There were footsteps in the corridor which stopped outside of the door. Inside the cell its occupant recognised the sound of metal scraping on masonry, then the sensation of being pulled firmly against the wall and being held there. The observation panel in the door then slid back enough for someone standing outside to see in, thence the heavy lock operating mechanism could be heard.
The only light in the grim chamber came from a narrow opening at the top of one wall: it was too high to see out of and too small to allow anything of significant size to pass in or out, but just enough light entered for someone outside the door to make sure that the person within was securely fastened before they entered.
A hooded man entered and looked briefly in the direction of the captive, then going across to the wall opposite to them, they pulled a length of chain out of the wall. Another hooded guard led a third person into the cell ... this third man also wore a thick leather girdle around his waist and he had shackles around his ankles, joined together by a short length of chain which only allowed him to shuffle along in small strides. His hands were bound behind his back and the second guard led him into the cell where, like the other prisoner, the chain was passed through loops in the girdle, where it was held in place by a sturdy padlock. Once securely tethered by the chain around his waist, the man’s hands were freed and the two guards left the cell and locked the door. Their final act was to slacken the chain that held the cell’s original occupant, who quickly pulled it back through the wall, allowing more but still limited movement.
The new prisoner pulled the crude hood from their head then massaged his wrists. Only then did he look across at the other prisoner. A young woman looked back at him curiously; her hair was long and unkempt and apart from the thick leather girdle that she wore around her abdomen she was completely naked. Holding one finger up to his mouth, he beckoned to her to move closer. They each had enough spare chain to almost meet in the middle, where the man leaned towards her ear.
“I know who you are and I’ve come to get you out of here.”
“Did my father send you?” she asked, calmly.
“Then you’ve wasted your time!” she said in her normal speaking volume, after stepping back to her original place, “I’ll take my chances here.” The man remained equally calm.
“Look, I only met your father briefly and I have to admit that I didn’t much like what I saw, but he offered me a lot of money to get you out of here! Plans have been made and I certainly don’t intend to stay here any longer than I have to, so when the time comes to go, I won’t insist on you coming; but I will promise you that if you don’t want to go back to your father, I won’t make you.” She looked at him impassively.
“Well, I obviously don’t really want to stay here, and if you really promise not to make me go back...” He smiled.
“I’ll do most things if the price is right ... but if my promise means anything to you, you have it.”
“Very well then, I believe you and I put myself in your hands, just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it.”
“A wise choice!” he exclaimed, “We have some time to wait, though. But may I ask you one thing ... your clothes?”
It had been some time since she was abducted and she had gotten so used to it that it now seemed quite normal, so she grinned in the near-darkness.
“Ah, yes! Well ... I tried to run away several times after I was captured, so in the end they took away my clothes, thinking that would stop me. It wouldn’t have, but I never got another chance, anyway. I don’t know what they planned to do with me ... ransom me, I suppose ... but they never gave me my clothes back, so maybe they have other, less pleasant, ideas. May I ask you a question now: may I know your name, Sir, since you already know mine?”
He bowed low, accompanied by an obviously over-affected flourish of his arm.
“Of course, My Lady! You may call me Faucon.”
“Well, Faucon, you said that you had been planning and that we had some time to wait, so if it’s all right with you, I’d like to get some sleep now ... wake me when necessary.”
“A good idea! For when the time comes for action we must be prepared to move quickly and decisively ... and I won’t need to wake you.”
Night fell and little now could be seen within the cell, although the sounds of two people sleeping were noticeable. After some time both were awakened by a noise within the cell; Faucon had been expecting it, of course, but the woman woke with a start.
“Is it time?” she whispered.
“No, it’s just the next part of the plan, My Lady ... you’d best try and go back to sleep.”
The sun was already climbing in the sky when the Lady Jacinthe woke again; she was roused, somewhat rudely, by the movement of the chain around her body. Faucon had heard the noises without and had braced himself in readiness for his own chain’s movement. As before, the panel in the door opened and once assured that both prisoners were secure, the door was unlocked. Two hooded gaolers entered the cell and without speaking placed water and food on the floor.
“Why, thank you, My Good Man!” Faucon exclaimed, “ ... And you may prepare my bath whenever it suits!”
The gaoler moved as if to swing a heavy boot in his direction but then stopped himself. Jacinthe put a hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter.
“And was that part of the plan?” she asked after they’d gone.
“No, not exactly, but it had the right effect on you ... I don’t suppose you’ve had much to laugh about since you’ve been here, Lady Jacinthe.”
They sat side by side in the middle of the cell, at the length of their chains. Despite her nudity, Jacinthe felt no vulnerability and she recognised the attraction that she felt for the stranger beside her. The chamber of their confinement was below ground level and was by no means cold, but a little shiver ran up her spine. Faucon sensed this.
“Once we are gone from this place, My Lady, I will give you my shirt, but for now I don’t wish to draw attention to anything unusual, as our guards may return at any time.”
They ate the food that was insipid but not inedible and then they spoke in whispers that still seemed too loud for prudence.
“That noise that woke me earlier ... what was it?”
Faucon pulled six inches of arrow shaft from his boot, pointed tip still attached. There was also a small piece of supple leather.
“My delivery system,” he said, then, holding up the leather, “and lock picks; but I cannot use them until the diversion begins and that could be at any time, but that time I must leave to my comrades to decide. As we may have some time to wait, My Lady, may I ask you why you do not wish to return to your father’s halls?”
“Yes, I will tell you, Faucon, I owe you that much; but it is on the understanding that from now on you call me only Jacinthe, for once free I am fully resolved to leave my old life behind me.
“Your instincts were right when you said that you did not like my father, few if any people do, but he has great power over men’s lives and he will do anything to increase that power; no matter what the cost to others. Do you know of Baron Belette?”
“Aye, I do!” Faucon exclaimed, “And often, too, have I seen the effects of his infamy!”
“Well, my father wishes to form an alliance with Belette the Beast: and I was the price that my father was only too willing to pay. I was told that I was being sent to stay with a cousin who lives beyond the Great Forest, and I was only told as I was leaving about the marriage bargain that had been struck, and that in all probability I was leaving home for the last time. As you know, in this land a father’s word is law unto his daughter, so I thought only to use the long journey to contrive a means to escape my fate; but as you can see, fate had it’s own ideas. As you have spoken to my father since then, Faucon, can you tell me what became of my attendants on the journey? Did they make it safely to either my father’s or my cousin’s halls?”
“Alas, I know not, Jacinthe, but one or more at least may have made it back to your father with these brigand’s demands. But when we reach my camp I will ask around to see if anyone knows what became of them.”