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THE SHADOW LAMP
By STEPHEN LAWHEAD
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Stephen Lawhead
All rights reserved.
In Which Next Steps Are Contemplated
Kit stood gazing at the burnt-out ley lamp still sizzling at his feet. The heat from the metal carapace had singed the dry grass, sending tiny tendrils of white smoke drifting up to assault his nostrils with a harsh metallic scent. Overpowered by the energy coursing around and through the enormous tree before them, the devices had expired in a burst of heat and blue light.
"I guess that's that," he concluded.
Brother Lazarus bent over Mina's hand, inspecting the burn.
"We know the ley is here—no doubt about it," said Kit, taking in the yew's gargantuan trunk, hard as iron and big as a house, growing right in the middle of the ley. "Now all we have to do is figure out what to do about this whacking great tree."
"I think that will have to be a problem for another day," said Wilhelmina, withdrawing her hand and shaking it gently. Raising her eyes, she indicated the circle of sky above the clearing; the clouds now held a dusky tint. "We're starting to lose the light. What do you want to do now?"
"We could stay here and make camp," suggested Kit, "and then try to establish contact with River City Clan in the morning." He saw the glint of dissention in Wilhelmina's dark eyes and quickly added, "Or we could think of something else."
"How about this?" she said. "We could see if the Valley Ley is active and use it to get back to Prague."
"What about Burleigh? I thought we were trying to stay out of his way."
"I doubt he's still hanging around. He's probably long gone by now."
"But if he's there waiting for us?"
"There's an element of risk, I admit," she said. "But standing around gawping at the problem"—she gestured towards the colossal yew tree before them—"isn't going to help. Anyway, it isn't as if that tree is going anywhere."
Brother Lazarus, who had been pacing the circle formed by the needle-drop of the yew's spreading branches, stepped into view and announced something in German. He spoke in a quaint, Italian-inflected Deutsche all his own; Kit could follow nothing of what he said, but sensed a note of excitement in his tone. Having delivered his message, he marched off around the tree once more.
"Well?" Kit asked, watching the priest count off the paces.
"He says that you were right—judging from the size of the tree and the diameter of the trunk, it has been at least a thousand years since you were here last—give or take a century or three. Your Stone Age pals are ancient history, I'm afraid." She gave Kit a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. "Sorry." Turning again to the rapidly fading sky, she said, "There really is no use in staying here now. Let's go back to Prague and I'll buy us all a nice dinner—schnitzel and beer, the best you've ever had. What do you say? We can sleep between clean sheets tonight, and tomorrow we'll put our heads together and figure out our next steps."
"Right." Kit took a last look around the clearing, then agreed with some reluctance. He stooped and gingerly tested the heat of the ley lamp case. It had cooled enough to touch without burning, so he picked it up and then retrieved Mina's. "We best not leave these lying around. You never know who might trip over them."
Shrugging off his pack, Kit stuffed the broken devices into it, nestling them down beside his furry tunic retrieved from the cave mouth. The shirt—cut from skins and stitched by hand using a crude bone needle and strands of dried gut—was no treasure; he would have ditched it long ago but for the priceless object sewn into a pouch inside: Sir Henry's green book. How he had managed to hold on to that through his ordeal was a minor miracle, and Kit was not about to lose it now. Shouldering the pack once more, he smoothed the front of his borrowed cassock, gave the voluminous sleeves a tug, and said, "Okay. Let's see if we can navigate our way back to Prague before another thousand years have passed. Think you can find the ley?"
Mina glanced around at the white limestone bluffs barely visible through the trees to the south. "Shouldn't be a problem," she said. "Anyway, if we stay here we'll probably get eaten by something big and hairy."
"It's this way then." Kit led them back to the rim of the gorge and the long downward trail that contained the ley. They descended into the valley and into deepening shadows. The chiselled rock face rose sheer on the left-hand side of the track, and the right-hand side angled off sharply into heavy brush and the tops of trees growing farther down the slope.
"I could never catch it when it was open, you know," he told Mina as they started down. "I tried as often as I could, but without success, until I finally gave up. I had your lamp and figured if I ever stumbled across another ley, the lamp would tell me."
"Like it told you about the Spirit Well?"
"That was a total surprise," Kit allowed. "Last thing I was expecting, really. Something very strange and"—he gave a shrug—"maybe profound was going on in the Bone House. I'd give a lot to know what it was that En-Ul was really doing."
"What do you think he was doing? Any ideas?"
"I got the impression ... The clansmen don't use language as we do, remember, it's more a mental thing—you get impressions and images, so you have to picture what you mean and hold it in your head. It's weird, but it works." Kit stopped walking. "Anyway, the closest I was able to get to it was that he was in some way dreaming time."
"You mean creating time?"
"Maybe, or maybe the Old One was seeing what time would bring and somehow interacting with what he saw. Like I say, the finer points escaped me. All I got was an impression of sleep and dreaming all mixed up somehow with time and creation and ... I don't know ... being."
Wilhelmina saw that Kit had halted and pulled up. "Why have we stopped?"
Kit put out a hand and pointed to a bench-like rock jutting from the cliff face. "This is where I landed when I first arrived."
Mina nodded. "I recognise the place—from my experimental travels." She pointed down the narrow trackway. "But I always landed farther down the path. So maybe this is where it starts."
"Whatever," said Kit. He glanced at the sky and the shadows deepening across the canyon. "It should be active any moment now—if it is going to operate at all."
"Don't say that," Wilhelmina chided. "You might jinx it."
Brother Lazarus said something to which Wilhelmina gave an answer. The priest stepped forward and held out his hand, spreading his fingers wide. He paced off three more steps and then turned with a grin and spoke again.
"He says the ley is active now—not full strength, but enough," she explained.
"He can tell by feel?"
"It's something he's developed over the years—experience, I guess." She moved to join the priest on the path. "Don't you ever feel anything when you make contact with a ley?"
"There's the throwing up," Kit replied, falling into step with her. "Violent motion sickness, dry heaves, dizziness, disorientation—that sort of thing. Sure."
"Besides that, dummy. Before you jump—don't you feel it?"
"A little, I guess," Kit conceded. "A kind of tingle that makes the hair on my arms and neck stand up sometimes. Not always, but often enough."
They continued down the track. In a moment, Kit did feel that unmistakable swirl of energy around him; static electricity seemed to dance across his skin with the faint tingling sensation. Brother Lazarus stopped and held out his hand to Wilhelmina, who reached out to Kit. "Shall we go?"
Kit took a last look around, as if fixing the place in his memory. Wilhelmina took his hand, saying, "Auf Schritt zählt sieben." To Kit she repeated, "On step number seven. Ready?"
"Wait!" said Kit, pulling his hand away. "I can't. Not yet."
"What's the matter?"
"I'm sorry, but what if we're wrong about the tree and all? What if the clan is still around?" He glanced back down the path as if hoping to catch a glimpse of them. "Look, thing is—I can't leave without seeing for myself if they're here or not."
"But that could take some time," Mina pointed out. "The ley won't be active all that long and—"
Kit cut her off. "Then we'll come back tomorrow. Look, we've come all this way, and it's important to me to find out."
Wilhelmina could see there was no arguing him out of it, so she gave in gracefully. She explained Kit's reluctance to Brother Lazarus, then said, "Okay, sure—why not? Let's go see your friends."
Kit thanked them both for understanding and started off.
They proceeded down the ramp-like trail, taking care to break stride every third or fourth step until the trail curved around a bend and passed beyond the ley line's zone of activity. Once they reached the valley floor, Kit led them along the bank of the slowly flowing river.
"River City camp is about six miles or so from here," he told them. "It's still early enough in the year, so that's where they'll be. If they are still around, you're in for a treat. Being with them is like nothing you've ever experienced. It's like ..." Words failed him just then, and he realised living with the primitive clan was simply beyond any comparison he could make or think of; he could describe it, after a fashion, but not capture it. "You'll just have to see for yourself."
Brother Lazarus, who had been listening to this exchange, cast a quick glance around and asked something in German. Mina listened, then looked around too. Kit saw the apprehensive expression on her face. "What?" he asked.
"He was wondering if it is entirely safe. It is safe, right?"
Kit gave her a lopsided smile. "Safe as it ever is," he said. "Stick with me, Toots, and you should be okay."
"It's just that we're not exactly equipped for being out here among primitive creatures, defenceless and all."
"Defenceless?" Kit laughed. "We're not defenceless."
Kit shook his head. "We've got me!"
"Oh, that's reassuring." She rolled her eyes. "Seriously."
"Seriously." Kit nodded. "There are bears and lions and such, true. But they tend to stay clear of humans unless challenged in some way, or sick, or desperately hungry."
"So as long as we don't run into a sick and starving lion, we'll be right as rain—is that what you're saying? Well, thank you, Tarzan, you've been a big help."
"You can count on me." Kit laughed again, and it occurred to Wilhelmina that it had been a very long time since she had heard him do that. Perhaps, in some odd way, the boy really was in his element in the Stone Age. She smiled at the thought. Who could have guessed?
The suggestion of stalking lions and ravenous bears did cast a pall across the mood, however, and they proceeded with a bit more caution and quiet. The afternoon sun sank below the rock rim above, casting the gorge in shade. After a while, they paused and drank from a clear pool at the river's edge and rested a moment before walking on. The shadows deepened around them and soon stars were appearing in the sky directly overhead. The valley echoed with the calls of flocks returning to their roosts in the higher branches of surrounding trees, and the lower thickets shivered with the furtive rustlings of small creatures making their nests for the night. Aside from that, the only sound to be heard was the liquid lap and splash of water slipping over and around the stones that lined the river's course.
"Is it much farther?" asked Mina at one point. "I can hardly see my hand in front of my face. Maybe we should stop."
"We're almost there," Kit assured her. "It's just up around the next bend."
A few dozen paces later they reached a place where the river made a wide sweep around a sharply angled bend, forming a small peninsula of land. Surrounded on three sides by water, this bend in the river was the place Kit had dubbed River City. He stopped and, scrying into the gloom, surveyed the place for any sign of habitation. He sniffed the air, but scented only the river smells of stone and mud and water plants.
"It's pretty quiet," Mina whispered; she glanced at Brother Lazarus next to her. He shrugged. "I don't think there's anyone here."
"You wouldn't see them unless they wanted to be seen," Kit replied. "Come on, let's check it out."
He led them farther into the river bend and to the heart of the primitive settlement site. Thrashing through brush and stands of birch saplings, they came at last to the farthest tip of the peninsula, where Kit stopped. "This was where we spent the warm months," he said, gazing around the little clearing. "If the clan was still intact, they'd be here."
Mina caught the note of melancholy in his tone. "I'm sorry, Kit. I am." She put a hand on his arm. "But we knew it was a long shot."
"Yeah," he sighed. "Still, I hoped ... we'd find something, you know?"
"You can always come back later. You might have better luck locating them next time."
"We'll stay the night," he told her. "There's no better place around here to make camp. We can get some sleep and head back to the ley line in the morning."
"And back to Prague? Schnitzel and beer?"
"Back to schnitzel and beer—and Engelbert's extraordinary strudel."
Kit showed them how the clansmen made their crude huts from bent branches, and in the dark did his best to construct a shelter for them. Brother Lazarus found some blackberries and gathered a few handfuls for each of them, and they passed a comfortable night—as comfortable as a night without food, fire, or even much sleep would allow—and roused themselves again well before daybreak so they could reach the ley line in time.
As they approached the trail leading up and out of the gorge, Kit paused. "Thanks for going along with me," he said. "Both of you. It meant a lot to me."
"We didn't do anything," Wilhelmina countered and translated for Brother Lazarus, who agreed.
"You were willing," he said. "That was enough."
As the sun touched the high ledges of the ravine's rim, setting the white limestone ablaze, Kit turned his face to the trail. "Shall we?"
"Onward and upward," answered Mina, stepping between them and holding out her hands. "Step lively, gents. Breakfast at the Grand Imperial awaits and I don't know about you, but I could use a strong cup of coffee right now."
In Which Concern Quickens to Action
Look here," said Tony Clarke, his voice rising, "my daughter has been missing three days! No one has turned up a single trace of her. You were the last person to see her—"
"Not the last person," Friday corrected. "Her friends saw her."
"True," allowed Tony, trying to keep his temper in check and his tone even. "I'll give you that—her friends saw her at the Red Rocks Café. I spoke to her on the phone later that same evening, and she said she had been out in the desert with you."
"That is true."
"She told me something extraordinary happened." Tony watched the tall, lanky Arizonan for any telltale sign of emotion, recognition, or even interest. "She told me you took her with you on something she called the Ghost Road—that you and she visited another world, or at least another location in this one."
"Your daughter talks a lot."
"She does, yes—when she is excited. I could tell on the phone that she was terribly excited—unnerved, frightened even—which is rare for her. She said you had shown her a phenomenon beyond ordinary human experience, scientifically speaking. She asked me to come and help her learn more about it." This last part was not strictly true. It was he himself who had insisted on coming to Sedona to check out Cassandra's story—but he felt the summons was implied in his daughter's act of phoning him in the first place. "That is why I am here."
"You said you were here to find your daughter."
Ignoring the man's pigheadedness, the physicist tried to keep himself focused on the main task. "Cass said she had discovered something incredible and life changing."
Tony stared at the obdurate Indian. Was Friday trying to provoke him?
"Come again?" said Tony. "Then what did she mean? What happened out there in the desert that made her think she had seen something that overwhelmed her powers of description?"
"The Yavapai have always known about the Ghost Road. Your daughter did not discover it."
"Right. Point taken. Cassandra found this Ghost Road and she didn't know what it was—it was new to her, she had never seen one before—so then what happened? Where did you take her?"
"I did not take her," countered Friday. "She followed me."
Tony was slowly getting the measure of this fellow. He might wear a feather in his long braid of black hair and sport the faded denims and chambray of a modern cowboy of the Southwest, but this recalcitrant Native American was a match for every lab-coat-wearing, literalist pedant Tony had ever encountered in his years as a research physicist. Like his academic counterparts, Friday stubbornly insisted on the precise meaning of his words, making not the slightest effort to grease the wheels of communication.
"Okay. She followed you," said Tony. "Cass told me of a place called Secret Canyon. I've located it on the map. Is that where the Ghost Road can be found?"
Excerpted from THE SHADOW LAMP by STEPHEN LAWHEAD. Copyright © 2013 Stephen Lawhead. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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