I woke to Scrabble screeching and prodding me. The walls around me were not those I recalled. While there was a bit of light, it came from a keyhole set in the metal strapped wooden door to my left. My arm was in a shackle, as were my feet. Straw was strewn across the floor and in one corner sat a bucket which reeked of filth.
Large pools of shadow ran along the opposite wall and when by squinting against the glare from the light beyond the door I could make out a huddled figure. My throat rasped when I tried to speak and I coughed against the bone-dryness. I tried to clear my throat, but there was not enough moisture there to accomplish anything other than another round of coughing which caused my head to throb. Even my eyes felt gritty.
“Will you live?” a hoarse voice came from the shadow, and I saw that a man moved there. His voice did not seem familiar to me.
“I…” A single word and I fell into a wracking cough so harsh that I blacked out. When I came to, Scrabble was jumping on my chest and screeching once more. This time, when my vision cleared, I saw that he held my water skin.
When I put the opening to my lips, I felt how parched they were. The first taste coated my mouth enough for me to utter a few words.
“I shall live, for the nonce.”
The man shifted and I heard the clank of chains. “They tried to wake you, but you would not rouse.”
The voice held a queer accent, but the language was clear enough.
“How long have I lain as such?”
He laughed his own wracking cough. “Three days. I thought you dead. None have come since you were dragged here.”
I took another drink and this time, my throat did not feel as if I’d swallowed a fistful of sand.
“Do you thirst?” I asked.
I leveraged myself up onto my knees and with the skin stoppered once more, tossed it to him.
Scrabble chattered at me, his mannerisms alerting me to his displeasure.
“I thank you, my little friend. I may have very well expired without your timely aid.”
He settled then, scampering up my arm and mewled in my ear.
“You fretted for me?”
He did not answer but his breathing calmed.
“You speak to that creature?” the voice said from the gloom. This time there was no rasping, no cough. His tenor rode in the baritone range, and his voice was sweet to hear. “I am Angelo, of the king’s armada.” There was the clank of his chains as he moved his arms in some form of salute. “I have languished in this dreadful place for nigh on eleven days. From where do you hail?”
My, what a bit of water did for the man. Without waiting for an answer, he tossed the water skin back to me, only barely lighter for his part.
“I thank you for your kindness. This place is bereft of such niceties.”
I drank another mouthful and felt a modicum of strength returning to me. “I am Merric,” I said. “My title is too long for the water we share, so I will spare you.”
He chortled at that and moved once more, climbing to his feet, though he stooped. Now that he moved out of the deeper shadow I saw that he was a large man, a head taller than me by far. The roof of our prison hung lower then I had anticipated. Lilith could walk here, as could Bob. Tall men such as we would stoop or crawl.
“Hail, friend Merric,” he said, bowing toward me with a clank of chains. “What is your sin to be cast thus into darkness? For my part I am but a marooned ship’s captain tossed upon the cruel shores of this murderous place.”
“I come under similar circumstance,” I replied. “I believe I have companions here in this dungeon, for that is where I assume we are.”
If he had an answer he did not have a chance to give it. We both turned at the sound of footfalls and the clank of metallic objects that could only be keys.
A door nearby was opened and a voice spoke in sad tones.
“I’m sorry, milady. The master has forbidden us to come to this place without his leave. I had to wait until he returned to his tower.”
The other prisoner coughed and wretched. The voice of the jailor was Barnaby. When this other drew an honest breath again, she spoke. “You are kind where your master is harsh. I thank you for the water and the crust.”
“Slowly,” Barnaby urged her. “Your body needs time to adjust.”
There was a long moment of silence where I assumed the other drank and ate with Barnaby’s help.
“There,” he said, his voice strained. “I had a cleric lad here who could see to that wound, but he has enraged the master and vanished in the chaos of the mending day. I fear he is slain or fled.” He paused. “I see this news disturbs you. For that I am sorry.”
The woman moaned and I strained to understand if it was Raucous perhaps.
Then I thought of my gear, the journal I had taken, my journals and my amulets. In my haste to drink and discern the nature of he who shared my cell, I had lost track of the critical items. Everything was gone. My clothes I still wore, but the amulets were gone. Only one adornment remained to me, and I squeezed my fist upon it: the ring from Thunder Jack.
I concentrated and there was a feeble response from nearby. Bob! He lived, by all the gods, but only barely. Dwarves are hardy folk, so my hope persisted. I just needed out of these shackles, and this cell.
“Barnaby,” I called. “What mischief is this?”
The keys fell to the ground with a great clatter and a surprised voice cried out.
“Merric,” the woman’s voice called, and I knew it was Raucous for sure and true.
“I’m here,” I shouted, standing as far as the ceiling would let me.
The light wavered as an eye appeared at the keyhole to our door.
“Merric, my lad,” Barnaby said in astonishment. “You live?”