[NorthWorld] Thorgaut Kabbisson: Chapter 31 – Hide!
Thorgaut head the spiders hissing and screaming at each other back in the cavern as he ran down the tunnel. He came out in the other cavern and ran towards the ledge Happy Feet had pointed out to him earlier.
His initial thought was to run past the area and then double back on his trail. That way, if Abyss Snarer ended up following their scent, he wouldn’t realize where it had ended. He didn’t know how good the spider’s senses were or how much of an area Happy Feet had muted out.
But before he and Svart even got to the opening, the sound of the spiders fighting had ceased altogether. Thorgaut stopped running when they arrived at the ledge. He paused to catch his breath and look for the opening where Happy Feet had hidden her eggs.
Total silence had descended throughout the cavern. Sounds Thorgaut hadn’t paid attention to or even noticed earlier had ceased entirely. The sound of spiders fighting struck complete and utter terror throughout the cave. It sounded like every living thing had taken cover to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.
Thorgaut expected the Abyss Snarer to come around the bend and enter the cavern at any moment. Then he remembered the open connection that allowed him to peek into her mind at any time. Thorgaut probed out feeling for her presence but didn’t pick anything up. He couldn’t sense her at all.
He was excited at first thinking she might be dead already. Maybe Happy Feet’s attack had worked, and she had killed him. He probed out for Happy Feet’s mind, but he couldn’t sense anything from her either. Were they both dead? Could they have killed each other?
Thorgaut discarded the idea. That was pretty unlikely. He was probably too far away from them for his newly-discovered, mind-reading skills to work. He kept walking around the ledge looking for the opening.
“What are you doing?” Svart asked in an anguished tone. “Let’s keep moving before Abyss Snarer comes around looking for us.”
Thorgaut hushed him by motioning with a finger to his lips.
“Keep it down. Happy Feet told me there was an opening around here where she hid her eggs. She said we would be safe if we hid here.”
“When did she tell you all that? I was with you the whole time and never heard her say anything like that.” Svart whispered back. He followed close behind Thorgaut almost under his feet which got on his nerves.
Thorgaut tried to think of a simple way to explain everything that had transpired. He started to describe how Abyss Snarer had ripped his mind opened. But it seemed too long and complicated of an explanation for right now, so he gave the boy a straight answer.
“The spiders are telepathic and read minds. Happy Feet talked to me directly through her thoughts.”
He paused to look at the boy. Svart had an incredulous look on his face.
“I am a kid, and Runa says I’m kind of naive,” Svart said. “But you can’t seriously believe that I’m dumb enough to believe that. Do you?”
“It’s the honest truth, kid,” Thorgaut said. “I’m not pulling your leg here.”
Thorgaut found an opening down into a small crevice between a group of stalactites.
“I think this is it,” Thorgaut whispered. “Since you’re smaller than me, see if you can wiggle down in there and check it out.”
“So, some venomous cave creature can bite me first or rip my head off,” Svart complained.
He complied though and bent over to crawl down into it. He grumbled and fussed the entire time though.
Svart seemed to be pretty good at it. Thorgaut figured this was something he did with his sister and mother to get them to feel sorry for him. It probably worked in getting him out of having to do things he didn’t like.
Thorgaut snickered as he remembered his youngest brother. Svart and his brother had the same air about them. Little brats that got away with murder around their parents.
Savart’s body was about halfway in. He twisted around to pull his legs through after him. Thorgaut wondered if he was going to be able to squeeze himself in there. It looked pretty tight.
“How is it in there?” Thorgaut asked into the hole. “What do you see?”
There was no answer from the yawning, black opening. Thorgaut probed into the darkness with his mind for Svart. He didn’t feel the boy there which didn’t surprise him. He did sense something else though. He couldn’t quite place his finger on what it was exactly. It felt familiar somehow, yet still different at the same time.
Thorgaut stood up to shrug off his coat. It wasn’t very thick, but he wanted to make himself as small as possible to be able to squirm his way into this opening. No telling what the tunnel was like further down, and if he did get stuck, no one would be around to pull him back through.
He stuck his head through the opening and immediately felt relief. The small tunnel was roomier than it looked from the outside. He wouldn’t be able to stand up, but at least there wasn’t any worry of him getting stuck in here.
Thorgaut pushed his coat out in front of him, and then pulled himself into the small tunnel. It sloped downward at a gentle angle. He kept pushing his jacket forward and dragging his body along. After a minute or so he reached the bottom. The tunnel opened up enough so that he was able to stand up. He brushed himself off and put his jacket back on.
“Svart,” he called out softly. “You there?”
Thorgaut walked down the tunnel with his left hand trailing along the wall. He remembered hearing stories in his father’s hall as a child. He particularly enjoyed listening to the miners telling their tall tales. They usually involved getting lost in underground caves and finding great treasures.
One particularly horrible story was of a miner who had gotten lost in a labyrinth. One by one, his companions perished or disappeared. This particular miner claimed that he survived because he kept his left hand on the wall and never let go. Even when he hit a dead end and had to double back, he ran one finger along the wall. He claimed to eventually find his way out of the cave after days of stumbling through the darkness.
Thorgaut wondered at the time just how accurate the story was. He suspected that the old geezer had killed his companions and kept the treasure for himself. He sensed that the miner made up the story about being stuck in the mine to get away with his crime. But everyone else hailed the man a hero and drank to his health. So, Thorgaut had kept quiet even though he didn’t toast them man himself.
The idea of trailing his hand along the cave wall though had captured his imagination. It filled him with morbid fascination and intrigued him for days. He had drawn maps of his own labyrinths to see if the idea would hold true. He tried to find a situation in which the man could have gotten stuck in a loop, but none came up.
Thorgaut even went into random buildings around the town. He placed his hand in various locations on different walls to see if they would always lead him to an exit point. Not that the walls of the buildings counted though. They were so straight and logical. He knew they weren’t the same as being in a cave tunnel. But it was what he had to work with, so he made the most of it.
He had even visited the king’s home once in Gnóttknǫttr. His whole family had gone during the annual celebrations in preparation for winter. They didn’t usually go because it was so far away. And there was always the possibility of getting caught in a blizzard along the way at that time of the year.
His father had insisted on going that particular year though. The king had promised to give him one of the seats of honor at the feast tables. It was supposed to be a great honor. But it hadn’t happened though.
His father hadn’t even received a seat with the other Jarls at the tables near the king’s throne. In the end, old Kabbi had been relegated to sitting at the communal tables in the hall among the warriors and mages.
The king had apologized profusely for not having a place for him. It wasn’t actually his fault though. He pointed out the fact that Kabbi hadn’t confirmed his presence that year. And since he had never come to any of the previous feasts no one had expected him to come.
King Mar did promise to save him a seat of honor the following year, but the damage had been done. Old Kabbi nursed his grudge and never returned.
Thorgaut hadn’t realized what was going on at the time. He only heard about it after they got home. That was because he had spent every possible moment playing in the living mazes in the king’s garden.
King Mar had created verticle walls of hanging plants and flowers to maximize space. And he had organized different sections of the labyrinth based on color. Yellow flowers on one side, orange flowers on the other, red on another, and so on.
At least that’s what Thorgaut had been told. He hadn’t actually seen the colors himself. The first frost had already fallen by the time they arrived that year and killed off the flowers. Everything was dead and brown while he was there. But that didn’t keep him from spending his days running up and down the corridors of the labyrinth. He trailed his fingers along every single one of those walls.
He had tested every variation and possible starting point in the maze. No matter where he placed his hand, it always brought him back to the exit. He couldn’t get enough of the labyrinth.
It had started snowing soon after they arrived, so his mother kept making him come in to warm up. But every time she turned around, Thorgaut was back out in the garden. She would look out a window and see Thorgaut running up and down the maze with his fingers trailing the walls.
His time in the maze ended abruptly on the third day. It had stopped snowing, and his father decided they had spent enough time there. He packed everything up, and they returned immediately despite his mother’s protests.
It wasn’t until they got home, that Thorgaut heard the full story. Even then it wasn’t very clear. Something about his father being ornery and picking a fight with a drunk that was sitting in his place.
This particular drunk happened to be Fastulf Ansson. He ended up being one of the king’s best warriors and top guards. And because of old Kabbi’s insults, Fastulf challenged him to a duel. So, to keep peace and prevent a catastrophe, wise King Mar had sent the knight off on an ‘urgent’ mission. He recommended old Kabbi cut his visit short and head on home before the warrior got back.
Kabbi, of course, had protested that he wasn’t afraid of any drunk warrior. But it seemed to be pretty much given amongst everyone there that Kabbi didn’t stand much of a chance. This particular warrior was a maniac killing machine. Fastulf had defended and protected the king’s life in countless battles. He had proved his worth time and time again. There was no way, the king was going to defend old Kabbi against his prized warrior even if he was a Jarl.
Thorgaut was disappointed that he didn’t get to stay longer. He still had a few hypothesis and theories about mazes that he wanted to test. He could have spent another week playing in the garden maze. But even now, after all those years, that experience was still etched in his memory. It was compelling enough for Thorgaut to keep his fingers trailing along the wall of this cave.
He realized now that he had been doing it ever since they had first entered the tunnels. Way back under Svart’s house, he had already started trailing the cave walls. He had been doing it mentally because he was too far from the actual cavern walls to touch them. But he had been keeping track of which wall he was following. And even now, he could have drawn a map of what the caves looked like if needed from memory.
His thoughts were interrupted when he bumped into Svart. The boy had come tearing back up the tunnel in his direction.
“What is it, boy?” he asked. “You looked like you saw a ghost.”
“Spiders,” Svart panted and gasped. “Hundreds of them. Run!”