by Loren Eaton
The court cared not that Enl had pledged love by undying starlight. Commoners daren’t clasp royal hands. The sentence was severe. When the mine doors crashed shut, he had only a mattock and his wits.
Enl knew his sole hope for earning release lay in the lowest level. He kept distance counting steps, his mind by recalling their pledge.
He nearly lost both when a cold breath fell on his neck.
Gemdigger opens his own grave, said a frigid voice. Warm man, tell us why you came.
“For love,” said Enl.
We move through earth as though it’s air. You’ll find nothing here. Icy laughter reverberated. The shinies are so very deep.
“Still,” Enl said, “I’ll dig.”
He did until his palms ran with blood.
Love lives not beneath the earth, the voice whispered. Only dim, dark and dirt.
“Mine lives,” Enl replied.
He dug until the mattock splintered.
The cold breath stunk of sulfur. Forever rest. Join us. Lay yourself in the dust.
Enl’s strength faltered. His legs buckled.
Deeper darkness rose.
What roused him was glittering, distant sparkling of amethyst, ruby, diamond. They were deep. But the earth moved easily now.
When the cave was unsealed, the jewels found piled at its entrance would’ve freed a dozen men. A search yielded only wild stories from ashen guards: They’d heard a gnome voice cold as the spaces between stars murmuring, Until the hills should turn to sand, I’ll wait.
No one marked such superstition.
No one except the princess.