The cave was, indeed, very tight, and if Raizel had been any better fed, she would not have fit. Trinner Traln and the round man shouted at her and each other as ehs slipped through the opening, moving more like a snake than even like crawling.
“How did you even get this in here?” she called.
“Ah…” Trinner seemed to have rolled into one of his jittery, quiet times. The large man guffawed.
“He was smaller then. Much smaller. And someone paid him to bury it. That’s the way these things go, you see. A little at a time, a little person at a time. And now here you are, a little person, as they say, and here he is, and you are digging it up, yes, even though you should not.”
“I’m digging it up, or I will be.” The passage opened into a wider space where she could almost stand. Raizel dragged the shovel in behind her – Trinner Traln had left it propped by the cave entrance, where it had been covered up with vines but surprisingly barely rusted – and pulled herself up into a sort of crouch.
There was, indeed, a place where the dirt was a different color than the rest, sort of a glowing reddish hue. “How many people have you sent in here to dig this up for you?”
The inkeeper guffawed. “Now she asks, now she asks. And a good question it is, too. How many have run away, Traln? How many haven’t survived?”
“Hush, you,” Traln complained. “They have all survived, every one of them. And perhaps none have been so brave as the Ennizaba child.”
“Or so foolish. They say that about the Ennizaba and all those other mountain tribes, you know…”
“We are still ON the mountain. And old man, if you wish me to destroy your missive, I would be kind about my family.” Raizel shouted her threats down the narrow tube she’d crawled in through, not caring how rude she was being. Foolish, indeed!
“Oh, child, you will know the things that I speak of soon enough. Do not become horn-twisted in a bush like your ancestors just because I know what the mountains are like.”
“How do you keep saying that?” She glared down the tunnel. “We’re ON the mountains.” She would say it again and again.
“But look from here and what do you see? More mountain. Up and up. From where the Ennizaba house is, what do you see? Nothing but sky and down. That is why you are mountain folk and I am not.”’
“You are an unfortunate and unpleasant old man,” she informed the tunnel. Perhaps she would not destroy his missive. Perhaps there was nothing to destroy and she could laugh at him for his concerns. She’d like that. She would like that quite a bit.
She stabbed into the dirt, over and over again, until she felt like it was making the shovel itself glow. Maybe it was. Maybe the whole room was glowing. She’d find that amusing, to find everything glowing and no – what was it? A falcon? – to be found.
The glow increased the more she dug, until there was nothing in front of her eyes but white spots. She hit metal with the shovel and the spots sparked and vanished, leaving behind a creature no bigger than her hand, hovering in mid-air on wings like a dragonfly’s but looking almost humanoid.
She looked down at the dirt, glowing, and swore. The idiot had dug in a fairy ring, hadn’t he? Or in pixie dust, twice as bad.
“You.” The pixie pointed a finger at Raizel while Raizel, in turn, tried desperately to remember what her great-grandmother (the one who had embroidered) had told her about pixies and their colors. Was it blue for trouble, red for blessings? Or red for peace and blue for death? Or maybe it had changed depending on the day.
This one was red, at least, with a little pink frill that looked almost like a dress, if you squinted.
“I,” Raizel agreed, because you never gave anything to a pixie but what they said, THAT much she remembered, but you avoided arguing with them if at all possible.
“You are going to Buscontra. The Tzarina will be there.”
“I am going to Buscontra.” She wanted out of this cave. She did not want to take her eyes off of the pixie.
“There you will see the Tzarina. You must observe her!” The pixie tossed both hands at Raizel.
There was no room to duck or dodge. There was no place to get away from it. Raizel was covered in the stuff before she could get out of the way. “You will observe the Tzarina, the squamous Tzarina! She must be seen, she must be seen by one such as you!”
“Oy, what do you mean, ‘one such as me?’”
The thing, of course, was gone. Muttering, Raizel pulled the chest out of the pixie-dust-laden dirt and began dragging it out of the cave.
One thought on “Four: The Narrow Cave”
I am, of course, now earwormed with “You Can Fly” from Peter Pan (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_F5Xc8tLe0). And seeing how Tinkerbell gets treated in the movie — I’d forgotten that part! — I can see pixies being rather upset about abuse at the hands of humans.
Raizel ends up with the short end of the stick here. Yet another quest, though at least in the direction she was already going, and one that will likely be difficult. With luck, it won’t be life-threatening. I suspect that random people reporting in for the census are neither expected to nor supposed to see the Tzarina in person.
The pixie calling the Tzarina “squamous” does have me wondering exactly what the Tzarina really is, so seeing her through Raizel’s eyes will be interesting. The phrase “one such as you” also only leads to questions: one covered in pixie dust? A commoner? Someone from the mountains? An Ennizaba in particular?