Chapter 10 Scene 6

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 39 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

The Cave of Tears was deep beneath the T’kulpa, Simon soon discovered. Fantastic and irregular shapes grew from the floor and roof of the natural cavern, sinuous sculptures reaching out from the living stone. Nodes of crystal studded the walls as they had in the passage above. They glowed with a soft warm light that did not dispel the lingering shadows of the subterranean space. If anything, the soft light enhanced the sinister gloom of the lurking darkness.

Simon found himself licking his lips. He realized that the air was cool and damp here, and that he could hear the faint sound of dripping water. Their drinking water supply was sorely diminished, so the sound was promising.

But Simon was destined for disappointment. The handler led them through the cave to the edge of a large natural basin in the floor. It’s far side was lost in darkness. Countless daggers of stone hung from the cave roof above the basin. A cloudy liquid dripped slowly from some of the tips, to be caught in the basin below. The liquid was a murky white color, completely opaque. The tribesman confirmed Simon’s suspicions.

“Tears of the Sea. You must not drink this water. It comes from the Sea and to the Sea alone it returns.”

The tribesman turned to a sculpture that joined the cave floor to its roof. Simon noticed that there were several alcoves carved into it. The tribesman reached into one alcove and withdrew a large device whose purpose was not immediately clear to Simon.

At one end was some sort of sack. It had been folded until the tribesman retrieved it, but now he unfolded it carefully. Simon discovered that it was the bladder of some enormous animal, suspended in a woven harness of straps. Two flexible lines extended from it for more than an arm span each. A wide neck in the bladder was tied off with a soft thong of leather.

The handler’s motions were well practiced as he opened the neck of the bladder and lowered the whole assembly into the milky pool at his feet. It made Simon curious.

“Have you been to Ten Fallen Stones before?”

“No. I have never been invited.”

Was that a trace of resentment Simon heard in the lizard handler’s voice?

“Why are you helping us?”

The tribesman shrugged as he watched the bladder expand in the basin at his feet.

“We have an agreement. I will honor it. You have made your payment, and I will deliver you to the Island of Black Glass”

Simon pursed his lips, still curious.

“Won’t you consider coming with us? ”

“The Prophets no longer consider the tribespeople from Edgeways true children of the desert. We are weakened by our contact with outsiders and corrupted by the influence of greedy merchants.”

“Do you believe them?”

The tribesman looked at Simon, a dull spark simmering deep in his eyes.

“I follow the old desert ways in my heart. My mother taught me of the White Sea and the T’kulpas, as her mother taught her. I have taught each of my sons and daughters. But the Island of Black Glass is as close as any of us will ever get to Ten Fallen Stones. You are outsiders, but the Prophet respects you as they would other tribal Shamans. You are lucky to have been given this chance. Do not make me regret helping you by wasting it.”

The old tribesman deftly stretched the neck of the bladder when it was fully expanded in the milky basin. He tied it off with the thong, and floated the bulky assembly to the edge of the basin by the web of straps. He directed the mages to assist him. Together they lifted the bulky assembly out of the water onto a ledge that sloped back toward the basin.

The handler secured the two long tubes to the harness of straps while water from the outside of the bladder dripped onto the ledge and flowed back into the basin. The full bladder was oblong, nearly an arm span in length and half that in width and depth. Simon could not determine what type of beast it had come from. Surely none of the desert lizards grew to such a size, could they? It took all three of them to carry the bladder up from the Cave of Tears. The handler secured the bladder on the floor of the driver’s bench.

He called to his lizards, a guttural cough that ended in a soft hiss. They came slithering out of the shadows at his command, and he rewarded them with strips of toughened hide from a pouch at his waste. The scaly beasts rubbed against him affectionately as he harnessed them back into the traces of the wagon.

As Simon and Gunther watched in silence, he extended the strange flexible lines from the bladder in the wagon. Each lizard was strapped into a small harness, which held the one end of the line tightly against ridges that ran vertically over their heads. He dressed the lines back to the wagon by strapping them to the traces with strips of thong that dangled from the lines at regular intervals.

His motions were efficient, practiced, as they had been in the cave below.

“You have done this before, haven’t you.”

The handler responded without looking up from his work.

“I have never set foot on the Island of Black Glass. Yet I have taken many pilgrims across the sands of the White Sea to her dark shores. This much is not denied to me and my kin.”

“And how many of those pilgrims have you brought back.”

The old tribesman paused at this, but did not turn to face the mages.

“None.”

Comments are closed.