Deliverance Page 79




The dungeon is a long, narrow room on the bottom level of James Rowan’s mansion. A single window is set in the far wall, allowing the muted shadows of dusk to seep into the room and color it gray. Wooden slats like the boards on sheep crates divide one side of the room into six cells. A thick length of iron chain coils around a hook beside each doorway, waiting to bolster the flimsy doors once someone is inside the cell. As far as dungeons go, it isn’t very secure. A healthy person at full strength could probably kick her way through one of the walls in a matter of minutes.

But healthy people aren’t imprisoned here. Why would they be? Rowansmark law states that anyone surviving a pain atonement sentence is then free to go with honor restored.

Anyone except the girl James Rowan still needs as a bargaining chip.

Samuel carries me past the first four cells and enters the fifth. The door to the sixth cell is closed, its chain looped through a hole above the doorknob and locked down tight.

I guess James Rowan needs someone else as a bargaining chip, too.

“Who’s there?” I wave weakly at the room beside us and instantly regret it as pain flares along my shoulder blades and throbs viciously.

“I don’t know,” Samuel says as he gently sets me on a narrow bunk that is attached to the far wall. The mattress is thin but clean, and a thick blanket rests at the foot of the bed.

“James Rowan might whip his people half to death, but never let it be said that he makes his prisoners go cold.” My voice cracks, and I hiss in a breath as I try to straighten my back. It’s impossible to find a comfortable sitting position.

Samuel puts a hand on my arm to stop my movements. “Wait until I get your wounds cleaned up.”

I stare at him. “You’re going to clean the wounds you inflicted?”

“Would you rather it have been Ian?” He turns away without waiting for an answer and leaves my cell for a moment. I take the opportunity to look around me. The room is small, almost half the size of Oliver’s tent in Lower Market, and mostly bare. Beside the bed I’m sitting on, there’s a wooden bucket in the corner for me to relieve myself in and a pair of iron rings embedded into the wall behind the bed. Since the wall behind me is part of the original room and is therefore the only side of the cell not made from flimsy wooden slats, I’m guessing those rings are used to secure the chains of unruly prisoners.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Samuel return with a pair of chains for me, but instead he steps back into the cell with a piece of fabric and a small metal box in his hands.

“Can you lie on your stomach?” he asks.

I slowly lower myself to the bunk, pressing my lips together to keep from crying out as my every movement reopens the slashes across my back, sending burning pain cascading down my nerves until tears clog my throat. Samuel’s hands are careful but firm as he cleans the wounds, covers them with a salve that instantly takes away half of the pain, and then puts bandages into place.

“You need to move every few hours, even though it hurts,” he says. “Make yourself get up and walk. It will feel like the worst thing you’ve ever done to yourself, but it will help you heal much faster.”

I scrub my palms over my face, erasing the last of my tears, and slowly sit up. The salve helps, but it still feels like my back is coated in fire whenever I move. Once I’m sitting, clutching my ruined tunic to me, I meet Samuel’s eyes. His expression is calm and distant, as if he hadn’t just whipped me and then gently tended my wounds.

“Why are you helping me?” This time, I’m not asking because I’m hoping he’ll become my ally. I’m asking because I can’t understand a man like Samuel obeying James Rowan without question.

Or maybe taking care of my wounds was Samuel’s small way of rebelling against his leader. Of keeping his own humanity intact.

If so, I wish he’d found a way to rebel when it really counted—before Ian burned down my city and started killing off my friends.

Samuel sets the first aid box down and picks up the piece of fabric. He unfolds it, and I see that it’s a tunic sewn from rough, unbleached cotton. He offers it to me, and turns his back in an unspoken acknowledgment that even though it will hurt to pull a new tunic over my head, I absolutely refuse to allow him to help me get dressed.

“I’m done,” I say, and he turns back to face me, his expression as impassive as ever. “Are you going to tell me why you’re helping me?”

“It’s over now. You’ve faced your punishment. You survived. There’s no need to prolong the pain.” A muscle in his jaw flexes. “If you were my daughter, I’d want someone to take care of you.” He crouches and picks up my ruined tunic and then meets my eyes. “It’s over, Rachel. Wait it out. Move often enough to heal well. And once the controller is returned, you’ll be free to leave.”

“You really believe that.” I don’t know whether to laugh at his blind faith in his leader or cry for a man who has goodness in him but fails to stand up for others when it really matters.

The creases at the corners of his eyes tighten. “I believe it because it’s true.”

He moves as if to stand, and I lean forward, gasping when pain shoots across my back, and grab his hand. He stares at my hand, white and smudged with blood against his dark skin, and I say, “It’s not true, Samuel. I’m dead, and you helped kill me. Just like you helped kill thousands of people in my city. Just like you helped poison my best friend and slit the throats of children and light white phosphorous fires that killed or disfigured innocent—”

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