The smoke was much thicker now, causing Alonso’s eyes to stream and his lungs to strain for air. He tore two strips from the blanket on the bed and wet them in the jug of water on the night stand. He kept one for himself and passed the other to his companion.
“Here – try to breath through this, it will stop some of the worst effects of the smoke. Keep your head low as well, if you can – the smoke is not so thick closer to the floor. Now, hold on to the back of my robe and follow me. We’ll take the back stairs and leave by the cellar door”
He could not see where he was going exactly – the combination of smoke and darkness made it impossible to see further than his own hand in front of his face – but he kept one hand to the wall and trusted to his memory to find the way. At the end of the hallway he almost stumbled as his hand pushed into empty space, but he caught himself in time.
“These are the stairs – we are heading down”
The narrow spiral staircase led down into cool darkness, and they soon left the choking smoke behind. Alonso counted the steps, almost without realizing he was doing it, and soon they found themselves in a large cellar with a low, vaulted ceiling that occupied almost all of the space underneath the monastery and extended in places beneath the walls.
Alonso allowed himself a moment to catch his breath, and think. They should be able to leave the cellar without being seen and make their way to the main road and the village under the cover of darkness and the confusion of the fire, but after that? They would be a pair of humble monks on the road, and he didn’t believe that they would attract too much attention, except for the fact that the old man was likely to be missed in short order when a head count was taken in the morning. They had no choice, but to try and put as much distance between themselves and the monastery before the alarm was raised.
His eyes slowly became accustomed to the gloom of the cellar. He had never been down here, and had never had any reason to, so he tried to orientate himself with the layout of the rooms above. There were stacks of boxes, racks of bottles and barrels, some old farm tools and what appeared to be a broken plough, its blade rusted beyond use. He found a stub of a candle, crudely melted onto the wood of a box, and next to it a flint and tinder. He struck the flint and lit the candle, causing fantastical shadows to loom and leer as he lifted it up to light the room.
Alonso made his way slowly through the clutter towards the far wall, and then he heard the old man let out a stifled gasp behind him and tighten his grip on the back of Alonso’s robe before releasing it.
“I … I remember this place”
The old man’s voice was thin and rasping.
“What do you remember?”
The old man did not reply, but pointed to the far corner of the cellar where a heavy oak door, reinforced with iron bands, led into another room. Alonso felt a heavy sense of foreboding as crossed the cellar to open the door and see what lay within.
A small room, carved out of the rock that formed the foundations of the monastery and obviously built in recent years rather than as part of the original structure. The walls were rough and unlined, and Alonso noted with concern a set of manacles and chains cemented into the furthest part of the chamber. In the centre of the room was a large desk and chair, facing the manacles - presumably so an interrogator could be seated in comfort whilst a prisoner would be forced to stand in considerable pain.
There was one conclusion to draw - the room had evidently been installed and furnished for the use of the Inquisition. The old man had proved to have some very dangerous enemies indeed.