Andrea Novis Episode 8
Copyright © 2015 by Michael Litzky
The sun was only an hour past rising when Andrea Novis and her company practically stumbled over the ring of mountains. Perplexed, they all stood looking up with open mouths.
The “mountains” were only a few hundred feet high, and they were set like a garden arrangement in the middle of a circle of sand. Without a word, the ten companions rode around the ring. Elemar had been a small land, but to circumnavigate it would have taken at least a day. They were back at their starting point in fifteen minutes.
As they gazed at the sheer blue-gray wall that rose to little snow-touched teeth, Andrea Novis looked to her companions to explain the joke but saw them watching her with the same bemused expressions.
Sir Robert laughed out loud, a comical “Puh-HAH!” His face held amused scorn. “If this is the wall which has kept out the generations, I’ll climb it for you in half an hour. Less!”
Climbing the wall seemed no challenge. The sides of the ring sloped steeply but were not mirror smooth. A skilled climber should have no difficulty
“Stop!” Andrea Novis commanded as Sir Robert pulled out a rope from his saddlebag.
“Why, your highness?” he asked smoothly. “Unlike you, I have no fear of damaging my clothing.”
“This is far too easy. If there were nothing more to restoring Elemar than climbing this simple wall, it would have long ago been done.”
She saw in his eyes that he planned to disobey her (why had her father saddled her with this smooth-talking wretch?) and she considered letting him do it. Perhaps he would indeed show them the way in – and perhaps (unworthy thought) something would happen that would rid her of him.
But, although no Sandia Belin, she was in fact a good leader. There are times to encourage individual initiative, but a good leader takes care of her people, even if she dislikes them. “Cassie, Roderic,” she called, intending them to restrain Sir Robert.
But he slid like a panther between them, heading for the encircling sands. Before another word could be said, he reached that line where the grass ended abruptly and leaped across it.
For a timeless instant he hung, a black shape in their vision, seeming to grow more distant without moving. But he was moving, twisting this way and that as if guided by complex lines of power. He struck the mountain wall with an “Oooof!” which knocked the breath out of him. Then, cursing and struggling to catch some semblance of balance, he bounced up the steep slope. A sharp outcropping caught his arm a crack and his curses turned to howls of pain.
He reached the rim of the ring of toy mountains. Just before he disappeared inside, he gave a thin shriek of terror as if he had seen what waited for him.
Cassie’s hand flew over her mouth. All the others were shocked still. Andrea Novis breathed to calm the mixture of self-recrimination, relief and shock she felt.
“My brothers and sisters,” she said a minute later. “A brave man has just been lost. Whatever we might think of him or the wisdom of his final act, we must acknowledge his courage.” Was that true? He hadn’t believed there was any danger; had he actually shown courage? But the others nodded, accepting her lead.
“With his death, he has given us valuable information,” she continued. “Old Elemar is surrounded by a ring of mountains like a child’s toy, but those who have tried to breach the ring have not been repelled but pulled in. What lies within is clearly not, at this moment, the beautiful land of fabled Elemar.
“Perhaps we can cross this barrier in safety. Sir Robert jumped and found himself pulled uncontrollably. It might be possible to cross tied to a rope securely fastened on this end. But let us not act hastily.”
“Your Highness?” It was Cassie. “Might we have a look at that prophecy? Could be one of us could see something in it.”
Andrea Novis was surprised to find herself reluctant to show the silver ball. She held up a finger. “One moment.” She closed her eyes, knowing they would understand. Her inner consultations were well known. She had once heard a subject explaining proudly to a visitor, “She’s cogitating.”
Is there a rational reason to keep its contents secret? she asked. She could find none. She remembered her father’s reluctance to hand it over and realized that she was following his lead without conscious intent.
Opening her eyes, she said, “I’ll fetch it now. Let us gather beneath that tree.”
She had to admit, she was curious to see what they would say.
To be continued…