A Rock And A Hard Place Chapter 12
“Run!” I hissed.
The three of us took off, bags bouncing against our backs and sides. There was a shout from behind us and I wasn’t sure if it was one of the scouts waking up or someone from the main body who had spotted us, but either way it was bad. There was a moment of silence when all we heard were our own feet running and then the tramping of feet behind us sped up.
Was that water I heard in the distance? Oh great. A river and it sounded pretty big. That’s just dandy. Exactly what I needed.
I threw a glance over my shoulder. Not in sight yet, but getting louder. Very much not good.
As I ran, I tried to think of something, anything, that we could do to save ourselves. Trapped between a river and three different groups of people who wanted at least me dead. What could I do? Give myself up? No, because I wasn’t about to go dying on another man’s errand. Plea for mercy? Not likely with Taliya involved. Fight back? We were too badly outnumbered and completely weaponless. That’s why we were running, but there was a large river ahead of us now. Could we ford it? But if we could ford it then so could the people chasing us so it was a moot point.
Then, the trees ended and the river was in front of us, a large, raging, fast flowing river. There was an abrupt waterfall not too far down and what looked to be rapids upstream. Lovely. There was no possible way we could ford that without being washed downstream and over the waterfall.
“Mistress?” came Lolani’s very small voice over the roar of the river.
I looked over at the poor Bird, despairingly and shook my head.
“I don’t know, Lolani. I’m out of ideas. Aaron?”
My gaze shifted to the MAGI who was already shaking his head.
“It’s a lost cause. We’re trapped. There’s no where for us to run, no place to hide. If Lolani could fly us out...”
Then they were on us. The three of us whirled around, watching as the Wizards and Elves quickly surrounded us, leaving the river at our backs. I swallowed hard, desperately thinking. Lolani could still fly us out of this...
But no, she couldn’t. It was then that I saw the archers, arrows already trained on the poor Bird and a few more keeping their arrows aimed at Aaron and I. If she tried to fly now, they’d shoot her down without a second thought. I couldn’t let her die like that.
I saw the look in her eye as she braced herself to change, but I put a restraining hand on her arm. She looked over at me and I shook my head ever so slightly. Lolani looked at me a moment longer and then dropped the ready stance with a nod. She knew they would shoot her down, but if I had wanted to chance it, she was prepared to do the same.
Glancing over to Aaron, I saw that he had defeated look on his face. He had no idea how to save us either.
Looking back to the army, I saw Taliya and Irvan make their way to face us, now secure with their soldiers to back them. Clearly they didn’t think we’d try anything so stupid as jumping in the river, and they were right.
With a sigh, I faced them.
“You,” growled Taliya, suddenly lunging at me.
I backed up, putting my hands up to protect myself from the still enraged princess, as I muttered, “Itzel.”
Then my foot slipped off the edge of the bank and I crashed down into the icy water. I heard someone above me yelling, but it was gone a second later as the current dragged me downriver. I fought to get above the surface, but the current was strong and pulled me down with it. Refusing to panic, I helped the current pull me down to the bottom. Feeling my feet reach it, I pushed up from the muddy bottom with all my might, swimming up as hard as I could to try and reach air.
Suddenly I was plunging downward. I flailed and my hand caught a rock. Desperately, I grabbed for it, holding on with all my might. My muscles screamed at me as I pulled myself up. I could feel that the rock my hands had a hold of wasn’t underwater. I got one arm around it and then the other. With a huge gasp, I pulled my head out of the falling water.
I could feel that there was a huge drop below me and so I kept pulling myself up, trying to shake water out of my eyes to see what I was doing. My hands felt around for something else to pull myself up on.
“Come on, Etti!” I vaguely heard Itzel yelling in my ear. “Come on! You can do it! Just a little bit more!”
Then I was free of the water’s pull and I flopped down on solid rock, panting and gasping, unable to do anything for a moment but breath. After a very long minute of filling my lungs with air again, I realized that I was shaking pretty badly from the cold water.
Slowly, and a bit painfully, I sat up and did a limb check. Arms, fingers, legs, toes, head, all in their proper place and relatively uninjured it seemed. That was one less worry. It seemed I had managed to grab hold of a ledge next to the waterfall and haul myself onto it. I looked over the dizzying edge tentatively and quickly pulled back when my stomach twisted unpleasantly. That would have been a really nasty fall.
Then I looked up to see Itzel hovering protectively right in front of my face, her swirling rainbow eyes full of worry. I gave her a tired grin.
“Don’t you ‘hey’ me!” she snapped. “What was that?! Calling me right as you try and kill yourself?! What on earth did you think I could do about that but float around and watch it happen?! I’m a spirit in case you’ve forgotten and I can’t do anything to stop you from falling! Did you just want another witness to your death?! Are you really that morbid?!”
“Itzel, you’re shouting,” I said in a low voice.
“They’ll hear you. Be quiet.”
The rainbow eyes narrowed.
“Who will hear me?”
I pointed upward.
“The Wizards and Elves who were chasing us.”
“What?! Why were they chasing you?! What did you do?!”
“Itzel, you’re shouting,” I hissed.
Then, over the roar of the river, I heard muffled voices shouting.
“Did she survive?”
“Are you stupid? Who could survive that fall?”
“Check anyway! Who are you calling stupid? I’m just making sure not to let any of them escape that easily.”
“Easily? Please. That’s not easy. Go take a look over the side for yourself if you don’t believe me.”
I scrambled up quickly, putting my back to the rock and pressing against it as hard as I could, trying to make myself invisible. Closing my eyes, I steadied my breathing. The rock face slanted a bit so that unless they were at the right spot and looking from the right angle, they shouldn’t be able to see me, but I didn’t trust me luck to hold for that one.
Slowly, I counted to fifty. I hit thirty-six and then the voices started back up.
“Fine. She couldn’t have survived that. We’re going back.”
“Don’t you think you can give me orders,” snapped the other voice.
Then the voices grew fainter and I let out a breath I didn’t even realized I’d been holding. Gently, I peeled myself away from the rock, looking at the impressions it had left on my skin from being hugged so closely.
I sat down, back to the rock now, and rubbed my arms until they started warming up a bit. Then I wrapped them around my legs and started rubbing those.
Well, I’m sure this wasn’t the worst situation I’d ever been in. Surely I could think of a worse time I’d had. Sadly, nothing was coming to me.
I sighed and curled further into myself as I thought about what I could do. No use trying to send Itzel for help. Her contract dictated that she couldn’t get that far away from me.
I had lost all my bags in the river so I had no supplies to work with. I still had the face changing amulets I’d been wearing this whole time, but that didn’t help me at all.
Truly all I had to work with was me. No amulets, no paints, no herbs, no supplies of any kind. I had me and the magics I naturally carried, but what good could those be? I turned to face the waterfall and closed my eyes as I thought about it.
A quiet sigh escaped me.
I felt a pair of incredulous rainbow eyes begin boring a hole in my back and, when I chose to ignore them, the voice attached to said eyes gave a frustrated growl.
“How can you be so calm?” she demanded.
“Calm?” I repeated quietly, thoughtfully. “No, I wouldn’t say calm. More contemplative than anything, I think.”
“Contemplative?! How can you be contemplative at a time like this?!”
“Hm. You’re shouting again, Itzel,” I murmured, resting my chin on my hand. “I was contemplating how I got into this mess in the first place.”
“Is this really the time to be worrying about that?” Itzel demanded.
I closed my eyes. “Yes, I think it’s quite a good time, actually. Perfect even.”
I knew she was livid, even without having to see her. The poor creature really was too high-strung sometimes. It couldn’t be healthy to get that worked up over something so minor.
So, how did I end up on a ledge by a waterfall with three powerful, bloodthirsty enemies after me? Not to mention how freezing and wet from the river I was? Well, that’s exactly how.
It was just me then. Little me, on a ledge, in the middle of nowhere. I opened my eyes and looked up at the ledge. Water and rock. Not very helpful.
‘If you need help and there’s water nearby...’
Then the thought struck me, like the long lost memory it was, dragged back into my conscious mind by the dire situation. What was it that my father had said?
‘If it’s help you need and there’s water nearby, follow your instincts and she’ll hear your cry.’
It was something he had told me, long ago when I was still a child. It was the only time I had ever asked about my mother. I had asked him why she never came to see me. All the other children had mothers they could go to with their problems, mothers who would comfort them when they cried, mothers who loved them and listened to them. Why didn’t mine?
He had told me that and when I had asked him what it meant, he told me that when I needed to know, I would.
Well, there was certainly plenty of water nearby and I was in need. So, follow my instincts? Closing my eyes, I dug deep, searching for something, some clue that would tell me what to do. I concentrated all my will on the faceless woman who had birthed me. I was half Nixie. I was her daughter, too, even if she had never claimed me, and that meant that somewhere in me were the powers of a Nixie.
I breathed deeply, in and out, as I reached for the center of my power. Nixies never used amulets or herbs. All their magic came from within, their songs, their allure, their power over water.
Slowly, keeping hold of my power, I opened my eyes. There was a faint, pulsing light beneath my skin now. That was new.
I looked to the water hurling down the cliff face beside me and carefully reached out a hand to it. I submerged my hand in the flow of the water, feeling the power there and feeling my own inner power recognize what was there.
Closing my eyes once more, I called in my mind.
Nothing. So I tried a little louder.
‘Mother. Mother, I need you.’
I waited a minute and when nothing happened I called again.
‘Mother, please, I need your help. Come help me, please.’
Then, I felt the magical equivalent of a hand touching my magic with it’s own. I left myself open to the other being’s magic. It wasn’t foreign or strange. It was kin to my own, though not the same. It gently felt my magic, like a blind person getting a picture of someone’s face by touching it.
A voice entered my mind then, like a ripple across a quiet pond.
I felt tears spring into my eyes suddenly.
‘Yes, Daughter. My Child of the Trees. I know you. I remember you. Come to me.’
‘Let the Water take you.’
I blinked in surprise.
‘Let the Water take you. Do not fight the fall. It cannot hurt you now. You are my Child of the Trees and Water. The Water will know you now. Come. Come to me, my Tree Child.’
I pulled my hand back from the water for a moment, my skin still pulsing faintly with light underneath, and watched the water falling hard and fast in front of me. It wouldn’t hurt me now? I reached my hand out again to the water, submerging it once more.
‘Why will it not hurt me now, Mother?’
‘Because you have remembered that you are not just a Child of the Trees, but a Child of the Water as well. I have waited so long to embrace you. Come to me, my Child.’
I swallowed hard. A leap of faith. That’s what this would be. So, the question was simply, how much faith did I have in my mother?
I stood slowly, still watching the water, as I realized what a stupid question that was. I had always had faith in her, the same as any other little girl. Faith that she did love me and that there was a reason I couldn’t see her.
And I still had that faith.