Chapter 9 – A walk at dawn

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Great mercy, it’s all here! Oh, girl, what have you uncovered!’ Lucille thought, turning apprehensive eyes towards Mary, to see if her niece had any idea about the importance of her finding. It only took one glance to ascertain that Mary knew she was holding the long lost copy of the Que’d.

They looked at each other for a while, in a tacit understanding that any knowledge driven from the precious tome will never pass their lips. Finally Lucille decided to comment.

What a strange thing, you know, with all of this resurgence of the legend of the Que’d, that somebody supposedly saw the old language in a cave not far from here! Why would somebody make up a story like that?” she asked, mostly rhetorically. The conversation continued unfolding naturally, in the third person, touching upon the subject lightly, without emotional involvement.

I actually know that to be a fact, aunt Lucille,” Mary confirmed, omitting to mention the whole month of labor during which she scratched the old language text all over the walls of the cave. “I happened to overhear some of the girls in our workshop talk about it while we were weaving. It’s true, they even mentioned where the cave was,” Mary embroidered upon the truth, prompted by her aunt’s example.

I worry about you young ladies, these are not acceptable subjects for an evening sitting, what would the Council think?” Lucille faked outrage. “Tell me more, my dear, we need to get to the bottom of this before somebody’s curiosity pushes them to delve even deeper into these treacherous waters!” she prompted.

I’m sure they’ll be fine,” Mary reassured her aunt that discussions about the Que’d hadn’t left the room. “It seems that cave is quite near to our home, aunt Lucille, no farther than eight hundred paces from here.”

The thought!” Lucille picked up the information and rolled with it. “The Council will want to know all about it, I’m sure. You know what? The ladies have a Circle meeting next evening, maybe I should do some research on the cave before that, just to get a head start on the work. I’m sure the Circle will ponder this subject at length before deciding the fate of the unfortunate artifact. It is not the kind of decision to be taken lightly,” she presented her point. “As much as I dislike involving an innocent child in this grown up matter, I will need your help finding the cave, Mary, since you seem to know where it is. I’m sure the Council will understand my choice, given the importance of this finding.”

Of course, aunt Lucille,” Mary acknowledged. “I’m ready to go whenever you want.”

You don’t have any chores? Didn’t Mrs. Gentry assign you anything to do?” Lucille sought reassurance, because the last thing she needed was to have the dragon lady chew her up for overstepping her authority.

No, I’m all caught up,” Mary embellished the truth again, because in all fairness Mrs. Gentry’s chores were not the ending kind, they tended to go on and on until the complete break down or death of the unfortunate laborer, whichever came first. ‘Be finished with Mrs. Gentry’s chores, my aunt really does have a sense of humor!’ Mary giggled silently in her head.

Well, then, we should be going, no point in wasting time,” Lucille tried to dissimulate the urgency of her quest. She wanted to make sure she arrived at the scene before any righteous objector managed to damage the writings. She found it very hard to temper her excitement about being among the first people to see the precious text after so many centuries, the sacred book of her ancestors, a treasure of wisdom so many Scholars found worthy of their tribulations and their blood.

She didn’t question whether the copy of the Que’d that adorned the walls of the cave was genuine, Mary’s attitude made it quite clear to her that was not an issue, and she was curious to see how accurate her niece had been in duplicating the pages she could neither see nor read, secretly and in the dark. Lucille worried that the Circle would destroy the cave the moment they found its location, goodness knows some of the members weren’t the most open minded individuals.

She worried that the person who spread the rumor had already risen the entire village to attention, and they were going to find a whole crew at the site when they reached it. She worried that the rumor spreading person was a lot closer to the Circle than Rosemary let out, even one of the members, maybe. She worried that sharing with Mary whatever she could decode from the old language would put them both in danger.

She looked at Mary, who was unfazed, as always, and wondered at the tides of thought that rose and fell behind those transparent eyes. The girl’s hair was very long now, trailing way past her waist, and when the sun shone through it, her entire being was surrounded by its glow, like by a halo.

They had arrived at the cave right before dawn and found it empty, to Lucille’s great relief. The cave had a natural opening at the top, which provided plentiful illumination during the day, but it was still too dark outside, so they waited patiently until the first rays of light hit the beginning of the text, as if the writing had been placed on the wall at that precise location on purpose.

Lucille looked Mary straight in the eyes, in an attempt to figure out whether she had planned the placement of the script, only to realize that she was enacting the very terms of the Fire Maiden’s curse. The bright light of dawn shone from behind the girl’s slight silhouette, rendering her features too dark to distinguish, only her icy green eyes glimmered softly in the darkness.

Well, at least we crossed one item off the nonsense list, it seems I’m not going to be throwing flames out of my eyes,’ Lucille thought, slightly disappointed by the absence of wing growth.

She looked around at the cave, impressed by the amount of thought that went into choosing it. Besides the good illumination the cave had a natural narrowing, like a bottle neck, that wound down, under the wall and then straight back up and divided it into two sections, of which the front was significantly smaller than the back. At first glance one wouldn’t have known there was a second room or a passageway there, since her resourceful niece had the foresight to push a large boulder in front of the opening.

Lucille wondered how did the slight girl have the strength to push that weight back and forth every day, it seemed that Mrs. Gentry’s endless list of chores offered some benefits after all.

Upon closer look, the text on the walls of the first cave didn’t seem to make any sense to her, and she feared she must have lost too much knowledge of the old language to decipher it, but Mary went right past it, as if it were of no importance, snuck through the narrow passage that led to the main room and disappeared. Lucille followed her. She emerged into a large hall filled with light, whose walls were adorned with ancient writing, of which she could only make up words here and there, and it saddened her that the wisdom of her ancestral line slowly tapered off until so little of it was passed onto her.

The sun was now high in the sky and she realized that if their presence there were noticed, this would make both of their lives quite difficult, so she signaled to Mary that it was time to go.

Come, girl, I’ve seen enough. I don’t think it is my place to bring up these findings to the Council, after all many other people seemed more interested than me in this artifact, I’m sure they’ll look into it as they see fit. As for us, we don’t need to meddle into forbidden knowledge and venture into dangerous surroundings, away from our village and home. We’re better served by forwarding our knowledge of the Book of Prophecy that we’ve been so blessed to inherit,” she looked intently at Mary.

Yes, aunt,” the girl acquiesced. They crawled back out to the first room, whose walls were covered in beautiful graphics, albeit completely decorative. Mary pushed the boulder firmly in front of the entrance and sprinkled a good fistful of dust over and around it.

We will never come back here again,” Lucille ordered Mary in a low tone of voice.

Yes, aunt,” Mary replied again, softly.