Philip, the high marshal of Carrock, slowly marched back and forth in the long hall of the castle. No, the signs were not good. His hand brushed slowly across his small black moustache as he waited for the grand ambassador to arrive. The doors at the far end of the hall were suddenly torn open and Stev Pulleny rushed in.
“You called, marshal?” he asked coming to a halt and inclining his head slightly.
“Yes, ambassador, we have a problem.” He held out a letter. “Read this.” Stev squinted at the
characters and read through the short message. He looked up at Philip in shock
“This can’t be true!” he gasped.
“It is. The Hun-Halk are on the move again. They will be in Carrock within a month. Gaddar Han must have gotten wind that his lordship is tied up at Damrok.” Stev cursed under his breath. The Hun-Halk a nation of two peoples who were the most terrible and cruel ones that Carrock had known since the Landal who had destroyed the Ancient Kingdom. According to tales from far around these people were known to rape and butcher even children. One of the Hun-Halk kings boasted to have made his tent out of human skin that he had flayed while the victims were still alive. Over the years they’d tried to capture the rich valleys and mountains of Carrock, beginning already in the days of Ryan the first lord of Carrock and Yoni the Watchcarer, his wife. Then his heirs had overthrown them often. Last was Martyn à Carrock nearly eighty years earlier.
“It seems they always pick a time when some sorcerer is strong and the lord is weak or away,” the high marshal sighed. “I’m just surprised they didn’t attack ten years ago. Then they would really have gained control, while we were fighting the Battle of the Wolf.”
“No,” Stev answered, “they’d have never attacked a wizard. They are allies by principle. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lady Roanna has prompted this.”
“Hm.” Philip brushed his moustache in agitation. “I will see if we can find a way of diplomatically stopping them. Perhaps a letter to their king.”
“Barbarian lord is all I’d call him,” the ambassador snapped. “He rules through fear, not at all by the love of his people, like the Lords of Carrock have.”
“Still, he’s human. Perhaps we can make an alliance — for the time being.” The gray eyes were unsteady. “It’ll gain time.”
“Let’s take it to the council, marshal. They will know what to do.”
“God, don’t I wish Dylan were here,” Philip muttered.
“Where is he now, Word?” Stev asked quietly. “Where is he now...”
The green eyes blinked open. The light was dim and there was a pretty brown face framed by long black tresses looking down on him. It was smudged with dirt and looked worried.
“Dad? He’s awake.” The face receeded and another came, this one also dirty, but a man’s.
“Praise the Word,” the man breathed. “Are you all right, m’lord?” Dylan closed his eyes and opened them again.
“Yes, except for this splitting headache,” he groaned as he sat up. “Where are we?” He looked around the room. It was mainly of earth, except for the wall he was leaning against, which was of uncut stone. Light came from a lone torch, somewhere behind Savoy the Scholar. He moved away to reveal a low opening, half in the ceiling half in the wall.
“We came through there?” the lord grunted, standing up. He pressed one hand to his head.
“I believe so.” The Scholar wiped his hands on his soiled, white clothing.
“Daddy?” a thin voice made the lord turn. It was Asha, standing just a little ways down the hall. Her face was in the shadows. In two quick strides he was beside her, knelt and put his arms around her.
“I’m here, little girl,” he whispered.
“Don’t worry, Asha. I’m here and so are Kyle and Lora and Savoy. We’ll take care of you, hm?” He brushed her little nose with one finger. She nodded.
“Now to get out of here.” He glanced back at the hole.
“No use, sir,” Lora said. “Dad and I looked at it some time ago. There are iron bars covering it and the inside is slimey. We couldn’t make it up there if we could get rid of the bars.” Dylan grunted in answer.
“Swift should be back with Kyle in a few minutes. They’re getting some more torches,” Savoy explained.
“Torches? From where?”
“There were some in the next room over,” Lora explained. “We found an old rest of one here and then Dad went with Kyle and Swift. They found some more in the next room over and brought two back. Then Dad sent Kyle and Swift to get some more.”
“Oh.” In the same moment a barefoot and quite grubby Kyle came back around the corner, the she-wolf trailing along behind him.
“I’ve got them!” the boy laughed. He was carrying about six old but usable torches under his arm. Swift had two in her mouth. She dropped them and sat back on her haunches. She made two yips and cocked her head.
“She says this place smells like death,” the lord translated. “Where are we, Savoy?”
“I believe that we are in the Labyrinth, m’lord. There is only one exit and it is probably a long way from here.”
“Do we have food?” He asked sitting down again, his back to the wall.
“I have some in my bag,” Lora said. “It’s hardly enough for five people plus a wolf.”
“I won’t need any for about eight days,” Dylan sighed. “At least one good thing that came from my enchantment is the fact that I can go without food and water for some time.”
“Yes and water’s the other problem,” Savoy explained. “We have one flask, half-full for six living creatures. We will have to find some more and soon. This won’t last for even one day between us.”
“Then let’s stop sitting around and get moving,” Dylan decided. “The quicker we leave the quicker we’ll find water.”
“If there is any down here,” the Scholar warned. Swift yipped.
“She says she can smell it.”
“Good girl,” Lora lauged patting the wide head. “Can you take us there?” The wolf merely got up and began to trot off in the direction they’d come from.
“Well, then let’s go,” Dylan sighed, rose and took Asha’s hand in his right, a torch in his left and followed Swift.
It seemed to be hours of endless halls later that Swift’s sure nose led them to a small source of water. It was a mere trickle on the ground at first, but then ended up being a low pool, where the luke-warm liquid bubbled from a metal pipe and into a low basin. Dylan knelt beside it and cupped some in his hand.
“Do you think it’s safe?” Lora wondered. For the first time it occured to the lord that this might be poisoned. Even Swift hadn’t tasted it.
“I guess there’s only one way to find out,” Dylan sighed and lifted one hand to his lips. The water tasted musty, but not unpleasant, just like water from a good old drinking pool full of rich leaves.
“Well, it tastes fine,” he said with a shrug. “If I don’t curl up and die in the next ten minutes, I think we’ll be able to drink it.” They decided to wait for a while to see if anything would happen to the lord, but nothing did, so the rest of them were able to quench their thirst. After that Asha curled up in her father’s arms and went to sleep. Eventually Kyle and Lora nodded off, too, leaning against each other, Swift acting as a back rest. Only the two men were still awake.
“Would you tell me about the Labyrinth, sir?” Dylan prompted the Scholar. The dark man sighed and took his cap from his head.
“I only know what the ancient legends say about this place,” he whispered back. “It is said that it was once a place where many kings of old hid to keep themselves and their families safe. In later years Damrok was built above it and the Labyrinth was used as a dungeon in parts. Then when the kings turned evil, it became a favorite method of killing unwanted people. Sometimes they lived for years down here, eating from the carcasses of those who died before them and looking for a way out. Only one or two ever made it out the doors. It is said that the closer you get to the exit, the more dangerous the path becomes. That makes me think that we are a long ways from the entrance, since we haven’t encountered any traps yet.”
“What kind of traps are there?”
“Probably many of the conventional ones — pits in the path with spikes in them, shooting mechanisms that are triggered by someone stepping on them, hallways that are made to cave in when they are passed through, trapping the people inside. But most dangerous of all are the traps that are of magic. I can sense these before they snap shut, but they are often much more deadly and painful than the conventional ones.”
“So I believe we are in quite a fix, aren’t we?”
“I think we can forget the formalities, since we are in this up to our necks,” Dylan interjected. “I’m Dylan.”
“Savoy,” the Scholar answered. “As I was about to say, there is a possibility that we might find the way out.” The lord raised one eyebrow.
“You see, shortly before we left on this journey, I acquired an old parchment. I think I now know why I copied it and brought it with me.” He reached into his tunic and pulled out a small package of paper. He bent it towards the torch.
“This was written by a — Till ya List Hayn, who claims that he lived to leave the Labyrinth, but what is most interesting, is that he described the way out and the traps that he encountered.”
“So a map!”
“No, just a description — in a poem. That means we will have to figure out what we can trust and what not. Let’s take a look at what he’s written here. Oh, it’s written in old Cavendish, that means it won’t rhyme in our language. I’ll have to translate.” He squinted at the copied characters and began to read:
The words of Till ya List Hayn after he escaped from the Labyrinth of Death beneath Damned Rock, the castle of the ancient Kings of evil.
In we fell down a slippery hole
down to the very clutches of death.
Four did enter,
one did leave.
The Labyrinth stole our life.
Through winding passages and giant halls
for water we searched.
Atreus’ pool was found
and refreshment given
after three days without water.
Beneath Hera’s guiding hand
with the wisdom of Athena
we searched for the outlet
and looked for an exit
for time unknown.
“This guy sure knows his mythology well,” Dylan muttered. Savoy read on.
The path did wander through great halls
where once the ancient lords feasted
beautiful were the tapestries
and deadly the food.
Three left one behind, who tasted and died
To the top, to the top
run and do not rest!
followed the traveller from the depths
The rooms were small, yet hid us
from the footfall of the unseen.
seeking to kill those who intruded.
Before us the pits deep and dark,
the iron spears were sharp
to kill him
who merely touched them.
Hades hand rushed by, striking one of three.
Cold and evil death held fast
and slowly she fell
slowly she died
but not until the gate was opened.
Yonder silver light?
What is it?
It is a rain of silver,
a sparkling curtain.
Only Diana’s Child holds the key.
The shining drops are deadly
seeking the one unclean.
Three did come,
two did pass.
The traitor lost his life.
Across the river of crimson flames
One must carry the other.
The stepping stones shifted,
the path was uneven.
And yet Sophia’s hand guides the step.
One last test before the gates.
Choose the path you will go.
One leads to back,
the other to life.
Right or left, where shall you go?
There, the gates to life.
Yet for one to exit, one must stay.
A death to give life,
life given by a sacrifice
So one stayed and one left.
The mournful wails of the one who left
do echo still in the walls of the Damned Rock.
Let him who escapes,
let her who lives
write this in stone by Atreus’ pool.
In this message the path is written,
in this poem the way is clear.
Follow the words,
understand the lines
and find the door to life.
“Interesting,” Dylan muttered. “I wonder what it means.”
“Well, it looks like they fell in through the same passage we did. Perhaps this is Atreus’ Pool.”
“It certainly didn’t take us three days to find it.”
“Thanks to Swift,” Savoy returned with a grin. He glanced at the rock wall behind the pool. It was smooth, as if waiting for an inscription.
“I guess, then, that this is where we have to put the poem.”
“In old Cavendish? No one can read that today,” the lord interjected.
“No, I’ll put down the translation. It shouldn’t be too hard. The stone is quite soft. May I use your hunting knife, Dylan?” The other nodded and shifted his sleeping daughter just enough to draw the bright blade. Savoy balanced himself on the edge of the pool and began to carve the words into the wall.
“Savoy, what do you know of Till ya List Hayn?” Dylan asked after a while.
“My forefather wrote about a Tillus of Dell Cairn who had lived through the Labyrinth. Some say that Dell Cairn was the captal of the Lands of Cavend to the east of Carrock. Dell Cairn is the name given that city in our tongue — royal Lectus. In old Cavendish it was called List Hayn, which could be literally translated as ‘the secret grove.’ It was called that way because it was once a place where Odin and Freya were worshipped.”
“What does this have to do with Till?”
“Just a moment. The fact that List Hayn was at that point no more than a few houses is significant, because about the time that Damrok became a bastion of evil, Tillus of Dell Cairn was supposed to have led a revolt against the kings, trying to make Carrock and Cavend a kingdom of its own, with himself as leader. Hereby he reached back to the legend of Odin’s heir, who supposedly was called to reign the whole of the Ancient Kingdom. He, his wife, and two other principal people of the movement were finally captured and cast into the Labyrinth. Tillus is said to have come out alone. That makes the poem all the more truthful.”
“So what happened to this man?” Dylan wanted to know.
“It’s uncertain, but it is said that he went and joined the Landal. He took a second wife among them and it is said that his great-grandson finally led the Landal against the Ancient Kingdom.” Savoy sighed. “Aside from being an excellent poet and a very evil man, there isn’t much else that can be said of him.”
“Then why did the silver rain let him pass and not his friend?”
“I have no idea, Dylan. It might have been that he held the key to it.” The Scholar finally stepped back. “There, that ought to be legible enough,” he said with grin, looking at the letters of the poem.
“Mm-hm,” the lord mumbled and then stared ahead. The mention of Tillus’ wife made him think of his lady, somewhere far up above him in the castle. How was she and what was happening? Protect her, Word, he prayed silently. And he was certain that the Word would do so.