leaned over to kiss her brow and nearly coughed at the stench.
Using a tiny thread of divine I cast a mending, purging the filth from her hair, body, and clothing.
Even the bravest adventurer appreciated clean hair now and again.