From Cursive To Curses- Part XV
The trickle of water sounded closer as they ventured into the cavern. The dark was all-encompassing. It swallowed everything and made them wonder whether they would see daylight again. They moved carefully. Their boots sliding over the length of the cavern floor rather than stepping. In this darkness, everything was blind.
“Do you think we should turn back? Perhaps we can fetch a light?” Aledia asked. She held her hands out in front of her and moved them around. The stone walls scraped her fingers, leaving a few knicks in the process. It was a better alternative than running into them. Ahead of her, the others did the same.
“Would you know the correct way back?” Jacob asked. He, too, had hindsight in the clearest vision. Why hadn’t they brought a blasted torch? Something to light their way.
“It cannot be that much farther,” Wilhelm said as he led the group. The sound of the water grew louder. What started as a trickle had become the whisper of a stream. There was a source of water ahead of them. If there was, they could stop there and recollect.
Wilhelm felt the cavern wall tighten around them. They each walked single file as the cavern walls squeezed in around them. Wilhelm led the best he could, but fear struck him. He was not the smallest man. His muscled shoulders brushed the walls as they closed in around him. Wilhelm felt the others behind them, Aledia’s small hand on his back. Either to reassure him, she is there or to reassure herself. He steadied his breathing and following the winding curve.
“Do you see that?” Aledia asked as she peaked over Wilhelm’s shoulder.
A faint glow hit the winding curve of the cavern’s walls. Their sliding steps quickened as they rushed towards the light. The further they rushed, the brighter the light became. A faint musty smell began to hit them as they wound down the tunnel.
With another turn, the tunnel opened into a large room. A river cut through the stone that led deeper into the heart of the cavern. The brothers were moving forward before Aledia and Rafe could register the movement.
A sleek black boat floated on the river. Two flames floated above the front and back of the boat, lighting the way. The ferryman stood silent and stared at the group. Aledia stopped and gripped Rafe’s arm. The ferryman was a striking similarity to Wilhelm that there was no mistaking it. It was their father. They had finally found him.
“My boys, how are you here?” the ferryman asked as Wilhelm and Jacob approached.
“We have been looking for you. Why are you here? Why haven’t you come home?” Wilhelm asked.
“Both of you have been looking for me? Jacob?” their father asked.
Jacob swallowed hard. A lump formed in his throat. He felt a pull towards the tunnel they had come from. Yet, his feet felt planted into the stones below him. He licked his lips, and they were dry. The words caught within him. They tangled and tied in his throat, prevented his speech.
“I could not have found you without Jacob,” Wilhelm said. He clapped a hand on Jacob’s shoulder.
Tension hung in the air.
Their father stood silent in the boat, holding the oar with both hands. He made no motion to remove himself from the boat as he stared down his sons. “I’m glad that you both found each other again,” he said after a few moments.
“You’re glad?” Jacob rasped.
“Yes, son, I’m glad. I have… I beg you to forgive a grieving man. In my grief, I have laid great wrongs against you,” their father said after a moment.
Jacob’s stiffened his lip as something welled up in his chest. He pushed it down and refused to let it spill over and out. “What madness do you speak?” Jacob pushed out.
He continued to hold the oar with both hands. “Not madness, son. I have had time to reflect on a great many things. One of which was how we parted last. Your mother was ill, and that was not any fault of yours. I’m sorry that I laid that at your feet.”
“Come down from there, father, and let us talk,” Wilhelm said.
A sad look passed their father’s face. “I can’t come down. This is my post since the last ferryman tricked me.”
“What do you mean?” Aledia asked as she stepped forward.
Their father glanced to the girl and the boy behind his sons. What had they done to get here? Who were these people?
“This is Princess Aledia. She is Jacob’s apprentice,” Wilhelm said and gestured to Aledia. “And this is Rafe, the Messenger of Kings. They have assisted us in finding you.”
“This is our father, Destrain,” Wilhelm said.
“A pleasure to meet you. What do you mean that you can’t come down?” Aledia asked again.
He sighed, it rattled his frame, and he looked down to the oar in his hands. “I came here in search of your mother. I heard about the tale of the Lucky Child. If he could make it to the devil’s home, I could too. I was ready to promise anything to bring her back. She kept our family together. Life was bleak without her light,” he said.
Another shaking breath shook his frame. After a moment, he cleared his throat. “When I arrived, the ferryman asked me to hold the oar as he had to check something on the boat. I did and have never been able to let go.”
Aledia nodded and then peered down the river. “You ferry souls to the underworld?” she asked and looked to the brothers.
“You have been stuck here,” Wilhelm said. “How…” he glanced back to Jacob.
“There would be only one person that could release him from this duty,” Jacob said and frowned. He hauled himself into the small boat.
His father stared, horrified. “You are not going to see the devil. I refuse to take you. You’ll only get killed!” he said, shaking the oar in his hands.
“The way I see it, you don’t have a choice in the matter. It only requires a piece of gold fare,” Wilhelm said and climbed into the boat.
“Will you be coming too?” Jacob asked. He held out a hand to Aledia and Rafe.
Rafe tried not to shake at the thought. Humans were not supposed to interact with the devil. Now, they were going to face him. How did they know the devil would let them return to the world of the living? He glanced over as Aledia clambered into the boat. It was either go with them or wait here, alone. His heart hammered in his chest as he took Jacob’s hand and climbed into the boat.
Each pulled out a coin from their packs and checked to ensure they had the money for the return fare. The oar shook in his hands as they placed the coins into the hat beside his feet. He tried not, but the magic of the ferryman forced his limbs and muscles into movement.
“If you think for one moment, I am pleased with this, you are wrong,” their father growled. He pushed the boat through the water.
Wilhelm grinned. “You will be thanking us once we free you,” he said as he looked around the cavern.
Their father rowed them into a dark tunnel. The water slid around the edges of the boat. It reflected the light onto the ceiling of the cavern. “Tell us what you know of the devil. It is clear that you knew more when you started this journey,” Jacob said.
Featured Photo by ID 12019 via Pixabay. Altered by Lindsey Gruden.