The next day, the wooden panel was lifted again and Ned was manhandled out by Side-Kick. This time, the boy managed to stand. Ned was bruised and the skin around an eye had blackened. A series of wooden bowls were laid out on the table containing near starvation rations for the prisoners. He was not sure what the rancid food was, but the smell was pungent. A groan came from a nearby cell and Ned looked in its direction.
Numbskull cleared his throat. “It’s your job to feed the filthy scum in the cells. One bowl for each cell. Even someone like you should be able to manage that. If not, I will get my friend here to treat you to a good beating again.”
The boy hesitated. For a fleeting moment, he thought about going on the attack. But he was weak and the jailors were much bigger than him. He sighed and resigned himself to his fate. Carrying two bowls at a time, he pushed one into the first cell. A pair of hollowed eyes with dark patches glowered back. In the next cell, a prisoner in ragged clothes lay still on the floor. One by one, rough-looking prisoners stared at him wearily as he slushed through water. Some had shackles attached to their ankles while others’ hands were chained together. Ned moved back and forth collecting the food bowls. His bare feet slapped on the wet stone. Moving his legs made the boy feel better. As he reached the unlit end of the corridor, Ned heard gurgles from an inmate. He resolved not to let the jailors grind him down. Resistance was beginning to build inside.
When Ned was done, Side-Kick held the last bowl and threw it into the hole. It splattered across the dirty floor. The boy looked on as Side-Kick punched his stomach and pushed him through the opening. Inside, Ned doubled-up, trying to catch his breath. The wooden panel slammed shut. An icy dread gripped him as he lay on the stone, shaking.