Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Gathering of Dragons - Chapter Twelve

Clearair huffed smoke as she stomped across the meadow in front of Theresa’s cottage. “How could you be so reckless? I told you not to leave the valley!”

Anna cringed under her mother’s heated glare. “I’m sorry.” She had already explained to Clearair, James, Theresa, and Sarah why she left and what happened. It only seemed to make her mother angrier. She did it because she was worried about Adrian. She could only say she was sorry so many times. “I know I was wrong to disobey you.” She was in her human form, tear stained and hugging Sarah.

James leaned down to whisper in the Healer’s ear. “I tried to calm Clearair down on the way back.” 

After the initial relieved greeting between the three, when they ran into Anna headed back home, Clearair had turned into this raging smoke breather.

“She’s just upset. Anna gave her quite a scare,” Theresa whispered back. She was in sympathy with the mother dragon, but there was nothing they could do about it now. It was over. They needed to put it behind them and move on. Theresa walked out past Anna and placed her hand on Clearair’s shoulder to stop her pacing. “She made a mistake, but obviously what she went through, and what Adrian impressed upon her, has sunken in. I don’t think she will be disobeying again.” Theresa turned toward Anna. “We have your promise on that, right?” she doubted she needed it from Anna. The child looked almost as scared of her mother as she must have been by the slavers who abducted her.

“Yes,” Anna said. She sniffled and clung tighter to Sarah. “Yes,” she repeated.

Clearair huffed smoke, but made no counter proposal to rectify the problem. “Perhaps you are right, Healer,” she said to Theresa. She turned to Anna. “Come with me. You’re to stay by my side until I say differently.”

Anna morphed into her dragon form. She pressed her head into Sarah’s chest. Sarah gave her a kiss on her muzzle. “She’s angry at you because she loves you and you worried her. You worried us all. Keep that in mind and do as you are told. She will forgive you.”

Clearair sprang into the sky and Anna followed at a safe distance.

“Boy, am I glad I’m not Anna,” James said.

“Me too,” Sarah agreed.

Theresa sighed. “Me three.”

*** 

The Great Hall in Kerth was quiet except for the footsteps of the three women. Queen Larkin, Theresa and Sarah intended to investigate the tunnels beneath the castle that Farloft revealed to them. The dragon said they were a maze and that he was not sure which led to the river and which spider-webbed their way further into the mountain.

All three women were dressed for exploring. They had on pants, tunics, boots, and heavy coats. The Queen had the kitchen prepare them each a pack with rations for three days. The cook did not feel it her place to question the Queen’s need for the supplies.

Larkin informed her Captain of the Guard, Haben, what she intended to do. She had to put her foot down when she said she was leaving him in charge while she was gone. He wanted to lead a troop of men in to investigate the caves, but the Queen did not want the knowledge of their escape route to go any further than her Captain. She ordered him to stay and she chose to take Theresa and Sarah because they heard the original plan from Farloft prior to him leaving and were already sworn to secrecy.

The women proceeded to the far end of the hall and up to the podium. Farloft told them the entrance lay beneath the dais, and the secret of how to access it. Queen Larkin placed her fingers on the eyes of the king depicted on the base of the podium and pushed. The top of the dais slid to one side revealing a wide stone staircase, which descended so far it disappeared into the darkness below.

“Well, ladies,” the Queen said, “are you ready for an adventure?”

Theresa grabbed a torch from one of the sconces on the wall behind the podium. She extended it to Sarah who tapped it with her staff magically igniting its flame. The Healer turned back toward the gaping hole. “Ready when you are.”

Queen Larkin stepped to the wall to retrieve her own torch, which Sarah lit. The Sorceress preferred to keep one hand free, so she merely spoke an incantation and the dragon on the top of her staff began to glow with a light as brilliant as the torches in the other women’s hands.

They began the descent slowly down the stairs.

At first, the walls to either side of the walk were the same stone as the castle and mountain, but as they went deeper, the walls turned to an ebony color with a shine as if they had been polished. Once they reached the bottom of the stairs, the dais far above their heads closed, as if it knew they were on level ground.

“That is unsettling,” Larkin said as the opening ground closed with a thud.

“I guess we won’t be going back that way,” Theresa added.

“I feel like we have been buried alive.” Sarah raised her staff to have a better look at the stone roof above their heads.

“Farloft said there was a way out and he is rarely wrong,” Theresa said with confidence.

“Rarely…” Sarah said with a raised brow. “I would like the sound of that better if you had said, never.”

Theresa smiled in a relaxed way. “Well, even dragons can be wrong on occasion, though they hate to admit it.”

Larkin raised her torch and they could all see that there were five separate tunnels leading out of the main cave at the foot of the stairs. “Let’s hope this is not one of those occasions.”



They decided to stay together and explore as a group. They also chose to start with the furthest tunnel to their left. It made since that one would run parallel to the river and eventually spit them out by its side. However, that was not the case. They marked the walls with chalk every fifty feet or so, and after wondering around for what seemed like hours, they found their own marks on the wall. That tunnel went in a circle.

They sat at the foot of the stairs and ate what they thought to be lunch, but there was really no telling in the dark of the tunnels. Luckily, someone had equipped the main cave with over a hundred sconces with torches sitting in them, so the women would not be without light.

“Do we just continue on around and do the next tunnel,” Sarah asked.

The Queen swallowed the then answered, “I think keeping to an orderly fashion is best. What do you say, Theresa?”

“I agree.”

The rest of what they thought might be the remainder of the first day they looped around through the ups and downs of the second tunnel, only to come out back at the cavern through the entrance to the third tunnel.

“Well, that was fun,” Theresa said. “I don’t know about you ladies, but I am tired and ready for some sleep.”

“I will join you after I eat something. My stomach thinks my throat has been cut,” Sarah said, as she dug into her pack. “Oh bless the cook,” she exclaimed when she pulled out a paper wrapped parcel. I’ll bet anything these are her brownies.” She opened the package to reveal four plump squares of chocolate goodness. “I am in heaven.”

“No,” Theresa said. “You are in a cave and you best only eat one of those in case we are stuck here longer than three days.”

Sarah was already enjoying the first one. “Or, I could eat them all and die a happy woman.” She grinned through chocolate stained lips.



The next full day was spent following the twists and turns of the fourth tunnel. They were all disappointed and a bit concerned when they came up against a rock fall, which blocked them going any further.

Larkin said out loud what they were all thinking. “I certainly hope that was not the way out.”

“Surely, Farloft would not pick this time to be wrong,” Theresa countered. “We still have one tunnel to go.”

“But it’s the furthest from the river,” Sarah pointed out.

Larkin turned to lead the way. “We won’t know until we can get back to the entrance.” She had to find an escape route for her people.



They were about to begin what they hoped was the last day of wandering in the caves.

“At least we don’t have as heavy a pack to carry today,” Theresa said, trying to look on the bright side.

“But it will be further to walk if that far tunnel is the one,” Sarah added.

“Well, we won’t find out sitting her.” Larkin rose from the foot of the stairs. “Let’s see where it leads us.”



There was a steep incline to the tunnel almost immediately and it kept climbing for what seemed like a couple of hours. The women needed to stop and rest to catch their breath on occasion.

Eventually, the tunnel took a sharp left and leveled out. The walking was easier now, but seemed to go on endlessly. Theresa’s torch went out first, followed later by Larkin’s. They had only Sarah’s magical light to guide them.

After several hours the tunnel began to gradually descend and eventually level out again.

“Is that light up ahead?” Theresa asked, trying to see past Sarah’s staff.

“It is!” Sarah said in a relieved voice.

“I hear the river,” Larkin said in an excited tone.

Within another few minutes, they were at the mouth of a carver. It was covered by hanging vines, and trees set out from the entrance about ten feet, which obscured the setting sun through their dense branches.

When the women emerged on the other side of the trees, they could see the river a couple of hundred feet below.

“We made it,” Sarah exclaimed.

“Farloft was right.” Theresa leaned back against a tree. “I have lived her my whole life and never noticed this cave.”

Larkin smiled. “When, if, the Baldar pursue us through the Great Hall, I hope they make the same assumptions we did and take the tunnel on the left first.”


Light at the end of the tunnel by Elizabeth Babicz

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