The Isle of Wight, off the southern coast of England October, 1748
Kitty Ransom awoke as a heavy hand clamped against her mouth. She started to yelp, but her startled breath was cut short against the large palm, and her eyes flew wide in the darkness. At first, still dazed with sleep, she thought it might be Michael Urry and other young men from the nearby village of Totland; they had snuck out to the bluffs, to her father's estate, Rosneath to have a spot of fun with her, a wicked prank of some sort. After a moment, however, it occurred to her that the hand against her face was rough and calloused, as if from a lifetime of harsh labor-something scrawny, privileged Michael Urry and his friends had never known.
That realization left her seized with sudden fear, a fright that only mounted as the man seized her above the crook of her elbow and hauled her abruptly, roughly out of bed. She danced on her tiptoes for a moment beside him, tangled in her bedclothes and heard scuffling footsteps and heavy breaths from around and behind them. By her quick estimation, the sounds accounted for at least five other men in her room.
Thieves, she thought. My God, we are being robbed!
She was spun smartly about and shoved face-down onto her bed. She felt the heavy weight of the man immediately behind her and winced as he grabbed her by the wrists, jerking her arms toward the small of her back.
"My jewelry," she said as he began to bind her wrists together, cinching a coarse hank of rope tightly against her skin. "It is all in my highboy, the top drawer, in a wooden box. You can-"
"We do not want your jewelry," the man said, his voice marred by a heavy, clipped accent. Kitty's heart froze with bright, new horror as she realized what he must surely want, then. He would rape her. Perhaps the men all meant to take turns. This notion made her struggle suddenly, wildly, and she opened her mouth to scream in frightened, futile protest. Just as she hitched in her breath, the man shoved a thick wad of cloth between her lips, muffling her voice. She shook her head, mewling helplessly around the gag as he fettered it tautly in place with another scrap of linen.
He closed his hand against her arm again and hauled her upright. He jerked her about to face him. "Stop looking at me," he seethed at her, and he slapped her roughly across the face, startling and hurting her. She could tell from his voice that he was only a young man, no older than she and probably a good half a head shorter, given the approximate origin of his voice. He spoke with murderous intensity edged in his voice, his fingers clamped tightly, painfully against her arm, and she was frightened.
"I cannot see you," she tried to say, but around the gag, the words came out garbled. They did not know; they did not realize. No one ever did at first. Kitty could turn her head, direct her eyes towards the sounds of voices with uncanny ability and accuracy. It took strangers a few moments to realize she didn't just rudely stare at them as they spoke; she was blind. "Please, I am-"
She mewled as again, the man slapped her, this time with enough force to knock the breath from her, and leave the distinctive taste of blood in her mouth. "Be quiet," he said and she whimpered as he hoisted her unceremoniously over his shoulder. He had obviously not counted on Kitty's considerable height, and he staggered somewhat beneath her, struggling to find his footing. He snapped something at his fellows in a breathless voice, and to Kitty, it sounded like he spoke in another language, perhaps Spanish or Italian. He began to move, the other men flanking about him as they left the room and hurried down the corridor.
Where are they taking me? Kitty thought, her head still swimming from the blow. Think, Kitty. Panicking will get you nowhere. You do not have your eyes, but you have your other senses-and your wits. Use them.
The man carrying her smelled like the sea; a bittersweet, metallic fragrance that had always seemed pleasant and fond to her when she would smell it in her father's clothing, but now seemed very cold and foreboding. She craned her hands, struggling to prod at the rope binding her wrists. Her father had taught her plenty about knots and she quickly recognized the design as a hastily drawn bowline, the most common sort known to those who made their life's work on the sea. Is this man a sailor, then? she thought. A fisherman? Are they bringing me to the beach?
The man's gait was hobbled and clumsy, as if he walked with a limp. It grew particularly pronounced as they descended the stairs toward the main foyer. She might have taken advantage of this, struggled enough to topple his balance and get him to drop her, but even as soon as this thought was in her head, she knew it was