Draftfane prison, known by the guards as The Fane, stood in the outskirts of Timoritia’s central districts, built in part out of the walls that had once been the border between the city and the surrounding landscape. Three storeys tall and one storey deep into the ground, the stone held no windows, shared no sound, and had no neighbours proud of where they lived. The prisoners in Draftfane were thrown in cells and given food regularly enough to ensure that they didn’t die.
Draftfane was a place you dropped people when you had no intention of ever pulling them out again.
“Dare say you’re wasting your time, Father,” the guard said, as she pulled the heavy iron grille aside, stepping into the small chamber. Arm to the wheel, she braced for a moment, before putting her weight behind it, starting the long, rattling song of the chains that opened the next security door.
“I’ve heard that before – ah, and, it’s Brother, actually.”
The guard smiled at him, but it wasn’t a particularly thoughtful smile. It never paid to be mean to a priest, as any guard could tell you. If nothing else, letting priests visit prisoners was a good way to keep prisoners calm. Dead prisoners were an irritation, required paperwork, sometimes made a mess. Better to have them hopeless and faithful, a combination that the church had been using for generations.
“Brother, huh?” she said, unlooping a key from her belt and casting her eye over the priest. It was that surname – Fratarelli – that had tripped her up. Father Fratarelli, just rolled off the tongue – and he sure looked like a father. He looked like the sort of priest you saw in children’s books full of adventure and fun, the sort who rode on the cart behind the hero and gave acts of goodnatured mischief some air of legitimacy. She wasn’t the tallest guard in the world, but even her average height was over him. Couple his shortness with his near-spherical waistline, and Brother Fratarelli gave the impression of a much larger priest who had been at some point accidentally squashed. Still, he had the unremarkable face, brown hair- bald on top – and brown eyes of a man who would never stand out if not for his short stature.
The key mechanism finally clicked, and the second door slid open, interrupting her pointless staring. “Yes, brother,” said the priest, gesturing for her to proceed. “A father oversees a whole parish – it’s a term of some respect. Alas, I have not done my proper time as a deacon.”
The guard didn’t say the words I don’t care but it was remarkably easy to hear it when she spoke. “You got a particular reason to speak to this one?” she asked, leading him down the center of the hall, past cell after cell. Blank stone walls, into which were set stout wooden doors, reinforced with steel, a thin grille in the door, rolled past them in ranks. The walls heard nothing, the door said nothing. Nobody would cry out, because in Draftfane, there was nobody to hear.
“Well, it was something the judge said sentencing him.” Brother Fratarelli began – only to be cut off with a barking yell.
“Let me guess – the worst murderer in Timoritia?”
“Ah, yes!” the priest said, his steps a little quicker than hers, in order to keep up with her longer legs. “The bills presented quite a lurid story – three murders, quite terrible.”
“You only read the newsbill’s story, right, Father?”
“Seems you didn’t quite get the whole of the tale. The judge did say he was the worst murderer in Timoritia, but he didn’t mean what you think.”
“Three murders isn’t terrible…?”
“Oh, it’s pretty bad!” the guard laughed. For all the fear there was of criminals in the courts, a criminal with multiple murders to his name was a rare thing, since those people rarely were caught. Mostly, they were killed, in the nastier types of bar, for the pettiest of reasons. “But the judge meant he was incompetent.”
“I-incompetent? Did the victims not die, or something…?”
With a swing in her step, the guard held up three fingers. “Follow along with me here-”
“I don’t have much option, officer.”
“First, the burglary victim. Some drunk lad in his home, killed him with a kitchen knife. See, that tells us he wasn’t planning. Grabbed someone else’s knife and used it in a desperate moment – then stabbed his victim twelve times. Twelve! Don’t mind telling you, brother, but when you kill a man, you work it out pretty quick when they’re dead. Tells us that our murderer panicked. Bolted out of the house, too! So he tries to be a burglar, becomes a murderer, then fails to make any take. That’s a bad business, that is.”
Brother Fratarelli blanched at that. “Yes, it… it was quite a fearsome crime.”
“Nah, it was a crap crime. Kid didn’t know what he was doing, messed up, and became a murderer in a panic. Next crime? Two nights later, he tries to catch a businessman on his way out of the city for his ticket on a train out of town. Completely messes it up – steals the ticket, kills the man and dumps him in the river. Panic, again, right? Most of the time killers get a taste for it, work out how to do it better the second time. Not this one,” she all-but-snickered. “Gets rid of the body, sure, gets caught with his ticket on him out of the city – name on it and all!”
“I… see. That was part of the evidence?”
“Damn straight. Then – with the guard hunting him for a murder, and a businessman’s ticket in his pocket, this jackass went to a church to… I dunno, confess?” she laughed again, shrugging. Gallows humour was a necessity in her job. “Heads down to Father Grenouille, by the fourteenth church, takes silver candlesticks from the reliquary. Apparently, didn’t like what Father had to say in confession, so he chases him out of the confessional, up the damn stairs to the clock tower, and almost loses a fight with him.”
“Is that… is that not normal?”
“This kid’s maybe nineteen years old. Father Grenouille was sixty. You expect young men to lose fights with old guys like that?”
“Ah…” Brother Fratarelli blanched, counting his own years in his head. “I suppose not.”
“It’s bad business to kill a priest, m’sure you know,” the guard said, waving her hand. “It’s far worse business to kill one on a roof, and fall off with him and land in the snow in front of two watch patrols having a smoke break near the church. Panicky and stupid but…” she shrugged. “That, that’s just bad luck.”
Finally, at the end of a hall, by a corner, another door. Another set of keys, and she had the door opened, her smile broad. “Ey, Raff!” she called into the cell, at the sullen mound in the corner. “We’ve got a priest here for your confession.” Turning to look down at the rounder man, she gestured into the cell with her thumb. “You need me to stay in there with you, Father?”
Brother Fratarelli shook his head. “No, no… it sounds to me like I’m quite safe. I shouldn’t be long – how will I signal you when I’m done?”
“Just tap on the door and call through it. You might have to holler,” she said, stepping out and closing the door behind her.
The cell was small, maybe four long steps on each side. A stool sat in the centre of the room, a pile of straw mounded in one corner, a bucket in the other. No window, but another metal grill, full of holes no wider than a finger, sat in a recess in the ceiling, the only option for light and air. Moving carefully through the grime and pulling the stool over to sit on it, Brother Fratarelli smiled, sitting down, his hands on his knees.
“Good morning, Rafe,” he said, pronouncing the name correctly. “Now, then. Before we get to your confession, I have a question.”
The lump in the corner did not stir. In the grim darkness of the Draftfane prison, it was hard to see anything but basic shapes. Despite his age, he didn’t look it, the sort of young man who’d be called ‘boy’ until he was thirty. The boy had slender limbs gripped legs pulled up to his chest, dark prison clothes designed to hide dirt and scrubby brown hair that looked like it’d been cut with a knife. Only one eye visible, he glared at the sitting priest. That long silence was finally broken by a long, drawn breath, punctuated by a single, moist cough.
Smoothing down his robes, Brother Fratarelli inclined his head, watching intently for Rafe’s reaction.
“Why did you lie about those murders?”