Thymara had let it go by and told herself that she was proud of having done so.
But with night coming on and the cold rising from the earth to chill her hands and face, she wanted only to go home. Yes, home, she affirmed to herself. Her cosy room with her small hoard of personal items was home now. Clearing the well would have to wait for tomorrow and daylight, she thought to herself, but the others did not seem to share her desire for rest. Carson and Big Eider and Leftrin had moved to the well’s edge and were staring down into it.
‘Too dark to work any more tonight,’ Leftrin declared.
‘I’m too cold to do more right now,’ Tats called up from the depths.
Kase and Boxter were on the line for the hoist. As they pulled him up to the lip, Nortel and Rapskal were standing by to grasp his harness and swing him to sure footing. Even through his Elderling scaling, his face was red with cold and his hands looked like claws: Rapskal had to untie the knots of his harness.
As Tats stepped clear, he added, ‘I think we’re nearly there. That last chunk of timber you hauled up, the one with the piece of chain attached to it? After you hauled it out of the way, I felt around and there was a partial hole. There’s still some clearing to do, but I think there’s only two more chunks blocking it. After we jerk them out, we’ll have a clear way to the bottom of the shaft.’
‘Was there Silver at the bottom?’ Veras asked eagerly. Her nostrils were flared and the spikes around her neck stood out like a ruffle. Jerd stood by her queen dragon, her face echoing the question.
‘Can you reach it?’ Sintara demanded. She pushed to the front of the circle and, ignoring Leftrin’s shout to be careful of his hoist, stalked over to peer down the hole. ‘I can’t see it,’ she said after a few moments. ‘But I think I smell it!’
‘The wreckage smells of Silver. That’s all.’ Spit was pessimistic, as always. ‘All the Silver wells have gone dry, and we are doomed. I’m glad I took what I found on that chain.’
Heeby gave a mournful call, and Rapskal dropped the harness he had been holding to run to her side. ‘No, my beauty, my darling. We are not giving up. Far from it!’ He spun back to face the men standing by the shaft. ‘Can we not lower a light of some kind? To give the dragons an answer tonight?’
Despite the deepening night and the cold, the attempt had been made. It had taken several tries. The first torch they dropped landed on the blockage and rested there, burning and blocking their view of anything below it. But by its light, they dropped two more torches, and one fell through the gap.
Thymara had lain on her belly, part of a circle of keepers peering down the hole, as the first burning torch fell. It briefly lit the gleaming walls. The shaft was perfectly circular and smooth: she saw no sign of individual bricks facing it. The flames made a shimmering reflection as they fell. And fell. Thymara was impressed with how deep her fellow keepers had descended to clear the blockage. She glanced over at Tats. ‘I couldn’t go down into the darkness like you did. I just couldn’t.’
Rapskal was on the other side of her. ‘Surely you could,’ he asserted quietly. His words irritated her, but she could not think why. Usually, when he said she was stronger or braver than she thought she was, she felt flattered. But not tonight, looking down into blackness.
‘I could, perhaps, but I wouldn’t,’ she countered, and he was silent.
When the third torch fell through the gap Tats had seen, it seemed to fall forever. But it did not go out.
It was keen-eyed Hennesey who said, ‘There’s something silvery down there. But not much, I don’t think. I see what might be a bucket turned on its side. But it’s not floating and neither is the torch. Looks like it’s resting on the bottom. The bucket is what I can mostly see. It’s huge.’
‘Why so large a bucket?’ Thymara wondered aloud.
‘Big enough for a dragon to drink from,’ Rapskal asserted quietly.
In the uneven, flickering light they studied what they saw at the bottom of the shaft. Carson summed it up: ‘Looks like the well filled up with sediment and went dry, and then someone broke the mechanism and dumped it down there, blocking the shaft. If there’s any Silver down there still, it’s not standing visible. I’m not sure this is worth our time.’ He gave a weary sigh and stretched. ‘My friends, I think we should give this up.’
‘Clear the rubble away.’
‘It can be dug deeper again. Elderlings can go down that hole.’
‘Can any of the Silver be brought to the surface?’