“Did I do that right?” she said to the stones. Listening as a faint rumbling sound began to grow louder, she pressed the final rune on the final stone. She whirled around to face the centre of the stone circle. A blackened, arched stone of granite had risen from the earth, still covered in clods of earth. A darker shadow in front of the stone appeared and the earth slid back to reveal an entrance. Moving closer she could now see a set of stone steps descending into the earth.
Heart pounding, Lisbet Mary moved quickly to the stairway, and breathed in the dank smell from the Faeries well. Hand over her chest to steady herself she cautiously peered down into the dark stairway. “Quickly now!” she heard a whispery voice say in her ear, as the sky grew darker. She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and stepped into the underground realm.
She sneezed as pungent and persistent smells became stronger, the deeper she descended. Trembling, she felt along the nubbly walls to steady her steps and with a sharp intake of breath, she drew back her fingers. There was a different surface here now, smooth in places yet familiar shapes jumbled together.
At the bottom of the steps she found a torch of reeds – striking her flint to spark it alight. She stared! The walls of the circular cavern were all lined with human bones, as far as she could see. Bones upon Bones!
She looked down to see her own footprints in the dust, trailing back to the stone steps, where she could just see the last rays of the setting sun from the world above. That low scraping sound again, stone on stone, made her shiver and turn towards her target as the opening to the Faery well closed her from sight. “One Thousand steps to the Tree”, Grandmother had said.
Lisbet counted her steps calling each one out loudly and listening to her own voice echo over and over again, “100, ….. 500, …. 1000”. Nothing else could be heard, nothing else moved, nothing else could be seen. She was aware of her own heart beat drumming in her ears and she carefully made her way through the outer chamber of the Otherworld. At one thousand steps she saw that the chamber narrowed to a thin wedge shaped opening in the far wall. The Gateway rune was etched into the wall beside another stone stairway leading upward – and she knew she was on the right track.
By the light of the torch fire, she spread out the ancient map on the bottom step of the stone stairway. Blinking as she peered at the ancient symbols etched in black on the worn, leather surface; she wished her grandmother was here. She glanced up at her own shadow dancing in the torchlight and shivered. Lisbet whispered the words from the map as she climbed the winding stairs.
“Climb the winding stairs
Find the niche beside guarding doors
Reach inside and find the key
Turn and the Otherworld is yours.”
At the top of the stairs were two heavy oak doors, barriers to the Otherworld. Stepping up closer, intent on her task, she whispered the lines again. With small trembling fingers she now reached into the niche and her fingers closed over a small metal key. She walked toward the Faery doors and inserted the key in the lock, struggling to turn it. It took all her strength. The lock was long unused. Her skin prickled with excitement as she heard the creaking of the hinges and the huge carved doors swung inwards in front of her. A large round room lay beyond. Shadows grew and shrank as she waved the torch from left to right, and she turned to face the open doorway. A waft of woody smells delighted her senses, and she took a deep breath.