We emerge into a candlelit, large room. The roots and packed dirt above us, coupled with the dim closeness, confirm the fact that we are deep underground. A rotund, elfish looking woman comes out of the gloom and shadows, a big smile pasted onto her merry little face.
“You are the Keybearer, then?” She asks, all smiles and dimples.
“Ah, yes.” I say, not sure what to say. I turn to ask Aidan, but find that he is no longer there.
“What! Where did he go?” I ask her frantically.
“Oh, he ran off a second ago,” she says in a pish tush sort of manner, “my name is Claire, m’lady, and I expect I shall be helpin’ you while your ‘ere. That or my daughter Areevra.”
I look down her, starting at the sound of her daughter’s name which is so very different from her own. Sighing, I follow her into the gloom, sad that this is not at all like the lovely lady who appeared in my dreams. You’d think that someone as round and short as Claire would walk with a sort of waddle. But it is not so. Actually, she is quite graceful, her greenish colored skin turning a funny hue in the ill-lit passageway. Again I find myself oafish and clumsy, even in the presence of funny looking woman who looks like she got stepped on in the middle of a growth spurt and eats to make up for lack of height. Now I know why Mrs. Forthright is forever disappointed with me.
“Excuse me, Claire,” I start, “Could you tell me where you are taking me?” I ask politely.
“Eh…down, m’lady.” She says vaguely. I try again. “What am I doing here?”
“You will soon know,” she says. “Where are we?” “Underground.” She is a harder nut to crack than I thought.
“Can we have a little more light?” I ask, tripping on another root on the ground.
“Yes, m’lady.” She snaps her fingers, and more hidden candles light up, extinguishing themselves after we pass. I gape open mouthed at her- this is the first proof of magic I’ve had since I’ve arrived here. I quickly think up something clever to regain my composure.
“Can you stop calling me ‘m’lady’?”
We arrive at a large oak door, through which she ushers me in. She beckons for me to stand in the center of some dust-covered looking glasses.
“This room is ‘ardly ever touched, miss,” she says, running her finger over on mirror and tutting at it in distaste; for now I’m just glad she’s stopped calling me “m’lady”. I gaze at the spacious room around me, with its dank smell and dusty confines. It looks like it might have belonged to a man at some point, what with the big oak bed covered with large green blankets, and the giant chest at the foot of the bed. Claire interrupts my thoughts, “We’ll have it more suitably equipped for a young lady later. For now, we need your measurements.” She pulls out a measuring tape and starts to lay it across different areas of me, taking note of the numbers she finds. A knock at the door startles her momentarily. A young girl enters.
“The council will see her now, Mamma.” She says sweetly, sneaking glances at me. So this is Areevra. I do not mask my own curiosity; I stare at her full out. She is the exact opposite of her mother. Yes, she is short with a green tinted skin, but she is willow reed thin, with long green and brown hair coiled up into braids. Her cat-like, upward tilted eyes smile warily back at me. I grin at her and she grins back. Now I see the family resemblance!
“Oh lackaday! I’ve not even gotten her presentable! What are they thinkin, dragging a pore lass from hearth and home to a place like this without even giving her time to have a cuppa tea! Harrumph! Well m’dear, you’ll have to do.”
I gaze at myself in the mirror, taking in my tattered dress, mud-caked and scuffed boots, and my disheveled hair. I wipe guiltily at the dirt smudges on my face. Areevra concentrates her green eyes on my hair and blinks hard. I glance back in the mirror and see that my hair is now combed and in its original coif. I glance back at her mouthing a thank-you. She nods cheerily, and then backs out of the door to let us pass.
“Wait!” I call out, as we trot quickly around corners and through doors, “Who is this council?”
Areevra, who appears to be going with us, answers me “Elders, the Wise, those types. I’m Areevra!” Before I have a chance to answer, Clair stops suddenly, then knocks thrice on a giant door in front of us, before pushing it open and ushering me in. A rather large group of people (and animals) are sitting in a semi-circle of large wooden thrones, each one different, all with austere looks upon their faces.
Claire pushes me forward to an empty chair in the center of the room. “Members of the council, I introduce to you the Keybearer.”
“Thank you, Claire. Evangeline, will you take a chair?” A woman steps from her chair.
It is the lady from my dreams.