It was getting darker and chilly, and Wendell almost wished to just stop for the night. But up ahead there was an opening! Tears came to Wendell as he saw the whole mountain clearly now. He got up now and hurried along, almost running out of the confining walls.
At last he was outside in the open again!! The wide, beautiful open!! Which was getting very dark and cloudy. But in the morning it would look better of course. There were a few trees ahead... he went through them, excitedly, pushing onward through the branches. The ground sloped down for a short while, and then he came to the other side of the thicket.
He sat and rested for a while, looking down. There was something way down below, scrunched into the foot of the mountain, with an old, old river before it. It was hard for Wendell to tell what he was seeing in the dim light.
Whatever it was it didn’t seem to have any lights glowing inside, but it had endless towers and buttresses that mixed into with the mountain’s shadows. The place was surely abandoned after the maze had been built, just like the meeting hall had been.
He woke up, but it was night now, and there was no point in trying to go back to sleep again. Wendell began stepping across the scraggly dirt of the long, long slope, watching the wide, starless sky above for any sound or wings. There was still a bit of frigid, seeping wind.
It was taking quite a while to walk down the slope because he had to walk back and forth to keep from sliding too much. It was hard work, and soon he longed to reach the river and get a drink.
Looking at the castle now, it seemed to have no features in front, no carvings or decorations or anything, nothing to rest his eyes on, just mindless empty walls.
Nothing, but a single drawbridge closed in front of the wide river, taller than any house Wendell had ever seen, hanging with chains and metalwork. Quickly he hurried along until he reached the river’s edge.
By then he knew that he could not possibly reach the water. It was too far below, and once he had jumped down, it would be more than difficult to find a way back up.
Wendell stood shivering and watching the empty windows. The river went past with a loud murmuring below, but there was no other noise. Now a sharp clink echoed into the air. Wendell looked about.
There was another clink, and then another, then faster and faster. Sounds of massive chains and machinery grinted and ground, the drawbridge shuddering downwards. Wendell froze with hesitation, then in a sudden fit leaped down all the way to the water below, and felt the icyness close over his head.
His eyes were closed, and he stretched out furious hands against the rush of water, trying to swim back up before the water choked him. He reached the surface and gasped, looking up over the top of the moat. The drawbridge was already halfway down, but inside he couldn’t see anything.
Quickly, he strained over to the side of the sluggish river side and pulled himself under the drawbridge’s shadow. The clammy stones of the moat’s wall gave his desperate fingers a few handholds as he pulled himself up now, right under the falling drawbridge as it shuddered into the dust.
Now Wendell reached up and snatched the dangling chains, holding himself into as small a space as possible, his heart working furiously, feet pressed against the wall. He tried again and again to hold in his breathe, but still it came out with great violent gasps. Something began pounding on the enormous drawbridge.
Hundreds of hooves shook the immense wood, but then very suddenly it stopped, and there was no noise left to hear but things racing off into the distance.
He hung there for a long time, listening to the muddled trickles below. Pain slashed his fingers and toes, but he didn’t budge. A clink shuddered through the drawbridge. Then another. The grinding began again. Wendell was left to listen helplessly as he was pulled up and hung in the air, his fingers crying out for relief from the sharp edges of the chain. Finally, it stopped, and he found a place to rest his foot on the side of a great bar wrapped around the drawbridge’s edge.
Looking up from the bottom of the bridge, he could see the top of the first parapet above. He looked down at the river below. It looked cozy and inviting now, more than the empty air around him. He scrambled as quickly as possible up the side of the drawbridge, flinging his arms up to the next chains each time, his feet digging helplessly against the rough wood, until he reached the top, which was splintered and cracked.
Then, with a tremendous heave, he pushed up from the wood to a crumbled spot in the wall, and with another panicked shove, he put one knee between a crumbled spacing. It was still a ways to the top of the wall, and there was no way to jump down again.
Wendell hung from the wall, resting his forehead against the flat stone, and closed his eyes with weariness. Now what? He looked up at the top of the wall, soaring ludicrously into the sky above him. How far away, he could not tell.
There was nothing he could do now, he had nothing with him to help him climb, unless he learned how to fly before something saw him there. Except his dagger, and that was no help at all!
“Please... “ he pleaded into the stale air, trying to reach out with his mind and find someone to help him. The song said they were there, even if they never answered aloud. If they helped him before, they would do it again, of course.
“Please, you must lift me over, “ Wendell continued, hopefully. Surely if they were there, if they couldn’t speak back, at least they would hear him, and do something!!
“It’s very important, “ he went on, hearing his own words, whispered into the stone. “I just need a little help. Just once.”
“Why don’t you ever speak?” Wendell muttered angrily. “Can’t you see I need some help!?”
But the cold stones didn’t reply, and his fingers were beginning to hurt against them. He looked down at the black waters below, judging the distance from the corner of his eye. He would never survive the drop.
“Is anyone listening?” he said pointlessly.
Wendell hung his head down against the wall, his arms beginning to tremble with the chill and terrible weariness. Tears of frustration stung in his eye, and he grimaced against the wailing fear below him.
“Why don’t you do something?!?!” he sobbed. But who could he blame? He had climbed the wall alone, and he would break his silly neck alone.
Now the struggle to keep his fingers dug into the crack became desperate, and he felt his foot sliding down. Angrily he kicked and struggled to hold on, all the while feeling more miserable and filthy from the weeks of useless traveling.
“Please... I’ll do anything you want...” he whimpered...
But there wasn’t a reply even still. But there must be!! Any moment he would find himself soaring in the air, just like in every good story. What where they waiting for? What did they want? What did they want from him?
Wendell hung his head one last time to think, terror clouding his every dizzy thought. How could he know. He knew because. But it could be coincidence. Always coincidence!! And now on the wall. If they did something, he would know!! If they said so, he would know!!
“Maybe we are being clear and simple,” Garim’s smug voice replied in his mind, automatically. Then Garim smiled.
“To those who listen, I listen,” he rambled on randomly.
Wendell fought the urge to howl and hurl himself down into the water. He was so miserable. As soon as he touched the water, it would all end... peace at last... but instead of peace, Wendell felt only a bottomless, dirty feeling at the thought of dying. He would not be the only one to die.
He gritted up a final desperate thought to his hollow mind. “To those who listen, I listen.” I will listen, he thought desperately into the air, hardly able to feel his arms anymore.
I will listen.
He looked down at the river, and saw it, past his sword’s hilt. Perhaps...
With one hand, holding on excruciatingly with the other fingers, he drew the dagger and struck wildly at the mortar above. A corner crumbled with age, and Wendell gave a start of glee. He pushed the dagger’s tip into the crumbled cracks, and pushed himself up, the pain in his fingers forgotten. Now he continued up the wall, and finally heaved himself onto the parapet.
His fingers cramped with endless numbness, and he nursed them in his mouth, trying to understand what had just happened. But he knew inside that he didn’t have to ask! That was what they had wanted from him all along.
On the other side of the wide parapet was an expansive courtyard, emptier than anything Wendell had ever seen. There were no weeds growing between the cracks, no stray bits of crumbled stone lying in the corners. It was only square and vacant, paved with fitted stones that stretched from one end to the other, in dull shades of blue misery.
He clambered down the chains and machinery of the drawbridge now, seeing that nothing was there, and quickly went across the long ways towards an empty, black doorway. For some reason he wanted to creep along one of the walls instead of going down the middle, but there was no use in that, he told himself sharply.
He listened carefully by the doorway, straining his ears for anything in the darkness, but couldn’t hear anything at all.
“Go with me now,” he said boldly to the listless air, staring into the blank opening, a smug smile creeping unbidden onto his face. Wendell stepped into the frigid portal, holding the dagger out before him.