Authors: Amanda Forester
Tags: #Romance, #General, #Historical, #Fiction
“Are those burns?”
“I was an awkward child.” He took the candle and walked into the darkness of the cave.
Like a moth to the flame, Morrigan followed. “No one is that clumsy. Tell me the truth.”
Dragonet turned, the candle’s orange light flickering on his face. “To find this box, we must focus most diligently. Do you know where it is located, did Barrick give you any clues?”
Morrigan gave Dragonet a hard look. She did not like to have her questions ignored.
“Please, Morrigan.” He spoke softly.
Morrigan sighed. She wanted to understand him, to know if he could be trusted. Yet what she really wanted was forever beyond her grasp. She needed to let him go.
“I dinna ken there is any treasure here,” said Morrigan, allowing her question to drop. “Archie said he searched but found nothing.”
“That does not bode well.” Dragonet continued down the passageway of the cave, which became narrower with every step.
The walls were closing in on her, suffocating her. Morrigan worked on controlling her breathing. She must not let the cave get to her. She must not let him see weakness. “Do ye ken where it is hidden?”
“I am sorry, but no.”
“What have I told ye about apologizing?” asked Morrigan with a sharp edge. Her anxiety was turning her usually sunny disposition into something less than hospitable.
“As you wish.”
They walked on a little farther, utter blackness stretching on ahead and behind her like an abyss. All she could see were the cave walls around her, illuminated by the dim light of a single candle. Morrigan’s heart pounded, throbbing in her ears. She wanted out.
“Here, what is this?” Dragonet ducked his head to fit through a narrow gap and disappeared. Morrigan rushed after the light and stumbled into a large cavern. Gleaming crystals on the walls and ceiling reflected the light of the candle, dazzling the eye with its brilliance. Morrigan squinted at the sudden light and turned a circle awed by the sparkling crystals.
“Which path?” asked Dragonet.
Morrigan realized that multiple passages led from the dazzling room. “I know not,” said Morrigan. She turned back the passages she came from and drew her sword to make a mark on the floor before the tunnel they had come from. She did not wish to be lost there.
“What is it you are doing?” asked Dragonet.
“Marking the tunnel we came from so we can get out of here.”
“Good idea.” Dragonet began looking around the entrances of the other tunnels. “I would wager the Templars did the same thing.”
They searched the entrances to the tunnels leading from the crystal room. The dirt floor of the crystal cave was frozen and the crystals themselves were like chunks of ice. Still, Morrigan searched around the tunnel entrance, feeling the cold, rough cave walls for any clues.
“What kind of marking would they leave?” asked Morrigan.
“I know not,” answered Dragonet, standing on a rock to look up at the top of a long, narrow tunnel entrance. “Anything that looks man-made.”
Morrigan grunted a response and went on to search the next tunnel. This one was small, a round hole barely large enough for a person to fit through, and a trim person at that. She brushed aside some debris on the floor and searched along the outside of the tunnel but found nothing. With considerable reluctance, Morrigan went down on hands and knees and put her head in the tunnel to inspect the inside. It was black and damp. Resisting the urge to crawl out, Morrigan felt around the inside of the tunnel, freezing slime oozing through her fingers. She shuddered, the inky blackness of the tunnel closing in on her.
She couldn’t breathe. She needed air. Backing out of the tunnel in a mad scramble she scraped her knees and hit her head on the top of the tunnel.
“Ow! Hell and damnation!”
“What is wrong?” Dragonet was immediately at her side.
Morrigan grabbed the back of her head with one hand and a rock on the top of the tunnel with the other, and heaved herself to her feet. The rock came off in her hand, causing her to stumble, but she was caught in the strong arms of Dragonet.
“Stupid cave! It’s too dark and too small and too repulsive. I canna do this.”
Dragonet pulled her close in embrace. She opened her mouth to complain, but sighed instead. Fool she was, but everything seemed better when she was in the warm arms of her lover… monk… enemy. Damn, she hated her life.
Morrigan tipped up her head, instinctively hoping for a kiss, but he was looking at something over her shoulder. “What are ye looking at?”
“Look, you uncovered a mark.”
Above the tunnel where the rock had broken off in her hand was indeed a small mark carved into the stone. They both drew closer and inspected the mark, Dragonet holding up the candle to see it clearly. It was made by human hands, engraved into the stone in the shape of a
“What does it mean?” asked Morrigan.
“Maybe there are more,” said Dragonet. He moved to the next tunnel entrance and pulled at the stones above the entrance. One came off easily. They converged on the space, putting their heads together and inspecting it with the candle. With growing excitement, Morrigan saw there was another mark, this one a letter
In unspoken agreement, they went around the glimmering room and pulled rocks from the top of each tunnel. Each tunnel had a letter. There were five tunnels leading away from the room, with the letters,
V, L, T, P
“Vltps? What is that?” asked Morrigan.
“Lptvs?” Dragonet pushed his hair out of his eyes with a dirty hand.
“Stplv? I am no’ the best with my letters, but do we no’ need a vowel?”
“Pray the hours,” murmured Dragonet. He turned toward her with a flash of a smile. “Pray the hours!”
“What are ye saying? Have ye gone daft?”
“The last words of the dying Templar to the Mother Enid were, ‘Pray the hours.’”
“And?” Morrigan shrugged.
“The hours for prayer are Vigils, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. I suppose they did not have enough tunnels for all of them but see—VLPTS—Vigils, Lauds, Prime, Terce, and Sext!”
Morrigan’s pulse quickened. “So which tunnel do we want?”
“We should start with the first hour of the day, Vigils.”
Naturally it was the small, grimy, panic-inducing tunnel. Morrigan stood in front of the passage, peering down into the dark, dank hole.
“Do you wish for me to go first?” asked Dragonet.
“Nay, I am taking mental accounts of my brother and deciding if he is worth this bother.”
Dragonet raised an eyebrow.
“Give the candle, I’ll go,” groused Morrigan. The last thing in the world she wanted to do was crawl down a cold, slime-filled passage, leading deeper into the bowels of the cave. She gritted her teeth, kneeled down, and did it anyway.
She expected it to be unpleasant. It was that and more. The cold, the walls rubbing against her shoulders, the freezing slime she crawled through, any of it alone she could have handled, but in combination with the suffocating, trapped feeling of being in a small tunnel, it was too much. Her breath came in rapid gulps, her heart pounded until she feared it would explode and she would die in that squalid tunnel.
“Panting for me, my love?” teased Dragonet behind her.
“Wh-what?” Morrigan tried to turn to confront him, but was unable due to the confines of the tunnel. “Ye fool bastard. I coud’na care less about yer sorry self.” Morrigan crawled faster through the tunnel, determined to find a larger space where she could confront the conceited Frenchman. Did he believe her thoughts contained nothing but him?
After crawling over several large rocks, the tunnel opened into another room-like space in the cave. This cavern was not so brilliant, just dark and damp, with large stalagmites and stalactites. Morrigan whirled around to face Dragonet, her hand on the hilt of her sword.
“You are out of the tunnel, Morrigan,” noted Dragonet calmly as he stepped into the cavern.
Morrigan opened her mouth to berate him, then closed it again. “Ye did that on purpose to distract me.”
Dragonet gave a half smile. “I noticed you are not overly fond of caves.”
“That is one way to put it.” Truth was she was terrified. She knew in her core she could not do it without him. “Which way now?”
This cavern had four tunnels leading from it, but once again they found, beneath easily removable rocks, letters above the tunnels and chose the one marked
for Lauds. This tunnel proved short, only a few feet, opening into another cavern. The cavern was not of even footing, having large slabs of crumbling rock dividing the cave into several levels.
They repeated the same process, but this time there were only three tunnels marked
Dragonet shook his head. “Prime should be next.”
“Well it is not here. Let’s go to the next one, there is a
Dragonet remained unmoved. “We must be missing something. The monks would not forget Prime. The prayer is for early morning, before the first meal of the day. Many monks confessed the sins committed during the night before joining their brothers in the communal meal.”
Morrigan walked around the walls of the cave, climbing up and down rocks to do so, but no other opening was found. “There is no other tunnel.”
“We are missing something,” repeated Dragonet.
Morrigan bit back a caustic remark. What she was missing was fresh air and the immeasurable joy of not being in a cave. “So what would you do for this prayer?” she asked, trying to stay focused.
Dragonet lay on his stomach on the floor of the cave, spreading his arms wide.
“I canna see how this is going to help us.” Morrigan crossed her arms.
“This is how we would pray,” said Dragonet, turning his head to see her. “We would…”
“Ye would what?” asked Morrigan, wondering why he had stopped talking.
He jumped up and ran to a slab of rock. “Here, look.” Carved into the rock by the floor, only visible if one laid one’s head on the ground, was the letter
Morrigan smiled. “Good one. But where is the tunnel?”
Dragonet felt around the base of the crumbling rock and discovered a small hole.
“Well I’m no’ going in there!”
Dragonet reached his hand in the hole and frowned. All was silent in the cave except for the occasional drip of water from the stalactites. A slow smile warmed his face and he drew back his hand. He opened his fist to reveal a rusted iron object.
“A key!” exclaimed Morrigan. It was large and old and smelled like treasure, if such a thing was possible. Her pulse quickened once again, but this time it was more excitement than fear. She met Dragonet’s gleaming eyes.
They were on the hunt.
“Come, let’s find what this key opens!” said Morrigan, scrambling to her feet. Dragonet stood up beside her, a smile on his dirty face. His appearance was a mite rough, with nothing but a blanket wrapped around him like a great kilt and a day’s stubble on his chin.
Except for the facial hair, Morrigan was in much the same condition. It was barely enough to keep from freezing, yet with the find of a key, she was too excited to shiver.
Dragonet’s eyes danced in the candlelight. They were going to find the treasure. He held out his hand to her. She hesitated for a moment. They were rivals for the prize they both sought. A wise person would keep her distance. Morrigan took his hand. The McNabs were rarely accused of being wise.
They walked to the tunnel marked
for Terce and entered together. The tunnel was comparatively wide, and they were able to walk two abreast. The tunnel twisted and turned a few times, and they had to go one at a time to pass through, but they continued to hold hands.
Morrigan searched for something to say, though she did not feel awkward with him in the silent cave, she thought she really ought to be. “So what is Terce?”
“Terce is the midmorning prayer done at the third hour after dawn.”
“What would ye do at these prayers?”
“We would either stop our work and pray alone or gather in the chapel if we were able and chant some psalms and pray together in spoken word and in silence. That is how I started singing, through the chants. It can be very beautiful.” Dragonet gave a wistful smile.
“Ye must be anxious to return,” commented Morrigan, wishing she was less interested in his response to her statement.
“But what?” asked Morrigan, looking ahead to where he had disappeared around a tight corner.
“This cave, it is familiar.”
Morrigan followed him out into the crystal room, the sparkling minerals reflecting and magnifying the light of the candle.
“’Tis the same cavern! I canna believe we went through all that for naught.”