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Rolfin's Orb
Book 3 - Pearl
Chapter 10

            “I’m glad you had the sense to bring this tool. What’s it called?” Jack held the cylinder in his hand.

            “It’s called a torch. You turn it on with the switch.” Angus reached over to flip the one in Jack’s hand.

            “Amazing,” Jack said. “It lights up the room” He swirled the light, its beam bounced off the walls. At first he smiled, excited by the new discovery, but then he recognizing the room, he lowered the beam to the stony floor. “King Kegan was murdered in this room. I sense the pain and fear.”

            “Aye, Jack, I sense it too,” Jimmy said, “even though we weren’t around when it happened.” He sighed and turned to Angus. “What are we looking for?”

            “There’s something very mysterious going on in here. I think the key to all of this lies within the castle walls,” he answered.

            “We’ve got the orb and are gathering the jewels. Nothing can happen until all 12 of them are in place. What do you expect to find here?” Jimmy heard a noise and aimed the torch toward the entrance to the room. “Quiet! Someone’s out there.”

            They saw the beams of light moving down the stairs towards the room. All were relieved when Johnny, Jesse, Fiona and Mairi came down the steps, each carrying a torch of their own. “Fiona, it’s you,” Uncle Angus said. “Oh, I see you’ve brought your mother. Mairi? Does this mean what I think it means?”

            Jimmy and Jack looked at Mairi. “I know everything, Angus. You’ve been collaborating with all of them and didn’t say a word to me? How could you?” Mairi scolded him.

            “I’m sorry, Mairi. It was for your own good.”

“My own good? You’ve got a lot of explaining to do later.”

“Yes. Well, never mind then. You know now,” Angus said.

            “Why are we here?” Mairi asked, taking Johnny’s hand.

            “We’re looking for something,” Jack said.

            “What are we looking for?” Fiona looked around the room, searching for nothing in particular.

            “I don’t know. We’ll know when we find it,” Jack said.

            “Artur! It’s good to see you,” Johnny said. He let go of Mairi and wrapped his arms around Jack. “It’s been a long time, my friend. This is Mairi,” he said, taking her hand once again. “She’s Fiona’s mother, a blood descendant of King Kegan and unfortunately, King Dugan too.”

            “You mean she’s a descendant through Princess Isabella? I thought Dugan took Ithgar from her and raised him to hate her,” Jack said.

            “He did. What nobody knew was that Princess Anna was pregnant too. She had Dugan’s son, Jorbi, but kept the secret hidden from the world. The Princesses came to Castle Athdara several years after their father’s and mother’s deaths. They settled here, living in the castle for a while. Both married and the boy was raised by a local villager,” Johnny explained.

            “It’s a pleasure to meet you Mairi. Your heritage is one you should be proud of, at least half of it. Princess Anna was a beautiful young lady. At least they were able to enjoy their lives after Dugan’s atrocities,” Jack said.

After being introduced to each man, Mairi let out a loud sigh and said, “I just shook hands with men who lived a thousand years ago. What other surprises are in store tonight? Why do I feel so cold all of a sudden? It’s like there’s something evil here.”

            “I feel it too,” Jimmy said. “It’s probably just the wind.”

            Mairi rubbed her arms. As her eyes wandered from wall to wall, she noticed the stained glass window. “I find that window intriguing. It looks like it’s been polished recently. It certainly doesn’t look ancient.”

“Elspet washed it, Mum. We’ve been here before, remember? See that table, Mum? It’s a special table. I’ll tell you about it later, but it’s really old, even before King Kegan’s time.”

Jack, Jesse, and Jimmy looked at the table; their eyes lighting up as they recognized its importance.

A dark vapor crept up the steps toward the group. Tendrils of evil reached around the stone walls as it moved higher into the castle. Phelan heard their voices. He peered from behind a wall. It’s that scribe, Alroy Cathmore and three of Kegan’s men. He turned and went back down the stairs, running into Drayton on the way up. Swirling around him in a gust of icy darkness he said, “What are you doing? I told you to stay down in the cavern. They’re in the castle, all of them.”

            Drayton turned and dashed down the steps with torch in hand. “I can hardly catch  my breath. There must be a thousand steps here. How far down is that cave anyway?”

“You’re not going to let a few steps tire you, are you boy?” The ghostly shape flew back and forth, impatiently waiting for Drayton. “Can’t you move faster?”

Drayton held the torch out in front of him, watching for creatures. He heard a noise above him and swooshed the torch. An old, rotting wooden crate lay in his path. In his rush to get back to the cave, he clumsily crashed into it, sending it tumbling down the stairs. It smashed into the walls, the noise echoing through the castle.

*  *  *

            “What was that noise?” Fiona ran to the top of the steps. “There’s someone down there. How far down does it go? Are there more rooms down there, Johnny? You’re the only one here who knows. You lived here, didn’t you?”

            “You’re right, Fiona. Jimmy, Jesse and Jack never came to the castle. I am the only one who lived here. There’s a lot more to this castle than you’ve seen. King Kegan had it built upon a system of caves and underground rivers. There are tunnels leading to different places in the surrounding area, including a maze made of yew hedges.” Johnny explained.

“I’ve seen that. Callum, Elspet and I went into the maze and we got lost. There were tall hedges, a statue and a birdbath. It was scary.  I almost fell through an old wooden door on the ground. Callum said it led down into a deep hole. It must go to one of the tunnels,” Fiona said.

 “I remember Kegan’s gardeners planting the yews. I watched them grow to enormous heights. They made the maze for the young princes and princesses. They had such fun in there. The gardeners even cut some of the yews into the shapes of animals. It brings back such fond memories of good times. There are yew hedges all over the castle grounds. There are even a few fountains and many statues. The castle grounds were a place of beauty. Perhaps I should save that conversation for another time. As for the tunnels, except for the river’s tunnel, Kegan had the others dug out for safety reasons, in case he needed to escape quickly, though it didn’t do him and his family any good at the end.”

            “What are we waiting for? If someone’s down there, we’d better find them,” Mairi said. “It might be Drayton. I’d like to ring his neck for what he did to my house.”

                                                            *  * *

“Clumsy fool. They’ll be after us now. Follow me,” Phelan snarled.

Forgetting about rats and bats and other things, Drayton ran down the stairs, skipping as many as he could without tripping. When they entered the cave he stopped. Huffing and puffing and out of breath, Drayton looked at the tunnels. “Where to now?”

Phelan laughed. “Which tunnel will take you to freedom? I’m not going to show you. You’re such an oaf. Find your own way. It will make more of a man out of you, you pathetic fool.” Phelan disappeared, dissipating into the air.

All the torches went out, leaving Drayton alone, with only the one dimly lit torch in his hand to guide him out.            “Great. Thanks a lot wizard,” Drayton said. He heard the voices drawing closer. He ran to the entrance of one tunnel. “I might as well try this one.” He ran into the darkness. His torch started dying out. “What is this?” He pulled threads of web away from his face. “It’s sticky, like spider webs.” He held the torch up. Stretched from one side of the tunnel to the other were thousands of webs, all strung together into one huge one. Tens of thousands of huge spiders dangled from silken strands. “Those spiders look like tarantulas.” He turned to leave and saw that he’d run through at least a dozen webs similar to this one. Tarantulas crawled up his pants, climbed on the back of his coat and in his hair. He screamed, the sound echoing off the walls and filtering out of the tunnel into the cave. “Get off me.” He pulled the spiders off his head and stomped on as many as he could, but there were so many that he couldn’t get rid of them fast enough. His entire body was covered with the huge spiders. Holding the torch to the web, he heard it sizzle. The spiders screeched and ran away from the flame. Seeing how that worked, he touched the spiders that were crawling on him and they fell to the ground. Not waiting for more to appear, he ran toward the cave, brushing them off. When he entered the main cave, he turned to look at the tunnel. “Where did tarantulas come from? “ He saw another tunnel. “This one looks like it used to be a river. Rivers flow outside. I’ll go this way.”

                                                            *  *  *

            “I saw a torch flickering,” Angus said. “Someone’s down there.”

“Follow me. Stay close to the walls. Ignore anything you may feel growing on them. It’s been empty a long time. Don’t go too quickly and if you hear any noises, stop,” Johnny said.

“What kind of noises?” Mairi wasn’t sure she wanted to go.

“Animal noises. Look, I don’t want to frighten you, but we often had problems with rats, bats, a few wolves, and spiders. I’m sure they’re long gone, but just in case, stay close to each other. I’ll lead the way. Mairi, you follow me. Fiona, go behind your mum and then Angus behind Fiona. Jack, Jesse and Jimmy take up the rear.” Holding their torches in front of them, they began the long climb down the stairs.

“I don’t like bats,” Mairi whispered to Fiona. Her torch swirled from side to side.

“This is taking forever! How many more steps are there? We keep going around in a spiral. Did you make these steps, Johnny?” Fiona tried to figure out in her mind how many steps they’d climbed down so far.

“I didn’t make the steps, Fiona. King Kegan hired workers from the villages and paid them well. We’re almost there,” Johnny said.

Ten minutes later they entered the cavern at the bottom of the steps. Angus stood with his mouth open, gaping at the stone room. “Will you look at this! I never knew this existed, for all the times I explored this place as a wee laddie.”

            “Wow! This is cool! Look at all the tunnels. I’m glad we all have torches,” Fiona said. “I wonder if my voice will echo?”

            She was about to shout when Jimmy stopped her. “No, Fiona. Don’t shout. If someone’s down here, they’ll hear us.”

            “Oops. You’re right. I’ll be quiet.” Fiona whispered to him.

            “Do you remember where each tunnel leads to?” Mairi asked Johnny. 

            “Not really. It’s been a long time. I know that one of them leads to another small island in the loch. One leads back inside the castle, one leads to the maze I just told you about, and the rest lead into different parts of the surrounding countryside. If I was someone trying to escape, I’d take the tunnel that leads to a carved mound at the shore of the loch. It’s the shortest tunnel and is outside the castle walls. I think it’s that one over there.” Johnny pointed to the right.

            “That’s the one we’ll take then.” Mairi  flashed her light from the ceiling to the floor of the cave. “It looks like a river once ran through here.”

            “It did. King Kegan kept a few boats down here. I’m surprised to see they’re no longer here, especially the one I used all the time. It’s not where I left it. The river used to bubble up from some springs on the other side of the cavern and flowed into the loch. It wasn’t really a river, but it was deep enough to carry the boats. The day they were murdered I came down here and took one of the boats out into the loch,” Johnny said.

            “Try not to think about it, Johnny. There’s nothing you can do about it now. Let’s hurry. I want to find that young man.” Mairi saw a spider crawling on the ground. “What is that?” She pointed to it.

“It looks like a tarantula, Mum. I didn’t think they had tarantulas in Scotland.” Fiona shone her flashlight at it.

“They don’t. Johnny, what’s going on here. Look! There must be a hundred of them. They’re all coming out of that tunnel,” Mairi said.

“My guess would be that when Kegan left his land, he brought many crates and boxes filled with his treasure, clothing and supplies. Some of the spiders must have come along for the ride and settled down here in the cave. They’re protected from the cold down here,” Johnny explained.

“Will the other tunnels have spiders too?” Fiona moved to another tunnel.

“I don’t know. Let’s be cautious. The first sign of spiders and webs, we turn back,” Johnny said.

Mairi turned on her torch and went into the tunnel. The others followed. “It looks okay so far.”

            Fiona sniffed. “It stinks in here and there are all kinds of icky things getting on my hands and shoes.” She aimed the torch at the walls. “The walls are covered with slime. I hear noises too. Should I stop? Is it tarantulas? Bats? What if it’s a wolf?”

            “Fiona, I’m surprised at you. With all the stories you’ve told us about your adventures, I would have thought spiders, bats, or even wolves, would be something trivial to you,” Uncle Angus said.

            “Hey. That’s right! Why am I scared? I fought a giant octopus and trolls and scorpions. What are a few bats,” Fiona said, surprising herself. “I’m brave.”

Her mum stopped. “Trolls? Scorpions? Nobody told me about that. Fiona?”

She ran ahead of her mother. “I’ll tell you later, Mum. I’ve got to catch him.”

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