"That's a possibility for the future," she told him.
"We'll have to think about that," I nodded.
"Some lovely anthracite down there."
"Is that what's burning?"
"No, that's the revealed pool of lava."
"If you actually ever do start working this mine, just an oh by the way in case it's not incredibly obvious, I'm sorry if I'm being insulting, there is a very powerful magic force buried around here someplace...."
"No there isn't," he told her.
"I think the past tense might be what we're getting at here," I suggested.
"I'm a born optimist."
"You are one hell of an optimist if you can look at this and...."
"Actually, I'm looking at this situation thinking, what an opportunity for glory and a horrible death!'"
"That's the right spirit. Let's go."
"It was a pleasure to meet you," she told the knocker.
"Pleasure to meet you, too. I'd give you a name but I haven't figured mine out yet."
"You should take your time about figuring out a name for yourself anyway," she advised.
"I'd hate to be stuck spending eternity named Rooooarrrrrgh."
Meara nodded firmly. "The first thing that came to your mind, and it turns out fifty years later that you can't stand that name, because you know, it sounded cool when you first born."
We continued on our way. It wasn't very hard to avoid the cave troll, thanks to the sheer amount of noise he made. Eventually we reached the central shaft, much deeper than we'd been able to go on our last visit. There were stairs carved around it, leading down. Hanging down into the shaft were the ropes and pulleys of the largest winching system any of us had ever seen. It wasn't very old, either.
"Somebody's an ambitious boy," Meara remarked.
She took her dagger out of her pocket and stuck it in the top of the stair, just in case. It was widdershins all the way down, and a very long way; we weren't looking forward to the climb up. We passed some partially collapsed levels in the cave system, and finally reached the bottom.
There was a pool of molten iron there, and four massive rings sunk into the bedrock all around it, three feet in breadth. The bottom half of the enormous winch. There were also two smithies. One of them was the orcs', or had been; it was mostly slag now.
"Those little bastards," I muttered.
The other one was entirely undamaged, and old. It drew our magic-users like a magnet. The anvil was black iron on a base of oak-root, built on a raised platform. The platform planks were willow, alder, and beech, which are not exactly lumber trees under normal circumstances; Llweder frowned in puzzlement. The handles of the tools hanging neatly at the forge were made of the other sacred trees.
Gannon walked over the platform again and frowned. It sounded hollow. We moved everything movable except the anvil, and then we moved that. There was a box under there, made of lead and silver, unsealed. Meara guessed that its construction was more for hiding than binding, so it was probably safe to open it, although getting it out of the hiding place took as much effort as moving the anvil had. It was a foot and a half deep, four feet wide, and six feet long.
"Do you want me to do an augury before we open this?"
"You can do an augury if you want to."
She asked her question and winced at the metaphorical volume of the "yes" that came back. "Thank you, my lady."
"Testy, ain't she?"
"No, actually she's not testy at all. She's just... I don't want to say that she's not a subtle god, it's just that when she comes through me she's not subtle."
We opened the box. It held a spear, a sword, and a war hammer. The edges on the blades and the hammer's head were molten iron. We all spent a moment just staring at them in wonder and some trepidationeven Llweder, who knew in his bones that this place was holy.
Meara was for putting the box back.
"You think someone might come looking for this stuff at some point?"
"A spear, a sword, and a hammer?" she said. "We're missing a few items." Although when she thought about it, the pit of iron would do for a cauldron, sort of.... "I'm actually of two minds. I mean, it's probably safer down here, but that means it's not accessible to us. And if we need it...."
"In a hurry," Llweder added.
"You can carry it up the stairs, then," I told her.
"That's where the second mind comes in. That and the whole thing that I'm not entirely certain walking out of here with this isn't going to be very similar to unfurling that banner. Unless of course that box is well enough hidden that it's not going to be noticed."
"Well, if he'd noticed it before, then presumably if he wanted to he would have done something about it."
"He might not have been able to notice it underneath an enchanted platform underneath an oak root and an anvil. But he might be able to notice it sitting in Griffon's stall next to Buttercup."
"I think we'll have to put it back," I sighed. "We know where it is."
Meara did a quick augury, asking for weal or woe if we followed that course. The coin landed on edge and spun counter-clockwise.
"What did you guys have to do me to last time to get me out of the trance?" Llweder asked us suddenly.
"We cold-cocked you," Meara told him.
"Be prepared to do so again. I'm going to look around." He sensed that there was something there, but couldn't quite see what it was.
She repeated her question, this time asking what would happen if we took the box out. It spun deosil this time. "Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Let's take it with us. It really is your choice," she deferred to me. "Don't you think it would lovely in our living room with a vase?"
"Whatever else we do with it, I don't think we're going to be using it as a coffee table."
Llweder looked more carefully and almost got himself possessed again, but retained his control this time. "No more reading oghams around here." There was definitely something there, he just couldn't read them without being read himself.
"We could just camp out here permanently and wait for him to show up," I suggested, wondering if we could use the winch to get the box up. It would be just as slow and almost as unwieldy, unfortunately; the winch had been built for something much bigger.
"Sort of makes you wonder what they were trying to get out of here," Meara remarked, following my glance.
"Why yes, yes it does."
"And whether they were successful or not."
Gannon and I lifted the box and started on the long climb. The best part was the brief sprint past one of the side passages when we heard the cave troll roaring in the distance. Meara waved goodbye to the knocker in case he was watching.
"Do you think we should tell Artos there's a cave troll around here?" she wondered.
| Top |
© 2002 Rebecca J. Stevenson et al