If anyone had looked at Ravendeep from the outside, and if that person knew nothing of the history of Ravendeep, they might think that it was a modern correctional facility, a proud part of His Majesty’s penal system. The building, a massive five-story edifice with high, gabled roofs and a great tower with a gigantic clock that called back to Freedonian architecture of a century before, was only possible on such a scale because of the construction materials and techniques made possible by the Industrial Revolution. On Avenue Fox, the structure, which had replaced a twelve hundred year old stone fortress some fifty years earlier, was bordered on one side by Swift Lane and on the other by a street officially named Lord Oxenbourse Lane, but which most everyone called Cutpurse Lane. Of course, if anyone had made such an observation and such a supposition, they would have been very wrong indeed, because the majority of Ravendeep was not in the modern and architecturally renowned building, but in the twenty levels, carved out of the solid bedrock below.
Esther stretched out on her belly on the metal cot, which was the only piece of furniture in the room. Her mind had wondered to the subject of her name. She had thought herself quite clever when she had come up with Esther Ssaharranah. Perhaps she had been too clever. Finding oneself in prison was just the type of situation in which being Esther Staff might have proven beneficial. Iolana had committed any number of crimes from reckless driving to something that at least bordered on treason, and she had yet to see the inside of a jail cell. If that stupid girl at the King’s audience was to be believed, then Iolana’s mother was pretty much a serial killer and she certainly wasn’t incarcerated.
The lizzie looked around. The cell had been hewn out of solid rock, so the room wasn’t quite square at any corner and no wall was completely smooth. Only a door made of rusted iron bars, that somewhat matched the metal cot, broke up the monotony of dull grey stone. A small amount of flickering light, from the gas fixture in the corridor, illuminated the room. Not that one could see anything. Had she been in possession of one, Esther thought that she might be able to read a book, though humans, with their less acute night vision, would have found that impossible. No, this was not a fit place for Esther Staff. Not even Esther Ssaharrahah. No, this place was fit only for the name they had given her—Prisoner 563621A.
“Miss Esther. Are you awake?”
Esther glanced to the doorway. Police Constable Bean was peering between the bars. She climbed to her feet and stepped over to him.
“If ever I’m not awake, you have permission to wake me. Having a visitor is well worth missing a bit of sleep.”
“Now I feel bad that I can’t stay,” he said. “I just came by to check on you and make sure you weren’t being mistreated.”
“Not mistreated exactly. More ignored than anything.”
“That’s sadly the case, most often. Better than being given the third degree though.”
“The third degree? What’s that?”
“It’s all about interrogation,” explained the constable. “The first degree is questioning. The second degree is intimidation.”
“Never mind. I don’t want to know.”
“Well, I don’t think you have to worry about that. Anyway…” He fumbled in his jacket pocket for a moment, before producing a small tin. “I brought you some kippers… I mean… well, it seemed like something you would eat.”
“Thank you, PC. That was very kind.” She reached through the bars and took the tin. “In truth, they’ve been feeding me better than I expected. But I will enjoy thessse.”
“Is there something that you want that I could bring you?”
“I was just thinking that I might like something to read.”
“I’ll have a look around upstairs,” he said. “People leave all kinds of things behind. I happen to know there’s a copy of Odyssey.”
“Anything but that. Please!”
“I thought, what with her being your friend and all…”
“Who do you think had to proofread it over and over and over?”
“Well, I’ll find something,” he said, with a kind smile. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Thank you,” said Esther. “Thank you for remembering me.”
A little while later, a jailer brought her evening meal, and slid it under the door. The evening meal was always the same—beans with a bit of some indeterminate meat, probably pork. Along with it was piece of bread, one that was fairly heavy and probably had sawdust as a major ingredient. Esther actually preferred it to the light, airy bread that Iolana insisted upon. Finally, there was a quart of water.
After eating, Esther lay back down on the cot. She dozed off thinking about the breakfast that would arrive consisting of exactly what had made up yesterday’s morning meal—one boiled egg, one piece of bruised and probably moldy fruit, and a quart of water. This would be followed by lunch, which would be four savory biscuits, a hunk of yellow cheese and a piece of dried cod, and a quart of water, just as it had the day before and the day before that.
She had just finished her lunch the next day, which had been much more palatable with kippers on the biscuits, when Iolana appeared outside the bars of her door.
“You look well,” she said, her voice full of sunshine, fresh air, and freedom. “The rest must be doing you good.”
“I’m not well, I’m not resting, and if you think I look good, it’s only because there is very little light in which to sssee me.”
“Well, someone is in a bad mood.”
Esther opened her mouth but couldn’t think of anything to say to that. In what kind of mood was she expected to be?