Cad stared down his opponent, looked him in the eye and realised that this would not be much of a fight at all. He would not even meet his gaze. The sword-master yelled to start the duel. Despite how easy he would find this fight; he still gave it his all. He leaped forward, easily ducking a clumsy swing from his opponent. In the same movement he caught his opponent in the side of his leg with the hilt of his sword, causing him to fall to his knees. Cad then delivered a powerful blow to his chest. The vibrations from the blunt sword hitting the armour hurt his hands, but he could see that he had knocked the wind out of his opponent. He fell to the floor as Cad drew his sword with a flourish.
“Stop.” Shouted Pike the sword-master. “Once again you’ve not held back, ending the fight early.”
“I don’t want to hold back.” Cad replied, not meeting Pike’s gaze, “I wouldn’t in an actual fight.”
“But this is not an actual fight.”
“Sorry Wil,” said Cad, offering his friend a hand to get off the floor.
“I hate this,” Wil said, “You always take it so seriously.” Cad knew his friend was right, but he had a reputation to uphold. He was the youngest and greatest swordsman ever to come from Arcadia. Cad obviously had not duelled with anyone from past times, but there is no history of anyone being a skilled swordsman in any literature. Few people saw it as an important or even useful skill, they used it mainly for fitness. It frustrated him that all he could fight were the wooden dummies or local opponents who lose quickly. Most of the town now refused to duel with Cad, they could not suffer another defeat and frankly he knew that they were not interested in practicing enough to meet his level.
“Sorry” was all Cad could mumble again, knowing that he would do the same next time.
“It’s not normal, you know. You need to find a better way of burning your energy.” Wil tried to smirk as he caught his breath, stretching his back from where Cad had winded him. They headed towards the duelling hut to take off their armour.
“I could say the same to you and those books you know.” Cad said with a smirk “if you spent more time with a sword in your hand rather than a book, you might actually be a challenge.” Cad removed his sparring helmet and swept his sweaty brown fringe out of his eyes, he looked at his friend. Cad had an advantage over him. He was at least a foot taller than Wil and leaner. The height he could not help, but if he spent more time with the drills and sword, then at least he would become as strong. Wil did not have the time that Cad had to practice the sword, he was too invested in his books.
“At least learning about things is useful, besides what is being a swordsman going to achieve? Being a sword-master is the only job that that will get you, and that job is taken. Pike is young, you will be his apprentice until you’re an old man.” Cad gritted his teeth and wished he had not started this; it was an argument that he and his friend had had time and time again. Cad could not describe the feeling he gets when a sword is in his hand. The excitement, the rush, the challenge. He could not understand how people did not love sword fighting as much as he did. He knew deep down that this is what he wanted to do with his life.
“It may come in useful.” Cad said, knowing that this argument would go nowhere, but he could not let it go without trying to get the last word. “When we get outside, or whenever what’s outside gets in. Who will fight them off?”
“Nothing is getting in and nothing is getting out. That’s the way it is, no one even knows what’s out there. What if there are giants and you look like a tiny ant waving a toothpick about with your sword? Won’t be much help then.” Wil started waving his sword in the air, fighting an invisible giant. Both Cad and Wil laughed.
“I will get out there one day you know.” Cad said, staring out of the window, towards the horizon where the magical barrier surrounded their town.
“So, you’ve said.” Replied Wil. Cad wanted nothing more than to get through the barrier. Everyone believed it was to keep out a great evil, but no one knew what that great evil was. There was nothing definitive in the history texts and even if there was something evil out there, the odds were that it was dead by now. What they knew is that the barrier has been up for centuries. Wil was right, nothing got in, nothing got out. Still, Cad lived in hope.
“Come on you two, I want to get home.” Pike shouted poking his head in the room. Cad knew Pike disliked him. If he was being honest with himself, he did not really like Pike either. Pike was jealous of Cads ability with a sword, he had been better than the towns sword-master for quite some time. It had even come to the point where Pike refused to duel with Cadderick. He did not like Pike because he had the title and job that Cad wanted, to be known as sword-master would be a dream come true for Cad, but ability has nothing to do with it. In Arcadia you had to be in the right place at the right time. If Cad had been born five years earlier, then he probably would have been made the towns sword-master. Pike was lucky enough to be coming of age, just as the previous sword-master had retired. It annoyed him that neither Pike nor his predecessor Graff took their jobs seriously. Swordplay was a dying art, before long, the town will have no idea how to defend themselves. Not that they were ever likely to get attacked.
Cad and Wil said their farewells to Pike, who was preening himself in the mirror. He was bigger than Cadderick, more well defined. Pike knew that he had a great physique and showed it off at every opportunity. Another thing that irritated Cad. He knew Pike enjoyed the more fitness and body sculpting side of sword play, focusing more on drills rather than sparring, and he was always too busy sculpting his physique to focus on the skill that was involved. The two friends left him admiring his body and headed towards home. Cad could see Wil was fidgeting and knew what was coming, he prepared himself to become annoyed.
“You really could do with broadening your horizons you know.” Wil said. Cad gave him a look warning him to stop, but he carried on, regardless. “I know you don’t like to admit it, but there really is no future for a swordsman. At least try to learn something else, otherwise you will be sent to be a mage.” Cad pulled a face at the thought.
“Why would I work on keeping up the barrier that’s locking me in?” asked Cad.
“You know you’d have no choice. Once they assign your job, you’re stuck with it. They will not want you to be an apprentice sword-master when he is so young, and you know it.” This was another argument that Cad was fed up with having, not only with Wil but also with his parents, and his tutor. Deep down he knew that they were right, it killed him to admit it but nothing else came to him like sword fighting. Nothing inspired him or excited him anywhere close to whenever he held a sword in his hand. The thought of doing anything else for a job made his stomach turn. Doing something you do not enjoy for the rest of your life, only to fit in with a society that he did not really want to be stuck in. He had read adventure books; they must have based them on some fact, so he knew that there must be a lot more out there than just this little town. It was his dream to discover it and maybe one day be the star of his own book.
“Look, I’m sorry. I just don’t want to see you stuck with the mages. They are a strange lot, you must admit.” Wil pulled his cheeks down, doing his best impression of the Archmage Urlwin. “Join us, young Cadderick.” This brought a smile to Cad’s face; he knew that he did not want to be stuck with the mages. They put anyone with no actual skill or trade with the mages. Apparently, many centuries ago, the mages could do powerful magic. Now they struggle to conjure enough heat to boil a teapot. Besides, they spend all their time maintaining the barrier, the total opposite of what Cad would like to do. “At least think about it.” Wil said to Cad with a weak smile and stopped outside his home. “Will see you tomorrow ok?”
“Sure thing.” Cad said waving to his friend “Maybe we can duel again?” Wil shook his head.
“I am sure we will. Wouldn’t want to do anything fun now would we.” He said with a laugh.
Cad said goodbye to his friend and then headed towards his home. Just before he got there, he made a turn into the woods and followed the path he had become familiar with. His mind was racing today. He knew Wil and his parents were right. He just did not want them to be. Every time he tried to talk about wanting to get out and explore, they met him with rolled eyes or excuses of it being impossible and from his father just plain laughter. Cad sat on a large log that he had dragged into his makeshift den in the woods. It was right on the edge of town, on the border of the barrier. You could easily see through the barrier, but there was a definite distortion, like everything seemed greyer, with a lack of colour. The same as the sky when he looked up, just grey. He picked up a handful of rocks and started throwing them at the barrier. This was one of his favourite pastimes, his own little way of rebelling against the barrier. It was also fun jumping out of the way of the rocks as the magic in the barrier made them ricochet back towards him.
Cad imagined what kind of force it would take to break through. It embarrassed him thinking about all the attempts he had made trying to run through or push through. He even stole a knife from his parents’ kitchen to see if he could cut it, yet nothing even came close. He grabbed the last stone and hurled it towards the barrier with all his might. Lost in his thoughts and frustration, he jumped, but no stone came hurtling back. He stopped and stared at the barrier, no holes. He looked around him, checking to see if it had landed near him. There were a lot of stones on the floor, so he could not be sure. He walked up to the barrier and stared out. In the distance there was a stone. On the other side of the barrier. Cad’s heart raced, had it gone through? He looked around. There were also a few other stones in the area that could have been there before. He was not sure, but his stomach was turning with excitement at the idea of something making it through the barrier.
He picked up another stone and envisioned all of his frustration and desire into the stone. He wanted to will it through the barrier. Cad threw the stone as hard as he could and watched. The stone hit the barrier and ricocheted off at speed. Hitting Cad square on the forehead. He did not think to jump as he was so sure the stone would go through. He returned home with crushed hopes and what felt like a crushed head.
Cad’s father looked up from the pot of stew he was making to look at him walk in the door.
“You actually took a hit in sword practice?” His father asked, raising an eyebrow “Hopefully it’s knocked some sense into you, but I won’t hold my breath.” Cad felt his head, there was a large lump where the stone had hit him. Cad just grumbled and sat down. Usually, he was met with lectures about his future. He was almost coming of age, and his parents had been constantly bringing up what he wanted to do for a role in the village. They would set this decision for life. His father sensed his dark mood and decided not to push him today and placed a hot bowl of stew in front of him. “Here you go, freshly made. I got some meat too. Its drying in the yard.” Cad looked up at his father in surprise.
“How did you manage that?”
“One cow died giving birth. So, it’s not the old tasteless kind we usually get. Being a farmhand has some benefits, you know.” Cad was waiting for him to push the subject. His father had been quite vocal about how he wanted Cad to take up farming, as his father and grandfather did. Cad did like the animals but spending so much time with them day after day doing the same chores seemed monotonous and not something he wanted to do every day for the rest of his life. To Cads surprise, his father did not continue the conversation, just sat with down with his own bowl of stew and dropped a large wedge of fresh bread next to Cads.
“Was the calf alright?” Cad asked, he knew that the population of animals was something that they worked hard to maintain, hence the rationing of meat. Losing a cow would cause a lot of worry.
“Yeah, he had no problem, shame really, he would have gone nice in this stew.” Cad looked up at his father in shock. His father laughed, “It’s ok, I’m joking,” he dipped his bread in the stew, “Cassius had a fit about it. He came to see if it was our fault. He doesn’t have a clue about the animals though.” Cad looked at his father “He didn’t actually blame us.” His father added. “But I could tell he was suspicious. I think nothing we could have done could have saved that cow. She was weak during the whole pregnancy. I don’t think the grain is as nutritious as it once was.”
“Back when they ate meat every day, and the vegetables had flavour.” Cad imitated his father’s favourite thing to moan about. The council rationed the meat long before Cad was born, so he never knew what it was like to eat meat every day. His father claimed to remember those times, although Cad was sure that the meat was rationed before his father was born. It did not stop him from bringing it up at almost every meal though.
“Exactly!” His father laughed. His good mood was infectious, and soon Cad smiled again. “So, do you want to tell me what happened to your head?” His father asked.
“Not really.” Cad responded. He could not admit to throwing stones at the barrier to anyone, he could not even tell his father. They would brand him a heretic if they ever found out, the entire town loved the barrier, felt safe by it. If word got out that he actively tried to break it, it would bring shame to him and his family. The only one he trusted with this secret was Wil, and even he thought Cad was not serious about it.
“Ok, but your mother will be home from work soon, you know she is going to ask you all about it. The cow’s death has probably caused a lot of drama at the council, so she may not be in the mood for you to avoid her questions.”
“I am stuffed.” Cad said, pushing aside his empty bowl. “I think I’m going to lie down.”
“I think that would be a good idea,” his father replied. “I will wake you at sunup. Don’t forget you are with me at the farm tomorrow.”
Cad sighed before retiring to his room.
Cad dreamt of getting through the barrier only to be caught in a smaller one, it disturbed his sleep. Nothing but a dream, he thought to himself as he woke. He sat up in bed just as the sun was rising. His father walked into his room, surprised to see him already awake.
“Stews on if you want food before we go.” His father said. Cads least favourite part of stew. It would not last long before it spoiled, so you had to eat it for every meal in the upcoming days. He got himself dressed and ready, forced down a bowl of stew and walked with his father to the farm. Cad worked hard when he was at the farm, not because he enjoyed it but because he liked to build it into a workout. The faster he moved and the heavier the things he lifted, the stronger he would get, and this could benefit his swordplay. He and his father approached the farm and Hamish, the head farmer, came rushing out of one of the barns towards him.
“Gentar, you need to come to the barn. Linus wants to see you; he’s asking a lot of questions about the cow.”
“Why is a mage getting involved?” Cad’s father asked, his eyes narrowed at the word mage. His father was a kind man but even he had a disdain for the mages, he claimed they were all lazy and being a mage meant not doing what he considered to be proper work.
“He’s been sent by the Council, by Cassius,” Hamish replied, “He is investigating the death.” Cad saw his father look worried and he sent Cad to muck out some of the horse stables. Deep down, Cad was grateful it was not a horse that had died. It was probably his least favourite meat, but the one that they had most often. His father was gone longer than expected, when he returned, he looked pale but said nothing to Cad. He decided not to ask questions, so they both worked in silence for a while.
“Let’s go take a break.” his father said midday. They both walked into a barn. His father made a small fire and got out an iron pan, into the pan he put two delicious looking steaks. Cad’s jaw dropped.
“Didn’t want to dry it all.” his father said in response to his shocked reaction. “I thought it would be nice to enjoy some fresh.” Cad said nothing, just watched the steak cook in awe. The aroma filled the barn and Cad’s stomach rumbled. He was really excited about this; he could not remember the last time he had had a fresh steak. His father sprinkled some spices over the top and began dishing up. Cad tore into the steak. He could not remember a time where he had tasted something so full of flavour. “Try to savour it, it’s ok to chew.” His father laughed but he could not resist. He ate the whole steak in record time. Mopping up the grease and fat with a piece of crusty bread. Even that was delicious.
“That was amazing.” Cad said, leaning back on the hay bale he used as a seat, rubbing his stomach in satisfaction.
“Now you see why I get so grumpy about having no meat.” His father replied. “But let’s keep this between us, ok? I don’t want anyone getting jealous of our lunch today. That includes your mother.”
Cad nodded slowly in agreement. Keeping secrets from his mother was a very unusual request for his father to make. He stood to go to the pump for some water as his mouth was dry.
“Wait,” Cad’s father said, holding a bottle of amber liquid. “I’ve got something special to wash that steak down with.”
“Is that ale?” Cad asked.
“It sure is.” his father said, taking a swig from the bottle and passing it to his son.
“Are you sure?” Cad asked. Ale was made in plenty in the town as they had a lot of grain to make it, but his mother and father had always been against him drinking it until he was older.
“Of course, you’re practically a man now.” Cad took a swig of the ale, it was not the first time he had drunk it, not that his parents knew that. He was not sure if he liked the taste, although when he drank this, it was refreshing. He passed the bottle back to his father. They took a few more swigs each before his father spoke. “The thing is Cadderick, me and your mother have been treating you like a child. Telling you what you must do instead of treating you like the young man you are.”
Cad looked up from the bottle. He was surprised, but also happy. He felt like an adult, and he was getting frustrated about being treated like a child. “The thing is you know what’s coming up. If you don’t have a plan, you’re going to end up being a mage.” Cad was about to interrupt, but his father held up his hand and continued. “Your mother and I will still love you, of course, but you know how people look down on the mages and I admit that I am also guilty of that. You are better than that though. Why not speak to Hamish about sponsoring you for the farm?”
Cad was about to argue that he did not want to work on the farm, but he stopped. Deep in thought, he realised that if he did not act now, he would get stuck as a mage. All he wanted to do was be the sword-master, but that would not happen. Even if it did, it would involve Cad following Pike around everywhere and doing what he was told for the next however many years. He did not know what to say. He looked at his feet, avoiding his father’s gaze. His mind raced, was this his best option? He felt guilty for not putting more thought into it. He just assumed that everything would work itself out.
“I’ll think about it, Dad, I really will. You are right, I should have thought about it sooner. Let me sleep on it.”
“OK son, I won’t mention it again, it’s up to you now, only you can control your future.”
Cad knew that it was a lie. He had no say in his future, it would be whatever the council decided for him. Cad carried on working, but it had crushed his spirit. The words from his father had hurt. He knew that he was being irresponsible. Maybe being treated as an adult was not as good as he had thought, all he wanted to do was finish his work and spend a few hours practicing with his sword. That would help him take his mind off things, at least.
He thought about Casilda, his tutor, and his arranged betrothed. He was not happy about the news when he received it, but his parents were over the moon despite her being at least ten years older. People Cad’s age were few, in fact, the only person the same age as Cad in the village was Wil. This was probably why they were such close friends as they had little in common apart from their age. He imagined her reaction when she had got the news about him, she could not have been happy about it either. The child that you have been tutoring becoming your husband, with no choice. Cad smirked at his father’s words. “Only you can control your future”. While you lived in Arcadia, the Council controls your future.
Cad’s epiphany came as he was collecting up the horse manure. If he could not control his future, he was going to try and make the best out of it. That is what his parents would want, and deep-down Cad knew it was the best option for him. He put down his pitchfork that he was gathering hay with and went to find Hamish.
“How’s the new calf doing?” Hamish asked Cad as he approached, the new calf was the number one priority for the farm today. It needed to be hand reared because of the mother’s early death. Only the more experienced farm hands dealt with that.
“She seems good, she’s taken well to being fed by hand. The other cows don’t seem to notice.” He replied.
“Selfish creatures the cows, all they will think of is more grass to graze on for them. Was there something I could help you with, son?” Cad fidgeted; he was nervous.
“I was wondering if you would sponsor me to be a farm hand, you know, as my village role?” Hamish’s eyebrows raised, he looked shocked.
“I thought you were only interested in the sword?” Hamish asked.
“No… Well yes, but the sword-master role won’t be available for a long time, so I don’t think there will be a need for an apprentice, and I don’t want to end up….” Cad paused but Hamish understood.
“So, you think it’s either do this or become a mage?” He asked, “I see why you came to me.” He chuckled. “Well, I know you work hard, you do a fine job when you come to help your Dad, but I will warn you the job gets harder. Your Dad is one of the best so he can tell you what it’s like, but I cannot have a farmhand that daydreams about playing with swords all the time, I need you to work hard every day.”
“I will.” Cad added, “I promise, I will be one of the best.”
“Maybe you will, OK, I think I can put a sponsorship in for you. It just so happens I have enough space for one more farmhand. You know that sponsor is all I can do, though? The final decision will be up to the council.”
“I know, thank you Hamish, I appreciate it.”
“Ok, well best get running along. Your father is probably on edge thinking about how this conversation went,” He said, Cad noticed his father watching him intensely and he quickly looked away when he noticed both him and Hamish look towards him. “Give him the news and thank you for your hard work today.” He paused “And hopefully to many more days of work.” Cad nodded and rushed over to his Dad. They walked towards home while Cad told him everything. His father was beaming with pride.
“I’m proud of you son, I know it isn’t exactly what you wanted, but I’m glad you are looking at the bigger picture.”
“You’re right Dad. I’m going to make a quick stop, see you at home?”
“If you have enough energy for swordplay, I obviously didn’t work you hard enough.” His father laughed.
“It’s not that.” Cad replied, although he always had energy for swordplay. “I thought I would drop by on Casilda.” His father’s jaw dropped; Cad understood why. Any talk of Casilda or the marriage would cause one of Cads major sulks. Cad and his father said their goodbyes, Cad took a detour through the woods, this time not to go to his den, but to collect some wildflowers. If I cannot control the future, I need to make the best of it, he repeated in his head. It would not be good for him or Casilda if he spent the rest of his life sulking about the marriage, and although he had a while before that was going to happen, it was going to happen eventually.
Cad walked along the forest’s edge to her house, and he spotted her outside washing her clothes. He looked over towards her. She was quite nice; he thought to himself. It could certainly be worse. He thought of the other women of the village, there really was not much choice. She was a kind woman and was very good to Cad, even though it was in more of a mothering way, probably because of the age difference. Cad made his way towards her. She caught his gaze. She looked shocked to see him, but smiled at him, regardless.
“Hey,” She said, “surprised to see you here”.
“Yeah, me too.” Cad realised his response sounded stupid. He had never felt nervous around her, but he had also never accepted the idea that they were going to be together, before now. He could not think of what to say, so he just held out the flowers. “These are for you.”
“Thank you.” She took them and blushed as she looked Cad up and down, he wondered if it was because of his change in behaviour.
“Hard day at the farm?” She asked him, with a raised eyebrow.
“Yeah, did you see me there?” Cad wondered how she knew.
“I can tell by the muck on your clothes. Usually, I like my gentleman callers to be clean.” She laughed. Cad blushed.
“Sorry.” He stammered.
“It’s fine.” She replied, still giggling. “Get yourself cleaned up, I’m just about to dish up some food. If you’d like to come in for dinner, that is?”
“Please, I’m starving.” Cad smiled. He still felt awkward, as it did not feel natural. He gave himself a wash in the river and used one of Casilda’s towels to dry off. He followed her into her house, realising that this was the first time he had ever been here when it was not for some lessons. The smell of roasting vegetables permeated the air and Cad’s stomach grumbled.
Cad tossed and turned that night. He had spent a long time talking with Casilda, talking about the future, what he wanted to do and what he was going to do. It was the first time that they had spoken on the same level, rather than as tutor and student. He did like Casilda, but to spend the rest of his life with her? Cad still thought that it was unfair. He also thought about working at the farm, unsure of how he could get around it, no ideas came to mind. His parents did not ask him about spending time with Casilda, but their broad smiles and their constant winks annoyed him into going to bed early, not that he could sleep. The morning came and Cad dragged himself out of bed and made himself a hot drink. The herbs he used were bitter, but they were good for starting the day. He had no plans, so he would spend most of the day training with his sword, probably. His parents were already at work, so he ate some bread and cheese for breakfast, when there was a knock at the door.
“Hey.” Said Wil when Cad answered the door. “Got something to show you, can you get out?”
“Sure, I can.” Cad replied, leaving the house immediately. He was wearing yesterday’s clothes, but because of his mood he didn’t want to get changed. He left the house and followed Wil into the forest. “What are we going to look at?” Cad asked.
“You always wanted to explore; well, I’ve got you the next best thing,” replied Wil, “Just trust me.” They walked for a little while longer, in the woodland close to where Wil lived. Cad had explored little of this area. They got to a large hole covered by a wooden grate. “What is in there?” Cad asked.
“No idea,” responded Wil, “People are forbidden to go in, but apparently it is tunnels under the town.”
“Why are you showing me this?” Cad asked.
“So, we can explore?”
“You want to go in?” His friend surprised Cad. He was a stickler for following the rules.
“I’ve always wondered what’s in there.” Wil responded. “I figured this would be the last chance to check it out while we are young, before we get too old and get in real trouble for it.” Cad smiled at his friend as they lifted the grate.
“I like this new attitude.” Cad responded. “Do you think it leads out of the village?”
“I doubt it very much, but if it does, who knows what could be down there.” Cad made a torch out of some wood and travelled down the hole with Wil. It was one long tunnel, they travelled along slowly; their footsteps echoed on the brick floor. This had to have had some use previously, but Cad did not know what, and if Wil did not know, then it must be a big secret.
“Wait, if you have always wanted to come down here. Why didn’t you tell me about this before?” Cad asked.
“Because I knew you would make me come down here,” laughed Wil, “and I don’t know, I just thought we could use a little excitement before we become of age.” His friend impressed Cad; this was exciting. Cad could feel and hear his heartbeat in the silence of the tunnels. There were a few turnings Cad tried to focus on in case they got lost. He did not know where they would end up.
“So why are these tunnels forbidden?” Cad asked.
“Apparently someone died down here a long time ago and the council ruled it dangerous, so no one could use them anymore. Then they just got forgotten about, I suppose.”
“How did they die?”
“No idea.” Wil responded. It was a long time ago and people don’t talk about it. My parents don’t remember it, so it must have happened years before they were born. The hairs on Cad’s neck stood up. If someone had died, then whatever had killed them could still be down here. Cad shook his head, if it were a creature, it would be long dead by now. Cad imagined it was probably a falling brick or something, as Cad thought this he looked up, checking the bricks above him were stable. Eventually, the two boys came to a trapdoor leading upwards, Cad’s heart raced.
“Do you think this will lead us out of the village?”
“I don’t think so.” Wil responded. “I think we’ve been walking towards the middle of the village and we haven’t walked for long enough to reach the outside. Let’s see where we are.”
The boys opened the trap door; they were in a basement, but they were not sure where. Cad and Wil quietly looked around for some clues. The air was musty, and the furniture down here was old. Everything in the village was old, but this seemed even older. They walked up some steps and peered into the room above, although Cad had never been here in person before, he knew where he was. The room was a circle and had a large iron plinth in the centre. This was where the mages came to maintain the barrier.
The life of the mages was very boring. They were to come to this room in pairs and hold their hands on the plinth, expelling the little magic that they had. The entire town could do it, but the mages were the only ones who were not fit for a trade. The ones who would not be useful anywhere else and so, they would be sent down here to do the most boring task, maintain the barrier. Although it was important to the town, it required no skill. Cad soon realised something was wrong.
“Shouldn’t there be two people at all times in here?” Cad asked Wil. “At least that’s what I was taught.” The room was completely empty apart from the two boys.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought too.” said Wil. The boys heard voices in the corridor, so they quickly dashed into the basement and back to the tunnel.
“Keep going?” Asked Cad.
“Maybe another time.” Wil replied. “Let’s try to make our way back, we will come again tomorrow. This time I will bring some paper and try to do a map as we walk. I don’t want to get too lost. I didn’t realise there would be so many turns.” Cad reluctantly agreed, Wil was right, and there was still the opportunity of coming back. If they got lost for long or popped out somewhere in town, they would have to admit what they had done.
Cad and Wil made their way through the tunnels. Cad was following Wil’s lead, but soon he slowed down and ended up coming to a stop. “We should be back by now,” Wil said, “but I think we may be lost.” Cad did not panic.
“We haven’t been out long. Plenty of time to find our way back, let’s head down this way.” Cad nodded towards another turning. Wil followed. They had come to a few dead ends and had to turn back, but the boys carried on through the maze. They came to a long stretch of tunnel, there was a black lump in the middle, so Cad raised his torch to see. When they walked slowly towards it, both boys held their breaths, afraid of what it was and as they got closer, they could see it was a person.
“Is that the one who died?” Cad asked.
“Can’t be, they would have gone a long time ago.” Cad pulled the black robe from over the body and there, staring back at him were the eyes of someone he recognised, Linus, one of the mages. His throat had been slit; the blood was fresh; he had been killed recently. Cad threw up at the sight of the dead man. He backed into the wall and one stone came loose and hit the floor with a thud.
“Run.” Was all Cad could get out as they sprinted down the tunnel. They took turn after turn, not knowing where they were going, Cad just wanted to put as much distance between them and the body as quick as possible. They found a trap door that they recognised as the one leading to the mage’s hall.
“We’ve gone in a circle!” exclaimed Wil.
“Shall we go through?” Cad asked. He did not want to get into trouble, but he also didn’t want to spend any more time down in the tunnel. His heart was hammering in his chest, Wil nodded as they climbed back into the basement. They rushed up the stairs into the round room, still empty, but Cad did not care this time. He rushed into the corridor and saw the exit. He wondered if he could get through the doors with no one seeing. Then he would not have to get into trouble, but what about Linus? He had to tell somebody.
“What are you two up to?” Cad heard the voice and the colour drained from his face. Wil looked as pale as Cad felt. They turned around towards Urlwin, the archmage. “I asked you a question!” He barked.
“It’s Linus!” Was all Cad could say. “We saw him. He’s dead.”
Urlwin looked at the boys with a bemused expression. He ushered them into his room and got them to sit down.
“I think you had better start from the beginning.”
Cad and Wil told him everything, everything about the tunnels and their exploring, everything about Linus. Cad felt his stomach turn over every time he heard Linus’ name. The dead eyes staring back at him, were all that Cad could picture every time he heard his name.
Urlwin got out of his seat, without saying a word, turned to his cabinet and poured some drinks. He gave one to Cad and Wil. It was a bitter whisky. The two boys coughed.
“After what you boys have been through, I thought you might need that.” Said Urlwin with a kind expression, he drank his whisky without it affecting him. He was probably used to it, Cad thought.
“You don’t seem very shocked,” Wil said eventually. “No one has been murdered here for generations!”
“Saddened yes, shocked no.” responded Urlwin. “I have to let you boys in on something. I believe us mages are being sabotaged by the council and I believe they may know who is behind Linus’ death.” Cad was shocked, but when he caught a glimpse of Wil, he could see he was furious. Cad knew Wil respected the Council; his ambition was to be a part of it. Both boys remained silent, unsure of what to say. “I have a huge favour to ask of you both. I need you to keep this between us, while I investigate, I don’t know who I can trust with this.” It shocked Cad that Urlwin wanted to keep this quiet, if someone had murdered Linus, surely, he wanted the murderer brought to justice? “And of course, if we keep quiet about it, no one really needs to know what you boys have been doing today. I don’t think it will go well for your future, if the council finds out where you have been.” Cad could hear Wil’s gulp, he was right, they could get into a lot of trouble for this.
“Go home boys, get some rest. Come see me if there is any trouble and I will update you on anything that we find. We will find out who is responsible for Linus’ death, I promise.”
Cad and Wil stood up to leave. Cad hesitated.
“Why is no one maintaining the shield?” He asked, he could see Urlwin was taken aback by this question. “When we came earlier, there was no one there and when we returned, there was still no one on it. I thought you had to have two people on it at all times?”
“Yes, you are right. It was Linus’ shift to work on the shield. Galloway went searching for him. It would take a long time of no one working on the shield, for it to stop working. We have built it up over centuries, a few hours of no one maintaining it will not do any harm. Now come on, I have work to catch up with. I want to investigate this immediately but remember, it is our secret for now.”
Cad and Wil left. They both walked in silence, the image of Linus’ blank stare burned into his mind. He still felt sick, numb, unsure of what to do and Urlwin’s forced smile as they had left sent shivers down Cad’s spine.
“Perhaps it is best if we say nothing.” Wil said, reading Cad’s mind. “We don’t want to get into trouble for this. Let the mages do their work.”
“Yeah, that’s probably for the best. I just cannot get the image of Linus out of my head.” They walked on in the rain. Cad found it very odd how heavy it was raining; it never usually rains this hard. The crops could do with it though, the farmer in him thought. They walked through the town and came to the road where they would part ways. “Let’s just have a think about it and we can talk tomorrow, OK?” Wil nodded and went off towards his home. Cad thought about going to his den, it was where he thought best, but as his shoes squelched in the mud, he decided against it. He arrived home to his mother and father sat at the table eating their food.
“Haven’t seen rain like this since I was a boy” his father laughed at Cads soaking wet body, his mother rushed to get him a towel and started vigorously rubbing his head and hair with it.
“I suppose you’ve been practicing your sword fighting in this weather, have you?” His mother asked.
“No, I haven’t been to the arena today.” Cad paused. Where could he say he had been?
“Oh, I see.” His mother smiled. “And how is Casilda?”
“Fine.” Cad snapped, hoping to end the conversation.
“The weather seems to be improving. I was saying the other day that the sun seemed brighter and now we have some heavy rain. It will be a busy time at the farm for harvest. We might even have some decent vegetables for a change.” Cad noticed that the stew he was eating had meat in it.
“Is this more of the beef?” He asked.
“Yes, we decided against drying it.” His father responded, “Don’t want the town to get jealous of us having extra meat. You know how they are when it comes to surplus.”
Cad wolfed down the stew as he realised that he had not eaten all day, and now it was nearing sundown. He desperately wanted to talk to his parents about today but decided against it. He wondered if Wil would also keep it quiet, it could mean big trouble for Cad if he were to be found saying one thing and Wil the other.
“Is everything OK, Cadderick?” His mother asked. She looked concerned, and he knew that she was serious as she had used his full name.
“Yeah, I’m fine, just feeling a little exhausted, busy couple of days.” Cad’s father laughed and his mother shot him a glare. Cad was confused by what they were implying. “I think I will go to my room to read for a while.” Both of his parents cocked their heads at this statement but did not challenge it. Cad went to his room to check through his education books wanting to find out about the history of the shield and how it worked. He discovered it was as he had remembered, two people at all times. Why would they have no one there? Linus being murdered was a good excuse for it, but it just made little sense to Cad. He lay in bed for another night filled with uncomfortable dreams, this time it was Linus’ face seared into his mind and Cad imagining him screaming that kept him awake. He wished that he had never went down in those tunnels. Maybe being an explorer was not as great as Cad had imagined.
Cad sat with his parents, eating his breakfast. His mother kept fussing over him, Cad felt terrible and according to his mother he looked as bad as he felt. The truth was, he was tired, he could not get the image of Linus’ dead body out of his head. Every mouthful of his bread went down in lumps and he could feel his stomach turn with every swallow.
“Dad, when we were at the farm last, what was Linus doing there?” Cad’s father dropped his bread and looked at his son quizzically.
“Why do you ask, son?”
“It’s just that mages rarely come to the farm and when they do its only to take samples of the soil. I’ve just been curious, that’s all.”
“Well, he raised some concerns about the quality of the soil, son. Also, he wanted to see the cow that had died. The council had sent him to investigate whether or not she died of natural causes.”
“She died giving birth though, didn’t she?” asked Cad
“Yes, but we are under close watch since they suspect we caused it to happen. Linus always was a bit of a busybody and a stickler for the rules. It’s no wonder the council sent him, if anybody could find out anything, it would be Linus.”
“What would happen if they decided it was your fault?” asked Cad.
“They won’t because there is nothing that could have been done.” replied his father sharply.
“That’s enough of this.” His mother interrupted. “What’s going on, Cad?”
“Nothing it’s just been on my mind.”
“Is that what’s been worrying you?” His mother asked.
“No. Well, yes. A bit, I guess.”
“Well, you need to stop worrying. They have stopped investigating and nothing else has been said about it. You know what this town tends to be like. Gossip spreads fast.”
“Besides, I haven’t seen Linus since that day, so he’s probably come up with nothing to complain about.” His father added. That was what Cad was afraid of. Cad knew that there was no way that his father had anything to do with it, but in a town this small they would look for someone to blame and the farm workers would be prime suspects. Then again, many people didn’t like Linus. He would be the first person to accuse you of something and then work hard to find any evidence.
“Just stop worrying about it,” Cad’s mother said, “everything will be fine.” Cad wanted to burst and tell them everything, but he knew that it would only make things worse. He needed to see Wil, he needed to talk about it. Cad got up and told his parents he was going for a walk. His mother hesitated as though she was going to stop him, but she let him go.
As Cad was walking towards Wil’s house, he spotted Wil hurrying towards him. He was holding paper and his charcoal pens, charcoal wasn’t as easy to use as ink, but ink was rationed tightly.
“I’ve got the stuff to draw a map.” Wil said.
“You mean you want to go back down there?” Cad asked, surprised.
“Of course, don’t you want to? Something is odd about that place. I thought you would want to find out what.” He stammered. Cad hadn’t even thought about going back. He was also really surprised by Wil, he hadn’t really been affected by the previous day, or at least he didn’t seem to be.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” responded Cad. “After what happened yesterday, I don’t think we should go back. Whoever killed Linus could still be down there.”
“I don’t think they would be. I think whoever killed Linus put him down there to hide the body rather than they had both just been down there. Don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I suppose your right.” Cad agreed. “But what are we looking for down there exactly?”
“I’m not sure.” replied Wil. “But we won’t get lost this time. I will draw our path, so that we know exactly which way it is to get out. I don’t think we even saw half of it yesterday.” Cad reluctantly agreed and followed Wil to the hole. Cad wondered where the courage from his friend had suddenly come from and why his was fleeting.
“Wait.” Cad said. “I’ll be right back.” Cad ran off back towards his home and returned shortly with his training sword. It wasn’t as sharp as some they kept at the training arena, but it could hurt someone if he hit them hard enough or at least stop them from getting too close to him. Wil glanced at his sword and smirked.
“I hope you never have to use it, but I admit it’s a good idea. Come on.” The two boys crawled into the hole and Cad once again lit a torch. With his sword in one hand, torch in the other, Cad and Wil made their way through the tunnels. After every turn Wil would stop and ask Cad to bring his light over so that he could mark on his parchment which direction they had taken. It was not too long before the boys found themselves outside the door to the mage hall cellar.
“We don’t need to go in there.” Wil said, but he studied the map for a while. “There are a few turnings that we haven’t gone down. We should go back so we can say we have explored every part before the mages hall.”
“Why?” Cad asked.
“Just so we know every entrance and exit.” Wil replied. “It may come in handy.” The boys took one turning they had not gone down before and came across another cellar door.
“I’ll have a look. See where we are.” Cad said. Wil nodded and studied the map with the torch while Cad climbed up through. As Cad opened the cellar door, he looked around, it was another basement, only this one looked like it was in use. There was food stockpiled. Grains, dried meat and vegetables. Cad had never seen so much food in one place. Even though the food looked delicious Cad couldn’t think about eating, he was too nervous and still felt sick. There was noise coming from the door leading above, so he ducked back down into the tunnel and he told Wil what he had seen.
“That’s the hall of Council then” he told Cad, marking it on his map. “I can kind of figure out where we are with those two points,” he said. “We have two more turns to go and then we’ve covered everything this side of the mage’s hall.” he said. The first turn looped around and came back out of the other one. This must be where they got turned around yesterday and got lost. “This must be where we found Linus.” Wil pointed to a section on a map.
“But we would have walked past him the first time we came through.” Cad responded.
“Well, it means we missed him the first time,” Cad knew this was unlikely the thought of seeing Linus’ dead body pierced Cad’s mind. “Or they put him there after we walked through.” Cad felt sick at the thought of the body being brought here at the same time that the boys were walking through the tunnel.
“I don’t think we would have walked past without seeing, I know it’s dark but…”
“I agree.” Said Wil. He was looking nervous, and Cad was glad that he was not the only one.
“Keep going?” Cad asked. He was scared, but deep down he wanted to finish what they had started, find out where the last few tunnels lead. He still hoped that they would lead him out of the town, but he worried more now about what he may find out there, his hand aching from the strength of his grip on his sword.
“Yeah, let’s go past the mage hall.” Will agreed. They both walked on. When they got past the mage hall, the tunnels stopped branching and at the end was a solid wooden door. Cad’s heart raced.
“Do you think it leads out of the town?” Wil looked at his map.
“I don’t think so. I think we are too far away from the edge; we seem to be moving towards the centre of town.” Cad pushed at the door, it was stiff, but it was unlocked. Cad held his torch up to see what was in the room.
“Looks like a library?” Cad said to Wil. There were books everywhere, some were covered in thick layers of dust. There was a desk and a chair that looked older than any of the ones they had seen in town. Cad put his hand on the chair to test its strength, it was still strong enough to hold people. They continued to study the room, there was writing on the wall in what seemed to be a brown paint. Cad could not read it and looked at Wil, who shrugged.
“I don’t think they are using our language,” He said, “I don’t recognise it.” They thumbed through a few books. The books were delicate and aged. Some were in the language they couldn’t read but others they could, even so they were very difficult to understand. “Someone has been coming here.” Wil said eventually. Cad agreed, he too had noticed the thick layers of dust had been disturbed in some places. The chair and desk were clean as were some of the books. Someone else had been down here. “Bring the torch to me.” Wil asked, standing at the table. He flipped over his map and copied the writing on the wall. He picked up a few books. “Lead us out.” Wil asked, “I’m struggling with these books.”
Cad lead them out of the tunnels, awkwardly holding the map in the same hand that he held his torch. Following Wil’s directions, they made it to the exit in the woods with no trouble.
“What are you going to do with those books?” Cad asked.
“I’m going to try to read them, see what they are about. It’s quite difficult, the writing is really faded, and they look really complicated.”
“Well, if anyone could read them you can, what do you suppose that room is for? Why is there a secret underground library?”
“I don’t know. Why would they want to keep it a secret? It doesn’t make sense. I’ve been thinking about something.” Cad looked at his friend. “The only exits are the woods, the mage hall, and the council. That means that Linus must have come from either the council or the mage hall. It was a bit too far in to have been dragged from the woods.”
“Didn’t Urlwin think it was someone from the council?”
“I’m not sure we can trust him Cad.” Wil said “I’m not so sure about the council either. Something feels wrong, but I don’t know what.”
“Should we tell anyone?” Cad asked, thinking of going to his parents.
“I’m not sure, firstly I don’t think anyone would believe us. No one has noticed Linus is missing yet, but also if the council is up to something, who do we turn to? Who could protect us from them?”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Cad said, the thought of the council being corrupt frightened Cad. They were the only authority here. Why would they need to kill Linus, though? There was a piece missing in this puzzle, but Cad couldn’t see it.
“I’m going home to make a start on these books,” Wil said. “I’ll let you know if I find anything.”
Cad said his farewells to his friend and was about to go home when he realised that he had not been to the arena in a few days, still holding his training sword, he decided to go and train for a while. Cad trained harder than he had for a long time. Even though he still felt drained and sickened by the thoughts he was having, he put all his effort into it. With every strike his full force, every drill he pushed hoping to block his thoughts and feelings.
When Cad finished, he realised he was drenched in sweat. Pike knew something was wrong and kept his goading to a minimum. Cad thought he caught fear in his eyes with the effort he was putting into his training. He could not quite face his parents yet; he still needed some time alone so went back to his den in the woods. He laid on a log that was the perfect shape for him; he mulled things over in his head, but the thoughts of Linus and the trouble that was happening in town took over. It wasn’t long before Cad was throwing rocks at the barrier.
With each throw he imagined he was throwing away a bad thought, but like his thoughts the rocks came bouncing back. Linus dead, throw, bounce. Corrupt council, throw, bounce. Lying to his parents, throw, bounce. Working on the farm for the rest of his life. Throw… And silence. It had happened again; Cad was sure of it. The rock went through the barrier. He didn’t see it happen, but he knew it had happened, he was sure of it. He walked right up to the barrier and put his hand on it. He could feel the force pushing him back. The harder he pushed, the more it pushed back, like an unseen version of himself was pushing back against him.
He picked up another rock and pushed it against the barrier; the rock pushed back. “There has to be some way through,” he thought to himself. Then it came to him. He knew what he needed to do. He took a few steps back, away from the barrier and then he sprinted. Just as he got close, he jumped forward, pushing his shoulder into the barrier. The force of Cad hitting it sent him flying back and off of his feet. His shoulder was in great pain, his head hurt, and he felt sick. He laid on the floor for a while in pain and embarrassed. Why did I think that would work?
He got to his feet and wiggled his shoulder; it hurt a lot, but at least it wasn’t his sword arm; he thought. He made one last attempt at throwing a stone. The pain in his shoulders and the excessive training he had done earlier made his throw pitiful and weak. The stone bounced back. Cad sighed and turned when he noticed something outside the barrier. He saw the shape of a person, a woman. When he glanced back again, she was gone. He was sure that he had seen someone. Then again, he had not long hit his head; he was exhausted and injured; he doubted what he had saw through the barrier.
Cad made his way home from his den, once again embarrassed and in pain. At least he wouldn’t have to tell his parents why. As he was walking, he noticed a commotion down at the river. He spotted his parents there, and many others all looking in the river. Cad’s stomach turned. What had happened? He began running towards them as he got closer, he realised people were not panicking; they were excited. As Cad approached them, he could see why. The river had creatures in it. He had learnt about them before but had never seen them. The river had fish.
Cad and his parents sat at their table eating fish for breakfast. The council took them away to be rationed, but by the time they had arrived there were hardly any fish left. The townsfolk had already grabbed what they could although this caused animosity in the town as some people felt they had not had a fair chance to get the fish. How they got in and where they had come from caused a great debate in the town. Cad plucked the flesh from the fish carcass, he was not fond of it, but he did not dare complain. This seemed to be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“Where did they come from, Dad?”
“I’m not sure son, some people are saying it’s a gift from the creator while other people are worried that the barrier is failing. All I care about is that we get to eat more meat. Beef and fish in the same week, I never thought I’d be so lucky.” Cad shifted in his seat when his father mentioned the barrier failing. No one seemed to work on maintaining it when he went there. Could this be a result of that? He got frustrated that he couldn’t voice his concern, but then wondered. If the mages are neglecting the barrier, and it fails, then this would be a good chance for him to finally get out, to explore. He considered that maybe the mages wanted the same thing that Cad did, although the thought of working alongside the mages sent a shiver down his spine.
When he went to Casilda for his tutoring, all mention of the evening they had spent together talking person to person was gone and they were back to their student teacher dynamic. Cad found it hard to focus on his lessons as all he could think about was the barrier. He even asked Casilda what she knew about it, but she repeated everything he already knew, Cad got her to reiterate the fact that two people should maintain the barrier at all times. She did question Cad on why he was suddenly interested in the barrier, but he avoided answering the question, instead claiming it was because of his interest in the fish. The rest of the day he spent planning his next move, to go back into the tunnels and check again on the Mages. He knew he needed Wil with him as he had the map.
The end of his lessons couldn’t come quick enough for him, but just as he was leaving, Casilda asked him if there was anything he’d like to talk about. Her tone had changed, more sympathetic, and he believed her to be completely genuine. Cad politely declined, but as he left, he wondered what had caused her to say that. He had not been getting much sleep lately. Maybe it was starting to show also, his mother was friendly with her, so they probably shared concerns with one another.
Wil’s Mother let Cad in, and he made his way to his room, Wil had his head in one of the books they had brought back. If Cad felt rough, then Wil looked exactly how Cad felt. His face was pale and baggy eyed. Cad hesitated when he walked into the room, Wil didn’t even look up from his book.
“Anything interesting?” Cad asked.
“Not yet.” Wil replied. “Not much that I can make out, most of it is written in symbols instead of words, it is almost as if they are using pictures instead of words but it’s hard to say what they really mean. I’ve picked up a few bits but nothing of importance, just some notes on people who lived in this town. It’s not even dated so I don’t know how far it goes back but I don’t recognise any of the names so it must be a few generations back.” Cad didn’t know what to say. He had hoped that the books would answer some questions, but it seems they only asked more.
“I want to go back again.” Cad said. Wil did not seem surprised; he still hadn’t looked up from the book.
“OK, I’ll come too.” Said Wil, “I can grab some more books. Wait. Why do you want to go back?” Cad stuttered, he hadn’t told Wil about what he was thinking of the barrier, he had told no one. Now that he had to voice it aloud, he felt silly.
“I want to check on the mages,” he admitted, “something is odd about the barrier, twice we saw that no one was working on it, and then the fish arrived and also… Other things,” Cad didn’t want to explain about the rock throwing and Wil didn’t push him.
“Yeah, I think your right, something doesn’t quite add up with the mage’s hall, then again I think something may be up at the council as well. Everything seems a bit of a mess at the minute, and honestly, I thought the fish tasted awful.” Cad laughed, he didn’t know if Wil had intended to be funny or if he was just rambling, but they both had tears in their eyes from laughing.
“I hated them too.” Cad joined in. He could imagine his father’s disbelief if he had told him what he had thought. Once they had gotten over their moment of madness, Wil grabbed the map and they headed out, climbing down into the dark tunnel once again.
“We are making a habit of coming down here,” Cad said, lighting their torch. They made their way to the mage’s hall with relative ease. Most turnings they didn’t even require the map now, they had a good sense of where they were going and how to get there. Cad silently climbed into the cellar. The musty air hit him as soon as he had opened the hatch, Wil followed silently. Cad had left his torch burning in the tunnel, he just wanted a quick in and out to find out what was happening. He climbed the steps and peered into the barrier room but once again, no one was in there.
“So much for using Linus as an excuse this time,” Cad whispered to Wil, he crept over to the open door, it was coming up to the evening so most of the mages would make their way back to the halls soon. Out in the corridor they spotted the door to Urlwin’s quarters, considering he was arch mage, leader of the mages, his room was very modest. The best rooms in the town were those that held the council members, then again for a mage’s social standing this was probably appropriate. Cad made a gesture to Wil to go back to the cellar, but Wil had spotted something on a desk in Urlwin’s quarters. He edged towards his room as Cad looked up and down the corridor, worried that they could get caught at any moment.
Wil picked up a book from Urlwin’s desk and ran his fingers across the cover, Cad didn’t know the book but assumed it held some significance. Wil shook as he looked up, almost as if coming out of a trance, and quickly rushed back to Cad, leaving the book behind. They made their way back into the tunnel before Cad spoke.
“What was that book?” he asked.
“I’m not sure.” Wil replied. “But I’m pretty sure I saw that book in the library down here, plus it has similar symbols to the ones I have. We must not be the only ones who know about it. If Urlwin knows, how long has he been using it?” Cad didn’t know, so he didn’t answer, he just stared at his feet until he could see Wil was in deep thought. He waited until Wil gathered his thoughts and they made their way to the library, it was pretty straightforward from here, so Wil didn’t even glance at the map.
They took the turning that Cad thought led to the library, but there was a dead end. Wil looked just as confused as Cad. He looked at the map, backtracked a few corners to make sure he knew where he was, and walked back to the dead end.
“It was here.” Wil said.
“I thought so.” Cad added.
“No, it was definitely right here.” Wil almost shouted, frustration in his voice, “The map leads us right to it.”
Cad and Wil looked around they studied the surrounding walls; nothing was out of the ordinary. Wil tried to push the bricks at the dead end, they wouldn’t even budge. His hands were all dusty and grimy from the old bricks. He wiped them on his clothes. Wil banged the wall with his fist. Cad could sense he was getting frustrated, but nothing was happening.
“Someone is trying to keep us out.” Cad said.
“No, look at the wall, its old, no one has built this wall. It definitely wasn’t here last time though. What is going on.” Wil banged the wall a few more times, even hitting it with another rock he had found on the floor.
“Maybe we should head back?” Said Cad. Wil looked at Cad, then at the wall, then at Cad again. “Your right, we’re not getting in. Maybe there is something in the books I’ve already got, can explain what the hell is going on down here.” They both made their way back through the tunnel. Cad didn’t speak, he knew Wil was angry. He didn’t like not knowing things, and this whole situation was getting to him, and to Cad too. He knew however that Wil’s pride took a hit when he couldn’t understand the books and couldn’t understand what was going on. Cad imagined it would be what he would feel like if he could not beat someone in a duel.
The boys made their way out of the tunnel when Wil spoke.
“I’m going back home to see if I can try these books. Looks like you were right about the mages too, still not working on the barrier. If no one is down there, it will get weaker every day. Looks like you might get what you want too, Cad, you might get free.” Cad wasn’t sure if Wil was making a friendly comment or adding it with anger but now that Cad thought about it, if the mages were bringing an end to the barrier this could be exciting but why did he feel so sick at the idea. Something was very wrong with the whole situation. Why didn’t anyone know about this?
They parted ways, but on his way home Cad took a detour back to his den; he didn’t throw rocks at the barrier, instead he stood close to it. Staring out. What is out there, he thought to himself, and why are we hiding from it? He put his hand out to meet the barrier, the usual resistance pushed back. Cad thought, was it the usual resistance or did it feel weaker? Cad pushed and pushed, and the barrier pushed back. He was there for quite a while, just holding the barrier, as though trying to sense a change, but nothing came. Cad became frustrated. He looked at some stones on the floor. No, he would not do that today, mainly because the last few times he had left here with injuries, but now he was not sure what would happen. He was not sure what he wanted to happen either.
He put both his palms flat against the shield, closed his eyes and breathed deeply. He thought about what he wanted, an internal battle in his own head. On one hand, nothing would be more exciting than exploring out there, finding out what was beyond the barrier, but he was safe in this town, and they must have put the barrier up for a reason. His internal battle raged in his head until he decided, no, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in here wondering what is on the other side. I want to see it. I need to see it. Cad opened his eyes, there in front of him was the same old grey haze of the barrier. Cad became annoyed with himself; he did not know why he had expected something to happen, he just did.
Cad made his way towards his home when he saw his friend frantically running from Cad’s house. He called to him and Wil came sprinting over.
“Cad, where have you been.” Cad hesitated, he didn’t want to tell Wil about his den, it was his special place. His place to be alone.
“I just wanted to take a walk.” Cad said. “Clear my mind. What’s wrong with you?”
“They’re gone Cad, all of them.” Wil said frantically.
“What are?” Cad asked bewildered at what was going on.
“The books, someone has taken them all.”
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