Curiosity hit Katherine. Should she go there and listen in to what was said? From where she stood now she couldn't understand a single word. Listen or go to the dungeon? Both could bring information about his plans and dark secrets.
Well, if the opportunity presented itself, she should just go and take it. The dungeon would still be there tomorrow, right?
Slowly and carefully, she sneaked closer. When she reached the corridor where the voices originated from, she peeked around the corner. Two guards stood to both sides of the door to the earl's study. Well, damn, so far for listening in.
For a few seconds she tried to hear what the earl talked about from the spot where she was. She knew his deep voice already, it was melodic with an unfathomable inner strength. The other person seemed to be Sam. It was quite difficult to understand them, but she differentiated a few words. "... evacuation completed... soldiers... trap... strong blow to the Renat kingdom..."
Was there a war coming up? Renat kingdom ... wasn't it bordering the earl's territory? Don't say there will be an attack here! And what was the trap all about? Were they trapped by the Renat kingdom or the other way around? Maybe she should have left with the merchants... she didn't want to be involved in a war. Especially not one that didn't even concern her. Neither the Renat kingdom nor the Icelands were her home country after all.
She tried to hear more, but the voices had gone quiet. What now? Should she try to flee and go back to the Dragsa kingdom? No, it was possibly too late for that as they said the evacuation was already completed. She could only hope that the earl would protect her.
Troubled, she bit the nail of her thumb. That was really bad news. She wished the earl had told her, but on the other hand she didn't want to see his face again just yet. Slowly, she turned and made her way to the entrance hall. Should she still risk it and try inspecting the dungeon? There was a possibility to anger the earl more when she was found out. Well, if so, she just had to make sure not to be discovered. And maybe what she found in there would help her decide what steps to take next in her plan for revenge.
The door to the dungeon wasn't guarded. She'd seen this by day-time already and suspected the reason was either because the earl trusted that no-one would reach it anyway because they had to get into the mansion first or there where guards inside the dungeon, waiting for anyone who wanted to break in. Knowing the earl, it would be the second option. She had to be very careful not to get caught and think about a counter-measure.
Silently, she moved the door handle. It was locked. Well, that was also a reason not to place guards. Damn. What now? How would the heroines in books handle this? By stealing the keys? She didn't even know where they where. Lock-picking? Well, if she knew how to do that, she would not be thinking now. But maybe she should try it. They would normally only need a hair pin to do this, right? Trying wouldn't hurt.
Just when she felt for one of her hair pins, she heard steps from inside. Hastily, she searched for a hiding place, cursing how free and open the entrance hall was. There was not a single side table or knight armor in sight. Her only option was to hide at the other side of the big staircase, which was quite far away. Nonetheless, she ran over there.
The door to the dungeon sprang open. A tall, slim shadow walked out, so skinny that it resembled a skeleton. Katherine watched it and held her breath. It didn't have the right stature for a guard, but what else could it be? A prisoner?
Fearfully, Katherine lowered her head and hid even deeper behind the staircase. She heard the figure whistle in a low tune, and when she recognized the song, all hairs on her body stood upright. It was a murder ballad she heard from a traveling musician once. The story it told was engraved in her mind as it was just too horrible.
It started with an undertaker named Bale, eating the flesh of the deceased because he was too poor and had three children to bring up. He regularly brought this flesh back home and fed it to them. When the villagers found out about it, the undertaker took his children and fled. Hunted by the landlord, they could only hide in the forest where food was scarce. When the family was found, the three children were reduced to two and a sack of bones. The father was hanged, but the children survived and emigrated to a different place. The last verse was about how five years later in that new place children started to vanish and the rumor that the Bale-children where eating meat again.
Thinking back to that, Katherine shuddered, and in her mind cursed the creepy person that was whistling the Bale-ballad in the middle of the night like he had nothing else to do. Wasn't he scared to be discovered?
The steps and the whistling neared the stairs and Katherine prayed that the person wouldn't notice her. What if it was really a prisoner? What if he was one of the Bale-children escaping to eat flesh again?
The whistling sound came closer and closer and Katherine lowered herself so much she was nearly kissing the floor. Suddenly, she wished there were guards here. It would make getting into the dungeon impossible, but at least there wouldn't be this scary prisoner wandering around outside. It was way worse than the night when the earl was angry, even though it was brighter this time due to the moon. At least the earl was a devil she knew already. But this prisoner ... who knew how insane he was to even whistle while jail-breaking? Don't see me, she prayed. Please just go away!
She could hear him just a few steps away on the stairs. If only the earl would come out of his study right now and coincidentally walk into the entrance hall. He or his guards could cope with the prisoner easily. But to her dismay, there were no food-steps other than the prisoners, and suddenly, they stopped. The whistling, too, was replaced by deafening silence.
Then a voice from right above her sounded: "Hello there, girl."
Katherine looked up and saw a wax-white face with a baleful grin hovering right before her nose. She screamed as loud as she could, crawling backwards hastily, but the figure with the wax-face was faster.
He flanked over the handrail and pulled her close by her dress, before pressing a hand to her mouth. "Stop it! You will wake everyone up!"
Even though he was skinny, he was stronger than Katherine at least and didn't loosen his grip even though she kicked his legs and clawed for his face. Instead he pulled her in, pressing the hand stronger onto her mouth and nose. She nearly couldn't breath anymore and in panic tried to pull on his hand, when she finally heard rushing steps and the noise of armor and weapons from above.
It was the first time she was this glad to hear the commanding voice of the earl. He would save her from this prisoner's claws. He would protect her. Struggling wildly, she finally freed her mouth. "Here! I'm here!"
When the guards with lanterns surrounded them, the prisoner slowly let go of her. She didn't think about the why, when she stumbled forwards into the earl's direction. Unknowingly, she longed for that secure feeling of his warm hug back in the cave.
But when she reached out to him, a gloved hand on her forehead held her back. "What are you doing out here, little girl? Shouldn't you be asleep?"
"What?", Katherine asked, confused and hurt. She was just attacked by a criminal and he was still concerned why she was out of bed? Couldn't he be more sensitive?!
Annoyed, she freed herself from his hand and saw the unperturbed look on his face and how the guards where just standing there randomly. "What? Won't you size the criminal?!"