On Fridays, they didn’t have to dig. This was the only means that Simon had of keeping track of the weeks anymore. But for Fridays, time was a ceaseless loop: wake up, breakfast, wash, trek deep into the underground compound and into the mines, descend, dig for sangrite, ascend, supper, sleep. None of the other prisoners got the day off, just the two of them. Seoc had worked out a deal with someone high up. He hadn’t told Simon the details of this arrangement, but it wasn’t difficult to guess what kinds of favors Seoc MacInnes might be willing and able to provide.
On Friday nights, Seoc was always absent from his cot.
“I hope you aren’t doing this for me,” Simon said to him as they trudged into the washroom.
“Doing what?” Seoc asked, taking off his shirt.
He glanced around. There were plenty of people within earshot, and at least one large, burly man looking their way. “Negotiating,” he said.
Seoc dropped his shirt on a bench and set about removing his trousers. “Don’t worry about it, Simon. It’s not a problem.”
“That’s not what I—”
“I know what you meant. Now shut up and strip, man. I would like to get this over with as soon as possible.”
Simon undressed and followed him across the wet floor to the troughs of cold water that sat in a row in the center of the room. There they stopped, and Seoc dripped a bucket into the trough and raised it up over his head. The water turned grey-brown as it ran down his naked body and collected in an opaque pool at his feet.
“I hate this damn dirt,” said Seoc. He picked up a bar of soap, rinsed it off, and began rubbing it into his hair and over his body. “Are you just going to stand there?”
A memory. Faint. The smell of a storm and the touch of cool summer rain on his face. His twin brother on a horse, riding around the grassy paddock with the wind in his cloak, as elegant as any angel of death. His little sister playing in the mud. The rumble of thunder echoing across the whole of the Carvil Valley. A raven. A raven in the sky. Would that he were a raven in the sky, free to fly home to the sweet scent of rain in the grass, to that beauty, just out of reach.
“Oi, Charlie!” Seoc splashed him with icy water. “Snap out of it. This isn’t the time nor the place for daydreaming.”
“Don’t call me that.”
Frowning, Seoc emptied another bucketful of water over himself and shook his head like a soggy dog. “Seriously, Simon, hurry up. I’m getting nervous.”
“Thank you,” Seoc said, handing him the soap.
Once they had both bathed, they slogged back over to the benches and dressed. Then, shivering, they descended the stairs and headed for the warmth of the kitchens. In the flickering orange light of the torches mounted upon the stone walls, Simon saw that Seoc was weeping again.
Seoc sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. “I’m…I’m just so sick of living in constant fear.”
“I’ll protect you.”
Laughing darkly, he shook his head and stuck his hands into the pockets of his trousers. “I appreciate the thought, Simon, but you’re nearly as weak as I—and twice as clumsy. What use would you be, even if you did happen to be paying attention?”
“I could poke their eyes out.”
“I’m sorry,” said Seoc. “That came out crueler than I meant for it to.”