Dark Waltz: Part Three
Part 3: Deliverance
And Things Not What They Seem
Amandus and Zo’koll sat silent throughout the long morning, caught fast in their icy tower. Not even the thought of the warm stones and blowing trees of the Ever Living Lands cheered them. Amandus was quickly losing heart, seeing no way out of their prison. They had tried melting the walls, but they grew chilled too quickly and they decided they needed to conserve their body heat. They took Zo’koll’s earrings and chipped away at the ice, but both earrings were soon bent and broken. So they sat in gloomy despondency on the frozen floor.
Suddenly, a door clanged somewhere, and heavy feet sounded coming down the hall outside the heavy wooden door. Amandus and Zo’koll leaped to their feet and pressed against the wall in panic as a key turned in the lock and the door swung open heavily. A huge cloaked figure stood there, a whip in his hands. He cracked it once, and it flicked between them, leaving a ridge in the ice. The hobbit slipped on the floor and fell painfully, trying to avoid the lash, and so she didn’t see it curl around Zo’koll’s foot. She realized what was happening only when Zo’koll started yelling as she was dragged across the floor. The cloaked person drew her towards the door and wrapped the whip around her legs and arms; then he turned to Amandus, who drew up her legs and cowered against the wall; but he only spoke to her.
“The Brown Marshmallow People are sacred,” he hissed. “Remember today what you have seen.” The hobbit hid her eyes and the door slammed shut. She lay on the floor in a miserable heap, her thoughts taking refuge somewhere beyond where anyone could follow…
* * *
Sir Tisdale reined his horse across the frozen wasteland, picking his way carefully along the faint track between the stones. They had stumbled across it quite by accident, and it hugged the hillsides and made use of every bit of cover available. The Mountain of Lost Souls loomed far in the distance, where Tingenek, also called the Tower of Bare Ice, was set on its stormy peak. “The hobbit is imprisoned in that tower,” he said. “I know this in my heart, for it also beats with the love of the Ever Living Lands.”
Jack patted a covered bundle on the back of his saddle. “We have this,” he said. “With it, we can rescue hobbits from anything, be it cold or heat or snow or drought.”
“Yes,” Sir Tisdale agreed. “None dare stop us. Forward!” With that, he urged his horse forward along the trail…
* * *
…Amandus opened her eyes. There was no Sir Tisdale. She knew this truth, for she could never be Sir Tisdale. In her mind, he and she were one and the same, but he was only a fabrication of her imagination, dashing about the countryside with his faithful side-kick saving the world from evil. But even Jack seemed pale in comparison to the situation before her, and she had thought longer and harder over a name for him than any part of her Sir Tisdale imaginings. But no…it was useless. The floor was too hard, the walls were too cold, and the snow outside was too real.
Dusk fell quickly, as it does in the Northern lands when snow is on the ground. Shadows gradually crept across the floor, touching gently the huddled figure in the corner of the room, moving on in their own business and remembering her not. The moon shone over the white stillness, already well on its way to the zenith of its climb as the daylight faded, and its glow through the small window was like a lance in the darkening room. Amandus sat up slowly, marveling gloomily that so clear and pure a light would dare enter a dungeon of ice. It seemed to mock her, being so free with its beams. Despair was heavy on her heart, and she leaned her head against the wall. There was no life. Zo’koll was gone. The White Wizard held the land in a hard grip. She was in darkness.
A little breeze entered the room, a light zephyr of air, slightly out of place in a dungeon on the top of Tingenek, the Tower of Bare Ice. It played across the hobbit’s pale face and whisked over her boots. She opened her eyes and raised her head. It was different from the bone-chilling wind sweeping across the frozen plain below; cold, but clear and fresh, it brought color to her cheeks and wakefulness to her clouded mind, and she wondered. It left her, but she could hear it blowing in the window and around the room, and she listened. She heard it faintly examine the door and touch the walls and corners of her prison; she couldn’t understand how she could hear it and track it, but she could…almost as if she could see it. The sound was calming, and she felt strangely refreshed and cheered. It was then that she became aware that she wasn’t alone.
Very faintly visible in the corner opposite her was a figure resting on the floor. As she gazed at it, it became clearer, and she saw what appeared to be a girl sitting cross-legged, regarding her with not a little curiosity. As it took shape more clearly, she saw that it was dressed rather strangely for a country of the North, wearing nothing but a short sleeved white tunic belted at the waist, light green leggings, and knee-high leather boots. She was leaning on one elbow, chin in hand, playing absently with a strand of her long brown hair. On her belt was a dirk; the blade was black and bare. However, the most remarkable thing about her personage was that she had a tail. It wasn’t too long, only half past her knees, and it was similar to the thickly-furred tail of a Maine coon cat. Amandus blinked and glanced at the door, which was still securely shut. “Who are you?” she asked.
The girl moved for the first time and smiled. “Actually,” she said, “the question should be coming from my end, because you are the first person looking like you that has ever come to this tower.”
“Then are you a bad guy? What do you want?”
The girl leaned back against the wall and laughed for a good long time. When she finally sobered, she said, “I am the cat that walks by itself. I confide in no one, yet all are my friends and I welcome them. Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow…don’t walk behind me, I may not lead… walk beside me and be my friend.” She stood to her feet and held out her hand, smiling. “Will you?”
Amandus still wasn’t sure. “You haven’t answered my questions. Who are you, and what do you want? Like what is your name?”
Again the girl with the tail laughed…she seemed rather fond of doing so. “I am a Pooka. I have no public name. As for what I want…” Here she smiled. “I want to observe and I want to learn new things. All the world is my playground, and all of life is an adventure. And some people are more fun to play with than others…which brings me back to my own question. Who are you?”
And so the hobbit told her everything. About why she and Zo’koll left the Ever Living Lands, about coming too far north and the blood tree, about being kidnapped and imprisoned by the White Wizard, and finally about the mysterious abduction of Zo’koll from the cell. When she mentioned the White Wizard, the Pooka’s eyes flashed green fire. “And after they took my friend, I didn’t know what to do. And then you came somehow. Do you have any ideas to get me safely out of here?”
The Pooka was pacing to and fro around the small room. She looked up. “Nope. None. I am a Pooka. I come and go as I please and none hinder me. Not even the White Wizard. I can’t say the same for anyone else.”
“Then perhaps you can talk to him and convince him to let me and my friend free.” Amandus spread out her hands. “I don’t even know why we have been captured, or what he wants from us. Could you at least influence him to tell us why?”
The girl gave a short mirthless laugh. “I have no influence over the Wizard. His goal is world dominion, and he is ever on the look-out for minions to do his dirty work. I am no minion of his…we understand each other and each have little or no influence over the other, and he seems as frozen as the land he rules. However…” A thinking expression crept over her face and she looked sideways at the hobbit. Then she turned upside down and sat cross-legged in midair, which made Amandus laughed. That was the whole point, of course. Then she shot over to the window and landed on the edge and looked down.
“K, so I just realized I lied. Not exactly, but sort of. I can get you out of here easily, but to do it safely is another matter, and I have no ideas for to do that. But I can get the first stage going.” She turned. “Are you ready? To go? Like right now?”
Amandus nodded. The girl leaped next up to the rafters and hung there briefly. “Alright,” she said. “Over you go.” With that, the Pooka disappeared, and a rope shot through the air and over the edge of the small window. Amandus blinked. It was very pale even against the blue whiteness of the ice and she almost couldn’t see it. One end was tied securely to the beam above her head, and the other end was out of view out the window. “Hurry,” said a voice. “You said right now, so go.”
“Oh; of course.” Amandus grasped the rope in her hands and climbed up to balance precariously in the window. The rocks were hundreds of feet below, and for a moment she shut her eyes, dizzy. “Go,” the voice prompted her again. “You will be quite safe.” So she held onto the rope firmly and slid her feet carefully over the edge of the window and found a toehold in the ice. She looked down to make sure of her footing and nearly screamed in fright – she couldn’t see her feet…or her legs…or any of herself, for that matter. Soft laughter sounded all around her, and the rope quivered in her hands. “You’ll notice,” said the Pooka, “that the rope is visible, while you are not. Pookas have the gift of either attitude as they choose, and also the gift to bestow it on other things or beings for a short time. Makes it easier that way sometimes.”
The climb down the tower was a harrowing experience, and although the moon had sunk behind the tower, leaving her side in shadow, it seemed to Amandus that hours passed before she finally reached the ground below and could hide behind a snow covered rock. The voice had coached her all along, but it had been painfully slow, and she collapsed at the bottom breathing hard. As she dropped the rope, she was immediately visible again and the rope was not. But she heard it slither down to the ground and land next to her, and then in a trice she was scooped up by a quickly-moving flat sort of object and whisked toward the trees. They entered under the snow-laden branches and careened around rocks and boulders straight towards a cliff. Amandus squealed and they went over the edge…or not quite. A deer trail tipped over the lip and around the rocks and they came to an abrupt stop before a tall slab of rock, spilling her off into the snow. A moment later the Pooka was leaning against the rock beside her, whisking her tail in a very satisfied manner. “What was that?!” the hobbit gasped.
“It’s called a Sledd, dear hobbit,” was the reply. “They are quite the convenience when it comes to transportation over snow.”
Amandus lay on the ground and tried to slow her breathing. “Now where do we go?”
“Into the ground, of course,” the girl replied. “You can’t think that your escape wasn’t observed and catalogued, for it probably was…even if it wasn’t, we must act as though it was. Safer that way…fewer surprises in the end. We must get as far as we can before discovery, and there are fewer eyes below ground, depending on where you go. Come! This way!”
“No! Wait! I can’t leave my friend.” Amandus still sat on the ground. “I made it out, but Zo’koll is still in there somewhere.”
The Pooka laughed. “Would you believe me if I told you that most of the White Wizard’s palace is under this very mountain? There is nothing in the tower…I saw them take you and then poked around to see what else I could find. No, no she isn’t in the tower at all – she is under our very feet.”
Amandus rose to her feet and looked at her. “I’m not sure I trust you.”
“You are wise.”
They stood regarding each other for a moment. Looking at her, Amandus felt the bounce that had left her upon coming north begin to flow back into her veins. The Pooka tilted her head. “Shall we? Or not?”
The hobbit looked back through the trees at the icy tower, thinking long of her friend and of what she had to do. Boldness was returning to her, and she felt that she actually was Sir Tisdale…only her side-kick was a little odd and she wasn’t named Jack. Courage once again flowed though her heart, and she spun around on the snow and looked straight into the eyes of the girl with the tail. “Yes!”
The Pooka laughed again and whisked out of sight behind the rock. “Come then! We must get supplies and things, and I know Peoples who live down this way. Come!” Amandus followed her around the rock.
To be continued….