The magic of the Storm Hall and its eerie music holds Till’s attention only briefly.
In truth, it is a bleak, frightening place, bare and dark, open to wind and cold and rain; built not to give shelter from the elements but to invite them in and make communion with their untamed power.
It makes him feel small, heartbroken, and alone.
Can anyone live in such a place?
As though in answer to his question, Avina points to two beds that stand near the pool, each flanked by a brazier of its own for warmth. Between them, closer to the one on the left, he sees a low table made of dark wood. Two shelves stand there, filled with scrolls and large, ancient-looking tomes. Between them is a flat stone pillar atop which one of the books lies open. Spread over the beds are several great pelts, of wolves, from the looks of them.
“This is where you will sleep,” Avina says. “I know you are tired from your journey, but try to stay awake a little longer, so I can bring you your dinner. Is there anything you would particularly like?”
Till’s stomach still feels queasy from the terrifying passage across the bridge. Still, the thought of food appeals to him. “Roast chicken?”
“There may be some roast fowl,” Avina says. “Although I’m not sure it will be chicken. Pheasant, perhaps, or quail. And at this hour, it will most probably be cold.”
Till shrugs. “I don’t mind.”
“I won’t be long.”
With hurried footsteps, Avina crosses the great expanse of the hall. She disappears in the shadows beyond the ring of columns.
Till walks up to the low wall that encircles the pool, and peers into it. If it has a bottom, he cannot see it. He casts about for something to drop into the water, and spots a pair of iron tongs next to one of the braziers. After a few failed attempts, he manages to pick up a red-hot lump of coal. Carefully, he maneuvers the tongs over the edge of the pool. He hesitates.
What if there is something in the water, something that won’t like having burning coal dropped on it?
He releases the tongs, and the glowing lump falls.
With a brief hiss, it breaks the dark surface of the water, leaving behind a tiny wisp of smoke. It sinks at the end of a chain of silver bubbles.
Sinks, and sinks.
The silver chain dissolves in the depths of the pool.
With a gasp, Till lets the tongs clatter to the stone floor and jumps back, away from the water.
Why this thought came to him he does not know, nor why the image of the lump of coal, extinguished, lifeless, lightless, sinking into the shadowy waters, into darkness, should be so vivid in his mind, and terrify him so.
A gust of wind howls through the open roof, driving a squall of rain into the hall.
Hastily, Till puts the tongs back where he found them. He crawls into the bed Avina assigned to him and buries himself under the wolf pelts. They are soft and warm, and when he pulls them over his head, it is as if the world outside is no longer there, and he is safe.
The chill of the storm and of the dark pool recede. He starts feeling drowsy with the muffled sounds of rain and wind and distant surf and the crackling of coals in the countless braziers.
In the cozy embrace of the furs, darkness becomes a haven rather than a terror, and with that comforting thought, he falls asleep.
NEXT: The Spider and the Moth