Donatella di Rossini awoke in the same dank room in the cellar of the monastery that her father had been imprisoned in until the events of recent days. She had no way of knowing this, but she probably wouldn't have been surprised to learn how the paths of events had been entwined. She had been manipulated like a pawn in a game of chess and now she had been captured.
She felt light headed and nauseous, and she fought back an urge to vomit. She breathed deeply a few times to clear her head and looked around to try and establish her circumstances. She quickly realised that her wrists were manacled and chained to a bracket on the wall above her. The chain was too short to allow sitting or kneeling, and the only position that did not cause exquisite pain to her wrists was to stand with her hands raised above her head.
She looked around the room. The walls were damp and streaked with black mould. The only illumination was a single guttering candle on a desk in front of her, just out of reach. She still had her clothes - at least her captors had granted her that small bit of dignity, but they were dirty and torn where she had been dragged whilst she was unconscious from the effects of the drugged wine. She could also see her other possessions - her sword, dagger and purse thrown into the far corner of the room along with her cloak, and well out of her reach.
She made a mental inventory of her injuries. Her body felt like a mass of bruises, but she couldn't feel anything worse than that. She would heal, given time.
A guard outside the door had obviously heard her groans as she had started to wake up and looked in to check on her.
"Awake are you, missy? You are going to wish that you were still in the land of nod, very shortly. There is a clerical gentleman who is very keen to talk to you, and I don't think that you are in his good books at the moment, oh no."
The guard gave a nasty laugh and leered at her showing his blackened and cracked teeth.
Sure enough, it was only a few minutes later than a priest clad in a simple, plain black robe entered the room and sat down at the desk, lighting a number of other candles from the remaining stub of the existing one. He had a sheaf of papers with him and he started to read them, studiously ignoring Donatella. He was making notes with a quill pen that he occasionally dipped into a small bottle of ink by his right hand.
She felt anger starting to boil within her and had conflicting impulses to act the cowed prisoner or to lash out verbally. She contained her initial impulse and waited patiently to see what the priest would say or do.
Eventually he looked up, as if noticing her for the first time.
"Ah, signora di Rossini - how very pleasant to see you. I have one very important question for you, and there is only one correct answer. Giving an answer that displeases me will lead to a great deal of suffering for you. Please bear in mind that failing to tell the truth at all times is a most grave mortal sin, and I would be remiss if I did not show due concern for your immortal soul by scourging you until your sin is expiated by blood."
He stopped to let his words sink in. Donatella knew that this was all part of the pantomime of interrogation.
"Now, think very carefully, and answer me this. Where is the gold?"
Donatella started with surprise.
"What gold? I'm sorry, I haven't a clue what you are talking about."
"Oh dear. I'm afraid that wasn't the answer that I was expecting. Are you sure you won't reconsider your answer? No? Very well. There will be time to recant later, but for now there must be penance"
He pushed the heavy door closed and told the guard to stand watch and let no man enter. From within his robe he produced a knotted whip with several strands attached to a short wooden handle. Donatella recognised it as a cat o'nine tails, or something very similar. It was a barbarous instrument of punishment, designed to tear the skin and leave permanent scars that would never heal.
He stalked towards her in an unhurried way, as a cat will toy with a mouse cowering in a corner. He gave an experimental flick with the whip towards Donatella's face and it caught her under the eye before she could flinch, drawing a line of blood. She gave an involuntary yelp of pain and bit it back straight away.
"Scream all you like, no one is going to hear you down here, I can assure you."
The priest seemed to be enjoying the anticipation of inflicting pain on an innocent and helpless victim, but Donatella refused to give him the satisfaction of pleading for mercy.
“This will hurt me much more than it hurts you”, said the priest, drawing back his arm to strike for a second time. Donatella instinctively covered her face with her forearm and the strands of the whip coiled around and became entangled. Dontatella saw an opportunity and tugged as hard as she was able, drawing the priest toward her and pulling him off balance. Next she reached up the bracket above her head with both hands and used it as a support to deliver a stinging scissor kick to the side of the man’s head. This had the desired effect of knocking him out cold and landing him in a heap on the floor at her feet.
Donatella kicked off one of her boots and used her bare foot to push back the priest’s black robe. She was in luck. Around his neck was a fine silver chain with a key attached to it. She grasped it between her toes and carefully lifted it free. Finally she flicked it up into the air and nimbly caught in one of her hands. She carefully unlocked the manacles and massaged the life back into her aching wrists before stripping the priest of his robe and locking him into the place that she had occupied mere seconds earlier.
The priest was starting to groan as he recovered from the kick to his head, so Donatella tore a strip of cloth from the inner lining of the robe to gag him. His eyes widened with horror as he realised his predicament and tried to call for help, but all that he could manage was a muffled squawk.
“What was that you were saying about it hurting you more than me?”
Donatella chuckled as she donned his robe and concealed her weapons beneath it.
“In this place, no one can hear you scream, remember?”
She quickly examined the papers on the desk and on a hunch picked up one with a list of names, figures and symbols, and folded it into an inside pocket. She extinguished all but the feeblest candle and pulled the cowl of her robe over her face.
She had been lucky so far, but would her luck hold for much longer? It was time to escape from this place.
She approached the door, and picked up a heavy iron key hanging from a hook on the wall. She hesitated for a moment and then opened the door. The guard was standing on the far side of the cellar and evidently did not notice anything awry as she locked the door and pocketed the key.
"Going to leave the little bitch to stew for a while, eh Father?" called the guard and Donatella nodded which seemed to satisfy him. She turned away and started to climb the stairs up and away from the cellar.
So far, so good.