"Yes! No! Yes! Please!" said the captain, giving the guard the agonized glance of a man who knows that he's going to be the laughing stock of the whole fort inside the hour. "Once was quite - I mean, I've seen... look, I'm completely satisfied. Private, go and fetch one of the women from the laundry. I am so sorry, ladies, I... I have a job to do..."
"Do you enjoy it?" said Polly, still freezing.
"Yes!" said the captain hurriedly. "I mean, no! No, yes! We have to be careful... ah..."
The big soldier had returned, trailing a woman. Polly stared.
"Some, er, new volunteers," said the captain, waving vaguely towards the squad. "I'm sure Mrs Enid will have some use for them... er..."
"Certainly, captain," said the woman, curtsying demurely. Polly still stared.
"Off you go... ladies," said the captain. "And if you're hard workers Mrs Enid will I am sure give you a pass so's we don't have this trouble again... er..."
Shufti put both hands on his desk, leaned towards him and said "Boo". His chair hit the wall.
"I may not be clever," she said to Polly. "But I'm not stupid."
But Polly was still staring at Lieutenant Blouse. He'd curtsied surprisingly well.
The soldier escorted them along a tunnel which opened onto a ledge overlooking what was either a cave or a room; it was at that level in the Keep where there was not much difference. This wasn't a laundry, but clearly some hot, damp afterlife for those who required punishment with extra scrubbing. Steam rolled across the ceiling, condensed, and dripped onto a floor that was already running with water. And it went on for ever, washtub after washtub. Women moved like ghosts through the drifting, tumbling clouds of fog.
"There you go, ladies," he said, and slapped Blouse on the rump. "See you tonight, then, Daphne?"
"Oh, yes!" trilled Blouse.
"Five o'clock, then," said the soldier, and ambled off down the corridor.
"Daphne?" said Polly, when the man had gone.
"My 'nom de guerre'," said Blouse. "I still haven't found a way out of the lower areas but the guards all have keys and I shall have his key in my hand by half past five. Pardon?"
"I think Tonker - sorry, Magda - just bit her tongue," said Polly.
"Her? Oh, yes. Well done for staying in character, er..."
"Polly," said Polly.
"Good choice of name," said Blouse, leading the way down some steps. "It's a good common, maidservanty sort of name."
"Yes, that's what I thought," said Polly gravely.
"Er... Sergeant Jackrum not with you, then?" said the lieutenant, with a trace of nervousness.
"No, sir. He said he was going to lead a charge on the main gates, sir, if we sent him a signal. I hope he doesn't try without one."
"Good heavens, the man's mad," said Blouse. "Splendid effort from the lads, though. Well done. You'd definitely pass for women to the casual observer."
"Coming from you, Daphne, that is a big compliment," said Polly, thinking: gosh, I'm really good at keeping a straight face.
"But you didn't need to come after me," said Blouse. "I'm sorry I couldn't get a signal to you, but Mrs Enid allowed me to stay overnight, you see. The guards don't do so many checks at night so I made use of my time to look for ways into the Upper Keep. All gated or really heavily guarded, I'm afraid. However, Private Hauptfidel has taken rather a shine to me..."
"Well done, sir!" said Polly.
"Sorry, I want to be clear, sir," said Tonker. "You have a date with a guard."
"Yes, and I'll suggest we go somewhere dark and then when I've got what I want I shall break his neck," said Blouse.
"Isn't that going a bit far on a first date?" said Tonker.
"Sir, did you have any trouble getting in?" said Polly. This had been nagging at her. It seemed so unfair.
"No, not at all. I just smiled and wiggled my hips and they waved me through. What about you?"
"Oh, we had a little bit," said Polly. "It was a bit hair - it was a bit awkward for a moment or two."
"What did I tell you?" said Blouse triumphantly. "It's all down to thespian ability! But you were plucky lads to try it. Come and meet Mrs Enid. A very loyal lady. The brave womenfolk of Borogravia are on our side!"
And, indeed, there was a picture of the Duchess in the alcove that served the laundry mistress for an office. Mrs Enid wasn't a particularly large woman but she had forearms like Jade, a soaking wet apron, and the most mobile mouth Polly had ever seen. Her lips and tongue drew out every word like a big shape in the air, the laundresses, in a cavern full of hissing steam, echoes, falling water and the thud of wet clothes on stone, watched lips when ears were overwhelmed. When she was listening her mouth moved all the time, too, like someone trying to dislodge a piece of nut from a tooth. She wore her sleeves rolled up above her elbows.
She listened impassively as Blouse introduced the squad. "I see," she said. "Right. You leave your lads here with me, sir. You ought to get back to the pressing room."
When Blouse had bounced and wobbled back through the steam, Mrs Enid looked them all up and down, and then straight through.
"Lads," she grunted. "Hah! That's all he knows, eh? For a woman to wear the clothes of a man is an Abomination in the Eyes of Nuggan!"
"But we're dressed as women, Mrs Enid," said Polly meekly.
Mrs Enid's mouth moved ferociously. Then she folded her arms. It was like a barricade going up against all that was ungodly.
"It's not right," she said. "I've got a son and a husband prisoner in this place and I'm working meself to the bone for the enemy just so's I can keep an eye on 'em. They're gonna invade, y'know. It's amazing what we hear down here. So what good's rescuing your men going to do 'em when we're all under the heel of the Zlobenian hand-painted clog, eh?"
"Zlobenia will not invade," said Wazzer confidently. "The Duchess will see to it. Be not afraid."
Wazzer got given the sort of look she always got when someone heard her for the first time.
"Been praying, 'ave yer?" said Mrs Enid kindly.
"No, just listening," said Wazzer.
"Nuggan talks to you, does he?"
"No. Nuggan is dead, Mrs Enid," said Wazzer.
Polly took Wazzer's matchstick-thin arm and said: "Excuse us a moment, Mrs Enid." She hustled the girl behind a huge, water-driven clothes mangle. It heaved and clanked as a background to their conversation.
"Wazzer, this is getting..." Polly's native tongue had no word for "freaky", but if she had known about the word she would have welcomed its inclusion "...strange. You're worrying people. You can't just go around saying that a god is dead."
"Gone, then. Dwindled... I think," said Wazzer, her brow furrowing. "No longer with us..."
"We still get the Abominations."
Wazzer tried to concentrate. "No, they're not real. They're like... echoes. Dead voices in an ancient cave, bouncing back and forth, the words changing, making nonsense... like flags that were used for signals but now just flap in the wind..." Wazzer's eyes went unfocused and her voice altered, became more adult, more certain "...and they come from no god. There is no god here now."
"So where do they come from?"
"From your fear... They come from the part that hates the Other, that will not change. They come from the sum of all your pettiness and stupidity and dullness. You fear tomorrow, and you've made your fear your god. The Duchess knows this."
The water-mangle creaked onwards. Around Polly the boilers hissed, water gushed in the runnels. The air was loaded with the smells of soap and damp cloth.
"I don't believe in the Duchess, either," said Polly. "That was just trickery in the woods. Anyone'd look round. It doesn't mean I believe in her."
"That doesn't matter, Polly. She believes in you."
"Really?" Polly glanced around the steaming, dripping cave. "Is she here, then? Has she graced us with her presence?"
Wazzer had no concept of sarcasm. She nodded. "Yes."
Polly looked behind her.
"Did you just say yes?" she demanded.
"Yes," said Wazzer.
Polly relaxed. "Oh, it's an echo. This is a cave, after all. Uh..."
...which doesn't explain why my voice doesn't come bouncing back...
"Wazz... I mean, Alice?" she said thoughtfully.
"Yes, Polly?" said Wazzer.
"I think it would be a really good idea if you don't talk too much about this to the others," she said. "People don't mind believing in, you know, gods and so on, but they get very nervous if you tell them they're showing up. Er... she's not going to show up, is she?"
"The person you don't believe in?" said Wazzer, showing a flash of spirit.
"I'm... not saying she doesn't exist," said Polly weakly. "I just don't believe in her, that's all."
"She's very weak," said Wazzer. "I hear her crying in the night."
Polly sought for further information in the pinched-up face, hoping that in some way Wazzer was making fun of her. But nothing but puzzled innocence looked back.
"Why does she cry?" she said.
"The prayers. They hurt her."
Polly spun round when something touched her shoulder. It was Tonker.
"Mrs Enid says we're to get to work," she said. "She says the guards come round and check..."
It was women's work, and therefore monotonous, backbreaking and social. It had been a long time since Polly had got her hands in a washtub, and the ones here were long wooden troughs, where twenty women could work at once. Arms on either side of her squeezed and pummelled, wrung out garments and slapped them into the rinsing trough behind them. Polly joined in, and listened to the buzz of conversation around her.
It was gossip, but bits of information floated in it like bubbles in the washtub. A couple of guards had "taken liberties" - that is, more than had already been taken - and had apparently been flogged for it. This caused much comment along the tub. Apparently some big milord from Ankh-Morpork was in charge of things and had ordered it. He was some kind of wizard, said the woman opposite. They said he could see things happening everywhere, and lived on raw meat. They said he had secret eyes. Of course, everyone knew that that city was the home of Abominations. Polly, industriously rubbing a shirt on a washboard, thought about this. And thought about a lowland buzzard in this upland country, and some creature so fast and stealthy that it was only a suggestion of shadow...
She took a spell on the copper boilers, ramming the stewing garments under the bubbling surface, and noted that in this place without weapons of any sort she was using a heavy stick about three feet long.
She enjoyed the work, in a dumb kind of way. Her muscles did all the necessary thinking, leaving her brain free. No one knew for sure that the Duchess was dead. It more or less didn't matter. But Polly was sure of one thing. The Duchess had been a woman. Just a woman, not a goddess. Oh, people prayed to her in the hope that their pleas would be gift-wrapped and sent on to Nuggan, but that gave her no right to mess with the heads of people like Wazzer, who had enough trouble as it was. Gods could do miracles; duchesses posed for pictures.
Out of the corner of her eye, Polly saw a line of women taking large baskets from a platform at the end of the room and stepping out through another doorway. She dragged Igorina away from the wash trough and told her to join them. "And notice everything!" she added.
"Yes, corp," said Igorina.
"Because I know one thing," said Polly, waving at the piles of damp linen, "and it's that this lot will need the breeze..."
She went back to work, occasionally joining in the chatter for the look of the thing. It wasn't hard. The washerwomen kept away from some subjects, particularly ones like "husbands" and "sons". But Polly picked up clues here and there. Some were in the Keep. Some were probably dead. Some were out there, somewhere.
Some of the older women wore the Motherhood Medal, awarded to women whose sons had died for Borogravia. The bastard metal was corroding in the damp atmosphere, and Polly wondered if the medals had arrived in a letter from the Duchess, with her signature printed on the bottom and the son's name squeezed up tight to fit the space.
We honour and congratulate you, Mrs L. Lapchic of Well Lane, Munz, on the death of your son Otto PiotrHanLapchic on June 25 at ¡�br />
The place was always censored in case it brought aid and comfort to the enemy. It astonished Polly to find that the cheap medals and thoughtless words did, in a way, bring aid and comfort to the mothers. Those in Munz who had received them wore them with a sort of fierce, indignant pride.
She wasn't sure she trusted Mrs Enid very much. She had a son and a husband up in the cells, and she'd had a chance to weigh up Blouse. She'd be asking herself: what's more likely, that he gets them all out and keeps them safe, or that there's going to be an almighty mess which might well harm us all? And Polly couldn't blame her if she went with the evidence...
She was aware of someone talking to her. "Hmm?" she said.
"Look at this, will you?" said Shufti, waving a sodden pair of men's long pants at her. "They keep putting the colours in with the whites!"
"Well? So what? These are enemy longjohns," said Polly.
"Yes, but there's such a thing as doing it properly! Look, they put in this red pair and all the others are going pink!"
"And? I used to love pink when I was about seven."9
"But pale pink? On a man?"
Polly looked at the next tub for a moment, and patted Shufti on the shoulder. "Yes. It is very pale, isn't it? You'd better find a couple more red items," she said.
"But that'd make it even worse - " Shufti began.
"That was an order, soldier," Polly whispered in her ear. "And add some starch."
"All you can find."
Igorina returned. Igorina had good eyes. Polly wondered if they'd ever belonged to someone else. She gave Polly a wink and held up a thumb. It was, to Polly's relief, one of her own.
In the huge ironing room, only one person was working at the long boards when Polly, taking advantage of the temporary absence of Mrs Enid, hurried in. It was "Daphne". All the rest of the women were gathered round, as if they were watching a demonstration. And they were.
" - the collar, d'you see," said Lieutenant Blouse, flourishing the big, steaming, charcoal-filled iron. "Then the sleeve cuffs and finally the sleeves. Do one front half at a time. You should hang them immediately but, and here's a useful tip, don't iron them completely dry. It's really a matter of practice, but - "
Polly stared in fascinated wonder. She'd hated ironing. "Daphne, could I have a word?" she said, during a pause.
Blouse looked up. "Oh, P... Polly," he said. "Um, yes, of course."
"It's amazing what Daphne knows about pleat lines," said a girl, in awe. "And press cloths!"
"I am amazed," said Polly.
Blouse handed the iron to the girl. "There you are, Dympha," he said generously. "Remember: always iron the wrong side first, and only ever do the wrong side on dark linens. Common mistake. Coming, Polly."
Polly kicked her heels for a while outside, and one of the girls came up with a big pile of fresh-smelling ironing. She saw Polly, and leaned close as she went past. "We all know he's a man," she said. "But he's having such fun and he irons like a demon!"
"Sir, how do you know about ironing?" said Polly, when they were back in the washing room.
"Had to do my own laundry back at HQ," said Blouse. "Couldn't afford a gel and the batman was a strict Nugganite and said it was girls' work. So I thought, well, it can't be hard, otherwise we wouldn't leave it to women. They really aren't very good here. You know they put the colours and the whites together?"
"Sir, you know you said you were going to steal a gate key off a guard and break his neck?" said Polly.
"Do you know how to break a man's neck, sir?"
"I read a book on martial arts, Perks," said Blouse, a little severely.
"But you haven't actually done it, sir?"
"Well, no! I was at HQ, and you are not allowed to practise on real people, Perks."
"You see, the person whose neck you want to break will have a weapon at that moment and you, sir, won't," said Polly.
"I have tried out the basic principle on a rolled-up blanket," said Blouse reproachfully. "It seemed to work very well."
"Was the blanket struggling and making loud gurgling noises and kicking you in the socks, sir?"
"The socks?" said Blouse, puzzled.
"In fact I think your other idea would be better, sir," said Polly hurriedly.
"Yes... my, er... other idea... which one was that, exactly?"
"The one where we escape from the washhouse via the clothes-drying area, sir, after silently disabling three guards, sir. There's a kind of moving room down the corridor over there, sir, which gets winched all the way to the roof. Two guards go up there with the women, sir, and there's another guard up on the roof. Acting together, we'd take out each unsuspecting guard, which would be more certain than you against an armed man, with all due respect, sir, and that would leave us very well positioned to go anywhere in the Keep via the rooftops, sir. Well done, sir!"
There was a pause. "Did I, er, go into all that detail?" said Blouse.
"Oh, no, sir. You shouldn't have to, sir. Sergeants and corporals deal with the fine detail. Officers are there to see the big picture."
"Oh, absolutely. And, er... how big was this particular picture?" said Blouse, blinking.
"Oh, very big, sir. A very big picture indeed, sir."
"Ah," said Blouse, and straightened up and assumed what he considered to be the expression of one with panoramic vision.
"Some of the ladies here used to work in the Upper Keep, sir, when it was ours," Polly went on quickly. "Anticipating your order, sir, I had the squad engage them in light conversation about the layout of the place, sir. Being aware of the general thrust of your strategy, sir, I think I have found a route to the dungeons."
She paused. It had been good flannelling, she knew. It was almost worthy of Jackrum. She'd larded it with as many "sirs" as she dared. And she was very proud of "anticipating your order".
She hadn't heard Jackrum use it, but with a certain amount of care it was an excuse to do almost anything. "General thrust" was pretty good, too.
"Dungeons," said Blouse thoughtfully, momentarily losing sight of the big picture. "In fact I thought I said - "
"Yessir. Because, sir, if we can get a lot of the lads out of the dungeons, sir, you'll be in command inside the enemy's citadel, sir!"
Blouse grew another inch, and then sagged again. "Of course, there are some very senior officers here. All of them senior to me - "
"Yessir!" said Polly, well on the way to graduating from the Sergeant Jackrum School of Outright Rupert Management. "Perhaps we'd better try to let the enlisted men out first, sir? We don't want to expose the officers to enemy fire."
It was shameless and stupid, but now the light of battle was in Blouse's eyes. Polly decided to fan it, just in case. "Your leadership has really been a great example to us, sir," she said.
"Oh, yes, sir."
"No officer could have led a finer bunch of men, Perks," said Blouse.
"Probably they have, sir," said Polly.
"And what man could dare hope for such an opportunity, eh?" said Blouse. "Our names will go down in the history books! Well, mine will, obviously, and I shall jolly well see to it that you chaps get a mention too. And who knows? Perhaps I may win the highest accolade that a gallant officer may obtain!"
"What's that, sir?" said Polly dutifully.
"Having either a foodstuff or an item of clothing named after one," said Blouse, his face radiant. "General Froc got both, of course. The frock coat and Beef Froc. Of course, I could never aspire that high." He looked down bashfully. "But I have to say, Perks, that I have devised several recipes, just in case!"
"So we'll be eating a Blouse one day, sir?" said Polly. She was watching the baskets being stacked.
"Possibly, possibly, if I may dare hope," said Blouse. "Er... my favourite is a sort of pastry ring, d'you see, filled with cream and soaked in rum - "
"That's a Rum Baba, sir," said Polly absently. Tonker and the others were watching the stacked baskets, too.
"It's been done?"
"'fraid so, sir."
"How about... er... a dish of liver and onions?"
"It's called liver-and-onions, sir. Sorry," said Polly, trying not to lose concentration.
"Er, er, well, it has struck me that some dishes are named after people when really they just made a little change to a basic recipe - "
"We must go now, sir! Now or never, sir!"
"What? Oh. Right. Yes. We must go!"
It was a military manoeuvre hitherto unrecorded. The squad, coming from different directions on Polly's signal, arrived at the baskets just ahead of the women who'd proposed to take them up, grabbed the handles and advanced. Only then did she realize that probably no one else wanted the job, and the women were only too happy to let idiot newcomers take the strain. The baskets were big and the wet washing was heavy. Wazzer and Igorina could barely lift one basket between them.
A couple of soldiers were waiting by the door. They looked bored, and paid little attention. It was a long walk to the "elevator".
Polly hadn't been able to picture it when it had been described. You had to see it. It really was just a big open box of heavy timbers, attached to a thick rope, which ran up and down in a sort of chimney in the rock. When they were aboard, one of the soldiers hauled on a much thinner rope that disappeared up into the darkness. The other one lit a couple of candles, whose only apparent role was to make the darkness more gloomy.
"No fainting now, girls!" he said. His mate chuckled.
Two of them and seven of us, Polly thought. The copper stick banged against her leg as she moved, and she knew for a fact that Tonker was limping because she had strapped a washing dolly under her dress. That was for serious washerwomen; it was a long stick with what looked like a three-legged milking stool on the end of it, the better for agitating clothes in a big cauldron of boiling water. You could probably smash a skull with it.
The stone walls dropped past as the platform rose.
"How thrilling!" trilled "Daphne". "And this goes all the way up through your big castle, does it?"
"Oh, no, miss. Gotta go up through the rock first, miss. Lots of old workings and everything before we get that high."
"Oh, I thought we were in the castle already." Blouse gave Polly a worried look.
"No, miss. There's just the washhouse down there, 'cos of the water. Hah, it's a climb and a half even to the lower cellars. Lucky for you there's this elevator, eh?"
"Wonderful, sergeant," said Blouse, and allowed Daphne back. "How does it work?"
"It's corporal, miss," said the string-puller, touching his forelock. "It's pulled up and down by pris'ners in a treadmill, miss."
"Oh, how horrid!"
"Oh no, miss, it's quite humane. Er... if you're free after work, er, I could take you up and show you the mechanism..."
"That would be lovely, sergeant!"
Polly put her hand over her eyes. Daphne was a disgrace to womanhood.
The elevator rumbled upwards, quite slowly. Mostly they passed raw rock but sometimes there were ancient gratings or areas of masonry, suggestive of tunnels long ago blocked -
There was a jerk, and the platform stopped moving. One of the soldiers swore under his breath, but the corporal said, "Don't be afraid, ladies. This often happens."
"Why should we be afraid?" said Polly.
"Well, because we're hanging by a rope a hundred feet up the shaft and the lifting machinery's thrown a cog."
"Again," said the other soldier. "Nothing works properly here."
"Sounds like a good reason to me," said Igorina.
"How long will it take to repair?" said Tonker.
"Hah! Last time it happened we were stuck for an hour!"
Too long, Polly thought. Too many things could happen. She looked up through the beams in the roof. The square of daylight was a long way up.
"We can't wait," she said.
"Oh dear, who will save us?" Daphne quavered.
"We'll have to find a way to pass the time, eh?" said one of the guards. Polly sighed. That was one of those phrases, like "Well, lookee what we have here", that meant things were only going to get a lot worse.
"We know how it is, ladies," the guard went on. "Your menfolk away, and all. It's as bad for us, too. I can't remember when I last kissed my wife."
"And I can't remember when I last kissed his wife, either," said the corporal.
Tonker jumped up, caught a beam, and chinned herself to the top of the box. The elevator shook and, somewhere, a piece of rock dislodged and crashed down the shaft.
"Hey, you can't do that!" said the corporal.
"Where does it say?" said Tonker. "Polly, there's one of those filled-in tunnels here, only most of the stones have been knocked out. We could get in easily."
"You can't get out! We'll get into trouble!" said the corporal.
Polly pulled his sword out of his scabbard. The space was too crowded to do much with it except threaten, but she had it, not him. It made a huge difference.
"You're already in trouble," she said. "Please don't force me to make it worse. Let's get out of here. Is that okay, Daphne?"
"Um... yes, of course," said Blouse.
The other guard laid a hand on his own sword.
"Okay, girls, this has gone - " he began, and then slumped. Shufti lowered her copper stick.
"I hope I didn't hit him too hard," she said.
"Who cares? Come on, I can give you all a hand up," said Tonker.
"Igorina, could you have a look at him, and - " Shufti began nervously.
"He's a man, and he's groaning," said Tonker from above. "That's good enough for me. Come on."
The lone guard watched as the others were womanhandled onto the beams.
"Er, excuse me," he said to Polly, as she helped Blouse up.
"Would you mind giving me a wallop on the back of the head?" he said, looking wretched. "So that it doesn't look like I didn't put up a fight against a bunch of women."
"Why don't you put up a fight?" said Polly, narrowing her eyes. "We're only a bunch of women."
"I'm not crazy!" said the guard.
"Here, let me," said Igorina, producing her stick. "Blows to the head are potentially harmful and should not be undertaken lightly. Turn round, sir. Remove your helmet, please. Would twenty minutes' unconsciousness be okay?"
"Yes, thanks very mu - "
The guard folded up.
"I really hope I didn't hurt the other one," moaned Shufti, from above.
"He's swearing," said Polly, removing his sword. "That sounds like he's okay."
She handed up the candles, and then was hauled onto the trembling roof of the elevator. When she had a firm footing in the mouth of the tunnel she found a sliver of stone and stamped it hard into the space between the shaft wall and the wooden frame, which shook. It wasn't going anywhere for a while.
Tonker and Lofty were already investigating the tunnel. By candlelight, it looked like good masonry beyond the clumsy attempt at walling it up.
"It must be cellars," said Tonker. "I reckon they must've made the shaft not long ago and just walled up where it cut through. Could have done a better job, too."
"Cellars are close to dungeons," said Polly. "Now, pinch out one candle, because that way we'll have light for twice as long, and then - "
"Perks, a word please?" said Blouse. "Over here?"
When they were standing a little apart from the rest of the squad, Blouse lowered his voice and said: "I don't wish to discourage initiative, Perks, but what are you doing?"
"Er... anticipating your orders, sir."
"Ah. Right. This is still small-picture stuff, is it?"
"Then may orders, Perks, are to proceed with speed and caution to release the prisoners."
"Well done, sir. We'll go through this... this - "
"Crypt," said Igorina, looking round.
The candle blew out.
Somewhere ahead of them, in darkness absolute and velvet-thick, stone moved on stone.
"I wonder why this passage was sealed up?" said the voice of Blouse.
"I think I've stopped wondering why it was sealed up in such a hurry," said Tonker.
"I wonder who tried to open it?" said Polly.
There was a crash of, as it might be, a heavy slab falling off an ornate tomb. It could have been half a dozen other things but, somehow, that was the image that sprang to rnind. The dead air moved a little.
"I don't want to worry anyone," said Shufti, "but I can hear the sound of sort of feet, sort of dragging."
Polly remembered the man lighting the candles. He'd dropped the bundle of matches into the brass saucer of the candlestick, hadn't he? Moving her hand slowly, she groped for them.
"If you didn't want to worry anyone," came the voice of Tonker from the dry, thick darkness, "why the hell did you just tell us that?"
Polly's fingers found a sliver of wood. She raised it to her nose, and sniffed the sulphurous smell.
"I've got one match," she said. "I'm going to try to light the candle again. Everyone look for a way out. Ready?"
She sidled to the invisible wall. Then she scratched the match down the stone, and yellow light filled the crypt.
Someone whimpered. Polly stared, candle forgotten. The match went out.
"O-kay," said the subdued voice of Tonker. "Walking dead people. So?"
"The one near the archway was the late General Puhloaver!" said Blouse. "I have his book on the art of defense!"
"Best not to ask him to autograph it, sir," said Polly, as the squad bunched together.
There was the whimpering again. It seemed to come from where Polly remembered Wazzer standing. She heard her praying. There were no words that she could make out, just a fierce and urgent whispering.
"Maybe these washing sticks can slow them down a bit?" Shufti quavered.
"More than being dead already?" said Igorina.
No, a voice whispered, and light filled the crypt.
It was barely brighter than a glowworm, but a single photon can do a lot of work in chthonic darkness. It rose above the kneeling Wazzer until it was woman height, because it was a woman.
Or, at least, it was the shadow of a woman. No, Polly saw, it was the light of a woman, a moving web of lines and highlights in which there came and went, like pictures in a fire, a female shape.
"Soldiers of Borogravia... attention!" said Wazzer. And underneath her reedy little tone was a shadow voice, a whisper that filled and refilled the long rooms.
Soldiers of Borogravia... attention!