The first thing Ned Reid did when he was thrown in Hope Gaol was sell his magic-infused tin leg to the warden in exchange for a better room. When they pulled it off, the stump bled for three days.
Fish tells him he's been here eleven years, but he thinks it's been longer.
He can barely remember the feeling of the tin leg which the magister welded onto the ruined stump of his own, coaxed his spirit down into the metal so it could move to his command. Only the best model for a war hero: gold leaf and swirling patterns. The crest of his regiment branded on the calf.
He sold it to the gaolers to melt down for scrap metal. When they pulled it off, the stump bled for three days.
He remembers that it used to give a faint metallic taste in his mouth, as if when he shared some of his spirit with it, it shared some of its own essence back. But he remembers it as an entry in an instruction manual—possible side-effects include...—not as a lived experience.
He doesn't think he'd have forgotten that in eleven years.
The scrap metal bought him a wooden crutch, a room with a window, and bread with his dinner. He supposes it was worth it.
Now, there is weak sunlight coming in his window, interrupted occasionally by carriages and motor-cars rattling down the street. He reaches out from his pallet and finds his crutch, then stumps out of the room. The hallway is covered with mouldy rushes and smells like dirt. He emerges into a long, dark room with weak sunlight making its way through a series of narrow, high windows.
Fish is sitting at a table playing solitaire. He's a rangy man, medium height, whose gaol-beard traverses deep dimples on his cheeks. The pile of cigarillos beside him is an invitation that nobody has chosen to accept. He looks up. "Ned, I'll deal you in."
"Don't bother," says Ned, "you've cleaned me out." He sits down opposite and puts his stump up on the chair beside him.
"I dreamed I got out of here," says Fish, moving a red magister onto a black queen. Fish used to be the King's dream reader. He has a nice room with a down mattress. His dreams have no particular validity, though.
"Did you?" Ned runs a hand through his greasy hair, catching lice under his fingernails. He flicks them onto the floor.
"Yes, I dreamed the king forgave me, and gave me back my position." Fish sets down the cards and puts his hands to Ned's temples. "You dreamed about her again. Who is she?"
Ned turns his head and Fish's hands drop to the table. With a shrug, he picks up his cards. "Sure you don't want to play? I'll stake you."
They're interrupted by a couple of the brutes from the pit—those who can't afford to buy themselves rooms. They want the table, and have swept Fish's cards to the ground before either he or Ned can respond.
Fish jumps to his feet. The pit men are a head and a half taller than him. He's going to get his skull bashed in. Ned grabs for his crutch and accidentally knocks it to the ground. Pulling his stump off the chair, he drops to his knees and crawls over to it, then gets it under his arm and levers himself upright. One of the brutes has knocked Fish backwards over the table.
Too far away to offer physical assistance, Ned instead draws in the spirit power. He draws it out into his arm, in the same process the magisters used to quicken his tin leg, and then throws it at the brutes, knocking them both arse over tit.
They are slow to get up. Nobody recovers quickly from a spirit push.
"Ned Reid." It's the warden. All the blood seems to leave Ned's limbs and rush to his head as he pivots on his crutch. The warden's fierce eyes are hidden under lowering black brows. He has two gaolers with him, although he hardly needs them. Starvation, boredom and sickness have made weak foes of the prisoners.
"Yes, Mister Martin?" Ned tries to sound as meek as possible.
"How did you get your hands on manna?"
"I couldn't say, sir." Ned forces himself not to look at Fish, who is climbing slowly to his feet using the table for support.
"Take him outside," says the warden. "Round up the inmates. Unless–" he raises his eyebrows, and his moustache twitches. "—you're willing to name your dealer."
"I really couldn't say, sir," says Ned.
The warden shrugs as if it is all the same to him. "Twenty cuts with the strap," he says, and leaves it to the gaolers to carry out his sentence.