Denzel, an old Cornish miner who had seen better days, walked the group to the cap of the hill. “The shaft goes down a good long way,” he said. “No one comes here anymore but me and my missus, ‘least not since the mine flooded out. It was a good producer, too. But you see the camp is all abandoned now and the men moved on.”
“I don’t know what the Saxons thought they would find in these mines,” Gaius said.
“A lot of fuss over money.” Patrick’s voice underlined the foolishness of that choice.
“There was never any gold,” Festuscato added.
“But all these abandoned houses, all up the hillside. Makes it look like the Saxons came here,” Gaius said.
“Slash and burn,” Patrick agreed, and Festuscato nodded.
“I don’t understand.” Dibs got on a different track. “Why was the mine abandoned?”
Festuscato tried to explain. “It has to do with the way the land formed in Cornwall, and Lyoness more so. When the land cooled, it formed cracks all around, and the hot, molten mineral rich rock pushed up from below.” Festuscato imagined one day all those cracks would give way and there would be a massive earthquake, but he said nothing about it out loud.
“Yes, well, you could say when the flood waters came everything cooled in place, so what you have is tall shafts of tin deposits, sometimes copper or arsenic, which means a little silver, but no gold. Not even a hint of gold.”
“But I still don’t understand,” Dibs said. “I’ve seen mines, and they dig underground to get to a layer of dirt that has the iron or coal or whatever, but then they dig sideways to extract the ore.”
“Not here. It is all just up and down.” Festuscato tried to show with his hands. “Ordinary mines spread out, but tin mines here go up and down. Anyway, when they dig deep enough to reach the ground water, however deep that might be, the mine floods out at the bottom and they can’t dig any deeper. I suppose if they had a pump or some way to keep the water out, they might dig a little deeper.”
“You seem well informed for a stranger,” Denzel said. “I thought you said you were a Roman?”
“I read,” Festuscato responded, with a smile for the old man.
“Yes, well that about explains it.” Denzel missed the smile. “Sometimes when they dig the vein they break through to some underground cavern, water made mostly, but that does not happen often.”
“That’s where the knockers live,” Festuscato said, casually to Dibs.
“Yes, they do,” Denzel nodded.
“What are knockers?” Patrick asked, always ready to learn something new.
“Pigsies, Piskies, Spriggans when they are bad,” Denzel used the words he knew.
“Think little goblins with wings,” Festuscato suggested, though they were more like gnomes and did not always have wings.
“Back when I was a boy we had a cave-in.” Denzel told the story as they climbed. “It was a bad one and men were trapped down there. We dug for all we could but we were certain the men would run out of air before we got there. You know, we found them alive, but they told the strangest tales about hearing knockers on the walls. They said the knockers guided them to a place where they could punch a hole in the wall. There was a cavern beyond, and all the fresh air they needed until they could be rescued. One man swore he saw a little green man running around just out of reach. Many swore they heard sprightly music in the distance. Of course, once the mine was open again, we all went to find this cavern, but no one ever found it. It was like the pigsies sealed up the wall again once the crisis was over. Old man Trevor said the pigsies moved the cavern itself so no one would ever find it.” Denzel shook his head like he did not believe that tall a tale.
“Think anti-fairies, pixies dancing in the night,” Festuscato suggested. “Think gnomes. Most are nice fellows, you know.” And many had wings, but like Greta’s friend, Bogus the Skin, the wings did not always work.
“I think when a man is in crisis, he will imagine all sorts of things.” Patrick tried to sound reasonable. Mirowen, Dibs and Gaius just looked at Festuscato and waited for a response. Bran caught the looks. “What?” Patrick became aware that there might be something they were not telling him. Simple logic would say a single man might imagine all sorts of things, but a whole bunch of men all imagining the same thing might mean something more than just imagination.
“Elowen.” Denzel called for his wife. The couple had a small cottage beside the great brick house that was the entrance to the mine.
“What a lovely home,” Mirowen praised the cottage, and the flowers planted all around.
“It is,” Gaius said, happy to change the subject. “I could not get my eyes off all the abandoned and burnt out homes on the way up. I must say, I am not a fan of slash and burn diplomacy.”
“No, dear.” Denzel turned and explained to the others. “He is a young lad we found two weeks ago. We did not know what to do with him. He won’t tell us where his parents might be, but he has a dreadful fear of the mine. He screams when we go near it. He doesn’t say much, but he screams a lot, and often screams in the night.”
“Mousden.” Elowen called. “He must have been through something terrible.”
“Mousden. Boy.” Denzel joined his voice to the call.
Festuscato got an impression of who they were calling and saw a picture in his mind. He looked at Patrick and Gaius understood something because he reached out, prepared to grab Patrick if necessary.