Enjoy this 3 minute read from my epic fantasy story, The Doom of Arlg-Teg.
Iluna sat up. A baby was crying out there, somewhere, and for an instant she thought it was her daughter. Iluna threw back the wolfskins and placed her bare feet on the floor – a polished rock surface that shone in the glow of the oil pots. The floor was warm as though heated from deep within the mountain. Dizziness took her when she stood and she sat back down.
Her hands shook. How long had it been since she’d had anything to eat? She poured a cup of the liquid in the jug and drank. Spring water. Good. She poured another cup and then another downing them quickly one after the other, until the dry of her throat felt a little smoother. She stood again, her head not so dizzy now. Her body still ached, but not like before. Her smock had been changed; this one was clean, fresh. Someone was looking after her. Perhaps the strange-looking old man with the mottled skin and eyes like an owl. Or the blue-black face with the golden eyes – the one from her dreams with the voice that beckoned her to keep moving until she found the red cave. Was that the one who'd brought her here? And why? This place brimmed with essence, with magic. As though it came from the mountain rock. But that couldn’t be true. Only the living could hold so much power.
“Ona, help me,” Iluna whispered.
The mewling sounds returned and echoed through the chamber. Iluna faced the exit – a tunnel. She took a deep breath and walked toward it. Darkness filled her vision, but the passage soon opened to another chamber where oil pots lined the cave’s wall. A fire burned in a square part of the stonework and a pot bubbled on top. The rich aroma made Iluna’s mouth water and her stomach growled. There was no sign of the old man. Was he real? And did he know about her baby? Perhaps he'd seen Anton when he'd taken their daughter away.
Iluna stalked through another passage until she came to a flat wooden end. She touched it, feeling the rough dry surface and stepped closer to press her ear to it. Noises came from the other side. She tried pushing, but the wood stood firm. Her eyes fell to a smooth ball of rock half way down. Iluna frowned. She touched it gently – it felt warm too. Was all rock warm in this place? She gripped it and the rocky knob turned effortlessly. Something clicked and the wooden obstruction swung inward, groaning. Iluna jumped back.
A vast open space was revealed to her. A large cavern, big enough for a dragon’s lair – for a hundred dragons. Iluna’s eyes widened as she took in the scene. Hundreds of people bustled about. All of them short, just like the old man, some even smaller. They walked in twos and threes, in every direction, and held baskets filled with oddments. Iluna crouched low in the dark passageway, watching. The enormous space was lit by a series of strange plants or mushrooms that nestled in the cavern walls, among cracks and crags in the rock. They glowed blue, green and red, and everything in between. High above, a pale beam of light penetrated the very centre of the space. Daylight perhaps. Oil lamps on tall columns were dotted throughout, lighting the path for the bustling crowd. Some people stood behind benches, in little open huts, with food, or treasures resting on, and even brimming over, benches. Oil pots lit their wares, and frequently the passersby would stop to talk with one of the hut dwellers, and exchange goods from their baskets.
Iluna closed her mouth – she’d never seen anything like this. She could not take her eyes from the strangeness of this place and the people. Just like the old man the people here were small, none of them taller than a child of ten or twelve summers. Yet they were full-grown. Some had grey hair and wrinkled skin. Dark skin. Iluna shivered when she recalled the old man's eyes, and the way his skin had mottled and changed. Or had that been a dream? No, it couldn't be a dream. He had been real and he'd brought her here to this strange place deep within the mountain. She scanned the bustling crowd. Could the old man be among them? There were so many, how would she find him? Perhaps he’d seen Anton with Iluna's daughter, and the possibility made her search for his old wizened face.
The mewling grew louder. What was making that sound? Iluna crouched down to stalk out of the passageway and look to her right. She gasped. A mountain goat stood trapped in an area bordered by logs, and a kid cried for its mother. They had been separated. Who would keep an animal this way? And who would keep the baby from her mother? Iluna stuck to the shadowy walls as she inched toward the baby goat. It came to her, bleating. She reached out and patted the thick goat hair, and the kid quieted.
Iluna smiled, until sadness flared once more, making her frown. Where was her own babe now? Anton had their daughter, Iluna knew that. Though why he had taken her remained a mystery. Still, their daughter would be safe with her father. And she’d have a good life in the clan. A better life than the one Iluna could offer her. Iluna had to accept that. Even so, she wished she could see her baby just one more time. If she followed Anton's trail perhaps she could catch them before he returned to the Wolf. She took a breath, trying to calm a sudden eagerness to leave this place. Perhaps she could hold her daughter...
A shout pierced the bustling background noise. One of the little people was looking and pointing her way. His hair was a shock of thick dark curls, with a beard to match. He wore a square-like purple tunic that seemed to set him apart from the brown of the others. His scowl was far from friendly. Others soon followed his stare, and in a handful of heartbeats, a small crowd had gathered, talking quickly amongst themselves. They all wore simple tunics made of the strange material that was neither leather nor grass. Their skin mottled, just as the old man’s had, blending with the background of the cavern – red, blue and black. Iluna’s mouth fell open in both fear and fascination. Who were these little people with owl eyes and skin that transformed in such a way?
“Ofucia! Ofucia!” The bearded man yelled, his voice deep and authoritative for one so small. Iluna glanced around her. While she could not understand the words, and while they seemed a strange people, she understood the look in their eyes. They were afraid. She'd seen that look plenty of times in the eyes of her own people, and it was such fear that had made her an outcast. Fear had led her here, nothing more.
Her hand fell from the kid's neck and she stood, her knees shaking. “Please, do not be afraid. You have nothing to fear from me.” Her voice rasped, her throat still dry. She looked fretfully around the large space. Beyond the tall lamps stood the rocky walls of the mountain's interior. How in Ona's name could she get out of here?
Others joined the mob, their skin mottled also, and they stepped back when they spied her, silent – eyes wide.
“Arvus qanda! Arvus.” A new voice pierced the throng. The old man! He pushed his way forward, hands raised. Iluna held her breath as she watched him. Yes, he was the one. He had found her out there alone. Had he seen her daughter and lover? She would ask him, somehow, then thank him for his help, and leave this strange place as soon as she could.
The man with the beard responded with quick sharp words, eyeing Iluna as he spoke. But the old man shook his head and his voice grew soft. In moments, the crowd seemed to calm. Their skin dulled to its normal swarthiness, no longer mottled, and in twos and threes, they returned to their business. The bearded man remained. He gave Iluna a long stare before he also turned and moved on.
The old man looked at her, his owl eyes wide. “Eee-luna”.
Iluna’s breath stalled in her throat. “How do you know my name?”
He walked toward the wooden plank and turning the stone knob, opened the entrance. He gestured toward her, uttering strange words in his language.
Iluna shook her head, a frown creasing her brow.
He stepped into the entrance, and still his voice was calm as he seemed to beckon her.
Iluna moved toward him, hoping answers would come.
The Doom of Arlg-Teg is the first book in a short trilogy called, Iluna's Song, and is a sequel to The Raven. It is available free when you sign up to Aderyn's newsletter, or available for purchase here.