Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1
I COULDN’T SEE.
The hood that bound my head was canvas, so my only light was what filtered through the weave. I gasped, drawing what air I could through the fabric. It stank of dried blood and stale sweat. I wasn’t the first prisoner to wear it.
The cart thundered down the road, bumping on the cobblestones, the wood rattling my bones. I lay in the back, wrists and ankles clamped in chains that jingled with the wagon’s rise and fall. My heart thudded, keeping time with each bang and shudder.
This was the third time they’d moved me since I’d been captured. I didn’t know where they were taking me. But then I didn’t even know why I’d been arrested.
It had happened yesterday, late afternoon—at least I think it was yesterday; I’d lost track of time in the jails. I’d been at Blackthorn with Tom, searching for the few copies of my master’s journals we hadn’t yet been able to find. I needed to replenish some of the ingredients I kept in the apothecary sash I wore hidden around my waist, so I left Tom hunting through the books upstairs while I went down to the workshop to refill the vials.
A commotion in the alley behind my shop drew me to the door. There was a small crowd two doors down, huddled around the crates behind Mr. Ralston’s grocery. I’d made it halfway there when a voice cried out.
“That’s him! The boy! He did it!”
Three men were on me in an instant. I recognized the constable, Mr. Pettiworth, but the other two were strangers. They grabbed my arms and lifted me bodily from the ground.
“Hey!” I’d cried, trying to pull away. “What are you—”
Someone cracked me on the head before I could finish. Dazed, I was carried into the streets, brought to our parish’s jail, and tossed in a cell. I huddled against the back wall, confused and scared, for only a short time before two new men arrived and hauled me out.
Again I tried to ask what was happening. This time, I got a club to the gut for my trouble. I’d obviously been accused of some crime, so I expected the men to cart me off to the courthouse. I almost welcomed it; at least someone there would tell me why I’d been arrested.
Yet I wasn’t taken to the courthouse. Instead, the men threw a hood over my head and carted me to a different jail. There I remained for several hours until I was moved once again. With the hood on, I couldn’t tell where. All I knew from the pinpricks of torchlight through the canvas was that it was the middle of the night.
I’d never been arrested before. I didn’t know what the procedure was, exactly. But I knew nothing about this was normal. And that scared me more than anything else.
They left the hood on in my new cell. I huddled in the corner until they moved me a third time—and by the daylight now streaming through the fabric, I could tell the whole night had passed since I’d been captured. They dumped me in the back of this cart, and now we were headed somewhere new.
I knew better than to ask where. I just lay there, breathing the stink through the canvas, until the cart was finally reined to a stop.
Strong hands grabbed me under my shoulders and hauled me out. I wasn’t expecting to be let go, so when they released me, I stumbled and fell.
I hit the ground hard. I could tell I was on dirt—little specks of earth and gravel dug into my fingers—but the hood still blinded me as to where I was.
A voice spoke, low and gruff. “Name?”
I heard paper crinkling above me; one of my captors handing over a letter. Then the gruff voice called out.
“Fleming! Packard! One for the cellar!”
Footsteps approached. I was hauled up by my arms again. These were different men from before—one of them smelled worse than the two who’d dropped me here, which was saying something—and they dragged me off without a word. I heard the cart creaking and the clopping of hooves as my old captors rode away.
The light coming through the canvas dimmed, and our footsteps began to echo. We were marching through a tunnel, or a gate. I stumbled as they dragged me and felt the dirt switch to stone under my shoes. Then the light all but vanished. We were inside, going down stairs.
I’d been ordered to the cellar, but it didn’t smell like a cellar. It smelled like a sewer. The stink of it overwhelmed everything, even the body odor of the man next to me. I gagged, praying I wouldn’t throw up. My hood was still on.
I heard voices cursing from below. Then the shouts suddenly broke into a roar, a dozen men jeering at once. It made me cringe, and I tried to tug away from my new captors.
They didn’t like that. The man on my left gripped me harder. The one on my right twisted my arm until he just about popped it from its socket. I cried out, my howls lost in the din.
The two men carried me into the screams. Then they shoved me up against a stone wall. One man held my arms high while the other locked manacles around my wrists. They did the same to my ankles, then tore off the hood and walked away. I blinked, the first time I’d been able to see since yesterday.
A single torch flickered across the room, hanging from a sconce on the wall. I could see steps going up—the steps they’d just dragged me down, the only way out of here. The center of the cellar gave proof to the stench I’d smelled: It was an open sewer. Waste and refuse floated in a thin pond of scum, draining from one low grating in the wall to another on the opposite side.
The reek hit me fully now that the hood was off. I couldn’t help it anymore. I retched. But my stomach was empty—they hadn’t fed me since the constable had hauled me away, not even a drink of water—so nothing came up but thin, sour bile.
“Don’t like the smell, eh?” a man said, practically in my ear. “Just wait till they bring the food!”
He cackled at his joke. The man was thin, with a leering smile and a gap between his teeth, which were chipped and rotted black. Like me, he was chained to the wall by manacles, four feet to my left. Next to him was another prisoner, half naked, curled in a ball and moaning. A dozen more men lay about the room, all shackled the same. A few strained to look me over. The rest just stared into the gloom.
A dungeon, I thought. This isn’t a jail. It’s a dungeon.
Why was I here? For that matter… “Where am I?” I said.
“You mean you don’t know?” The man beside me laughed. “You’re at the gates of hell, boy. They brought you to Newgate Prison.”