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The Seeress and the Stone 37
Christiana followed Jord cautiously in the dim torchlight. They did not find many varying passageways until today when they came to a crossroads. Three tunnels opened before them, but unfortunately all three looked to be main passageways.
“What are we going to do?” she asked Jord.
“I think we should split up. I’ll take the right tunnel, Corran and Naatus take the left. Christiana and Sparrow take the center.”
“How far do you want us to go?” Christiana asked.
Jord thought for a moment. “Five hundred paces in or until your passage stops whichever comes first.
Christiana and Sparrow faced their tunnel and went forward slowly at first.
“This is kind of strange. I feel like something is going to jump out at me,” Sparrow whispered.
“I don’t know. I actually feel kind of calm,” Christiana replied. She had felt the peaceful sensation wash over her and a part of her yearned to feel more.
They walked on in silence for a few minutes. Christiana noticed a faint light in the passage ahead.
“How many paces have we gone?” she asked Sparrow.
“Three-hundred and seventy-nine. I think we might be connecting with the other passages. Can you see the light?”
“Yes. I was wondering. It looks like there is a bend up ahead.”
They both moved forward anxiously. As they turned the corner they stopped and stared in amazement.
Christian gasped. She stood at the opening to a giant cavern. It was large enough to hold twice the number of refugees and more. The walls of the room rose smoothly straight up and rounded at the top, resembling the city cathedral but much more majestic and powerful. Seven balconies protruded into the open space half way up the walls of the cavern. Christiana dropped her torch and walked to the center of the room. The hard, smooth ground beneath her feet looked like polished granite. The room glowed with a soft blue light and in the light she could see many colorful, shimmering veins in the floor and walls.
As she looked around the room she noticed the large blue crystals from the wall. The crystals glowed filling the room with a soft blue light. The crystals were spaced evenly about every ten feet.
“They’re shaped like torches.”
“Each mount is unique, like individual artists crafted them,” Christiana whispered. “No human hand has ever touched these.”
She reached out and brushed her fingers softly across the base of one of the crystals. Her fingers tingled and she felt a slight surge of energy enter her body, like a breath of fresh air. Instantly she felt renewed strength. Just then she caught a slight movement out of the corner of her eye. She looked up to the balcony above where they had entered and saw Jord. Then Corran and Naatus appeared on the other side.
Jord waved and called, “Wow!”
His voice reverberated deafeningly throughout the cavern. Christiana and Sparrow clapped their hands on their ears.
“This is amazing,” he said in a normal voice. Christiana heard him as clearly as if he were standing next to her.
“Go back and come down the center passage,” Christiana said softly.
“All right. We are on our way,” Jord replied.
He nodded to the other young men and they turned back the way they had come.
Christiana continued to walk around the room staring at the strange patterns in the floor and walls. A few minutes later the three boys came running up the through the main passage. The smallest of the three, a young man named Naatus, was the first to enter, his face shining with excitement.
“Jord, this place is amazing! It looks like a meeting hall of sorts,” he said quietly. They all heard him as clearly as if he shouted.
Jord nodded. “I don’t think I have ever seen a place like this before.”
“It looks like it has been carved carefully by the most talented artists,” Christiana commented. “This whole room fills me with energy.”
“Me too,” Naatus replied.
Corran thoughtfully commented, “Have any of you noticed how fresh the air feels in here. I feel stronger, not tired anymore.” The others nodded their heads.
“This room reminds me of the stories Celendar told in his history lessons,” Sparrow said.
Christiana’s eyes fixed on the crystals for a moment and then shifted them upwards to the balconies where the young men had just been.
“Did any of you look around up there?” she asked.
They all shook their heads no.
“It looks as if the two side passageways lead around the balcony of the room. There is another opening across from my passage way and I bet there are openings up there as well.”
“I think we should go back up and explore for a bit. Christiana can you follow this passage,” Jord said pointing to the opening across the cavern. “I have a hunch the passages meet again on the other side.”
Christiana looked across the room. “How long do you want us to go?”
“Explore for about half an hour and then return. Corran, you and I can sketch what we see up there.”
“All right,” Corran agreed.
Christiana walked back to the entrance and picked up her torch and then made her way to the passage opening on the other side. As she drew closer she could feel a slight breeze. She took a deep breath and her pace increased. Excitement mounted with each step, but as soon as she crossed the threshold into the passage the breeze stopped.
“Oh,” Sparrow said.
Christiana could hear the disappointment in her voice.
“I was excited too, Sparrow. I thought for sure we were coming to the end,” Christiana said.
The dark passage lay before them. Christiana raised her torch and followed its light. She kept her eyes ahead looking for any change in the walls or extra openings. Unlike the southern entrance to the caves, this passage was unhindered by extra rooms or tunnels.
At last the passage turned to the right and they stepped into a small cave. To their right Christiana could see an opening, but nothing on the left. In the distance she heard Naatus’ excited voice echoing down the passage and a few moments later he and Corran emerged from the tunnel on his right.
Christiana smiled. “Well, I hoped they would meet up. Where’s Jord?”
Naatus shrugged. “He took the left hand passage. There were no other passages along our tunnel.”
“Hmm, apparently only one passage comes this way.” She peered down the dark tunnel. “Let’s go back to the cavern and see if Jord is there.”
The two young men followed Christiana and Sparrow back through their corridor to the crystal lit room. Shortly after the half hour Jord came up the main corridor.
“What did you find?” Christiana asked.
Jord pulled out his sketches. “There is a walkway that surrounds the cavern. Seven balconies open into the cavern, but there are only three passages to the walkway. One of the passages is completely blocked.”
“Blocked,” Christiana asked. “With what?”
“Come, I’ll show you.”
They all followed Jord back to the left hand passage and up to the balcony level. They entered the walkway and turned to the left. Christiana looked out into the cavern. The walkway was perfectly formed with solid smooth columns every ten feet. The balcony openings looked to be about twenty feet across.
They followed Jord past several columns and then stopped. “I don’t think I would have even noticed there was an entrance here, except I had my hand on the wall. The walls are smooth stone, but then as you feel it suddenly changes texture.”
Christiana slid her hand along the wall. She could feel the change from smooth stone.
“Is it glass?” she asked.
“I held my torch up to the wall and I could see a dim reflection of the light but it wasn’t until I set the torch down that I truly noticed the difference.”
He placed his torch on the ground away from the sealed opening. Christiana followed his gaze to the wall and her eyes opened wide. Clear crystal filled the entire opening and she could see through to the other side. She went up close to the crystal wall and studied the detailed edges of the crystals growing on the other side. The opening glowed with a soft blue light.
“Amazing!” Sparrow spoke under her breath. “It has been completely sealed off by crystals.”
“The torch light makes it blend into the wall. You never would have found it if you hadn’t felt it,” Christiana surmised.
They all stared in wonder at the wall. Jord pulled out his book and sketched the sealed entrance. When he finished they all stepped across to the balcony opening that was situated directly across from the sealed entrance.
Although Christiana knew she should have been exhausted she did not feel so. Instead she felt an underlying urgency to continue their exploration.
Jord interrupted her thoughts. “I want to sketch the main room and a few of the crystal torches. Then I want to continue on.”
They all nodded in agreement and started back to the main room.
“Corran, I want you and Sparrow to head back to the main group. I want to know how far behind us they are. We need to continue exploring ahead.”
“I want to come with you,” Sparrow exclaimed.
“I know Spar, but you and Corran are the fastest.”
Sparrow nodded her head with a pout.
“I can go alone, Jord,” Corran said. “I’ll run the whole way there.”
Jord smiled. “Well don’t overdo it.”
As soon as they reached the main room, Jord took out a small book and sketched the room. Corran ate a little food and then started back up the main passageway. When Jord finished his sketches of the crystal torches he packed his book and pencils. He showed the drawings to Christiana. Each picture could not perfectly show the details of the room and the crystals, but his work captured some of the beauty before them.
“It looks very good,” she said handing the sketches back.
“Maybe someday I will come back and paint it in color.”
“Maybe.” She looked around the room again. She didn’t want to leave, and yet she felt pushed to go.
They ate a hasty meal then walked across the room to the exiting passageway. Jord scribbled a short message for Corran and left it on the ground, then headed down the main tunnel. Christiana looked back as she stepped into the passageway. She had a strange feeling that she would see the room again.
“We will go on until we need a rest. Hopefully the main group is not far behind. If they are as rejuvenated by this place as we were they will catch up in no time,” Jord stated.
“I hope so,” Christiana and Sparrow replied together.
French flashed the small piece of glass in the sunlight again.
“Did they see it?” Jexson asked anxiously.
“I think so. It looks like they are stopping closer to the tree line.”
“We should head down the trail and meet them.”
“Yes.” French turned to look at the mountains behind them. With a sigh he wrapped the glass and put it in his pack.
“They moved swiftly. It has only been a week since we arrived here.”
“As you said, they had more resources. They could have lowered boats down the cliff face closer to the lake.”
“This group seems much smaller.” Rory commented.
“I’m sure Celendar left most of the people at the waterfall,” Jexson replied. “It is a perfect place to settle.”
The three young men made their way through the tall fir trees. French desperately wanted to stay and continue to look for the entrance to the caves. He felt so close to finding it and now he had to stop and return to the valley.
“Celendar will probably start up this way in the morning,” Jexson said hopefully.
“I hope so. I’d really rather not go all the way down to the valley,” French grumbled.
“Well if they start right away we will meet them on the trail tomorrow afternoon,” Rory said positively.
French nodded and turned his attention to the trail ahead. It wasn’t much of a trail, just a winding path animals had made through the trees and heavy brush. They had cut their way through in a few places when they first started up into the foothills.
They traveled until dark and then set up camp beneath a giant fir tree. The next morning they started out as soon as it was light. French felt calmer as he walked and not as frustrated. The trees rustled quietly as if in a breeze, but no wind touched his face as he walked. After a while he placed a hand on one of the trees and listened. He wasn’t nearly as talented as his aunt, but he could still get a general idea of what the trees were saying to one another.
“My aunt and Celendar are in the forest. They started early this morning. We should meet them early in the evening.”
“Good, that way we are only one day down the mountain,” Jexson surmised.
“French, how do you hear what the trees are saying?” Rory asked.
“It is not that I hear, it is more like understanding the feelings of the trees. Trees have a unique perspective on the world. Time doesn’t affect them the way it does people. Wind, rain, and sun don’t affect us as much as it does the trees. These trees have been here for a very long time and we are the first...humans...to walk among them.” His brow furrowed as he tried to understand the meaning of the tree’s view of people
“They react differently to people.”
“They sense the danger we bring. We have fire and sharp objects that can damage or kill them.”
“Can you communicate with the trees.”
“In a way. Aunt ‘Le is much better, but it is more like feeling what they want. The trees won’t change because we are here. The only things that will change are the changes we make, the trees understand that.”
“Could the trees hurt us?” Rory asked in awe.
“The trees don’t think in terms of injuring or destroying us. It is hard to explain. They move with the wind, they drink the rain from their leaves down to the roots and they stretch to the sun. Some of the trees are old and dying, they don’t care what we do so they remain unchanged and unaffected. Younger trees bend away from us knowing we could destroy them. Some of the older trees are very proud of their size and height. They stretch to appear more grandiose to impress us.”
“Trees want to impress us?” Jexson asked, drawn into the conversation.
“Some do. They think if they are impressive enough we will leave them alone. And some of the trees want to understand us. They bend ever so slightly to brush their leaves against us as we walk. They sense the different trees I have touched. They know I can ‘hear’ them and they are curious about me.”
“Do they know you are a wood carver?” Jexson inquired.
“They sense my ability to create things. The trees in the forest near Viecity understood that. It was like they sensed what I could do with their cast off branches. Sometimes I would sit beneath a tree holding a chunk of wood and wait until I saw what the wood wanted to be.” French smiled. “Sometimes the trees would flirt with me.”
“What?” Rory and Jexson exclaimed together.
“What do you mean?” Jexson demanded. “How can a tree flirt?”
“There were certain parts of the forest that were more…delicate. I could sense the anticipation in the trees and suddenly a branch or knot would fall near me. They wanted me to create something beautiful.”
“Interesting,” Jexson murmured.
French took a deep breath and then stopped. He paused listening to the sounds around them. “The trees are talking again.”
“What are they saying?” Rory whispered.
“They have a secret.”
Jexson looked up in surprise.
French reached out and placed his hand gently on the rough bark. He could sense a similar touch further down the mountain.
“The trees are speaking to my aunt,” he said softly.
“What are they saying?” Jexson whispered.
“They are showing their purpose to her. They are guarding something in the mountains, something special. That is all I can hear.”
“Do you think it is the entrance to the caves?”
“I don’t know, but they trust Aunt ‘Le. They will be more likely to help her than even me,” French sighed. “I guess you were right. We needed to wait for them.”
By mid-morning the path had begun to fall and the trees grew further apart. Toward evening they stopped. Jexson picked a small protected clearing to stop and set up camp. An hour later Celendar and Le’Mone came through the trees into the clearing.
French looked up. “There you are. We have been waiting.”
He spoke with a smile and went to embrace his aunt. She hugged him tightly.
“I have been so worried about you. Geran told us about your arm. Why didn’t you wait for us?” she scolded.
French looked at Jexson. His friend raised his eyebrows in agreement.
“I was too anxious to get here,” he replied simply.
“Are there any others with you?” Jexson asked Celendar.
“No, it’s just us. I thought it would be better to keep the group small.”
“Very wise. The terrain is rough and would be hard on a larger group.”
“We saw your light from the bay. Clever,” Celendar acknowledged.
“That was my idea,” Rory replied excitedly.
“In the morning we will take you to the look-out where we saw you,” Jexson said
“How far is it?” Le’Mone asked.
French looked at his aunt. Her tone bespoke weariness. He realized she must have had a hard time when she found out he had been hurt.
“We should be there by dark tomorrow night,” Rory called as he offered her a plate of food.
“How is your arm?” Le’Mone asked anxiously
“It’s fine, healing nicely in fact. Jexson set it and then we kept going.”
“I made him sling it. He tries to use it until it hurts. He just won’t stop,” Jexson complained.
“I should have known,” she said with a sigh.
She reached for her bag of herbs and sat on a stump near the fire. She beckoned to French to join her. When he sat down she carefully removed the rough bandages and gently moved her fingers up and down his arm.
“You did a good job, Jexson,” she complimented.
“Thank you,” he replied proudly.
“You shouldn’t have used it, French. I can tell it is strained by the break. You might have even pulled it out slightly.”
French grimaced as she pressed on a sensitive spot.
“Hmm. Rory will you get me some water?” she asked.
Rory jumped up to retrieve his water sac. He poured a small amount into the bowl she offered. She sprinkled some herbs into the water and mixed then set the bowl over the fire to heat up. When the water was warm she dumped a finely ground mixture into the bowl. It sizzled as it hit the water and a faint yellow mist rose from the bowl.
She stirred the mixture until it became a thick paste and then rubbed the paste all over French’s arm. When she finished she re-wrapped it with fresh bandages.
“That should help a lot. It is almost healed. Another day or two and you can take the bandages off, but you have to keep it in the sling for at least another week,” she chided.
“Aunt Le’ I have missed you,” French said with a smile.
“I have missed you too,” she cried.
Celendar approached the pair and placed a heavy hand on French’s shoulder. “Thank you, French, for leading the way.”
“How long have you been up here?” Celendar asked.
“Not quite a week.”
“French was determined to keep searching,” Jexson interjected.
French ducked his head. “It’s just that I’m certain there is another entrance to the caves,” he said quietly.
Celendar nodded. “I think you’re right.”
French’s head snapped up. “You do?”
“Both Le’Mone and I have felt the same way. Le’Mone listened to the trees earlier…”
“They are guarding something,” French interrupted. “I heard. They aren’t as soft when they speak to you. I think they are still a little afraid of me.”
Le’Mone looked at French with a smile. “They aren’t afraid, they’re shy,” she replied.
“Shy?” French asked astounded.
“I didn’t think trees could be shy?” Jexson said with a laugh.
French nodded. “It makes sense. That is why I couldn’t get them to open up.”
“They sense your talent, French. Just touching them they know what you can do. They have never felt that before.”
“We certainly need you here Aunt ‘Le. Maybe they will tell you what it is they are guarding.”
“Tomorrow when we reach your camp further up, I will go and listen,” she agreed.
French beamed at his aunt. For the first time in weeks he felt like he was finally getting somewhere. He sat down at the fire and stared contentedly into the dancing flames.