Ben was excited. Without thinking, he was letting go of the others. He pointed, and shook his head vigorously, while whispering. ‘It’s not him! It’s not him!’
‘What?’ Jack mouthed without uttering a sound, as he let go as well.
All of a sudden everybody were in full view. This was more than dangerous even if they were away up on the balcony. A catastrophic event could occur any moment.
Ben pointed with a shaky finger. ‘That’s not Ambrosius! That man has hair, and he has that-that fancy ring. Did you see it?’
‘Of course it’s Ambrosius,’ said Jack. ‘We can all see that it’s him. He’s a crook of the worst kind, or maggot, or spy, if nothing else.’
‘No, no, no! I tell you! It’s not him!’ said Ben. ‘Don’t you remember what he said?’
‘Okay, okay, take it easy,’ said Bill. ‘I think we’d better get away from here fast, so we can talk.’
Standing on the balcony they were dangerously exposed, and quickly grabbed onto the next person. The invisible line was accomplished. All were gone instantly.
Just as they were back down the hall, a new commotion occurred. Three men came marching in. Earl Vanning, also known as Snake Harmer, was first. He was followed by the blind man, Eagleperch, who walked with unseeing eyes, but striding confidently through the chamber without holding onto a cane, or another person. Last was Ironforce. He had no trouble keeping up with the others.
After the usual ceremonies in front of the Hogen, Earl Vanning asked to be heard.
‘Your Majesty, my most respected Hogen, we have come to humbly ask for forgiveness. We were outsmarted by the green-eyed one, plain and simple. He and his brother escaped. We haven’t seen them since they came by my store. It was decided we had to come here to learn if there had been any new developments. As you know, I do not read flames very well, but we all have other abilities.’
He waited for an answer. They were interrupted when another familiar group came rushing in.
‘We put in map room! Gone! Gone! ‘ said Kenairies with flailing arms. ‘Silver Stick gone!’
‘WHAT?!!!’ screamed the man with the Davey Crocket hat. ‘You mean to say that they’ve got the Binehogen AND the Silver Stick? It should never have happened. You had the Silver Stick on loan. Get them back! NOW! I don’t care how, but get them back, or nobody will ever get out of Panghellan.’
The mighty Hogen stood up, and let out the fiercest growl. ‘COLONEL WUBICUS! GET THEM NOW!’
‘I think we’ve heard enough,’ whispered Bill. ‘This is absolutely disastrous! We have to get away.’
They took off along the side by following Ben’s directions. He had the map, and also used his memory, as they weaved in and out of the atrium they had come through before, and then passing along narrow corridors with closed doors.
All of a sudden Ben knew they were lost. He stopped. ‘I-I don’t know … how to … ‘
Jack whispered. ‘Don’t stop here! Too dangerous! Don’t you know where to go next? Can’t you get the feeling you sometimes get? Try Ben! Try!’
Ben concentrated hard. ‘I-I think we’re in a different corridor than before. But let’s try the first door. See what we get.’
Surprisingly, the door opened without a hitch. The inside was full of sticks in bundles, smaller rocks and boulders.
‘No one’s here,’ said Ben. ‘We have to be careful in case someone is around, but we need to have a talk.’
‘Bragdon, you said something in there,’ said Jack. ‘Did you see your mother and father?’
‘Mudder an’ fudder. Mighty angry,’ said Bragdon.
‘Do you understand what it means?’ said Bill. ‘Your mother and father are these kids’ mother and father. It means we’re your family. So that means, I’m your grandfather. Do you know what a grandfather is?’
‘Yes, right now I am. It’s only because I’ve been in that stinking water hole, the Amossian. I’m sure I’ll turn back into an oldie soon enough. Come here, and give your grandpa a hug, boy!’
Bragdon stared at Bill, but dared not move.
Bill stepped forward to hug him, while Bragdon squirmed.
‘I can’t believe you’re my brother,’ said Ben, laughing. ‘I’ve got a kid brother.’ He gave Bragdon a quick hug.
‘I think it’s incredible they had a baby in this horrible place. I can’t believe it.’ Charlie’s bottom lip quivered. Tears welled up in her eyes when she hugged Bragdon before Jack had a chance.
When everyone had taken their turn, it was back to the seriousness of the situation.
‘We need a plan on what to do next,’ said Andy.
‘First I need to tell you something,’ said Ben. ‘Do you remember the time when Ambrosius said something like ‘I am but one of a pair, or two in a pod, or something? Couldn’t that mean he’s got a twin brother? Makes sense to me. Wubicus could be a twin. He’s the one writing the poems.’
‘A twin?’ said Jack. ‘So you mean that Wubicus is his twin? Why didn’t he just say he had a twin?’
‘Well, you know how he talked,’ said Andy. ‘Sometimes it was weird, and he rambled from one thing to another. I think it could be true what you’re saying, Ben.’
‘I know it’s not Ambrosius,’ said Ben. ‘They’re not the same people. Wubicus must be his twin.’
‘Okay, if that’s so, we can still trust Ambrosius to help us when we get back there,’ said Bill, while walking around on the spot to contemplate. ‘That takes a big load off my chest. The important thing now is that before anything else we’ve got to find those we came for. We’ve got to check every room, and then the cells, one by one.’
Time was passing fast. It was decided to move on with the rescue attempt, and to check more doors. They were lined up with Sinton in the middle and ready. Slowly, and carefully, they moved out of the room. Two more doors were opened with nothing of importance. After opening the next door, they were faced by a wide rock formation covering most of the entry.
As they sneaked around the obstacle, they were faced with the worst. A strong jolt went through the line.
They were invisible, but stood face to face with a room full of squinting hostiles.
All were grown up Yowies. Every single one was in uniform, sitting at whimsical desks. When a few raised their heads, and looked towards the doorway, Ben was but an inch from screaming.
Then he saw the human standing at the other end, seemingly holding a lesson about the British Isles.
When Ben heard a Yowie calling the man by name, he was bewildered. ‘Co-could that be Mr. Finch?’ he whispered.
Everyone in the room looked up at the same time.
Four tugs by Ben, and the invisible line hurried out of the room.
‘Who were you talking about in there?’ said Bill.
Ben had to let go of Sinton for a second. He shook his head, and mouthed the words. ‘I thought he was dead.’
‘Who? Who do you mean?’ said Bill.
Before Ben replied, he held onto Sinton again just in case. ‘Don’t you remember I told you about Mr Finch. He lived with Kenairies, and the Rainlanders a long time ago. I thought he was gone, as in dead. I think it must be him because someone in there called him ‘Finch’, and he did have a Scottish accent.’
‘I don’t know what you’re on about,’ said Bill. ‘But we need to move on to find the ones we came for. We can always get back here later.’
Before they had a chance to act, the door opened.
One of the hostile students came out, sniffing the air. ‘Something smells at the Kernel,’ he said in a devious way, while squinting suspiciously.’ He scrunched his nose to sniff again.
The tugs went from person to person. Without a sound, they slowly made their way onward through the empty, gloomy corridor. When Ben turned to look back, the Yowie was still there, turning each way before stopping to stare in their direction. He turned, and disappeared into the room.
Safe enough, they went on to the next door. Ben was the first to look in. He was shocked. His emotions came bubbling up, and were close to boiling over. With eyes flooding, he was forced to wipe his nose on the hem of his t-shirt. He knew it was impossible to stand there snivelling, but found it hard to keep calm. The only thing on his mind was to run up, and get hugged.
He watched his mum sitting behind a large slab of stone. His dad stood close by, adding pictures to an archaic paperbark board, held together with plaited strings. They were cut-outs from wood, bark and leaves.
Ben was in strife, but had to control himself. There was a time and place for a reunion, but this wasn’t the right moment.
The unseen line walked up closer to Olivia. She looked down on her desk, which was a slab of stone with a curious piece of a gnarly ladder fashioned like an uneven rainbow above her head. That’s when Ben took action. He was fast to put the note, turning visible when it left his hand, in front of her. Close to touching his mum, he knew he had to restrain himself.
She looked at the piece of paper, unfolded it, and turned it over a couple of times, while her students were busy working with their heads down. She searched the room with her eyes to find out where it had come from. Then motioned inconspicuously for her husband to come over.
Jerry understood. He looked at the note without a word. Doubtful, he pulled at his long beard. They gazed into each other’s eyes, nodding so slowly and slightly, it was hardly noticeable. Olivia folded the note a couple of times to make it smaller, and secretively put it in her mouth.
They were interrupted by the stomping of feet outside in the hallway. Wubicus, in his mantle, and fur hat, burst into the room with uniformed hostiles at his side.
Olivia looked scared. She chewed faster.
Jerry stared defiantly at the hostile intruders.
Ben, with Sinton and the rest holding onto him, was quick. He grabbed his mum’s arm, and pulled his dad’s hand over to hold his mum’s.
‘Don’t let go!’ whispered Ben. ‘Whatever you do, don’t let go!’
They were gone in an instant.
‘WHAT? WHAT HAPPENED? WHERE DID THOSE TWO GO?’ screamed Wubicus. ‘I should have known it! Must be a zilch helping the brothers! Don’t let any of them get away! Find the Binehogen! And the Silver Stick! NOW!
In the hullabaloo that followed, nobody heard, or saw, as the invisible group fumbled to escape through the door, which had been left open by Wubicus, and his men.
Outside, and at the end of the long corridor, they heard Wubicus still screaming from the inside of the teaching area. ‘WHERE ARE THEY? DON’T LET THEM GET AWAY! GUARD THE DOOR!’
They knew they had to keep quiet until a safe place was found. Hurrying along, feeling safe enough, a couple of whispers on the way were unavoidable.
Ben checked the map. He wasn’t sure where they were, but steered them through corridors all the way to an outside area.
Behind a large stone block located at the end of a dim half-enclosed walkway, he made them stop. He looked around to see if all was clear. ‘I think we can talk here. You can let go now.’
Olivia smiled with tears streaming. Jerry shook his head. ‘Can’t believe it!’ he said again and again. There were hugs, and kisses in between hushed talking.
When Olivia and Jerry saw Bill, they were staggered to find out he had shrunk. He went on to explain about the Amossian waters before he realised the seriousness of the situation. ‘We’ve got to be as quiet as possible. We don’t know who’s around.’
‘Yes, yes, that goes without saying,’ said Jerry.
‘My dream has come true!’ said Olivia. ‘Here we are with all our children, Jerry. Isn’t it wonderful?’
‘We’ve actually dreamed about this day since we got here,’ said Jerry. ‘We thought it might never happen. Okay, so, you’ve met Bragdon. When they took him away, we were devastated. Olivia, my poor wife, had a trying time. Me too, of course. What would become of our little boy? It was pure, and utter luck that we had some good old friends on the outside of this godforsaken place. I find it hard to believe Bragdon’s managed so well. We didn’t know much about him more than that we sometimes could see a glimpse of him through one of the walls when he came with supplies.’
‘He couldn’t get in. Well, he was never allowed, and we were imprisoned. It was the worst that could ever happen,’ said Olivia in tears with her arms around Bragdon, who stood in front of her.
Ben felt a twinge of jealousy. What about him? He had wanted his parents back for the longest time. He had hardly remembered what they looked like. He felt like some alien from another planet.
‘We can’t forget about Whistler, Sinton and Howie,’ said Bill. ‘We stumbled upon Whistler, and he’s helping us escape. Without Sinton, this wouldn’t have been possible at all. And Howie. He’s the holder of the Binehogen.’
‘Which we’re allowed to borrow,’ said Ben.
For a few minutes they talked about the keystone, its importance, and what it could do and how. With its help, they were going to leave the underground cave world.
‘Did you ever try to escape?’ said Andy. ‘I mean, even if you didn’t have the Binehogen.’
‘Yes, of course, mate, but it never worked,’ said Jerry. ‘It’s impossible to escape. Even if you get out of this prison, you also need to deal with the prickle mesh. It’s almost easier to think it’s better on the inside than on the outside. To escape, you need some of their clever magical science.’ He emphasised the word science with hand signals. ‘In one way I think they know so much more than we do. Still they want us to teach them everything we can. To tell you the truth, I don’t think we’ve got that much more to teach. I’m a bit scared of what they’ll do with all their knowledge. What if they want to live on top?’
‘Every time we tried to break out, we got into worse strife than before,’ said Olivia. ‘As Jerry said, it’s impossible to get out unless you’ve got help. I don’t understand how you got in here apart from that they couldn’t see you. I’m worried about how we’re to get away from here.’
‘Don’t you worry about that!’ said Bill. ‘Ben’s got something incredible to help us.’
‘Oh, Ben, I can’t believe it’s you,’ said Jerry. ‘You’ve grown so much. And so have Jack and Charlie. So, Ben, what is it that you have?’
Olivia had let go of Bragdon to stand with her arms around Ben. He had to slither away to be able to talk.
‘First you’ve got to tell me who you talked to in there. It’s not Ambrosius now, is it?’ said Ben.
‘No, it’s Wubicus, his twin brother. He’s the evil one,’ said Jerry.
‘I knew it! Anyway, I’ve got this thing to open doors. Some sort of magic.’
Olivia was alarmed. ‘Have you stolen it from the Grims?’
‘Not really, but it belongs to someone down here.’
‘I’m dying to ask you something,’ said Andy. ‘Did you ever meet a girl in here? Her name’s Angelica. We found your backpack together, but then she disappeared inside the cave.’
‘We have heard that story many times,’ said Jerry.
‘Angie works in the nursery on the second floor inside of what they call the castle.’ said Olivia with a smile.
‘You’ve made me very happy. I’ve got to get in there, and find her.’
‘In a minute, mate,’ said Bill.
‘I didn’t know I had another brother,’ said Ben with Bragdon by his side.
‘Luckily, everything went fine despite the awful conditions. I had a midwife with tender claws. Wow! I can’t believe this. It’s absolutely fantastic. We’re going home, and not a day too soon.’
‘I don’t know how we’re going to survive the spinners, and the prickle mesh,’ said Jerry. ‘It’s supposed to be impossible to get through that way. Well, you did it, but would you do it again? That’s the only way we can possibly escape. The trade route is out. It’s too open.’
‘Me know way,’ said Bragdon proudly.
‘We just have to get to the raft, and then were set,’ said Ben.
‘That’s terrific! Ah, well, you must know since you had to fend for yourself, I suppose,’ said Jerry.
‘Tell me again what happened to you, dad,’ said Olivia. ‘I can’t get used to you as a child. I’ve also heard incredible stories about the Amossian, but never thought it would work. Maybe we should have a swim before going home. I could do with some rejuvenation. On the other hand, I don’t think we can afford to do any detours. We’ve got to get out of here as fast as we can.’
Bill described his ordeal in the pond. ‘No one’s having a swim in the Amossian. I don’t even know if, and how I can get back to normal. Not that I want to get old again. The worst is that sometimes I talk like a kid, and sometimes I talk like an old pensioner. To tell you the blooming truth, I don’t know who, or what I am any longer.’
Ben had listened, but now he was eager to say something. ‘I’ve thought about Mr Finch. I think we should ask him to come with us. Are there any others in there?’
‘But then we’ll have to go back in,’ said Jack. ‘Is that wise?’
‘Me and Sinton can do it,’ said Ben. ‘It’s better if it’s less of us. You can wait here, and look after mum and dad, and the others. Whistler will protect you. If you hide behind this block, I don’t think they’ll find you, but no talking. Not even a whisper.’
‘I can hardly believe your confidence Ben,’ said Jerry. ‘I must say it’s not wise to go back in there. Much too dangerous, if you ask me. I know Bart would want to leave. We’ve talked about it many times. He wants to see Scotland one more time. I think I should go with Sinton. You should stay here.’
‘I’ll do it,’ said Andy. ‘I’ve got to look for Angelica.’
‘No, I’ll have to go,’ said Ben.
‘I don’t like for you to go,’ said Jerry. ‘It’s better that I go with Andy. There’s no one else than Bart and Angelica left. I’ll come with you Andy.’
‘No, dad, I have to go. You don’t know how the Silver Stick works,’ said Ben. ‘And I know the maps much better than anybody else.’
Decisions were made. The most sensible would be for Ben and Andy to go with the help of Sinton. After directions on where to find Angelica and Mr Finch, they left.
Ben, Andy and Sinton were invisible, as they hurried along. They made it to the area where they had been before.
The chaos with the hunt for the intruders seemed in full swing. Orders were shouted, and clattering on the stone floors echoed through the corridors.
The invisible group charged to the room where Bartholomew Finch was last seen.
He was not there.
‘We’ll try all the places mum and dad mentioned,’ said Ben. ‘Maybe they’re in the dungeons.’
They made their way through to the cell area. Every single one was empty, but with signs of recent occupation. One of them caught Ben’s attention. He had noticed the tiniest photo on the wall.
‘In here,’ he whispered to Andy, while walking straight up to the photo. It was an old one of Jack, Charlie and himself.
He stared at it, while he thought about his parents, and their lives as prisoners.
‘So, that’s what kept them going all those years,’ whispered Andy behind Ben. ‘Not a lot as in size, but the longing to get home must’ve been so much bigger.’
Ben packed a few things into his dad’s old scungy looking backpack. ‘Okay, now we’ve got to find them.’
‘We should check in the nursery. If she’s working, she should be there,’ said Andy.
On the way they found a number of doors, but had no time to check the insides. At the end of a passageway, they stumbled onto a stairwell, hanging swaying from the ceiling. The fancy ladder was built of the usual knobbly branches, and rope.
‘If we walk up to the next level, the nursery is at this end,’ said Ben, pointing at the map.
When they reached what seemed closer to be the right point, they stopped to listen. A persistent howling came from further ahead. As they moved along the dim hallway, the awful sound became stronger.
‘What IS that? It sounds like a torture chamber,’ said Andy. ‘What are they doing in there?’
‘I-I think we should turn back,’ said Ben. ‘I don’t know if I want to see what’s going on.’
‘You’re probably right, mate. But, I’ve got to get closer in case Angelica’s around here somewhere. Do you want to wait with Sinton in this spot, and I’ll go on by myself?’
‘No, I don’t think we should split because then they could see the one not holding onto Sinton. Can we just leave if it’s something really bad?’
They had made it to a door. The sounds had died off. ‘Okay, we’ll take a quick look to see if she’s in there,’ said Andy.
All three were invisible when they peeked inside a shadowy gloom. Ben was first in line. He took a few steps inside followed by the other two. When their eyes had adjusted to the darkness, they discovered a maze of branches and sticks.
Ben searched through the closest twigs. ‘Look at this little one! Must be a baby.’
‘Oh, gosh, when your mum said it was a nursery, she probably didn’t mean it was for the sick, unless these babes are sick.’
Something further away moved around like a dog in its basket trying to find the right spot. It stood up with a large hide over the shoulders, and tousled hair standing on end.
Andy went a few steps closer. ‘Is that you?’
Andy had already let go of Sinton, and raced forward. He was visible, as he hugged his fur covered girlfriend. ‘Angie, I can’t believe it! We’ve come to rescue you. We’re going home.’
‘Andy, oh, Andy! I can’t believe it either. How did you get here? And how did you find me?’
‘I know it’s incredible. But we can’t talk here. You should hang on to me, and not let go for any reason. We’ve got some magic thing, and we’re invisible if you hang onto me at all times. We’ve got to go now. Not a sound, okay.’
Angelica was motionless. ‘But I can’t go without Pluxy.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I can’t go without him. He’s an orphan.’
‘What do you mean? Isn’t he a Yowie?’
‘Yes, poor Pluxy.’
‘No, Angie, you can’t take him. Are you mad?’
‘I have to take him.’
‘No, you can’t! Definitely not! We can’t steal a Yowie. They’ll look after him here.’
‘But I’ve looked after him all this time. He likes me. He won’t …’
‘No, Angie, listen to me! You can’t take him! We have to leave now, but first we have to find Mr Finch. Angie, look here. This is Ben.’
Ben shook hands with Angelica before he realised that he too had let go of Sinton.
‘Where’s Sinton?’ Ben searched with his hands, while trying to see through the gloom in case Sinton was visible.
‘What if we can’t find him again?’ said Andy.
‘Oh, there he is!’ said Andy. ‘Angie, he’s an apelike zilch. Don’t worry! He’s harmless. But he can’t talk.’
‘He doesn’t look that harmless to me,’ said Angelica. ‘What’s that sticking out of his mouth?’
‘Where did you find that?’ said Ben, thinking of a frog’s leg.
‘Sinton has a crucial gift, and can help us get out of here,’ said Andy.
‘No, he can’t,’ said Angelica. ‘Nobody can. We can’t get past all the guards. And we can’t go through the prickle mesh. And I’m not getting even close to those hornlike spinners. I hate them!’
‘It’ll be fine,’ said Andy. ‘Look at this first!’
Andy held onto Sinton. He disappeared for a few seconds before he was visible again.
This made Angelica feel better. ‘But I’ve got to bring Pluxy. They gave him to me. I can’t abandon him.’
‘What do you mean ‘gave him to you’? And what if he cries?’ said Andy. He was far from convinced. ‘He’s too young. If we’re to get out of here, he can’t make a sound.’
‘He never cries,’ said Angelica.
‘Angelica, look at me. You can’t take him. He’s a Yowie. This is where he belongs. How would you look after him if we get home? He can’t go to day care. The other kids would be terrified, or they’d think he’s a cute little monkey, and how would you explain it to the child care assistants? No, it’s just not on.’
Angelica had to give up. She carefully placed Pluxy in one of the nests. He was still asleep.
She stopped at the doorway, and turned. ‘Bye, little Pluxy … love you, darling.’
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© Lena Nilsson. All rights reserved.