Nanna stood on the narrow beach with Gryffud. “How close are they?”
“Almost to the top of the cliffs. One more grappling hook and they will be ready to scale the tower walls.”
“How will they get her out?”
“She will have to be very brave.”
Nanna worried. Would Sonsee be able to cling to the man who would bring her down? Would she hold her panic at seeing the height they must descend. Nanna did not know. And one false move could doom them both to a thousand foot fall.
The earth rumbled again and shook, this time more violently.
“I do not like this,” Gryffud grumbled before turning to the man next to him. “Did you tell the men to tie themselves well with the ropes. And the girl. And blindfold her well so she does not see. We do not need her to panic tonight.”
The cave shook violently just as Toko turned over on her cot, whispering,
A window, a window, give me a window.
Fresh clean air, a sea breeze, escape.
M’Lady gabbed the vial hungrily from the chemist’s hand.”Are you sure this will work?”
“Yes, M’Lady. As you ordered. She will be confused but able to walk for at least tonight. It will take a week for her to die. I only regret she will suffer so. But I do not know any way to make her last days more pleasant.”
“One more thing,” the chemist said. “Do not have her drink it or she will die within minutes. Pour it on her skin. In her hair would be best. It will absorb more slowly.”
“How quickly will her senses leave her?”
“That is immediate. It just takes a long time for death to occur.”
M’Lady tucked the vial into her ample bosom. It was time to get the girl.
Sonsee’s father climbed into the small row boat and rowed toward the shore as the two strongest crew members swam to the rocks just beyond the sandy shoreline. With each stroke of the oars, he murmured,
Gods of land and sea,
Hold back your fury,
Hold back your tempest,
Help me find my Sonsee.
But then the earth shook so violently the rocks cracked allowing a large boulder to tumble into the sea. Sonsee’s father thought he heard a man scream and, from the corner of his eye, he saw a figure fall from the cliffs above. Was it a man? No, he decided, just a bird soaring away.
Gryffud felt Nanna grab his arm. But he patted it softly. “Let us hope his harness held.” He would not blame the man for turning around now and refusing the try again. That is, if he survived the fall. Then the earth shook again, this time even more violently.
M’Lady held her kerchief over her burning nostrils as she made her way to Toko. She felt the earth shake and small bits of rocks and dust hit her as they fell from the ceiling above. She shook her fist at the gods.
“Hold back,” she demanded. But the earth shook again and she heard rock grate on rock and then a crack as if the rock itself was splitting.
The crack of the splitting rock woke Toko. She smelled the sea air, fresh, clean, salty. She opened her eyes to see a hole in the cave wall where the rock had split asunder. And there were stars shimmering in the indigo sky.
Toko took another deep breath and wondered at the clear open feeling in her head. It was as if the cobwebs had been removed from her senses. She could think again, after days in the horrid caves. She swung her feet from the bed and climbed over the low wall that remained between her and freedom. She rejoiced in the feel of the cool sand between her toes and took off toward the sea, not knowing how she would find her way back to Nanna and Poppa, but rejoicing in her first real glimmer of hope in—how long had it been? She had lost all track of time since entering the caves. But she was Sonsee-array again, not Toko any longer.
Nanna was the first to see Sonsee’s father as he climbed out of his small boat. She motioned to Gryffud.
“Should we hide?” he asked.
“No. We will need his help,” Nanna replied as she strode toward him. She did not know why he was there, but she suspected. Had he traded the tiles for Sonsee?
M’Lady smelled the clean ocean air before she reached Toko’s room. Holding her small lamp in one hand, she lowered the kerchief from her nose as she entered only to find Toko gone. She shook a tightly clenched fist at the gods above. “Damn you!” she shouted and turned to leave the room. “Damn you.” Now she would need force to take those tiles from her half-brother. And the vial of poison tucked into her breast.
Sonsee let the water lap between her toes as she scanned the beach first in one direction, then in the other. To her left there were rocks and she could hide in them. But M’Lady would surely send others to search for her. To her right was nothing but sand. And nowhere to hide.
She turned left toward the rocks and climbed up onto the one nearest. They were rough, volcanic, and scraped at her bare feet. Why did I not remember my shoes? But there was no turning back now.
The earth rumbled again, this time kinder than the last. But still it knocked Sonsee off her feet and she sat for a minute, waiting for the trembling to stop.
When it was quiet again she thought she heard voices. From the other side of the rocks. What to do? Who was it? Friend or foe? Maybe a sprint across the sand was not such a bad idea after all. At least her feet would not be cut and bruised.
“Woman, I told you I would handle it,” the man shouted.
It had been so long but Sonsee was sure it was her father. “Poppa,” she shouted as she stood and limped toward the voice. “Poppa!” The rocks tore at her feet but she did not care and hurried her pace.
But it was a strange man who appeared and caught her up in his big beefy arms.
“Poppa,” Sonsee screamed one last time before she felt his rough hand clamp over her mouth. She tried to bite it, but his strong thumb clamped under her jaw, holding it firmly shut.
“Shhh,” he whispered. “I came with your father.”
Both Nanna and Sonsee’s father turned toward Sonsee’s voice.
“Shhhh,” he whispered as he turned toward the rocks on his right. “Was that Sonsee?”
“I think so,” Nanna replied as she turned to head toward the sound.
Sonsee’s father grabbed at Nanna’s arm as she passed him. “I have two men hidden there. They will get her.”
Nanna watched as a shadow appeared holding a bundle in his arms. When the man reached the sandy shore, he gently set down the bundle and Sonsee raced to her father and her Nanna. She was crying great pools of tears and her body shook with what Nanna could only suspect was relief. For many minutes the three of them held each other as they huddled on the shore.
“Are you alright?” Sonsee’s father repeated over and over. Sonsee would nod her head yes, but the shaking seemed never to stop.
“You have your daughter. Now where are my tiles?”
Sonsee’s father was the first to stand. He reached into his jerkin and pulled out a velvet bag. “Here,” he said, tossing them to her. M’Lady watched as her brother grabbed Nanna’s arm tightly, holding her back from racing to the tiles.
The bag landed on the sand just out of Brachaia’s grasp. She stepped forward to pick it up and put them into her ample bosom. As she did, she grasped the vial of poison. It would not do to have Toko tell tales of her time in the temple. She uncorked the top, palmed it in her left hand and, right hand extended, walked toward her brother. “Peace be between us,” she said.
Sonsee’s father pushed Sonsee behind Nanna. “Peace be between us,” he replied.
The earth rumbled again. Sonsee looked up to see the cliff face tumble into the sea, taking her tower prison with it.
Turning to the man who had carried Sonsee, her father said, “Get the ladies to the boat. I will deal with my sister. If I do not follow in 15 minutes, turn the boat to the sea. There will be a tsunami, I think. The captain will know what to do. Now hurry.”
Sonsee watch as her father walked toward M’Lady. But then strong arms gathered her up and put her in the boat.
But Nanna refused to get. “Gryffud,” she called out. He did not come. “Gryffud!”
“I should have guessed Gryffud would be here, too,” Sonsee’s father said. “Now go with Sonsee.”
“Your Lordship, we must not leave the tiles with M’Lady.”
“They are fakes,” he replied. “Now go. I cannot deal with Brachaia and you both. The tiles are safe.”
Unsure what to do now, Nanna followed Sonsee to the boat and climbed in.
Sonsee’s father strode toward his half-sister, hand extended. “Peace be between us,” he repeated yet again.
Just as he was within a foot of her, he saw Brachaia take something from her left hand into her right. Quickly stepping aside, he said, “No, sorcery, remember?”
But there was only fury on Brachaia’s face. “And nobody was to come here but you. You have broken your word.”
Brachaia swung the uncorked vial at her brother and Sonsee’s father saw the liquid arch into the air straight toward his face just before a great force hit him from his side.
He and Gryffud landed in a heap just out of Brachaia’s reach.
Two more men came limping along, ropes looped over their shoulders.
“Your Lordship, we need to get out of here. The rocks are cleaving.”
“I have a ship just out to sea. Can you swim?”
Hours later Sonsee lay in a soft bed as she felt the ship rise and fall, rise and fall again. Her father and Nanna sat at her bedside reassuring her all was okay. One day she would tell them what had happened, but not today. Today they needed to ride out the storm in the old ways. In a ship built to withstand the tsunamis; in a ship that would hold parallel to the shoreline allowing the waves to rush under it but never pulling it with along.
She slept on and off until a great crash thundered through the ship and she heard her father shout, “The island is gone. Move us out to sea. Now! We go to the land of Ion’s people.”
Photo attribution: By Antonio Maria Marini [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons