Chapter Fourteen - Rescue and Freedom

Sherlock stared in horror as the path behind them disintegrated. In a last moment effort to save Molly, he cast a lightning fast spell of endurance toward his herbalist, but he had no clue as to whether it had reached her in time. With the rumble of rocks and debris sill echoing, he crept to the edge of the crumbled path and peered down. There was no sign of her. All that could be seen were piles of heavy boulders.

"Be careful, Sherlock!" Mrs. Hudson cautioned. "The edge is crumbling." It was difficult to tell what she was saying over the frightened brays of the donkey. Sherlock raised a hand briefly to let her know he had heard her.

With a trembling hand, Sherlock pulled his telescoping wand from his pocket. He extended it to its full length and summoned all the magic he possessed. One by one, he began to lift the largest boulders from the pile of rubble. It looked hopeless. Grimly he continued, determined to recover her body if nothing else.

After an hour of grueling work, he noticed a change in how the stones were placed. They were not so random. It looked as if a giant's child had constructed some sort of plaything. With a gasp of hope, he realized that the stones had formed about a pocket of air. He could see Molly lying unmoving at the bottom.

"Thank the Creator," he murmured. His crude spell had protected Molly from being crushed. She wasn't moving, but he could see that she was breathing. How long would her air supply last? He needed to work quickly.

Getting Molly out alive would be extremely difficult. If he burst the bubble of air to reach her, the stacked stones would collapse inward, instantly crushing her to death. Likewise, removing the rest of the stones would be tricky. If he picked the wrong one, the whole pile would disintegrate.

"Sherlock," Mrs. Hudson queried, "are you okay?"

"Be quiet! I need to think!" Sherlock growled.

After a few moments of absolute silence, Sherlock nodded to himself and carefully chose a stone and chanted the incantation to make it lighter than air. He waved his wand slightly as the rock floated upward and hovered briefly in midair before it was hurled away to fall into the valley below. Six more times he repeated the process. His brow dripped sweat with the effort of lifting the boulders. Magic made it possible, but it still exacted a price on the energy levels on the one performing the deed.

He decided that the opening was now large enough to lift her out. Sherlock rotated her unconscious body into a vertical position. Lifting a living being with magic was much more difficult than levitating stones. If he applied too much pressure, it could crush her body before he realized anything was wrong. Not enough pressure and her body would not burst through the bubble of air in time for him to lift her away from the collapsing stones.

Curling the wand in a circular motion of his wrist while muttering the levitation spell, Molly's body began to shift position and rise. Sweat broke out on his forehead has he concentrated on not harming her. He could tell she was covered in cuts and bruises, obtained before the protection spell had covered her. She certainly didn't need any additional injuries. At the last moment, he jerked her body roughly through the protecting bubble and lifted it high into the air as the whole structure collapsed inward. He grimaced in concentration as he floated her body to him and lowered it gently to the ground.

Sherlock groaned and allowed his weary body to sag to his knees. His strength was gone. He leaned against a heavy boulder and watched as Mrs. Hudson scurried about washing and bandaging the wounded girl. Molly was alive, but had yet to gain consciousness. Sherlock closed his eyes.

"Sherlock," Mrs. Hudson's quavering voice called. Sherlock opened his eyes and stared into the face of the old woman peering at him.

"Here, take a drink of this, it will give you strength," Martha Hudson said as she handed him her flask of herbal soother. "I use it for my hip, but it will be good for you to take some."

Sherlock nodded and obediently swallowed a mouthful of the elixir. He immediately gagged. It was disgusting tasting.

"You could have warned me about the foul taste," He growled.

Mrs. Hudson chuckled. "If I had, would you have tried it?"

"Probably not."

"Then I did well, not to say anything. It is an acquired taste, and even after twenty years, I still find its flavor distinctive." Mrs. Hudson smiled. "It does work though. You will feel much better soon, which is important."

"How is she?" he asked.

Mrs. Hudson shook her head sadly.

"Molly needs more help than you or I can provide and we need to get off this trail before dark sets in."

Sherlock nodded in agreement. What she said made perfect sense and he was already beginning to feel stronger. He struggled to his feet.

Mrs. Hudson mounted the donkey. Sherlock helped her secure the still unconscious Molly to sit in front of her.

"Are you sure the donkey can handle the extra weight?" Sherlock asked.

"Molly doesn't weigh much, and neither do I," Mrs. Hudson reassured him. "The hardest part will be keeping her steady while she is unconscious, but I will manage, I'm stronger than I look."

The small party began its way slowly down the treacherous path toward the safety of the valley below.

ɸ

Lady Irene stared into the vision pool once more. Beside her, her master frowned and glared at her menacingly.

"It is fortunate for you, that the girl lived," he growled. "I would hate to have to punish you severely, Irene. What did you think to accomplish?"

"They needed a reason to seek us out. The girl is of no importance. If she had died, I would have thought of something else. As it now stands, I have sent servants to offer them aid." Irene smiled. "It is better to lure them in with a carrot instead of a stick. I find kindness often results in gullibility. Most people are too trusting of a helping hand."

"You had better hope your little scheme is productive, or I shall be most displeased," he said in a tone that sent chills of terror down her spine. "Now my little pet, isn't it time you showed some affection to your master?" His voice was velvety smooth, but cold as ice as he caressed the collar about her neck.

"Yes, master," Irene replied trembling.

ɸ

In the dungeon, John Watson sat on the cold stone floor and gazed at the single torch flaring weakly in a wall sconce across the room. He hoped it would last until someone came to replace it. The last time he was left in the dark had been miserable. It was hard to fight off rats you couldn't see. He still had festering sores from bites. If you could see them coming, you had a chance to kick them off before they did too much damage.

He sighed. It was just a matter of time before disease or Irene's tender mercies killed him. He was not going to get out of this alive. He had faced the truth some time ago and made peace with himself. He was prepared to die, and determined not to give up any information that the enemies of his homeland could use. He just wished that he could take down Irene of Adler before he died.

The light tread of footsteps and the flare of a hand-held torch alerted him that someone was coming. His body tensed in anticipation of pain. Irene had already visited him a few hours ago, but perhaps she wished to torture him again.

He relaxed as he recognized the blonde hair and sweet face of the servant girl, Mary. Mary had visited him first as an assistant to Irene. Later, she had returned several times, bringing fresh water and food. He suspected some of the meals were her own. When he confronted her she merely said she had enough to eat and thought perhaps it was better to share her unwanted food instead of throwing it to the pigs.

John thought she was a terrible liar, but accepted the food gratefully.

"I brought ointment for your wounds," Mary whispered as she crossed the straw covered floor.

"You need to be more careful Mary. Lady Irene has only been gone a few minutes." John cautioned.

"I know, I have been watching her movements all day. She is currently in her sorcery chambers with the master. I expect they will be there some time."

Mary knelt on the filthy floor and began to treat his wounds as John wolfed down the left over oat cakes she had managed to smuggle.

"I wish I could wash and bind these properly," Mary whispered.

"It is too risky. Lady Irene would notice and then where would you be? Your kindness alone is sufficient, Mary. Without your visits and gifts of food and care, I would have died before now."

John noticed a change come over Mary. She squared her shoulders and looked into his eyes intently. Her lips trembled slightly before she spoke.

"There is something I wish to say to you." She paused for a moment then smiled. "You are stronger now, strong enough that you would have a chance to escape this dungeon. What would you say if I told you that I know of a safe place where you can stay until your body heals?"

John smiled gently at her earnest face. "No place is safe Mary. They have strong magical powers. Anywhere you would choose would be discovered immediately. It is a lovely thought though, and I thank you for wanting to help." John brushed a tear that was streaking down her face.

"I have a place prepared where no one will find us," she insisted. "A hidden cave only I know about. Deep underground there is a small crystal cavern, a natural barrier to magic. It is stocked with enough supplies to last at least a month if we are careful. I have been planning my escape for over a year. I am leaving tonight, and I ask you now, if I free you, will you come with me?"

"Why would you risk everything for me?" John asked.

"You are a good man, John. You are the only soul in this light forsaken place that isn't twisted and dark. You did nothing to deserve such harsh treatment. If you stay here, you will die. I am asking you to give yourself a chance to live." Mary looked at him steadily.

"Yes," he said simply.

Mary walked to the corridor and returned with an iron bar. She wedged the bar between the wall and where the chain of John's manacle was attached, and gave a huge downward tug, twisting at the same time. She repeated the same maneuver three times before the chain broke free.

"You are very strong for such a tiny woman," John said.

Mary smiled at him. "I have been carrying trays and buckets of water all through this castle for years. There is nothing soft about me. Help me with the chain on your other wrist."

Together, they twisted the remaining chain from the wall. With strips of cloth, Mary secured the chains still attached to the manacles about John's wrists in such a way as to prevent the chains from rattling and giving them away.

"I have a file I took from the blacksmith; you can use it to remove the wrist bands when we get to safety."

"You think of everything," John said with admiration clear in his voice.

"Follow me," Mary said as she lead the way back into the passageway. Soon she paused and reached high on the wall and pressed a particular stone. With a slight grating sound, a doorway appeared.

"A hidden passaway?" John asked incredulously. They entered and Mary pushed the lever on the back side to close the door.

"I don't think Lady Irene or the Master are aware of this passage way. Judging from the cobwebs I had to clear away, no one had used the passageways in a hundred years. When she took over the castle twenty years ago, Lady Irene had all the inhabitants executed. She then brought in her own loyal staff."

"What about you?" John asked. "You are not like the others. Why are you different?"

"I'm not from around here. My husband and I were traveling the Deep, when he became ill and died. I nearly starved before stumbling on this place. Cook took pity on me and allowed me to stay on as kitchen help.

"I'm sorry about your husband." John said as he patted her arm.

"It was a long time ago. I still miss him, but the pain has eased." Mary said.

"One day I accidentally discovered this passage as I was cleaning the huge walk in fireplace in the kitchen. There are three connecting passages in all. One leads to the kitchen, where I came from. One ends in the hallway located close to Lady Irene's rooms and then there is this one." She stopped just inside a new passageway. There were two bundles leaning against the wall.

"This passage is the longest one and comes out deep in the forest behind the castle. No one will be able to trace where we have gone. We will be safe soon." She leaned over and picked up the bundles. She handed one to John and took the heaviest one for herself.

"I know you are tired." She said and brushed a cobweb from his hair. "We will go slowly. There is no hurry." Together they set off down the stone passage on their way to freedom.