Part eleven in the Knack for Powders serial. A table of contents for previous episodes.
A scritch-scratch noise and sand falling in an avalanche down the rear walls of Merph's cell provided a brief warning before the clod of dirt landed on his chest. The Lord's soldiers had dragged him out into the courtyard to a sunken cellar that had been carved out of the earth. The square room was barely large enough for Merph to stretch out on the bench opposite the door and iron bars sunken into stone covered the single window. Except for a guard who had brought him some moldy bread and something to drink, he hadn't seen anyone the rest of the day. He scrambled away from the wall coughing at the dust he inhaled.
He stared at the place where the window was, even with the stars and moon out, the eaves of the building shadowed the window and made it difficult to see. Something moved. Merph imagined a spider with its body as big as his head and eight legs thrusting itself through the bars as it squeezed its head to fit. In an attempt to squash his fears, he reminded himself that he'd only temporarily hurt Lord Calle. They had no reason to kill him. Wait. The only one who could conjure a giant spider would be Tvinnrun, and if he suspected Merph knew, he'd have reason.
The creature, hidden by the darkness, panted at the window. The spider must be forcing its way through. Merph squeaked an unintelligible cry, which turned into a laugh. _Spiders didn't pant._
"Whitey, is that you?"
The dog answered with a soft yip that wouldn't carry far. More rocks fell into the room.
Relief flooded through Merph and he sagged against the wall. "I'm glad you're here, but there isn't anything you can do unless you can work the lock on this door. I've failed Kluvenstrom."
The dog growled.
"There is nothing I can do."
Whitey cried and more dirt fell into the cellar. Merph climbed onto the bench where Whitey's tongue flickered through the bars to lick Merph's cheek. The boy squeezed as close as he could to the window and felt Whitey's wet nose pressed against his neck and he raised his arm to feel the pig bladders.
Merph sighed. "How are the powders supposed to help? They can't unlock the door."
Whitey bumped the iron bars with his jowls.
"I can't bend bars either." Yet, as he said the words he realized he didn't have to bend the bars he just had to remove one of the bars so he could get out of the cellar. He had to think about things. Kluvenstrom had given him the recipe for gelid powder. He unwrapped the pig bladder from around his neck and dropped a pinch on the bench. A pop crackled before the bench buckled and Merph rolled to the floor.
_Strange._ Merph wondered, _Perhaps, the powder will allow me to break the bars._ Merph balanced the pieces of the bench so that he could clamber onto them and reach the window where he rubbed some of the powder. He pushed against the bar, but it didn't budge. However, the iron became so cold he jerked his hand away and his skin nearly stuck to the metal.
_Interesting,_ thought Merph. He found the mug that the guard had brought him with the moldy bread. There were a few drops of water in it still and he poured it around the bars and then switched from sprinkling gelid powder so that the water froze into the crevice around one of the bars and then he'd sprinkle ash powder to melt the ice and repeated it until the stone that held the bars cracked and he pulled the iron bar out of the wall.
Merph squeezed through the space in the wall and collapsed breathless in the dirt. He hugged Whitey. "Okay, if I can escape from that, I can save Kluvenstrom."