The space that made up the entrance to the cave was just high enough for Captain Kennard to stand up straight. When he raised his arm, he had no trouble touching the palm of his hand to the cave’s ceiling. It was cold stone but not damp or covered with any lichen. The walls on either side of him were only a couple of paces away. The cave was not large. The floor beneath his feet was covered in rubble and small rocks, not sand. He saw no animal tracks. The rocks were disturbed only by the passing of people who did not try to hide their travel through the cave. Since there was only one way to go it did not matter if they left a trail.
Captain Kennard moved on. He reminded the men behind him to be quiet, as any sound they made would be likely to travel loudly through the tunnel. His whispers were amplified where they were now.
They proceeded through the tunnel behind the cave. The tunnel began off to the left at the back of the cave slightly hidden by a protruding outcrop. The tunnel was two men wide but it got lower so that the men had to hunch over a little as they walked deeper under the mountain.
As they went further along, the walls got damp. Their feet got wet from the puddles that formed in spots along the way. The torches wavered from a breeze that wafted around them bring cold air past them and making them shiver. So far they had let out two lengths of rope and the way ahead was dark and quiet. Captain Kennard could not see any light ahead of him.
They went on for another length of rope where they came to a point that split the tunnel in two directions. Captain Kennard had no idea which way to go. He bent down with his torch to see if he could find any marks on the ground that would give him a hint as to which way Hyd, Eadward, John, Stephan and Ranee had gone. The floor here was solid, clear rock, dry and unscuffed as far as Captain Kennard could tell in the poor light. He decided to try the tunnel to his right hand. They could always turn back and try the left tunnel if this one did not lead to their prey.
They did not have enough rope to split up and search both tunnels at the same time. As they went another two lengths of rope, the tunnel got more narrow and the ceiling lower. Captain Kennard decided the others would not be crawling through the tunnels. They must have taken the left hand tunnel.
Just when Captain Kennard was going to tell his men to turn around they heard a moaning sound coming from the tunnel ahead of them. His men started mumbling about hauntings and ghosts when a gust of wind struck them, putting out their torches.
“Do not move,” said Captain Kennard. “If you panic you will be lost.”
Captain Kennard took a deep breath.
“Turn around, hold on to the tunic of the man in front of you. Using the wall to your left and the ropes we left behind us, slowly follow your way back out. Move. We lost allot of time and now we will lose more going back to get our torches relit.”
The way back out was more slow going than the way in had been since they were completely in the dark. Several of the men stumbled over rocks they could not see. One fell and slowed them even more. By the time they finally got out of the mountain the sun was beginning to set. Captain Kennard could not believe that what seemed like a brief trip in the tunnels could have taken them all day. Now another whole day was lost.
All of the searches went off in the woods to relieve themselves after a whole day of holding their water in the cave. The man who had taken Sucat home and come back had used his time wisely. He hand rabbit stew cooking over several strong fires with bread he had brought back from the Baron’s hall to go with the stew. Captain Kennard would eat and decide if they should stop for the night or go back in to the cave. The darkness of night could not matter to them in the cave, since the cave was dark day or night but the men were tired so maybe they should rest for the night. Captain Kennard did not want to lose another day.
His men were hardy and strong. They could go a day without sleep. It was more important to catch Hyd, Eadward, John, Stephan and Ranee and get back home. They would go on tonight and maybe they would get lucky and catch the fugitives by surprise. Unless the left tunnel went all the way through the mountain and exited out the other side. If that was the case, they might never catch them Captain Kennard did not want to think about that. If the five people they were looking for got away, Captain Kennard did not want to think about what would happen then. He would have to leave the country if he could not bring them back to Sucat. One on one, Captain Kennard could deal with Sucat, if they dealt with each other as men. But Sucat, as a Baron, held power that his stature could not disguise.
Sucat could have him arrested, whipped, beaten, anything and Captain Kennard knew that Sucat would not care that Captain Kennard was his illegitimate half brother. Granted, Captain Kennard had come farther and held more respect than any of Franck’s other illegitimate children even with his brother Sucat but Captain Sucat had no illusions about his place in the world. He was glad he had always planned to escape Sucat. He had been stashing what little gold and silver he could gather over the years along with supplies. All he needed to do was get through this episode successfully and then he would leave. Enough was enough.
“Eat up men,” said Captain Kennard, “but not so much that you get sleepy and sluggish. After a brief rest, we will go back in and get these people who are keeping in misery.”
No one grumbled or complained, they just ate and drank and took care of their immediate needs. Some looked after their horses. A few took the opportunity to close their eyes and rest. When the sun had completely set and the camp was in full darkness, Captain Kennard called his men to attention. They took their torches and coiled rope as before. They lit the torches, formed their line again and went back in to the cave.
They were more confident in their travels this time having been most of the way before. They moved faster but were as quiet as before. They reached the area where the tunnel split in two different directions. Leading the way as before, Captain Kennard headed into the left hand tunnel. There was a constant flow of air coming from this tunnel. The flames off the torches danced in the breeze.
Captain Kennard still could not see any light at the end of this tunnel, but when he held his torch up it did not look as though the tunnel got smaller, at least for a good stretch. This tunnel was dry and the floor was smooth and clear of debris down the center as though the floor was cleaned and the stones swept to the sides.
They reached another spot where the tunnel split in two different directions. They were almost out of rope, too. There was only one coil of it left. Captain Kennard went into the right hand tunnel and got down on his knees. The floor of the tunnel had stones on it from wall to wall. He stood up and went into the left hand tunnel, got down on his knees again and looked at the floor in this section. Here the center of the tunnel looked as if it too had been swept clean. Even if they ran out of rope and the torches blew out again as long as they kept going left they would be able to get back out again. When they had their last coil of rope completely unfurled, he had his men sit and rest for several minutes. They shared a bladder of watered ale, not drinking too much because there was no place to comfortably relieve themselves and the smell might attract an animal or give away their position. They chewed on some dried meat to keep their energy up.
It was time to get moving again. Before he rose to go on, Captain Kennard thought he heard voices coming towards them from deeper in the mountain. He signaled his men not to move or make any sort of sound. He held his breath and strained his hearing for several long heart beats. All he knew he heard for sure was the sound of the air flowing through the tunnel, but he was sure he had heard a voice before although he could have been hearing things in his anxiety to find these people and get all of this over with.
He signaled the men to move on and to keep absolutely silent. He could feel in his bones that they were getting closer. They moved on feeling the sides of the walls to keep their balance. Captain Kennard felt the nature of the air flow change and it seemed to smell different. The tunnel felt like it turned more and more to the left but there were no more splits in the tunnel. It continued on in a single tunnel.
Captain Kennard stopped dead in his tracks, the man behind him bumping into him, when they clearly heard a man’s laugh coming from the tunnel ahead of them.