Jack cried out when he saw Rowen fall. Castamir threw Jack a dirty look as if to say “this is your fault!” and then, to Jack’s surprise, Castamir dove over the edge after her. The Seerganash elves tried to hold Jack down, and prepared to shoot him with some sort of tranquilizer, but he gave an abrupt jerk and pulled away from his binding ropes, running towards the edge of the cliff. A shower of arrows followed him, barely missing their mark as Jack rolled out of the way, then dove off the cliff himself. The song off thirty arrows hounded him, and only an empty cloak full of arrows made it to the water below.
Rowen had hit the water in shock. It was not extremely icy or extremely warm, but it swirled about her and sucked her under. The frightful memories of her past flashed before her eyes, and she opened her mouth to let out a scream but it only erupted in bubbles. She could not swim, she went further down… Rowen was drowning.
Even as she watched the light of the moon receding rapidly as she sank further down, a shadow swam across it. Powerful arms wrapped themselves around her waist and began to pull her back up. The light from the moon began to penetrate the waters once more, though the roar seemed far away and distant to Rowen. Her eyes were bleary and only rushes of color could be perceived.
In one loud alteration of noise level, Rowen could vaguely feel her head burst from the water’s grip along with the person pulling her. Then she was heaved onto dry stone. Her head swam, and try as she might she could not take air… if fact, air didn’t seem that important anymore. The bleary colors began to melt away into the black edges and darkness crept in front of her vision. Far far away someone was calling to her, “Rowen! Rowen, breathe! Come on Rowen, breathe!” But she didn’t seem to care. Nothing really mattered, everything was fine….
A mouth met hers, forcing air down her throat and into her lungs. No, no I’m comfortable, leave me alone! She wanted to yell, but she didn’t have any control of muscle. Painful pangs returned as feeling began to creep into her body again. Her vision began to sharpen, jolting out of its blackness with a painful jerk. Then her brain suddenly kicked in: Wait! She did want to live; she didn’t want to be left in the darkness! Air, air!! Her brain wanted to scream it, and her body gave a jolt and her lungs took in a scraggly breath of air, sputtering out water.
Rowen opened her blurry eyes and tried to bring into focus the man’s face hovering above her. He’s brought her out of the darkness, he saved her from the cruel water! The lean, strong face began to sharpen, and wet black hair dangled in front of his eyes.
“Jack…?” Rowen muttered through sputters of water, attempting to lift her head. But the face slid back out of focus, and her tired body couldn’t take the stress any longer. Breathing properly again, Rowen slumped back down into an unconscious sleep.
Castamir sat hunched over the unconscious form of Rowen, dripping water that drenched him. He sat a long time there, watching her face, saying softly, “No, not Jack, it’s me, Castamir,” But Rowen was fast asleep. She thought he was Jack, she had called out to him. Jack! This was all his fault; if it weren’t for him Rowen would be helpless under Castamir’s spell, and not have fallen off the cliff! Would she ever obey him now? She almost died… she could have drowned…. Castamir bit his lip and shook his head, shaking water droplets everywhere. He took off his cloak, wet but still warm, and wrapped the cold, wet body of Rowen. He had seen her face underwater… there was an insanity there that did not come solely from drowning.
Castamir whistled for Kaytar, and after a minute the horse found its way to the rocky bay and trotted up to Castamir. He put Rowen on and climbed up behind her. She began to slip off, but Castamir caught her and held her for a second, hugging her shoulders. “I’m glad you did not drown, even if I didn’t need you for my plan,” he whispered to her unhearing ear, and then supported her body by leaning her on the strong neck of Kaytar as he rode off.
While jostling on Kaytar, Rowen awoke. Her body ached, and she could not move much. She picked her head up, the cloak dropping from her shoulders. Kaytar was grazing, walking around slowly, and Castamir had momentarily gone off, trusting Kaytar to keep an eye on Rowen. What is going on? She though to herself, not remembering much of what had happened. Rowen stroked the horse’s nose from behind with her soaking hand, and to her surprise her hand turned black. His nose was painted with something. Moving as little as possible, Rowen squeezed her soaking hair on his nose, washing off the black. Slowly a white stripe began to appear, running from the tip of the horse’s left ear and down over the nose and onto the lip. The mane, too, was more of a chocolate brown than black. Where had Rowen seen this before? Dragon! Jack’s horse, Morgalad he said was her elvish name… Kaytar had the same markings except on the right side instead of the left. The stallion snuffled as water dripped into his nose, and Rowen felt herself being taken again by sleep. Her blackened hand resting atop Kaytar’s head, Rowen fell again to deep sleep.
When Castamir returned, he was surprised to see Kaytar’s white showing. But then he saw that Rowen’s soaking hair lay sprawled over his head, and figured it had dripped off. That was the reason he had been gone anyway, to get more black dye. He repainted the horse until it was impossible to perceive any cheat. Then he remounted behind Rowen and headed straight for the Seerganash halls.
Later on, Rowen awoke in the healing wing, her throat burning with the liquid that had been poured down it. As soon as they saw she was awake, the healing wardens brushed her out and handed her to another company of Seerganash that was to take her immediately to Castamir. They marched her through the tunnels, winding to the left wing. They stopped briefly for business in one of the larger halls, two always guarding Rowen’s sides. The rest were looking at something and laughing cruelly. Rowen definitely heard Jack’s name. She spoke up boldly despite her burning throat. “What about Jack?” All the talk stopped. One elf picked up the black bundle from the table and brought it over.
“Jack? Ha! Jack’s dead!” Another roar of laughter rose up, as well as a look of horror from Rowen as they showed her the contents of the bundle. It was defiantly Jack’s cloak, but it was stuck full of arrows like a pincushion. Some of the tips were broken off, and some had red stains on their tips that looked horribly like blood. Rowen’s reaction only earned more cruel laughter from the elves, until finally a higher-ranking officer ordered them to get on with their business.
Dead? No! It wasn’t possible! Was it? But then, what happened to Jack? The Seerganash were careful; they would know if he hadn’t been hit. But it couldn’t be true, it couldn’t!
Soon two more elves joined the group, and the rest left. One walked in front of Rowen, the other behind her, each cloaked in a Seerganash cloak and hooded. They carried on through the busy sections of the halls, and then came to a more remote area with many smaller winding tunnels.
At a dim turn in the tunnel, Rowen suddenly felt a hand clamp hard over her mouth from behind and pull her into a branching tunnel, then down another that dropped down into a smooth slide. It leveled out as it lead into an enormous room, putting the two back on their feet. Rowen tried to cry out, but the hand clamped harder and whispered, “Shh! Rowen, its me!” She spun around just as the elf took off the hood of his black cloak.
In a fury of delight, Rowen recognized the face that was lit in the dim red light, for it was Jack’s face that greeted her. She threw her arms around him and held him tight, gladder to see him than anything in the world. “They told me you were dead!” She spoke through suppressed joy.
“Me? Dead?” Jack said in mock surprise, “Now what would give you an idea like that?” He said as he brushed hair that dangled over his cut and scratched face.
“How did you get in here?” Rowen asked.
“Well, I went to jump in after you when you fell over the cliff, but as I jumped the arrows barely missed me, some scraping my back, and at any rate the arrows tore my cloak off in their flight and carried it to the water. I caught the rock as I jumped off, swinging myself into a crevice. I saw Castamir save you, but I knew if I jumped in as well, they might hit you with an arrow by mistake. The elves saw my cloak fall full of arrows, and probably assumed I had drowned when they retrieved it from the water. But how I got in….” Jack stopped and squeezed his eyes shut as if the memory was painful. “I knew I needed haste, for Castamir would lock you away once he knew I was here, and I needed to find the first person to get the cloak from… only the first person was… was Sabor.” Rowen could see pain evident in Jack’s eyes as he spoke of his former friend. “We battled, but he was no match for me. I didn’t want to hurt him, but when he charged me I put up my sword defensively. He slipped on the smooth stone, and jammed straight into my sword.” Jack paused a moment in grief, and Rowen could now see a small sword-hole in the side of the cloak that was stained darker than the rest. Jack was wearing Sabor’s cloak as a disguise. “But, I did find something I think is of value to you in one of the pockets.” Jack pulled out from the cloak Rowen’s thick gold wristband, the one to match her other. Rowen slipped it back on, and it retightened to her wrist. Now she had all of her former firepower. She hugged him again.
“Thanks Jack, and thanks for coming back.” Rowen spoke softly. Jack smiled.
“How could I leave? You’re not the easiest person to get close to, nor are you the easiest person to let go.” His smile vanished abruptly and a mock scowl replaced it. “Now, you- I go tramping all over, get pushed over a waterfall, beat up, hunted, nearly impaled with about fifty arrows, and all you give me is a hug?” Before Rowen could react to this, Jack leaned down and kissed her hard on the lips. He drew back, but still held her tight, his head next to hers. “Okay, now it was worth it.”
“Oh, isn’t that sweet now!” A cruel voice interrupted out of the darkness. The torches in the chamber suddenly blazed up, revealing the unseen upper balcony of the circular room was filled with Seerganash. It was Castamir who had spoken. A pair of hands seized Rowen, dragging her out of the room. Jack tried to stop it, but he was blocked by Castamir’s sword. Castamir had jumped down from the balcony, and now stood challenging Jack. The doors on all sides slammed shut, and the torches blazed higher to give the impression that the circular room was wide arena.
“Draw your sword Jack.” Castamir commanded. Jack refused. “No? Perhaps you need a little persuasion!” Suddenly the doors to the upper balcony opened, and Rowen was dragged through by her hair, her body bound in black ropes. An elf held a long sword across her neck.
“I said, Jack, draw your sword.”
Chapter 1: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9127.html
Chapter 2: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9141.html
Chapter 3: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9184.html
Chapter 4: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9263.html
Chapter 5: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9297.html
Chapter 6: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9307.html
Chapter 7: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9356.html
Chapter 8: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9422.html
Chapter 9: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9472.html
Chapter 10: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9530.html
Chapter 11: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9566.html
Chapter 12: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9603.html
Chapter 13: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9616.html
Chapter 14: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9629.html
Chapter 15: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9658.html
Chapter 16: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9678.html
Chapter 17: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9772.html
Chapter 18: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9847.html
Chapter 19: https://www.theonering.com/docs/9949.html
Chapter 20: https://www.theonering.com/docs/10087.html
Chapter 21: https://www.theonering.com/docs/10112.html
Chapter 22: https://www.theonering.com/docs/10154.html
Chapter 23: https://www.theonering.com/docs/10284.html