Chapter 12 Scene 3

by Richard Perkins
This entry is part 50 of 65 in the series Doormaker's Fall

Crouched on the edge of the roof of Mabel’s Inn, Devon watched the empty lot below him anxiously. The Inn’s back lot shared a well with several of Mabel’s neighbors. The well was fed by a spring, but also connected to a series of rain cisterns scattered throughout the village. One of them happened to be the watering post between the Market Square and the Town Hall. That put it right in the middle of the Bazaar, just outside Old Max’s command center in the Coordination Pavilion.

It had been two ‘turns since Devon had visited those subterranean tunnels, and he had grown more than a handspan in that time. He only hoped he could still fit through their confining darkness. Devon grinned recklessly. There was only one way to find out.

His eyes swept the empty yard for what must have been the tenth time in the last two minutes, ever alert for the slightest sign of an observer. But the shadows in the yard stood motionless. Apart from his own breathing, Devon heard only market sounds.

He felt and heard the muted rumble of cart traffic on the town lane. The unintelligible babble of countless voices rose and fell with changes in the breeze. The cries of stall barkers competing for the Bazaar’s paying customers broke through it all. Devon peered from the rooftops down into an undisturbed pool of silence, by comparison.

There was a small tree near the well, but it did not reach any of the roof eaves. He could not use it to get from the roof to the well unseen. He would have to break cover and trust his luck. Devon committed himself to action, as Fronek had taught him.

He scrambled down the corner of Mabel’s porch roof carefully, alert and ready to freeze instantly if someone entered the yard below. He dropped to the floorboards with a muted thump, as he absorbed the impact with his bare feet. He quickly searched the ground between the porch steps and the lip of the well, seeking the hardest packed soil.

After a final quick scan of the surrounding houses, he bounded swiftly across the yard, raising the slightest puff of dust with each step. He stayed on his toes to keep his tracks compact as Fronek had taught him. This wouldn’t fool a skilled tracker, of course. But it would avoid suspicion from casual observers. He took no time to admire his achievement, but dropped silently into the sheltering shadows of the well.

He slowed his descent to a crawl by clinging to the crumbling mortar of the well shaft as he allowed his eyes to adjust. Moments later he reached the bottom of the well and dropped into the water’s chilling embrace. It was colder than he had anticipated, and brought him up short. Suddenly, his limbs felt drained from the climb down. His hands shook and his heart slammed in his ears.

He looked upward toward the distant circle of light at the top of the well. He heard nothing echoing down that tube from the yard above. The tremors in his arms and legs slowly faded. For the second time today, he waited several minutes for his breathing and heartbeat to return to normal. A chill shook him, reminding him of his task once again, Devon felt his way around the wall of rough stone. He traversed a narrow ring of slippery stone that ran around the well.

In the center of the shaft, he knew that the stone dropped away into deeper water. Once when he was much younger he had tried to swim down to the bottom of that narrow inky pit. Lungs bursting, he had given up when his questing toes found nothing but tendrils of weed and clinging muck.

Now he searched around the entire wall twice before finding the lip of the side tunnel. It was lower than he remembered. The rounded top of the tunnel was less than a handspan above the surface of the water. That didn’t leave very much breathing room. He crouched down into the water while his hands mapped the rest of the submerged opening. The top of the tunnel formed a perfect half circle. The side walls fell straight to a flat floor at the level of his knees.

He knew he could not hesitate much longer. The icy water would slow him down and dull his wits quickly in this early autumn cold. But once he left the pale circle of light filtering down from the well overhead he would be in total darkness. He mentally reviewed the turnings of the subterranean waterways he had mapped so many ‘turns ago. He removed his pack from his back and restrapped it to his chest. He tightened all of the straps, lashing everything as closely to his body as he could get it. Then he rolled over onto his back in the darkly swirling water, and directed one last furtive glance at the ring of light overhead before propelling himself headfirst into the cramped tunnel.

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