The Dark Times; Part 18
Coughing, spluttering and vomiting water, Aituár regained consciousness. There was a defeaning noise of water thundering down from above, and the ground beneath her felt hard and cold. Once she had recovered enough to breathe normally again, Aituár looked around, sweeping her wet hair out of her eyes.
Wotan was sitting on the rocky floor next to her. He had taken off his helmet and was busy untangling Déomarr's leash from it. The dragonling was snorting water out of his nostrils, but seemed to be otherwise unharmed.
'Where are we?' asked Aituár, bewildered.
'Inside the waterfall' replied Wotan and gestured at the white curtain of water rushing down in front of them. As Aituár turned around to check what was behind them, she saw a cave that reached far into the rock behind them. It was too dark to see where it ended.
'Methinks we had better stay here until it grows dark outside – the soldiers will no doubt be looking for us, wanting to make sure that we did not survive the waterfall' said Wotan. 'Are you hurt?'
Aituár flexed her arms and legs but seemed to be uninjured, apart from some heavy bruises.
'I am fine' she replied.
Wotan handed the dragonling to her, got up and walked further into the cave in order to investigate it. Aituár discovered that her shoulder bag was lying next to her and reached for it, opening it to check the contents. Everything seemed to be there – but the jar of honey had been smashed to pieces, and the bottom of the bag was covered by a sticky layer of honey.
With a deep sigh Aituár emptied the bag. She managed to gather some of the honey into a wet leather pouch, which she hung in a string around her neck. Déomarr had a feast on the rest of the honey, and licked it up until his belly was pouting. When the dragonling could not eat any more, Aituár turned the bag inside out and tried to rinse it clean in the waterfall. She then spread everything out to dry while waiting for Wotan to return.
'The cave turns into a tunnel further ahead – we might as well see where it leads' said Wotan as he came back. 'The ravens will not be able to make it here anyway, not through all that water.'
Aituár gathered everything into the still wet shoulder bag and got up a bit stiffly, with Déomarr perched on her shoulder.
Together they set off, Wotan leading they way. The tunnel grew darker and darker, but this did not appear to bother Wotan who strode along as if it had been broad daylight. Much to her own surprise Aituár noticed that she, too, could see where they were going, despite the darkness surrounding them.
As they were wandering through the tunnel, the air seemed to become warmer. Unfortunately the tunnel appeared to be growing smaller, with the walls closing in and the ceiling sloping down. It was worse for Wotan than for Aituár, because of his length. First he had to bend his head down, then he had to bend his back. By the time he had to bend his knees too, Aituár was getting worried.
'Wotan' she said, 'how much further do you intend to go on?'
Instead of answering, Wotan merely grunted as he squatted down, proceeding on his hands and knees. Suddenly he stopped, turning his massive head this way and that, as if listening.
'There is a draught of fresh air here' he said. 'Can you feel it?'
Fresh air must mean that there was an opening somewhere nearby, and Aituár hoped that they would be able to reach it before the tunnel became too narrow. It was not until Wotan was crawling on his stomache that they both heared a rushing sound. A pale grey light was glinting through an uneven hole in the rocky surface ahead of them.
'Careful now' said Wotan. 'We do not know exactly where we are, and there might be someone waiting for us out there.'
He took off his helmet, and carefully inched closer to the opening. Slowly he raised his head and peered out. Aituár watched Wotan sticking his head out of the hole, and waited impatiently.
In a blink Wotan had vanished through the hole. Alarmed, Aituár hastily crawled over to the opening and looked out. The sight that met her eyes was breath taking – it was the sea that she had seen in the distance from the river – but now it was right in front of her! The ocean, seemingly endless, stretched out before her as far as she could see, all the way to the horizon. She had never seen anything of this size before.
But where was Wotan? Aituár looked to the left and to the right, but he was nowhere to be seen. Then she looked down the precipice at the waves breaking against the ragged cliffs below her, sending white foam flying high into the air. Surely he had not fallen down, had he?
Yes, where is Wotan?
Will Aituár be able to get out of the hole without falling down?
Where are the soldiers?
And where are Wotan's ravens?