Part Ten: Emeralds In The Trees
EMERALDS IN THE TREES
Berthond tore a strip of Telcrow’s robe before burying him. He tied one end to the boy’s staff, and wedged it between two stones on the roof of the tower. The icy wind caught the cloth, and it billowed out like a flag. Berthond left it there to wave for ever.
They quickly left behind the snowy realm, and walked along in silence, with Berthond at the lead with the map. Harresta seemed deeply troubled by something. When they stopped at sundown to eat and rest, she walked up to Berthond. ‘Um…I think I’m going to die.’ Berthond stared up at her, and managed to ask: ‘Wh – why do you…?’ Harresta looked uncomfortable. ‘Well, Reynold gave his life so we could get the Lestine of Flame…And Telcrow gave his for the Lestine of Storm. I think I’m next. I’ll die getting you the Lestine of Leaf.’
Berthond stared at her. A light and cocky voice somewhere far off said ‘She’s got a point, you know…’ Berthond was still staring. After a pause the voice continued. ‘You know, I notice that most of this quest is you staring in disbelief at people.’ When Berthond didn’t show any sign of reacting for two minutes, Selebriar had to come and snap his fingers in front of the boys’ face.
The three last travelers journeyed on. Once again, Berthond could see the landscape changing. The thin trees were gradually moving closer together, their branches closing in over the path in a green roof. There was an eldritch, magical tint in the air, and Berthond could taste tin. Golden sunlight shone through the branches and glowed on the leaves, turning the world emerald green. Small points of light, like fireflies, floated gently in the air, and the path was paved with fallen twigs and leaves. Selebriar seemed to be enjoying this new forest immensely.
Harresta didn’t seem so secure, though. Berthond remembered their conversation earlier, and realized that she was taking this change of scenery as one step closer to her doom.
Berthond glared critically at the map, then looked up. Then back down at the map, and then up again. He did this a few more times, before Selebriar sighed. ‘You’re lost, aren’t you?’ ‘I, I’m sorry, Selebriar, it’s just that this forest all looks the same to me, and you can hardly see the path, and –‘
Selebriar sighed again, this time with a faint smirk on his face. ‘I said you were lost. I didn’t mention myself.’ Berthond stared at him. ‘You’ve known where we were going this whole time?’ ‘You were doing so well, and you seemed to be enjoying yourself. I didn’t want to bother you.’ The smirk had turned into a grin. Berthond scowled, and thrust the map at the Elf. ‘Well, lead the way, then, Captain Compass.’ Selebriar handed the map back to Berthond. ‘I don’t need bits of paper to find my way around a forest. Follow me.’
The Elf led them through the forest, beneath the trees where there were no paths. He didn’t stop to sniff the air, or to examine the trees, or to check the direction of the wind. He seemed to know exactly where he was heading.
The group eventually emerged into a clearing. There was a stone structure in the center of the area, about a foot higher than Berthond’s head and coated with moss.
‘Looks like a tiny dolmen’, observed Harresta doubtfully, ‘with a door.’ There was a large stone, etched with carvings, rolled across the opening. Berthond walked around to the back of the structure. The back was of stone, too; but more wall-like than door-like.
He headed back round to the front, where Selebriar was studying the carvings. ‘They’re somewhat rubbed off, but I can still read them. They’re in Elvish.’ Berthond glanced at the strange letters. ‘So, what does it say; ‘Speak friend and enter’?’ He asked with a snigger. ‘How did you know.’ Selebriar was sarcastic.
‘No, it’s a riddle. “A waning blue shines through my eye, fourteen stars adorn my brow. If I were a ship, I’d have red sails; my toes be the stern, my nose be the prow.”’ Berthond stood in deep thought for a few minutes. Then he sighed. ‘I have no idea. I’m sorry, but I just don’t know.’ Selebriar, who had been waiting patiently, said ‘Fortunately, there’s also a keyhole. With the key left in. It’s really small, so you almost can’t notice it. We could just use that to get in.’
Berthond had to stop himself from yelling at the Elf. It wasn’t easy. He eventually drew a deep breath, and breathed out hard. This calmed him down. He then walked over to where Selebriar was pointing and turned the tiny, rusted key, barely visible under the moss.
There was a low rumble, from deep underground, and the stone slid slowly back, revealing a steep, narrow staircase leading deep underground. Selebriar shuddered. ‘Ooooh, no. I am not going down there. I can’t stand the underground. I start to sweat and tremble like mad.’ Berthond shrugged. ‘Have it your way. I’m not going to make you go down; a shivering nervous Elf isn’t any use to us.’ And with that, he headed down the stars, with Harresta following cautiously behind him.