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A Time to Heal Chapter 17

Started by Evie, November 12, 2010, 10:13:36 AM

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Chapter Seventeen

   March 11, 1133
   Ballymar Castle

   "Wha' d'ye mean, ye've lost 'em?" Jass stared at Nurse Maeve in shock. "How in th' bloody hell d'ye lose three rowdy lads wi' voices loud enough tae wake th' dead?  Does it take a special kind o' stupid, lass?"

   The junior nursemaid stood before the father of the eldest of those missing lads, tears streaming down her fever-flushed cheeks.  "I'm sorry!  I just felt a wave o' tired come o'er me a' sudden-like, an' thought I'd hae a bit o' a sit-down for just a wee moment, an' th' next thing I knew, th' room was quiet an' th' lads had slipped off!  I ran straight out tae th' stables, figurin' they'd be there, but none o' th' grooms or stable lads hae seen 'em since breakfast.  They wasnae in th' kitchen neither, sae after tha', I came straight here."  She sobbed.  "I never meant tae fall asleep!"

   The Transha man approached the serving woman, who quailed as he raised a hand towards her face, though she relaxed slightly as he merely touched her forehead with the back of it rather than delivering the sharp blow she'd been expecting.  He muttered a blistering oath, dropping his hand.  "Ye're feverish, Maeve.  Go move yer pallet up tae Mhairi's sick-chamber; I'll let Ailidh know wha's happened."  He gave an explosive sigh, adding sharply, "I assume th' stable lads are still searchin'?"

   "Aye, m'lord."

   "A' right.  They'll doubtless turn up soon, probably someplace where they've nae business bein'.  Get upstairs, Maeve."  He turned on his heel, heading upstairs to inform both the Duchess and his wife of this new development.


   Mirjana stared at her tiring maid in horror.  "Caoilainn, show me this vision."

   The girl obeyed, standing meekly before her mistress and allowing her to peek into her memory of her latest premonition.  Mirjana absorbed the brief torrent of sights, sounds, and other sensations in growing bewilderment.  "But...what could this mean?" she pondered aloud.

   Sir Jass burst into the solar.  "Mirjana, we've go' a problem.  Nurse Maeve's ta'en ill an' fell asleep on th' job, an' now th' lads hae gone missin'.  I'm off tae look...."  He broke off, noticing her sudden pallor.  "Oh, Jesú!  Wha' is it?"  He glanced at Caoilainn, who burst into tears.

   Reaching for Jass's hand, Mirjana sent him the vision she'd just gleaned from Caoilainn's mind.  "Does that mean anything to you?" she asked urgently.

   Darkness.  Cold.  The sound of rushing water.  Jass paled.  "It might.  I cannae see how they'd even get in there, but...."

   The sound of pounding footsteps approached from down the corridor.  "Da!  Da!  Mikhail an' Duncan Michael's got stuck in a ship down in some pirate caves, an' it's gone floatin' off...."

   The whisky-colored eyes widened.  "Bloody hell!"  The Transha man tore off down the corridor, shouting out to other household staff for aid along the way, as the frantic duchess followed close behind.


   The makeshift pirate ship floated only a short distance before coming up hard against an outcropping of limestone damming nearly half the stream's flow.  The impact knocked both boys to the floor of the cart, now quite damp from water streaming in between planks never meant to hold water out, although with the sudden influx of water the wood had grown damp enough to swell slightly, reducing the amount of water continuing to enter their vessel from a steady flow to a much slower trickle.

   The boys scrambled to their feet.  Mikhail moved to the side of the cart that rested alongside the limestone barrier, hoping it might prove to be a sturdier surface for them to take refuge on, but the damp rock was too slanted and slippery for him to climb up.  The top felt somewhat flat, though.  It was just barely above the level of his eyes, but running his small hands over its surface, he thought it felt rather like a rough shelf.

   Rocks, Mikhail knew, did not float.  If he could get his little stepbrother onto that stone ledge, at least one of them would be safe and, if not dry, at least in less danger from the rushing current even now buffeting their flimsy craft and threatening to send it on its way downstream again.  "Duncan Michael, if I lift you up, do you think you can climb up on the big rock?"

   The smaller child looked up at the limestone barrier.  "I can try."

   "Good lad."  He bent to give his stepbrother a leg up the way Ciaran had done for him earlier when they were reaching for the door key.  


   "We'll need several lengths of rope," Lord Daivi said as soon as he heard the commotion and discovered what had happened and where the boys were believed to have gone.  "And I'll order the water gate lowered at once!"  The seneschal's heir rushed off to supervise this task, bellowing orders to the staff, who rushed in various directions to comply with the instructions they'd just been given.  Sir Jass continued on through the undercroft, quite a few of the Cassani retainers at his heels now, Mirjana struggling to keep pace with him.

   "What's the water gate?" she asked as they approached the door standing open at the end of the short corridor on the far end of the undercroft.

   Jass looked grim.  "There's an underground stream tha' flows through a series o' limestone caverns in th' bluff beneath th' Castle.  Th' source o' th' stream is deep underground—nae one really knows where it originates from—but it empties out just a few hundred yards north o' here through a fissure in th' rock about twenty yards above th' sea."  He paused at the open door, casting a frantic glance around the cavern.  "There's a waterfall tha' plunges in a sheer drop straight onto th' rocky shore below.  One would be an absolute fool tae try tae gain entry intae th' Castle by climbing up th' cliffside an' entering through tha' fissure, but just as a safeguard we lower an iron grille tae block it durin' wartime.  It still lets th' water out, o'course, but would keep enemy soldiers from coming in through tha' route if any were suicidal enough tae try."  He swallowed hard.  "An' if th' lads hae floated tha' far downstream, they ought tae fetch against it instead o' bein' swept out onto th' rocks below.  Though let's pray they'll no' make it tha' far."  He didn't bother to add that, if they did, they most likely would die from the force of the water battering them against the grate, if they hadn't already drowned from being pulled under the raging current.  The only useful purpose closing the water gate would serve would be easier retrieval of dead bodies, not living children.

   Mirjana raised her hand, summoning up handfire, and gave the rapid stream a sweeping glance.  A flurry of movement at the far end of her sphere of vision caught her eye.  "I think I might have spotted them."  She raised her skirts, running towards the stream's edge to get a closer look.


   Duncan Michael struggled to clamber up to the top of the rock once Mikhail had boosted him up, but he wasn't quite strong enough to pull himself up the last few inches needed.  Mikhail finally had to lower him back into the cart, breathing heavily.  

   "Give me just a bit; we'll try again."

   There was a sudden clamor of voices above the sound of the rushing water, and a quick flash of light that rendered the dim cavern noticeably brighter.  The boys turned to look.

   "Mama Miri!" Duncan Michael cried out, overjoyed.


   "Yer Grace, wait!"  Jass took after her, the Cassani men accompanying him.  "Dinnae get too close; th' water's treacherous an' ye'll be swept along wi' it in those skirts.  Daivi'll be sendin' th' ropes down directly."  He spotted the wrecked cart across the large space and his hopes spiraled skyward briefly as he realized that both boys were still alive and accounted for, though they sank again moments afterward as he realized the inherent difficulties of getting to them quickly across the fast-flowing current.  

   Mirjana's eyes took in her surroundings, missing nothing.  "The water seems fairly shallow.  How deep is it where the boys are, do you know?"

   "No' very; just a wee bit over my head on tha' side, as I recall, but th' bottom's slick an' th' current's sae strong it's nae easy tae swim against it.  Even wi' a rope tied aroun' a man's waist, wadin' across an' back will be a risk, an' th' last few feet will tak' a bit o' swimmin'."

   A commotion behind them signaled the approach of more men, carrying torches and large coils of rope.  Lord Daivi accompanied them.  "We've got the gate lowered, Your Grace," he assured Mirjana with a voice that projected confidence, although the expression in his eyes gave away his deeper misgivings.  "Have you seen any sign of the lads?"

   Mirjana pointed across the cavern.  Lord Daivi caught sight of the ducal heir beside his stepbrother in the waterlogged cart and turned pale.


   The Cassani men began to uncoil the ropes, tying the lengths around their waists, linking one man to the next to form a sort of human chain.  Mirjana also picked up an end of rope, pulling the rear hem of her skirt up over the front of it and tucking it into her belt to create makeshift trousers, beginning to tie the rope around her waist to secure the garment in place.

   Jass lay a hand on her wrist.  "Yer Grace, it's far too dangerous for ye tae join us...."

   Her eyes blazed up at him.  "Those are my sons out there!"


   The water continued battering at the old cart.  It creaked and groaned under the onslaught, beginning to slip a bit towards the end of the rock barrier around which the stream's flow circled.  Mikhail grew anxious as the waterlogged cart shuddered beneath his feet.

   He looked down at Duncan Michael.  "Brother, we need to try again," he said, working hard to keep his voice cheerful to avoid scaring the younger child.  "Let's see if we can do it this time."


   Mirjana watched from the far shore as her son hoisted her husband's child high, the toddler's hands scrambling for purchase on the slippery rock outcropping.  Her heart lifted as she realized what Mikhail was doing.  The rock ledge would certainly be a less precarious place for the boys to rest while they awaited rescue.  Duncan Michael finally managed to gain enough traction to scramble up to the safety of the stone ledge.  Behind her, Mirjana was dimly aware of the cheers of the Cassani men as they too noticed what had happened.  


   With Duncan Michael's ascent to safety, the load in the cart lightened, making it more buoyant.  It began to drift along the rocky ledge towards the unimpeded part of the stream.  Mikhail looked up at his little brother, tears filling his eyes.

   Duncan Michael, looking worried, reached a hand down to Mikhail, but the older boy shook his head.  "Hold on tight, Duncan Michael.  Mama's coming."


   Mirjana saw the cart begin to float again, saw it bump against the rock once...twice.  She bit back a scream, wading out with fierce determination into the icy cold torrent instead.   


   "Sweet Jesú, m'Lady, ye cannae!" Jass yelled, but it was of no use.  He waded out after her, catching hold of the loose end of the rope she'd secured around her waist, hoping to haul her back out, but her desperation to reach her sons had given her added strength.  He felt a sharp tug on his own waist, and realized someone behind him had fastened on to him in the same way he'd reached out to secure the duchess.  

   "Damn it a', woman, Dhugal will hae me hide f'r this!" he muttered as he fought to maintain his footing on the slippery limestone beneath the surface of the rushing water.


   The makeshift boat jounced its way almost to the end of the outcropping.  The water pounding on the wooden sides of the cart began to tear it apart, but Mikhail's panicked gaze noted that the rock ledge was much lower here than it had been at the spot where he'd lifted Duncan Michael onto it.  He risked a leap, fingertips scrambling for something to grab hold of.  One hand closed around something, and he pulled himself up, reaching farther forward with the other hand, finding a small crack to cling to there.  Hand over hand he dragged himself to the top of the rock as the cart fell apart beneath his feet and continued its journey into the darker recess beyond the obstruction.


   Mirjana initial horror at seeing the cart begin to break apart was followed immediately by profound relief as she watched Mikhail pull himself up onto the stone ledge.  Behind her, cheers erupted.  Seeing both boys in relative safety now, she risked a quick glance over her shoulder.  Behind Jass was a line of retainers, tied one to another, reaching beyond the water's edge and continuing on the damp but far drier cavern floor.   Now that she felt both boys were reasonably safe, she took a moment to assess the situation.  As she paused, Jass took the opportunity to tie the free end of her rope around his own waist, thus securing Mirjana to himself.

   "Mama," Mikhail called out to her over the sound of the water, "get Duncan Michael.  He's scared."

   The sound of his voice told her that Mikhail was frightened also, but he seemed to have a firm purchase on the rocks beneath him now.  Duncan Michael was slightly closer, if perhaps a bit harder to reach, being a little higher up, but the portion of outcropping he lay upon had a slope to its side, and Mirjana worried that if he should somehow slide back off and into the water again, he'd be swept away before he could be retrieved.  

   As if divining her thoughts, Jass shouted behind her, "It would be safest if we can get tae one lad at a time an' pass him up th' line tae th' shore."

   Mirjana met her son's gaze, giving him an encouraging smile.  "You hold on tight, my love!  We're almost there!"  She took another step forward, the water reaching to her chin now.  The mother faltered only briefly, then began to swim the final distance, praying she hadn't forgotten the strokes she'd learned years before as a young child before a changing body and new rules of propriety had prevented her from being allowed to swim with her childhood friends any longer.  The water immediately pulled harder at her, but it was drawing her even closer to the part of the stone barrier she wished to draw near to, so she gave in to the current, allowing it to drag her closer to where Duncan Michael lay.  A few moments later, she came up against the sloped stone.

   She found something solid beneath her feet again and stood, reaching upwards.  Duncan Michael reached down for her, but his hands were just barely out of reach.

   Jass's powerful strokes brought him the final distance to Mirjana's side.  He reached up, catching hold of the ducal heir's hands.  "A' right, lad.  I'll need yer help here.  Can ye slide down jus' a wee bit?"

   Duncan Michael shook his head, tears filling his eyes.  "I scared, Mama Miri!" he wailed.

   "Shh, poppet.  I know you are," she soothed him, glancing anxiously at Jass.  "But it's safe and warm upstairs, and there's a lovely dry bed and a fire in the hearth waiting to make you feel much better.  You'd like that, sweeting, wouldn't you?"

   He nodded.  

   "All right, my love.  Just slide down a little bit, and Sir Jass and I will catch you and bring you home."

   "You promise?"

   "I promise."

   "I won't get thrashed?"

   Mirjana gave a laughing sob.  "You won't get thrashed."

   Duncan Michael met her eyes and then trustingly slipped into his rescuers' arms.


   The Cassani men passed their future Duke up the chain, each man handing the young boy to the next until they had brought him back two-thirds of the way across to the opposite shore.  Then one man slipped, plunging himself and his young charge into the icy water, dragging both ends of the human chain downstream a short distance before he managed to regain his footing.  Both man and boy gasped for breath, Duncan Michael wailing and clinging to the shaken retainer in terror.  The man took a deep steadying breath and then began to pick his way back over the slippery stream bed to pass his squalling burden on to the next man up the chain.


   The end of the line was now downstream from Mikhail.  Fighting the current, Mirjana and Jass began to wade back upstream towards the remaining child.  From this vantage point, Mirjana noticed a frightening sight.

   The portion of limestone that Mikhail lay upon was not one solid rock ledge like that which had held Duncan Michael, but a pile of smaller bits of brittle rock and rubble sheltered from the water's full force by just a thin spur from the main ledge, and some of the looser stones Mikhail was resting upon were beginning to shift under the boy's added weight.  Mikhail lay quietly atop the rubble, his frame racked with shivers, his lips starting to turn blue from the cold.

   "We're coming, my heart." She continued to wade in his direction, but the progress was painfully slow, the stream threatening to sweep her off her feet with each step forward she took.

   He lifted his eyes to hers.  "Is Duncan Michael safe, Mama?"

   "Yes, love."

   The brown eyes filled with tears.  "I'm sorry I didn't protect him good enough."

   "You saved his life, darling.  You are a very brave boy!"  She was almost within reach now, a mere four yards away.

   The grind of rock grating upon rock, the splash of rocks tumbling into water—an ominous sound.


   Jass saw the pile of rubble on the near side of Mikhail's ledge start to collapse, saw his weight shift to that side.  He surged forward, but Mikhail slipped into the water before either he or Mirjana could reach him, the swift-flowing water dragging the exhausted boy past them both into the dark recesses of the cavern beyond.  Mirjana screamed, a piercing, heartbreaking sound, beginning to swim frantically downstream, some of the men on dry land running forward as far as the cavern walls would permit with lighted torches in an effort to assist with the search, but there was no sign of the child.  After the human chain had stretched the full distance that it could safely reach, Jass used the last of his remaining energy to pull Mirjana back out of the water, onto the stream's bank, enfolding her in his arms as she sobbed brokenly onto his shoulder.  Lord Daivi ran to their side, wrapping a dry blanket around her shoulders, catching her up as her knees gave way and she started to collapse onto the hard ground.  

Chapter 18:  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=600.0
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!


EEEEK!   Poor little kids and brave Mikhail.

I hope we don't have to wait until next week to see what happens to him?  :(


Actually, yes you do, because I'm not done writing that chapter yet.   :)

I'm mostly done, though, and should have it ready to post by my next regular posting day, which will be Tuesday.
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!


So not content with being queen of the character torturers, you are becoming queen of the cliffhanger too ;)

Poor brave Mikhail.  This had better show the Cassan and Kierney contingent that not all Torenthi are bad.  I suspect Ciaran is in Big Trouble wi' da' too!


Heh.  :D   I honestly hadn't intended to end this chapter with a cliffhanger.  It just turned out that way because it made more sense to group the scenes immediately following the last scene of this one into a separate chapter.  But if cliffhanger chapter endings keep you reading....   ;)   ;D

That's a very interesting point you bring up re: the Cassan/Kierney folk and their distrust of Torenthi.  Once I post Ch. 18 next week, I can go a bit more into why Chapters 16-18 became inevitable pretty much from the moment a certain comment made way back on August 29 was posted....   :)

*Mona Lisa smile*
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!


The end was as suspenseful as everyone wondering "Who shot JR" 30 years ago.
We will never forget the events of 9-11!!  USA!! USA!!


Quote from: derynifanatic64 on November 12, 2010, 06:47:54 PM
The end was as suspenseful as everyone wondering "Who shot JR" 30 years ago.

But if this story ends up just being a dream, you have my permission to shoot me!  ;D
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

I have a vocabulary in excess of 75,000 words, and I'm not afraid to use it!


What happened to JR was real, Bobby's death was the real dream.
We will never forget the events of 9-11!!  USA!! USA!!