From Cursive To Curses- Part XVI
The only sound in the cavern was the water sloshing the side of the boat. With every push, the boat glided along the otherwise dark cavern. Only the light flickering at the front and back of the boat provided any light or direction.
Jacob watched the torchlight dance with the shadows on his hands. How did his father even know where to go? Was it part of the curse? Jacob sat with his back to his father. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end.
There were so many conflicting emotions. They tangled and knotted within his chest. It prevented him from seeing the situation clearly. He knew he had to free his father from this curse. Yet, the man had spurned him on his mother’s death bed. Was that a forgivable act? Jacob wasn’t sure he could find it in him to forgive him.
Wilhelm nudged him and glanced back at his father. His younger brother wanted them to patch up. Jacob could see it in the desperation of his eyes. Wilhelm wanted things to go back to how they once were. He didn’t know if that was possible. Another nudge from his brother, and he was turning to his father.
“You said that the last ferryman handed you the oars, and you were stuck here?” Jacob asked. His voice bounced off the dark rocks and rumbled through the cavern.
“Yes, lad. I never made it to the devil. I have tried everything to free myself from this curse to no avail. The lot of you are foolish to try,” he snapped.
“Well, we can’t leave you. If Jacob had done that, I’d still be under a curse to dance every night with goblins!” Aledia said as she peeked around Jacob.
“You were under a curse?” Destrain asked. His eyebrows rose, and he looked back to his eldest. How had his son broken the curse?
“Oh, yes! It was awful. We danced holes into our shoes every night,” she sighed. “The nights of no sleep were the hardest.”
“I broke it because someone left a cloth of invisibility in my chambers. I followed them below and discovered where they went off to,” Jacob said. He shrugged.
“A cloth of invisibility? Are you telling me someone left it in your room? Lad, it sounds like someone wanted the curse broken. No one receives help like that for free. What did you sell for it?” Destrain asked. His matted curls bounced as he shook his head.
“The cloth! Do you still have it, Jacob?” Aledia asked.
Jacob nodded and rummaged through his pack. It laid folded on the bottom of the pack. There were pickpockets and nosey patrons at some of the taverns they’d stayed at. It didn’t seem right to leave something so valuable on the top. He presented the cloth to Aledia.
“I’m so happy to see it hasn’t gone to waste! I’m sorry I didn’t say sooner, but that is actually my cloth. My godmother gave it to me last Christmas,” Aledia said. She brushed a hand over the cloth in Jacob’s hand.
“Wait, your godmother gave you cloth that makes you invisible? Why would she do that?” Rafe asked.
Aledia smiled and looked at Jacob. “You didn’t think that I found all that time to study between my duties, did you? Sometimes my ladies in waiting simply couldn’t find me.”
Destrain laughed at the shocked expression on his eldest son’s face. The laughter reverberated off the walls and back to them. A few pebbles from the ceiling plopped into the water.
Rafe licked his lips. He could taste earth on them and faced forward. He didn’t want to think about how much earth was between them and the sky. While everyone laughed around him, he could feel the walls closing in. He clutched his arms and watched the fire dance on the torch.
“It sounds as though you didn’t save the princess. She did it herself, and you were a pawn,” Destrain said. He shook out the last remnants of a laugh.
“You used me to free yourself from your duties as a princess?” Jacob asked. He couldn’t wrap his head around the fact. All this time, he thought he had saved her. She let him think her saved her.
“Don’t feel too bad, lad. All the good women use men like pawns. Let’s face it, we are all pawns in their game,” Destrain chuckled.
Aledia huffed. “Now, that is not true. Jacob could have refused to assist. I hinted he should help, and he did so on his own. It was only afterward; I give him some help. He also could have married a princess but took me on as an apprentice instead!”
“You could have married royalty?” Destrain asked. The laughter vanished, and shock covered his features.
“Moving on from that topic… Wilhelm saved two young children from a witch,” Jacob said.
Destrain’s head swiveled to his younger son. The son with kind eyes and hands that only created good fought a witch? “Since when did you become a warrior?” he asked.
Wilhelm’s face burned red. “It wasn’t like that. I happened to provide a distraction. That allowed the children to shove the witch in the oven…”
“In an oven!” Destrain exclaimed.
“She was going to eat them…” Wilhelm muttered.
Destrain shook his head and peered at his sons. They had changed since he saw them last. Somehow, they had overcome and witnessed some extraordinary things. While he had been here in this cavern. He wanted to scream to rage at fate.
“That’s not all…” Rafe said in a near whisper. His hands shook, and he didn’t bother to turn around. “Jacob saw a talking frog marry a princess.” He focused on the light ahead and the conversation at his back.
Destrain laughed again. “What’s wrong, lad? Are you afraid of the dark?”
“No. I am trying not to think about getting buried alive,” he whispered. Still, his voice shook.
A hush fell over the group. It was as if they had all realized how deep within the earth they were. The boat only pushed them further in, further below. Jacob swallowed hard and glanced around at his companions. The levity of the previous conversation fell, and dread encompassed them.
“Have you thought of what you will ask the devil? He is not a being of patience. Nor is a being to cheat. He will want payment,” Destrain said.
“We haven’t gotten that far,” Aledia said. She glanced back to Jacob. What did they have to offer the devil?
“What if we offer him the cloth?” Rafe asked. He still refused to turn around.
“Would the devil have a need for such a tool?” Jacob asked and looked back to Wilhelm.
Wilhelm shrugged. “It’s all we have. I doubt he would have any interest in food or clothing. The few gold pieces we have left are for the return journey.”
A silence fell over them. Each contemplated what it meant to fail. What would the devil do if they couldn’t reach a deal? Would they be forced to remain underground?
“Why couldn’t we eat the apples?” Jacob asked.
All their heads turned to him.
Destrain stared, horrified. In a span of a few moments, how could he experience so many emotions? He was too old for any of this. “Please tell me that you didn’t eat them.”
“No, the man told us not to. Still, these apples were pure sunlight. They shimmered like gold. If they were not for eating, what were they for?” Jacob asked.
Destrain shook his head.
“Rafe, can I see your pack?” Jacob asked.
The young messenger looked at Jacob at this. He hugged his pack close to his chest. His arms shook a bit. “Why do you want to see it?” he asked.
“I am running on a hunch here. Let me see your pack,” he ordered.
Aledia rolled her eyes. While the makings of an argument grew between them, she reached over to the boy. A simple pinch to his arm got Rafe’s attention to her. She smiled as Wilhelm retched the pack from his arms.
Jacob took the pack from his brother and unhooked the top. He worked past the clothing and the odd trinkets. Like the invisibility cloth in his bag, a single item laid wrapped in an undershirt.
“No, wait. I was saving that!” Rafe said and reached toward Jacob.
Wilhelm shoved him back down into his seat. They all watched as Jacob pulled back a corner of the shirt. Sunlight illuminated the tavern so brightly they looked away. Jacob wrapped the apple back up in the shirt. Blinking, everyone turned to Rafe.
“He said don’t eat them. He didn’t say anything about selling them,” he muttered.
“We could offer this to the devil. Sunlight in a place like this could fetch a secret or two,” Jacob said. He placed the apple into his pack. Spots danced in his vision. He tried to blink them away.
“I can’t believe you would risk stealing one of these!” Aledia said.
Rafe frowned at her. “You can’t believe it?” he asked. “I have been following you all since this started. From one letter to another, I delivered. I deliver letters. That is what I do. Instead, I get caught up in your weird family curse. I wanted to retire after this. I don’t want to die in this hole in the ground!”
Rafe’s chest was heaving as tears pricked his eyes. He rubbed at them with his sleeve. Damn it. He didn’t want to cry. He didn’t want to be down here. Instead, here he was, crying in front of a princess. How very manly. A hand touched his arm, and he looked up.
“I know this is a lot. We’re going to get through this. Afterward, you can retire, and I will tell my father to compensate you well. If not, Jacob can do it with all the princesses he knows,” she said. Her voice was calming, and her smile sincere.
Rafe smiled back. “I am sure that Princess Thea would love to help. What do you think, Jacob?” Rafe asked with a sniff. He hadn’t meant to explode. It had boiled in him until he couldn’t contain it.
Jacob laughed. “Oh, yes, Princess Thea. She wouldn’t mind at all!”
“Who is Princess Thea?” Destrain asked.
“If memory serves me correct, she married a frog…” Wilhelm said.
Destrain shook his head as they went back to recounting the tale of a spoiled princess marrying a frog. His boys had been through a lot. They still had a lot ahead of them. He wasn’t sure how they would manage the end of this journey. Dealings with the devil did not go as planned. He would know. He was under a curse. Forever stuck to this boat.
Still, as he watched the group laughing, he felt hope. They had faced so much. Perhaps this would be another bump in their strange road. He pushed the boat onward and said a silent prayer. He said one for his boys and their friends. Destrain hoped they succeeded where he failed.
Featured Photo by ID 12019 via Pixabay. Altered by Lindsey Gruden.