The Dark Times; Part 26
Aituár held her breath while Wotan approached the cave entrance, remarkably silently for such a big man. He had his spear at the ready and stopped, just next to the opening, out of sight for whoever it was that would be stepping through it.
'Oden?' said an old man's voice, and Aituár let her breath out with a sigh of relief - it was Jeremiah, the hermit. Wotan however stiffened, frowning. It then struck Aituár that this was the first time anyone had been using Wotan's Swedish name. Why would Jeremiah do that? Maybe to warn them? But of what?
'Oden!' There was Jeremiah's voice again, and there seemed to be someone with him because he added, apologetically:
'I do not think that there is anyone in there, you know. I told you that they would probably have left already, knowing that you would be coming after them.'
Someone cursed quietly, and then barked out an order.
'You there - go in and check if the cave is empty!'
Aituár backed as far away from the opening as she could, until she could feel the wall against her back. She then squatted, to make herself as small a target as possible, trying to focus her mind.
A small and slender figure stood in the opening - a figure with grey clothes, a long grey beard and a grey pointed hood. It must be a Vätte1! Aituár had never seen one before, but it fitted the description that Neni2 had given when she had told Aituár about mythological characters.
The Vätte did not even bother to enter the cave. With a grumpy look in his face he called to someone behind him:
'There's nothing 'ere!'
'Go further in, you lazy worthless son of the forest!' said a harsh voice contemptously.
The Vätte shrugged and entered the cave.
One long stride took Wotan right next to the figure, who looked up and froze at the sight of Wotan towering above him, spear aimed at the Vätte's chest. Everybody in the cave hold their breath - and then the Vätte shouted, looking remarkably composed,
'There's nothing 'ere, I tell you!'
This triggered a new series of curses.
'You - hermit! Any idea of where they might have gone?'
'No captain, I am afraid I do not know' replied Jeremiah's timid voice apologetically.
'You just wait - we have ways of making you talk, old man!' threatened the first voice.
'Vätte - come here! We cannot afford to lose any more time!' barked the captain. The Vätte looked straight at Aituár, nodded, winked and smiled. Then he was gone, too quickly for Wotan to catch hold of him. Would he tell the captain what he had seen?
They all waited, fearing the worst - Aituár, Antaja and Wotan - and Déomarr, of course. The dragonling had kept remarkably still and quiet, and when Aituár looked down at him, she realized he had fallen asleep. She could not help but smile - he seemed to be completely unaware of what was going on.
They could hear footsteps of many men - walking away. It seemed the Vätte had not told the captain after all.
'I think the Vätte may have been forced to help' whispered Antaja in Aituar's ear. The same thought had struck Aituár too.
'But what about Jeremiah?' she whispered back.
'What if they hurt him?'
'I will go after them, while you and Antaja go in the other direction. Maybe you should go back the way we came - I do not think they would suspect that' whispered Wotan, who had squatted down next to them.
And so it was decided. Wotan left, following the track of many feet easily enough. Meanwhile Antaja sprinkled some blue sparkling powder over Aituár's and her own head, and soon the two of them were floating up out of the shaft. They followed the passage leading back to the cave with the statues and stone altar. At the end of the passage, much to their surprise, they found the way blocked. Aituár and Antaja looked at each other. Someone had closed the rock door - but who? And had it been closed from this side - or the other side?
Think Gnome - close but no cigar.2Aituar's mentor, see The Dark Times; Episode 1