Through a Dark Mist - By Marsha Canham


She could swear she heard voices—not just one, but several—and she struggled painfully to her feet, her back scraping the length of the rough stone wall. The cell was small, cold, and damp. The air stank with a combination of mould and salt spray, echoed with the sound of waves crashing furiously against unseen ramparts of rock.

Servanne slid her hands up through the slime that coated the rotted wood of the narrow oak door and reached for a fingerhold on the ledge carved high above her head. A natural chink in the stone passed for the only window and was her sole means of determining if it was day or night. Even then she had to rely on her instincts to know if it was hazy sunlight or bright moonlight penetrating the tangled mat of moss and lichen that grew over the outer wall.

Scarcely average in height, she could do no more than curl her torn fingers over the lip of serrated stone and pull herself up on tiptoes to judge the source of light. Was it daylight, moonlight, or firelight? Was it voices she had heard, or was it the surf and the wind playing games with her sanity? Someone was playing games with her sanity, that much was a certainty, for between the incredible cold, the dampness, the incessant pounding of the waves, and the complete isolation, she feared the strongest of minds could not long resist the lure into madness.

Was this what De Gournay hoped for? Was he hoping madness, or the threat of it, would wear away her resistance and make her succumb to his demands like a sheep succumbs to slaughter?

Servanne’s eyes were dry and burning, and she realized she must have slept for a time despite her vows against it. She could not distinguish much in the murky half-light that permeated her cell, but she could hear enough furtive rustling in the mouldered straw to know she was not the solitary inhabitant of the stone cage. The terror of waking up to find rats gnawing on her flesh had decided her against seeking refuge in sleep, but after having wept a pool of tears, her eyelids had simply grown too swollen to resist any further.

With an anguished sob she slumped against the uneven stone wall, the tears stinging hot and sudden in her eyes. There were no voices. No one had come to rescue her, no one had even come to see if she was alive or dead since she had first been flung into the cell. There were guards out there somewhere; she had heard the occasional clink of armour as they paced back and forth to warm themselves. And one of them seemed to take special delight in pausing outside the door to describe in lurid detail what he and his companions intended to do with her to relieve their boredom.

Servanne suppressed a moan as she clasped her small hands around her upper arms and hugged herself through a violent bout of shivering. Sweet Mother Mary in Heaven, but she was cold! Cold clean through to the marrow of her bones. The pale yellow silk of her tunic was no protection against elements that were causing discomfort to coarse, sweat-stained men who stood about in bullhide armour and full overlays of Damascan chain mail. Petite, slender as a willow, regal as befitting a gentlewoman of noble birth, Servanne de Briscourt had appeared before the gawping, staring guardsmen like a sylph, her gown and surcoat frothing about her ankles with the airiness of sea foam, her long blonde hair left unbraided, free of its confining wimple, and cascading in a wealth of glossy curls to her waist. For the duration of her week-long stay at Bloodmoor Keep, she had felt their hot eyes devouring her, and until this morning, she had been able to return their hungry stares coolly and disdainfully, confident they would not dare to lay so much as a fingertip to the heel of her slipper.

The yellow silk was torn in a dozen places now, soiled with the filth and muck of her stone cell. Her face felt puffed, and she knew it was bruised and badly discoloured. Her slim white arms were marbled black and blue from the steely grip of uncaring hands; she had lost one dainty silk slipper and the jewelled girdle of gold links she had worn about her hips had long been broken up among her captors to compensate them for their troubles.

Her cell measured four