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|Hieracium and the Lady of the Lake (youngsters:fairy tales, 3098 words)|
|Author: Ian Hobson||Added: Aug 01 2006||Views/Reads: 4324/1971||Story 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.' Tweet
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