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Children of the Gray Tower IV


James Gardner

“Martyr’s Cavern is said to have a room like this but no one’s seen it in our time,” said Tomlin. “T’is said to lie beyond the Midnight Sea.”


The crew made-fast a cargo net and threw it over the starboard side of the schooner.

“Look, it’s the troll from our camp,” said Tomlin.

“My prayers be answered and here ye be. Still gots the true copy of The Book?” Several younger trolls gathered about their leader, “Honor The Book,” they bowed in several directions.

A wild eyed Reade held it up, “Who wants to know?”

 “All’s well; I see,” said the troll.

“Honor The Book,” the group of young trolls smiled as one and bowed in unison.

“All is not well,” boomed Lord Brightmoor. “Where did. . . ?  Ah, t’is their cave; I see. We have damage, Troll Chieftain,” he pointed down

“Ta tum, ta-tum, er yes, the keel; but the masts be gone too. She’ll float like a skiff; no holes I do see,” the troll smiled.

The Captain looked at the waters cascading from above and the underground lake a full twenty royal strides further down into the cavern, “Water? We’re a-ground. A ship won’t float on stone.”

The pregnant Lady Brightmoor tottered to the rail, tried to smile at the trolls, and nodded her head down as if in respect, but puked. She missed the cargo net. The scattering trolls remained un-baptized by her vomit as well. 

But The Chieftain placed two fingers on his bare chin, “What? Yer thinks yer’s stuck? She’s a-rising on the tide a bit now. Boys, we’s best get clear,” he motioned outwards with both hands. “Climb up or climb down.” The scattering trolls scrambled out of sight.

“Tide? We’re under ground AND a-ground; with the keel ripped off. Short, dumb, stupid. . .” before The Captain could finish his insult; The Martyr’s Wife arose a bit, tilted, and sliding over the precipice, fell stern first. All hands bounced free of the main deck; they slid about.

The cargo net waved some before it caught, tore, and unraveled; loosening along its full length before it snared itself again although not stopping but slowing the schooner’s fall. The process repeated itself: the tearing, breaking, and unravelling of rope and the bounding about of unwilling adventurers. The netting spread as a giant spider’s trap with the prey, an abused schooner, dangling at the bottom of the knotty web.

Water touched the bottom of the small ship, but support and control eluded ship’s company. Reade held her fore head. Lady Celisity retched over the side. The wolves cowered. Tomlin prayed.


“They sank. The whirlpool pulled the fools under,” Skubalon laughed and slapped his knees with both hands.

“Launch the skiffs!” crews hurriedly complied. They manned, lowered, and rowed the two small boats. Lines trailed to the schooner; lines that tautened. The effort reversed their drift towards the whirlpools; a bit. Oarsmen strained; a bit more.

“Babies crawl faster than that,” raged Skubalon. “What foolishness is this anyway?” the dark wizard fingered the handle of the blade hanging by his side.

“Lord Skubalon, that’s the only propulsion we have,” the mate shivered in his boots.

“Oh?” Skubalon scowled. His eye darted about, “I suppose we must . . . But they’re dead!”

Brendlepurr held her hair in hands full; under her chin, next to her ears, and then over her head. She released the quivering fuzz of her hair, “They have escaped! They’re gone! The magic of Reade Beryl is beyond understanding!”

Skubalon quit smiling, “If they drowned, what can we tell Clearfalls; of his niece?”

“That she most likely joined our enemies, that they most likely are conspiring against The Seven, and they are hiding in an unknown cavern.” Brendlepurr grabbed hands full of her skirt and spat, “Die in the cavern, swamp scum! Ugly and violent death to Irene and Reade! ”

The comely twins  Propenta and Propisha, minions and apprentices of  Brendlepurr scrambled from below deck as might a pair of ratlings; quick and silent. Their full bosoms swelled and fell with hard breaths. Flame colored apparel shivered about them quivering with every movement.

  “I felt them sink,” said Propenta weaving her hands through the air she added a curse:

Will she will?

Will she won’t?


Call me, don’t!

Call her, ‘Want!’


Curse their course

Step blind or worse


Buried water buried ship

Buried tomb into slip


Tomlin, Reade, Irene and all!

Into Hell let them fall!




“Our enemies escape; a cavern lies beneath the lake,” said Propisha.

“Cavern?” Skabulon wrinkled his whole face; even his nose puckered.

“Cavern. Like a cave, but bigger; a hole under the lake. The south end of Martyr’s Cavern. ‘Stand Little Scabby?” Propenta smiled.

Skubalon made fists and glared about.

“Looking to conjure a tree-fagot, Scabby?” Brendlepurr crossed her arms and locked eyes with the dark wizard. “My craft tells me. . .”

“Enough of your craft,” Skubalon showed teeth.

“Blazing trees cannot see past lake’s surface. Indeed, they cannot see at all. On occasion my craft can. Fool, they have escaped and are in a cavern under the bottom of the lake,” Brendlepurr took Skubalon by the hand and rubbed his arm with her hand. “We must return to Brightmoor and seek Mystera Our Mother; together, all of us. The Mother of Harltos will guide us. Will she not?

On the way back we can play,” she rubbed his chest. The energy will give us helpful dreams,” what passed for a smile wrinkled her face.

“What about me?” Propenta crossed her arms.

Propisha put fists on her full hips, and rocked forwards, “What about me?”

“Grab a sailor,” said Brendlepurr. She turned her gaze on Skubalon.

The twins glanced at each other and said together, “They’re all busy.”

Extending his arms the dark wizard gathered the three witches to his bosom and said, “This happy accident,” his voice snarled, “But even if this Un happy incident rescued them from our grasp, surely they now inhabit Ghost Home.”

The twins each grabbed a shoulder and kissed their idol. Brendlepurr snuggled close and reached lower.


The Troll King leaned on the wall and read from an inscription carved in smoky crystal quartz and inset with polished bronze. The fog of his breath misted the thing as he spoke:

Where and since there be

A teeming seething sea


A highway underground

Blessed with silent sound


Wroth with toil and care

Trod with bundled ware



Baron Brightmoor stomped his foot on the deck like a spoiled child, “I’ve heard this before. It has no meaning. Silent sound? Bundled ware? There is a section about numberless sums and divided multiplication too. It’s great-grand, tee-total rot!”


Attentive but unmoved the troll droned on:


The boat goes ‘round and around

Until the course is found


deep down underground

A path is hard to found


“I told you. Utter rot,” the Baron shook his finger as if scolding an inattentive toddler, “Utter rot.”


Ice will seal the way

A ransom will be paid


By someone else

No ice. You’re there soon.


“I don’t like trolls. They steal your food and drink. And stink. AND, that last verse doesn’t rhyme!” groaned the Baron.


“An un-rhyming couplet draws more attention; emphasizing a main point. AND; WE DON’T STINK,” said the Troll King. “Food,” he motioned and steaming sweet rolls carried by seven troll maidens who seemed to materialize from the ground carrying fourteen silver platters one on each upraised palm piled with enough dainties to satisfy ships company and all of their charges.


The Baron grinned a bit,


“T’is rotty.

Though thy goal be lofty.


T’would rather have some coffee

Than an interchange thus snotty



Or perchance a potty

In which to place more rotty.




“Humph!” the Troll King was not amused. He wrinkled his nose and twitched his beard.


Four barrels rolled by sixteen troll-boys made their way next. Soon a full mug was lifted to Tomalin. “Beer!” he smiled his approval and drank.


After pulling on her stained green dress Reade sat leaning against a true miracle or else a coincidence of impossible magnitude, a substantial coiled cable in its place amidships. Two bites into the honey laced delights and three sips into the brew Reade exclaimed, “Enchanting and most delicious.”


“Enchanted,” corrected the Troll King. “Bee’s best, the Bread of Strength.”




Upon checking the bilges The Captain declared that the severely damaged  

Martyr’s Wife, “Ain’t leaking no more than she was before she sank.”


“She sank, she stank, she rank,” Irene’s joke moved her to uncontrollable tear laced laughter.


“What’s so funny? Why call a boat she?” mused Reade, with a toss of her mild blonde curls she ostentatiously sniffed her own arm pits. Reade smiled, “She rank.” Reade found herself laughing uncontrollably too but ably supported by Tomlin’s strong embrace. She paused for a much needed breath and found herself in the midst of a luscious kiss.




The Captain, and Baron Brightmoor each grabbed Tomlin by an elbow and hustled him into the Navigator’s Chamber, the surviving section of the ship’s wheel house.

“The troll’s chart show’s fifty leagues of underground lake and then just “unknown,” and “unknowable,” the captain slumped onto a stool.

The Baron said, “There aren’t a variety of choice. Isn’t? Doesn’t? We have few choices. The only known way up; is here.” He tapped on the chart between “UNKNOWABLE” and “ICE WALL.”


Propenta scowled and paced the deck of the schooner Moon Kiss. She caught Skubalon’s eye.

He began a self-aggrandizing lie, his customary style whenever he wasn’t sure of the truth and much of other times as well, “My curse has dealt them extinction and obliteration. They are . . .”    

 “You have no idea. Do you? This, ha, happy accident rescued them from our grasp alright; even if they now inhabit Ghost-Home. Foul Skubalon, living or dead they got away. There’re free and we won’t know the direction of their next attack, Propenta scowled and paced. She picked up a scrap of rope from the deck. Cursed it and threw the flaming result overboard, Fool-sailors, we’re drifting towards that same whirlpool again.”

“Don’t be so impatient,” said Skubalon and took her by the hand.


“What is she doing?” said Irene. “We’ve floated and drifted for a day and a night. And Now? Lady Magic Mouth is at it again. Ohh. . .” Irene put her hands over her face.

“Look, the Ice Wall. It wrinkles like a fire,” Tomlin stood.


Reade called into the still air  


In the distance

Comes a river

Even solid frozen river


Image of a

Comely virgin

Every solid stolen moment


It’s beginning

Cold and solid

Elevated ice of reason


Where the danger


Longest wisdom

Laminated witty wisdom

Will surrender

All to


Lady Reade of wisest wisdom


A voce answered in her mind:


Come oh






Enough to

Surrender all to me.


“Oh Lord of the Book, I am thy handmaiden,” Reade raised both hands and arms above her head. She knelt facing the frozen waterfall. She wept. Tears streamed down her scarred face. The glazed wall cracked, crumbled, and crushed from and into itself. Its own weight aided its undoing; a cascade of crushed ice dumped into the still underground lake creating a wave. The ship rose and fell upon it. The way cleared.


“Smells like a temple.” Treadlighter sneezed several times, “If I had to guess, I’d say a temple of The Book.”


“How? Why?” muttered Irene.


“Smells like our The Book,” said sniffer.

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