And So It Begins...
There were seven vertical shafts in all. Looking from the top to the bottom was a little like looking into the abyss except it was narrower and when one dropped a pebble inside after a time one could hear it land. Dominic had been to the bottom many times climbing down from above since he was a boy and repeatedly securing fresh ropes since the mineral content leaking through the shafts would rot rope within a year.
Having safely climbed number one with the baby, Dominic pondered climbing the second shaft. He remembered now that the last time he had replaced the ropes those at the bottom two shafts had not needed to be replaced and so he had used the rope for another much needed purpose. Thus he pulled on the rope now grateful that he had made the first shaft with the baby safely, having forgotten about not replacing the ropes last year and though he could well see that it would be a precarious climb he really had no other choice.
In his hand the base of the rope was dry and brittle, but he did have some rope stored away a hundred yards or so along the level above. “Mm what to do, what to do.” Dominic pondered, looking down at little Vincent who flat on his back gurgled quite happily in the harness that could be strapped to an adult for carrying a child.
“Will you be alright here while I go up and fasten a new rope?” He asked the baby who of course could not reply but appeared to be content enough. “I’ll be as quick as I can, I’ll just move you away in case I do fall.” He lifted the baby and sure that he was safe where he was going to leave him, Dominic looked down and smiled at the child before realising something else, “Oh dear. I shall have to take the lamp or I’ll not see where I’m going up there, that’ll mean you being left in darkness.” Dwelling deep inside of himself, Dominic added, “Your daddy isn’t following, or if he is then he is too far from us yet to take you from me, so…” He looked at the child dubiously, “Its either leave you in the dark for twenty minutes or I make the climb with you strapped to me and we risk the rope snapping under our weight. It might snap anyway, so what should I do for the best?” Dominic spoke to the baby and to himself out loud trying to decide. Finally he knew what he had to do, “Sorry little one, but I have to do it this way.” He looked around hoping to find something that he could light to illuminate the level for the child but finding nothing, he promised little Vincent that he would be as quick as he could, then checking the child was warm and safe for a final time, hooked the lamp onto the knot of rope put there for that purpose and began the climb upward.
It wasn’t easy, it never was needing light to see by, the lamp was always a hindrance having to be slid knot by knot up the rope as Dominic climbed, and with the rope as brittle as it was, it frayed in his hand and large welts began to appear that became so sore Dominic was forced to climb slower than he’d have liked. The usual twenty minutes there and back soon became twenty minutes one way, and Dominic still had to find the stored ropes and attach them, although his descent would be quicker, he could just slide down the shaft. Then it would be a case of attaching the baby’s harness to the new rope, climb up the shaft again and at level two hoist the baby up the shaft to where he was. And maybe it would have been as easy as that, but for two things. One Dominic might have thought he was the only one ever to have explored all the levels, might have assumed that anything he left anywhere would still be there when he returned for it, but he had not thought about that other fellow the one with the mop of blonde hair and a name reminiscent of his person. Mouse.
Looking for Jamie some months earlier Mouse had discovered the adjoining shafts and had used the ropes to descend the shafts down to each level completely searching each tunnel before backtracking and dropping himself down the next shaft to a lower level. Now everyone knew that Mouse was a scavenger, had he of lived on the coast he would surely have been a beach comber and anything that Mouse found he took, simply because it was there for the taking. Sometimes he did not move it far, just put it where he might find it again, and this he had done with Dominic’s large coil of rope. Thus when Dominic walked along counting as his paced to the place where he expected to put his hand on the waterproof bag containing the rope that he needed he found it not to be there. “Must have miscounted,” he told himself bewildered. “Didn’t pass it so must be further along.” Dominic walked ahead ever aware that the longer he spent looking the longer little Vincent was left alone in the dark. Still he told himself as the baby was quiet he must have fallen asleep and as he was too young to crawl or roll even if he could escape the harness he would still be where he left him whenever he did get back down there. Relieved by that thought Dominic walked the stretch of tunnel and finding nothing stopped to rethink things through. “I’m sure I left it at level two.” He told himself, then suddenly thought of something, “But was that level two from the bottom or level two from the top? No, I climbed from the bottom up. This is level two otherwise known to my father and the other tunnel dwellers as level F. The top one is level A or to me level seven since I live down and go up…” he pondered out loud as he thought things through. “No I definitely left the ropes on level two. Oh well I shall have to climb to level four where the store is.” He patted his jeans glad to find that the usual ring of keys he needed to unlock his special store were there inside his pocket safe and sound. “Never travel without them.” He chuckled then thinking of the baby couldn’t decide whether he should go down and check on him or hurry and climb two more shafts get the rope and finish the job as quickly as possible and only the thought of going down and up that brittle rope once more made him decide to start climbing to level three. Thus it was soon an hour since he left the baby that he finally made it to level four and to his small store set inside the tunnel wall and locked by a metal door just big enough to place ropes and candles and matches a first aid box and a few packets of dried food inside. Mouse had not found this store or if he had he had no way of getting to what was inside unless he blew the door off with explosive. “Best take a candle too.” Dominic reasoned as he pulled three bags of rope from the store, “I can leave the baby some light while I fasten the ropes from level to level.” Thus satisfied that the store was locked and secure he packed the items he needed around him and set off for the climb back down to level three, two and ultimately one.
With two ropes coiled on one shoulder and one over the other and his lantern hooked on the knots of rope, Dominic climbed back down to level three without any problem. Usually he would have slid down the shaft using his boots against the rock wall as a brake along the way, but the ropes he carried kept snagging on the rocks on the way down and so he was again forced to take it slow.
At level three, he uncoiled one of the ropes and fastening it in place with the use of metal pins and a hammer and chisel he tossed the length of rope into the shaft and checking it for holding his weight, he began the climb down. Thus reaching level two he did likewise, securing the new rope into place and climbing down intending to throw the final rope down the shaft at level one to ground zero that being the first shaft he had climbed now almost two hours earlier.
Finally he reached level one again and sighing with relief brought the lantern down the shaft and held it to illuminate the tunnel looking to where he had left little Vincent with a huge smile of relief on his face…a smile that quickly vanished as he found the spot empty!
“What the!” Dominic cried, running to the spot and actually bending down to scrape his fingers along the floor, it was cold and Dominic rushed to and fro in the tunnel his eyes darting this way and that searching for the baby. “Its impossible he can’t have gone anywhere!” Dominic panicked and dwelling inside of himself sought his brother’s position. “Vincent still hasn’t found a way through that tunnel.” His brother’s frustration was now worse than before and the connection told Dominic that Vincent was still some distance away and throughout his climbing up and down the shafts Dominic had been aware of that fact keeping his brother’s whereabouts close at hand knowing how vulnerable the child was by himself with Vincent’s ability to sense where he was.
“I’m sure I left him here!” Dominic cried looking down the last shaft to ground zero. On his fingers he added the levels and the shafts he had climbed but through his anxiety and all the climbing he had done he became confused. “I must have got mixed up. Perhaps I haven’t climbed down far enough. Perhaps this is level three.” He reasoned with a sigh of relief and knowing he had already replaced the rope down the second shaft and forgetting that he hadn’t yet replaced it down the first, and confused about which level he was on, Dominic started to climb into the shaft with the intention of sliding down the new rope as quickly as possible, realising his mistake only seconds later when the old brittle rope snapped beneath his weight and sent him plummeting down to the bottom. He broke his fall with boots anchoring into the shaft walls and hands now sore and bleeding from all the climbing he had done, but even so the fall to the bottom rendered him breathless and dishevelled and shaking like a leaf. Still there in the dark he remembered the candle and the matches and immediately struck one alight and pointing in the direction of where he had laid the baby was so elated that he was sure to find him there that he even started to speak, “I’m back, are you okay?” The flickering candle illuminated the spot just three feet from the base of the shaft and Dominic felt nausea rise in his stomach to find the place empty. He gasped, searched frantically all around and found nothing but the sickening reality that there were no more shafts going down from this level. Distinctly he remembered climbing one with the baby, distinctly he remembered not daring to climb the second with the baby in tow and laying him down three feet from the bottom of the shaft in the ceiling above and distinctly knew that on his return the baby had gone! He would have to go back up and find him - he had to be up there somewhere, for with Vincent so obviously detained and with Narcissa dead and no one else in these parts, then the child must have rolled someplace dragging the harness with him. He could be hooked up anywhere, Dominic panicked for he loved the child even though he had no time for babies. Little Vincent represented everything he had ever planned and dreamed about - his whole future. Frantic Dominic reached up for the rope that would take him up to the shaft in the ceiling some three feet above his head and then just as suddenly came the sickening remembrance of the snapping rope, and the realisation that he was stuck at ground zero, and the only way out was to go back, and that would mean encountering Vincent along the way. Dominic froze, that might not have worried him unduly had he of had the baby with him, but without Vincent’s son, and without the knowledge of what had become of him…Dominic panicked…he couldn’t go back just yet. He would have to wait until Vincent gave up or found the way out and Dominic hoped it would not be the latter, for if it was the former then Vincent would make his way to where Dominic was and then what could he tell him? “Sorry Vincent, I’ve lost your son?” Eyes closed Dominic swayed as another wave of nausea hit him. It was a nightmare it had to be, otherwise where on earth was that baby?
*** *** ***
Right at that moment, the baby was snug and secure in his mother’s arms and Catherine bestowing kiss after kiss to her son’s soft cheeks literally couldn’t get enough of him. Winslow at her side couldn’t resist touching the soft downy head either, for how they had found him had been nothing short of a miracle. Coming along knowing he was there somewhere the pair had almost trod on him as holding the lantern waist high their sight had been somewhat at a disadvantage where things at foot were concerned. It was only when Catherine had grabbed Winslow and held him still and announced, “Here’s here!” That the two had looked all about them finally with gazes coming to rest at their feet and finding mere inches from Winslow’s large and hefty boots the baby lying asleep on the tunnel floor wrapped in his harness. And though they had searched all over there had been no sight of Dominic anywhere, and they had concluded eventually that Dominic had gone up, but whether or not his intention was to return for the baby they did not intend to wait around to find out.
Now they walked steadily back retracing their steps, and still some hours away from where they left Vincent Catherine hoped that their son’s cheerful and contented disposition would reveal to Vincent that all was well. And it did, but it in no way told him who his son was contented with and so Vincent continued to fret and worry until the last person he expected to see that day suddenly appeared lantern swinging before him and accompanied by a voice that asked him cheerily, “Child what are you waiting for?
“Narcissa?” Vincent peered through the light that she held before her. Noticing how the light irritated his vision, Narcissa lowered the lamp to the ground, “Yes, tis I. Now answer my question child, why are you here?”
“I’m waiting for Catherine and Winslow, they went on ahead.” Quickly he explained about Dominic’s connection with him, “And so he would know that I am following and would make sudden changes to his route in order to remain that bit ahead of me.” Vincent finished.
“I see, yet you are here when you no longer need to be. Your son is with his mother and is safe and your brother will fret and rant and rave for a while but he will come to realise that such a plan was useless. You have no need to worry about him Vincent, your brother is very resourceful and will find a life to lead that will not hinder yours further. So go, back the way you came, you are cold and unhappy, but you have no need to be. I will wait here for Catherine, unless you think you could climb on my shoulders to reach up into the shaft.” Narcissa chuckled as Vincent’s eyes became wide open and incredulous, “I would break your back!” He exclaimed but Narcissa laughed, “Nonsense I am as strong as an ox!”
“Even so, I would never climb on your back for any reason, Narcissa, neither should you suggest such a thing to anyone else.” Again Narcissa laughed, “Well then perhaps you would care to carry these rocks over to climb upon, would that be acceptable?” Again surprised by what she said, Vincent looked to where Narcissa held up the lamp to illuminate some rocks he had not known were there in all the hours he had paced the tunnel and without further ado he snatched them up one by one positioning them beneath the shaft as he went.
“Thank you Narcissa!” Vincent kissed the old woman’s cheek and hugged her tight and she chuckled as he began his climb, “Just remember Vincent, that seldom are things as bad as they seem.” He knew she meant finding the rocks but knowing Narcissa it would have a double meaning and he was greatly relieved by what she had told him regarding his brother. If Dominic left them alone in the future they would have no need to keep looking over their shoulders and expecting trouble though of course after an incident such as they had endured they would forever after be cautious of everything.
Now that he was on the level where he assumed Catherine and Winslow to be, Vincent almost fell headlong into the shaft that suddenly appeared in the tunnel floor and was about to climb down when he heard voices. That they answered one another told him it wasn’t Dominic and the baby, and that he soon recognised Catherine’s voice and sensing his son with her sent great waves of relief spiralled through Vincent. “Hold on to the rope and I’ll haul you up.” Vincent called down to them.
“Vincent, how did you get out?” Winslow called back cheerily. He was more than happy for a helping hand feeling weary and almost dead on his feet. The journey had been long and perilous and mentally exhausting and he was ready for his bed.
Vincent said nothing just pulled on the rope until first Catherine came up, then dropping the rope down again, next a lesser weight at its end indicated his son and both Catherine and Vincent pulled the rope up carefully with hearts in their mouths, and finally once Vincent had kissed his son and cuddled him for a few minutes he handed the baby to Catherine who stood by as Vincent hauled Winslow back to their level. The two men embraced and Vincent thanked Winslow for all his help. “Don’t thank me, thank Mouse. Had he not of been looking for Jamie he might never have found this place. Come to that thank your brother had he not kidnapped Jamie, Mouse would never have needed to look.”
“So what goes around comes around.” Catherine remarked, “Your brother is to be blamed for everything that has happened, if only he knew how it would backfire on him.” She then went on to relate how they had found the baby and what they had supposed had happened for Dominic to leave him there.
“Thing is,” Winslow reminded them, “Had Catherine of not had a bond with little Vincent, Dominic would never have left the child there, so thank goodness for that at the very least.”
“Doubt our son will think so when he’s growing up. Imagine two parents knowing exactly what he’s up to every step of the way.” Vincent’s eyes twinkled with amusement, Catherine had a point, as his and Devin’s childhood was bad enough with Father seemingly having eyes in the back of his head at their every turn, his poor little son would have a hard time escaping the eyes of his parents and Vincent almost pitied him. Still there were times such as now, when the very gift of the bond was so precious that he thanked God for its existence. Without it their son could have been lost to them forever.
“So what will you do now Vincent?” Catherine asked as they neared the end of their journey some hours later, “Are you coming home?”
Without hesitation Vincent told her, “Yes, I think I have been away for long enough but no doubt I have a lot of bridges to mend. Is Father very angry that I have stayed away so long?”
Literally, honestly, no sooner were the words out of his mouth then did Vincent hear his father reply, “As in the case of the Prodigal no, and had I a fattened calf we would indeed be having a feast tonight.”
“Father!” Vincent exclaimed suddenly seeing the old man leaned upon his cane and waiting for them with a few of the tunnel residents, all of whom were smiling from ear to ear.
“Vincent, is so good to have you back…welcome home Vincent…its good to see you alive and well…” Exclamations like those surrounded Vincent with, he noticed, the emphasis lying on the word ‘alive’. He beamed at his friends and family as they crowded around them, the little ones hopping from foot to foot eager to be noticed and to give Vincent a kiss as Father embraced his son and welcomed him home.
“A fattened calf we might not have,” Catherine announced “But I bet pizza all round wouldn’t go amiss?”
Amid cries of ‘Oooh Yes please Catherine,” and a hefty rumble of hunger that came from Vincent’s stomach Catherine got her answer, and laughing the tunnel dwellers made their merry way back to the hub with arms around one another and full of questions and happy more than anything in the world to see Vincent and Catherine back together again after so long apart.
And little Vincent? He was sound asleep, and as with the story of his father’s arrival to the tunnels would have to listen to the tale of his homecoming year after year feeling incredulous that he had come so close to knowing a different life story at his uncle’s hands. But that particular story wouldn’t be told for yet a while so in the meantime…
Vincent and Catherine had a story of their own to create…
And they did…
*** *** ***
“Catherine, will you marry me?” They’d been sitting upon their favourite ledge arms around each other, their son gurgling happy in his carry cot anchored between Vincent’s thighs and reminiscing on the loving they’d shared during the night just past.
“Marry you?” Catherine looked into the china blue of Vincent’s eyes and saw all her summer skies there, “Oh yes my love I’ll marry you.”
The china eyes filled with adoration and love and Catherine watched as if in slow motion he brought his lips, those glorious textured lips to hers in loves sweet kiss and breathily Catherine sighed, “All my dreams have come true Vincent.”
“As have mine, although it is almost as though we have been here before, except for him…” Vincent nodded toward their son, “He’s so beautiful Catherine, thank you so much. I love you.”
“As I love you. Oh Vincent, its going to be so wonderful to be able to take moonlit walks with you in the park again, and see the stars reflected in the lake. I’ve missed those things so much.”
“And to sit on your balcony, you do still have the apartment?” Vincent asked anxiously.
Relieved Vincent sighed “Then to sit on the balcony and wrap you in my cloak and read poetry to you?”
“Oh Catherine I too have missed those things so much.”
Snuggling against him her head on his shoulder Catherine pictured doing again all the things they had missed, until Vincent surprised her with something new.
“And to wake to find you in my arms, inside my bed every morning for the rest of my life?” Vincent asked quietly.
“Oh yes, Vincent.”
“And so… my dear Catherine... our relationship.…it begins…again?” Vincent asked hopefully.
Remembering how it used to be between them and how it was now Catherine moulded her body to his and just before their lips met in a long and passionate kiss she told him mischievously, “Oh yes my love…and so it begins…again…
…mm only better.”