Chapter 1

A fateful night


It was just one of those normal nights, neither hot nor cold; there was a slight breeze, the sea was calm with occasional little waves that made the handsome ship with its billowing white sails rock a little now and then. Yes, you could call it a peaceful night where one could stroll around the deck and breathe in the fresh salty air, but things were far from peaceful on that ship…

A party was in progress since the ship's departure from Dover. From the many windows you could see beautiful ladies in their elegant finery talking in high lilting tones to gentlemen in dark suits. The strains of a waltz played by a small group of musicians could be heard over the chatter; waiters hastened to and fro bearing trays of champagne, the clinking of glasses, the laughter and happy chatter, the light tapping of feet as couples danced around the room was like sweet music to the young Marchioness de Candale who stood with her husband, the famous Marquis de Candale talking and laughing with her friends.

"Would you like a drink Stephan?" she asked as she took two glasses from a tray and offered one to her husband.

Smiling in to her lovely blue eyes Stephan de Candale accepted the glass and slightly raising it towards her; he sipped the champagne in a silent toast.

Baron Arnoff approached the happy couple smiling to himself as he watched them share a silent moment together smiling to one another. When he came up to them the Marchioness called out happy greetings and he replied laughingly smiling at both of them, a kind twinkle in his eyes.

After talking to the happy couple for sometime the Baron could not help but notice that the young marchioness seemed nervous or worried about something, she kept looking at the far end of the room expecting someone to come.

"I see that Sophia is worried about something" remarked the Baron

The marchioness seemed to have found whoever she was looking for and the Baron noticed that she kept looking at the person with a look of worry on her face.

"I hope nothing is wrong with Marie, I can see Therese coming towards us" said Sophia lightly touching her husband's arm.

"Maria is fine love, Therese is an excellent nanny, there is no need to worry darling" said Stephan as he put an arm around her to comfort her.

Therese had been Marie's nanny since her birth, unlike most nannies she wasn't very friendly and spoke very little but she took very good care of her charge and the Marquis and Marchioness de Candale had nothing to complain about. There was also another important reason they employed Therese; she was the only one apart from Sophia who Marie was really comfortable with. This could be due to the striking resemblance between the two women especially their eyes; which were both a clear icy blue.

"What is it Therese? Did she wake up? Is she having a temperature?" asked a worried Sophia disengaging from her husband's arm around her.

"Madame, Marie has been having a restless night and she wouldn't go to sleep until I promised her to bring her mother" said Therese.

"Oh! I must go to her at once!" exclaimed Sophia and with an apologetic look towards her husband and Baron Arnoff she said "If you would excuse me messieurs" and hurried after Therese.

"She is very concerned about little Marie" observed the Baron watching her leave the room.

"Marie has not been her usual little self lately" said Stephan sipping some more of the wine "I am a little worried myself I…uhh…arrrghhhh!!!"

"Stephan! Stephan my boy!" the Baron cried catching hold of the Marquis who had turned a shade of scarlet and appeared to be choking; the glass of champagne slipped from his fingers and crashed to the floor, there were cries and shrieks from the women, some of the men rushed to their aid, some ran to where the Marquis's prone figure lay on the floor. The lively party had ended dramatically.

"Therese something seems to be amiss in the ballroom" said the Marchioness as they made their way on the deck to Maria's cabin. She stopped in her tracks; "listen! I can hear people screaming, I hope we are not attacked by pirates! It seems so unlikely though Therese…Therese?"

But Therese had vanished from her side, Sophia spun around it was dark and almost deserted on the deck, the night suddenly seemed cold and unfriendly, the cooling breeze now seemed like a whip that lashed at her face.

"Therese where are you? Is anybody there?" asked the Marchioness a little quiver in her voice. "Therese is that you?"

Some one seemed to move from behind and Sophia spun around trying hard not to panic, she saw Therese right next to her, but this just couldn't be the serene, quiet nanny, there was something different in her expression, in her eyes; a sinister glittering in those icy blue depths that gleamed with evil triumph!

"Therese, Therese what is happening? Where is my little Marie?" cried the Marchioness. Therese kept looking at her, not talking just looking and Sophia felt that her look said many things; it spoke of anger, of jealousy, of malice and spite and…of murder. Sophia knew what was about to happen to her; she opened her mouth to scream but the sound never came, some one had struck her from behind, her eyes opened wide like lifeless glassy orbs, she was dead before she hit the floor.

"Take the body and throw it overboard Joseph" said Therese in clipped tones to a sailor who had stood behind the Marchioness. "Make sure that there is no sign of her on the deck that was your part of our agreement"

"But what about the little girl?" asked the sailor.

"I'll take care of the chit" replied Therese, her voice a little tense.

As she turned around she saw a pair of frightened blue eyes in the shadows looking at her, it belonged to a little girl of no more than four or five years old, a pair of chubby hands clutched her pale almost ghostly face and she stood stock still staring at her mother's body. Therese stared at the child while the fact dawned on her that Marie had been following her or waiting for her mother's arrival.

Taking a deep breath Therese started walking towards the child and Marie sensing that she was going to be harmed started screaming and running in the opposite direction. She ran as fast her chubby legs could carry her, her little mind in utter confusion, was her mother alive? What have they done to her? Where was her father? And suddenly she tripped on a coil of thick rope that someone had left on the deck and she felt headlong on to the deck her little head knocking one of the metal railings with a sickening thud. She saw no more.

Therese kneeled down near the child, "She might be dead" she said as she took the child in her arms.

"Or she might not be" said the man called Joseph as he kneeled beside her.

"I cannot kill her, I just cannot" said Therese looking at the lifeless little body "She is my Lena's age, listen Joseph! Hide her till we reach Calais, and when we do take her somewhere, anywhere away from Paris, I'll come up with something that I could tell the others"

And so saying she stood up, dusted her skirts and ran back to the ballroom.