When Cerridwen agreed to join the expedition, she didn’t reckon on pulling herself to Long Doom by her arms. She heaved her unwieldy oar through the water. The salt tang in the air stung her nose and sent a pain through the front of her head. She hadn’t expected to be rowing a solid wooden craft with her six companions to search for ancient treasure in a flooded city. She could only hope everyone would respect her claim on the ring her mother had seen in a vision, and would settle for the rest of the jewellery. Of course, that was assuming they found the articles mentioned on the stone tablet in the cave at Saint Eyes. She sighed. Better to take one step after another. First, they had to get to Long Doom.
A faint hum filled the air. The pale blue sky had darkened and taken on a greenish tinge. Another great heave on her oar.
"Stop," Trevly shouted.
Cerridwen paused. She relied on Trevly with her life. Murmurs rose around her like a swarm of bees. Out to sea, a great swirling tube grew from the darkening sky and stretched towards the surface of the water, like a giant worm. The hum increased and combined with shouts and yells. A high-pitched scream from Sasha.
The grey worm of white mist, now taller than several men’s lengths, tilted in the centre, then straightened to reach the water. Swirling vapor rose into the air and sparkled in rainbow colours. Hard to tell how far away. "Will it hurt us?" she yelled at Trevly. Her words swirled away on the charged wind.
Someone cried, "Twister!"
The roar increased. Wily Aron pulled in his oar and gestured to the others. She heaved hers into the boat as well. The tube spun closer. The dark cloud above filled the sky now. Men fell to their knees and crouched low. Hair whipped her face. Trevly turned back, yelling words she couldn’t make out. He gestured for her to hunker down.
As the gigger bobbed about, Cerridwen bent forward and clutched the wooden side of the rowing boat. She couldn’t take her eyes off the grey tower of spinning vapour. The power and majesty of nature awed her. Fine mist blew over her head. The drops became heavier until water ran over her face and her hair stuck to her head. The gigger bobbed once, then dipped into a trough of water. She toppled towards Trevly. He caught her and held her tight.
The boat tossed their bodies about, tilted and almost tipped them all out as they clung to the solid seats. The noise overwhelmed any other sound. Rising waves reached up to the twisting tower of vapour. Too stunned to experience fear, she gripped Trevly’s arms and watched the spectacle until the twister veered away in a half-circle. The noise lessened. Instead of plunging, the boat rocked beneath her feet.
Trevly’s voice close to her ear startled her. "It’s moving on."
She snuggled into him, watching the force dance away over the ocean.
"Praise the Lord," a deep voice called. "We’re saved."
The Stormy men clung to an old religion. Mumbled prayers swelled around her. Trevly eased away and broke the spell of his comfort. She sighed and straightened, watching the tower shrink.
"Better get a move on," someone shouted.
With a look of regret at Trevly, Cerridwen scrambled back to her place amongst her darker-skinned companions.
"The twister’s gone around the rocks," Trevly called. "We’ll see it again in a moment."
With grumbles and flashing glances at the ocean, everyone settled. Mumbling into the wind, the men heaved on their oars and followed the twister into the unknown.
White-tipped waves chopped the blue sea. Far ahead, the twister hovered over the water. The rapid pounding in Cerridwen’s chest slowed, although she still strained with each heave. Nobody knew how far the sea would stretch towards their goal or what trials lay ahead during their search for the treasure. She hoped the skills of her companions would see them through each challenge.
Her arms shook, but she kept up her rhythm. She bumped her oar on the one in front. "Sorry." She’d better get this right or they might toss her overboard. She’d committed herself to finding the ring her mother had dreamed of, a ring to change Britland’s future. So far, Cerridwen had fulfilled part of the promise she’d made at her mother’s death-bed. She’d found the wise woman in Hailing and discovered the underground picture mural at Saint Eyes. After these partial victories, nothing could stop her. She’d find the ring.
Ahead of her, Boris, dark like the bark of an oak, flexed his mighty muscles. The rowing wouldn’t strain his arms. And Sasha got to sit at the back, handling the rudder, right in everyone’s view. Maybe if they sat facing forward, Cerridwen would feel like they were making progress. She hauled the oar back with all her might, shoulders and arms straining with the effort. Breath came through her mouth like the rush of wind through leafy boughs.
She glanced at Trevly with his golden hair and tanned skin, sitting beside her on the other side of the boat. The love of her life rowed against a backdrop of rocks on the coastline. She never tired of watching his aura of blue and violet colours blending together. Indigo glowed now, which showed a high awareness. Honest, independent and fearless.
He lifted the oar away from his chest and stretched forward. She wanted Trevly more than the ring. But rather than friendship and protection, she wanted a physical bonding between man and woman. If she didn’t get that closeness, she’d be doomed to lead a wretched life of yearning. Was that the price she had to pay to find the ring and lead Britland into a better future?
Each time they’d kissed and tried to get close like lovers should, Mother Nature had punished him. The first time brought blisters to his hands; the last time lightning struck him down. It had made him wary, and her frightened of hurting him further.
Cerridwen jerked her attention back to her task. They needed unison. She hauled her oar back, pushing her feet against the floor of the gigger to ease the strain. She’d never keep this up all the way to Long Doom. A groan of fatigue threatened, but Sasha watched over their efforts with slanted almond-shaped eyes while she leaned on the rudder with her elbow and gripped the wood with one hand. Although Sasha’s broken arm had healed, the strain of rowing would still be too much for her. Cerridwen studied the woman’s red glowing aura, revealing her zest for life. A tinge of deeper red hinted at trauma. Sasha hadn’t revealed her past, but whenever she opened her heart, Cerridwen would be ready to help.
She let her vision blur. The colourful auras only she could see, hovering above the people ahead, merged into the fine sea spume.
Muscles rippling with each tug, Boris rowed in front of her. The green under the brown of his aura hovered around his bulk. The big man kept his thoughts and feelings deep inside and presented the good nature of a gentle giant.
To the left, a green halo surrounded Aron’s stroking body. Powerful and intelligent, he exhibited risk-taking qualities with his quick wits and strong will. When adventure lured, orange haze surrounded him.
Behind her, Rashio and Hugo formed the rest of their party. She glanced over her shoulder. Self-assurance and courage sprang from Rashio’s red aura marking him as a man deeply rooted in the here and now. The fisherman from the little settlement of Stormy knew the sea. That’s where the gigger had come from. Behind her, seventeen-year-old Hugo always shone with the sensitive tan of a quiet, reflective personality.
Their combined presence surrounded her with confidence. Blurred movement ahead prompted Cerridwen to focus.
Aron leaned forward and mumbled to Sasha.
"Take a break for a minute," Sasha called.
A scrabbling noise behind Cerridwen caused her to turn. Rashio struggled to his feet and spread his arms to keep his balance. Aron twisted in his seat to face the rest of the rowers.
Cerridwen stilled her oar with a relieved sigh and studied her aching hands, chafed red but not blistered yet.