The land in front of their eyes was covered in them, making the ground pale with their colour. The ground looked dry and bare underneath; too much death surrounded the place, meaning no life could flourish.
Aeridel began walking down the hill on which they were standing and began kicking bones from under her feet, but it was no use; the numbers were increasing the deeper she went.
Bridget let out a feeble sob as the fear swelled in her body, and she quickly covered her mouth. Tim had heard it. When he turned to look at her, he could see fresh tears flowing down her face.
Instinctively, he took her into his arms as she cried heavily on his shoulder. He knew exactly why she was like this. He cradled her softly, almost like a baby.
“Shh…” he cooed, wiping away her tears with his hand. “It’s alright. I know, keep your eyes closed and I’ll take you through, okay?”
She nodded, and obediently closed her eyes. She was in a world of her own, full of life and not death, a dream world where she can leave her troubles locked away in a cave covered by a stone while her spirit roams under purple waterfalls and where animals can talk. However, in her dream world she saw Tim take hold of her hand and take her to her surprise.
In reality, he took her hand and slowly led Bridget down the hill. Aeridel had been silently waiting for them, the bones crunching and snapping loudly underneath their feet. Tim saw Bridget wince at the sound and he told her;
“It’s just a path of hundreds and thousands you are walking on, nothing the matter.”
Her face turned into a small smile as she reverted into her dream. Aeridel faced him and mouthed;
“What on earth are you doing?”
“I’ll tell you later,” he mouthed back. “So, Can you tell me anything about this place?”
She began to whisper, “The Fields of the Fallen. It was said that long ago a great war was fought between the humans and the dolites.”
“Dolites?” asked Tim.
“Shut up and let me tell the story!” she cried. He quickly shut up, still holding Bridget’s hand; it was a long way before they would get to the cave’s entrance. “Anyway, I think my father told me that we lost many men and eventually the Dolites won and claimed the land as theirs, and they ate the fresh dead bodies of those who had gone into the afterlife.”
“Wonder how though?” Tim said jokily. He immediately regretted it when Bridget let go of his hand and covered her ears, shaking her head furiously. He grabbed one of her hands and said; “Oops, I’ve made things worse haven’t I, Bridget?”
She nodded angrily.
“Look, I’m sorry I forgot, I thought you weren’t listening. I won’t say anything scary until we go into the cave okay?”
She dropped her other hand and opened her eyes.
“You better had.”
Tim began laughing, so did Aeridel and even Bridget gave a slight chuckle. She began to feel a little braver now there was some happiness.
“I think I can manage the rest of my way with my eyes open now.” She said.
She clasped Tim’s hand firmly and carefully led the way, almost dragging Tim with her. He nearly tripped over a cracked skull. Aeridel sighed, feeling a little envious of all the attention he was getting, and followed. They spoke no more of the old tale. Eventually, they reached a wide entrance as they climbed the final hill, signalling the opening of the cave. It was like some sort of monument of the war. Large towering pillars lined against each other along the path. Aeridel stepped close to one of the pillars and realized they were made of bones. The pillars were made of arm and leg bones, and atop them a skull sat, their empty hollow sockets staring down at them. The floor to the opening was smooth instead of strewn with bones. Almost cobbled. She double-checked and noticed that the cobbles were actually skulls.
“Disgusting… it’s almost as if they’re bragging about their victory,” she spat.
“This is like hell…” Bridget whispered fearfully, stepping back. She jumped forward when she felt Tim against her back. He was looking at her worriedly.
‘Come on,’ thought Bridget, ‘Pull yourself together! They are just bones. The entrance isn’t far, it’ll be alright!’
She placed a step on the skull-cobbled path.
Then another, and another, until she was walking at a normal pace. Tim and Aeridel walked behind her. Aeridel was not sure what was wrong with Bridget. So she dragged Tim further behind and asked him.
“Seeing as you seem to be her new best friend I guess I can trust you. However, you must promise not to tell her that you know or tell anyone else about it, okay? It’s really personal and I don’t want her to get upset again, it was bad enough before,” he whispered seriously. She nodded.
“Sure, I’m good at keeping secrets,” she replied quietly, placing a hand over her heart. ‘One secret too many…’ she thought to herself.
“Okay, you might not realise it at first glance, ‘cos Bridget is such a nice girl on the outside, but she’s been through a really tough time in her life. Her mother died giving birth to her, the nurses could not do anything to keep her alive. Therefore, she has never really known her mother, only a photo that I think she keeps in her room. And to make matters worse, when she was four…”
He checked to see if Bridget was listening, but she seemed to be making a lot of progress along the path, damn it was long. So he carried on with Bridget’s story.
“When she was four, her father also died, but in an accident. All she knows is that her father was a fire fighter and he was working one night, it was an emergency call. Her aunt told us all about it. He was trying to save a baby from a blazing fire in a six-storey building.”
“What happened to the child?” said Aeridel, completely shocked and astounded and sad at the same time, “Did it survive?”
“Yeah, it lived. But her dad suffered from third degree burns and his lungs were too full of smoke. He died in hospital two days later.”
Aeridel did not understand much of what Tim said, but she could not imagine having no parents.
“That’s awful, poor girl,” said Aeridel, But Tim quietened her.
“I think that’s why she’s so scared right now. I think its bringing back some of the memories of her parents. It’s hard, because there is nothing I can do to help her.”
“Why not?” she asked sadly.
“It’s something I feel she has to overcome on her own. I know she will do it eventually. I believe in her.” He replied with a small smile of hope. “I mean, she has a few photos in our world, but-“
“What are photos?” Aeridel asked curiously.
“Oh, well… I guess in this world, they are kind of like paintings. She wants to know of them; it is as if she was empty inside for a while. But I think with age she has overcome a part of her trauma.”
“That is good,” said Aeridel thoughtfully.
“There’s more. She had to live at her aunt’s house after everything. Her aunt was nice enough; this was all before I knew her, by the way. But then, as the anniversary of her mother’s death came closer after each year, she began to fall into her sombre state again. Her aunt tried everything to cheer her up but nothing worked. Then, they day came when her aunt would take her to her parents’ graves. I went along with her once. They would always buy a bouquet of lilies, they were her mothers’ favourites, her aunt said. Their gravestones were underneath a cherry blossom tree. The vicar said that it had never grown flowers before. However, after the funeral, the tree began to bloom in the springtime. He was so surprised at this strange turnout; it was almost a miracle. But after about a week from seeing their graves, Bridget would be herself again. I am glad of that, ‘cos sometimes I worried that she may never fall out of her poor state of mind again.”
“She’s had to deal with so much in her life… I underestimated her,” said Aeridel.
“Yep. I’m surprised how well she seems to have dealt with it though.”
“You’re lucky to have her. I guess I rather underestimated you as well, Tim. I apologise.”
“No, No! It is fine, really. I get the impression that I am an idiot from loads of people. Nobody gets the chance to know me. I’ve always been a bit of a clown.” He smiled.
“I can see why…” Aeridel mumbled.
“What was that?” Tim said curiously.
“Oh, nothing!” replied Aeridel.
They watched quietly as Bridget tiptoed lightly on the tops of the skulls on the ground.
“Who will take her to the ball?” said Tim to himself.
“What on earth are you talking about?” said Aeridel.
“Oh, just Cinderella.”
“And who is that?”
“A character in a story.”
“Care to elaborate? I don’t exactly know your stories.”
“Cinderella is about a young girl who is made to serve her two half-sisters and stepmother. She is granted a wish by her fairy godmother, meets the prince of the kingdom, and falls in love. She leaves at midnight but loses a glass slipper.”
“Does this story have a happy ending?”
“This one does. She gets her Prince Charming and leaves her horrible family.”
“That’s good. You’ll have to tell me the whole story some time.”
“Suppose. I’m worried that Bridge won’t get the happy ending she truly deserves.”
“I think she may already have it,” said Aeridel.
“Really? How can you think that?” asked Tim.
“Well, we simply don’t know what the future holds now do we? Let’s just wait and see.”
“Yeah I guess your right…” He looked again at Bridget for a moment, and then began to speed up and walk beside her. “You coping alright, Bridge?”
“Actually, yes I am. I have something to take my mind off of it.”
“And that would be…?”
“You,” she said casually.
They both smiled. He suddenly grabbed her hand, saying, “So you won’t mind if we run the rest of the way then,” and dragged her towards the cave opening. She began to laugh, and they left some of their worries behind them.
“Hey, wait up!” shouted Aeridel, breaking into a light sprint. Soon, they were at the entrance, and the darkness swallowed them whole.
The loud crunches underneath their feet echoed on the walls of the cave. Tim slowed down, dragging Bridget to a stop.
“Argh, it’s too bloody dark. Bridget, have I still got your hand?”
“Yes, and you can let me go now,” she replied. He released her but kept close. “Aeridel? Are you there?” she called into the darkness.
They had run too far into the cave, Tim and Bridget could no longer see the opening. Bridget shivered, and Tim put an arm round her protectively.
“Are you cold?” he asked.
“No… something doesn’t feel right…” she replied nervously.
“Don’t be scared, Bridge,” he said, breathing with fear.
“I’m not scared of the dark… I should be more concerned about you though… you have always been scared of the dark, Tim! You never even stayed out until late; I had to walk you home from my house when it got late,” she muttered annoyingly. “You don’t have to protect me all the time, try thinking of yourself once in a while!”
“Sorry, Bridget,” he replied sadly.
“It’s ok. Where has she gone?” she muttered.
Then they heard it, a loud scream coming from behind them. They turned around, to the noise. The scream bounced around the cave. Then, they heard hoarse breathing, rasping and loud. They heard moaning and groaning. Tim clung onto Bridget, frightened out of his wits.
“Aeri—Aer—Aeridel d-d-didn’t tell me ab-about gh-gh-ghhoosts!” cried Tim.
Bridget sighed with disappointment. It all fitted.
“Aeridel, stop hiding behind a rock and come and find us. I know it’s you,” she said, staring into the darkness.
Then, they could hear high-pitched laughter. A girl’s laughter. They heard movement to their right, and Aeridel stepped out. She grabbed them both, making Tim jump.
“That was for ditching me just then… I can’t believe you of all people are scared of the dark, Timothy!” cried Aeridel through laughter.
“After the serious talk we had you go and do something as stupid as that, Aeridel you’re so, so, so… childish!” he stuttered wildly.
“That was a bit cold Aeridel,” agreed Bridget, “And anyway, what serious talk?”
“Oh, it wasn’t anything as bad as that, Tim’s just exaggerating ain’t that right Tim?” said Aeridel, stamping hard on his foot. He winced; somehow, she can see clearly in the dark to know where his foot was and through the pain, he managed to mutter a ‘yes’.
“Can you make it lighter, please, Aeridel? Get a torch out or something?” he pleaded.
There was silence for a while, and then Bridget and Tim could hear her muttering strange words and rubbing her hands together. Aeridel’s mind focused on the element of fire, the soothing yet wild flicker of the flame and the hot colours. A spark flew from her fingertips and a small flame rose from the ends of her fingers.
“Holy crap, you can summon fire!” shouted Tim, jolting as her finger sparked the flame. She held it in her hands, as a warm glow filled the cave.
“You won’t tell anyone, will you?” asked Aeridel uncertainly.
“I should, seeing as you tortured me so,” said Tim
“No, we won’t,” said Bridget forcefully. Tim looked glum.
“So, this is your little secret?” Tim laughed. Aeridel nodded shamefully. She explained her problem to them;
I was born in a family that has magical blood inheritance. So obviously, I would have magic powers. However, my ancestors only used white magic, or the ability to heal others. One day, when I was walking into the fields not far from where you two landed, I found a book lying on the ground next to a tree. It was filled with loads of instructions I had never heard of before. It was elemental magic. It is forbidden for white mages to use this kind of magic, but I was so curious to learn it, so I decided to practise in the woods in secret.”
“Wait, didn’t the minstrel seem to know something about you ‘escapades’?” asked Bridget.
“She must have seen me practising in the woods,” replied Aeridel.
“As in see-see or future-see?” Tim asked.
“Both,” said Bridget and Aeridel in unison.
“I guess most of all I’m ashamed, really. And no one could know about it, I would probably have been thrown out if anyone else knew. Luckily, the minstrel is like our guardian, and she knows I would use it for good, so has not told anyone. I hoped I wouldn’t need to use it, but it’s as dark as night in here, good thing my eyesight’s perfect, but seeing as you’re so scared of the dark I used the magic.”
“So have you only learned to use fire?” asked Tim.
“Yes, there is Air, Water and Earth I have yet to learn.” She replied.
“Good luck with that,” said Tim, “Now, you’d better lead the way so we can get out of this place. Soon.”
She nodded and began to walk, holding the flame with cupped hands. They carefully stepped over small shards of bone and skull, but as they paced deeper into the cave, the amounts of bones grew fewer, until none was left in their path. The flame Aeridel held cast disturbing shadows around the cave. Deeper into the cave they walked, time passing slowly as their eyes searched tentatively for anything suspicious. Stalactites hung dangerously over their heads as they wandered around the large stalagmites. The tunnel began to open a little wider the deeper they went.
“You do realise that we’ve probably reached the depths of the mountains now, right?” said Bridget.
“Really? I did not see any mountains…,” replied Tim feeling unsure.
“The borders of Terrona and Marlin are natural mountains. But I think long ago somebody dug these tunnels.” said Aeridel.
“Maybe for the minerals and the ores,” said Bridget.
“Nerd…” muttered Tim.
“Heard that!” cried Bridget, punching his arm, “It’s only because I took Geography. The principles are probably the same here as in our world.”
“Ouch! Well, my knowledge does not count here does it?” he replied, rubbing the pain away. She could punch hard for a girl; “Like anybody here would have heard of World War One or the French Revolution.”
“Nope,” replied Aeridel, “but I’ve just realised what we can do when we get out of here.”
“And that would be…?” said Tim.
“We could find the Warlock of Terrona. He might be able to help us.”
“Good plan,” replied Bridget.
“I should tell you more about the Warlock…”
“We’ve got time,” said Tim.
“Well,” said Aeridel, “He is the most powerful person in all of Bragverla and he knows all kind of spells.”
“Sounds like some kind of celebrity,” said Tim.
“He is! And rumour has it that he has found a way to live forever! Nobody has ever dared try to discover the source of eternal life.”
“I know! He’s a vampire, right?”
“Tim, I have no idea what you’re on about,” said Aeridel.
“Well, he’s probably just really old then,” said Bridget.
“Suppose…” said Tim.
Suddenly, a small crack was heard to their left. The trio froze, aware that someone was there; watching, waiting, and listening in the dark silence.
“Who- Who’s there?” asked Bridget into the darkness.
“Show yourself!” shouted Tim, getting agitated.
Coyly, the small creature stepped out from a stalagmite, holding its clawed hands, and looking fearful. The creature looked almost like a mole, but this one had no fur, only extremely shaggy, dirty hair atop its head. Its eyes were bat-like and watery, as its small lips quivered nervously. It was dressed in dirty rags.
“A dolite…” whispered Aeridel.
Bridget and Tim nodded quietly. The Dolite flinched and backed away towards its hiding place.
“Sorry to have scared you little one, but we’re trying to get to the opposite side of the Cave. Can you tell us how far we’ve come?” asked Aeridel.
The Dolite looked young and timid; it gazed fearfully at them like a child, and nodded slightly.
“Can you lead the way? Don’t worry, we’re not here to hurt you in anyway, we just need your help.”
The Dolite girl began taking lead, directing them further into the cave. For a while, the journey seemed to take forever, seconds like minutes, minutes like hours. There was after all, little to look at in a cave. After Bridget confirmed they had in fact been walking for an hour, a light other than Aeridel’s magic fire began to glow in front of them. It was dim, but it made everything much more visible. The three of them gasped; for what lay in front of them was a bustling village, with holes in the cave walls as homes or shops selling food to the numerous Dolites of all shapes and sizes examining their wares. As soon as they entered the village, the Dolite girl ran off into the midst of the crowds shouting,
”Humans! Humans! Help me! Please!”
The next thing that happened occurred in mere seconds; the three travellers were soon being held down and tied up roughly by about twenty male Dolite guards (they all had a belt around their midriffs with a dagger sheath).
They were blindfolded and gagged, long claw-like nails scratching their faces. Each of them was frightened, unaware of what they had let themselves into as five or so Dolites dragged them across the dirty floor.
They were pulled along the muddy floor of the cave, and darkness enveloped them once again as they were led through a deep passageway at the end of the underground village.
The air felt cold and damp on their skin. Then the air felt warm and dry again, as they sensed they were in a brightly lit part of the cave. Somebody’s house? But whose?
Their blindfolds were removed, and they were forced to kneel in front of a great throne, of beautifully encarved stone. Torch-grates lit with fire flickered on the oddly smooth walls. Bridget noticed that a skull was embedded in some of the stone in the throne, and shivered slightly, fortunately when nobody was looking.
In the shadows on the throne, a hand, with long, pointy claws and covered in fur, pointed its finger, and ten waved majestically. At once, the guards who had tied them up knelt down before the throne, with heads bowed down and one knee raised in a graceful manner. Intuitively, Aeridel also bowed her head and gestured angrily at Tim and Bridget to do the same.
The figure rose from the chair, clasping an extremely short staff made of bones and began to hobble towards them.
The Dolite King appeared to have lived for an eternity.
The fur was a deep muddy brown and looked as smooth as though it had been combed through rigorously, and with pride. He wore a simple robe of scarlet, the hair upon his head scraped back into an impeccable plait. The small silver crown on his head reflected the flickering flames from the torches. His eyes were small and black, but they had a feeling of powerful character when you looked deep into them. A ruler’s eyes. He rested his hands against his staff and gazed intently at the human trio.
“Well, what do we have here? Three humans, in our territory?!”
The Dolite guards snarled menacingly at them as the King raised his voice;
“What is your purpose here? Why have you come here? You there, answer me!”
He pointed at Tim, who looked up nervously before attempting to stand up. A guard shoved him back down to his knees painfully. He responded with difficulty;
“Sir, we were only trying to cross through the Cave of Lorei to enter Terrona. We have, erm, business there.”
He didn’t want to say too much about what their true aim was, as he feared that things would get a bit messy if he did blurt out their destinies. Bridget and Aeridel watched him with worried faces.
“You lie! You have come from Marlin to declare another war ‘aven’t you? Don’t make up stories to me, you deviant! I always knew you Humans couldn’t be trusted, you were never happy when we claimed this land as ours! You are greedy, and want more than you need!”
“No! That’s not true!” cried Aeridel, resulting in another sharp nudge by a guard’s knee; “Tim’s said why we’re here! And anyway, none of the Humans want revenge, we agreed the land was yours years ago! Don’t you remember the Peace Treaty placed after the Great War?”
“Peace Treaty? This girl must speak nonsense!! My grandfather never said anything about a Peace Treaty...”
The King seemed to have paused from his anger, deep in thought but finding only confusion. The guards looked at each other, also unsure of what Aeridel had just said.
“Child, explain this Treaty to me.”
“Well,” replied Aeridel, fidgeting uncomfortably under the strain of her bonds, “When the Humans and the Dolites fought in the War over a hundred years ago, we both suffered badly, losing many men. The Humans decided to surrender on the condition that we made a pact to never have another war against each other.”
“But, my grandfather told me... we killed all of you Humans, and we claimed the land as our own, without surrender or signs of weakness.” He spat on the ground.
“My father used to tell me many tales about Bragverla,” she continued, “he told me that the humans made a binding contract with magic, which the King of Marlin, who was your father, had signed, thereby giving your father the land in a friendly, negotiable agreement.”
The King was beginning to get even more confused.
“But, how come my father signed it, and not my grandfather?”
“To put it bluntly, your grandfather was a coward. My father told me he had fled as soon as the war started. Your father took over reign of your kingdom and fought valiantly. He said your father was a brilliant marksman. Sadly, he was one of the few Dolites that fell into the hands of Death from a horrific injury. He only just lived to sign the Treaty. I guess you could say it was his dying wish for the peace to be returned to Bragverla.”
“But, but...” the king fell to his knees, the staff dropping by his side, making the guards gasp. Something inside him seemed to crack and shatter; Aeridel had put magic into her words, and thus breaking the spell cast onto the once future King so many years ago. He placed his paw on his brow and shook his head with disbelief; “My grandfather raised me like a son, taught me all about the outside world. A liar? A coward? No, he can’t be... all those stories he told me of how he fought in the battles...”
“...were all stories about your father, not about him.” Finished Aeridel, feeling sympathetic, “Your father was a heroic Dolite, brave and true. You had no father, and looked up to your grandfather instead. Maybe your grandfather wanted to keep the memories of your father strong in his heart, and told you the stories in the hope that you would turn out the same.”
“How human... how can you know all of this?” asked the King through tears, which soaked into his delicate fur. Tears of confusion, of betrayal.
“Call it, being human, and knowing what all creatures would feel like deep down in their hearts.”
The Dolite King wiped his tears away and sat back in his throne of bones.
“Tell me child, what is your name?” he asked.
“Aeridel, Your Majesty.”
He turned to the guards; “don’t just stand there! Untie them at once!”
The three of them stretched with relief as the bonds were cut open, rubbing the sore areas where the ropes rubbed on their skin.
“I believe that what you have said is true,” said the King. “For giving me new light in my father’s courage in battle, I shall help you on your way to Terrona.”
He clapped his hands once, then twice, then once again. Behind his throne, a large hole emerged, forming a secret passageway, which lead to Terrona. Aeridel bowed to the King in gratitude and said; “Thank you, Your Majesty.”
She began to walk towards the entrance until Tim suddenly paused.
“Can I just ask you something, Your Majesty?”
“You may,” he said.
“How come you have hair all over you and none of the others do?”
Bridget nudged him sharply, “Tim! Don’t ask stupid questions!”
The King seemed a bit shocked at first, but replied;
“My family are the last of the Pure bred Dolites. We needed our fur for warmth, but since we have been able to use fire, our fur has been shedding. The fur that remains on me is what you can see. My robes cover the bare extremities.”
“Thanks for telling me,” said Tim.
“Sure. After all, you seem to know little of our world, boy.”
Tim nodded and caught up to Aeridel. Bridget however, curtsied the King, smiled, and said; “You will be a good King to the Dolites, now you know the truth.”
Then she too hurried along the entrance. The three teenagers walked through the large tunnel. It was cold and airy, but wide enough for them to walk in single file. Finally, they walked out of the chilly cave and into the warm countryside of Terrona.
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