“May I request you leave?” said Ikorov. “Or are prisoners’ wishes never respected?”
Bergov scowled but turned away, stroking his sister’s hair a final time as if to say, “Good luck.” Ikorov he warned, “I’ll give you ten minutes.” He turned the corner, out of sight, and his footsteps, first echoing clearly, faded into the silence.
Ikorov reached out his hands, and Ilse ran to catch them. His arms could not fit through the bars, so she slipped hers through and wrapped them around him. He clutched her little palms and kissed them each, and kissed her hair, and whispered, “Ilse, Ilse, how I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too. I wish you didn’t have to stay here. I wish Bergov would let you out. I wish…” A lump in her throat blocked her words.
“Shh,” said Ikorov. “There is much that is that we wish weren’t; but there is no point in lamenting, if it changes nothing. Don’t cry, dear. It won’t help.”
“It does help,” sobbed Ilse. “I feel ever so much worse if I don’t cry; besides, I can’t help it. Why don’t you tell Bergov where Votya is? Then you wouldn’t have to live in this dark and lonely place, and we could be friends again. Please? You know where he is, don’t you?”
“Ilse, I returned here as a man, not as I left, a traitor and a dog. And when I am a man, I must be respected and treated as a man. Bergov does not respect me nor treat me as one, so why should I respect him and treat him as another?”
“You mustn’t blame him, at least for my sake,” said Ilse. “He doesn’t know you’re good again.”
“I told him so. If he will not respect my word, then he does not deserve it.”
“But maybe you just need to tell him this one thing, then he will respect you properly,” said Ilse.
“Then that is not true respect; that is bribed favour.”
“It’s the doing of a street hound, and I am a man.”
“I tried to tell Bergov so. I tried to tell him everything, but he wouldn’t believe it. He says I’m little and innocent and that you’ve been fooling me, but I know you haven’t. I know you haven’t. I know it,” and she held him tighter.
“You are a gem, Ilse. For all grown people are proud to be men, their hearts have lost their innate beauty which keeps the eyes clean. For now they look with anger, with hate, and with mistrust, so that even white looks black: but your eyes are bright and shining, and they can see the truth.”
“I’m glad,” said Ilse. “But I wish others could see, too.”
“Yes, so am I glad; so do I wish,” and he put her palms together, and held them between his own.
After brief quiet, he said, “Ilse—I must tell you something. It might make you cry, but you have to promise to be brave about it, all right? Bergov will come anytime now, and he may have me flogged to see you weeping on my shoulder. All right? Can you promise?”
“Is it really awful?”
“That will be for you to decide.”
In the smallest murmur, “All right. I promise.”
“I shall be executed morrow after next.”
Ilse’s howl was like the gale upon a restive sea.
“Hush! If Bergov is coming up the corridor, he’ll hear.”
“No, no, no! Ikorov, no!”
“I’m sorry, but so it is.”
“Did Bergov do this?”
“He’s become impatient with my silence. Perhaps he thought fear would break it.”
“Please, please tell him, Ikorov.”
“No, Ilse. I would die a man sooner than live a dog.”
“You’ll never be a dog to me.”
“But I shall be a dog to myself.”
“You are too good for any such awful thing.”
“So says your innocence—but I am wiser than to rebuke you for it.”
Ilse would have contradicted, “Bergov doesn’t rebuke me,” but could not raise a word against her beloved just now. “I don’t want you to die, Ikorov… You can’t want to die either…?”
“I want to be a man, Ilse.”
“You won’t be a man if you die; you’ll just be a… a…”
“Corpse?—Oh, hush, hush, don’t cry. You’re brother’s coming any minute. I may not be a man dead, but I won’t be a man living either.”
“Then might as well live.”
“Ilse, you are the most innocent, the sweetest child I have ever known and shall ever love. They will tell you that you do not know the ways of the world—let them say that, and be glad you don’t. They are ugly ways. For the likes of you there should be a whole other Earth, born beautiful, as all things are, and barred to all such wretched men.”
“If I had my own world, I’d want you to come too. I don’t want you to go… please… I don’t want you to go. Just tell Bergov and end this—this disaster.”
“Shh. Goodbye, Ilse. I may not have the chance to say it again. Goodbye.”
“Don’t go…” She held him tighter, as though thus she could keep him forever; and that was how her brother found her, appearing after a few swift steps from around the corner.
Ikorov glared at him. “Fraud! You were eavesdropping, weren’t you? Seems like prisoners’ wishes aren’t respected after all.”
“Shut up; I was not,” retorted Bergov.
“How so, then, that you can walk down a corridor in seventeen strides and return in ten? Tapping your foot on the floor—you can’t fool me.”
“I said shut up.—Ilse, get away from him.”
“Don’t kill him, Bergov!”
“I said get away from him.”
Incredibly brief summary of previous events: Ikorov betrayed Ilse's/Bergov's family, Askavar, by kidnapping Ilse and turning her over to the enemy. However, Ikorov repented and (with much trouble) returned her. Askavar is afraid that his nobleness is a trick, and they throw him into prison. They try to get out useful information out of him, but he won't reveal anything until they vow to trust him.