76. The Spider and the Moth

When Till wakes up, the light has changed.

Gray clouds drift by beyond the opening in the dome. Even the sky seems to be made of stone on this morning. The wind sings its hollow song, and waves whisper somewhere in the distance. It takes him several moments to remember where he is: in the Storm Hall of the Guardian, above Lake Amm Borod.

Shivering, he sits up. It is cold in the great hall. Many of the braziers have gone out. The one next to his bed, and the one by the bed across from it—which does not look like anyone slept in it—are among the few still burning.

On the edge of the pool, Hargis sits motionless, staring into the water. When she hears Till move, she looks at him with a calm as if he had always been there, as if his presence in her home was nothing new at all.

She nods toward the low table in front of Till’s bed. “You were asleep by the time Avina brought your dinner.”

On the table stand a carafe filled with water and a silver plate covered with a hood of crystal. Underneath it, Till discerns the slightly nebulous shapes of half a pheasant, an apple, a pear, some grapes, a piece of cheese with immense holes in it, a chunk of yellow butter, and several slices of brown bread.

Suddenly, he feels very hungry.

Hargis remains unmoving, her gaze fixed on the pool, while Till devours his dinner-turned-breakfast. When he has finished eating, she rings a small silver bell. Although it is not loud, the single bright note appears to fill the air in all of the huge hall. A few moments later, Avina appears in the corridor behind the columns. She comes to the table, bows to Hargis, and takes the silver plate away, disappearing once again through the columns. Till wonders how she manages to come and go so quickly, and so quietly.

When Avina has left, Hargis motions for him to join her by the pool.

Till remembers the fright the water gave him. Reluctantly, he sits down in the spot she assigns him. No rain is falling today, and the water’s surface is smooth and still as glass. A small swarm of gnats hovers in the air above it, dancing in the light coming through the opening in the dome.

To his astonishment, Till finds that the water is only a foot or two deep, and clear enough to see the bottom, which is covered with black tiles. He can even see the lump of extinguished coal that seemed to sink into endless depths the night before. Could he have dreamed that part? He hopes that Hargis has not seen the coal, for she would undoubtedly guess that it was he who threw it into the water. But she has either failed to notice, or chosen to ignore it.

“It is time for you to learn why I was looking for you,” she says.

Till’s heart starts pounding. How often has he tried to work up the courage to ask her this, and failed! Now that at last she offers him an answer, all he can stammer in reply is a half-whispered, “Yes.”

“There.” Hargis nods toward the edge of the pool, toward a spot not far from where she sits. “Do you see it?”

Till stares in the indicated direction, at the stones above the water’s edge. They are covered with lichen and moss, but otherwise he sees nothing remarkable. “See what?”

“There, by the gap between the stones, below the patch of moss shaped like an oak leaf.”

He squints at the indicated spot. Suddenly, he sees the spider. Its color matches the stones behind it so closely that it is nearly invisible. It is rather big, its legs spanning a width of almost two fingers. Till shudders. But he’s also intrigued. What is a spider doing near water? It has no web that he can see. It just sits there, four hind legs clinging to the stone, four front legs resting on the water without breaking the surface, as though it was poised to push off for a swim.

“What’s it doing?”

“Watch.” For a long time, Hargis neither speaks nor moves. Her demeanor is uncomfortably similar to that of the spider. Suddenly, with so swift a motion that Till gasps in surprise, her hand shoots out into the air. When she again lowers her arm, her hand is closed. She has caught something.

Like a spider. Like she caught him.

She flicks her hand toward the water. A small moth hits the surface. The struggles to free its wings from the clinging water, sending ring after ring of ripples across the dark pool. They break on the wall like miniature waves.

The spider stirs.

It races across the water, following the ripples to their center, and seizes the floundering moth. There is no struggle to speak of; the moth is subdued in an instant. The spider retreats once more to its perch and drags its prey into a crevice beneath the stones. Till continues to watch for a moment, half sickened and half fascinated, as the spider begins to feed on its victim.

He looks up to find Hargis’s eyes on him. “I don’t understand.”

“It’s how the Dark One found you,” Hargis says. “You, and all mankind.”

NEXT: Ripples

 

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