Sunday 17 – Monday 18 March 2013
Deep within the mountain caves, the thunder still sounded as threatening as it did at the cave mouth. Droplets of water fell from the roof making small puddles here and there. Bastian watched them fall and wondered how the rain had managed to seep through the sand and rock of the mountain so quickly.
‘That can’t be a good sign,’ he whispered to himself. Holding the torch up as high as he could, Bastian examined the rock roof more closely. The visible cracks through which the water was dripping were aged and not recent.
‘Are we going to be in difficulty, Bastian?’ Elizabetha, Queen of the mountain clan, asked her closest friend and ally.
‘I don’t believe so. It looks old. The edges of those cracks are worn away, most likely from years of water running down them. Hold this,’ he handed her the torch.
‘What are you –?’
‘Establishing if the roof is safe or not,’ Bastian replied. Taking his sword from his belt, he lifted it towards the crack in the roof but was not quite tall enough to reach it. Glancing around, Bastian was unable to find a nearby rock that he could use as a step and so he began jumping, sword raised in the air, in an attempt to make contact with the rock above. His antics reduced Elizabetha to laughter. Within seconds, tears rolled down her cheeks and she was no longer able to hold the torch up to provide the light that Bastian needed.
‘Please, stop,’ she said, ‘I can’t hold the torch and laugh this hard at the same time.’
‘And what is there to laugh at?’ Bastian asked.
‘You. Jumping around like a, a, a man possessed. Arms and legs going everywhere. I swear, Bastian, the next time I’m feeling unhappy you’re to promise me that you’ll do this, this,’ she waved her free hand around, gesturing at his movement, ‘to make me laugh.’
He stopped what was a futile attempt to test the stability of the cave roof and looked at her. Out of breath, he barely managed a wheezing giggle as he conceded that indeed, it must have been a silly sight watching a grown man jumping around with a sword in his hand as if he were fighting off some invisible sky-bound attacker.
‘Oh, Bastian, I haven’t laughed like that in a long while,’ she remarked. Knowing his queen as well as he did, Bastian recognised the sadness in her voice. It really had been a long while since he remembered seeing her smile let alone laugh. Times had been tough since the clan fell out of favour with King Osgood, and the clan had suffered a number of terrible losses both in battle and because their Gods had seen fit to impose hardship on their people through the death of a dozen young children and two seasons of failed crops. Queen Elizabetha had fought hard to maintain her rule and the respect of her clan, and many saw the storm as another of the Gods’ tests. If she failed to see the clan through the storm, she would pay with her life. It would have been a heavy burden even for her father, the revered King Rolf.
* * * * *
Anders Fredriksson looked around the throne room. He had visited every room that King Osgood had opened to the villagers in search of the man he had seen hiding a dagger in his boot as they entered the castle. The man with the limp had all but disappeared and this greatly disturbed the old man. An act of treason committed by one villager could potentially cause every villager harm. Returning back to the small room that he and his daughter, Ingrid, had chosen to take refuge in, Anders considered his options and decided to get word to one of the knights who served Osgood.
He was surprised to see Ingrid also returning to the room, escorted by a young knight who, given the way he looked at her, was clearly smitten with the girl.
‘Ah, there you are, Ingrid. I trust that you haven’t been keeping this young man from his royal duties,’ Anders said. She appeared to be embarrassed, but the old man wasn’t sure if that was as a result of his words or the fact that he had caught her with the young knight.
‘No, sir, the young lady has been keeping me company,’ replied the knight. ‘I am Bengt, younger brother to Dagmar, leader of the King’s Guards.’ He thrust out his hand for Anders to shake.
‘And I am the young lady’s father, Anders Fredriksson.’ He took Bengt’s hand, gripped it firmly and shook.
It seemed serendipitous that he had decided to speak to a knight of what he saw at the castle entrance, and then be face to face and shaking hands with the younger brother to the leader of the knights; too much of a coincidence to pass up.
‘Your brother, he’s trusted by King Osgood?’ Anders asked.
‘Of course he is. King Osgood would not have given him such rank had Dagmar not been honourable and trustworthy. Why do you ask?’ replied the young knight.
‘I must speak with him. I have witnessed something that I think is . . . troublesome.’ Anders stepped closer to Bengt and began to whisper.
‘It might be nothing but I do not wish to take the risk. Can you arrange a meeting with your brother so that I might speak with him of what I saw?’
Worried by the intensity of the old man’s expression, Bengt agreed to Anders’ request, and the two men left Ingrid and hurried off to find Dagmar.
* * * * *
Queen Elizabetha and Bastian had returned to the mouth of the mountain cave once their people had settled deeper in the cave. The rain showed no immediate signs of letting up, continuing to pour down harder than it had earlier in the day. Rivulets across the land had turned into streams that were eking their way where no water had flowed across the land in years. Thunder boomed in the sky, and lightning struck ground more often than Elizabetha had seen in her life.
‘The Gods don’t seem to be pleased with us, Bastian.’
He flinched as another bolt of lightning struck, this time hitting the side of the mountain just above the cave mouth. Small rocks dislodged from the ledge above them and shot off down the side of the mountain.
‘It would seem that they are quite angry with us, my queen,’ he replied.
As if emphasising his point, lightning struck above the cave mouth again. Bastian pulled Elizabetha away from the opening with seconds to spare as rocks and dirt flew past them.
‘I do not feel at all comfortable with this,’ Elizabetha said.
‘I can see why you’d feel that way,’ he replied as they watched clods of dirt fall at the opening of the cave. ‘I’m starting to think that we might have been safer on the ground. Wetter, but safer.’
. . . To be continued . . .