Part XV – Account by Penny Kearney
Our feet pounded against the stone floor. Puddles and mice scattered alike in our flight, but I heeded neither. My heart raced with the excitement of escape as I pushed myself as fast as I needed to in order to keep up with Dana swift pace. Not once did I think to question his course.
Through the confusing angled labyrinth, turn after turn, given light by ever decreasing number of torches, then…
Dana checked his pace, halting. Easing my momentum, I stopped near him at an intersection. To our right the hall gaped into dimness, the occasional torch lighting the way, but not near as dark as the pitch black passage that lurked to the left. I watched as Dana flicked his gaze down one passageway, then the next, then back..
Over our heavy breathing, the echoes of our pursuers pricked my ears, drawing my glance back for an instant. Undoubtedly Dana heard it, too. I looked to him.
Urgency showed clear on his expression, but also did caution. “Maybe…” He took a hesitant step forward, then paused.
Was Set throwing him off?
The sounds grew louder.
Come on, Dana…
“Oh, hang it all…” Caution fled his demeanor.
Reaching back, he grasped my hand, catching my gaze even as the footfalls rang out from around the bend behind us. “You trust me?”
The flicker of hesitation that rose within me died in a heartbeat. “Yes.”
“Then do not let go, whatever you do.”
With that, he plunged full kelter into the black tunnel on the left, pulling me with along with him. Darkness swallowed us. I tightened my grip as bade, not loosening for a single moment in spite of the fact that Dana surged forward with seemingly no thought as to where the tunnel led. The light faded behind us in an ever shrinking point until it disappeared all together. For several minutes, the only sounds were our panted breaths and rapid footsteps. The guards chasing us must have assumed we’d gone down the lighted passage. Whatever the case was, I was grateful for it, and prayed it would remain as such long enough for us to reach the end of whatever trail Dana had picked up.
“Nearly….there,” He said between breaths.
The faint rumble of rushing water reached my ears, growing more and more distinct with every footfall. The air cooled, and suddenly Dana skid to a dead halt. I jerked to a stop to keep from running into him. I would have questioned him, but at that moment I could barely breathe, let alone talk. I heaved, throat constricted a little.
“Hold on,” Dana said, releasing my hand. “Give me a moment to focus.”
I strained to see his shadowed form in the darkness. His footfalls barely registered above the growl of water echoing from…..somewhere, as he paced carefully about the narrow passageway. I considered asking him what he was looking for, but I doubted even he knew at this point.
“Somewhere around here….” He muttered. “Maybe the wall to… “
A gasp and then a cry. His yell vanished downwards before ending with a resounding splash, somewhere below. And then, nothing, save the endless roar of water.
I darted forward. “Dana!”
The narrow passage came to an end in a gaping hole that jutted downwards into darkness even starker than that which surrounded me.
My thoughts tripped over themselves. Was this the way, or…
This is it.
It made no sense whatever. With a glance behind me, I put sanity from my mind, straightened, and stepped over the edge before I could dismiss my instinct with rational thought.
I regretted it instantly. The falling sensation jarred through me like a snap of cold wind. A cry rose in my throat as I plummeted downwards, and landed with a splash into the inescapable embrace of a dark current. The waves engulfed me, filling my mouth with water, dragging and throwing me downwards and away. I held my breath instinctively, flailing for something – anything – to grab onto. My fingers grasped only the surging liquid tendrils. My lungs began to ache. Panic welled up inside me.
The current suddenly hurled me helpless over a precipice. I gasped in a breath in the moment the momentum flung me into the open air, landing with another splash into a pool below. This time, however, I clawed my way to the surface as the course of the river slowed, though in my fatigued state it still kept me trapped in its clutches. I floated downstream like a bit of driftwood. By the time I forced myself to begin stroking for either side of the river, light up ahead began to illuminate the jagged tunnel walls. It shone from around a bend, and the current sped up again, whisking me around the turn and into fresh air, where I once again tumbled over a drop off.
I landed with a wet thump in a sandy bottomed pool only about knee deep. Spluttering, I pushed myself to my knees, crawling towards the shore. All around me grew a thick copse of pine trees. Sunlight streamed down through the pointed tops, sparkling off the ripples I created with each movement, but I couldn’t see Dana.
He had to have made it.
Coughing, I hauled myself onto the grass. It took me several moments to regain my breath.
There. Dana lay on his back, half out of the water a dozen yards away. Motionless.
I pushed myself to my feet, stumbling over to his position with water still dripping into my eyes. Dropping to my knees beside him, I yanked the straps holding his leather breastplate in place, shoved it out of the way, and pressed my ear to his chest.
Only a faint heartbeat. No breathing.
I slammed my fist against his chest. “Blast it, Dana! This is a stupid way to die!”
A gurgling cough rattled from his throat, and he pitched to the side, coughing and gasping for breath.
I nearly went limp with relief. I closed my eyes, and sat back on my heels with hands trembling as Dana regained his breath.
Thank you, my King….
Opening my eyes, I managed a slight smirk, too drained for anything else. “Thank you for not dying. That would have been a real downer.”
“You..” He coughed again, rasping, “You followed?”
“You asked me if I trusted you.”
“That was before I fell into a dark hole.”
I didn’t see how that mattered.
“Wait…” He frowned. “Died? How did you find me?”
“We both washed up here.”
For a long moment he just stared at me. I stared back.
“Thank you.” He said at last. “I am in your debt.”
I blanked. He didn’t wait for a response, planting his hands and pushing himself to his feet with a groan. This I was thankful for. I didn’t even know what response I would give to anything right now. Conflict raged in my heart like the current that had brought me here, and overwhelmed any potentially logical thought I might have been able to muster had I any energy left to do so.
“Now,” Dana said, obviously not suffering the same affliction as myself. Which I was also thankful for. “First thing’s first.”
I watched him stagger to the pool and stoop. He tasted the water before nodding. “Underground spring. It’s fresh.”
“Is that significant?”
He knelt and took several long draughts of the water before answering, “Yes. It’s drinkable. Don’t move from there, though; rest a moment.”
“That will not be a problem.” I said. “I had more than enough to drink on the way here.”
“Aye, but we’ll be wanting it later on more than not.” Taking a small canteen from his belt, which had somehow remained attached through the rage of the journey here, he dipped it beneath the surface to fill it with water. His hands moved with lingering clumsiness, but otherwise he didn’t appear any worse for wear from our unorthodox escape route. “Supplies especially, if we’re to be out here for much longer.”
I scooted back a few feet to rest against the trunk of one of the pine trees. “How long before they think to search for us?”
Returning to the bank, he sat down with a sigh a few feet away and shrugged. “I’ve no idea. That side passage was abandoned from castle use due to cave-ins many years ago.” He said. “I know for certain Set didn’t trick me; I had no idea what was down that way.”
That at least was comforting.
Silence began to settle, but suddenly he slapped his forehead. “Of course! That’s brilliant.”
I frowned, glancing in his direction, and found him to be peering up at the sheer cliff face at the base of which sat the little pool with the river pouring into it from a dark, gaping cavern.
“Campbell’s fortress; it’s back face is built out of a solitary mountain.” He motioned with his hand. “We’re on the other side. The watercourse must have shot us right through.”
“Oh.” I attempted to visualize this in my head, but my mind rebelled, too tired to make it make sense.
It must have showed, for Dana continued, “Meaning, unless they come the way we came, it would take any pursuers nearly an entire day to find us here. Even if they knew where we were.”
I raised my brows. “Oh…” While still unable to fully visualize, the amount of time it would take any of Ross’s men to reach us eased some of my tension.
“Even still, I don’t feel entirely like running anywhere at the moment.” He shifted with a wince, glancing about the area again. “This place looks well sheltered. My vote, we find a clump of bushes and rest for a few hours.”
I just nodded.
Wearily, he stumbled to his feet. “Hold on, I’ll find someplace and come back for you.”
I didn’t even think to protest. “All right.”
His gait grew stronger as he walked away and vanished amidst the trees.
The moment he was out of sight, I closed my eyes and leaned my head back. All I could think of was my brothers. Percy and Seph. One of them would die unless a miracle occurred. And I could do nothing. Nothing. It made me numb. Tears welled up in my heart though my eyes remained dry.
Well. As dry as they could considering the events of the past quarter of an hour.
I couldn’t help but wonder…. If they died…. Then what would I do?
“Pen?” Dana’s voice broke my thoughts.
I opened my eyes to see him walking towards me again. “There’s a dip in a clump of bushes a few yards in. Should work well enough.”
With a nod, I pushed myself to my feet, using the tree for support. “You sure they won’t be able to find us?”
“No.” He said frankly. A look of concern drew his brows downward, and he stepped closer. “You need help getting up?”
“I’m okay.” To prove it, I straightened, slipping my hand off the tree. “Where’s the spot?”
Turning, he led the way into the trees. I forced my uncooperative footsteps to remain steady to avoid worrying him any further as I followed him.
“Once you get in, the cover is thick enough to hide you” He said, pointing to a small clump of bushes that lied within the confines of three trees. “I’ll cover any damage to it when you’re in to mask your trail.”
I frowned sidelong at him, observing the lingering weariness in his demeanor, despite his efforts. “Are you keeping watch?”
“I’ll do my best to, but…. I don’t think either of us are in any condition to be doing much of anything. It feels….safe here, somehow. Like…. Moving would be worse than staying, if that makes any sense.”
“Well, wake me in an hour, and I’ll spell you.”
“I will. If I remember to…” He nodded towards the underbrush. “Go on, in you go. You’re hardly in a state fit to stand, from all appearances.”
“I’m not the one who almost died.” I mumbled.
Crouching, I ducked down into the makeshift den. The earthy scent of damp pine needles filled my nostrils and sunlight dappled down from above me into my secret little hiding place. I heard Dana re-arranging the brush to make my entry undetectable as I curled into a damp heap against the ground and let myself descend rapidly into the oblivion of slumber.