The cave - By Kate Mosse

The past

April 1328

Now I see just bone and shadows. I see grief in the dust, in the darkness.

I am the last. The others all are dead. The old and the young have all slipped into darkness. Their souls have gone to a better place than this. At least, I pray that is true.

The end is coming. I welcome it. It has been a slow death, a living death, trapped here, inside this cave. It became our tomb. One by one, every heart stopped beating - my mother, my father, my brother. Now the only sounds are my shallow breathing and the gentle dripping of water down the walls of the cave. It is as if the mountain itself is weeping. As if it is mourning the dead.

During the long years of war, these tunnels gave us shelter. It was an underground city lit only by candles and torches. They kept us safe from the swords of those who hated us, from the broken bones, the torture, the ordeal of fire. Deep in the belly of the mountain, it was never too hot, never too cold. We only left at night, when blackness covered the mountains and the soldiers were sleeping. Only then did I feel the soft air on my cheeks and the wind in my hair.

These are the last words I will write. It will not be long now. I can no longer move my legs. My body does not obey me.

I think of the village where I grew up. I remember the snow that covered the upper fields from November to March every year. I remember the blue and pink and yellow flowers in spring. I remember swimming in the streams and the river, ice-cold from the melt-water that came down from the highest peaks. I remember the bleating of the sheep at the end of every summer day, the warm smell of freshly baked bread and the rattle of the wooden spinning wheels in the square. I remember the ringing of the single bell in the little church tower and how, at dusk each day, the sun came down to earth.

It is a place of ghosts now. The village is empty. The grass has grown wild around the front door of our house. The trees have grown tall in the square. The stone well where the women washed the clothes lies empty.

My last candle has burned out. I have passed too many days and nights in this cave without food and without water. My fingers are stiff and crooked, but I cannot stop writing. If one day the cave is opened and our bodies are found, I want the world to know our story, to understand who we were and why we died. To lay our bodies in the cold earth with a headstone and flowers at our grave. So we are not forgotten.

I do not fear death, though, even after all that happened, I will be sad to leave this life. In these last moments, all I hope is that this record of mine will be found, and that, on a distant day, my words will be read. When all else is done, only words remain. Words endure.

It is done. May God have mercy on my soul.

Marie of Larzat

April 1328

Six hundred years later

April 1928

Chapter One

There was no doubt about it. He was lost.

Frederick Smith glanced at the map book lying on the passenger seat and frowned. If only he had stuck to the main road. He pulled the car over, took off his driving gloves and tried to work out exactly where he was.

He had not seen anyone else for some time. The pale rock of the mountain loomed above the valley. The hillside was covered with ancient woods. The road was a thin strip of grey, winding up, up into the distance.

Freddie was a pleasant-looking young man with freckles and sand-coloured hair. He had an open, trusting look and his mouth was fixed in a half-smile that made him seem simple. In fact, he was thoughtful, engaging, even though he had lost interest in life.

Freddie traced the route he had taken on the map with his finger, trying to work out where he had gone wrong. The brittle paper creaked and cracked under his touch.

He had set out from the French town of Foix where he had spent the night, after a good breakfast of fresh coffee, warm white rolls and butter. He had decided to take a detour and go by the mountain road. He