Table of Contents
Praise for Kate Mosse
‘Ghosts, duels, murders, ill-fated love and
conspiracy . . . addictively readable’
‘This adventure will keep you engrossed’
‘A compulsive, fantastical, historical yarn’
‘Try this if you enjoyed The Da Vinci Code
but fancy something a bit more meaty’
News of the World
‘A . . . thrilling tale. Eat your heart out, Dan Brown, this is the real thing’
Kate Mosse is the author of six books, including the international number one bestsellersLabyrinth
won the 2006 Richard and Judy Best Read award. It was also chosen as one of Waterstone’s Top 25 Novels of the past 25 years. Her novels have been translated into 38 languages. Kate is a presenter for BBC radio and television, and lives with her family in West Sussex and France. Find out more atwww.katemosse.com
An Orion paperback
First published in Great Britain in 2009
by Orion Books Ltd
Orion House, 5 Upper St Martin’s Lane,
London WC2H 9EA
An Hachette UK company
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
Copyright © Mosse Associates Ltd 2009
The right of Kate Mosse to be identified as the author
of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted,
in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior
permission of the copyright owner.
used under licence
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library.
eISBN : 978 1 4091 1594 6
Typeset at the Spartan Press Ltd,
Printed and bound in Great Britain by
Clays Ltd, St Ives plc
The Orion Publishing Group’s policy is to use papers that
are natural, renewable and recyclable products and
made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The logging
and manufacturing processes are expected to conform to
the environmental regulations of the country of origin.
Now I see just bone and shadows. I see grief in the dust, in the darkness.
I am the last. The others all are dead. The old and the young have all slipped into darkness. Their souls have gone to a better place than this. At least, I pray that is true.
The end is coming. I welcome it. It has been a slow death, a living death, trapped here, inside this cave. It became our tomb. One by one, every heart stopped beating - my mother, my father, my brother. Now the only sounds are my shallow breathing and the gentle dripping of water down the walls of the cave. It is as if the mountain itself is weeping. As if it is mourning the dead.
During the long years of war, these tunnels gave us shelter. It was an underground city lit only by candles and torches. They kept us safe from the swords of those who hated us, from the broken bones, the torture, the ordeal of fire. Deep in the belly of the mountain, it was never too hot, never too cold. We only left at night, when blackness covered the mountains and the soldiers were
sleeping. Only then did I feel the soft air on my cheeks and the wind in my hair.
These are the last words I will write. It will not be long now. I can no longer move my legs. My body does not obey me.
I think of the village where I grew up. I remember the snow that covered the upper fields from November to March every year. I remember the blue and pink and yellow flowers in spring. I remember swimming in the streams and the river, ice-cold from the melt-water that came down from the highest peaks. I remember the bleating of the sheep at the end of every summer day, the warm smell of freshly baked bread and the rattle of the wooden spinning wheels in the square. I remember the ringing of the single bell in the little church tower and how, at dusk each day, the sun came down to earth.
It is a place of ghosts now. The village is empty. The grass has grown wild around the front door of our house. The trees have grown tall in the square. The stone well where the women washed the clothes lies empty.
My last candle has burned out. I have passed too many days and nights in this cave without food and without water. My fingers are stiff and crooked, but I cannot stop writing. If one day the cave is opened and our bodies are found, I want the world to know our story, to understand who we were and why we
died. To lay our bodies in the cold earth with a headstone and flowers at our grave. So we are not forgotten
I do not fear death, though, even after all that happened, I will be sad to leave this life. In these last moments, all I hope is that this record of mine will be found, and that, on a distant day, my words will be read. When all else is done, only words remain. Words endure.
It is done. May God have mercy on my soul.
Marie of Larzat
Six hundred years later
There was no doubt about it. He was lost.
Frederick Smith glanced at the map book lying on the passenger seat and frowned. If only he had stuck to the main road. He pulled the car over, took off his driving gloves and tried to work out exactly where he was.
He had not seen anyone else for some time. The pale rock of the mountain loomed above the valley. The hillside was covered with ancient woods. The road was a thin strip of grey, winding up, up into the distance.
Freddie was a pleasant-looking young man with freckles and sand-coloured hair. He had an open, trusting look and his mouth was fixed in a half-smile that made him seem simple. In fact, he was thoughtful, engaging, even though he had lost interest in life.
Freddie traced the route he had taken on the map with his finger, trying to work out where he had gone wrong. The brittle paper creaked and cracked under his touch.
He had set out from the French town of Foix
where he had spent the night, after a good breakfast of fresh coffee, warm white rolls and butter. He had decided to take a detour and go by the mountain road. He hoped the views would lift his spirits, restore him. He wanted to enjoy life again. It had been a long time since anything much mattered.
At first all had gone well and Freddie had enjoyed the drive. It was a beautiful landscape, a place of wild contrasts - the splendour of the mountains ahead, the green beauty of the river valleys and gorges, the endless chill blue sky, the river running alongside. On the plains, row after row of grapes on the vine stretched as far as the eye could see and there were olive trees with their silver-green leaves and black fruit. On the terraces of the houses, he saw earth-coloured pots filled with white and pink geraniums and blooms the size of a man’s hand.
As he drove south, following the line of the river, he saw villages hidden in the folds of the mountains. On every peak stood the remains of a long-deserted fortress. Freddie knew the region had a terrible and bloody history. In the Middle Ages these silent, still plains and valleys had been the setting for more than a hundred years of war. The echoes of the past were everywhere.
The south-west of France had suffered less than the north-east in the recent war that had torn Europe apart. Even so, Freddie noticed that in every village there were monuments recording the names of all those who had died fighting for their country.
Freddie’s brother George had gone to war and never come back. Missing in action in July 1917, presumed dead, his body had never been found. Even now, more than ten years on, Freddie still found it hard to believe George wouldn’t stroll in the door one day. He thought he heard him whistling. Or he imagined him sitting in the old armchair blowing smoke rings.
Freddie took off his flat cap and ran his fingers over his oiled hair, smoothing it flat. After hours of jolting and rattling over stones and potholes, all he wanted was a long, hot bath and a whisky and soda.
He sighed. He spent too much time thinking about the past. The present was difficult enough. He was lost and would stay lost unless he worked out where he was.
Freddie was due to meet up with his two oldest friends in the small town of Quillan at six o’clock that evening. Their idea was to have a few days walking in the mountains on the
French-Spanish border. It was something of an annual tradition. They had met at boarding school, then gone to the same university. After three years of drinking and love affairs and study, they had gone their separate ways but stayed firm friends.
Each man found himself looking for work in the grim years after the end of the First World War. Brown did something in the City and was doing rather well. Turner had taken over the family boat-making business. Freddie had followed in his father’s footsteps and become a teacher. He didn’t enjoy it. He found the boys troublesome and the work dull. But there was nothing he would rather be doing. George’s death had knocked the stuffing out of him. Since then, nothing seemed to matter much.
Brown and Turner had set off together the previous weekend. They took the night crossing from Portsmouth and spent ten days driving down the west coast of France. Freddie had the boys’ end-of-term exam papers to mark, so had not been able to get away.
He peered up through the windscreen. It looked like the weather was going to turn. The sky was grey, the colour of slate, and black clouds threatened rain. He glanced at the clock on the walnut dashboard of his little Ford. It
was already two o’clock. There was no chance he’d make it by six.
Freddie studied the map for a few minutes more. There were only two options. He could press on or he could turn round and head back towards the last village. He thought that was where he had taken a wrong turning. But that was at least an hour ago. He couldn’t afford to lose any more time.
Freddie shut the map book. He put his driving cap and leather gloves back on and eased the little car into gear. If he was right, this road should meet up again with the main highway beyond this ridge.
He fixed his eyes on the road and carried on.