Chapter 2 (scene 1)
Birds chirped playfully toward one another, a chorus of many tones. Beams of sunlight broke through the smallest spaces, peeking between myriad layers of branches from above. The forest was covered with a sea of tall and thick trees; boundless leaves fell to earth without a single pause, gliding at their own pace. A nearby lake chanted and stirred endlessly calming splashes.
A small group of miners were hiking, fully equipped with picks, backpacks, and supplies fit for human consumption. No visible trails had been left by past explorers, and each step forward had to be carved out with a midsized, rust-covered, sword. These men were fathers, cousins, and brothers. Everyone was very friendly toward one another, joking and laughing. And as they journeyed the unknown path, such fellowship made the thorny expedition, a rather pleasant one.
The group’s leader was cousin Ricardus. Most of the hair on his head was gone, leaving a large, shiny, balding lump on top. His ragged sideburns extended like pieces of cloth almost covering the entire face. His body was thin, but the protruding belly contradicted all those other parts; perfectly round and large, it could have passed for a twin pregnancy. When speaking, he never looked into anyone’s eyes, but always tucked his chin. And when he did manage to speak, it was as if he had food in his mouth––but it was usually tobacco stuck in between his cheek and gums.
Behind the self-appointed leader was Grandfather Pa. He was Pa to everyone; no one called him George White––and so Pa it had remained. Pa’s two sons strode directly behind him—Brayden and Thomas. Both were extremely tall, massively built, and possessed brute strength, just like their father. And the trailing miner was Harrod, actually he was no miner at all, he was merely convinced by big brother Ricardus that he could have all the free beer during the trip. Although, Harrod did not like to walk, or sweat, or anything that posed a threat. Nonetheless, a golden caramel foam rich opportunity was hard not to swallow.
Ricardus was a prideful little fellow, and more accurately resembled a little dog which was certain that he was not. As the group strode chopping away at the fortress of a green barricade, a resilient branch was revealed. And no matter how many times he swung at it, that branch stood upright blocking his pathway, but at that moment to sidestep was also to admit defeat. Ricardus unleashed a flurry of scrapes, dings and pings, but none proved mightier than the branch. Yet, even exhaustion did not deter the frustrated fellow. He screamed and leapt on that branch, miraculously managed to wrap all limbs around it, much like a slithery sneak. Although, he and the protruding led belly added weight, the branch merely bowed a little. Ricardus shook that poor branch with all might, but even that valiant effort resembled a minor quiver at best.
The group observed the hyper little guy and began waging bets, in favor of the branch. But much to everyone’s disappointment, the beaten branch had finally gave-way, and unfortunately for Ricardus, he was on top of it.
Buried in a pile of leaves Ricardus groaned in pain and went silent. The boys panicked at the thought that something happened to the poor little guy, and as they dug out the green muck covered body, Ricardus quickly shushed everyone. Mouth full of leaves he whispered “listen, shh, listen listen.”
The fallen branch had revealed a rocky mountain with a gushing waterfall and flourishing plant life. The mountain was shorter than the trees surrounding it, providing a perfect disguise.
Ricardus confidently turned back at the group, spit out a leaf.
“Aha! See? I told you!”
Brayden and Thomas looked at each other and laughed. Brayden chucked a pea-sized acorn at the back of Ricardus’ head, and to no surprise, the impact was a hollow thud.
“You showed us, cousin.” Brayden said.
Ricardus did not expect it, his shoulders tensed up while he snarled and turned a several shades of pink. He wasn’t the playful type and jokes on him were never well accepted.
The group followed Ricardus around the large round pool made by the waterfall, heading toward the mountain. As opposed to the rest of the forest, the vegetation around the pool had taken a rather different texture. All of the trees, plants and grass appeared majestic. The flowers had extremely eloquent surfaces and shapes. A very faint dome-like sparkle floated over the plants, but only when the sun’s rays hit it at the right angle. The grass was much darker and greener than any other. And the branches made loops around the peculiar trees. Everything wore a vibrant color, it was almost fake, as though out of a fairy tale.
Ricardus stopped for a brief moment, hypnotized by the majestic colors all around him. He shook his head, almost in a jitter, and then looked back at the group. “Ay, chaps, it’s known just for that! It’s called the….”
He looked up, appeared to have had difficulty recalling a certain word. Then, he squinted for a moment, but still not a single thought came. Creases covered his entire wrinkled face while he appeared to exhaust the limited brainpower. This particular quality wasn’t a strong asset. After a moment of seizure-like activity, he uttered a loud and excited gasp; he appeared to have remembered something. Before he was able to speak, he cleared his hoarse throat, then launched vile goo onto the majestic plants. He was the only person in the village who maintained such barbaric characteristics. Swiftly, he turned around and faced the group; yet, remnants of the goo lingered on the bottom lip. He wiped it off, using the only thing filthier than his mouth—his sleeve. He had a habit of wiping everything using that sleeve. It served as an attached towel, which never got a proper wash––only an occasional rain drop or two.
“Ah, yes! The Blue Water Lake!”
Ricardus’ belabored efforts had gone unnoticed. No one was paying attention, not even his little brother Harrod. They were too busy aimlessly stomping on the majestic plant-life. Every step crushed the vegetation, bleeding out a hint of dark blue liquid. The sacred grounds of beautiful plants had been unsettled. The men clearly had made their mark: a messy mud-spattered trail.
The plants residue began to form into a resin of stringy goo; it made walking rather difficult, and for someone like Ricardus a bit overly troublesome, after all his limbs were not designed for manual labor. Ricardus peeled his heel up, observed evidence of the unusual plant residue on the sole of his boot. “What a mess,” he mumbled incoherently, and then insolently spit on the sparkling plants. “Right this way, boys. This is it; this is where Edward mined all that gold.”
The new spark of moral was all Ricardus needed, the long journey had taken much of his energy, and the tension from the group was not helping. He continued to march on toward the waterfall’s base with long strides.
Thomas laughed from the back of the pack, rubbing his knuckles. “Everyone was starting to give up hope. Lucky for you, mate, you found it.”
The men had been walking for hours, looking for the place Ricardus had claimed to have found. They had all doubted him mightily. Clumsy Ricardus didn’t appear to be particularly adept at direction––or anything else for that matter. But since he was family, Pa and the boys gave him some credibility. Harrod remained in the back and appeared to waddle a bit more with each step.
Harrods barrel was conveniently repositioned in front. He unplugged the cork and poured out foamy caramel-colored ale into a large wooden mug.
He hiccupped loudly. “Thash the shtuff.” While he delicately embraced that large mug, puckered his large lips and buried his face in it. And miraculously while taking large gulps he was able to hum a delightful tune, a fantastic skill within itself.
Harrod never had a reason to ask questions, or to even care. He just followed his older brother and drank ale; only a leash was needed to round out his position as a pet.
Thomas glanced back quite often, and most times it was just a learned action he acquired from his father, who was quite the observer himself. Thomas took comfort in making sure that all things were in order, but at this particular glance, he had noticed that Harrod had not brought a single tool, not even a snack pack. Perhaps the short fellow thought it was a short expedition, or he didn’t even think at all. Nevertheless, Thomas had to fulfill his curiosity with the rhetorical question. “Harrod, where are your.” But in the middle question Harrod continued walking right past Thomas as though he wasn’t there. Although, to the drunken dwarf’s defense, getting his attention in a time of a good buzz was quite impossible, and that’s why Thomas resorted to physical means by grabbing Harrods shoulders. The sudden stop didn’t fare well for Harrod; he was in the middle of gulp which ended up splashing on his face. “Cousin, where are your mining tools?”
Harrod looked up at Thomas with a smile and gloss eyes half open, ale was dripping down his beard, he opened his mouth to speak, but an unexpected wet belch made its way out. He licked the wet remnants off his beard, “Toolsh? Baaa, whatsh forl?” He stuck his stubby index finger in the air and stumbled over more words. “I brought thish just in case of de…shydrashion.” Thomas shook his head and smirked momentarily, he wasn’t expecting much from the little guy.
Ricardus had approached the endless water curtain which flowed down with vigor, he observed beyond the moist mist noticing a pathway, it was carved of round flat black rocks which led to a dark void, the opening was just enough for one person to pass through at a time. Ricardus was quite the impatient one and the lack of experience inspired his next irresponsible move, but luckily Pa was nearby. And just as Ricardus lifted his knee to proceed forward, Pa was quick to reprehend with a shout so loud the rocks trembled.
“Hold!” But, the wet force defused the sound, the beaten rocks emitted a series of diverse tones. Echoes of harmonious drums created a continuous melody thumping from above. “Damn it, son.” Pa strode after Ricardus. “Just a minute, son.” He gently grabbed Richards’s shoulder, stopping him in his tracks. With warm eyes, Pa looked at him. “You did a fine job getting us here, son, but I’ll lead the way from here.”
Ricardus’ chin quivered. All of his facial expressions appeared ready for a fight. The stubborn self-proclaimed alpha-male persona did not blend well with another leader. Pa padded Ricardus’ shoulder as he walked past him with a cautious look ahead. The demoted leader’s glare surfaced as fuming emotions revealed a dirty look; and without making a sound, he cursed the elder, but the words couldn’t have been as foul as his rotten teeth. With a flamed torch in hand, Pa approached the entrance. “I will lead the rest of the way.” His eyes began to drift, as though a memory appeared before him. “There’s no telling what dangers await inside,” he whispered and remained still before the entrance.
Pa squinted at the unknown darkness, his eyes roamed back and forth, analyzing. After a few moments, he spoke, but only audible for his ears. “Cave is a dangerous creature.” He remained still; it seemed as if he were reliving a moment from long ago.
A conscious sigh reset and recomposed his thoughts, then he somberly faced the men.
Everyone noticed the serious look in his eyes. The chatter between Thomas and Brayden stopped, Harrod removed the large mug from his face, and Ricardus’ fumed snarling face straightened. Pa nodded with grave intent. “Jokes stay here. We mustn’t be unprepared.”