|The City Under the Bridge
- Laura J. Underwood
The sight of the gorge dropping several hundred meters to the rushing river below took Anwyn Baldomyre’s breath
away. He had heard the thunder of the water well before he crested the rise in the mountain road, but the magnitude
of the sound had not prepared him. What lay before him now was so visually stunning, he faltered in his steps. “Lords
and Ladies, Glynnanis, will you look at that,” he said.
:Water, the harp sang in Anwyn’s head, and one note chimed like a rude snort. :I prefer not to, thank you.
Anwyn shook his head and smiled. For a creature that had complained about being kept hidden in the dungeons of Far
Reach for so long, Glynnanis showed little interest in the natural wonders Anwyn had encountered on his travels
He sighed and peered across the gorge. “I can’t see the other side.”
Indeed, a mist as thick as wood smoke hovered over the rim, moving like a crowd of ghosts and making it impossible
to tell how high or low the other side might be. By the Four, I must be up in the clouds! Alas that meant he did not
dare risk using his Gate Song to cross the gorge, not without a clear view of the other side. Rhystar of Far Reach had
warned Anwyn the magic song would only safely take the harper some place he had already been, or some place he
could see for himself. And since Anwyn could not use each of his magic songs more than once a day, he was not
eager to waste this one, much less risk his life.
The road, he noticed, followed this side of the gorge. Perhaps it would lead to a way across as well.
Only one way I’ll ever find out.
:We’re going on? Glynnanis asked.
“I’ve no desire to go back,” Anwyn said. Behind him lay a village he knew would no longer welcome one of silver
eyes, even if he had used his limited magic to do them good service. The farther he got from Nymbaria’s borders, the
more superstitions he found. He glanced at the unicorn head carved from white wood. Glynnanis was eyeing the edge
to their right.
:Then please walk a little closer to the left, the harp said. :You know I have no fondness for heights...or water.
“You have no fondness for anything, I think,” Anwyn said with a chuckle then moved that way.
The road stayed on the edge of the cliffs and even began to descend into the gorge. Soon, the cliffs rose like the walls
of a great castle, blocking the late afternoon light and plunging the world into bluish shadows. Dark always came
earlier to these mountains when one was not atop their snow-clad peaks.
I shall have to find shelter soon, Anwyn thought. The wind that rushed up from the depths of the gorge whipped his
cloak into ill-mannered wings and lashed his face with strands of his own hair. It would be impossible to camp in this
wind, for no ordinary fire would last.
:Then you should make a magical one, Glynnanis scolded.
“And waste another spell song?” Anwyn retorted. “I’m trying to live as I should, without magic, Glynnanis.”
:It is foolish to be so frugal with magic, just because you have not made your sacrifice.
Here we go again. Anwyn rolled his eyes and sighed. The one song that never changed was the harp’s constant
nagging about Anwyn’s refusal to make the sacrifice that would release his power.
:You have great potential, Glynnanis said. :Why do you waste your skill? You should use your magic. It will teach you
to handle it better, and teach you to love it. And eventually, to make the sacrifice that will release your fullest
potential as one of the great magister like Rhystar.
Anwyn frowned and hoped to swiftly find a cave before the temptation to drop Glynnanis in the gorge grew any
stronger. But then guilt tightened his gut and banished the thought. Rhystar had made the harp for another who died.
He had gifted the harp on Anwyn when his own was burned by the fire wraith that once tortured him.
Anwyn shook those dark memories away, for the road ahead seemed to have no end. As he walked on, watching the
shadows grow longer, he saw the gorge bent like an elbow. And as he rounded that turn, he froze.
The gorge widened out ahead, and in that gap, someone had built a massive stone bridge. But it was no ordinary
crossing. Its topmost part was a single arch with twin towers and what looked like an opulent palace standing in the
middle. He could make out gatehouses and stables and garrisons at each end. Below the span, he saw structures that
must have been grand houses or temples, and in the sections below those stood tier upon tier of buildings filling the
space from the top to the bottom of the narrowing gorge. In fact, the lower he looked, the more dense and solid the
arches and layers were filled. While the structures above were stone and timber, and very lovely, all those below were
made of mortared stone and had colorful slate roofs. Many looked as though they had been crammed in haphazardly
to form a city gone mad. Tinier and tinier they became until at the very bottom he could see the river boiling out from
underneath it all.
“Lords and Ladies,” Anwyn exclaimed. To his wonder, a number of people were going about their daily lives, moving
in and out of streets barely wide enough to admit a single horse, hanging out of windows and off balconies to shout at
one another above the roar of the water. Here and there were terraced patchworks of green where gardens had been
coaxed to life. Lanterns that resisted the guttering effect of the fierce wind churned up by the water were being lit
along the edges. Laundry flapped in the updraft, like giant birds about to take flight. A warm glow not unlike the first
dance of fireflies began to fill the gorge.
“What a wonder this is,” Anwyn said. “I hope we can find an inn...”
:You propose to sleep in that damp, dismal place? the harp retorted. :Are you truly so eager to warp me?
“Oh, Glynnanis, where is your sense of adventure? And anyway, it doesn’t look all that dismal.”
:My sense of adventure tells me to stay well away from water, Glynnanis said. :And I sense magic here, ancient magic
and ill intentions. We should not linger.
“I sense nothing,” Anwyn said. “I think you’re just in one of your grumpy moods. Rhystar will be envious when I tell
him of this place.”
:Clearly you and I have different ideas of adventure, the harp said.
Anwyn shook his head and hurried on. Shelter for the night. A sanctuary against wind and water and wolves and
Still, he would make certain Glynnanis was well wrapped.
Just to be safe...