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11. Argyll’s Dungeon
 The cell was tiny, damp, cold, and inconceivably black. Within ten minutes after the solid door thudded behind her, Kelpie was cowering on the floor. Even an ordinary roof was oppressive to her, and this—Ou, the dark and the smallness were almost tangible things that seemed to press down and in on her, smothering and squashing! It was even hard to breathe, just with the thinking of it.
By the time half an hour had passed, it was all she could do not to shriek wildly and beat her head against the stone. She gritted her teeth, sensing that self-control was her only hold on sanity. How could mere darkness hurt the eyes so? Kelpie began fingering her sgian dhu longingly. It was escape, escape from this torment and that to follow. She had no great fear of death, in spite of all she had heard of Hell, for at worst it was almost certain to be interesting.
And yet, the thing inside would not let her use the wee sharp dagger that nestled so temptingly in her hand. It gave no reason, except that this was a mean and shabby way to die.
For nearly the first time in her memory, Kelpie cried. On and on she sobbed, for as space was closing in on her, time was stretched into a long and empty void, and she was alone in chaos and terror.
Once she thought that perhaps if she did kill herself now, her Hell would be an eternity of this, and she shuddered at the thought. Argyll’s God might just do such a thing, and Satan’s fire was surely to be preferred—but which of them would be having the decision, at all? Her thoughts blurred off into confusion.
Some time later a grate in the door opened, a hand pushed a bit of bread through the pale oblong, and it clanged shut again. Kelpie roused herself to explore the spot with her long, sensitive fingers but found it small and solidly bolted. She took a few halfhearted bites of bread and lapsed again into a shivering huddle.
After more time she drifted up from a semi-sleep to hear another sound at the door. Was it the next day, then, and time for more bread?
Dhé! The door was opening, when Mac Cailein Mor had ordered against it! Was he back, then? She shrank against the wall as an oblong of gray spread like a shaft of light into the thick black of the cell.
It was Ewen Cameron! She knew the voice of him!
“Sheena, are you awake?”
With a small gasp, Kelpie was at the door. “Och, it’s near dead I am! Will you no let me free? You wouldn’t see me burned, an innocent wee lass, and put to torment before it? I’ll—”
“Hist!” There was a hint of strain in his voice, with a thread of humor around it. “And what were you thinking I came for? ’Tis quite likely you are a witch,” he added ruefully, “but for all that, I cannot abide cruelty. Come away, then, and like a mouse.”
Gasping with relief, Kelpie was out of the door before he had finished speaking. He groped to find her face in the dark that was to her almost light. “Wait, now. I must be bolting the door again. I cannot see.”
Kelpie moved beside him and helped. “Follow me,” he said when it was done. “I can put you outside the walls, and then ’tis up to you.”
It was all she asked. Scarcely able to believe her good fortune, she followed him through a dark, narrow labyrinth of stone corridors, most of them damp with being underground. Twice he unlocked doors for them to pass through, and finally they crept on hands and knees through a tunnel quite as black as her cell had been. It twisted on and on, and finally upward.
“’Tis an escape route in case of siege by an enemy,”
 Ewen explained over his shoulder. “None but the family is supposed to know of it, and even they have nearly forgotten it, because for the last hundred years Clan Campbell has been too strong to be attacked in its own stronghold. Instead, it is they who attack other clans.”
The narrow tunnel picked up the faint note of anger in his voice, magnified and echoed it. Kelpie, engrossed though she was in her own important affairs, suddenly wondered how it felt to be fostered by a wicked uncle who was, in addition, enemy to one’s own clan, and to know you were being used as a hostage to control the actions of your own grandfather, your own people. It was the first time Kelpie had seriously tried to put herself into the mind of another person, and it felt most peculiar and disturbing.
“What if real war is coming to the Highlands?” she demanded. “Will Lochiel dare call out the Camerons to fight against your uncle and the Covenant, or—”
There was a brief silence in which their small scufflings seemed to shout aloud. Then: “Grandfather will dare to do what is right,” said Ewen tersely.
Another silence, and then his low voice reached back to her again, strongly earnest. “There are things more important than safety, Sheena. I wonder if you know about them. Was it for a principle you were wanting to put a hex on my uncle, or for something else?”
Kelpie didn’t answer this, for the simple reason that she
 was not at all sure what a principle was. Unless—Could it have anything to do with not using the sgian dhu on herself when it seemed much easier to do so? Or had she not used it because the thing inside her had known that she was going to be rescued? Och, it was much too confusing to bother with now, for she could at last see a pale blob of night sky ahead.
They emerged in a shallow cave on the hill above Inverary, not far from where Kelpie had first looked down upon the castle.
“Now,” said Ewen, “be away out of Campbell territory as quickly as ever you can! Away around the tip of Loch Fyne, and then east is best, but be canny. You’ll not be safe with the MacFarlanes, either, but the Stewarts of Balquidder are hostile to the Campbell, and the MacGregors and MacNabs, and they are past Loch Lomond. Best to skulk low during the day, for you’ll not get so far this night—though I’m hoping you’ll not be found missing until Uncle Archibald is returned and the cell door opened.”
Kelpie nodded. The weight of horror was lifting (though she would never quite forget it), and she began to feel quite cocky again. Fine she was now, for who knew more about skulking and wariness in the hills? And yet through her cockiness crept an odd curiosity.
“Will he be finding out ’twas you who freed me?”
“I think not,” said Ewen, and there was laughter in the
 lilt of his voice. “No one is thinking I know about the secret tunnel, and they will probably believe you escaped by witchcraft. Be careful, Sheena, the next time you’re wanting to hex someone,” he added and vanished back into the tunnel.
Kelpie stared down the blackness after him and shook her head wonderingly. He was another daft one, to take a risk for someone else, and with no profit to himself whatever! But she was grateful, for all that. She owed much to his daftness.
She left the cave, lifted her face to the infinite space of the open sky, and breathed deeply of the free air. The moonlit side of the hill was ghostlike, a p............
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