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Hieracium and the Lady of the Lake (youngsters:fairy tales, 3098 words)
Author: Ian HobsonAdded: Aug 01 2006Views/Reads: 4324/1971Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
Tritoma moved cautiously in the darkness, guided only by his sense of smell and the touch of his whiskers against any obstacles he found in his path, while Hieracium followed closely… Hieracium and Tritoma’s adventure continues.
 



Click here to read the first 75 lines of the story


'Can't you speak normally... normally... normally?' asked Tritoma.  'And
stop repeating everything we say... we say... we say?' 

'I suppose I could try... could try,' said the echo.  'If you promise to
stay and talk for a while... while.' 

'Why not come with us?' Hieracium suggested.   'You can show us where
the pirates' cave is.' 

'If you like... you like, oh, sorry,' said the echo.  'It's a hard habit
to break.  But yes, I'll come with you.  Mind your head as you go; the 
roof is quite low from here on... here on, oh, sorry.' 

The echo was quite right; the roof was low in places and Hieracium
bumped his head more than once.  But soon he saw that there was 
daylight ahead and as the tunnel rounded a gradual bend to the right, 
he and Tritoma emerged into a huge cave with a tiny hole in the roof, 
through which, a shaft of sunlight shone so brightly that Hieracium had 
to shade his eyes. 

'Is this where the pirates come... pirates come?' he asked as he looked
around, trying to see into its darker corners. 

'Sorry,' said the echo.  'Yes, this was their cave.  They used to come
in through the hole in the roof and climb down a knotted rope.' 

'There's a terrible smell in here,' observed Tritoma.  He made his way
over towards what looked like a mound of earth at one side of the cave 
and then stopped as he found what it was that had offended his sense of 
smell.  'There are bats in here,' he said, 'and I don't think they've 
done much spring-cleaning recently.  I think it's time we moved on.' 

'No, wait... no wait!' said Hieracium. 

'Sorry,' said the echo. 

'Look over here.' Hieracium's eyes had grown accustomed to the light and
he had spotted something interesting at the other side of the cave.  
'Barrels!' he exclaimed.  'Lots of big wooden barrels!' 

'You have to knock on them,' said the echo.'  That's how to find out if
they're full or empty.' 

'But what's in them?' Hieracium asked as he knocked on the first barrel
to find that it sounded empty. 

'It's called rum,' replied the echo.  'The pirates liked to drink it;
though that's when they usually started fighting.' 

'My father likes rum,' said Hieracium, suddenly reminded that his father
must be very worried about him; it seemed like half a lifetime had gone 
by since he and Tritoma had been washed into the sea.  'This one's got 
some in,' he said as he knocked on another of the barrels.  There was a 
wooden tap at the bottom of the barrel, and though it was very stiff, 
Hieracium managed to turn it until a few drops of rum trickled out.  He 
knelt down and put his tongue under the tap to catch some of the drips 
and them grimaced at the taste.  'Yuck, that's awful!' he said as he 
got quickly to his feet and moved on past the remaining barrels and 
tripped over something that lay in his path. 

Then he almost jumped out of his skin as he realised that what he had
tripped over was the legs of a human skeleton.  It was leaning against 
the wall of the cave and was dressed in tattered remnants of clothing 
but, disturbed by Hieracium's feet, it began to slide sideways until it 
hit the floor of the cave with a dusty crash and its skull fell off and 
rolled away.  'That must have been one of the pirates!' exclaimed 
Hieracium.  'And look!'  The skull had come to rest against a large 
wooded chest.  'A treasure chest!' 

And it was indeed a treasure chest; though most of the treasure had long
since been removed.  Though Hieracium did find a broken gold pendant 
that must once have held a large precious stone, and he put that into 
his pocket.  But best of all, carefully wrapped in the skin of a wild 
animal, he found a leather belt with a huge brass buckle, and a 
scabbard containing a sword with an ornate handle and guard.  'It's not 
even rusty,' said Hieracium as he pulled the sword from the scabbard 
and examined the gleaming blade.  Then he tried the belt for size.  It 
was, of course, too big, but he threaded it through the scabbard and 
buckled it and hung it over his shoulder. 

'A proper little pirate... little pirate,' observed Tritoma. 

'Sorry,' said the echo.  'I suppose you'll be going now, will you?'  Now
the echo sounded quite sad. 

'I'm afraid so,' Tritoma replied.  'Unless we're to live off a diet of
rum and bat droppings.'  He looked up at the hole in the roof, noticing 
that the daylight was beginning to fade and wishing there was some way 
to get up there.  'But you are still welcome to come with us if you 
can.' 

'No!' The echo seemed anxious. 'I don't like to stray too far that way
any more...  Are you sure I can't persuade you to stay here?  This part 
of the tunnel is by far the nicest.' 

'No, we must be going.'  Hieracium answered.  'Are you sure you wouldn't
like to come with us to the end of the tunnel and out into the fresh 
air?' 

'Oh, no,' replied the echo.  'This is my home, you see; and has been for
thousands of years; ever since people first came here... came here... 
came here...  The old days were the best...  the best... the best.  
When people lived in the caves... the caves... the caves, and babies 
were born and grew into children... children... children. They were 
such happy times... times...times.'  The echo's voice had grown very 
sad and fallen back into its echoing habit as it reminisced about days 
gone by.  And so Hieracium and Tritoma, who had now found the 
continuation of the tunnel, continued on into the darkness once more. 

*** 

'I'm hungry,' said Hieracium.  He had had nothing to eat since morning –
or was that the day before, he wasn't sure - and he had had only a 
little water to drink; but he bravely continued on through the 
darkness, holding on to Tritoma's tail with one hand and the scabbard 
of his sword with the other. 

'Me too,' answered Tritoma, remembering the tasty meal of leftovers he
had eaten at the Periwinkle Inn, and guessing correctly that somewhere 
above their heads, it would be night-time. 

'Then come to my banquet,' said a soothing female voice that seemed to
come from a little way ahead.  'You will be most welcome.' 

'Is that you, echo,' Hieracium asked, thinking that the echo had
followed them after all. 

'There are no echoes here,' said the voice, sounding almost hypnotic. 
'There was one once, but I grew tired of his constant repetition and 
sent him away; though sometimes I miss his conversation.  He knew many 
languages and taught me all of them.' 

'Who are you,' Tritoma asked as he sniffed the air, thinking he could
smell something fishy.  Then he stopped as his whiskers and nose 
touched solid rock. 

'I am Dicentra,' the soothing voice replied.  'Do not be afraid.  You
are close now to my banqueting hall, but you may find a rock-fall just 
ahead of you, so you may have to climb over it and squeeze through a 
gap.  Come; do not be afraid.' 

'I don't like the smell of this place,' said Tritoma as he felt with his
whiskers, trying to find a way forward, but there was indeed a 
rock-fall.  'It seems we have no choice but to go on,' he said.  'Let 
go of my tail and I'll go first and find a way.'  And so up he went, 
finding his way over the rocks and calling to Hieracium to follow.  It 
took a long time, but eventually the two of them squeezed through a gap 
and scrambled down the other side of the rock-fall and found themselves 
in yet another huge cave. 

But this cave was not like the pirates' cave; there was no hole in the
roof to let in daylight, and yet Tritoma and Hieracium could see, for 
the cave was dimly lit by what looked like hundreds of stars, and the 
light from them was reflected by a huge lake that covered most of the 
floor of the cave. 

'Welcome,' said Dicentra. 'Come closer.'  In the water at the edge of
the lake there was a large white rock, and her voice seemed to be 
coming from there. 

'What are those lights?' Hieracium asked as he looked up at the roof of
the cave.  'They look like stars.' 

'They're glow-worms,' said Tritoma as he and Hieracium moved closer to
the lake.  'Tiny creatures that give off light.' 

'Glow-worms?' said Dicentra, 'Oh yes, the glow-worms.  I hear them
whispering but they never talk to me.' 

'Who are you,' Hieracium asked.  'And why are you here?' 

'I've told you,' replied the soothing voice.  'I am Dicentra.  I am the
Lady of the lake, and I have lived here for a long time... Your voice 
reminds me of an old friend's; a little boy who used to bring me food.  
That was a long time ago...  But perhaps we can be friends.  Let me 
sing you a song.'  And with that, Dicentra began to sing in a soft and 
hypnotic voice. 

This cave, it is so very old It's lake, so deep and clear But visitors
are welcome They have no need to fear 

In days gone by, so many came To my feast upon the shore And when the
feasting, it was done Not one would ask for more 

So come now, to the water's edge It's almost time to dine If you enjoy
my hospitality Then the pleasure will be all mine 

For my name, it is Dicentra And this is my domain And all who enter
here, my friends Are welcome to remain 

Lulled by Dicentra's soothing voice, Hieracium had taken a few more
steps forward, but the last line of the song troubled him.  'Where is 
the food?' he asked.  'I can't see any.'  He took another step but 
something brittle snapped under his foot and he looked down to see what 
it was.  'A bone,' he said, 'and there are more of them.' 

Tritoma had also discovered some bones, and there were many, strewn all
around the edge of the lake, and some of them looked like the bones of 
the dead pirate, though most of them were just broken fragments.  'What 
is this place?' he said, backing away from the lake and noticing that 
the fishy smell was now stronger than ever. 

'Come closer.  You have nothing to fear.' Dicentra's voice was now less
soothing and was beginning to sound impatient. 

Sensing danger, Hieracium drew the sword from the scabbard, and just in
time too, for suddenly the white rock had changed shape and was moving 
rapidly towards him.  With horror Hieracium saw that the rock was in 
fact a crab, just like the ones he had seen outside a fishmonger's shop 
in Passiflora; except that this one was enormous and white, with six 
legs as long as a man's and two huge pincers. 

The crab came sideways at Hieracium and then turned and snapped at him
with one of the pincers.  But Hieracium, instinctively using the 
fencing skills his father had taught him, ducked under the pincer and 
moved forwards and sideways to swipe at one of the crab's legs with his 
sword.  Dicentra recoiled from the blow and let out a screech of pain 
but as Hieracium stepped backwards and stumbled over more of the broken 
bones, the crab advanced again, snapping wildly at Hieracium, now with 
both of her pincers.  Once more Hieracium ducked, this time rolling 
away to leave the crab snapping at the air, but as he scrambled noisily 
over more of the broken bones she turned towards him again. 

'She's blind!' shouted Tritoma.  'She can hear you but not see you!' 
Hieracium backed away from the snapping pincers but his every movement 
betrayed his position.  He shrugged off the belt and scabbard and slung 
them past the advancing crustacean, trying to distract her, and as the 
belt and scabbard hit the floor of the cave, the huge crab turned 
towards the sound.  Hieracium kept very still and Dicentra seemed 
undecided as to where her prey now was.  But some instinct was guiding 
her back to where Hieracium lay, so Tritoma ran over to the belt and 
scabbard and, using his teeth, he dragged them noisily through the 
broken bones. 

Again Dicentra was distracted, this time moving towards Tritoma and
again she snapped viciously at the air with both pincers.  With as much 
stealth as he could muster, Hieracium got to his feet and, following 
after the crab, he raised his sword high and brought it down hard on 
one of her rear legs, almost severing it.  Dicentra screeched with pain 
and rage and turned towards her attacker.  But already Hieracium had 
sprung away, and though bones cracked under his feet as he circled her, 
the sound was lost amongst Dicentra's terrible screams and soon he was 
able to strike again.  Now, with all his might, he brought the sword 
down on her other rear leg, this time severing it close to her body and 
sending the huge crab into a frenzy of pain and anger. 

Hieracium and Tritoma backed away as Dicentra continued to screech and
thrash about and then with one last penetrating scream, she backed into 
the lake and was gone. 

'She was no lady?' said Hieracium, breathless and covered in Dicentra's
blood or whatever it was that had spurted from her wounds.  'Do you 
think I killed her?' 

'No,' replied Tritoma, 'I don't think so.'  He and Hieracium watched the
lake as bubbles came to the surface.  And then, to their surprise, the 
edge of the lake came alive with many tiny creatures.  'Look,' said 
Tritoma as the creatures converged on Dicentra's severed leg and began 
to devour it.  'More crabs.' 

'But such tiny ones!' exclaimed Hieracium. 

More of the tiny crabs, each of them blind and white, came up from the
lake to join the feast.  Whatever strange aberration had caused 
Dicentra to grow so large had not affected them, though they were well 
accustomed to picking over the bones of her victims; except now 
Dicentra herself was the victim and her severed leg the meal of the 
day. 

And it was day; for at the far end of the cave, through a low opening,
the first light of dawn was showing the way out of the cave. 

*** 

'That wasn't a dream,' said Callistephus.  'That was a nightmare.  It's
a good thing that Hieracium had found that sword.' 

'Quite so,' replied Thymus as the Callistephus climbed up onto the bed
and lay down beside him. 

'And so is that the end of the story?' Callistephus asked.  'Did
Hieracium and Tritoma get home safely?  Or did they have more 
adventures?' 

'I don't know,' replied Thymus, drowsily.  'Perhaps I'll find out soon,
in my dreams.' 


   


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