Thursday, April 5, 2012

Handmaidens of Petra: The Corridor of Knowledge

“She was here. Well… not… here, but…” Jasna scratched her head. The pain there was mostly gone. Had she dreamt it?
To her other side, Justin twirled a finger at his temple, and Brynne did her best not to laugh. Katarin merely scowled.
“Do you  hear Silva now?” Katarin asked. She bent down, taking Jasna’s chin in one hand. She held up three fingers in front of the girl. “How many fingers do you see?
“You’re going to see five of mine up close if you don’t let go of me. I’m fine!”

The flame sputtered in the lantern, throwing their shadows along the walls and Justin gave it another shake.
“I can’t believe that thing still works,” Brynne said.
“Must be made of the same stuff as the little one’s head,” Justin muttered.
“I heard that!”
Justin raised the lantern. The corridor had gone dark, the torches blown out in the surge of air when the ceiling collapsed behind them. It continued another five or so paces to a split, corridors leading off to the left and right. The light also revealed another carved face. The young man groaned.
“Pits, falling rocks. What’s next? Perhaps a nice swinging blade?” Justin asked.
“Shush, she’s going to speak,” Brynne said. The air about them began to hum as they approached. The statue’s carved eyes appeared to open, and glanced at each of them as its lips of stone moved:
“When humans were a younger race
dire perils did they face
Imagine setting out from Lavv
and slay the foes of King Halav”
Brynne translated the rhyme for Justin.
“That’s easy,” he said. He raised his arm, and swung it, as if wielding a sword.
“It can’t be that easy.” Jasna made a slashing motion of her own. Brynne and Katarin did as well.
They all tensed, waiting, but the carving did not speak again.
“Will it be left or right?” Brynne asked.
Jasna fished a kopec from her belt pouch, spinning it in the air. She caught it, clapped one hand to the back of the other.
“Words, we go left, wolf we go right,” the girl said.
“You’re going to trust our fate to the toss of a coin?” Justin asked.
“And how would you select which way we go?” Katarin asked him. “‘Catch a dragon by the toe?’”
“Well-- I--”
“Wolf it is,” Jasna said, showing the great wolf stamped on the face of the coin.
They rounded the bend in the corridor, and the humming started even before Justin had crowded around behind the girls.
“Vanya’s garters, is there no corner free of her?”
The carving of Silva animated, and spoke yet another rhyme, the words unraveling in the girls’ minds in the Traladaran language:
“The Huntsman was a hero true
Like Halav, one of the treasured few.
And now we are all in his debt.
Show me one of Zirchev’s pets”
“Pets?” Brynne frowned. “He didn’t keep pets.”
“Horses,” Katarin said. “He showed Men how to use them for riding.”
“But that’s not--”
“And he was always followed by wolves,” Jasna said. She dug in her belt pouch again, waving the kopec in front of the carving. “This is close enough, isn’t it?”
Again, there was no reply, and no ominous rumblings or creaking.
Brynne frowned at the carving as they passed it. “They weren’t pets,” she muttered.

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