Tuesday 12 – Wednesday 13 March 2013
Cold and damp, the caves in the mountains above the castle of Osgood provided more protection and warmth than the aging homes on the plains ever could. Elizabetha had taken her clan and made the annual pilgrimage to the mountains for the oncoming winter, and now the first storm of the season quickly approached. They had been settled in the winter caves for a good six days without any sign of inclement weather when Bastian had alerted them to the oncoming storm.
‘It’s going to be bad,’ Bastian lowered his voice so only Elizabetha could hear. He had no desire to alarm the little ones playing at the cave mouth. She looked towards the storm cell and nodded.
‘Unlike anything that we’ve faced before. Perhaps it might be advisable to move further into the caves. What do you think, Bastian?’
He scratched his head behind his right ear and pursed his lips. She knew him well enough to recognise the signs that he was worried. He need not have answered her question.
‘If King Osgood believes that the storm will be fierce enough that he must open his castle to his people, then I think it might be advisable to move further into the cave, yes.’
‘Osgood is a fool, Bastian. You’ve told me that on more than one occasion, and still you expect me to consider his actions to validate my own? Time wearies your mind, old friend,’ she replied. He laughed at her reply but the sound was lost amid a clap of thunder that seemed to have originated from directly above the cave. The screams of children echoed throughout the cave, and Elizabetha and Bastian looked back towards the sound.
‘If my Queen says that I am a fool, then I must be a fool. And if my Queen is concerned with the welfare of her people and wants them moved back into the caves, then I will instruct the people to gather their possessions and move,’ Bastian replied and mockingly bowed his head.
‘Let us move everyone together,’ she responded.
‘As you wish.’
Bastian walked ahead of his queen towards the gathering of their clan. People had made themselves as comfortable as anyone could in a cave, and for the last six days had been busily setting up their winter abodes that were simply places in the cave that had no yet been taken by other families. He made his way to the speaking rock, a portion of stone that jutted out above the cave floor, and he waited for the clan to quieten down. Silence meandered through the cave, person by person, until everyone focussed on Bastian standing above them. He cleared his throat.
‘I have spoken with our Queen, and we are agreed. The approaching storm is more fierce than anything that we have ever seen before,’ he started. There were whispers and expressions of concern from the clan below.
‘For the safety of our clan, it has been decided that this winter we will journey deeper into the cave. I will give you some time to gather your possessions and then, together, we will move. No one is to head any further alone. We go as a clan.’
The whispers started again and immediately Bastian had ceased speaking, bodies sprang into action, gathering belongings and children.
Elizabetha watched as the clan moved about the cave like insects. She noted that Bastian had set up a line of his men preventing anyone from venturing forth without the rest of the clan. In times of haste or worry, it wasn’t unusual for the most excitable of the clan to rush forward without consideration for the safety of themselves or of others. Bastian had seen to it that misfortune would not befall any of them today.
‘You have done well, Bastian. Thinking ahead and setting up your men to watch over the clan. I am lucky to have you,’ she said to him as he approached and took his place by her side.
‘I learned from the best . . . your father was a great man who gave me a chance to rise above my station in life. I owe Rolf everything. The least that I can do is protect our people the way that he would have done.’
Turning her face away from Bastian, Elizabetha smiled at his words. Her father had, indeed, pulled the young Bastian from the pit of despair and schooled him in the old ways of the clan, where respect and honour were paramount. And in return, Bastian had dedicated his life to serving King Rolf and his family. A role Bastian would continue until his own death.
Thunder boomed above them again, eliciting screams and yelps from the clan. Momentarily, all movement stopped as though they expected the thunder to be followed by the entrance of some awful foe. It was not, and so the gathering of possessions continued.
‘We should go,’ Elizabetha said. She reached out for Bastian, taking hold of his forearm for stability and comfort in equal measures.
‘Yes, my Queen.’
‘Let us lead the clan into the cave. Give your men the signal that we will be on our way.’
Bastian raised his free hand and waved to a leather clad man who had taken up position on the speaking rock. While Elizabetha and Bastian moved forward through the crowd, the soldier instructed the clan to collect their possessions.
‘Queen Elizabetha will lead us to a deeper alcove that will provide us with a more secure place to wait out the winter,’ he boomed.
With possessions and children in hand, the clan followed Elizabetha and Bastian deeper into the cave. Behind them, the first drops of rain fell over the plains that they called home in the warmer seasons. Life for the Mortensen clan would be irrevocably altered the deeper they journeyed into the caves. Never before had it been recorded that a clan had travelled so deep into the caves for winter, and it was foremost in Elizabetha’s thoughts.
‘Bastian,’ she whispered, ‘tell me we’re doing the right thing.’
‘The protection of your people is the most important thing for you to consider at this moment. Our people have travelled these mountains and these caves for generations before us, and there have been no stories of misfortune for them. Whatever awaits us, wherever we choose to settle, we will survive. On that I give you my word.’
Elizabetha clutched at Bastian’s arm, and bravely wielded a fiery torch in front of her. The future of her clan was now firmly in her hands, and she was determined that a storm would not stand in her way.
. . . To be continued . . .