They stood on top of a hill searching the area in the distance.
‘Could that be Lemirius Rock?’ said Jack, squinting.
Something red had sprung up in a hazy shimmer in the vicinity of a large expanse of water.
‘Must be,’ said Ben.
‘Didn’t Ambrosius tell us that the hellish prickle mesh covers the whole area around the inland sea? I mean on this side, as well as on the Kernel, and Grim Islands,’ said Andy.
Ben held the map he had found in Sinton’s stolen book ‘Words of Wubicus’. ‘If you look on this, something’s marked out here. These two lines could mean a tunnel. What else could it be? It goes through and …’
‘It’s not a tunnel,’ said Jack. ‘The old man didn’t put that in the notebook.’
Sinton pointed to the ground. He wrote the word ‘tunnel’, and then drew a triangle, with a round spot in each corner, all done in the sand.
‘I think we’ve got to believe him,’ said Bill. ‘A tunnel it is.’
‘A tunnel might help,’ said Andy. ‘Right now, I prefer a tunnel instead of having to deal with the hornlike spinners, and the horrible prickle mesh.’
‘Yeah, but what does that triangle mean?’ said Charlie.
That’s when Bill stumbled on a piece of wood jutting out of the ground.
Ben picked it up, and cleaned it off. ‘Looks like the same triangle as what Sinton showed us.’
They searched the area for more possible clues.
Charlie found an arrow on another piece of wood, which pointed towards a tree trunk. ‘Must be something with that tree.’
Ben raced over to look. He was the first to peek down inside a gap where the tree had continued to grow after having been hollowed out. ‘Hey, guys! Steps inside!’
‘Who wants to go first?’ said Jack.
‘I’ll do it,’ said Andy.
He had to bend down to make his way through, and then disappeared. ‘Seems okay! Come on down!’
All gathered at the bottom before taking off in a line.
The ground was covered with millions of the tiniest seashells. Every step made a crunching sound. When the tunnel branched off into three, they chose what they thought was the safest option, and stayed in what looked to be the main one.
The walk through went smoothly. At the end, they stepped out on a crest. They were so much closer to the red rock, which was clearly visible behind the trees.
‘Do you see what I see?’ said Bill. ‘Is that a little girl down there?’
‘What’s she doing on her own? Or, maybe others are close by,’ said Andy.
‘She can’t be very old,’ said Bill.
As soon as they made it down the crest, they noticed the girl looked more like a boy with long blond hair pulled up in a pony tail. He sat crouching on a whimsy-looking raft, anchored to a tree at the shoreline. He fiddled with some baskets by moving them around, seemingly checking the contents.
They watched as he put something in his mouth.
‘What’s he doing?’ whispered Jack.
‘He’s eating.’ Bill had mouthed the words. ‘I wouldn’t mind a bite myself. Maybe we could ask him for something.’
They whispered what they had to say, careful not to be heard in case the boy became frightened.
‘We need to find out about Bragdon,’ said Ben.
‘We can’t forget about the hostiles,’ said Andy. ‘What if it’s a trap?’
‘We have to take our chances,’ said Bill. ‘Actually, it would be stupid to frighten the poor lad. Charlie, you should go over there, and meet him first. You’ll be less frightening for a child than a bunch of men. We’ll walk over when we know it’s okay.’
Ben had something to say. ‘Yeah, grandpa, that sounds pretty decent, but you look like a kid, so you should go with Charlie.’
‘So, we’ll stay here in the bushes until we know when we can make ourselves known,’ said Jack.
Charlie grabbed Bill’s hand, and walked silently through the bushes, trying not to frighten the boy. When closer, she called out to him. ‘Hello, can I talk to you?’
The boy looked up, confused, and wary. He searched the area in all directions.
‘Is it okay if I come over. Just want to talk.’
At first he hesitated, but then he nodded.
After a few minutes chatting, and telling the boy about the others, Charlie thought it safe, and waved them over.
‘Should be safe. I don’t think there’s anyone else around,’ whispered Jack.
‘HELLO,’ called Ben, waving his arm. ‘Let’s go over there now!’
A few moments later, the group stood in front of the young boy.
‘Hi there,’ said Jack. ‘Do you happen to know where Bragdon is?’
The boy’s eyes wandered from one to the other without saying a word. He showed his discomfort by moving his head from side to side, searching and looking.
‘Would you know where to find him?’ said Bill. ‘He’s supposed to run a ferry to the islands.’
The boy had a worried look. His eyes stayed on Ben longer than the rest. ‘You green-eyed one?’
Ben was astounded. ‘What do you know about that?’
‘Is legend,’ said the boy.
Everyone mumbled about the unfathomable cave world, seeing things in fires, prophesies, and now legends.
‘I know,’ said the boy, staring at Ben. ‘Legend writted.’
‘You’ve heard about Ben,’ said Jack. ‘But you haven’t heard about Bragdon?’
‘Bragdon no legend,’ said the boy.
‘But you know something about him, don’t you?’ said Bill.
‘Why want … know?’
‘We need to know because we need him to take us to the Kernel on Grim Island. We’re here to rescue these young people’s parents,’ Bill pointed to Jack, Charlie and Ben.
‘Do you know anything about the backwater undersurges?’ said Andy.
‘Backwater gone … mighty hard … prickliest everywhere ‘n spinners … me bring stuff prison … me not allow prison … mighty danger … mighty hard.’
‘So, it’s not just a salt pan right now,’ said Bill. ‘If you can go on that raft I mean. It must be enough water.’
‘We need to get there without the Grims finding out,’ said Andy. ‘We’ve heard from Agrimona that Bragdon would be the one to help us.’
With the mention of Agrimona, they watched his excitement.
‘My Agrimona Gramma. You talk Agrimona … me Bragdon … not tell … not tell Agrimona say … you from udder land?’ He pointed to them, and above his head.
‘Yeah, we’re from the top,’ said Ben. ‘So-so … you’re Bragdon?’
‘Me like top.’ He had a smile on his face when he said it. ‘No go Kernel … mighty danger. Me take things prison … close Kernel … must stay water … not good … water burn … bad ones … oh … no … bad ones no see you … happen, take all prison … remember mudder and fudder … old papa Scaramoss … frens … know much … Grims no want papa Scaramoss no more … he help … Gramma Agrimona help … Bragdon no have frens.’
‘Phew! It’s a bit hard to understand you, boy,’ said Bill. ‘Aren’t you a bit young to run a big ferry across the water? What’s it called again?’
‘It’s the Mackle Ship, grandpa,’ said Ben.
‘Yeah, that’s right. Where is that ship, and when do you go there next?’ said Bill. ‘You think we can come with you?’
‘Go Kernel ‘morrow,’ said Bragdon. ‘Hungry? Want eat?’
‘What is it?’ said Jack.
‘Looks like some sort of sea gherkins,’ said Andy.
‘Huh … I don’t know. How do you eat them?’ said Bill.
Bragdon grabbed one from a basket, and bit off one end.
‘Yuck!’ screamed Ben, when watching the slimy mush running down Bragdon’s chin.
Before Bragdon took another bite, he offered some from the baskets.
Howie was quick to accept. Whistler was eager too, and started to eat. Charlie had to turn away.
‘I-I don’t think I’m that hungry.’ Ben watched Sinton, visible for a brief moment, as he sat down behind some bushes eating a sea gherkin.
‘I’ll check what we have left,’ said Jack, knowing there was hardly anything at all.
‘Thanks mate, but we’re not used to the stuff down here yet,’ said Bill. ‘Agrimona stuffed some things in my backpack for us. Let’s see if we can dig up something less mushy like an old eel with some moss berries!’
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
© Lena Nilsson. All rights reserved.