Jack looked from Castamir to Rowen and back again, as if judging what would happen depending on his response. Finally he stared Castamir in the eye and said, “Well, go ahead, its not like she matters that much to me, after all, her being gone would stop your insane plot.”
Castamir grinned despite his annoyance, knowing what little truth laid behind that statement. He threw a bow and single arrow at Jack’s feet; they landed with a clang. “Alright, Jack, then you may have the honor of slaying her yourself, if it would please you so to be rid of her.”
Jack picked up the bow and arrow, trying to mask the discomfort he felt. The elf holding Rowen walked behind her, using her as a shield but still holding the sword to her neck, and pulling her hair so that her neck was exposed for Jack to hit.
Slowly Jack loaded the bow and aimed, but spun around and shot it at Castamir instead. Castamir easily flipped his own sword around over his wrist in one fluid motion, creating a copter effect with the blade. He had expected the attack. The arrow hit his sword and bounced harmlessly to the ground, sliced asunder. His grin widened, and he held out his sword challengingly to Jack, the hilt residing in his left hand. “Well, Jack, it does seem that you cannot get out without a fight, so draw now and finish what you started years ago. I have not been idle these years, as you have already seen. You have dreaded challenging me, and that is why you avoided me these years, I can tell. This time, the option of fleeing will not be presented to you.”
At these words, both Jack and Castamir forgot the Seerganash around them, forgot about Rowen, forgot about the situation at hand. Jack drew his sword, holding it in his left hand.
“Then a challenge it is.”
Rowen heard only this last comment as she was dragged unnoticed back out of the room.
After much kicking and cursing, Rowen was finally thrown into the stables. She held her hands to the rope behind her and burnt it through. The elf that had thrown her in the stables ran out and slammed the stone door, a heavy bolt scraping across the other side. Rowen kicked the door, only resulting in further aggravation, then sat down roughly against one of the walls. She sighed. What was to become of this? And she couldn’t even watch the match!
Then Rowen noticed something smelt like burning paper and wax. She looked down at the band Jack had brought back for her, and realized a corner of paper was sticking out, now burning from the use of the band. She pulled it out carefully and read it over. Fortunately it was in common tongue, but unfortunately half of it was burned. From what she could see, it was a letter Sabor had either written or was given, its melted wax what had accidentally adhered it to her band. A greater part that had not been burned was now illegible, but one line stood out to Rowen: Watch out for Jack. His father was Cathrandar. What did that mean? Hmmm, evidently it was something important, for it was in large bold letters that bounced from the rest of the text. Rowen put the note safely in her boot and laid her head down. Proper sleep, that’s what she needed.
But barely a minute of sweet, blissful sleep had come onto Rowen when a horse snuffled her. She batted it away, but the mare returned, insistent. Finally Rowen looked up to the black horse, and recalled the expressive eyes. “Dragon?” She muttered questioningly, despite the all black appearance this horse had. The horse snorted and nodded its great head. Rowen took her over to the basin of water that stood on the far end of the stable, and scrubbed at the horse’s nose. Sure enough, the white stripe began to appear. Rowen hugged the horse in delight, wondering how it had passed inspection and got in here. Perhaps the stable elf had thought it was Castamir riding in.
Rowen now looked around at the long stable, and realized all of the horses looked stale, expressionless, and somewhat bored. They were all black, short, and stocky, with thick strong necks and muscular legs – they were tunnel horses. All but two tall, lean horses: Dragon and Kaytar. Rowen took water over to Kaytar and scrubbed his black paint off again, then stood the two horses next to each other. And they…they nuzzled each other. They were mirror images of each other. And something else caught Rowen’s eye. On Kaytar’s halter, which had yet to be removed, there was writing on the side of one of the straps. Gáladmor. With a gasp Rowen looked more closely at Dragon’s halter. Morgalád. Duel colors… Jack said it was her elvish name, and Kaytar’s mirrored it. They were brother and sister.
Another flashback then occurred to Rowen. The night they were attacked, Jack had fought off the Seerganash with his left arm as the sword arm, and had become suddenly menacing and powerful. All of the Seerganash were right handed, Larenteth had mentioned it once in conversation. But Castamir drew challenge with his left.
Rowen ran to the door, hoping the elf was still outside it. A slot opened near the top when she banged on it for a while, and a pair of green Seerganash eyes met hers.
“What do you want?” He grumbled in an annoyed fashion.
“Who was Castamir’s father?” Rowen asked hurriedly, standing on her toes to look through the slot. The elf did not reply at first, obviously not expecting such a question.
“Why do you want to know?”
“I just want to know, okay?”
The elf thought on this for a second, then figured it was fine to tell her; everyone knew anyhow. Perhaps it would shut her up for awhile.
“I thought everyone here knew this. We never forget it, and with good reason; the name is one no one has the ability to forget. His father was Cathrandar.”
Rowen froze, her jaw dropped. The elf, who couldn’t see very much through the tiny slot, continued without noticing. “Enough information for you? Good, now shut up and keep still in there!” And the slot slammed closed.
Rowen sat a long time at the spot where she had slid to the ground. A blank stare was plastered on her face, seen only by the surrounding horses. It is what Austel must have been trying to tell her before she was taken away, that Jack and Castamir were…brothers.
At long last Rowen blinked herself out of her confused thoughts and looked around. Her eyes fell on Dragon and Kaytar, who were busy sniffing each other and recalling from the time long ago when then had last seen each other. It occurred to Rowen how ironic and sad it was that while the two sibling horses reunited lovingly, their two masters would come to meet at each other’s sword point.
Now to think quickly… there had to be some way to stop it… for even if Jack won he would still have to face about 500,000 Seerganash hounding him in their own maze, crazed that he killed their leader. But if Castamir won… Rowen didn’t want to think about it. She just had to find a way to get out of these accursed stables!
As if as an answer to her wish, the door opened suddenly and an elf walked slowly in, closing the door behind him. The face was hooded, but his posture suggested that he was struggling with some decision. Rowen ran up to him, intent on forcing him to let her out, but before she got there he took off his hood.
He nodded uncomfortably, a meek and forced smile flashing for a second.
“Larenteth, what’s wrong?” Rowen asked, sensing something amiss. Larenteth’s face made a few quick movements as if he was trying to stay calm, and finally answered Rowen.
“They murdered Austel.”
Rowen gasped in shock, and then remembered that Larenteth had greatly liked Austel. The look on his face moved her to pity, though she knew not how to comfort him. After all, he was Seerganash, one of the people holding her captive! But still, something told Rowen not to lash out at him.
“Larenteth, I need to get out of here. Jack and Castamir are going to kill each other.”
“I know.” Larenteth got that look again as if he was making a quick decision. He made up his mind after a moment and began to speak very rapidly.
“Rowen: They are in the arena. Up in the ceiling, there is a tunnel that was once a waterway before they rerouted it. The dam is locked with a key, and if a key is put in there and turned, a timer starts for 30 seconds. Then it bursts open. The tunnel pours out from the ceiling, above the torch chandelier, right into the arena. It will flood out. I’ll get you the key, and you must unlock the dam and crawl extremely fast down the tunnel. Grab Jack and run out the second door; there will be less opposition on that side. I’ll unlock that door while you’re in the tunnel so you can just push it open. The tunnel begins in the stables, right above Kaytar’s door. If you can get past that horse and hoist yourself into the tunnel, you’ll be all right. They key to the dam is right here….”
Larenteth ran to the side of the stable where a stone box was carved from the wall. He inserted his master key into the lock, opened it, and pulled out a key that was old and eroded from lack of use. He thrust it at Rowen and showed her the tunnel hole, hidden by a loft of hay. A stone blocked the entrace but it could be easily rolled away.
“Hurry Rowen! And crawl fast – if you should still be in the tunnel when the water comes through you would drown before you got out.” With that he ran back out the door.
Rowen stood, dumbfounded at what had transpired. Why was Larenteth doing this? No time to ponder now though, she had to get going. She crawled up into the loft and found the stone. It was stubborn, but a little firepower helped it to slide more easily. And into the tunnel she went.
It occurred to her as she shimmied through the tiny, smooth, round tunnel that water was her worst fear, and she was about to release a dam of it into the very tiny tunnel that she was in. But she couldn’t turn back now. Her light was given from the smooth pole of stone that still hung around her neck, which glowed a very faint blue in the tunnel. Perhaps this had once been a waterway of the Natarinturnan before the Seerganash pushed them further underground.
Sooner than Rowen expected, she heard a rushing noise of water very close by. The tunnel dropped down, and Rowen had to climb down the rock to reach another slightly wider tunnel that began on a lower level. This tunnel had a blocked off side branching off of it, the sound of water on the other side and a keyhole in the middle of it. Well, here goes Rowen thought, and turned the key in its hole. A click sounded, followed by slow ticking that counted away the time remaining until it opened.
Rowen tore off down the tunnel on her hands and knees, crawling as fast as humanly possible. The ticking seemed like a timer to the second of her doom, and it was all she could do to keep from going mad with the thought of being underwater again. But a light showed itself ahead, flickering brightly, and sword clashes echoed. Rowen had reached the arena.
Still in panic-like haste, she leapt down instantly into the chamber below. The stone thudded under her feet as she landed, right in the middle between Castamir and Jack. Both were sweating and panting, swords ready for another attack, but both shocked to see Rowen drop in the middle of them. She didn’t waste any time, the water would come any second. Rowen grabbed Jack’s arm as she ran, heading for the second door of the hall. They burst out of it, and heard it clang shut behind them. Larenteth stood there, relocking it. “Run!” He yelled to them, and ran himself.
Castamir and the rest of the elves had begun running after the fleeing forms of Jack and Rowen, but barely a second later a roar sounded and water blasted from the ceiling, coming down in torrents. The elves were all skilled swimmers, but Castamir still raged at his foiled match. They ran out the doors, unlocking them as they went, and slamming shut behind them to block the water from spreading.
“Someone has unlocked the dam” Castamir growled. “It only unlocks with a key.” And went running down the passage, sword in hand.
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
Chapter 24: https://www.theonering.com/docs/10329.html