The High Castle
They were lost in the dark.
The three of them pushed on, the Iskia cawing and screeching, drawn to the fading light of Mim’s staff. She looked exhausted and Breanna knew it took all her strength to keep moving. Each time the light of her staff flickered, Breanna reached out a hand, helping Mim along. Together they stumbled over rocks and slid over seaweed as they scrambled on and on within the caves.
She was sure the water travelled out towards the sea but the further along they travelled, the more she wondered if the river led them deeper into the earth.
What if they never found their way out into the light?
Occasionally they would hear the deep dwellers. A crash or a knock high above them. The Iskia would grow silent and fearful, their little bodies would crowd around Breanna as if for warmth and she would find it hard to move forward.
But onward they must go. They had to find a way out; they had to keep moving if only for her sanity. She couldn’t be trapped in the dark forever, she had to see the light once again; she had to see the stars.
Leasha’s hand clutched her own, and she wished there was more than the dim flicking of the mage light She longed to gaze upon the Elven features of the maiden she never thought she would see again.
She had lost so much; she wanted to cling on to Leasha, hold on to her forever and never let go.
“Why did you bring these bloody wretches?” Mim spluttered as she tripped over a frightened Iskia, Breanna helped her up and she knew Mim was only irritated, only tired, only frightened herself although she would never admit it.
“I made a promise,” Breanna said, “Although even if I hadn’t they deserve to be freed as much as you do.”
Mim sniffed and Breanna expected her to argue further but was surprised when instead, Mim nodded. “Good.” But then she stopped, her drawn face stared around the dark beyond her mage light.
Breanna could see nothing in the dark although she heard the chuckling voices of the Iskia, their frightened cawing sounded so like the laughter of children it was almost disturbing, but she felt their fear and was comforted by their trust in her.
Mim sighed deeply and they waited for her to continue, but instead, she turned to Breanna. “Help me sit would you?”
Eager to escape, but worried for Mim, Breanna searched around and together she and Leasha found a dry rock and helped Mim settle.
“Good, good,” Mim whispered, suddenly her mage light flickered off and they were plunged into darkness. Mim sighed. “Be of use and get old Mim a drink would you, Elf?”
It was too blindingly dark to see anything, but they could hear the bubbling of the river easily enough. Breanna reached out and took Leasha’s arm. “Here,” she said, handing Leasha her Breanna bronze helmet, “fill this.”
There was a note of surprise in Leasha’s tone, but she moved carefully away toward the river leaving Mim and Breanna alone with the Iskia.
As soon as Leasha was out of range Mim leaned forward to Breanna, and thrust the staff into her hands, “Can you do it again? Can you find your way?” she hissed and there was a note of desperation in her voice.
Breanna took the staff, dumbfounded. It thrummed in her hand but she wasn’t certain she could repeat her trick. “I-I don’t know.”
Mim nodded. “Then I’m afraid this is the end of our journey.”
“Don’t say that,” Breanna’s stomach twisted. After everything, how could they fail now?
“My dear, we’ve no food, no supplies, no heat, no light, and a bloody great gang of winged predators that’ll turn on us the moment they realise we’ll do well for their dinner.”
Breanna felt a ruffle of dissent around the Iskia. “They won’t.” She protested but clutched her brother’s axe all the same.
But before Mim could push further, Leasha was back and guiding the water to Mim’s lips.
She spat it out, instantly. “Saltwater!” Mim shouted.
“I’m sorry,” Leasha said.
“Saltwater!” Mim grabbed the staff back from Breanna and it burst into blinding blue light. Mim, filled with sudden energy started toward the river.
Leasha backed away, repeating her apology.
But Mim turned to her, a grin at her lips. “It’s salt!” she cried again.
“You already said.” Breanna stood, following the Dwarf.
“Don’t you see?” Mim said, leaping over rocks that minutes ago she would have struggled to climb. “We are saved!” Mim laughed.
“What?” Breanna had to run to keep up, “How?
“This way!” Mim ordered as she went off into the dark, holding her staff aloft.
Many of the Iskia took flight, and it was Leasha who stumbled on some loose rocks, Breanna helped her and they scrambled after the Dwarf who disappeared off into the distance.
But soon, Mim let out a cry that stopped Breanna in her tracks.
“Daylight up ahead!” She shouted.
Leasha and Breanna glanced at one another, then took off at a run.
As the stumbled around a curve in the cave tunnel Breanna saw the beams of light piercing into the dark.
Joy filled her belly hand in hand, she and Leasha ran forward. The rocks petered out, favouring wet sand as they ran along the bank of the river. Iskia flew overhead and Breanna rushed to catch up with Mim as they finally broke blinking into a sun shining brightly over a wide expanse of beach.
The cawing rose high above them as the freed Iskia flew higher and higher in the sky and were soon joined by their overjoyed brethren.
“How did you know?” Breanna asked.
“Seawater,” Mim said, “The river was near an incoming tide.”
As they walked from the mouth of the cave and out into the bright light, brighter than Breanna had ever known it in her life, they were deafened by the crashing waves and the call of the gulls.
“What’s that?” Leasha asked pointing up to the high cliff where a precarious-looking stone bridge led to a giant stone fort on its own island.
“That, my Dears,” Mim said striding forward onto the sand, “is the fort of the Cornovii.”
TO BE CONTINUED IN BOOK THREE…