From Cursive To Curses- Part XIV
The water shimmered a vibrant red. The sun only added color to the liquid that trickled from the stone fountain. Aledia could only stare. Why was the water red? It appeared too thin to be blood. She turned back to her traveling companions and found them staring as well.
When they had awoken the next morning, they found the old man gone. Three packs were set aside. Each filled with provisions for their travels and a map to guide them. The map had taken them from the forest filled with golden apples to another small village. At the center of the village, a stone fountain stood tall. Cherubs held vases that dipped from the top, allowing the red liquid to pool at the bottom.
“What is it?” Rafe asked from behind Aledia.
Jacob moved to stand beside Aledia. He dipped a hand into the pool of the fountain. The scarlet liquid slipped from his hand. He sniffed it. It was an earthy smell. Not the same as water or blood. He sniffed it once more. The faint trace of berries was within the earthly tones. He could practically taste it on his tongue.
“It’s wine,” he said, shaking it off his hand.
Rafe ran past them, pushing both Aledia and Jacob aside. “Wine! How can that be possible? In this heat, it would spoil!” he said and scooped some into his hands.
Wilhelm smacked his wrists before he could bring the liquid to his lips. “Don’t drink it, boy. Use your head for once. If it’s not natural, don’t drink from it.”
Rafe rubbed his wrist but stepped back. Heat flooded his cheeks. He looked back around the village. People bustled about the main square. Market stalls stood around the fountain. All around them, vendors sold fruits, meats, and other trinkets. A low hum encased them as people went about their shopping.
“How odd,” Aledia said as she dipped a finger into the fountain. She swirled it around and then pressed her fingers together. The heat of the sun hit her back and caused her to sweat. Yet, the wine was cold on her fingers.
Jacob walked towards a flower stand. Flowers covered the stand’s counter varied in breeds and colors. The wind carried the different fragrances and only became stronger as Jacob approached. A stubborn sneeze tickled Jacob’s nose.
“Good day, strangers!” the man from behind the stall said. He smiled at Jacob. “What can I help you with today? Are you looking for flowers for your lady? I have some roses that have bloomed this morning.”
Jacob shook his head. “We are passing through. Why is there wine in your fountain?” he asked.
“There has always been wine in the fountain. What a strange question,” the man laughed. He stopped and glanced at Wilhelm at his place beside the fountain. The vendor squinted at Wilhelm as if there was something familiar. “I could have sworn that he came through here already. He bought a dozen roses for a lass. Although, I hadn’t seen him come back this way. Pity he came back alone…”
Jacob grinned. Wilhelm and his father were a mirror image of each other. “That must have been our father. We are looking for him. Do you know where he was going?” he asked.
“He was making his way towards the caverns. I can’t fathom why. No one goes there,” the man said. A shudder ran through him as he made a cross over himself.
Jacob rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Is it cursed?” he asked.
The man stared. “How did you know? You must have heard of them before!”
“What kind of curse is it?”
“What kind of curse? Aren’t all curses the same?” the man asked.
Jacob shook his head and offered the man a few coins. The man gave him a bouquet of flowers and the directions to the cavern. He took the set of roses that the man was sure he would give Aledia. He shook his head at the thought. They did not need flowers while they were traveling. A set of children rushed by but stopped as Jacob stepped into their path.
“Here are some flowers, do with them as you will,” he said and moved back to the group. The children squealed and scurried off with the roses.
“We have to head further south. Father’s going to a set of caverns,” he said and ushered the group away from the fountain.
“What did he say about the wine?” Aledia asked.
Jacob shrugged. “He thought it was strange that I was asking at all. Let’s find the fool and get out of this strange realm.”
“I couldn’t agree more. There’s no trusting a place with golden apples and wine fountains,” Wilhelm said.
“Or it sounds like the best place,” Rafe grumbled.
Wilhelm scowled as they left the village. The caverns were not far off. “Lad, you should not be too trusting. If I have learned anything, it is that magic doesn’t do anyone any favors. This realm defies nature because it is magic,” he said.
“You can’t know that!” Rafe said. Everyone turned and gave him a look. “Although, it does make the most sense,” he said after a moment.
The group moved onwards to the caverns. The man had not given them any details on the curse. What good did that do them? Jacob wondered if he should have pressed the man for more information.
Aside from the golden apples and the fountain of wine, this realm resembled their own. The leaves of the trees caught the light. Branches above them danced in the breeze. Their boots crunched on the dirt from the path as they ventured forward.
“Once we find him, what will you do?” Rafe asked Aledia.
She shrugged. “I was always so afraid that my father would marry me off to some suitor. Thanks to Jacob, I can chart my own course forward. I would like to teach, but traveling is also nice,” Aledia said.
Rafe nodded. “I think I will settle down. The messenger life was fun for a while, but I have had enough adventure for a lifetime. You lot saw to that!” he said with a laugh.
Wilhelm couldn’t suppress the grin. Rafe looked over at him and arched a brow. “I suppose I will go back to the farm. Someone has to maintain it,” he said.
“You could become a woodcarver or a carpenter. There is always a need for that, and I know that’s what you love,” Jacob said.
“Not this again. Someone has to take over the farm. I have to accept that you won’t, but that doesn’t mean I will leave it abandoned,” Wilhelm said with a sigh.
“You don’t have to. What if you hired help to maintain it? There are so many different ways to keep the farm and still do what you want,” Jacob shrugged.
Wilhelm was silent. He could hire help or sell the farm. Did he want to do that? Did he want to change what he was doing with his life? The farm was all he’d ever known. It was their childhood home and had been passed down through generations. He wasn’t sure he could give that up.
They stopped as they spotted a dark entrance in a large mound of rocks. When the man had said cavern, he should have said hole in the ground. The entrance led straight down into the earth. There was a pause between them.
“This must be it,” Aledia whispered.
“We’re supposed to go down there? Why would your father go down there?” Rafe asked, moving back away from the mouth of the cavern.
“I’m sure he had his reasons,” Wilhelm said and moved towards the entrance.
Jacob followed without hesitation. After a moment, Aledia and Rafe followed the brothers into the cavern. Each step felt heavier than the last. What curse was on this place? The place seemed cursed enough. As they climbed down the slope, it was as if the earth was swallowing them.
Rafe took a steadying breath. He felt a hand touch his arm and glanced over to Aledia. Her hand shook, but her face betrayed none of her fear. He placed a hand over hers and smiled at her. They had to be brave for whatever lay ahead.
The light faded. As they walked further from the entrance, the darker the cavern became.
They heard the sound of dripping water in the distance. There was water somewhere in the dark. The smell of musty earth filled their senses as their eyes adjusted to the darkness. They treaded forward with slow steps over the rough, untrodden ground. The ground sloped downward at an increasing rate. Were they traveling to depths of the earth?