Careless of the noise she was making, Eleanor splashed wildly in the water in a desperate effort to keep herself above the surface. Then, in the midst of her panic, she remembered that she could swim – by Christ, of course she could! Shocked by her sudden plunge into the chill water, all reason must have been driven from her mind. Calmer now, she kicked out with her legs until she could rest her trembling arms upon the muddy edge of what she imagined was a fish pond. Clambering out of the water proved a lot more difficult than falling in so that, by the time she scrambled out, she was thoroughly exhausted and her aching left shoulder was crying out for mercy.
Soaked through and hands plastered with an evil-smelling slime from the water’s edge, Eleanor lay for a time, allowing her cold, wracked body to recover a little. She peered across the pond, but could not tell how large it was. Nonetheless, it was an obstacle she must go around if she was to reach Acton Court. Gathering what little strength she had left, she heaved herself up onto her knees and managed to stand up. But which way would offer the shortest route, she wondered? Never having visited the house before and unable to see more than ten feet ahead of her, all she had left was guesswork.
On rather shaky legs, she set off to her right, but could not find the furthest extent of the water. Gradually, it dawned upon her that she was walking around a large moat. It was a surprise to her because, since Acton Court was a moated manor, she expected the house to be close within the moat. So, if she had indeed stumbled upon the moat then where, in the name of God, was the house? However much she glared at the trees on the other side of the water, no building of any sort appeared; nor was there a bridge across it either. She was feeling very cold now and her breath misted the air as she walked on.
There must be more than one moat, she decided, but whether there was or not, what was clear was that she must still cross this stretch of water to get to the house. While she walked on, silently cursing the lack of an easy crossing place, she thought she glimpsed a distant glimmer of light through the trees. Was that a house, further away? With a jolt, she realised that the light she could see was drawing closer now – and wavering like the light of a torch. Someone was looking for her and the knowledge brought tears of relief to her tired eyes. Mary must have returned safely and now they were coming for her. If she crossed the moat, she reckoned they would find her all the sooner.
She stopped and took several deep breaths, trying to persuade herself to re-enter the water which she knew was deep, dark and filthy. And who knew what vile creatures might live in there, she pondered? But then, what did a little more water matter since she was already soaked through? She gulped in another lungful of air but just as she was about to slip back into the moat, she felt rough hands upon her shoulders.
“Lost, are you?” said a voice.
At once, she was lifted bodily off her feet and borne away from the water. Screaming her despair, she wrestled and wriggled with her captor, but her arms were pinned to her side in his strong grip.
Other, more familiar voices sounded from the trees beyond the moat.
“Lady! We’re coming for you!” It was Hal – dependable Hal.
And another voice rang out, a Breton echo from her past – a voice she never expected to hear again. But her attempts to shriek a reply were cut short when her abductor struck her on the side of the head with his fist.
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