Tonight, we return to the tale of Strum Nimblefingers.
The Tale of Strum Nimblefingers, Chapter II:
His heart pounding in anticipation, Strum took a calming breath. Angling his broad shoulders to negotiate the, narrow entry way, he cautiously crept into the darkness of the cave. The exercise reminded him why he had never been particularly fond of spelunking. It was just not a pursuit for large men. Were it not for the intensity of his curiosity about the music, he might never have entered that cave. But the music had drawn him, called him out of his sleep and coaxed him up the mountain. The music had brought him to this cave. He had to know its origin.
It was to his great relief that the cave entrance led to a larger space which afforded him the ability to stand at his full height and square his shoulders. It was cool, as he had expected, but it was neither dusty nor damp. The air was surprisingly fresh and clean. Of course, it was also pitch black.
Strum had only been planning on a quiet afternoon in the woods, and as such he was not provisioned for activities such as those in which he found himself engaged. He considered trying to locate some dry brush to start a fire, but it had rained the night before and most plants were still green and damp. Was the prospect impossible? No. But it was far from practical. He tried to let his eyes adjust to the dark, to see what little he could from the meager sunlight that marked his point of entry (and exit!).
What am I doing here? How did I even get here?
You followed a song, he silently answered himself.
That was it! He took his lute and struck a note.
It was coming from deeper into the cavern. He started to walk forward, ever so slowly, his hands picking out the melody once again. He played slowly, pausing between each phrase for that guiding echo. Deeper and deeper into the tunnel he strode, playing all the while, as he sought out his partner in the mysterious duet. The tunnel curved and he lost sight of the entrance.
He paused. His head told him to go back to the entrance, to follow the light to the outside and to go home. Were he to get lost, it could mean his end. But his heart told him otherwise. His heart, his instincts, really every fiber of his being, told him that he was safe, that he was where he was supposed to be and that no harm would befall him. This was safe. This was right. This was good. And he continued on, that last beacon to safety left behind as he sought the unknown.
After a while, something changed. So focused was he on the music, it took him a moment to realize it, but his footfalls sounded different. The sound, minimal though it was, of his soft leather boots, had begun to echo softly as he walked. The tunnel must have given way to a larger chamber.
He was suddenly gripped by fear. How long ago had that happened? How close was he to the tunnel? He froze. The thought that he should turn back was painfully prominent in his mind, but curiosity still drew him. He plucked another string and was answered, but the sound was accompanied by something else. An emerald light blazed in the darkness, flaring and fading with the note. So fast did it happen that it was gone before Strum’s shocked senses registered its presence.
He struck another note, and the light flared again, fading just as fast. Going back to the methods that had brought him this far, he began to play progressively longer phrases until he was satisfied that the light shone while the sound could be heard.
Strum began to play the song from the dream in earnest, and as he played, the light shone. If he could manage to maintain the sound, he’d be able to see by the emerald glow. He seemed to be in a very large chamber.
The glow seemed to take shape, at least to a small degree. Whatever was glowing was not just some object in the middle of an open floor. There were objects in its vicinity forming areas of light and shadow suggestive of a structure of some sort.
Slowly, Strum advanced into the chamber, his steps cautious, tentative, as he followed the distant glow. It was his foot that signaled the next change. The rough floor of the cavern abruptly gave way to what felt like a paving stone. He took another step and paused, reaching out with his foot to feel the ground ahead. It was smooth, as if polished.
Strum stopped playing. The glow faded with the last note, leaving him in a surprisingly comforting darkness. Somehow, in a way he would never be able to explain, he knew that he was at the point of no return. The next step, should he choose to take it, would change everything. He also knew that he had not crossed the line. He could leave, walk away, pretend he had never heard the melody.
He took a breath, letting the darkness and silence wash over him in waves that cleansed his mind of distractions. There were no sights to fool his eyes, no sounds to fool his ears. It was him and the silent darkness. He knew there was no chance that he would turn away. He knew that something awaited him that would reveal itself if he took another step.
Straightening up, taking one last breath, he took one more deliberate step onto the polished floor.
Immediately, he was assaulted by light and sound. It was as if a vast multitude had struck the exact same note at the exact same time, and the green light responded, searing his vision with the light of a thousand suns. At first he thought he had been struck blind and deaf, but the sound receded to an ethereal hum that filled the cavern. So, too did the light recede to a level akin to green tinged daylight. Then, they were there again, just for a moment. Emerald eyes and ruby lips, silently pleading for something beyond Strum’s understanding. Only after they were gone, did he realize that his eyes were still closed. Slowly he opened them, wordlessly stumbling backwards in shock at the sight that greeted him.