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Aila Douglas’ first memory was aged five, playing in the rose garden of Dunmistle Castle’s grounds. As she grew older, she couldn’t be sure how much of the memory was true to life or whether she had embellished it, but the emotion it evoked was so strong that it would sit with her for her entire life. The memory was always patchy, as any five-year old’s memory is, coming to her in bursts like car headlights pushing through fog, but she knew it was real.She had been playing some elaborate game of make-believe at the far end of the rose garden, accompanied by her tutor and nanny Matilda, when she heard shouting. It wasn’t rare for her to hear shouting in and around the castle, but something about the shrillness of the tone made her feel a terror she never had before.As the shouting became screaming, she recognised her mother’s voice, panicked and pleading.She ran under the archway of the garden out onto the moat bridge and down into the orchard, ignoring Matilda’s call to come back. The memory became especially hazy as her young brain tried to navigate the endless and seemingly giant landscape of the orchard’s trees, towering over her with a threatening presence. Through the trees she made out her mother’s feet, bare and bleeding as they were scraped across the sharp and frosty grass.Aila scampered down between the trees until they cleared at the hedgerow, ducking under a gap in the brambles to watch as her mother’s feet, the only part of her visible through the trees, continued along into the footpaths at the edge of the estate.Fear or obedience stopped her then – she had always been told not to go further than the orchard alone. She stood at the edge of the orchard, watching as a man in a hooded Mac dragged her mother by the hair down the footpath towards the river.She wanted to cry out, but she was frozen in horror, her breath making a cloud in the frigid air that she willed to fly out and get help.
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