He managed to stop before he fell into the opening. The ground continued to move until he and Minerva stood on a round disk with a moat wrapped around them.
Minerva squirmed and said in a miniature adult voice, “Put me down father or you might fall in with Taisie.”
He did what she asked. When her feet touched dirt and grass, Minerva shape shifted. She looked much as Margaret had, but more delicate and the action did not seem to cause her pain. Without another word, she spread her wings and dove into the hole where Taisie fell. Silence followed.
Stanton sighed and shrugged, then sat to wait hoping they would both return alive. But after a few long moments, he could wait no longer. He stood walked to the edge and looked down. Darkness greeted him. He could not see if the opening surrounding him was shallow or endless.
He located a stone and reached out, dropped it and began counting. It hit before he reached three. “Minerva,” he called, listened and thought he heard wings. My daughter has wings, he thought. Before he finished, Minerva flew into sight.
“Taisie is jammed between two boulder,” the child spoke like an adult. “You must help her.”
“Before you ten feet. Where she is stuck much deeper.”
Stanton turned and lowered himself over the edge, let go and was glad Minerva’s estimate was correct. Without a light to guide him he used one foot to test the ground in front of him. He kept his right hand against the side of the hole and cautiously walked until his front foot hovered over nothing.
“Is this where she is?” He asked.
“Below you,” Minerva replied.
“What is down there besides boulders?”
“I saw nothing else. There must be a way out though.”
Stanton knelt and reached across the opening. He discovered that it was quite narrow. Carefully maneuvering his body so his left hand touched the opposite wall, he swung his left leg over and was relieved to feel it contact the same wall. Now he slowly entered the hole and by pressing his feet and hands on opposite walls could slowly descend.
After what felt like an hour, his right foot hit something solid. Boulders, he hoped silently.
“Taisie are you near me?”
A hand tapped his left calf. Stanton nearly screamed, bit down on it and tried to get his heart to stop pounding.
“Are you hurt?”
“I don’t know. I cannot feel pain, but am wedged rather securely.”
He lowered himself onto the boulders and squatted so he faced where he heard her voice. Using both hands, he felt around and heard her gasp fearfully when it touched her.
“I’m going to try to feel around you in the hope I can help you get free.”
“Hurry. I’m getting very cold.”
After prodding where he could reach, he learned one hip was beneath a ledge of stone. Otherwise, he believed he could free her. “This hip bone needs to rise. Can you twist to the left while I pulled up on your clothing?”
“I’ll try.” She moved before he was ready.
Stanton felt her drop slightly and shouted, “Stop. Wait until I get a good grip.”
“Oh sorry guess I…”
“Okay,” he interrupted. “I’m ready.” He pulled upward and felt her twist slightly. Using both hands, he started standing, but stopped when Taisie cried out. “You okay?”
“I think so, but well let’s just try to get it done.”
“Okay here goes.” He pulled as hard as possible, heard her crying painfully, felt her entire body twist to the left. She almost popped free sending him backward.
Stanton landed hard on his back, and then Taisie was on top of him.
They both struggle to untangle from each other without slipping into the trap she fell into.
Finally, they were able to sit side by side with their backs against the wall of the hole.
Minerva appeared and settled next to Stanton. “Will Taisie be okay now?”
The warrior chuckled. “I think I will be but I won’t know until we get out of here.”
“I found a long vine you can use to climb up.” Minerva pressed it against Stanton’s hands.
He grasped it found it was thick and felt like it was newly grown. He tugged on it as hard as possible, stood and hung from it, lifting both feet off the stones. It held.
“You first,” he tapped Taisie’s shoulder. He helped her stand, braced himself to assist her up, and was pleased she succeeded. He kept one hand on her until she was too high to reach. Then he waited.
Minerva flew up and waited above to help Taisie.
Nearly thirty minutes passed before he heard a faint shout. “You now.”
Hand over hand with his legs locked around the vine, he made his way to the surface, hauling himself over the top edge and then collapsing with exhaustion.