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40. Battling a Lake Monster
Wynne pounded and thrashed, trying to get whatever it was to loosen its grip on her leg, but the more she fought the tighter it clenched until she felt like her calf might snap.
Ever down they went, where the water was piercing cold and the darkness impenetrable. Chilled to the bone and beginning to panic, Wynne pulled frantically on the thing, but its outside was smooth and slippery, impossible to get a grip on with her numbing fingers.
The downward movement stopped and Wynne hit a body of sorts, big and firm. Bracing herself against that, she kicked with her free foot at the thing trapping her leg, employing all the force she could muster. Pain surged through her other foot then, the surface underneath apparently had sharp edges (teeth?). There was no helping it, she kicked again and again, but the thing would not budge.
Her lungs burned, she desperately needed air, and soon!
She tried to drag the stuck leg against the sharpness below, feeling her skin break and hoping it would hurt the thing as well. This seemed to do the trick, it finally loosened a little, enough for Wynne to slip away and with a last kick, push off and surge upwards.
High above was faint lightness, but so far away, too far. She swam and swam, all the time expecting the thing to catch her again. Her heartbeat pounded and bright flashes sparkled in the edges of her vision. She could not hold her breath much longer.
Exerting every last ounce of strength, Wynne covered the final yard and broke the surface, gasping for air.
The sky had cleared and the moon was out. Now for the first time she could see the thing – or things, rather – that had caught her, vague shadows against the moonlight. What was this?
It was huge, with one central body and many snake-like tentacles which waved in the air and stirred the water, like they were searching, maybe trying to find her again. In the centre was a round mouth, and the sharp parts indeed seemed to be teeth, a clutter of them, silvery and pointed like a basket of knives.
There was someone else in the lake too, struggling with the creature, fighting it.
Legolas ! He was injured, he should not wrestle a lake monster! But she had no time to see how he fared, because a tentacle came straight toward her, its many suction cups open and ready to attach themselves. No wonder it had been hard to get off those!
Wynne threw herself backwards until she hit rock. The shore was steep here and she scrabbled in vain across the slick surface, unable to climb it.
But there! A darkness beside her, a crack in the stone wall. She followed the cliff until she reached the hollow part and crawled in, kicking at the tentacle which brushed against her foot. She found herself in a tiny cave, partly submerged in water up to her waist. Further inside was a ledge above the surface. She scrambled onto it and turned to face the monster. The tentacle had followed her in, and now another joined it. They were aiming right at her, as if they had eyes of their own.
The floor underneath Wynne was rough and she felt a loose stone against her palm. She picked it up and hacked fervidly at the groping limbs, but they were so fast and she began to tire. Before she knew it, one had sucked itself to her foot, immediately beginning to pull her out.
She slid along the uneven ground, casting aside the makeshift weapon and flailing wildly to catch something to hold on to. Her fingers connected with a protruding part of the wall, and by stretching her body she managed to get a weak hold and drag herself closer. She wrapped both arms and her free leg around it, clinging to the crag with all her might, like a cold and stony embrace.
The lithe appendage still tugged mercilessly. Wynne tried to scrape it against the wall, while simultaneously fending off the other one which hovered dangerously close to her head. It made a thrusting attack in her direction, hitting the outcrop in the process. The stone crumbled with a loud rumble that echoed between the cave walls. Then loose rocks and gravel began to pour down, taking Wynne with them.
Black water engulfed her. The rockfall must be covering the entrance, because now all light was gone. Her foot had been released, thankfully, and Wynne pushed away, bouncing to the surface. Again she mounted the rock shelf in the farthest end of the hole, shivering and huddling, anxiously peering through the darkness.
Was she trapped in here now?
At least the tentacle seemed to be gone. Perhaps destroyed by falling stones?
But then she felt it again, that sickening, probing abomination searching through the water, finding her hiding place. Apparently the opening was not entirely shut, a hole big enough for one tentacle remained and the creature would not give her any respite. Only, now it did not get as far inside as before. It could not reach her here in the deepest part of the cave.
With her back pressed flat against the wall, Wynne stood, balancing unsteadily on the thin ledge. The air shifted whenever the sweeping organ passed by, and the water clucked and splashed as it writhed around in the confined space.
Where was Legolas? Had the monster devoured him whole with that huge, toothy mouth? Hot tears burned on Wynne’s cheeks. She was stuck here, forever caught in this black hole and she would surely die just as he likely had. Her situation was entirely hopeless.
In the absolute darkness there was no way to measure time, and thus minutes or hours went by. Wynne trembled badly from a combination of cold and agitation. Her legs were on fire, aching with the effort to keep out of the tentacle’s reach, she dared not stir even slightly. The bruised leg was beginning to hurt too, throbbing dully where she had scraped it on the thing’s teeth.
Then she felt a change in the air. The tentacle, it had stopped moving! And the water was still as well. Had it gone?
Another unmeasurable amount of time passed. Wynne strained her hearing, willing herself to breathe calmer and her heartbeat to slow down. It really was quieter now.
And then! A faint voice, muted by the rock wall: “Wynne!”
Legolas! It was Legolas’ voice, she would have recognized it anywhere. He was alive, outside in the lake and looking for her! This meant the monster must be defeated.
But how would she get out?
Tentatively Wynne slipped down from the ledge, landing on something soft and squishy. Letting out an involuntary yelp of shock, she had nearly climbed back up again when she realized the thing was perfectly still. It was dead.
“Wynne!” The voice was closer now, maybe he had heard her cry out.
“Legolas! I’m here!”
She waded ahead to the rockfall and tried to feel if there was anything left of the opening. It must be, because the tentacle had come inside.
With a deep breath she crouched below the surface, examining the rugged stone with her fingers. The way out was submerged in water but it was bigger than she had thought, perhaps half a yard in diameter. Unless it got tighter farther out she should be able to get through it.
She was out of air and ascended.
“Where? Where are you?” Legolas voice again.
“Stay there. I’m coming out!” Drawing another few breaths Wynne braced herself, mustering courage to proceed. Then she dove down, swam with steady strokes through the narrow tunnel, using the limp tentacle as a guide out. More rocks tumbled down as she brushed under them, and with a flash of panic she wriggled free, propelling herself like a corc from a bottle.
With force she bumped into something right outside. It was a body, but not soft or slimy. This was no monster, it was Legolas! Breaking the surface, she threw herself around his neck.
They hugged close and hard, neither of them finding any words. And then the others were there, Thranduil, Galion, Nugu – all of them coming together in a joint embrace.
“Are you hurt?” Thranduil’s voice sounded uncharacteristically concerned.
“Not too bad. I think I cut my leg.”
“Come, let us get out of here.”
Legolas took Wynne’s hand and led her ashore, where Sidra met her with another rough hug.
“I’m glad you are all right. When I saw the elves battle that thing I thought you were gone forever.” The woman’s voice was thick with emotion.
Someone lit a lantern and another started a fire. Wynne sat down close to it, hoping to get her body heat up again.
She gingerly felt the lower leg. There were round, swollen bumps where the monster’s tentacles had attached themselves, but the cut did not seem too deep.
“Allow me.” Thranduil had sat down beside her. He carefully cleaned the wound and smeared Athelas -salve on it. “It has stopped bleeding already, I think we can leave it open to dry,” he said, mostly to Galion who held the healing equipment.
“Aye. And those swellings should hopefully go down fairly soon. There will probably be bruises, though.” He stroked one of the bumps.
“What about you, are you hurt, Legolas?” Wynne asked anxiously, remembering seeing how he had been fighting the thing one-handedly.
“Nay. I have encountered a creature of that ilk before, outside Moria. I knew of its weak points.”
“Nevertheless, you should have called us out sooner,” scolded his father.
“There was no time. I could not let it take her!”
“How come you were in the lake in the first place?” Thranduil had turned to Wynne, and even in this slight lamplight that intimidating, knowing gaze penetrated her. Her mouth went dry.
“She slipped,” said Legolas, saving her a lame attempt at lying. “On the wet stones.”
“She slipped,” repeated Thranduil. It was clear he did not believe that, but thankfully Galion interrupted before he could ask more.
“Come, we are all cold and soaked through, let us change into dry clothes and get back to sleep.” He helped Wynne rise.
“You go with me,” decided Sidra, and turned to her husband: “Honey, is it alright if you sleep outside the rest of the night?”
Wynne was promptly ushered into the tent then, where Sidra dried and undressed her in a no-nonsense way. It was comforting, like she was a little girl again and just had been bathed by Grandmama.
When she at last lay in her bed, dry and feeling the warmth return, she heard Thranduil’s dry voice from his and Legolas’ tent:
“It's interesting. She slipped so suddenly and you still had time to remove your hose and your boots.”
Swimming in lakes always freaks me out, I’m certainly more of a sea person (I even live on an island heh). I’m afraid I will catch leeches or be bitten by an old pike, the water is so dark and who knows what evil hides in the deep? This fear might have influenced this chapter. ;)
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