Wendell and the Dragon's Heart

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Chapter 34

After a long while, he lost all direction in the ludicrous floors of the castle and sat to rest, in a forgotten chamber with black iron walls. He lay for a while on the hard stone, even passing in and out of sleep a number of times. But he couldn’t stay there forever, or even let himself sleep for too long.

He still had to foray out into the castle to search eventually of course, and only a dismal determination kept him from huddling in a dark corner somewhere. At times there were creatures to sneak past, ogres and bats and watchful goblins, and at other times the walls seemed to be the only friends and enemies for hours on end, as passages led nowhere and to nothing.

Sometimes he peered now around an iron wall before stepping out into an open hallway, or slipped through a tiny door with a key filched at great risk. Once he had left a safe place behind, he knew he would never be able to find it again, but had to keep moving farther along to stay hidden, even if for only another moment.

Many times the faint light of torches and tiny windows gave way to total blackness, and Wendell had to feel his way along the walls of small, wretched places that twisted through the castle, around and around and up and down.

Over the next hours or days, he couldn’t tell which, Wendell felt that the place was not built out of stone or iron, but out of withering fear that seeped into his skin and howled in the empty walls.

Soon, the game of hide and seek became desperate, but Wendell felt a growing defiance of the rules, hitting goblins from behind with gemstones even as he whispered plans to an unknown ally, then ducking under horrid black staircases and tables, now stepping out brashly to lock another door, the keys swindled with his dagger from the belt of an ogre, after sneaking up behind it.

He needed to rest sometimes; but often there seemed to be no catty-corner that was left to hide in, no room without two doors and a dark tunnel beside it. The deeper he went, the stranger and more cunning the inhabitants became, until the halls were a dismal wasteland of waiting danger.

Wendell stepped through them boldly all the same, now even throwing bits of a taunt song down the hall behind him, as he outwitted another monster of its precious keys.

“Halls to find me are halls to hide me,

you’ll never find me,

I’ve got the key!!

Halls to show me, are my way-to-go-ee,

you’re left behind me,

I’ve got the key!!”

At last he found himself in an abandoned room, far in the castle. It was raining outside a small window, high up in the wall, and he put his hand out gratefully to catch the raindrops as they blew in. The water felt good on his dry tongue.

An amiable, lispy voice spoke up.

“It is trying to hide. Nurmur knows it.”

Wendell looked behind him, but stopped himself from shouting in fear. There were cracks and gaps in the wall, and the voice came through them clearly.

It continued speaking.

“Nurmur has seen them before, trying to hide from the ogres. Bad, bad ogres! Nurmur’s mommy would not be happy with them.”

Then another voice said something, this one a bit lower and somewhat stupid sounding, like a character named “Doofus” Wendell had seen at the puppeteer’s tent during the village festival.

“Murnur has seen them too, trying to hide. Murnur tried to help them, but they ran away. Murnur was sad.”

Then the other voice lisped again.

“It is afraid of us, Murnur. It thinks we are going to eat it. Nurmur doesn’t like stringy meat. Nurmur likes yummy marsh potatoes. Yum Yum. Nurmur steals them from the ogres. Naughty, naughty ogres!!”

The doofus one continued right after.

“Ogres don’t know about the door under the stairs. Ogres will never find Nurmur and Murnur.”

Wendell wasn’t sure if he trusted Nurmur and Murnur, but he didn’t have much of a choice at the moment. After looking behind a few doors, he saw a black staircase with a shadowy alcove underneath.

There was a tiny hatch there, completely invisible in the darkness... it groaned opened with a bit of a shove, and Wendell eased through, leaving it open for a moment to look around.

There was a long, long hallway, with many doorways, all of the same size but some without any door, and some with no rooms behind them, only a small blank space. After a while of stepping cautiously along, he made it to a staircase, which led up to another hallway that stretched on and on.

Wendell continued along, but then suddenly stopped. There was a sound of discussion in one of the doorways, but very different voices from Nurmur and Murnur.

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