Boroden and his fellow brownies are imprisoned by an evil kraken
|Water drops fell like a barrage of arrows from the cave roof, and a thick chill penetrated through Boroden’s coat. He hugged his arms about himself against the cold and avoided the gaze of his companions. Damp, stagnant air probed his nostrils. Looking beyond the fitful light of the torches, the darkness was so dense that it threatened to swallow him. There was no hope that they might climb out of the crevasse into which they had been lowered to serve as their prison.
‘Aira’s dead…it’s all my fault. Why did I ever try to reclaim a home for our clan in Velmoran?’ he whispered.
Carnelian touched his shoulder. ‘Don’t blame yourself, lad. Nothing could be done. It’s too late now to wish things different.’
Boroden lifted his head and looked at his old tutor. Carnelian had always been kind. Boroden had been overjoyed to discover that he and his travelling companions would not share their prison with a monster but with his beloved tutor. For months, Boroden had thought him dead, taken by the servants of the kraken Krysila. Now, Krysila had them cast into the dungeons of the Unseelie Court.
‘Too late, aye,’ Torden, one of the brownie chieftains, said. ‘Too late for Aira, poor flower.’
Boroden choked on Torden’s hollow words.
A bloodcurdling shriek came from somewhere above them.
‘Aira’s alive!’ Boroden said.
Torden’s sad frown twisted his lips beneath his tusk-like moustache. ‘She’ll not survive; I tell you.’
‘No! I can’t just leave her,’ Boroden said.
Another shriek slashed the air. Boroden glared up at the cavern roof. Aira. He had to rescue her. He glanced around the cave, ignoring his companions. There had to be a way out.
More bloodcurdling shrieks came from somewhere above them. He clenched his fists. He loved her. When he was a child confined in the palace of Velmoran’s tower, the golden-haired brownie girl had befriended him when others feared to approach him. She had been his rock during his childhood. After that when he felt isolated with most of the other brownies simply seeing him as a king, someone to be in awe of or to lead them, Aira had been there for him. When the kraken captured them and the other brownies quailed, she remained dauntless and true even though she was the smallest of all. He had pinned his hopes on Aira, hopes that he might live happily with her at his side once the brownies had a safe homeland again in Velmoran. He bit his lip, remembering the beautiful brownie citadel where rainbows danced on roofs of the cavernous quays that were the centre of trade in the coastal kingdom.
Another cry pierced his ears. His shoulder muscles tightened. Poor Aira. They were killing her.
Boroden splashed through the slime covering the cavern floor, frantically examining the rocky walls for a place to climb up. The dark stone was smooth and offered no handholds. Regardless, Boroden scrabbled at it. His fingers became scraped raw in his desperation to find a way out. He needed to escape and save Aira before it was too late.
An armoured worm latched onto Boroden’s shoulder. He growled and tossed it off. His cousin, Hëkitarka, kicked it, but the filthy creature continued to writhe toward him. The bruised worm let off a sickly stench like rotting fish.
‘They can climb. Nowhere is safe from them,’ Harfan, Hëkitarka’s elder brother, exclaimed.
A knocking sounded, hollow and muffled behind the rock.
‘Surely that’s not one of them beasties,’ Carnelian shuddered, referring to the worms.
Harfan pressed his ear to the dank stone. As he did so their friend Quentillian could be heard calling from the other side of the rock faintly as though under water. ‘Is that you, Boroden? I’m imprisoned with Gefi, although swinging down on them ropes almost knocked Gefi senseless.’
Gefi protested his consciousness half-heartedly.
‘Where’s Klaufi?’ Hëkitarka puzzled.
Boroden made no answer, bowing his head as he imagined that the clumsy brownie sorcerer must be dead. Despite their dire situation, it gladdened Boroden that at least some other brownies of their clan survived. His relief sank as a gang of hobyahs peered into their prison, their bulbous eyes gleaming with malevolent glee.
‘Look lively. You’ve got a visitor,’ ordered one of the hobyahs who scavenged in the dungeons of the Unseelie Court. He and his companion guffawed as they tossed the remains of their supper of decomposing offal over the prisoners. Boroden did not want to consider what the remains might be from. The hobyahs soon quietened respectfully as Serena approached. They knew better than to get on the wrong side of the chief handmaiden to Krysila’s daughter, Leanan Sídhe.
‘Come to gloat, have you?’ Boroden challenged her venomously.
‘I have a message from My Lady. She’s waiting to receive Prince Hëkitarka,’ Serena said.
Harfan tightened his grip on Hëkitarka. Terror and revulsion were etched on Hëkitarka’s face, but he cleared his throat bravely. ‘I’ll go. It’s our only chance. I might be able to reason with her.’
Boroden looked aghast. ‘What? Are you mad? Leanan Sídhe means only to kill you. Such is the hatred she and her mother hold for our clan.’
‘Please.’ Harfan hushed his cousin as Hëkitarka lowered his head in anguish.
A hobyah peered down into the crevasse where the brownies hid, his orange eyes glinting with malice. ‘Shall I get some rope and go down to fetch them up for you? I’m well armed.’
‘No, My Lady hopes Prince Hëkitarka will come willingly. She doesn’t want him harmed. She sent me here to win him over.’
‘A mighty good job you’re doing of that,’ Torden said.
Boroden regarded his cousins bleakly. ‘No. I’ll not have him go alone. We’ll stay down here together, even is we must die together. Don’t get your hopes up about finding a way out for us if you go to Leanan, Hëki. I doubt we’ll ever escape the dungeons of the Unseelie Court.’