Most of the next couple of days was spent trying to find things to do while we waited for the wagons to be repaired. There wasn't much to talk about with the others in our group – most of the topics of casual conversation had already been covered while we traveled or sat around the fire each night, and Ambassador Kroaswell had already gone over with me much of what was to be expected from me (because let's face it – there isn't a whole lot to do on a long journey; I also say "much" in regard to what Ambassador Kroaswell's instructions covered because Ambassador Kroaswell admitted that even he couldn't predict everything he might need me to do once we were actually there). I tried to stay out of the way of the residents. They were very nice, but I realized they had their own responsibilities to attend to.
I spent most of the first day looking around. It certainly seemed like a nice place to live. Coming from a city located in a plain, I hadn't had much opportunity to see forests or mountains up close, so it was an interesting area to see. I did spend some time hanging out with Adamaris, Jovana, and Deyanira in the evening. They were rather nice to me, though they tended to flirt outrageously with me.
The morning and part of the early afternoon after lunch of the second day proved to be another bit of a change of scenery. The woman who taught the children in the settlement, Maro Nargiz, asked me to stop by the school to talk to the children about what like in Toskel was like. It was the first time I'd been in a school setting in anything other than a student capacity. The kids asked a lot of questions about what Toskel was like, and what I did. One of the more inquisitive students there was a 9-year-old boy named Keion, who peppered me with all sorts of questions. Jovana helped me out by keeping the more active kids under control, as part of her responsibilities was to help take care of the settlement's younger members.
I had lunch with Jovana. We talked while we ate, telling each other about ourselves (though she did most of the talking, since she already knew a lot about me from when I'd talked to the kids at the school). I found out she had just turned 15 a few days before my 13th birthday, and that while she liked Klodia, she sometimes imagined what it would be like elsewhere. She, Adamaris and Deyanira were all born a few days apart, and had been friends practically for life.
"I'm a bit jealous of you," she said at one point.
"Of me?" I asked with a bit of a laugh, finding it hard to believe that anyone would be jealous of me.
"Yeah," she said. "You've gotten to see Toskel – and not just see it, live there! Oh, what I wouldn't give to see it, just for a few days."
"I don't know if it's all that great," I said. "I mean, sure, it's nice, but Klodia's what really interesting."
Jovana laughed. "Funny how we each think our own home is so ordinary, and how someone else's is what's fascinating." I smiled at that. "Don't get me wrong, she continued, "I love Klodia, and I always will. But sometimes I wouldn't mind being able to travel about and see how other people live."
"The master archivist I'm apprenticed to has a saying," I said. "Be careful what you wish for – you just might get it."
"That's an interesting saying," she said. "But definitely one to remember."
Later that afternoon, I bumped, quite literally, into Perrin as he was coming out of the baths, carrying a set of dirty clothes. "Oh, I'm sorry," I said.
"Hey, no harm done," he said with a grin.
"So," I said after a moment, "how are the wagons coming along?"
"They're practically finished," he said. "A few things need to set overnight, but other than that..."
"Finally," I muttered.
"Gee, so anxious to get away from us already?"
"Um, it's not that..." I started stammering out.
"Hey," he said, laughing. "It's all right. I'll bet you're going crazy with nothing to do around here."
"Oh, you have no idea," I told him.
"Hey, how about I show you a cave system that's nearby?" he asked.
"Hold on, let me just put my stuff away and let them know where we're going."
I figured I should let Ambassador Kroaswell know as well, so I tracked him down and told him what I'd be doing. "All right," he said. "Just be back by evening. The wagons are all but done, and we'll be leaving first thing tomorrow."
I met up with Perrin, who had a pack on his back, and he led me outside. We talked as we walked, and took turns telling each other a little about ourselves. He was a year older than me, had been born and raised in Klodia, and was apprenticed to the carpenters.
We soon arrived at a rocky outcropping, where, after a moment, we were in front of an opening. Perrin produced a torch out of the pack, and after producing a flint, got it going. We then headed into the cave opening, and I got my first look at the inside of a cave. It wasn't quite what I imagined, admittedly. Certainly it wasn't like the stories used to portray caves as being; it was a drab looking small cavern, with no interesting rock formations and one tunnel leading off...somewhere.
"Come on," Perrin said, heading down the tunnel, and I hesitantly followed him. "Watch your head," he called over his shoulder.
I made sure to hunker down to avoid hitting my head on anything. We headed somewhere deeper into the cave, and I wondered for a moment just how large it was. I shuddered as I remembered hearing stories about people who were supposed to be lost in caves, never to be seen again.
After several minutes, the tunnel suddenly opened up, and I drew in a breath. From what I could see in the torchlight, there were many sparkling spots and rock formations throughout, and interestingly shaped stalactites and stalagmites (trying to remember which ones were which).
"Neat, huh?" Perrin asked.
"Yeah," I replied in a quiet voice.
"Wow, this is cool!" a voice suddenly said next to me, and both Perrin and I jumped.
"Keion, what are you doing here?!" Perrin snapped to the small form standing near us.
"I saw you guys heading off, so I followed you to see where you were going," Keion said.
"You shouldn't have done that," Perrin scolded. "We didn't know you were following us. You could have gotten lost or hurt."
"But I didn't!" Keion said, and Perrin sighed and rolled his eyes.
Since Keion was already there, and neither Perrin or I were in the mood to give up our exploring to take him back, we started taking a look around.
"Come on over here," Perrin said after a while, and Keion and I followed him to one side. "Many years ago," Perrin said, "some of the early settlers here explored here to see if they could find any gems or precious metals here."
"I didn't think caves worked that way," I replied.
"They don't, really," Perrin said, "at least not for anything really valuable – though whether they didn't know that at the time or were hoping otherwise, I don't know. You can still see some of the tracks for the carts they used over here."
He led me to a ledge, and I looked down and saw old tracks ending near where we stood, with a boxy cart sitting on them. The tracks led down a tunnel, which I couldn't see very far down in the torchlight. Something apparently caught Keion's eye, as he leaned forward to and peered intently down at something.
"Keion, I don't think that's a good idea..." Perrin started to say. Whatever he was going to say after that was lost when the ledge Keion was on suddenly gave way. I desperately grabbed at him, snatching him by the back of the collar. However, his momentum caused me to fall forward as well.
A moment later, a hand grabbed my arm, and I looked back, relieved to see Perrin holding onto me. Suddenly, the ledge we were all on gave out, and we all tumbled downward.
We all gave out a yelp, and arms flailing we were pitched downward, landing with a collective "Oof!" into the boxy cart, me in the side nearer the entrance to the tunnel. I didn't feel like I'd been seriously hurt, and I began to count my lucky stars when suddenly the cart started moving.
"Uh oh," Perrin said, and I didn't argue.
We began to untangle ourselves as the cart picked up speed. By the time we managed to get apart and sit up, the cart was moving at a good speed, air whipping through our hair. By some miracle the handle of the torch had gotten stuck in some sort of crevice in the cart, so that the end on fire was the end pointing upward. Perrin grabbed it and brought it down into the center of the cart so that it wouldn't go out.
"Uh, Perrin, just how are we supposed to stop this thing?" I asked.
"I think there's supposed to be some sort of brake on this thing. Look for a lever," he replied, and we both began searching around the cart. Fortunately it wasn't like it was hard to find; and I found the wood lever within moments near the front.
"All right, now pull it gently towards me," Perrin directed, and I took a hold of it.
"Here goes nothing," I said, and gently pulled on it.
It snapped off right where it went into the brake system.
"You've got to be kidding me!" I said, my voice squeaking a bit as I looked at the lever now in my hand. After all, that bizarre kind of thing was only supposed to happen in stories!
"Now comes the part where we hold on tight and start praying!" Perrin said.
We held on tight as the cart whizzed along, and several times we went "AAAAAHHHHH!!!" as the cart went through some sharp turn or dip in the track. How the cart remained on the track I didn't know.
I don't know how long we went along. I know the torch finally went out at some point, which made things all the more scary. Finally, the cart started slowing down, and I noticed we were approaching some sort of light. As I rose up onto my knees and grasped the side of the cart we came out into a lit cavern, and suddenly being immersed in light after being in the dark for so long caused me to squeeze my eyes shut as they started watering. I heard a giant splash, and the cart lurched at the same time, water sloshing over the sides and getting my sleeves and pant legs drenched.
"Aw, man!" Perrin said a moment later, a statement that Keion echoed, which led me to think that something similar had happened to them, too.
The cart started swaying a bit. I slowly opened my eyes, blinking a lot as I started letting them get used to the light. When my eyes had adjusted enough, I looked around.
"Wow," I muttered.
"You could say that again," Perrin replied.
The cave we were in was amazing. There was a pale light in the place that almost seemed to shimmer. While there was sunlight coming from what looked like an entrance in a wall to our left, it didn't seem to account for the amount of light in the cave. Unusual rock and crystal formations were scattered throughout.
I was about to make a comment to Perrin when a voice called out, "Hello out there!"
I started, and I noticed Perrin and Keion jumped as well, while Keion also let out a small yelp. "Uh, hello?" I hesitantly called, looking around to try to figure out where the voice had come from.
"You come from the old tunnel tracks?" the voice replied.
"Yeah, we did," I said. "Uh, out of curiosity, where are you?"
"Oh, sorry. Hold on," the voice said, and moments later I noticed movement near the entrance, and a moment later I saw an old man (although I don't know if it would have been fair calling him "old," since he looked to be about Master Grendan's age, and Master Grendan was a couple of years younger than the younger of my two grandfathers) moving towards the edge of the water, which I only then realized didn't go all the way to the entrance.
"Apologies for staying hidden," he said. "Didn't know who you were at first. Can't be too careful around here."
"Understandable," Perrin said.
"Now, you two can simply walk over here," the old man said. "The water's really not all that deep."
I noticed that the water didn't come up all that high against the cart, so figured that the guy must be telling the truth. And after all, judging by the bow and arrows he was carrying, if he'd really wanted to kill us, he'd have done so by now. Perrin grabbed his pack and got out of the cart, and I followed right behind. I helped Keion out of the cart, and we sloshed over to where the old man was standing.
"Howdy," the man said. "I'm Lachlan Wilbert."
"Hi, I'm Perrin Tussah," Perrin said. "This is Aidan Marsatal, and this is Keion Paskell."
"So, where you two from?" Lachlan asked. "Can't say I've seen you three around here before."
"We're from Klodia," Perrin replied. "Well, Keion and I are from Klodia. Aidan was just passing though. We were checking out the old mines when we fell into the cart, which started moving and wound up bringing us here."
"Well, you're certainly a ways from home," Lachlan said. "Klodia's quite a ways from here."
I felt my stomach drop, and judging from Perrin's expression, he was feeling quite the same. Keion looked scared.
"My parents are gonna kill me," he said quietly, his eyes wide.
"Now don't you three fret," Lachlan said. "I can get you home by tomorrow evening. We'll start out first thing tomorrow morning. Why don't you come back to my place with me for tonight, and we'll get your clothes dried out."
We followed him out of the cave, and he led us to a structure nearby. Lachlan (or somebody, at least) had fixed up parts of it, and he opened the door and gestured us in. This house was not very big, but it had a cozy feel to it.
We pulled our boots off and emptied the water out of them, and went in and found a fire in the fireplace, with a boy, about 10 years old, by the fire, tending to a pot that was hanging over it. Fabulous smells made my stomach rumble.
"Found the place abandoned," Lachlan said, seeing us looking around. "Fixed it up and furnished the place myself."
"Very nice," I said, remembering that my mother had always taught me to be polite to one's host.
"This is my grandson, Jacquez," Lachlan said.
The three of us said "Hi," and Jacquez said "Hi" in return.
"Now, why don't the three of you get out of those wet clothes?" Lachlan said. "Put them over by the fire to dry. It smells like dinner's about ready."
Perrin, Keion, and I pulled our tunics, pants, and socks off (Keion had to pull off his shirt as well), and spread them out by the fire, along with our boots (I was glad our underwear was dry – even though there didn't seem to be any women around, it was awkward enough being in our current state of dress as it was without having to go completely naked). Meanwhile, Lachlan and Jacquez had set a small table with 5 places at the table. We all sat down and had a stew, which I thought was rather good, and some bread. Our drink was the juice of some torriberries, a berry that Lachlan said grew abundantly nearby.
During the meal, Lachlan said that he thought the place must have once been a part of a larger farming complex that had once housed the farm workers. It wasn't the main house of the farm's owners, but he and Jacquez had found it to be in the best condition of the buildings in the area, which is why they'd taken up residence there. I asked why they had chosen to live there, versus going to a settlement like Klodia.
"Sometimes I wonder myself," Lachlan said. "There are times where it'd probably be easier. And maybe someday we will. Right now, we're happy where we are."
We helped with the dishes afterwards, and eventually, Lachlan said he was heading to bed. He told us that there was another bed available in Jacquez's room, and that the room next to it that had a large bed, and that the three of us could work out who got what. We wished him good night, and as he left, the four of us settled down on the floor next to the dying fire for a while.
I was sitting next to Keion, and we were leaning back against an old couch of some sort. After a while, noticing that he looked down, I put my arm around him. "Hey, you all right?" I asked.
"My parents are gonna kill me," he declared softly.
"That's the second time you've said that," I said.
"Well, they are," he insisted. "They always told me to stay out of the caves."
"So why'd you tag along?" I asked.
"I thought we weren't going to be gone very long, so they wouldn't suspect anything."
"Well, there goes that idea," Perrin muttered. "Really, Keion, I know your parents well enough to know they're not really going to kill you, but you do need to think more before you act."
"I know," he said, sounding down.
"Hey, you think that's bad?" I said to Keion. "The others I'm with are moving out tomorrow morning without me. I'm going to have to figure out how to I'm going to catch up with them."
"That's a bummer," Keion muttered drowsily. He'd curled up next to me, his head resting on my chest as his eyes drooped.
"I think it's time we all went to bed," Perrin said, and no one argued.
"Come on, Keion," Jacquez said. "You can stay in my room."
"All right," Keion said, yawning and getting up slowly. The two plodded off to bed, leaving Perrin and me alone.
"Well, I guess that means we get the large bed," I said.
"Guess so," Perrin replied.
We got up and, after I grabbed a candle and holder and lit it, we headed into the bedroom. We found a large bed there, and Perrin crawled in, apparently without giving it a second thought. After a moment, I shrugged, blew out the candle (after placing it on a dresser), and crawled under the covers as well. It wasn't the first time I'd ever slept in a bed with someone else before – Rhys used to crawl into bed with me during thunderstorms when he was younger, but that was in my bed, which had really only been designed for one person, so this would be my first time in a bed with someone who wasn't draped over me (and no, this time wasn't the first time I was sleeping in the same bed with someone when we were in just our underwear, as Rhys and I always slept in our underwear at home, even when he'd get into bed with me).
The unfamiliar settings made it so that it took a while for me to fall asleep. I had a weird dream where I was the only person around who was wearing clothes, and everybody I saw kept asking me why I didn't take them off.
I woke to find that sunlight was streaming through the window. I noticed that I was the only one in bed, so I figured that Perrin was already up. So I got up and plodded into the kitchen area we'd been in the night before. I found everyone else there. Perrin and Keion already had their clothes on, and were sitting at the table munching on fruit.
"'Bout time, sleepyhead," Perrin said with a grin.
"Yeah, 'bout time!" Keion quipped.
I stuck my tongue out at them and went over and grabbed my clothes. They were dry, but wrinkled. After pulling them on, I sat down and started in on some of the fruit in the large bowl that was in the middle of the table.
Lachlan came in a few minutes later. "I've got the horses hitched up to the wagon," he said. "If you're ready to go, we can start."
Perrin, Keion, and I indicated that we were, so we headed outside. Climbing into the wagon, we were soon on our way.
"Hey, thanks for giving us a ride back," Perrin said at one point. "We appreciate it."
"Not a problem," Lachlan said with a shrug. "Besides, I was planning on going into Klodia for a few things anyway, so it's not like I'm going out of my way or anything."
It took longer than I thought it would to get back to Klodia, leaving me to wonder just how long that cart ride had lasted. I refrained from asking "Are we there yet?" since I knew that would just make me sound like a whiny little kid, though it wasn't always easy to keep from saying that.
We finally arrived in early afternoon. We were greeted by several of the adults in town, who, after expressing relief that we were safe, proceeded to scold the three of us for our rather unplanned trip. As I'd suspected, the rest of my caravan had already left, though they'd made arrangements for someone to take me to catch up with them (including leaving one of my packs in my temporary room). They would see about helping me get on my way after assisting Lachlan.
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