Chapter 5

The reaction was all that she'd expected. At first some partygoers, with more courage than wits and in most cases in a state of advanced inebriation, had immediately rushed off to search the gardens. Those who might have argued for a more orderly investigation found themselves overruled and left behind to console the frail. While impetuous idiots tripped over each other in the dark and fired their pistols at shadows, other guests slipped away to their carriages without waiting to say goodbye. But someone, Isolde thought it was the hostess, had the presence of mind to send for the guard. The host and hostess in fact, after the initial shock, rose to the occasion with such admirable skill anyone might have believed they dealt with such things every day. The hostess took charge of the order in which the guests departed and the host organised parties of capable, serious-minded individuals to round up the hot-heads who were infesting his grounds and to conduct a proper hunt for the assassin. Isolde was given a chair, a rug, a hot drink and attracted a succession of comforters all avid to hear the grim details and pat her hand.

She was still under siege and wondering how to extricate herself when one of the hosts' search parties returned, accompanied by several guardsmen. A forlorn, bedraggled figure was pressed forward, hands tied. His clothes were ragged and muddy, his flesh bloodied and bruised. Golightly squinted at Isolde through one good eye, his other was swollen shut. He opened his mouth and mouthed one word.

"Sorry,"

Not many hours later Isolde sat alone in a cramped cell, wondering where it had all gone wrong.

The cell was in the West Gate guardhouse. No doubt Golightly was somewhere nearby, but Isolde could hear only distant, muffled sounds; the creak of wood far above, the clang of metal on metal, voices too faint to distinguish words. From where she sat to the door was ten paces. From the well-appointed elegance of a manor ballroom she'd been reduced to a bucket and a small heap of mouldering straw. Still, there was no sense in making things worse. Isolde brushed off her gown, now sadly stained, and arranged the straw so that the cleanest parts were on top. They'd allowed her to keep her cape so she laced it more tightly and tugged it so that it covered as much of her skin as possible. Freezing air blew in through a window set high in the back wall. It was barred, but even had it not been no one could have used it to escape.

I won't be frightened. I won't be cold.

She blew on her fingers and clamped her mouth shut so that her teeth couldn't chatter. She thought of fires and summer heat. In the dim light that came though the small barred window in the cell door she examined the walls and floors, reading the messages other prisoners had written or scratched on the stones. They were mostly the futile gestures of bitter, impotent rage, but here and there was evidence of a spark of wit, a glimmer of intelligence. There were pictures; a badly-drawn flower, a bird in flight. Some long-ago comedian had chosen to scrawl a distasteful rhyme.

Golightly had betrayed her. He could have said nothing, but had chosen to drag her down with him. On the other hand it was obvious to her now that he hadn't been the only one. If the guards had known nothing then they surely would not have believed for one moment that such an abject wretch as Golightly had been working with an apparently blameless and wealthy guest at a grand ball. Not even grown man, but a defenceless young girl - all lace and silk and innocence. No, it wasn't possible.

Someone else. Who?

Whoever it is, Isolde thought, I'll find it out. She entertained herself for a while with thoughts of the revenge she would exact. Of course she was powerless. Of course she could do nothing while locked in a cell but anger kept her warm at least. She held the rage within herself, letting it heat her blood. She nursed it and fed it like someone coaxing a fire from damp wood.  But still she couldn't help shuddering now and then and her throat would tighten as she imagined how a rope might feel around her neck. How it would prickle and burn and yet feel cold. She held her breath until her head felt loose, her vision darkened and her lungs ached. She put a not quite steady hand to the bones of her neck and wondered what it was like to feel them snap.

That would not happen. She would find a way out. Beg for mercy, weep and claim she was made to work.  Claim she'd been threatened, coerced. Where her life was at stake she had no pride. Would do anything. That is my problem. I will do anything. That is why I'm here.

Eventually, she lay down and slept on the rancid straw. In sleep the self-control that kept panic at bay deserted her and in her dreams she ran through clinging air as thick as tar. 

 

The End

4 comments about this story Feed