The thirteenth unicorn, p.26
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Thirteenth Unicorn, p.26

           W. D. Newman
 
CHAPTER 23

  STONE DOG

  Louise had her arms wrapped tightly around Jonah’s waist as the ground flew beneath them in a dark blur. Although they were traveling at break-neck speeds, the ride was smooth and easy. They raced over hills and valleys, through fields and forests, the great horses never slowing, never tiring. By dawn they reached a dusty, barren plain and the elves drew the weary horses to a halt.

  “This is as close as we dare come,” said Jonah. “Behold the Blight.”

  Nothing stirred on the plain before them. Tree trunks, sticks, and stems were the only remaining signs of vegetation that once grew here. A sickly gray mist covered the landscape that was brown and devoid of all other color. In the distance, a hill rose up from the plain and atop this hill sat a small, squat fortress with a lone tower jutting up from the center. The elves dismounted and helped everyone else down from the horses.

  “There is Stone Dog,” said Jonah, pointing toward the tower. He pulled an arrow from his quiver and handed it to Louise. “Strike out straight across the plain here and you will come to the road that leads to the castle. Lay this arrow in the road, pointing back to us. When you return from the castle, pick up the arrow and wave. We will be watching for you and will signal for you when we see you waving.”

  “Are you sure the castle is unguarded?” Louise asked.

  “I am positive,” Jonah replied. “The witch has no one but her shadow cat, and that demon is with her always.”

  The children walked up beside Louise. All three of them had a fierce look of determination on their faces. Joey was carrying an axe that one of the dwarves had given him, and a small sack from the Keeper, was tied at his belt.

  “Well, I guess we’d better be on our way,” Louise said.

  “Be sure to come back with all twelve horns. We can use them to return to the Twilight.”

  “What do you mean by that?”

  “I’ll show you when you get back. Hurry now.”

  Louise and the children stepped out of the forest onto the blight stricken ground and the dead grass crunched beneath their feet. In a few minutes they came across the road, just as Jonah said they would, and Louise placed the arrow in the road, pointing it back to the place in the forest they had just left. From here, they could still see the elves on the fringe of the forest, standing as silent and still as the trees around them.

  It took them half an hour to reach the castle. The walls were no more than twelve to fifteen feet in height and formed a square around a tower that rose thirty feet above them. Both the castle walls and tower were built of strange rocks, smooth and black like onyx, hewed in many different shapes and fitted together so precisely that it was hard to tell where one stone ended and another stone began. The road led them through the open gates into the courtyard and straight to a small door set into the base of the tower. Whether by magic or by might, the door was locked tight and would not budge. Louise and the children walked around the base and found no other point of entry, but they did count four windows at the top of the tower, one for each point of the compass.

  “What do you think, Joey? Do you think you can climb up there?”

  “I’m not sure, these walls are pretty smooth.”

  Jenny peered up at the top of the tower. “The windows seem small too. I don’t know if Joey could even fit through one.”

  Joey laid his axe down and untied the sack from his belt. Inside was a long thin rope with a strange looking device tied onto the end. According to the Keeper, this was a grappling hook and would lock onto whatever surface it struck. A hard yank would lock the hook in place and a gentle tug would release it. Joey coiled the rope into long, loose loops and everyone stepped back as he began to twirl the grappling device. The first throw landed far short of the window. Joey gave the rope a gentle tug to release it and then tried again. This time, the device locked onto the wall just a little above the window sill and slightly to the left. It was close enough. Fortunately, the base of the tower was much larger in diameter than the top, so that the tower wall, although steep, was not completely vertical. Even though the tower walls were smooth, the rubber soles on Joey’s tennis shoes were able to get pretty good traction and Joey was able to make it to the window without much difficulty. However, he found the window barred from the inside and impossible to enter. They made their way around the tower, checking all four windows and each one, to their dismay, they found shut, locked and unopenable.

  “What now?” Casey asked. It was now mid-morning and the sun was beginning to burn off some of the strange wispy mists that surrounded the castle.

  “Let’s see if we can force the door open,” Jenny replied. “That’s the only option we have left.”

  The door was wooden and bound together with thick bands of polished steel. Joey took the axe and began hacking away at the center of the door but there were so many steel bands holding it together that, after a short while, he had accomplished nothing more than dulling his axe. He sat down in the shade of the tower to catch his breath while Casey, Jenny, and Louise poked about in a pile of debris at the base of the tower. After closely examining what appeared to be the shattered remains of an old wagon, the three women huddled together and began excitedly discussing a new plan to gain access to the tower. His curiosity overcame his fatigue and Joey roused himself to see what they were talking about.

  “It’s a great idea, Jenny,” said Louise.

  “What’s a great idea?”

  Louise turned to Joey. “We’ll burn the door down.”

  “That won’t destroy the tower?”

  “No, the tower is stone. There may be a wooden structure inside, maybe a staircase or wooden floors but once we burn enough of the door to kick it in, we’ll put the fire out. We can pile the timber from this old wagon up against the door. It’s very dry and should make a nice hot fire. Once the door catches, it probably won’t take long to burn through.”

  “That’s a great idea, but how are we going to light the fire?”

  Louise smiled as she reached into a pocket on the front of her dress and produced a pair of reading glasses.

  “How are you going to start a fire with those?” Casey asked.

  “You’ll see. Right now, you and Jenny start gathering tinder to start the fire; grass, small twigs, and stems. Pile it up in front of the door. Joey, I’ll start moving small pieces of that wagon over here and you start moving the larger pieces.”

  In a few minutes, Casey and Jenny had a large heap of dead grass piled up against the door. Louise knelt down and used her reading glasses to focus the sun’s rays into a small intense point of light on top of the dry grass. Within a few seconds, a thin stream of smoke began to rise and the dried grasses burst into flames which began to hungrily devour the fuel. Next, she placed the small pieces of timber from the wagon onto the fire and when the small pieces started catching, Joey began tossing the larger pieces onto the flames. The fire roared against the door as it greedily consumed the old wagon and wisps of smoke began to curl out from beneath the eaves at the tower’s top. Louise and the kids let the door burn until most of the wagon shards were totally consumed. Then Joey took his axe to the charred door and was able to hack through the burned timbers and gain access to the inside of the tower. Quickly, they set about beating down the fires that were burning around the entrance and once the flames were extinguished, they had to wait for the smoke to clear before they could enter.

  The tower did indeed have a wooden structure within. It was divided into three levels and a wooden staircase spiraled around the outer wall between the levels. The first level appeared to be the living quarters, complete with a food storage area and a crude kitchen with a fireplace, tables and chairs. The second level was the sleeping chambers. On this level, there was a large bed near another fireplace, a wardrobe, and several chests. The third level had no furnishings at all. A twelve pointed star, that spanned the entire room, was painted on the floor and a unicorn
horn was planted at each point of this star, with the spiral tip pointing skyward. In the center of the star stood the Merlin Tree, the portal to Pluton.

  “Wow,” said Joey, “no wonder the witch didn’t have any problem finding the thing; it’s right inside of her house!”

  “This tree is different,” said Louise. “Look at the opening. In the other trees, you can see through the opening.”

  Although it was very dim inside the tower, enough light shone through the shuttered windows that everyone could see that the opening in the Merlin Tree was pitch black. While everyone was looking at the tree, a thin tendril of smoke began to ooze from the dark opening. Rather than rising up to the rafters, this mysterious smoke crept across the floor, past Louise and the children. They watched in fascination as the smoke made its way to the edge of the room and tumbled down the staircase. Then Jenny screamed.

  Louise grabbed Casey by the arm and whirled around. Two long thick tentacles had emerged from the Merlin Tree. They were mottled pink in color and coated with a foul smelling slime. One of them was thrashing around, weaving back and forth, and probing the air as if searching for something. The other one was wrapped tightly around Jenny’s ankle and had yanked her off her feet. Joey, still carrying the axe, sprang into action and began madly chopping at the tentacle that was now dragging his sister across the floor. Though the axe was dull, he was able to hack the end of tentacle off with a few swift strokes. The injured tentacle, spouting an even fouler smelling liquid from the severed end, struck out in retaliation and flung Joey against the wall, while the other tentacle found Jenny before she could escape, and wrapped itself tightly around her waist. Apparently, the creature these tentacles belonged to was now angry. Jenny was violently flung to the floor and then very rapidly dragged toward the tree. Joey was dazed and unable to move. Jenny was screaming. Casey was screaming. Then suddenly a crack of thunder exploded in the tower, blowing the shuttered windows open, and lightning arced across the room, searing the two tentacles to a smoking pile of lifeless ashes. Silence. Casey turned to look at her grandmother.

  Louise was standing at one of the points of the star on the tower floor, with a unicorn horn in her outstretched hand. She did not remember picking up the horn. She did not know the word that formed in her brain, as she pointed the horn at the creature’s arms. Even as she uttered the word, she did not know what to expect. She certainly did not expect lightning to shoot from the end of the horn and burn the creature to a crisp.

  Jenny scrambled to her feet and ran over the help her brother up.

  “Grandma,” said Casey in a shaky voice. “Are you okay?”

  Louise slowly lowered the horn. “Yes dear, I’m fine.”

  “What just happened?”

  “I don’t know, sweetheart. We’ll figure it out later. Right now, let’s get these horns and get out of here. Joey, hand me your sack and then all of you go downstairs and wait for me by the door.”

  When Louise came out of the tower, the sack was bulging with the twelve horns she collected from around the tree. They used the rope to secure the horns within the sack and then Joey hoisted the bundle over his shoulder.

  “Mission accomplished,” Louise said. “Let’s get out of here.”

  “Shouldn’t we try to destroy the Merlin Tree while we are here?” Joey asked. “It wouldn’t take much to burn the inside of the tower out.”

  “I thought about that,” Louise answered. “And I don’t think we should. If we destroyed the Tree, then Mordred would probably create another one and we might not be so lucky in finding the next one. Also, as long as he thinks the Merlin Tree is in Stone Dog he will think it’s safe from attack. If we destroy it, he will probably try to fortify the next one.”

  “Was that Mordred that attacked us?” Jenny asked.

  “No, that was probably just a creature from the other side. Probably a guardian of the portal.”

  “Well, let’s get out of here,” said Casey. “This place has a sick feeling to it. It makes me feel like I need to take a bath or something.”

  Louise and the kids trudged down the road, until they came across the elfin arrow. They looked across the field towards the woods, where the arrow was pointing, but they could see nothing but trees. Louise picked the arrow up and began waving it over her head and four elves materialized from among the trees and began waving back. When they reached the elves, Joey handed the horns over to Jonah and then everyone retreated to a small glade a couple of miles into the forest to get further away from the Blight.

  Jonah unbundled the twelve horns. He slid one horn into his belt and then handed each person a horn.

  “Hold these tightly and do not drop them.”

  Next, he took the remaining four horns and slid one under each of the saddles so that the horns were in contact with the horse’s flesh.

  “The Keeper has instructed me in the art of creating a pathway. It is one of many things that Merlin shared with him. The wizards of old used these pathways to travel and all but Merlin needed their staffs to open these pathways. We have no staffs, but we each have something far more powerful.”

  Jonah cast a knowing glance at Louise and raised his eyebrow then continued, “Merlin was also the only wizard who could create a pathway and keep it open for others to travel. This feat I cannot do.”

  “Then how are we to get back to the Twilight?” Louise asked.

  Jonah walked over to Casey.

  “The Keeper believes that a spell-catcher will hold the spell and keep the pathway open. May I borrow your necklace, Casey?”

  Casey reached behind her neck and unfastened the clasp. She held the necklace out and dropped it into Jonah’s hand.

  “You can have it, if you will get us out of here,” she whispered.

  Jonah pulled the spiraled horn from his belt and wrapped the necklace around it. He held the horn above his head and spoke a strange word under his breath that no one could hear. At first nothing happened. Then the air at the edge of the glade began to shimmer and suddenly, a black hole popped up in front of them. The hole was at least six feet across and hovered a few inches off the ground.

  “I have to go through first,” said Jonah. “Then Louise and the children shall follow after me. When you step into the hole, you will be in total darkness. You will be able to see through the portal behind you and you will be able to see the other portal that opens into the Twilight. Walk straight to the other portal and do not veer to the left or to the right. Understand?”

  Louise and the children nodded. Jonah wrapped the reins in one hand and, holding the horn and the spell-catcher in front with the other hand, led his horse into the black hole and disappeared.

  *****

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
Add comment

Add comment