The Fall – 5/6
Mr. Dulles bent down in front of Ayron and slung his arms around his shoulders and put him in a piggy-back position. “Your highness, please rest for a while.” He continued running as if there was no added weight. Ayron was surprised at the remarkable endurance of the skinny little man who had been the Royal Housekeeper for as long as he could remember. He wanted to compliment him, but all that came out of his lips was a tired, “Thank you.”
Mr. Dulles soon made his way through the opening of two rocky dunes and started to ascend a rocky stairway made of cut stones. It spiralled upwards around the mountain. The stairs were tall and uneven, stacked in a way to accommodate the steep incline of the mountain.
“Your highness, please don’t look down. And hold on to me tightly.” Mr. Dulles glided alongside the rope railing at the same speed as running on level ground.
“I think we lost them, Mr. Dulles.” Ayron caught a glimpse of the world below as he looked behind them. The side of the stairwell descended sharply into empty space until it met the rocky crags of the next mountain. There was nothing below them except for a few trees and rocks that jutted out from the rocky cliff.
“Perhaps for the moment, but they will catch up soon.” Mr. Dulles started to slow down as they continued upwards, “Your highness, do you think you can run again?”
“I think so. I do feel better.”
“What do you say to a shortcut then?”
“A shortcut?” Ayron’s eyes widened. Mr. Dulles is full of surprises.
“Yes. Bear with me for a moment.” Mr. Dulles inspected the rocks next to him and took a small step towards a certain spot. “Hold on to me tightly!” He pushed hard with both arms and rolled aside a large rock, revealing a hidden passageway.
“A hidden passageway?” Ayron could not believe his eyes.
“Yes, it is a shortcut to the Rock of Prayer.” Mr. Dulles stepped inside and slid the rock back in place.
Ayron felt his feet touch the ground and he supported his own weight. “Mr. Dulles, I can’t see anything.” His voice echoed inside the passageway.
“Your highness, please speak softly. Our voices can travel quite a long way up.” Mr. Dulles whispered in the dark, “The stairs in this hidden passageway are smooth. We can continue to go up in here.”
Ayron lifted his left leg and felt the height of the stair in front of him. “Must we walk in the dark?” He whispered.
“I’m afraid it’s not safe to light fires in here. You will be able to see after some time.” Mr. Dulles placed Ayron’s hands against the walls on both sides of the passageway. “Your highness, please start walking slowly and use the walls to guide you. It will become easy after a while because all the stairs are the same height.” Mr. Dulles placed his right hand lightly on Ayron’s shoulder. “I’ll follow behind you.”
“Mr. Dulles, this is like the hidden passages inside our castle.” Ayron whispered with excitement. He kept his hands on the cold stone walls and moved up slowly, planting each step firmly. Soon, he noticed a faint light peeping through the crevices of the rocks above him. “Mr. Dulles, I can see now!”
“Yes, your highness. Your eyes have adjusted to the darkness. Let’s continue as quickly as possible.” Mr. Dulles urged Ayron.
“How much farther do we have to go?”
“255 steps more.” Mr. Dulles whispered. “There were 272 steps from where we entered until the Rock of Prayer, you have taken exactly 17 steps so far.”
“You counted the steps?”
“Yes, your highness, we must count the steps. This passageway is very particular. If we miss the exit to the Rock of Prayer, we’ll reach the top of the mountain after another 272 steps. If we missed that exit, we can be stuck inside for a while.”
Ayron counted the steps silently in his mind as drops of sweat rolled down his forehead. He bit his lips and dragged his legs when a pain and soreness surged up. 211, 212, 213, 214, 215, 216…232, 233, 234. Just a few more steps. He panted. We’re al..almost there.
At exactly 272 steps, Mr. Dulles rolled over a large rock on the side of the passageway. The Rock of Prayer extended into the sky and sat on top of clouds. The crisp and cold air was refreshing to the mind. Ayron gazed at the distant purple mountains on the other side of the Valley of Gor, the blue sky above, and the Pearl Sea far below. He felt liberated being here, not being surrounded by the walls of a castle.
“Your highness, you will be on your own now. Please go southward toward the sun as far as you can. And pray to the God of your fathers in your heart for help when you jump off. Someone will catch your fall.” Mr. Dulles lifted Ayron down to the Rock of Prayer.
“Yes, Mr. Dulles.” Ayron looked at Mr. Dulles with affection. “What about you?”
“I shall go back and report to your father. Your highness, please do not be concerned about us. Your father’s God is with us.” Mr. Dulles placed his hands on Ayron’s shoulders, and hid the quiver in his voice. “Promise me you will be brave and not let them lay a hand on you.”
“I promise!” Ayron wiped the tears from his face, “Did father prepare a surprise for me?”
“You can think of it like that. Now you must go. I will see you off from here.” Mr. Dulles kissed Ayron’s forehead the same way he would his own son. “May the God of your father and your mother protect you on your journey!”
“Please take care of father and mother!” Ayron took a few steps towards the sun, then looked back at Mr. Dulles. The same little man who took care of him for the past ten years. His body froze and emotions welled up inside him. I must be dreaming right now. Today is father’s birthday celebration. When I wake up, I will have a proper breakfast with father and mother, like we always did…