This week was supposed to be a mini-chapter just to keep the story going while I didn’t have the book to hand, but it turns out I forgot to schedule and post chapter 21 last week. So you can have chapter 21 this week, and we may or may not then do the mini-chapter (which I have a vague idea for) next week.
Anyway, last time we left off as Bill and the children were poised to leave the top of the mountain after the helicopter failed to take off.
When Lucy-Ann asked for his hand because she was scared he took her hand and gave it a squeeze of comfort as they set off down the steps. At first the going was good, but he was glad to keep Lucy-Ann close beside him, for he felt she would need the most looking-after. Jack and Dinah kept up a low-voiced narrative telling him what they were passing; the cave Philip had been held in, the stores and so on. They also argued a lot, in less quiet voices, over which way to go.
All the lights were out so they were navigating with only his torch, and he tried to be patient with them. He let them make the decision on which way to go, as he had no idea, but unfortunately they chose wrong at some point and they found themselves hopelessly lost.
Bill felt desperate, he needed to get the children out, he needed to rejoin Johns and Philip and get everyone back to the farm. He cursed himself for not being able to land without damaging the helicopter, but he had to live with that and make the best out of a bad situation. The path they were on now slanted down and Bill hoped that they were heading to an exit unknown by the children.
What they found instead was the balcony that overlooked the strange pit full of a brilliant light. Bill couldn’t understand it. It positively glowed but what colour he couldn’t say, it was like nothing he had ever seen before. It was there for a moment and then the floor slid closed and it was gone. He theorised to the children that there was some metal in the mountain that they were using, and it sounded reasonable but really, he was grasping at straws. He didn’t know what was going on – and he didn’t like it at all. He wondered how safe the mountain was, if whoever was working that strange glowing pit really knew what they were doing.
Jack interrupted his thoughts and said he thought he knew the way from here. Putting his trust in Jack Bill took the lead, Lucy-Ann holding his hand and Jack telling him which way to go whenever they found a fork. They passed a cave with some beautiful silk hangings – hardly the sort of thing you’d expect to see in the middle of a mountain – and then Jack pulled Bill up short and pointed out the King’s bedroom.
Cautiously Bill peered into the room to see a man asleep on a couch. It was the king, according to Jack, and worse luck, the only way they knew from here was to go through the king’s bedroom. So they had two choices – go back and try not to get completely lost looking for another way through, or try to sneak past the sleeping king. Neither were particularly inviting options. He decided that the risk of waking the king was less than the risk of getting lost and running into Meier or one of his men, and so he had them tiptoe through the room one at a time.
They reached the long banqueting room and were glad that it was empty and bare. They made their way through that quickly and continued on. When they were by the throne room, they heard a loud snoring and Bill went to investigate, peeping through some of the wall hangings. The other men, the paratroopers, were all in there, draped across the chairs they had been sat in, the remains of the fabulous feast they had been eating still on the table. No one man was still awake.
After another hasty and whispered conference Bill switched off the light and they crept through that room, too. He was beginning to feel as if he was in a particularly bad dream, traversing passage after passage only to encounter sleeping figures or strange sights. The next of those was a great laboratory, and despite his desire to get out of this place Bill couldn’t help but stop and stare. There was a great deal he recognised in there (and some things he didn’t) and he spared a moment to think how ingenious the inventor – the king – was. Ingenious, and quite possibly mad.
He tried to explain what was happening in the greet lengths of wires, the turning wheels, the glass jars and crystal boxes, and lost himself in watching it all going on again. When Snowy butted against his legs he jumped, and realised they had been standing there for far too long. “Come along!” he said quickly, annoyed with himself. “What am I thinking of, stopping like that!”
Freedom crept closer and soon they stumbled upon the big jugs of ice cold water that was to refresh those who had made it up the big rope ladder. “This is where the ladder is kept,” Jack whispered to Bill but before they could really start looking for the ladder, Lucy-Ann tripped and fell over something. She didn’t make a sound and Bill felt an intense wave of pride for her. “Jack, use my torch, see what Lucy-Ann fell over, quickly,” he said to Jack.
It was the ladder itself! Of all the blessed accidents, the ladder was out, ready to be climbed down. He sent Jack down first, with the girls next and then himself last. It seemed too good to be true, but they were almost out!
His relief was short-lived, however, as just as he had descended twenty or thirty rungs Dinah’s head almost collided with his feet. He swore vigorously under his breath, including a few choice phrases in Russian that he had picked up from Anatoly, when Dinah told him someone was coming up the ladder and swiftly changed direction.
To be continued…