In the land of Nodge, not far from Lake Glown, lived a little boy. He dearly loved his parents hugged them every morning when he got up and every night before bed. During the day, he played among the caves behind his parents' house, or helped his father by carrying things, or watering the horses, or digging pits for the fence posts. Marchan, for that was his name, especially loved digging. He would happily dig much deeper than his father wanted him to, but his father always asked him to move on and start digging at the next place. Marchan never tired of digging. Once, when Marchan was 10, there was an old stump in the field that his father said was taking up space that could be plowed. That night as the moon rose, Marchan sneaked outside and taking his pick and his shovel, dug around the roots of the stump. By the time the moon reached its zenith, Marchan had the whole stump out of the ground. He then filled the hole back in and dragged the stump from the field and went to bed. He was the first up the next morning and went out to check how well he had filled in the hole. He could see that the dirt was lower there, but, otherwise, it looked much like the rest of the field. He was proud of himself. When his father got up that morning and noticed the stump had been moved away, he considered it a miracle. Marchan never told him what he had done.
Not everything was perfect for Marchan. Whenever he saw other children his own age, they were always taller than him, and made fun of him for being so short and funny looking. They called him nasty names, like sub-man, malformed, and other names that would not even make sense to us. The younger children, who were the same height as he was, were simply afraid of him. He never knew how to play with them, so he much preferred playing alone in the caves behind his house. When he was eleven his father died and Marchan tried to keep away from the children even more. A year later, his mother took him to town and, while they were there, some children saw Marchan and started calling out the nasty names to him. He just shrunk from them and tried to hide behind his mother, but they came closer. Suddenly, his mother turned on them and screamed at them for being intolerant and bigotted and to just go away.
When they got home, Marchan asked her, 'Mother, what is intolerant?'
'It's when someone won't accept people that are different from themselves,' she said.
'Why did you call those children intolerant?' he wondered.
'Because they were. Have you never noticed that you are different than other children around here? You're shorter and stronger.'
'Oh', Marchan was not sure what to make of this. He thought there was something wrong with him. 'You mean I'm not malformed?'
'Who called you that? Those children? See that's just intolerance. You are perfectly normal for a Dwarf's child.'
'A Dwarf's child?' Marchan was confused. 'You're not a Dwarf.'
'No,' she said, 'but you are. I am not your real mother. Nor was the man you knew as Father your real father. There was a war twelve years ago, just after you were born. Father was a foot soldier in the army of the king. They were fighting Kloris, the great enemy. Beside them was an army of dwarves. The loss of life was horrendous, but we won. Your father, as he was leaving the field of battle, came across a young dwarf-woman. She had been at the battle, it seems that their women fight with their men. He could see that she was bleeding profusely. As he approached she cried out in agony. He got closer and asked what he could do for her. She cried again, then gasped, "The child, take the child home." He couldn't get any more from her. She died soon after. He looked around, and after a bit of a search, he found a small bundle with a baby in it. And that baby grew up to be you. At first he tried to find the home of the dwarf troop, but you needed a mother immediately to feed you, so when he found me, he asked me to feed you. We searched for a year for your natural family, but we could not find any news of how to reach the dwarf kingdom.'
Marchan thought for a little while. It was more than he could take.
Marchan stood still. The sound of blood in his ears silenced the rest of the world. His mother sat looking at him. He didn't know what to think of what he had just been told. No, she was his mother. She had rasied him. He could ask nothing more from her and he would still owe her his very existence. He shook his head.
'All the same, Mother. You are my mother and I owe you all. You are my natural family now.'
'Yes, my dear, and you are my beloved son. So I should tell you that we must leave this farm. Your father died a year ago and we had had a few bad years before that. He borrowed some money and now his creditors are looking for their money. All we have left is the farm.'
'Mother, what will we do?'
'I am afraid my son that we will not be much longer for this world. You might be able to get work as a digger or a labourer, but it looks like that might be our only way of getting money.'
So the next day, they went out looking to hire Marchan out as a digger. The first man they talked to seemed okay with it, until he realised that Marchan was not a manchild. 'I cannot hire a dwarf,' he said. 'The rest of my men would all quit. They would accuse me of all kinds of things.'
'Please,' said Marchan's mother.
'I would be ruined,' he said.
The other place in town said much the same thing. They returned to the town square.
A group of children who were not far away saw Marchan and started calling out rude comments. His mother yelled at them to just go away, but they were bolder this today and started calling after her. Marchan felt himself grow hot. Having grabbed a fencepost from a nearby pile, he ran into the group. The fencepost swung around, almost of its own accord. Children fell and groaned on the ground. Marchan turned again and again, the fencepost swinging like a bat. Anyone who hit him got shrugged off, then fell from a swing of the post. Soon he was the only one standing in the square. His mother had fainted. He walked over to her and picked her up. Dropping the post, he walked home.
Not long after he had placed her on her bed, she woke with a start. She looked around and exclaimed, 'Oh it was all a dream! I thought you had attacked some poor children in the town square.'
'I did not attack them, Mother. I was defending you,' Marchan replied.
'Oh, my son,' she said. 'Would that you had not. Now the townspeople will accuse you of all kinds of evil things.'
'What was I to do, oh Mother?' Marchan cried. 'I could not let them call you those horrible names.'
'That is as may be,' she said. 'Now let us pack some things, we have a long journey ahead of us.'
'Where are we going?' he asked.
'There is still one way we have not tried to find your family that could not be done while you were younger. We must travel to the City of the Great King. There they may have records of your people.'
'But, what of this town?' Marchan wanted to know
'We can no longer stay here, the townspeople will run us out or kill us if they catch us now.'
'Oh, I wish I had been born a manboy,' Marchan said.
'Hush, Child, 'his mother said. 'Now let's get something packed.'
They worked quickly for some time then heard noise outside. Looking out, they could see men coming up the path to the farm. They grabbed their packs and slipped out the back door. They raced across the field behind and Marchan led his mother into the caves. He took several seemingly random turns and they entered a large cavern.
'Marchan,' his mother whispered. 'Do you know where we are?'
'Yes, mother,' he said. 'I have thoroughly explored these caves. I know all the entrances and exits. Across the cavern and along a tunnel, then up a long slope and we will come out down by the lakeside. I have been there a few times, you can see another town from there which I think is on the main road.'
'No,' she said. 'I mean look at that.'
Marchan could make her out quite well in the gloom, like she was providing her own light. He let his eyes follow her finger pointing far off to their right. A small shaft of light shone down onto a large square on the wall of the cave. The square appeared to Marchan to be about three metres by 3 metres. On either side stood pillars sunk into the rock and across the top was a cracked lintel.
'Yes I've looked around there,' he said. 'There is nothing behind that. I think it is there to confuse someone looking for a palace here. Or perhaps it once led somewhere, but the tunnel behind has been filled in. I even tried digging, but could not find anything.'
'That would be too easy,' his mother said. 'Well, on we must go.'
They continued to follow Marchan's path through the tunnels and returned to the surface as the sun was moving into the late afternoon sky. Marchan pointed out the town and they started toward it.
Marchan and Dana (for that was his mother's name) travelled through the brush for sometime. It ripped their clothes, scratched their cheeks and resisted their forward movement. When they finally reached open country, they were so tired that the additional walk to town would have been a torment. They sat down on the grass and Dana got some cheese and bread out of her pack. They ate in silence. Talking would have been too much of a burden. After eating they lay back on the grass and rested. An hour into their rest as the sun almost touched the hills in the west, they heard the sound of dogs in the brush behind them. Marchan bolted upright. He had never liked dogs, and now the men had gotten dogs to follow his scent. He got to his feet and noticed his mother had done the same. They started to trek across the open field, looking for a road or a stream that they might hide their tracks from the dogs. Soon, they came to a small farm track through the fields. It was apparently used by sheep herders as the grass around it was quite short. They ran along it, hoping it would cross a stream. It did soon enough, but the stream was over grown with brush a short distance in either direction. They continued along the sheep path and soon saw before them a farm house. The clay brick house had many windows with a chimney poking out the top. A man was walking toward it from a sheep pen to the right. Marchan and Dana ran up to him.
'Help,' said Dana to him. 'We are beset by wolves.'
'Wolves!' the man exclaimed. 'They won't get near my sheep. Here you can hide in the house.'
He led them indoors and grabbed his bow from beside the door. He also took his shepherd's rod and went back out to defend his sheep. Dana led Marchan through the house and out the other side. 'That should keep them busy for a little while,' she said and they ran up the lane from the shepherd's house to the road that ran nearby. They followed it and were soon overtaken by a carriage. Dana flagged it down. Darkness hid the inside, but its occupant saw them, for he called to his coachman to stop.
'Help us, please, Your Grace,' Dana called out. 'I am the widow of a great warrior. I am beset by wolves and hunters.'
'What would you have me do for you?' a kindly voice called from within.
'A ride into town away from the wolves and the hunters, Your Grace,' she replied.
'I though the hunters would keep the wolves away from you?' the voice came again. This time playfully.
'If you listen, you can hear the bark of the dogs,' she said. 'And the yelling of their keepers.'
'Ah, you name dogs wolves as the great poet Brahneem did.'
'A dog is but another wolfWho has gotten on with manHe eats the same food as his friendAnd ever more beats the can,' she recited.
The voice from the carriage laughed gently, though loud enought to hear over the horses. The door opened and a light was struck.
'Come,' the voice called. The footman appeared from behind the carriage and set down a stool, then waited to help Dana into the carriage. His master told him to find a place for 'her boy', and the footman lifted Marchan up to the coachman who placed Marchan beside himself. Then the footman collected his stool, and returned to his place behind the carriage. Soon they were off again.
Marchan grew cold. The wind from atop the carriage bit into his flesh. His clothing did not slow it down at all. He shivered. Darkness had conquered the land almost as soon as they had started out. The coachman largely ignored Marchan as he sat shivering. Marchan tried to think warm thoughts and rubbed his arms and legs, trying to keep them warm, but eventually grew tired of that. He watched the four white horses pulling the carriage. Two pairs of two, each pair's markings mirroring each other. The rear right horse had a dark splotch near its left back leg. The rear left horse: a similar dark splotch on its right back leg. As Marchan slowly grew colder and colder he noticed more and more mirror similarities. He wondered who their patron was that he could afford to buy horses based on their markings. Such a man must have enormous wealth, even among the wealthy.
A light in the distance caught his eye, pulling him out of his thoughts. It was on or near the road a distance ahead, and they were travelling toward it very fast. Marchan sat up and felt again how cold he was. He beat his arms to get the blood flowing. The carriage swept on and soon houses appeared on either side of the road. The coachman clucked to the horses and pulled on the reins. The carriage slowed and soon came to a stop. A large gate in a stone stood before them blocking the way. The coachman yelled out, 'Hoy!' and a guard with a lantern appeared atop the wall.
'Who goes there?' the guard asked.
'His Grace, the Emminent Duke of Quirnotol,' the coachman called.
'The Lord of this humble estate bids him welcome,' another voice from the wall spoke from the darkness several metres from the guard. This voice sounded like one used to being obeyed, even when it was not giving a direct command. In this case it was, and the gates opened and the carriage rode through. Marchan noticed that there was a second gate that did not open for them. Guards approached the carriage from either side, spears in hand. A second row of guards followed them with lanterns held to allow the first row easy sight of what was in front of them.
'Coachman, down off your carriage. You beside him as well,' a guard called up to them.
His Grace opened the door of the carriage and asked in a loud voice, 'What is the meaning of this? I was just told the Lord of this estate bid me welcome.'
'Yes, Your Grace,' said a guard. 'But not necessarily those with you. We have seen evidence of bandits out hunting with their dogs in the direction from which you come.'
Marchan raised his hood and lowered the front of it to hide his face. He hoped he would be mistaken for a young boy. The men of this town seemed to be very unfriendly to strangers. He climbed down off the carriage and stood between the coachman and the footman.
His Grace spoke again as he saw them line up. 'I say, those two are my trusted servants who have been with me these many years. If they are not welcome, then I must assume that neither am I. And you need hardly worry about that boy, or the woman with me. That accounts for everyone who came in with me.'
The guards stepped back a bit as the lord walked up, 'Your Grace, I apologise for this check.' His voice was that of the second man on the wall. 'As my man said, my men with spyglasses saw bandits on the road not long after your last stop. They thought perhaps they had stopped you, and having taken everything of value let you continue, with some of their own men, in order to get within my walls. They have tried similar tricks before, and I would rather be careful than dead. Allow me to introduce myself; I am Count Ghen of Glown. I and mine are at your service this night.'
As the count approached more closely, the duke replied, 'And I and mine are at yours. This woman and her boy were being chased by those bandits your men saw. She tells me her husband was a great warrior in the last war against Chloris, even received the King's Medal for bravery and compassion.'
'Indeed,' said the count, now standing right beside Marchan, where the footman had been until he went to set a stool for his master. The count turned to Marchan. 'Then you are his boy?' he said to Marchan. 'Let me see your face boy to see if I can see the resemblance to any of the men I remember.' He grasped Marchan's chin before Marchan could step away and raised it, brushing aside the hood. The count released Marchan and stepped back. 'No,' he said quietly, 'you look like none of the men that I remember.'
'I do declare!' said the duke. 'A dwarf! I thought you said he was your son.' he continued turning to Dana.
'He is,' she said. 'We adopted him when he was a babe. My firstborn had not long before been stillborn at the time of the war. My husband had been killed in the war and Jonathan, having found Marchan as a babe, found me and asked me to nurse him. We searched for a way to return him to his people, but could not. So we kept him as our own son. Jonathan died a year ago.'
'Jonathan?' the count queried. 'I remember a Jonathan. Tall, red hair, brave man, and generous. I seem to remember him receiving the King's Medal. I also recall his search for the dwarves, though I never found out until today why he had searched. I thought he was just interested in the Sons of the Rock. If you acknowledge him as your husband, you are most certainly welcome, in his name. As is the dwarf child he adopted. Come all of you. We will feast to celebrate such a life.'
The count really knew how to put on a feast. He had three minstrels under his roof and insisted on hearing a long ballad from each of them. He called all his men who could remember Jonathan to join him while he feasted. Many showed up who did not remember him, but that only added to the enjoyment of the feast as those who did recalled things he had done and things he had said. By the time Marchan was finally led off to the room prepared for him, he wondered if he had ever really known father.
The young maid who led him to his room did not leave right away. He sat up on a chair and looked at her expectantly. She stood in the doorway somewhat shyly.
'What is it?' he finally asked.
I've never seen a dwarf before,' she said. 'I was wondering if the stories are true.'
'What stories?' Marchan asked, wondering what strange adventure this was.
'They say that dwarves can lift four times their own weight. And eat only rock for weeks on end.'
Marchan paused for a second, 'I do not know if I can lift that much. I don't think I've ever tried. I know twice my own weight is plenty heavy. I've never tried eating rock, so I can't tell you anything abou that.'
She seemed to want to ask him something else, but her face just got red, and then she clasped her hands, said goodnight and left.
Marchan thought her strange, but was tired enough that he just climbed into bed and went straight to sleep.
Marchan woke with a start. He had been dreaming of dogs and wolves,
chasing him through swamp and briers. The chase had led to a small tower. He had run up to it
but, as he circled it, he couldn't find the door. He eventually saw a dwarf standing
on top, but Marchan couldn't get his attention. He was watching across to
the horizon. When he turned to see what the dwarf was looking at, the
dogs caught him and pulled him down. Then he woke up.
Marchan looked around. The sun was shining in the windows. He could see
his clothes on the chair beside the bed, but did not recognize anything
else in the room. The sheets on the bed were softer then anything he
had had at home. He reached out and grabbed his clothes. He went over the
events of the previous day as he put them on.
The Duke of Quirnotol seemed a nice enough fellow. A little out
of reach to Marchan, but who among the nobility wasn't? Count Ghen
was a little paranoid, but it seemed to hold him in good stead. Obviously,
he needed to know what was going around about him. He held these lands
to protect them and their inhabitants and Marchan had never heard that
he had done anything else. After all, Marchan's own town was in his
county and hadn't received any ill treatment from armed men. Why these
men seemed so suprised to find a dwarf living in these parts was beyond
Marchan's comprehension. He hadn't really thought too much of it when
his mother had told him he was a dwarf. But, apparently, these men thought
there was something special. He wondered what was so strange.
Just as Marchan got his clothes on he heard someone coming along
the passageway. He stepped over to the doorway and stepped out. There
was the maid from the night before. When she saw him she smiled and hurried
'Good morrow, Sir Dwarf,' she said, 'The Count requests you join him
'Could you show me the way, please?' Marchan asked as politely as he could.
'At your service,' the maid replied, making dipping herself down by crossing her legs.
Marchan couldn't quite figure out what that was about and ignored it. The maid whirled and led him back
the way she had come.
Just before they reached their destination, she pulled him aside. 'You won't tell
anyone about my impertinent questions last night, please,' she pleaded.
'I don't see any reason I should,' he said.
'Well, please, promise you won't?' she said.
Marchan looked up at her. He wasn't quite sure what was wrong with
what she said, but he decided to help her. 'I won't say a word about it.'
'Thanks so much. Here you are. I must go help bring the food in,' she smiled at him and disappeared.
Marchan went into the hall and looked around. There was his mother sitting at a table
between the duke and the count. She was smiling happily and the two men
were chuckling, though the count seemed to be eyeing the duke oddly. Marhcan walked up
'Ah, Marchan,' his mother said, standing quickly. She came around
the table and hugged him. 'You slept well I trust?'
'Quite well, thank you, Mother,' he replied. 'And you?'
'Oh, I slept not a wink,' she said, winking at him. 'I am not sure
where my next meal will come from. I don't wish to overstay my welcome
with the count.'
'Nonsense..' started the count but he was interrupted by the duke.
'Well, you can come stay at my mansion,' he said. 'And I can truly say
you won't be able to overstay your welcome.'
'Nor will you be able to overstay your welcome here,' said the count quickly.
'I owe your Jonathan more than you could possibly consume. Allow me
this chance to repay him by hosting you and your son.'
'Well, I guess I don't have to worry at all,' Dana said. 'All I have to worry
about is who I should offend by not taking up his offer. I'm afraid I can't stay in both houses simultaneously.'
'Well' said the Duke, 'I have actually just come from home. I am travelling toward the capital to visit my son. I will be returning in a month or so. Since the count has offered to put you up, stay here for the month. I will call on my return journey.'
'That would be perfect,' exclaimed the Count. 'You will stay here. I will keep you well.'
'My, I don't know what to say!' Dana said. 'I should really be unsure what I do with myself if I stayed!'
'Ah, my dear,' the count replied faster than lightening. 'You need not worry of that. We will go hunting, fishing, riding. The month will go by so quickly you will not have time to do everything. I guarantee you will not be ready to leave when His Grace returns.'
'Ah...', started His Grace, suddenly realising he had been pulled out of the equation.
Dana interrupted him, 'Actually, I should really be heading for the capital. I need to watch our for my son. He should really return to his own people, so he can hope to get married and raise children of his own.'
The Duke recomposed himself and said, 'My dear, I would be delighted to accompany you to the capital. As I said, I was heading there myself. I did not think that you might wish to travel there. It is a long and dangerous journey.'
The count was not so easily dissuaded, 'It is a very long and dangerous journey. I was in the capital not long ago myself. There are no dwarves there. I think your son here is the only one in the entire kingdom. Any information that can be found, His Grace can find and bring back to you.'
Dana nodded her head. 'Would you?' she asked the Duke.
He seemed a little abashed. 'Most certainly. I will do all I can for you and your son,' he said.
Just then, a servant came into the hall. 'M'lord! A crowd has gathered outside the walls,' he announced. 'They are demanding the dwarf and the woman calling herself his mother. They claim he attacked a group of children.'
Dana turned red. Marchan looked down at his long since emptied trencher. The serving girl, who had fetched him, gasped. The Duke and the Count both stood.
'Is this true?' asked the Count.
'I did not attack them. I was defending my mother's honour,' Marchan spoke is a small voice.
The Count seemed at a loss for the first time. 'How large is the crowd?' he demanded.
'Two hundred. They are armed with pitchforks and machetes.
The Count started counting on his fingers, 'I have 20 men with me. Most are at the various forts, protecting these people! Twenty mounted against 200 peasants. Five would likely fall, but we should be able to scatter them, but at the same time, there's nothing to stop a handful from scaling the walls and taking them any which way.'
'Oh do not hurt them on our account,' said Dana.
The Duke smiled and nodded. He turned to his footman, standing behind him, 'Tell the them to prepare the carriage and be ready to give the horses their heads.'
'What do you plan?' asked the count.
'Leaving and these two are coming with me. The peasants won't have any choice but to leave you alone when they're gone.'
'How do you plan to get out? They're right up to the gates, blocking the bridge.'
'That's where a little bit of help from the Roubbes comes in,' said the Duke.
'The Roubbes? You are of royal blood?' The count's face whitened slightly as he spoke.
'I am. My great grandfather was even declared king for a short time before Queen Bedua, mother of King Claivon, ascended the throne.'
Marchan looked up. He had heard never heard of the Roubbes before. The confusion on his face was apparent.
The Duke noticed his confusion, 'The Roubbes are great and powerful beings, They control the weather and watch over the inhabitants of the land from their palace in the sky. They are also beholden to my family. Some claim it was with their help that my ancestor King George ascended to the throne at the beginning of the world. I am convinced it was with their help that all of his descendents have such long lives, although none so long as our King Claivon may he continue to reign.'
'But what will they do for you?' asked the Count. 'I had heard they disliked involving themselves too much in the affairs of men, even royalty.'
'Bring me The Amulet,' the Duke said to his footman as he stepped out to order the carriage ready. He turned to the Count, 'Have you a tall tower that is not currently being used? I need to commune with the Roubbes.'
'Ah, right this way,' the Count said. He led the Duke out of the dining hall and down a passageway. Marchan followed for a bit then stopped. He heard the footman returning behind him. He ran back and called to him.
'This way,' he said. 'Your master is heading for one of the towers.'
The footman turned and followed Marchan they ran as quickly as Marchan could to catch up to the Duke and the Count. When they reached them, the two were opening a door that creaked and groaned its protest of it disuse. The four of them looked inside.
'As I said,' the Count was saying, 'We haven't used this stair for a generation or so. It leads up to a tower in the center of the castle. My father used to say it was used by a magus to view the stars. Many of my people won't even walk down this corridor any more. You should be fairly far from anyone here.'
'This will do nicely. You're not going to tell me that this tower is haunted are you?'
'I will say no such thing, though my people would probably tell you a different story. I will remain here to be sure no one follows you.'
'Thank you. I shan't be long,' said the Duke as he started up the stair beyond the door.
Marchan and the footman returned to the carraige. The stable hands were harnessing the horses and checking the wheels. Marchan turned back inside and found the young maid waiting for him just inside the door.
'Are you leaving so soon?' she asked.
'It would be best if I were not here so that those peasants outside will not bother you,' he said.
She looked sad, then leaned forward and kissed his cheek. Then she blushed and quickly left the room. Marchan stood a moment reflecting on why she might have done that, then went in search of his mother.
She was still in the dining hall, talking to an elderly woman. When she saw Marchan enter she stood, 'Are they ready, My Son?'
'Almost, Mother,' he said. 'The Duke has ascended a tower to commune with the Roubbes and the horses are harnessed.'
'Then we must be going,' his mother answered. She turned back to the woman. 'It was so nice to have met you. I truly have missed the court life. I promise I'll come back to see you.'
'Oh, you don't have to promise me anything,' said the old woman her voice quite frail. 'I have lived a good long life and don't really expect to last this next winter. I don't promise you that I'll still be here when you return, so you shouldn't promise that you'll see me. If you come back before I pass on to the next life, then you will. Don't make any promises.'
'Very well then,' Dana said. 'I'm sorry not to have had a longer time to make your acquaintance. Thank the Count for his generous hospitality, his offer to let us stay, and our regrets that we were unable to accept it. I look forward to returning one day.'
'Good-bye, dear,' said the woman turning to her knitting.
Dana and Marchan returned to the yard to find the carriage completely ready. The Duke appeared from another door with the Count.
'I'm counting on you,' the Duke was saying. 'Make sure that your men follow those direction precisely.'
'They most certainly will. Anyone who does not will get a feel for my whip,' the Count said.
'Everyone ready?' the Duke asked as he came up to the carriage.
'Yes m'lord!' said the footman and the coachman.
'Up we go then,' the Duke said to Dana and Marchan. The footman cupped his hands low to give Marchan a foothold and helped him into the carriage. Then after holding the door as the Duke handed Dana inside, helped his master inside. The coachman was already climbing into his seat and the footman joined him.
'Normally, my footman would ride behind as he did last night,' the Duke said to Dana and Marchan, 'but because we are going to be riding hard, I want him where he cannot fall off.'
'I am sorry to put you through all this,' said Dana.
'Oh pshaw,' said the Duke. 'Always willing to help a Lady in distress. Now we'll have to convince the mob that you are leaving so please both of you stand by the doors and wave to them like they are you adoring subjects.'
Marchan felt very strange but did as he was told. The coachman started the carriage and the gates opened as they reached them. Marchan heard the Count calling from atop the walls, 'The Dwarf and his mother are coming out now! Stand back!'
The gates flew by as the carriage rolled quickly down upon the mob crowding on the road. Marchan started to wave at the mob as he could see them. Suddenly the road started to fall away, the carriage and horses riding an invisible road over the crowd. Marchan was as suprised as the crowd. The horses were still running hard and it sounded like they were on the stone roadway, but their was nothing to be seen beneath their hooves. The wheels continued to creak and roll as the carriage arced over the crowd and came back down not far past them. Marchan heard men in the crowd yell and women scream, but he could no longer see them. They were soon so far behind that even their sounds died out. The horses hoofbeats never changed and the carriage rolled into the morning faster than anything that Marchan had seen before.
The horses didn't run for very long. Once they were out of sight of the Count's castle, the coachman stopped urging them on. They were soon trotting at an easy pace and the trees stopped whipping past the windows. The road soon turned left and they continued their journey. Suddenly the Duke realised that the road was taking them back toward the castle and stuck his head outside to tell the coachman to keep going quickly but he was too late. The peasants had run to meet them and one threw his pitchfork toward the carriage and it struck the Duke in the forehead as he was pulling back into the carriage. The horses picked up speed again and they were soon around another bend and heading away from the peasants. The Duke's head had a large gash from which blood flowed freely and soaked into the carriage upholstery. Dana quickly ripped a strip of cloth from the bottom of her skirt and wound it around the Duke's head. The blood slowed but did not stop. She wound another around his head but did not seem to do much more than slow his death. She stuck her head out to tell the coachman that his master was dying, so he stopped the carriage.
Once stopped the Duke's servants got down and looked at his wounds.
'There's not much point in unwinding that dressing,' said the footman. 'We need to find a leech, or a priest.'
'Quite right,' his fellow said. 'Let's continue on to the next village and see if they have a leech there. He has lost a lot of blood already, the leech will know what to do.'
The footman got into the carriage with the passengers and the coachman returned to his position and continued their journey. After a time he stopped again and called to a farmer walking along the road. They talked for a little while and then the coachman continued on. Soon they were in a village. The coachman got down and called out the footman. Marchan got down with him.
'The farmer I talked to on the road said there's a healer in this village,' said the coachman. 'I just saw someone over there. Bob, you stay with the Duke and the Lady. I'll take the dwarf with me and see if we can find someone.'
The village looked deserted. Some of the houses looked like they hadn't been lived in for some time. Weeds were growing everywhere untended. A few houses had apparent holes in their roofs. Marchan thought it strange that a healer would live in an abandoned village as he walked with the coachman toward where the coachman had seen someone. They reached an old tavern. It looked almost as abandoned as the rest of the town, but someone had repaired the roof and there was a clear path up to the front door between the weeds.
They knocked and called out 'Hullo!' They heard some movement, but were not quite sure they weren't hearing rodents of some type. They opened the door and called again. Marchan's eyes adjusted quickly to the gloom. Inside he could see table and chairs, a small fireplace and a large crater jar. The crater was under one of the unpatched parts of the roof and full of water. He heard a creaking sound like someone walking across a wood floor. He turned to the sound and saw a small man in the shadows.
'Hello,' he said to the man.
'A dwarf and a man!' the man exclaimed. 'Why that's unheard of, or has been these many long years. A decade at least since the dwarves were last in these parts.'
'Yes, I was left behind after a battle when I was a babe. Who are you?'
'Who am I? Now, that's a good question. Who am I?'
'We were hoping you could help us,' said the coachman. 'My master is hurt and needs a leech or a healer.'
'A healer. Yes, I am a healer,' the small man said. 'Since I guess you'll want to call me something, I suppose you should call me Healer. That way my name is what I do, much easier to remember that way.'
'Why? Don't you remember your own name?' Marchan asked.
'My name?' the Healer queried. 'Why, I do declare! I don't remember my name. Isn't that odd? But you said something about needing a healer?'
This last part was addressed to the coachman and he responded, 'Yes, my master is injured. Will you come and see him.'
'Certainly,' Healer responded.
They returned to the carriage and the Healer climbed inside after the footman got out. He hummed and hawed and hummed and hawed some more. He started to undo the dressing that Dana had wound around the Duke's head, but when he noticed the blood flowing again he quickly wrapped it back up. He tenderly touched the area around the wound. Finally he got back down.
'My Lady,' he said addressing Dana who was still in the carriage, 'you are doing all that can be done at this point. I would not care to do anything until his blood recovers. He has lost so much blood he will take several days to recover from that. Then I will need to do some other work, possibly cut him open and repair the skull. I am afraid of what may have happened to his brain inside. I leave him in your very capable hands. Change those dressings when the blood seems to have slowed enough.' He turned to the coachman. 'Come and find me again in two days. It will be time then for me to see him again,' and he started to walk back to his tavern.
Marchan followed after him and called, 'Wait! Do you know where to find the Dwarves?'
'Eh? Oh, you're a dwarf.'
'Yes, we've established that. Do you know where I might look for more of my own kind. To tell you the truth I've never met a dwarf.'
Healer looked at Marchan with a sad look on his face. 'To tell you the truth,' he said. 'I don't even remember where my people are. I can't even remember yesterday. I remember nothing. When I woke up today I found a note beside my bed. It said to make sure I kept the note beside the bed I sleep in tonight. It also told me where to find the loo. It's over there.' He pointed. 'And where to find food to eat. I think I must have been working very hard yesterday, because my muscles are very sore and I've got all kinds of odd scrapes and bruises.'
'Oh, that's horrible,' said the footman.
'I don't know,' said Healer. 'The scrapes aren't that bad, and I really can't remember anything naughty I might have done yesterday, or the day before.'
They camped right in the town square beside the carriage. They thought it best not to move the patient, and some of the buildings looked quite dilapidated. A few had even fallen in. Marchan dug a fire pit while the footman and coachman found wood for a fire and got water from the well. Dana continued to sponge the patient and they warmed rocks in the fire before moving them into the carriage to keep its occupants warm. While they warmed their supper Marchan got to know the two servants.
The footman's name was David and his companion was Samuel. They had served the Duke for many years. David was hoping to one day become the Duke's chamberlain, who managed all his affairs. The current chamberlain was old and could no longer travel. David thought his time with the Duke while travelling might help him, but he said soberly, 'But that'll all be for naught if the Duke dies or is unable to hold his own. His heir is a wizened old man who has his own chamberlain and children who have their own butlers! I'll never get another opportunity with anyone else.'
'Relax, lad,' said Samuel. 'You've got a long life ahead of you. Serving isn't the only life, you know. You could always join the army. Plenty of officers who'd like someone to shine their shoes and polish their brass.'
'Not quite what I had in mind,' replied David. 'Besides, I'd miss the old Duke terribly. He's done so much for me. I want to be able to give something back to him, you know.'
'Now that I believe,' said Samuel. He turned to Marchan. 'Did you know, that the Duke helps people all the time. Rich, poor, it makes no difference to him. I was actually suprised he waited as long as he did to let your mother into the carriage. Just last week he provided a full pig to a family. The father had just lost his position with the mill. Lost a finger you know, and they don't let injured people work there, looks bad. Anyway, when they had thanked him for the pig, he offered the man a job at his stables. He raises race horses. These four beauties we have here are just a sample. Turns out the father had always loved horses! And the pay turned out better for the man than he'd had at the mill. The man will be getting plenty to feed his family, and doing something he loves much more than his old job at the mill. The Duke had been looking for some extra help at the farm, but it looks like he'll get back his own with this fella. Anyway, it freed me up. I'd been hired under not to different circumstances and I've worked hard. I'm sure he's made more from my work than he's ever given me, but I'm happy to give all the more because I know he does stuff like that. Now he has two coachmen, and the other one can take some time to be with his family while I run the carriage.'
'Yeah,' said David. 'I was a runaway, you know. My parents were slaves in another town. I got a change when I was 13 and a I ran for it. I was starving in the Duke's town. He invited me in and sat me down in his dining hall and told me to eat with his guests. I think he offended a number of them, but he didn't mind. At the end of the meal, I bow my thanks and say I can't possibly repay him. He waves that aside and asks where I was going. I tell him "Away." He says, well, if that's what I want I knew where the door was, but if I wanted food tomorrow, I could stay. Next day, the same thing. After a week, I let him know I was a slave and kept the house clean. He says if I'd like I can do that for him. He'd feed me and pay me a bit. A few days later he asks about my parents, finds out they're still slaves and goes to their master and buys them. Just like that. Sight unseen. Sets them free and tells them they are welcome to work for him if they want work. Well, ever since then, I've served him to the best of my abilities.'
Soon after Samuel wondered off and watered the horses again and put blankets on them after rubbing them down. Marchan and David put more hot rocks in the carriage. The Duke was sweating, but was shivering from cold. Dana kept up her work. When Samuel came back, he, Marchan and David bedded down and were soon all asleep.
The next morning, Marchan woke first. He got up and wandered over to the well. It was very still in the town, even David's snoring died out a short distance away. Marchan let the bucket down into the well and pulled it back up. In the early morning light it appeared that something was in the water. He poured a bit out onto the decaying brickwork of the well and looked closely at it. The wet parts of the brick suddenly seemed to come alive, like thousands of tiny little ants moving in sync. Quite quickly the liveliness moved into the well and disappeared. Marchan looked into the bucket again, then back at the brickwork and decided he wasn't that thirsty after all. He dumped the bucket back into the well.
He wandered a bit farther away and found an old blacksmith's forge. He tested the bellows. They worked quite well. He gathered some wood from a nearby woodpile and started a new fire in the forge. He found some charcoal and added that into the fire, soon developing a very hot fire. He found a pot nearby and carried it out to the well. Again dipping the bucket he filled his pot. He carried this back to the forge and quickly brought the water to a boil. He let it boil for several minutes before using the tongs to remove it. He dumped the water onto the anvil. It crackled and snapped. As it cooled, Marchan inspected it very closely. The anvil did not come alive as the brickwork had done. He ran his hand over the anvil. It felt very slimy. He took his pot back to the well and dipped the bucket again, then thought better of it. He untied the end of the rope and let the bucket go into the well. He looked around and saw a large stone not far away. He approached it and found he could move it, just like the stones from his father's fields. He rolled it over to the well and pushed it in. It almost didn't fit. It only fell halfway down to the water level.
Just then, the Healer appeared. He approached Marchan.
'Hello,' he said. 'I don't recall ever seeing you before.'
'No, you said yesterday that you wouldn't,' Marchan said calmly. 'Are you familiar with any kind of creature that's too small to see but lives in wells?'
'Lives in wells?' the Healer pondered. 'Ah, no, actually. Well, I suppose some sort of germ or something might be.'
'I was thinking of something a bit bigger,' said Marchan. 'Just below what you can see.'
'Hmm, an attack by the Great Enemy?' the Healer suggested. 'I seem to think that is it. A new creature that lodges in the brain and absorbs men's minds.'
Marchan thought this over for a second. 'Yes,' he said. 'That would be it. Come we must leave.'
'Leave?' The Healer said. 'But this is the only place I know. I just woke. I haven't explored the world at all.'
But Marchan was already walking back to the carriage.
'David, Samuel, wake up.' He shook them awake. 'We must leave, now!'
'What is it?' David said. 'My, my, you're a dwarf!'
'Yes, we went over that two days ago. Come on, we must leave. There's something in the water that eats your mind. We must get away from here and hope it's a temporary thing.'
'Eats my mind?' Samuel was awake now. He got up and harnessed the horses. Marchan looked around and noticed the Healer looking around bewildered. Marchan walked over to him, grabbed him by the hand and walked him over to the carriage.
'You, get up on top beside the coachman's seat. You'll be most comfortable there. Move! Now!' Marchan ordered the Healer.
He obeyed and Marchan noticed David putting himself into position at the back of the carriage. Marchan climbed into the carriage making sure not to wake his mother or the duke just as Samuel finished with the horses and prepared to climb to his own seat as coachman. They were off almost immediately. As they approached the next village, Marchan stuck his head out the window and called to Samuel.
'It should be okay to stop here. I doubt the creature is in the water here.'
Samuel pulled up in the village square. A castle overlooked the village from a nearby hillock. A clock read that it was half past seven in the morning and church bells began ringing atop the village church calling the faithful to prayers. A few of the devout were congregating near the church. In all a quiet village, well kept up and no sign of anything sinister greeted their eyes.
Marchan got down from the carriage as did David and Samuel. The Healer did not seem quite sure of himself. In fact, he seemed overwhelmed by the number of people. Marchan walked to the town well and drew some water. First he spilled some on the stones alongside the well and waited to see if the stone started to move. After a few minutes, he decided it was safe and took a long draught. Cool and sweet, just like water should taste, he thought to himself. He passed the bucket on to David and returned to the carriage to get a jar. His mother had woken up when they stopped. He carried it to the well, filled it and returned it to his mother and said Good Morning to her. She took a daught and asked why they had left their last place in the night.
'Something was in the water there,' Marchan told her. 'I think the Healer's poor memory had something to do with it. If we had stayed much longer, I think we would have been like him. We should find out soon if he will be able to recover.'
'We brought him with us?' she asked, looking around.
'Yes, he's atop the carriage. I think it's time he come down.'
He stepped back from the carriage and called up to the Healer. 'You up there, would you like to come down and get something to drink?'
'Why, yes I would,' he said and jumped off the carriage. He landed and rolled in such a way that Marchan thought he must have practiced it. The Healer got up and joined David and Samuel at the well. Soon his head was completely drenched and his thirst quenched. Then he turned to Samuel and David and spoke to them quietly enough that Marchan could not hear. Marchan ignored him and turned back to his mother.
'How is the duke?' he asked.
'He's still lost a lot of blood and will be weak for some time,' she said. 'I hope this Healer can do something for him. Why does he not come and help?'
'I do not think he remembers,' Marchan replied. 'Sir Healer,' he started turning back to the three at the well, but the three were no longer at the well. Marchan looked around and could not see them. He noticed a few of the townsfolk watching closely a bit to his left, behind the carriage. He turned that way just in time to see David rush out at him. A second body rushed him from behind, and a third appeared from atop the carriage. All four of them rolled through the dirt of the town square and were soon cover in dung, mud and soil. Marchan put up a good fight, but was eventually overpowered. Dana appeared at the carriage door and called out.
'Stop it you three! That's grossly unfair. Come and help the duke. He's waking up.'
Instantly, all four were back on their feet and the Healer entered the carriage. 'My apologies, My Lady,' he said. 'I'd forgotten about my patient.' He quickly examined, though without touching, the duke. 'I must wash up, then I will be ready to do a more thorough examination. He appears to be much healthier today than yesterday.'
'You remember yesterday?' Marchan asked.
'Why yes, yes I do believe I do,' he was told. 'I think you've saved me from the oblivion that I've long lived in. Now, I must go wash.'
He returned to the well and, after filling the bucket, soaked his head and hands again. He called David over and had him pour the cold water over his hands as he vigourously attempted to scrape off the last of the dirt. Then he returned to the carriage. He gently undid Dana's bandages and with water from the jar washed the wounds, then wrapped them up again. Meanwhile, David and Samuel washed themselves up well and made themselves to look the part of servants of an important duke, then walked up to the castle atop the hillock. At the gate they called out, 'His Grace, the Emminent Duke of Quirnotol is below in the carriage. His humble servants request lodging for him and his servants and travelling companions.'
The gatehouse keeper looked out. He did not appear very friendly. 'What have we to do with the Duke of Quirnotol? And is he so proud that he refuses to come to the gate hisself?'
'I'm sure he would come, Lord Gatekeeper, but he is in most dire straits. He was wounded yesterday by a peasant while protecting a most gracious lady and her orphan son who are the duke's travelling companions.'
The gatekeeper sniffed. He walked away into the castle without saying a word. David and Samuel looked at each other and proceeded back down the hill. When they were halfway back to the carriage they hear the gate open behind them and horses pounded out of it, swept past them and surrounded the carriage. Their leader hopped off his horse and looked into the carraige. He did not even seem to notice Marchan standing just to the side.
'My Lord Duke, welcome to my village,' Marchan heard him say. 'I hope the villagers have not been bothering you. I am Baron Yohan of Skiln. I am told you are hurt. You are welcome to my castle, as humble as it is, for as long as you wish to stay.'
The duke lifted his head slightly so he could see his new host, then lifted his left hand. The Baron kissed his ring and mounted his horse. Just then Samuel and David had returned and the Baron told them to bring the carriage up into the castle. They lifted themselves into position and the carriage was off. Marchan walked behind the carriage, hoping no one would ask him why he did so. He felt that something was wrong but could not think exactly what it was. When they passed the gates the baron called for men to carry the duke into the castle. There was much hurrying about and a stretcher of a sort appeared and men carefully, with the Healer's directions, placed the duke upon it and slowly carried him into the keep. As the procession entered the doors, a hand shot out and stopped Marchan.
'Where do you think you're going?' a nasty voice asked.
Marchan looked down at the hand and let his eyes follow the arm to its owner. He looked into the eyes and saw a hatred he had never seen before. 'I'm with them,' he said.
The man spoke with the same nasty voice, 'And what would you have to do with them? You are of not their kind.'
Marchan watched as the procession ahead of him turned to the left and went around the tables in the hall. He looked back at the owner of the hand. 'That's my mother attending the duke,' he said firmly.
'Your mother! Hear that Rocky? This dwarf has a human mother.' A guffaw came from behind Marchan. He suddenly became aware that there were three large men standing behind him. He looked up at the first man.
'Yes, this dwarf has a human mother,' he said even more firmly. He shifted slightly so that his weight could be used to his advantage should he suddenly find himself in a fight, which was seemingly likely. 'She nursed me when I was a babe and rasied me from childhood. That is what a mother does and that is what a mother is. She is my mother.'
The owner of the hand was almost taken aback, but Rocky or someone else behind Marchan said, 'You are still a child, little squirt. You ain't grown up at all!'
Marchan heard the sound of feet moving on stone and dropped his weight into Hand's legs. Hand went down and Marchan rolled off him and was on his feet facing the three remaining attackers before their first stroke had finished.
They looked rather rough, like they were washed up squires who had never made it to knight. No knight would have allowed himself to be seen in public dressed as they, though it was obvious they'd had some military training. Marchan backed slowly away from them into the keep and they followed at a two metre distance. Marchan could see Hand getting up behind them. He soon joined them.
'Uh, guys, he's right. She's his mother,' Hand said.
'Shut up, Martug,' said Rocky.
Apparently Hand's name was Martug. Marchan thought the name Hand was better anyway. He continued his backwards walking, aware that his attackers were starting to sweat. He thought about it for a second but could not think of any reason they would start to sweat by coming indoors. He walked himself into a spot where he was cornered between the tables and the four men. Hand seemd to be trying to take up more than a quarter of the angle, maybe to let Marchan escape through the rest, but Marchan had other ideas. He grabbed a chair from beside him and twisted it around so it sat between him and the men, then ducked under the table through the hole that it left. Then he raced between the chairs as the men started yelling at each other that he was getting away. Rocky called each of his companions idiots several times, and their names for him were not nearly as kind. Marchan soon reached the table closest to the door through which the procession with his mother had disappeared and ducking out from below the tables reached it in three steps, opened it and stepped through. He made sure the door was closed behind him and started to walk down the passage looking for signs of his mother or the duke. Suddenly he heard the sound of a grown man crying.
He followed the sound and found the Healer curled into a ball on the floor of the passageway, his back against the wall. Tears were streaming down his cheeks wetting his tunic. When he saw Marchan he started wailing.
'I did it! I did it! No one is to blame but me!'
'What did you do?' Marchan asked, wondering if the duke was still alive.
'The niteshades. I put them in the well. I was promised so much. Destroy morale and we will win the war. But the first town I poisoned the water, and it was so terrible. Mother's ignoring their children's cries because they couldn't remember to nurse them and then wondering why they were in pain themselves! Men forgetting to feed their horses, or gather in the crops so they could eat over the winter. I couldn't live with myself. I went to the town and scared everyone away. I drank the water because I longed to forget. Why do you force me to remember? I am only human!'
Suddenly, the Healer got up and grabbed a nearby candlestick. He thrashed and tried to hit Marchan with it. Marchan ducked away, then heard his pursuers coming through the door behind him. He ran past the Healer and went searching for his mother and the Baron. Perhaps they could put a stop to this. His five pursuers were not far behind him. He looked and listened, but his pursuers were making too much noise, and a wrong turn could mean that they would catch him.
Marchan turned a corner and overheard a man moaning ahead of him. He followed the sound and turned into a brightly lit room. Sunlight burst upon his eyes and it took some time for his eyes to grow accustomed to the light again after the shadow of the corridor.
As he waited he heard his mother's voice, 'Why are you doing that? You are hurting him.'
'I am a physician, madam,' another voice replied, 'I know what I am about. Please step aside.'
The moaning grew stronger, as did the sound of Marchan's pursuers in the corridor. Marchan stepped forward and walked to the right, stepping away from the door just in time to miss his pursuers as they entered the room.
As Marchan hid behind a chaise lounge, he heard the Healer's voice, 'What's the moaning sound? Why, man, what are you doing?' His shoes clicked across the floor. There was a pause and then, 'Man, you will kill him if you keep removing those coverings. He cannot yet afford to lose any more blood.'
'Know your place,' replied the physician. 'I am the Baron's own personal physician.'
'And I am the Duke's personal physician,' replied the Healer. 'He retained me last night. I do not recall anyone asking you to interfere with my patient.'
'You! You're a raving madman! I heard you screaming a few minutes ago as they brought me the Duke. You are no physician.'
'Raving madman or not,' replied the Healer. 'I am his physician and you are interfering with my patient. The College of Physicians will not look kindly upon this intrusion. Until I have been examined by a professional examiner to determine if I am mad, I must be assumed not to be. Now, out of my way and stay away from my patient.'
'Lunatic,' the Baron's physician said; his voice revealing his exasperation. He stalked loudly from the room. The four men who had been chasing Marchan from the front hall were moving around, still looking for the dwarf, but two of them left after the physician.
The Healer and Dana were talking in quiet tones. 'That quack nearly killed the Duke,' said the Healer. 'It's a good thing your son led me here when he did. The Duke could not handle losing any more blood.'
'So you didn't try to kill him?' Dana asked. 'You were screaming about killing him when we left you in the corridor.'
'Oh, I tried. For a guy so small he's very quick. I don't think he has to worry about me any more, though I think these other men would think different. I don't know what they want with him, but they seem very upset. I'm going to be busy with the Duke for some time. Why don't you go look for your son and maybe you can protect him from them.'
Dana looked at the Healer, then back at the Duke. She nodded, got up and left the room. The two remaining men left behind her, quietly following, hoping she might lead them to Marchan. The Healer worked to stop the Duke's bleeding side. He hummed to himself as he worked and Marchan was able to get a good look around the room. It was quite large: easily 6 metres by 6 metres. The walls were covered in very expensive drapery, except where various paintings with gold frames hung. The bed in the middle of the room had been stripped of its top cover, which lay on the floor, and the sheets beneath were dark red with blood from the Duke. Several chaise lounges, two desks with stools, some small tables, three wardrobes, several large vases and three floor to ceiling bookcases were arranged in an almost haphazard manner around the room. Marchan felt a little overwhelmed by the display of raw wealth in the contents of the room. Aside from the gold picture frames upon the wall, the bookcases held platinum bookends and exquisite statuettes. The books were almost all leather bound with gold trim. The mirrors covering the doors of the wardrobes, a rare enough find in themselves, appeared to be glass backed by silver instead of the more common polished bronze. Atop the tables stood silver and gold chalices and ewers. Marchan had certainly never seen such wealth before. Suddenly, he heard a voice speaking to him.
'You can come out now,' said the Healer. 'I think all of those men have gone now.'
'How did you know I was here?' Marchan asked.
'I saw you enter the room, although they did not. I knew you had entered, and I haven't seen any sign of an exit that you could have taken. As I told your mother, you have nothing to worry about from me. I am sorry for my attempt a few minutes ago, as I am sorry for poisoning that well. I should finally introduce myself to you, but I don't think we'll have time. You must leave very soon. I know of this Baron Yohan of Skiln. He will not be happy to see you. His son died in the war and he blames the dwarves for it. I do not know why. I think it was something about them abandoning the troops of our king, though I have heard that it was our king's troops who abandoned the dwarves. Either way, the Baron holds a great grudge against all dwarves. I would suggest you leave immediately. Your mother is keeping his men busy from finding you, so don't bother trying to find her. You will just find them. I will look after the Duke and your mother and see that they leave here safely. I am not without resources! Do not worry.'
'But,' said Marchan. 'How can I trust you?'
'I swear on the grave of my dead wife, they will be better without you here than with you here. Think! The Baron and his men hate you. How will they act towards those you care for? Will they not try to hurt them to hurt you. If you are not here, they will not be so interested in hurting them. Your mother has nothing to worry about, as long as she doesn't remind them too much of your existence. They may dislike her at first for having saved a dwarf, but she is such a beautiful woman that they will eventually forgive her. And it seems to me that you just met the Duke a few days ago, so you needn't worry about him.'
Just then David and Samuel came in. David spoke, 'Wow, the whole castle is looking for a dwarf. Seems he attacked Rocky and Martug. Martug is out cold. The Baron's physician is looking at him now. They seem to think he hurt the Duke as well. It seems we'd best get you out of here, Marchan.' He grabbed the covers from the bed and wrapped them around Marchan before he had a chance to react. Marchan felt himself lifted onto broad shoulders and carried throught the halls. After a few minutes they stopped.
'Ah, madam,' Marchan heard David speaking. 'You are no doubt looking for safety from the dwarf that seems to be hurting everyone. Please come with me.'
He stopped her somehow from speaking and they continued. They were stopped again before long.
'You, what are you doing with the bundle?'
'This?' replied David. 'Oh, my master wanted some things from the carriage. I thought this cover would make an excellent way of carrying them.'
'Very well, I will accompany you, if madam permits.'
'Madam does not permit it,' Dana's voice rang clear. 'I find all these new voices and faces much too confusing and wish to get away from all of you.'
'But you are not safe with this dwarf in the castle.'
'I am quite safe with the Duke's footman, thank you very much.'
They started moving again, but Marchan was not sure if they had been joined by the Baron's man or not. He guessed not, but was soon proved wrong.
'Why are you following us?' Dana's voice was starting to sound angry.
'I am merely fulfilling my duties, madam. You appear to be going toward the front doors. I am also ordered to the front doors.'
'In that case,' Dana replied. 'We will let you pass. I'm sure your duties are more important than my fears. Please continue ahead of us.'
'Thank you, m'lady.
After a minute they continued and then Marchan was put down. David uncovered him and stepped away. Dana came up and hugged Marchan.
'It's not safe for you here,' she said. 'I am suprised by how dangerous. The Baron of the castle hates dwarves and any one associated with them. I have had to disclaim you as my son so that they would stop insulting you to my face.'
'The Healer told me some of it,' said Marchan. 'Will you come with me?'
'I can't', Dana replied. 'They would claim you kidnapped me and then hunt you down. You can stay out of sight much easier without me. The Healer will get the Duke back on his feet and we'll follow in the carriage. Make for the capital. We'll find each other there. I love you!'
'And I love you,' said Marchan. 'Promise me that you'll stay alive and we'll see each other in the capital.'
'I promise!' she said.
David wrapped Marchan up again and carried him outside. Marchan soon found himself hiding inside the carriage with promises of help getting out of the castle after dark. At least he didn't have to worry about Hand and his friends. He waited for several hours, but eventually nature came calling. He tried to hold on, but when there is nothing else to do, a pain eventually becomes intolerable. Marchan peeked out. The courtyard seemed to be empty. He snuck out and slipped into the stables. He found a quiet corner and added his mess to the general manure. He was returning to the carriage when he heard steps in the courtyard. He slipped to where he could see without being seen.
'Where is the dwarf now?' a voice asked.
'I do not know, my lord,' came a very subservient reply. Oddly, Marchan was able to recognize it. It was Hand's voice! Very unlike his voice when Marchan had met him ten minutes earlier, but definitely his.
'Find him, I want him to suffer the way my brother did.'
'Yes, my lord.'
Marchan finally saw Hand and a few others come out to the carriage. They searched it and then looked around and walked toward the stables. Marchan ran. He ran quickly and upon seeing a ladder climbed it as quick as a squirrel. He discovered it led into the loft and was soon buried under mounds of hay and straw.
His pursuers made plenty of noise below him. He had no trouble tracking their progress. They even called out to each other where Marchan wasn't. If they were trying to sneak up on him, they were doing it very badly. Eventually, they climbed the ladder. Hand was in the lead and soon five men were in the loft. They started to grab pitchforks and stab into the straw, but Hand stopped them.
'Forget it,' he said. 'All we're going to do is make ourselves sneeze. Any story I ever heard said that dwarves react badly to grass and hay. Something in their makeup. It'ld be as stupid for him to hide here as for us to hide in poison ivy. Come on, let's go.'
Marchan wondered what on earth Hand was talking about.
Marchan had been moving grass and hay around enough at home for his parents. It had never ever bothered him. He dared not move even though he had heard the searchers leave. He waited and the bit of light he could see through the hay piled over his head slowly faded into blackness. When he was quite sure that the place was dark he started to push the hay away. Suddenly he heard a voice. 'You can come out now,' it said. It was Hand. He dug himself out and there was Hand coming up the ladder.
'No one else is in the stables. It's quite safe,' he said as he swung his leg onto the loft floor.
Marchan felt like a hunted animal. This guy had been the leader when they had tried to stop him from entering the keep, and again when they were searching for him. He really wasn't sure he should trust him.
'Look, I knew you were here when everyone was here. I had been the last one up here and noticed that that particular area of the loft had been rustled. You know, the hay moved around. So, while the guys were searching, I decided to make up the story about dwarves reacting badly to hay. I figured it would get them out of here so you wouldn't get caught. I can guarantee that you would be tortured if they had caught you.'
'So why do you care?'
'Honestly, it's because of what you said about mothers. I think so anyway. See, my mother died when I was born. A nice woman took me in and raised me, but her husband never accepted me. He called me all kinds of nasty things and did things to me I prefer not to recall. I was so glad to get away from him when the Baron took me on as a page, but, in all the time I've been here, I don't forget his wife. I pray to Goddess Gina to watch over her every day.'
'Hmm, so you think you can repay her by helping me?' Marchan was still a little suspicious.
'Well, by helping your mother, mostly. I'm sure she wouldn't be able to handle it if you were caught and tortured.'
'Okay then, you've convinced me. Think you can get me out onto the road toward the capital?'
'The capital? Why do you want to go there?'
'I'm hoping that they have some record of where others of my race are. I haven't seen another dwarf in all my life. Maybe they know where I can find some.'
'Yes, perhaps, I'll certainly help you out onto the road.'
True to his word Hand had Marchan outdoors within minutes. He took him by a small postern gate beyond the castle walls and down the hill. He had also prepared a satchel full of cheese, bread and smoked sausages that could be stored for long journeys.
'It helps to be related to the keeper of the larder,' he laughed softly in the darkness. 'There are many fruit trees along the roadway. You will have no problem keeping up your strength on those. Take care, friend Dwarf. I do not promise that I will treat any other dwarf I meet as well as you, but I do promise I will do all I am able to help your mother.'
'Here,' Marchan said, taking a small rock from his pocket. 'Show this to my mother and tell her that I am on the road.'
'A rock will tell her something?' Hand seemed suprised.
'Yes, it's quite a special rock. I think she'll recognize it. It's from father's tombstone.'
Hand tried to look at it, but there just wasn't enough light. He gave up and said, 'Don't stop until you've passed at least two villages. And then only for a little while. Get as far from this castle as you can. I suggest you stick to travelling in darkness as well, lest someone see which way you've gone. There are others like the Baron who will be happy to do you harm.'
'Thank you, Martug,' said Marchan. 'For everything you've done, and what you've promised to do, I thank you.'
'Good bye,' Hand said and turned back to his home.
Marchan walked for the whole night, navigating by the stars. North wasn't hard to find, and soon he was walking that way on a military road.
Within a couple of weeks Marchan was approaching the capital. His trip was long and tiring and not particularily eventful. Most days he was hiding out in some abandoned barn or other building. Sometimes he slept on the ground in deep forest. He had quickly learned that the rural folk distrusted the site of him, and he gave them a wide berth. He travelled at night so he saw very little in the darkness.
When he arrived at the gates of the capital; however, it was just reaching day. There was nowhere to hide, so he decided to plunge in and hope that the urbanites would treat him better than their country cousins. He passed through the gate with peddlers who were carrying their trinkets to market. They did not give him a second look. Since it was early morning, they seemed to be more interested in rubbing the sleep out of their eyes.
Marchan was suprised as he passed through the first gates, that he could not see anything that appeared to be homes. The buildings he did see were quite obviously government buildings and as he passed a side street, he realised that they were army barracks. The side street led to a parade ground where soldiers were marching to and fro. The crowd he was travelling with continued on oblivious to the faint echos of drill sergeants yelling at their charges.
They soon passed another gate into open fields. Fields in a city, wondered Marchan. As he turned his head he could see that the wall between the barracks and fields ringed the fields which, in turn, surrounded another wall, toward which Marchan's sleepy companions were walking. He jogged a bit to keep up. Before long he passed a gate of that wall into what looked more like a town crushed together. The houses were very thin and butt right against each other. Children were playing in the streets and a few of Marchan's companions started to set up their stalls. Others turned this way and that to destinations that Marchan couldn't be bothered to guess.
Now that he had arrived, Marchan wondered what he should do. He knew that somewhere in the city he might find records of where his own people might be, but where would he find such records? He had no idea, and the city suddenly seemed to him cold and uninviting.
Marchan realised he had been standing in the middle of the street. A man child about his own height was standing and watching him not far away. Marchan began to walk on, hoping to see something that could give him an idea of where to go, but the boy caught up with him.
'You look a little lost friend,' he said.
Marchan was suprised. Most boys he had met who were as short as him were much younger. This boy sounded closer to the same age.
'Well, I've never been here before,' said Marchan.
'Well, let me give you the tour. This is Kardin Square. Two centuries ago, before the ascension of the Queen, may the Roubbes keep her bones from decay, Mother of our current King, may he reign still longer, it was the main southern entrance to the city. Lots of bustle and soldiers and the like. Now as you likely saw, the soldiers are all out in the Barracks Ring. Over there is Mardic, the Baker. If you have a few coins, you can get wonderful pastries and pies. Near him is Johone, the Tailor. He'll suit you up right.' The boy went on for some time his spiel giving a reason to visit every single booth in the square, not including the booths set up by the peddlers that had arrived with Marchan.
When Marchan asked, the boy said, 'Well, I don't know their names, or what they sell exactly, but if you like I can find out.'
'Maybe you can get me some other information,' Marchan said. 'As you can see, I'm not a man, nor will I become one. I am dwarf. I understand there may be records in this city that tell where I might find others of my kind.
'Now that I don't know,' said the lad. 'I may be able to take you to someone who would know where to find such information. Come this way.'
'By the way,' said Marchan as they started walking. 'I am Marchan.'
'Peter,' said the boy. 'Glad to have met you.'
Peter led Marchan through the square and down a main street. They turned a corner and passed through yet another gate. On either side of them were orchards of apples and pears. Some distance away Marchan could see a vineyard and more fruit trees. Marchan stopped to take in his surroundings.
'What is it?' asked Peter, also stopping. 'Is something wrong?'
'No,' said Marchan. 'I just cannot understand a city with all these orchards inside it!'
'Well, see, the capital is made up of rings, each one ringing the smaller ones. We're walking closer to the center. You've seen the outer Barracks Ring, and the Fields Ring. Inside is the Merchant Ring where I live, and this is the Orchard Ring. Just ahead there is the City of the Kings. Inside that ring is the city the King's gardens, and inside that the Palace. The Palace is also built as a ring and inside that is a tower. Look straight ahead and you can make out the top of it. They say it was the first of everything built in the city. Some even say it wasn't built by human hands. The Roubbes themselves fastened it out of the rock before mankind came here. That tower is the center of the city and from it comes the name of the city. Turrisple, the City of the Tower.'
'But orchards, and fields, inside a city!'
'It's a very big city. The city imports very little food, so if we are beseiged, the attackers must bring their own food from outside, but we are well fed. There has not been anyone attempting to beseige the city for almost three centuries, and that was before the Queen, may her spirit find rest, built the Barracks Ring.'
Marchan began walking again. It amazed him, but it made sense not to rely on growing food from outside the city. It took them a few minutes to pass the orchards. Then they came to a gate. A pair of guards stood there watching them approach. These were no ordinary soldiers. They were dressed in silk and cotton. Their armour was gilded and their shields had a silver tower embossed upon them. Their helmets glistened in the morning sun.
'You, boys, where are you going,' called one.
'To find you,' said Peter. 'My friend her is not a manchild. He is a dwarfchild and is looking to find his own people.'
'He won't find any here,' replied the other guard.
'Perhaps not, but the kingdom must have records of where they can be found,' replied Marchan. 'In case it must call upon them in time of need.'
'That may be,' said the first guard. 'It is beyond my station. Please wait here until my superior arrives. He will know how to help you.'
Marchan was quite willing to wait. He found some soft grass and was soon fast asleep. He had been walking all night and the sun was getting closer to the south. Peter sat beside him and waited.
It didn't seem like much time had passed before Marchan was awoken.
'I am Johan,' said the man who woke him. 'The guards tell me you are looking for information on where to find other Dwarves. I can take you to the Hall of Records. Come with me.'
Johan led him through the gate, but the guards would not let Peter follow. Marchan waved good-bye, but Peter did not seem pleased. Soon though, Marchan could no longer see him as he nearly ran to keep up with Johan. Johan obviously was not used to walking with people shorter than him, or had some schedule to keep. He did not talk, so Marchan was left wondering what all the buildings he was passing were. They were mavelous, marble and amethyst were in abundance. Gold lined doorways and silver lined walkways. Nowhere could Marchan see any brick, and the wood used in the buildings seemed only to highlight the marble.
Marchan tried asking Johan about various buildings but Johan ignored the question and just told him to hurry.
Soon they reached a large building set back from the road. To reach it they would have to cross a marble bridge. Johan stopped before crossing the bridge. He pointed at the edifice.
'That is the Hall of Records. I must get back to my rounds,' he said and strode off as Marchan called a thanks after him.
He turned back to the Hall of Records. It was an even more imposing building that anything he had yet seen. It was surrounded by gardens with benches for sitting upon. It was built of marble like so many other buildings, but this looked to Marchan's untrained eye to be an even more exquisite stone. Marchan had never seen it's like. Atop the Hall was a bronze roof, shining the nearly noonday sun. Marchan was sure he had found the place.
Marchan walked across the bridge. As he approached the front gate he noticed two guards standing there, looking small below to the tall gate. They were each holding a 4 metre spear in the right hand and were dressed very much like the last two guards Marchan had met. He walked up to them.
'Halt,' commanded one. 'State your name and business.'
'I am Marchan,' he replied. 'I am looking for information on other dwarves. Johan that I just left said I might find something here.'
The second guard with little effort raised his spear half a metre off the ground and let it fall back onto the marble bridge. Marchan could feel the shock through his feet and the heard a terrifying boom which reverberated below the bridge and off the Hall of Records.
Before long another man come out, dressed like Johan, in a navy blue tunic and light blue trousers, apparently the uniform of the officers.
'What is it?'
'M'Lord, the dwarf here says he is Marchan, looking for information on other dwarves.'
'Your own people don't have it?' said the officer looking at Marchan.
'I do not know of any of my people,' Marchan said. 'I was raised by humans, and have just recently started looking for my own people.'
'Ah, come inside, we'll see what we can find.'
The officer led Marchan into the courtyard and into the Hall of Records. He was quite friendly and took Marchan to his office.
'My name is Richard,' he told Marchan. 'Would you like anything to eat or drink?'
'Why thank you, I would,' replied Marchan. 'I haven't really had a good meal in a few weeks. I was too afraid to try to enter most of the villages along the way and had no money to buy anything anyway.'
'Are the peasants treating strangers that poorly? That's sad. Considering how much this kingdom owes to the dwarves, we should be forever grateful to your people.'
'Oh? A Baron I met along the way described us as responsible for all kinds of pain and suffering.'
'Really, now that is very sad. A Baron should know better. No, about a decade and a half ago the Great Enemy Chloris broke through and attempted to invade our lands. We raised what defenses we could, but even with the King's whole domain behind us we were overwhelmed. That is until a very large contingent of dwarves appeared on each of the enemy's flanks. He suddenly found himself trapped on three sides by a superior force. It was still very bloody, but we did win that battle and he has not tried to invade again since then. Our contacts away south suggest he may be rising again, but you did not come here to listen to a lecture on our military.'
'I didn't but it is very interesting. I was found on the south edge of the kingdom after that battle by a human warrior named Jonathan. He raised me, but now I am almost an adult and would like to find my own kind.'
'Yes, of course,' said Richard. 'I will see what can be found. Trevor, come in here please!'
This last bit was spoken rather loudly and a young man came in. He was dressed in yet another uniform. It was neither the uniform of the guards and nor the that of an officer. His hair was slicked back and was tied together then tucked into the back of his uniform.
Trevor seemed familiar to Marchan, but Marchan could not place him. He appeared to be in his late teens and was even sporting a bit of down on his upper lip, which Marchan was sure made him feel older than he was. Trevor seemed suprised to see the guest in his captain's office.
'Cap'n?' he said, apparently trying not to stare at Marchan.
'Do you know anything of Dwarves, Trevor?'
'They were our allies in the last war, sir. Rumour flies that they abandoned us, but my father assures me that it was a blessing they made it at all and their forces were were defeated.'
'Good, now would you know where you might find some if you went looking for them.'
'Not offhand, Cap'n. I could look in the archives though.'
'Would you? And get Gordon and Michael to help you and tell Jeannie to bring in some food and drink for our guest.'
'Yes sir. Right away Cap'n,' said Trevor ducking out of the room.
'A truly wonderful assistant,' said Richard after he had gone. 'If there's anything to find, he'll find it. We have archives going all the way back to King George's death. Some are more detailed than others mind, but we've been filling in what information we can, and cross referencing everything. Trevor here is my right hand man. He will find it.'
Right then, a young woman in a uniform like Trevor's came in carrying a tray of food and drink. There were biscuits witih butter and cheese, a pitcher full of orange jucie and a few sticks of maple sugar. She placed the tray on the table between Marchan and Richard and stepped back.
Richard turned to Marchan and said, 'This will do as an appetizer I'm sure. What do think would you like for a proper meal?'
'Oh, you're too kind. Right now, I think I could eat just about anything,' said Marchan. 'Cold leftovers sound just heavenly to me right now.'
Richard looked at the young woman and spoke, 'Jeannie, warm up a bit of stew and bring some of pie. I'm sure there's some in the mess hall.'
'Yes, Cap'n,' she said and left.
Marchan had just finished eating the first tray's food when she returned with half an apple pie and plates to serve it on. Also on the tray were more cheese and a white creamy substance that she smeared on the first piece as she gave it to Marchan. He was suprised how much it added to the pie. Richard served him the rest of the pie with the rest of the cream and cheese. Marchan had eaten the last piece and was hoping there was more when Jeannie returned again with a large bowl of stew. She set that in front of Marchan and grated some cheese into it, then ground some pepper into it from a pepper grinder. Marchan ate it quickly and decided he should not take too much and declared himself full satisfied.
'Surely you could eat more?' Jeannie asked.
'Perhaps,' Marchan said. 'But I do not want to eat too much. I'll have more later.'
'As you wish,' she said and left the room.
'Well, since that is over,' said Richard. 'Would you like to walk a bit with me?'
'Certainly,' said Marchan.
Richard took him throough the gardens of surrounding the Hall, pointing out various flowering and climbing plants. Marchan was awestruck by the joins between the blocks of marble. They were as smooth and perfect as if they rock had been there forever. Richard assured him that the marble had been brought from many miles away and placed expertly by craftsmen who had learned the craft at the hands of the dwarves. From time to time, dwarves had visited the city, but very few knew from whence they came, nor where they went when they left. Richard did not know if it was recorded. He said he hoped it had. He knew Trevor would find it.
Marchan was at the Hall of Records for several days waiting for Trevor and his crew to find information on Dwarf habitats. Meanwhile, Dana was discovering just how much she missed court life. In the Castle of Skiln, she was waited on and no longer needed to cook meals or scrub floors. Her long unused skills at weaving and embroidery slowly came back to her. Her mastery of chess and backgammon returned quicker. Within two days, she was regularly winning against even the best players in the castle.
The Duke of Quirnotol, under the hand of the once nameless Healer, returned to health and was soon eating heartily and cheering on Dana as she bested her opponents at the games.
The Healer meanwhile remembered more and more of his past. With his name came most of his memories. He had been born Thomas Denton, son of the greatest doctor in memory, Donald Denton who, it was rumoured, had raised a man from death. Thomas made no such claims for his father. He himself had been hired by a Duke of high standing some thirty years earlier and had faithfully served him until he died and then loyally served his son. That son had died and his half brother was so evil that Thomas had tried to run, but had been forced to do his bidding though threats to a hostage: Thomas's own son. It was in that Duke's employ that Thomas had turned the last town they had visited into a nightmare.
When Thomas revealed that much, Dana took a closer look at him and then said, 'Have I changed so much that you don't recognize me, Doctor?'
At the time the Duke, Dana, Thomas, David and Samuel were sitting in the Duke's chamber. All the men jolted forward when Dana spoke.
'Recognize you, dear Lady?' said Thomas.
'Your duke had a granddaughter, did he not, about age 10 when he died?'
'Yes, yes, I remember my son thought she was some kind of angel. The Young Duke's daughter, she was about ten when the Old Duke died. That was you?'
'Yes, I must admit I didn't recognize you either. (When I was young all grown ups looked alike to me!) But I do remember that we had the son of the doctor that raised the dead as our doctor. Grandpappy used to say that we were bound to be the healthiest people in the world.'
'Yes, Dana, yes, that could have been the name of the Young Duke's daughter. I can't say as I remember. I think I always called her the little princess when I saw her.'
'That's right, and you used to give me those maple canes afterwards.'
'Hey yes, I remember.'
'I think,' said the Duke slowly, breathing heavily, 'that I would like to know how it is that you went from being the daughter of a duke to being the adopted mother of a dwarf and a runaway from a peasant mob.'
Dana looked at her four companions. She had only known them for about a week, but she was sure she could trust them with this story.
She was born Dana Laura Lu, the first grandchild of the Duke of Loussington. Her father was the sole heir to the Duchy and was already running most of its affairs since his father was aged and not expected to live many more years. As it turned out, he lived to see Dana's tenth birthday, largely thanks to Dr. Denton's efforts, but finaly succumbed to the accumulated ravages of time. Dana displayed a talent in mathematics and languages. Her love though was poetry. She would spend hours daily reading and memorizing poetry. Brahneem was her favourite, but Michallo and Ubutuna were not far behind. The death of her grand-father, unfortunately, was followed by her mother a year later and her father two years after that. Dana was left alone (aside from her father's palace servants) and who should appear but her father's half brother.
At this point in the story, Thomas interjected that the Old Duke had never married the mother of this child. She was a woman that he had kept after his wife had died bearing Dana's father.
Dana's uncle took control of the duchy. At first he claimed to be watching out for Dana's interests, since she was the heir, but within a year he had isolated her from all the servants. Any servant that showed the least bit of interest in being kind to her was punished most severely. Not, of course, for being kind to Dana, but everyone could tell that there was a relationship between being kind to her and how severely you were punished for minor slip ups.
Then he pulled a very dirty trick. As acting Duke, he promoted one of his mother's nephews to Baronette and offered him Dana's hand in marriage. Dana was given the choice of marriage or continuing isolation. The marriage ceremony was quickly over and Dana's new husband eagerly took her home to his two room shack. It was not a pleasant experience for Dana. A year later her son was born. He was a sickly child and Thomas had recently disappeared. There was nowhere for Dana to turn to help her son. One night her son cried so much Dana thought her heart would break. Her husband told her to shut him up, but nothing Dana could do would silence him. That night he died.
Before sunrise, Dana, bloody and bruised, ran away. Her clothes were unrecognizable and she was running barefoot, but she was running. Many times she stumbled and hurt herself still more, but she knew that she wanted to get as much distance as possible between herself and that house. As she ran she passed camps of soldiers preparing for battle. That day was the day of the last battle against Chloris which the king's soldiers won with the help of the dwarves.
Dana finally stopped at a Sanctuary and slept. The Keeper of the Sanctuary gave her some food and found some peasant clothes for her to wear. They were rougher than anything that Dana had worn before, but they were clean and well mended, and looked nothing like her old self. Dana was glad to have them.
After the battle was over, exhausted soldiers could be seen walking along the road from time to time, mostly in groups of 20 or more. One soldier by himself was walking along carrying a bundle. He turned in toward the Sanctuary.
The Keeper, who had been watching out called to him, 'Do not come this way. This is not a Sanctuary for armed men.'
'I am armed, but it is not for me that I come. It is for this little babe I am carrying. Do you know of a wet nurse?'
Dana jumped and ran out to meet him. It had been too long since she had last nursed her son. The babe was asleep but eagerly accepted all she could give him as soon as she woke him.
As she fed him the man explained, 'I am a foot soldier of Glown. I was leaving the field of battle and came across a young dwarf-woman, bleeding profusely. As I approached she cried out in agony. I got closer and asked what I could do for her. She cried again, then gasped, "The child, take the child home." She died soon after. I searched and found a small bundle with this baby in it. I've looked for where the dwarf troop has gone, but can't seem to find it. I thought I had best find someone to care for this child.'
Dana told him that she would be happy to care for him, but she had no home to take him to.
Jonathan took her to his own home. The farm that he had grown up on. His aged parents still lived there and helped Dana look after Marchan for a year, while Jonathan did his best to find the Dwarves. He turned up nothing at all. He could not even find rumour of someone who knew where they might be found, or even sightings. His parents died in a outbreak of flu after a year, so he returned to support his adopted son.
The intervening years were full of all the things that parents go through.
Jonathan had died a year before and their debts had caught up to them. When attempting to find work for Marchan, they had ended up in a violent fight and been forced to leave unexpectedly, which had brought them to the Duke's carriage as he approached Glown that night.
The Duke of Quirnotol coughed. 'I see why you told us that first story of a dead husband. You had no reason not to believe I was friends with your uncle.'
'Actually,' said Dana, 'I heard later that my uncle's cousin was killed on the same day as I ran. He went looking for me and ended up on the battle field. In all the confusion he was killed. A bondsman of his who had followed escaped and reported the story of his master dying while looking for his runaway wife. The story even reached us over near Glown.'
'Ah, I see,' said the Duke. 'Well, since we're swapping our histories and what not, I might as well admit to mine. I'm a great grandson of claimant to the throne Horatio, himself great grandson of King Bedoyoro, grandson of King George founder of the dynasty which still reigns and by the assistance of the Roubbes will reign forever. I have been married and my wife gave me a son. In his late teens he is now, and works in the capital. Alas, my wife died, likely from the same flu that went around and killed your Jonathan's parents, some fourteen years ago. I've never been in a bad place overall. My parents left me plenty of wealth. I like fast horses, and despise men treating one another badly. If there's something I can do to help you, I'd love to. Your uncle sounds like a man who needs his come-uppance.'
Soon after that Thomas declared that the Duke needed his rest and everyone else cleared out of the room. Dana was soon alone and changed into her night clothes.
Dana was just pulling back the covers of her bed, after blowing out her candle, when she heard a noise in the passageway outside her chamber. She froze, listening for more noise.
'Mistress, are you here?' a voice asked. Dana stifled a scream. It was a man's voice, and it sounded like he was right in her chamber! He was just closer than the open doorway! The voice, however, sounded like a man afraid of being discovered and quite afraid.
After a few seconds, she spoke, 'Who is it?' then dove across the bed to put it between herself and her unexpected visitor.
He did not seem interested in pursuing her, however. He sat down on the floor and said, 'I will not harm you. My name is Martug. Until a week ago I was a loyal servant of the Baron's. But on the day you arrived, I met a dwarf that claimed you were his mother, not his birth mother, but his mother because you raised him and cared for him. I, myself, was raised by a nice woman who was unrelated to me. She gave me everything I needed. This dwarf claimed you did the same for him. I last saw him a week ago with a satchel of food as he walked away in the starlight along the road to the capital. At that meeting he gave me this stone to show to you. He said you might recognize it.' There was a bit of shuffling in the darkness and then Martug struck a light with his tinderbox. He had used it to light an oil lamp and shifted himself over to the table at the foot of the bed. He placed the lamp and a small rock on the table, then shifted himself back to the doorway, keeping his eyes on the floor.
Dana stepped to the table and looked at the rock. It was a chip that Marchan had taken from Jonathan's grave marker when the undertaker was fashioning it. On it were very tiny letters that Marchan had carved. Jonathan's name and a short eulogy made up most of it. The remaining part was the date of his death. Dana recognized it instantly.
She looked across at Martug. 'Marchan gave you this?' she said, disbelief tainting her voice.
'Yes,' said Martug, his voice suddenly even more fearful than when he first spoke.
'Well, thank you for returning it to me,' Dana said with an air of finality.
'When we parted,' Martug started. 'I promised him that I will do all I am able to help you. I promised that because what he said of you reminded me of the woman that raised me.'
'And what do you want?' Dana asked, starting to wonder if she would be rid of this strange man.
'Want? I want to serve you. Take me with you when you leave. I have but three more weeks of service promised to the Baron, then I am free. I had been a loyal servant and planned to promise another two years as his page, but you have shown me again that there is a life of doing good. I no longer wish to be beholden to a man that kills men for pleasure, and tortures them for sport. Hate is his creed.'
Dana pondered. 'Come back again another day,' she said. 'I will tell you then what I will do.'
'Mistress, it took me a week to be able to come. You are not easy to approach, you spend your days indoors and among the genteel chess players and the ladies of the court. My day is in the stables and on guard duty. Tonight is the first time I've been inside apart from meal times. And if I was seen to approach you without some other reason, I would be castigated most severely.'
Dana nodded. She had been left quite alone by the men of the castle. That would not be suprising but for the lecherous looks she got, and the rather inappropriate behaviour that the Baron displayed around her. She said, 'If I decided to go riding, would you be my page?'
'I think you might be able to arrange that,' Martug replied.
'Then I will go riding in the next day or so. I will give you what answer I can.' Dana stepped back from the table, holding the rock to her chest.
Martug slid back to the table took the lamp and blew it out, then retreated from the room. Dana could hear him leave, but his soft shoes made little noise and she soon couldn't hear him any more. She climbed into bed and was soon fast asleep, hugging the stone and remembering.
Fast asleep was, perhaps, not a perfect description. Dana was troubled that night by dreams of men attacking her. The attackers kept turning into Marchan, and she would go to hug him, but she found she had turned into her uncle's cousin, or the Baron Yohan of Skiln. She woke up several times during the night. Once, she was almost sure that someone else was in the room with her. She was sure she heard a voice murmuring not far away, but when she tried to place her foot in the murmurer's abdomen, she only hit the cold stone wall. She climbed back into bed and dreamed even more outrageous dreams.
The next morning after breakfast, she went to the Duke's sick chamber. He was in high spirits.
'Good morning, my dear!' he called when he saw her. 'I have been thinking about your uncle, and, ohh, I have a plan for him. My son, he works in the Hall of Records. I could get him to find all the history of your family that would be necessary to show that you are the proper Duchess of Loussington. With that, we could go to the King and have you installed there again. I know the King quite well; he will support you. Have no doubts. Then, when your uncle has lost everything, I can offer him a spot managing one of my troublesome estates. He will be quite surprised to find just how troublesome. Ooooh, hoo, hoo.'
Dana smiled. It was hard not to at the Duke's enthusiasm. 'Duke,' she started, but was interrupted.
'Really, my dear! I think we should be on better terms than all that. Now that I know you are my equal in station, I must insist that you call me by my personal name.'
'M'lord,' said Dana, taking on a various serious tone, 'I do not know your first name. I have also only known you a week. I do not think it appropriate to call you by your personal name, seeing as you are, indeed, of a much higher station that I. For fifteen years I have not been a Duchess, whatever my rightful status.'
'Really, you don't know my name? Oh, dear. I thought everyone knew my first name. It's even etched in gold thread upon the pillows in my carriage. You must have seen it.'
'Well, I will not speak your personal name at this time, My Lord Duke. Too much could be implied by such a switch.'
'Very well,' sighed the Duke. He truly liked the sound of his name, and was sure that Duchess Dana would pronounce it very beautifully. He sighed again then said, 'So what were you going to say?'
'I was approached last night by a young man in the castle. He says his time is nearly up and requests that I take him with me as my servant. I would like your input on the matter.'
'Oh? I have noticed that the Baron is very wily, and has very evil intentions, however kindly he acts toward us. Thomas told me that his doctor was in here when we first arrived and pretty much attempted to make me worse. It would seem he wished me dead. I understand that I have you and your son some thanks for bringing that to Thomas' attention, and I thank you for it. I think that if we had been shabbier when we arrived, we might have gone straight into the gaol, likely never seen again in the outside world. As it was, my carriage suggested to the Baron that I am a very powerful man and might have had more men near by. David and Samuel meanwhile explained what kind of connections I have, so I think he has now decided that he best make a good show to convince me that he's a good man. If he could perhaps get you alone, however, and defenseless, an accident could happen and no one but him and his men the wiser.'
'But the man had me alone,' Dana said and told the story of her unexpected visit, even pulling the stone from her pocket to show the Duke.
'Well, well, it would be unlikely that he would figure that stone might mean something to you,' said the Duke, studying it closely. 'He would have had to have talked to Marchan. The writing is virtually unnoticeable even when you told me where it is. You say Marchan did this? I had no idea anyone could do this.'
'He is very steady with his hands,' said Dana. 'I do not know if that is a consequence of his race, or if he is exceptional among them.'
'Well, I think you can be sure he talked to Marchan. Whether as friend or foe remains to be seen. I would suggest you also take Samuel along. He's an amazing horseman and can handle himself in a scuffle.'
'But would I need two pages?' Dana asked.
'If you play it right, certainly. Say you want a man that you know, but also a man that who knows the terrain, and the horses. Samuel tells me they take good care of the riding horses, he's been down to visit the stables and make sure that my horses are well kept. Samuel is a true horsemaster. Treats them like children. Better than most children are treated.
'Anyway, if you take Samuel the Baron would have to think twice about doing anything, as there's a much better chance that I would hear and an accident that kills two is very unlikely anyway. Talk to this Martug, see what you can find out. If he's on the level, we can tell the Baron that you request a page to serve you and that the page you took with you when you were riding was such a nice young man that you would like him. If the Baron requires a payment for the last few weeks of the man's services, I will pay it.'
'You shouldn't have to pay for a servant for me!' Dana exclaimed.
'Pshaw, think of it as a gift for all your nursing over me.'
'But you only got hurt because of me!'
'And I would do it again to have the honour of having you beside me in my carriage.'
Their conversation continued for some time about nothing in particular, but the decision had been made. Before lunch Dana went to tell the Baron she wished to go riding that afternoon, but the sky clouded over quite suddenly and the rain postponed her excursion.
The next afternoon, however, Dana was able to make it out riding. She took Samuel with her as the Duke had suggested. When they got into the stables, she insisted she wanted someone who knew the area and had everyone in the stables line up. She walked up and down the line inspecting each one like she was trying to get a feel for each one until she pointed at Martug and said to the Baron, 'That one. He'll do.'
'Excellent choice, M'Lady,' said the Baron. 'He is very knowledgable of the area and an excellent horseman.' He dismissed everyone else with a wave and then stepped up to Martug. 'Now, sirrah,' he said loud enough to let Dana and Samuel hear. 'If anything happens to the lady, or the man with her, I will personally remove your intestines and force you to eat them. Do you understand?'
'Yes, sir, your honour, sir!' said Martug, standing straighter.
They set out, the Baron, Dana, Samuel, Martug and two of the Baron's knights. The Baron had made sure that Dana heard him give the same speech to the two of them and they appeared to be genuinely interested in making sure she remained safe. They passed through the village and were soon travelling down country roads.
They met a elderly man walking along, a sack on his back. The two knights rode forward, getting quite close to the man, while they unhooked their maces. The Baron started to smile a cruel smile and then remembered Dana by his side.
'Are you lost, sir?' he called out before the knights were close enough to hit the man.
'No,' wheezed the old man, 'can't say as I am. I'm just travelling along. Could you point me to a village where I might spend the night?' This last bit was gasped out of him.
'Certainly,' said the Baron, 'We've just come from one. Continue along this road and you'll find a village.'
'Thank you kindly, young master,' wheezed the old man and continued walking.
The riders continued on. From time to time, the Baron tried to point out interesting landmarks, or describe how much he was enjoying himself, but he obviously wasn't and Dana just accepted his statements without comment or encouragement. Eventually, she stopped her horse. She looked at Martug and stared expectantly at him.
'What is your name?' she finally said, when he did not seem to be moving to assist her.
'Martug, Your Ladyship,' he said.
'Well, Martug, come here and help me down.'
Samuel had ridden a bit ahead, but, hearing Dana speak, turned and came back. 'M'lady?' he said as Martug helped Dana down.
'I wish to stretch, Samuel, and I wish to walk into the fields a bit,' she said.
The Baron did not look at all pleased. He started to dismount, but Dana held up her hand, 'I'm sure these two,' she pointed at Martug and Samuel, 'can take care of anything that might come my way, M'lord Baron, you and your knights had likely best stay and guard the horses. Don't want that old man to steal them,' she finished with a laugh.
She led Samuel and Martug into a grain field. They walked along in silence for a few minutes, and then, when Dana was sure they were out of earshot, she stopped walking. She told Samuel to stand two feet away on one side facing away, and Martug a few feet away on the other side, also facing away. Then she twirled and squatted down, feet apart, so that her skirts covered a bit of the ground around her.
'Tell me, Martug,' she said, 'how are things?'
'Fine, M'lady,' he said, keeping his back to her. 'Will you take me?'
'Perhaps,' she said. 'First I want to make sure you're on the level. Tell me about those two goons over there.'
'They're goons, as you say,' said Martug. 'They would have hurt that old man if you and Samuel hadn't been along, and the Baron just would have laughed. That's why he keeps them around. He finds it funny to hurt the defenseless. He'll likely try to find the old man later and get him into his gaol, just because he got away.'
'You wouldn't be trying to wiggle into my confidence to betray me to him, would you?' Dan asked.
Martug bristled and started to turn around, but caught himself. His shoulders dropped and he said, 'M'lady, I am ashamed that I am in a position that you could even think that of me. I do truly want to go with you, no longer the Baron's servant but yours. I wish to serve no one else. To hurt you would be to hurt the memory of the woman who raised me, and I pray each day to the Good Goddess Gina to watch over her, and now I pray that for you also, because you are such a good person a good goddess should be watching over you.'
Dana stood up. 'You can turn around now,' she said. 'I can see that you are on the level. I have made a decision. When I leave you will come with me. The Duke has promised to pay your final weeks if necessary. The doctor tells us he will be ready to travel in a few more days and we both really desire to reach the Capital soon, so we will likely leave as soon as he can travel.'
'Thank you, M'lady!' Martug smiled.
'Don't look too happy,' Dana cautioned. 'Your boss is still watching. And, Samuel, not a word to anyone. The Lord Duke and you two are the only people who know, let's keep it that way.'
'Yes, M'lady,' Samuel said. 'I will not mention anything of this conversation.'
The three of them walked back to the horses and the waiting men. Dana had Samuel lift her back up onto the horse and they continued their ride, but soon Dana started to feel tired and suggested they return to the castle.
On their way through the village, the old man could be seen sitting at the church entrance, begging alms of the villagers. Dana looked at him sadly, quite sure he would not be there in the morning, but deep under the castle.
Two days later Thomas declared the Duke fit for travel, so the Duke called the Baron into his chamber while Dana and David were there.
'I must thank you M'Lord Baron. You have been a very gracious host. My doctor tells me that I am fit enough to continue my journey and I am very anxious to reach the capital. My son should be expecting me very soon, and I understand it's still a week's travel. Now, I would like to ask you another favour before I leave.'
'M'Lord Duke, you have only to name it,' said the Baron, who was obviously looking forward to having his castle to himself again but wondering how much it would cost him to do this favour.
'The Lady Dana here was forced to leave her home in somewhat of a hurry and was unable to bring many clothes with her. I was wondering if one of your ladies would have something that would fit her. She's also bereft of servants. Samuel and David are my servants and, believe me, I keep them busy enough when I'm healthy. I was wondering if you could spare a man or two? I'm quite willing to recompense you for any expense.'
The Baron looked a little relieved, 'I think I could spare a servant, and I believe some of my wife's clothes are still around. They are of no use to me, so I'll provide them as a gift.'
Dana spoke up, 'I was rather hoping that you could spare that wonderful young man that was my page as we were riding the other day. What was his name? Markun?'
The Baron blanched. 'Oh, you wouldn't like him as a servant, M'Lady. I have a nice lady-in-waiting who would suit you much better. She served my wife before her untimely demise.'
'While I would like a lady-in-waiting,' said Dana, 'I'ld much prefer a page. For the next week I will be travelling and someone to carry my things and an extra body to protect us would be much more helpful. I am sure we can find a lady-in-waiting in the capital while I'm not travelling.'
'I'm sorry,' said the Baron. 'He's not available.'
Dana decided she would have to out-stubborn the Baron. He was hiding something now. She pouted and sat down on the floor like a bratty schoolgirl. She said in the most selfish voice she could muster, 'I want him and I'm not going to let you keep him from me.'
The Baron was a bit taken aback. 'You can have any of my other pages, M'Lady,' he said.
'But he's the one I want,' she pouted.
The Duke picked up that the Baron was hiding something and said, 'So why can't you release that man?'
'He's turned out to be a criminal, M'Lord Duke,' the Baron said.
'What?' screamed Dana.
'He was observed pilfering our larder and attempting to set it alight to cover his crimes. He was most violent when he was apprehended, gave one of the men a black eye. I did not want to bring this up in the presence of Her Ladyship, but she insisted.'
'So for a few extra bits of food he turned violent?' said the Duke.
'It would appear that way,' said the Baron.
'Doesn't matter,' said Dana begrudgingly. 'He'll be nice to me.'
'I think that settles it,' said the Duke. 'He's of no use to you. I'll pay you what he would have been still worth to you, and you'll be rid of a nuisance.'
'I should warn you, M'Lord, M'Lady,' said the Baron. 'He was hurt rather badly when he was taken. My men didn't take kindly to him reducing their food supply, nor poking out the eye of one of their own.'
'Well, I guess we'll have to live with that,' said the Duke and looked at Dana who smiled through her alligator tears.
'Okay then, I'll have a servant bring some clothes and I will fetch Martug.'
'What a lying deceiptful man!' Dana exclaimed after the Baron had left. 'I am quite sure that Martug would not be a theif or an arson.'
'Well, we'll have to see what he says when he gets here,' said the Duke.
The Duke called for Thomas to come in. 'If Martug is as hurt as the Baron suggested, a doctor might be in order,' he said.
A few minutes after Thomas came in, one of the Baron's lady's came bearing some frocks and petticoats. 'Here you are, M'Lady, or would you prefer I take them to your chambers?' she asked.
'This is fine,' said Dana. 'David and Samuel can take them down to the carriage later. Thank you.'
The lady curtseyed and left. Dana started to feel anxious. Time seemed to slow down. Dana wasn't sure why she felt so anxious.
They heard the Baron approaching with Martug long before they saw him. Yohan was cursing and defaming everything he could, insulting Martug as much as he could. When they arrived, Martug was barely able to stand and looked like he was about to fall down. Fresh blood wet his wovens and partially hid his face. Thomas approached him and led him to a chaise lounge. The doctor quickly examined his patient while Dana watched.
'He's healthy enough,' said Thomas eventually. 'He's had a lot of pain the last few days apparently, but he'll survive. No permanent damage.'
'So how much do I owe you?' asked the Duke.
'M'lord Duke,' said Johan. 'I can't charge you for the last two weeks of his contract. That's all he has left with me. I suspect he would not recover in my doctor's care anyway, even if I had a desire to help him recover. I see my wife's clothes are already here. I'm sure you would like to leave soon; so please, don't let me keep you, but be on your way. I'll be down to see you off in the courtyard.'
This whole speech was spoken like he had practised it several times. Dana felt like he wanted to be rid of them but still wanted to keep up appearances that he was a good man. It made her head spin.
'So, Thomas, is he ready to travel?' asked the Duke.
'As ready as you are, M'lord Duke,' came the reply. 'I wouldn't recommend giving him much work to do for the next two days or so, though.'
'Well, you'll have to attend him and me and act as page for the Lady Dana then,' said the Duke.
'As you request, M'Lord,' said Thomas.
'I thank you, M'Lord Baron,' said the Duke, turning to Yohan. 'We'll be down to the courtyard momentarily.'
'Yes, M'Lord Duke,' said the Baron as he bowed out of the room with the two guards that had held Martug on the trip up from the gaol.
The next half hour was quite busy as Dana, David and Thomas carried everything they were taking with them down to the carriage while Samuel prepared the horses.
Within a half hour, everyone was down at the carriage and they were waiting for the Baron to come see them off. The horses were yoked and the luggage was all set atop the carriage. The Duke sent one of the pages standing nearby to find the Baron, but he did not come. They waited another ten minutes and still he did not come. The Duke sent all the pages and told them he was leaving in five minutes whether the Baron came or not. He told them to spread out and search the whole castle. They waited, and just as the Duke was telling Samuel to start, the Baron came.
'You could not wait but a minute?' called the Baron as he saw that Samuel was starting off.
'We've waited for you for fifteen,' said the Duke under his breath but told Samuel to stop.
'Well, I shall miss you, M'Lord Duke, and you, M'Lady,' said the Baron. 'I wish you well on your journey.'
'And thank you, M'Lord Baron, for you hospitality,' said the Duke. 'May the Roubbes shine upon this home.'
The Baron looked a little suprised, 'That's on odd farewell,' he said.
'It is what I wish upon all the homes I visit,' said the Duke. 'The Roubbes give to each what he deserves. An honourable gentleman such as yourself will receive good weather, I'm sure.'
The Baron smiled a smile, bowed and said, 'Then I will not keep you. Success on your journey.'
The Duke spoke to Samuel and they started off.
Marchan was bored. Since arriving at the Hall of Records he had eaten extremely well. So well, in fact, that he was afraid he might start growing taller than his kind normally grew. He did a lot of walking. Richard insisted someone from the Hall escort Marchan whenever he left the compound. The City of the Kings was quite beautiful and Marchan enjoyed the site of stone and admired the architecture, but he had covered everything he could easily reach on foot with the escorts. Most of his escorts would refuse to go very far from the Hall, Marchan could never figure out why. It was like he was tethered to the Hall. The few escorts that would go farther were usually interested in visiting some shop or other that did not hold Marchan's interest at all.
So Marchan sat fidgeting on a bench in the garden with nothing to do but wait. He had never had this problem before. Up until a week before his arrival, work was easy enough to find on the farm, and for the last week before ariving, Marchan was travelling and there were so many things happening that Marchan was very busy.
Marchan saw Richard crossing the compound and called out to him. Richard waved and called, 'Just a minute!' and disappeared into the gatehouse.
When he reappeared he came over. 'Good morning,' he said. 'Why are you sitting on this bench like a bored frog?'
'Because I am bored. Is there anything here for me to do?'
'Do you read? We have one of the largest libraries in the kingdom.'
'I don't know if I could concentrate on reading while waiting for an answer like this. I was hoping for something more active.'
'You've explored the whole neighbourhood of the Hall,' said Richard. 'Maybe you would enjoy a game?'
'What kind of game?' Marchan asked.
'Well, we have a chess competition here.'
'Chess! I think that would take my mind off things.'
'You know how to play?'
'Yes, my mother taught me.'
'Well come along then. I've got an hour before my next appointment.'
They walked across the courtyard and into the mess hall. One corner was set up with several chess boards. Marchan was a little confused by what was sitting ont them.
'What are these?' he asked, picking up one of the objects sitting on the board.
'Those are the chess pieces,' Richard said.
'Oh,' said Marchan. 'We used rocks.'
'Oh,' said Richard. 'Were you not playing draughts then?'
'No, that's another game we played. The size and colour of the rock told us what piece it was. I guess this one with crown is the king?'
'No, the king is always the tallest piece,' said Richard. 'And is never on his own colour.'
'Right,' said Marchan. 'I see. If I had known chess pieces were supposed to be so beautiful, I would have carved some for us to play with.'
Richard picked up a pawn from each side and shook them in his hands, then seperated his hands. Marchan picked Richard's right which turned out to hold the white pawn. They sat down and started to play.
Marchan started with a normal opening move placing his King's Pawn two steps forward and brought his King's Knight out to attack the Pawn that Richard brought out to mirror it. When Richard mirrored him again, Marchan moved his Queen's Pawn forward two steps as well.
Richard thought for a second and took Marchan's first pawn with his Knight. Marchan smiled. 'You know,' he said. 'I took you for a much more cautious person.'
'Why's that?' Richard asked.
'Well, you won't really let me go out of sight of the Hall of Records,' Marchan said moving his King's Elephant in front of his Queen.
Richard brought his own Queen's Pawn forward to support his Knight and said, 'Well, your safetly means more than my Knight.'
'Well then, I'm suprised you let your men take me to those shops,' Marchan said and he took the opposing King's Pawn with his Knight.
Richard's Queen's Knight moved in front of the Queen to attack the intruder while it's owner said, 'What shops?'
Marchan removed that Knight with his own and watched his scout fall to the Queen's Elephant. He thought a bit, then said, 'A few days ago, one of the men took me to a shop. It had a dragon painted above the door. He ordered a drink and told me to sit quietly. The building was one of the poorer looking buildings. Just wood, not a very interesting building at all.' He castled.
Richard looked suprised. He thought for a moment then said, 'Well he should not have done that. Do you mind telling me his name?'
'Oh I don't think I ever heard it. Your men do not seem interested in making friends with me.'
Richard moved his King's Elephant in front of the other, finishing a wall across the board. 'That's too bad for them,' he said. 'You seem to be a well educated youngster.'
Marchan moved his Queen's night up beside his Elephant and watched as Richard slid his Queen anglewise to the side of the board. He slid the pawn before the King forward to attack her. Richard left that and took Marchan's remaining Knight with his own remaining Knight which quickly fell to the footsoldier in front of the empty square. Richard's Queen slid sideways to sit in front of the Pawn that had been threatening her and Marchan's Rook slid sideways to put Richard's King in danger.
'Be that as it may,' said Marchan. 'Why am I stuck to this Hall?'
Richard thought for a second, then moved King to the Queen's original position and said, 'I'm sorry you feel a prisoner. It's not intenional.'
Marchan's Elephant slid back to disrupt the line between the Queens and the Black Queen slid one step toward her Elephant. Marchan slid his Queen's Rook one step sideways so he could bring it into play.
'It is the effect, however,' he said. 'I would like to go out to the Merchant's City and find my friend Peter that helped me when I first arrived. And I would like to purchase some shoes.'
'Oh, I assumed you did not know anyone in the city,' Richard said. 'I thought you had just arrived.'
'I did,' said Marchan. 'I just met him a week ago when I first arrived. He was very helpful to me and I would like to go thank him.'
Richard moved the Pawn across from that Rook forward two steps so that his Elephant was protecting it. Marchan moved his veteran Pawn forward to threaten it but the Pawn on the other side took it, so Marchan's Elephant took that.
Richard nodded. He slid his King's Rook to the open slot to face down Marchan's and said, 'Tell you what. I can spend a few days myself. We'll take two of my men and the four of us will go to the Merchant's city, the day after tomorrow. We'll see if we can't find this Peter and some new shoes for you.'
Marchan slid other Elephant between the Rooks to where it had been and said, 'Thank you.'
Richard moved forward his back Elephant sliding it forward and to Marchan's left one step. Marchan thought that gave Richard too much advantage since it now looked right past his King, so he moved his forward Pawn forward to block. Richard's Elephant returned to its previous position and Marchan slid his own Elephant down beside his King.
Richard moved his leftmost Pawn forward one step up the side of the board and said, 'So why else did you think I was a cautious person?'
Marchan moved the pawn just by his Queen forward two steps and watched as Richard's central Rook stepped forward one space. Marchan thought Richard might be preparing to line up his Rooks, so he moved his Elephant to threaten the Queen which stepped back one space out of the line of fire.
'Oh, the Hall of Records does not seem like the place for a daring adventurer,' said Marchan and slid his King forward. Richard's own king slid behind his Rook and Marchan moved his last moved Elephant back and to the left. Richard placed his Queen just in front of it, to threaten one of the Rooks and the forward Pawns. Marchan moved that Elephant forward and left one square to get the Pawns some protection.
Richard picked up his King and said, 'You know, you're absolutely right. I have been rather stay at home. I've been trained for campaigning, but haven't been outside of the city for four years now.' He put his King back down to complete the transition behind the Rook.
Marchan's Rook slid right to attack Richard's Queen which ran back to her last position. Marchan slid his Elephant back down in front of the Rook and saw his opponent line up his Rooks. He knew he was at a definite disadvantage. He finally moved his Queen two steps forward and was met with his opponent's Elephant angling up to take command of his King's two forward squares. He felt like he was going to be running soon. He moved his own Elephant behind his Queen, preparing to defend the structure around the King and his Rook suddenly had a black Rook in its face. He took it, but realised his mistake when he saw the opposing Rook take his. Nothing was protecting the structure around his King. He slid his remaining Rook into position behind the Pawn and his Elephant was taken by the opposing Rook. Just then, there was a shout.
'Cap'n, Cap'n, we've found something!'
Marchan and Richard looked up. There was Trevor running up to them.
'Cap'n,' he said breathlessly when he arrived. 'We've found a reference to a Dwarvenhold in the records.'
'Okay, where is it?' said Richard.
'Far in the East. In the time of Queen Bedua's Father, the King sent out scouts to chart the lands north and south, east and west. When the Queen, our beloved King's Mother reigned, one group came back and reported a Dwarvenhold at the north end of a peninsula, in the rock of a volcano, East across the Bay of Chitay.'
'Well there you have it,' said Richard. 'I don't suppose you'd care to finish our game?'
'There's no point,' said Marchan, 'You have me at a distinct disadvantage and I resign.'
'Ah, a good warrior knows when he is defeated,' said Richard.
'Can you find nothing else in the records?' Marchan asked looking at Trevor.
'They've been looking for a week now,' said Richard. 'It has disrupted all our normal work. The King will soon return to the city and we must have all of our work done. He will check. I'm afraid I can no longer spare my men from their duties or my Lord King will be very upset. Trevor here will continue to search, but the rest will go back to their regular duties.'
'Oh, okay,' said Marchan, a bit disappointed. He was sure his family was from somewhere nearer. It just did not feel right that they should be so far away.
'In the meantime, said Richard. 'I promised I would take you to the Merchant's Ring tomorrow. Do you have any money to purchase your shoes?'
'Hmm, no, but I think I can come up with something to barter or sell,' said Marchan. 'Is there any spare marble nearby?'
'As a matter of fact,' said Richard. 'I know where there is some. The workmen when they repaired the Hall this past summer left a broken block of marble in one of the courtyards. They claimed they would return for it, but it has been months. What do you have in mind?'
'These chess pieces must be worth pair of shoes,' said Marchan. 'I think I could do better.'
'Trevor,' said Richard, 'Show Marchan the block of marble. It's in the Northeast Courtyard. You know, the one we had the gardener's cover with vines? Then go get one of the gardeners and have him help Marchan uncover it.'
'Yes, sir, Cap'n,' saluted Trevor. 'This way, sir Dwarf.'
On the way, Marchan thanked Trevor for working so hard to help him.
'Think nothing of it,' said Trevor. 'A search like this is well worth it for the sheer joy of doing it. We love searching the records for little bits of information like this. And finding something is really exciting.'
They entered a courtyard that seemed a bit cramped. In the middle of the courtyard stood a large marble block, cracked through several times. Marchan could see that it would be terrible trying to move it as a piece, and would not make a very good wall. It was covered in climbing vines, but the leaves had all fallen off and the marble showed through. Marchan did not even notice that Trevor left, he was so excited. He circled the slab twice and chose a large chunk at one end. As he wondered how he might get the vines off it, Trevor returned with the Gardener.
'You want to take this marble block?' he asked. 'Excellent, it is a nice marble, but all cracked like that it just makes my garden look bad.'
'I don't think I'll take all of it today,' said Marchan. 'I'd like to take this piece here though.' He reached most of the way to the two cracks that he was sure joined.
'Now, little Master, how would you move such a large piece?' asked the Gardener.
'I've moved bigger and heavier pieces,' said Marchan. 'No worries there. Can you move the vines aside so I can lift it out without hurting them?'
'Well, if that's what you want,' said the Gardener and carefully pulled the vines' tendrils from the cracks and laid them off the piece Marchan wanted.
Marchan pulled out his rock hammer, which he had carried with him everywhere since he got it when he was five, and gently tapped the piece. It was a single solid piece as he thought. He found a good spot and gently slid the sharper edge into the crack and slowly twisted until he heard a 'pop' and then, grasping the edges with his back to it, lifted the piece out. He walked forward a few steps, slid it a bit to get a better grip and then walked with it on his back to his room.
The next morning, Marchan met Trevor not far from Marchan's room.
'Good morning,' Trevor said. 'I was wondering how you made out with that marble?'
'Quite well, thank you,' said Marchan. 'I finished carving by firelight last night, and started polishing as soon as the sun was hinting it was going to rise.'
'May I see?' Trevor asked.
'Sure,' said Marchan and pulled out a cloth bag from his pocket. He tipped the bag a bit and extracted a king and a knight, then handed them over to Trevor.
'Try not to get them greasy with your fingertips. Hold them with the edge of your tunic,' he said
Trevor did as he was told and looked closely at the two pieces.
'They were a rush job,' said Marchan apologetically. 'I couldn't afford much time. If I had a week, I could produce much better, but I think these will buy me a pair of shoes.'
'Oh, much better than that,' said Trevor, 'if they're all like these two. I've played chess for some time, and with many sets of pieces and I've never seen anything this wonderful.'
'Well, thank you,' said Marchan, 'but I don't think they're that good.'
'Oh they are,' said Trevor. 'Look, I'll buy them from you. I'll offer you 120 gold crowns.'
'They can't be worth that much,' said Marchan. 'You're just trying to be nice.'
'No, I think I would feel guilty paying any less than that,' said Trevor.
Just then Richard came around a corner. 'Cap'n,' Trevor said, 'how much do you think a set of chess pieces that included these two would cost?'
Richard accepted the Knight from Trevor and slowly turned it around, then gave a low whistle. 'This piece alone must be worth 10 gold crowns. A whole set like this one would likely work out to be 200 or 300. If the white king looked like His Majesty, He would likely be willing to pay 600, and offer the craftsman a commission as his personal craftsman. You made these, Marchan? I'll offer 200 crowns for the whole set when you're done.'
'Oh I am done,' said Marchan. 'I don't believe either of you that these could be worth so much. I rushed through it.'
'You have the completed set, already?' Richard was incredulous. 'Very well, if you don't believe me, we'll go visit an appraiser I know. He will tell you how much he thinks they're worth.'
'I'll triple my previous offer,' said Trevor. '360 crowns. I think I'ld like to present these to my Father when he arrives. He should have been in the city before now. I'ld like to suprise him with these.'
'Let's go to appraisers,' said Richard. 'Let's make sure everyone knows what they're worth before Marchan lets them go for less than they're worth, or you pay him too much.'
'Yes, let's,' said Marchan, wondering how a simple piece of work like this could possibly be worth so much to anyone.
They set out shortly thereafter. They passed through the gate that Marchan had entered the week before and passed between the orchards and vineyards. Marchan could appreciate the smell of the fruit, almost ready to pick. They entered the square where Marchan had met Peter. Marchan looked around. He could not see Peter anywhere. He walked to the Baker's booth. Both Trevor and Richard stopped short, slightly confused.
'Hello, Mardic is it?'
'How do you know me?' said the man behind the counter.
'A lad named Peter told me your name,' said Marchan. 'You wouldn't know where he is?' he continued as he took out his last two coins, not that it mattered if Richard and Trevor were on the level.
'No, haven't seen him for a couple of hours.'
'Well, if you see him, could you tell him a short friend of his was looking for him. I'll be back in a little while. In the meantime, I'ld like an apple pie.'
'Certainly,' Mardic said and brought forward a pie. The exchange was made and Marchan continued with his two friends. The pie was very tasty and they soon had it in their stomachs. They reached another square which seemed both a little more upscale and a little seedier at the same time. It was very strange. Richard led them left and up a short street and into a jewelry shop.
The Jeweller inside was bent over a ring with a loupe in his left eye. His right eye socket was empty. In his right hand he held a small set of tweezers that were holding a small diamond. His left hand steadied himself. Marchan had never seen a diamond before. He felt a desire to hold it, to hoard it rise up inside of him. He suppressed the emotion and then realised that a few jewels would have made his chess set even more.
'Be right with you,' said the Jeweller. 'Just give me a minute to finish this.'
The three of them waited. Richard noticed an empty table and motioned Marchan to it, then motioned for the chess pieces. They slowly and carefully set up the pieces as though for a game, even though there was no checker board under them. Just as they were finishing, the Jeweller finished his task and spoke.
'What have you there?' he said. He took the loupe out of his eye and came over to the table. He took a close up view with his good eye of the closest Rook. Then he put the loupe back in his eye and looked again. He carefully picked up the piece holding it in such a way as not to get his fingerprints on it and turned it around. He returned it to its place and picked up the Knight beside it. He turned that around and returned it to its place. He did the same for every piece and every pawn on the table. When he finished, he sighed.
'Such craftsmanship!' he said. 'Such raw talent. You want to sell them? Maybe you need to unload them, hmmm? 400 crowns.'
'Actually,' said Richard, 'we were hoping you would appraise them.'
'I just did,' said the Jeweller.
'They're worth more than 400 crowns, then?' asked Marchan still a little suprised.
'Oh certainly, if you were trying to unload them I would have to have a profit. If they are yours, I would say you might find a buyer for 600. If you were willing to wait, you might even get 800.'
'That would be a nice profit for you,' said Richard.
'Capitain, you're not suggesting I was trying to take advantage, or that I deal with stolen goods,' said the Jeweller. 'There's storage costs. Such a set takes up some space. Space I could use to store diamonds and such like.'
'So it seems both your offers were low,' Richard said turning to Trevor.
'So it does,' said Trevor a little shaken. 'I only have 400 crowns left. My Father should be in the city soon. I'll offer 400 crowns now and 300 crowns when my Father arrives. He'll be proud to own such a set.'
Richard turned back to the jeweller, 'Do you think anyone would offer more than that today. My young friend here needs some cash rather desperately and this is all he has to sell.'
'I would not attempt to offer that much. No profit for me. I thank you for letting me see them, though. They were well worth my time. If you come by others and do not have such a willing buyer handy, I would be happy to take them off your hands for a lower price than that.' He paused for a second, then continued, 'You could ask my friend, Gorlioss. He is on the other side of Kardin Square. But he is quite a cheap man. You would have to convince him that the King himself once owned this set.'
'Quite impossible, since this set was only made recently,' said Marchan.
They left the shop after Marchan had packed the set back into his little bag. Trevor looked a little relieved. He pulled out his purse and counted out 120 crowns.
'You walk around with 120 crowns in your purse?' asked Richard, a bit suprised.
'Not usually,' said Trevor. 'Last night when Marchan first mentioned about making the set, I thought that it would be nice to buy it for my Father, and I was willing to go up to 120 crowns for it before I saw it. Now that I know its worth, I will have to get the other 280 later. This is a deposit until we can finish our transaction, Marchan.'
Marchan looked at the money, he had never seen so much and so much more was already promised.
'Do you suppose I owe anything for the marble?' he asked, turning to Richard.
'No, I don't suppose so,' Richard answered. 'It was of no use where it was. And it was of no use as building material anymore, since it had cracked. No, I don't think you owe anything.'
Marchan felt a bit giddy.
Marchan turned to Richard, 'Captain, I believe it requires a proof of honesty to reach your rank, does it not?'
'It does,' said Richard. 'And severe punishment if we're ever dishonest.'
'Then can I ask you to hold some of this for me?' Marchan asked passing 60 crowns to him.
'I would be honoured, my friend,' said Richard. 'When would you like it back?'
'I'll have to let you know. If you want, you can return it when we reach the Hall. I won't need it today, and I don't want to appear too rich.'
'Of course,' said Trevor. 'It's hard to steal what you don't have.'
'Yes,' said Marchan. 'Now, I think I'll be able to afford a new tunic. This one was a bit better quality when my mother gave it to me. She sacrificed so much to keep me well dressed. I really should be shocked to find myself with these tears. That's what I got from sleeping under hedges for a week.'
Richard led them back to Kardin Square and they approached Johone the Tailor.
'Good day, Captian,' the Tailor said to Richard. 'How may I help you?'
'A good day to you,' replied Richard. 'My friend here needs a new tunic.'
The Tailor looked a Marchan. 'Ah, do my eyes deceive me?' he exclaimed. 'A Dwarf? I have not seen a Dwarf for many a long year. Not since the war. I would be honoured to clothe one of such an honourable race. Come, come! Noro! Noro! Bring my tape! Oh, I have it, bring my pins! Oh, I will be the envy of the Tailors. No one will dare look down on me any more. Begging your pardon! Just an expression! They'll respect me is what I meant. So have the Dwarves returned? Oh, please hold still, don't move a muscle. Okay, arms out, feet apart! Now, at attention please. Take a couple of strides. Oh dear, you need new shoes. My friend is a Shoemaker, his shop is just across the Square. Noro! Bring an ell of wool. You'll want wool in the cold weather that's coming up, believe me. I can already feel the winter chill in my bones. Brrr. Noro!'
The Tailor kept on, often calling for Noro who came in and out like the wind and was usually right at his Master's elbow when bellowed for. Marchan gave up trying to respond to the questions. They came at him too quickly to answer and he could not utter even a word. Richard and Trevor stood back and just listened, marvelling at the man's ability to keep his mouth moving even when it was full of pins. After about five minutes, the Tailor suddenly stopped.
'Okay, now shoo! Go over to the Shoemaker's across the Square and ask him to make you some new shoes. Tell him I sent you and that I'm telling him to give you them cheap. Come back this afternoon and I'll be ready to fit you,' he said as he pushed them out the door. He immediately closed the door behind them and they could hear him still talking to Noro inside, 'Wonderful people those Dwarves, did you hear how polite he was. Told me everything I needed to know to make him a tunic and followed my directions perfectly. Wonderful folk!'
They walked away. Soon they had found the Shoemaker's shop. They went in.
'I do not make shoes for Ptuibatas,' said a surly man there to a young woman. 'I make shoes for gentle folk like this Captian.' The man suddenly became much less surly and came up to the Captain. How can I serve you, M'Lord Captain?'
Richard paused for a second and was about to speak, but Marchan piped up first, 'I believe the young lady was before us.'
'She's no Lady, believe me,' said the Shoemaker. 'She's been working the alleyway up the road there.'
'No matter,' said Marchan. 'She was here first, we'll wait until you've served her.'
'I don't take orders from children,' said the Shoemaker, becoming a bit surly again toward Marchan, then remembered himself. 'Now, Captain,' he said silkily, 'can I interest you in a nice pair of walking shoes?'
'You know,' said Richard, 'you really should listen to the shorter people. Sometimes they're smarter than they look.' He turned around and walked out. Marchan and Trevor were there as soon as he was. 'I think I've just been slimed,' he said.
The young lady followed them out. Richard looked over at her. 'Are you okay, young lady?' he asked.
She shrank back from him. 'Sure, have your fun. I'm not a Ptuibata, even if I'm not a Lady.'
'Listen, Miss, it doesn't bother me what you are. That Shoemaker was very rude to you and I don't like buying shoes from rude people, even when I was promised a cheap price. Maybe you could help us find a Shoemaker that's a little less rude? You look like you're wanting to buy new shoes yourself.'
'What's wrong with my shoes?' she asked defensively.
'Nothing that I can see,' said Richard. 'I just thought that's why you were in this shop.'
'Well, these cut into my ankles. I'd like a pair that don't hurt so much.'
'Well then, shall we search together? My name is Richard. This is Trevor, and this is Marchan.'
'Marchan!' she said and looked at Marchan a bit closer. 'Why Peter was telling me he met you.'
'Do you know where he is?' Marchan asked excitedly.
'He's on an errand for Mama Rita. He'll be back late this afternoon.'
'I'd like to see him again,' said Marchan. 'I didn't get a chance to thank him properly for his help when I first arrived in the city.'
'My name is Franna,' the young woman said. 'Mama Rita knows everyone around here, maybe she'll help us find a Shoemaker.'
This sounded fine to Marchan, but Richard seemed a bit reluctant.
Richard said, 'Now wait, who's this Mama Rita?'
'She knows everyone around here. She'll help,' said Franna.
'But why did that Shoemaker seem so sure you're a Ptuibata?'
'Because he's a gargan. He tried to approach me once as though I was a Ptuibata. Stupid gargan. I told him to take a hike.'
'So, then he should have known better.'
'Splikie that!' she said. 'Now come on!'
She led them out of the Square and into a side street. A short trip up that street and she turned into a house.
'Mama Rita! Mama Rita!' she called as she entered.
The three of them stood outside, not sure what to do with themselves. A number of people walked by, looked at them and then tried to keep their eyes averted. From time to time, women who passed muttered curses or prayers quietly so that no one could hear what they said. After several minutes Franna came back out and beckoned them inside.
'Mama Rita wants to talk to you. Come in, come in!'
They passed the ragged, though thick curtain that covered the doorway and stepped into a very dingy room. The smell of urine assaulted them. Trevor looked down to be sure he wasn't stepping in the worst of the mess on the floor. Cats seemed to cover the rickety old furniture like cushions. Franna led them through the front room and into a small bedroom. It was like a jail cell, and the smell seemed to emanate from this location. An extremely old person, Marchan could not tell if it was a man or a woman, lay on the bed. An elderly, and quite matronly, woman was sitting on the edge of the bed, reading by the light of a small lantern which was not giving off much heat. She held up a finger to Franna and kept reading.
Marchan listened to the mesmerising tones of the old woman. He suddenly missed the way his Mother used to read to him. She would read to him wonderful stories, and sometimes out of a book so old that it claimed to start at the beginning of time. He suddenly came back out of his revery as he realised that it was from that book that the old woman was reading. He listened for a bit and realised she was actually reaching one of his favourite parts. 'The lion will lie down with the lamb and a child will lead them.' The woman's voice kept going. Marchan was pleased that he was able to hear this again. She stopped just past that point and looked up at her visitors.
'Mama Rita, this are some men who were kind to me at a Shoemaker's who was not,' said Franna.
'Welcome friends! Let's let my ancestor here sleep.' said the old woman, and she led them out into another room.
'So let's see, a Captain from the Fortress, with a young man that looks like he's not seen a days work. I don't often get visits from such distinguished Gentlemen! And who do we have here but a Dwarf? I've heard tell of a Dwarf in these parts since, since, why since I was but a girl. I do recall they were around in the war, but that's away south. What brings such an interesting crew to me?'
'They were kind to me, when a Shoemaker refused to sell me shoes, they insisted he serve me or not get their business. So he lost their business and mine,' said Franna quickly.
'My, my, and all perfectly polite even to the worst of us,' said the old woman with a bit of a smile. 'I'll have to ask you to excuse the smell. My ancestor, myself, we are a bit weak in the bladder. Don't worry, it's not catching. At least, I don't know anyone who's caught it from us. Franna, here, doesn't seem to be affected. Anyways, you didn't come to hear me speak all day. You'll be looking for a politer Shoemaker. Did you try Cartalla? He's good friends with Johone the Tailor.'
'Why, that's where we thought we were going!' said Richard.
'Oh, you ended up in the wrong part of the Square then,' said Franna. 'I should have thought of Cartalla myself.'
'I'm glad you brought this one to me,' said Mama Rita looking at Marchan who suddenly began to feel a little like a trapped animal. She stepped forward and grabbed his left hand with her right and bending down lifted his hand to her lips and kissed him. 'You are truly a perfect specimen of your kind,' she said to him so quietly he almost missed it. Then she said a bit louder, 'A hillside covered with sheep, and the cattle on the hill beside it. You are closer to what you seek than you think. Do not search in the far off wilderness for what is beside you.'
She let go and Marchan almost fell over. He stepped back and walked away from her and around behind Richard and Trevor. She looked a bit disappointed, but perked up again and said, 'Well, it was good to have met all of you.'
They left and Franna led them back to the Square.
Their next attempt at visiting the shop of Johone's friend went much better. Cartalla was a very pleasant and generous man. His belly moved up and down whenever he laughed, which was often. He did not talk as much as Johone, but busied himself in his work while simultaneously learning things about his customers that they were suprised to hear themselves say. While he deftly measured Marchan's feet and shaped moulds for them, he learned so much of Marchan's story that even Richard and Trevor, who had already known him a week were engrossed and when he learned that Franna lived with Mama Rita he insisted that she take a gift of some new moccasins to Mama Rita.
'That's a wonderful woman, that Mama Rita,' he said, speaking to no one in particular, yet talking to them all. 'She really can't get out much, so shoe shopping's hardly high on her agenda. I haven't been able to measure her feet for a long time, so I can't make her shoes, but these will slip on without fuss. Did you know, she takes in orphans, begger children, stray cats. I think once I heard she had a bird that with a broken wing. How she kept it from the cats, I have no idea. I have no idea how she feeds everyone. Johones and I help her keep everyone clothed, though we couldn't possibly be giving her enough.'
'Mama Rita says that the skys themselves open up for her,' said Franna who was now having her feet measured. She giggled as he ran his hand across the bottom of her foot to straighten his rule.
'Well, bless whoever's in the sky giving her what she needs then,' said Cartalla. 'I am glad she does what she does. In other squares around the city, there are children starving, begging for food. It's a horrible sight to see. A child not yet five years old with a distended stomach. Now the King does a wonderful job of keeping all the men and women working who are willing, but these poor orphans who nobody seems willing to take in. It's not like feeding 'em would be that hard with how much food this city produces. My grandfather told me that when he was a young man it was a shame to the entire city that one child had not gotten enough to eat. I can't understand how the world has changed so much. Mama Rita may be one of the last of the truly noble, begging your Graces. I mean no disrespect to your ancestory. I just believe the truly noble are those who help those who can't help themselves.'
'You're quite right, Cartalla,' said Trevor. 'I was unaware that there was any starving orphans in this city. My father has a friend in food distribution. I think he can arrange some food to be available to them.'
'Well, that's a start, as the frog said to the mosquito. I think we could all use a bit of cheer. All right then, I'll have both pairs of shoes ready this afternoon some time. Have a good morning!'
Marchan invited Franna to join them for lunch, but she excused herself, saying that she had other errands to attend to, such as delivering Mama Rita's moccasins. Marchan and his friends said good-bye to her and went and found something to eat. It was still a little early for lunch, but they decided to take it easy, as they had nothing else to do until it was time to collect Marchan's purchases. They purchased some bread and cheese and found a cool spot to sit. They sat and joked. Richard was interested in what life was like in the back woods, and Trevor asked again who the duke was that had given them a ride, but Marchan couldn't remember his name. The name that Trevor suggested, Chowonga, did not sound familiar to Marchan. Trevor named off a few others, but none of them sounded familiar either, so Trevor gave up.
'Why are you so interested?' asked Richard.
'I was wondering if it was my father,' said Trevor. 'The horses sounded like something he would do, having two quick horses with matching markings. And stopping to pick up people on the side of the road, and then defend them against a mob. I'm sure there's other's that would, but it would explain why he hasn't yet reached the capital.'
'Well, I'm sure everything will be explained. You say this duke that helped you was coming to the capital?' Richard said turning to Marchan.
'As far as I understood,' he replied. 'My mother promised that she would come and meet me in the capital. It should only be a few more days I would think. The Duke was not hurt that badly.'
'That's good, I look forward to meeting him and your mother,' said Richard.
They talked for a while longer and then returned to Johones' establishment.
Johones was very busy, but soon met them. 'Ah, you've come back, your tunic is ready, young master. I've also prepared for you a coat with a hood like my father taught me that Dwarves do like. And breeches and a jerkin as well.'
'You've been busy,' said Marchan. 'I'm a little overwhelmed.'
'A pleasure to be sure,' said Johones. 'I've never had a chance to make clothing for a Dwarf before. Here, here, try them on, there's a private corner behind this chest of drawers.' He kept talking to Richard and Trevor as Marchan got behind the chest of drawers and changed into his new clothes. They were extremely comfortable, of a better quality cloth than his mother had been able to afford for him. He slipped into them and came out. 'Oh, you look marvellous, simply marvellous. I'm so pleased to see you fit them so well,' said Johones.
'How much do I owe you for these?' Marchan asked, quite pleased himself.
'One crown if you please,' said Johones. 'I simply cannot give you a better price.'
'That's understating it,' said Richard. 'The cloth alone must be worth that much.'
'To be sure,' said Johones, 'I couldn't charge someone from such a noble race a sliver more.'
'Well, if I asked for a couple more changes of clothes, rougher cloth, good for travelling in?' asked Marchan. 'How much would those be?'
'Oh,' said Johones, 'The same. One crown each.'
'Very well', said Marchan and pulled out four crowns. 'One crown for this tunic set, and three for three more sets. I will return in a few days to pick them up. You already have my measurements.'
'Yes, yes, that's wonderful. Thank you, young master. I'll have them ready for you.'
They exited the Tailer's shop and walked across to Cartalla's. He was not quite ready for them. 'Just finished Franna's shoes. Almost done yours, little master,' he said. They walked out again and viewed the square. It was a hot and lazy afternoon. Marchan felt like he could sleep, his giddyness having worn off. They waited twenty minutes in a cool place and went back inside. Cartalla had finished. These shoes fit perfectly. Marchan had never had such good shoes, but again, they were high quality, ready for a duke's court, or a royal ball, and Cartalla wanted to sell them for the cost of the material. Marchan doubled the price and asked for a second pair of quality right for travelling long distances. He had to think about what he would be doing in a few days.
The carriage jostled over a bump and Martug groaned. Dana felt she had almost given up trying to soothe his pain. It had been several days and his groaning had gotten worse. Thomas the Healer had assured her it meant he was improving since for a little while he had been unable to even make any noise. The carriage jostled again and she was able to stop him from banging against the wall. Thomas smiled at her.
'You've grown to be an excellent nurse,' he said for the thirtieth time in the four days they had been travelling. 'I'm quite glad you're here. I could not even take care of the Duke by myself anymore. I haven't really been using my skills and I've forgotten much. Especially my bedside manner.'
The Duke coughed. 'You must have had an excellent manner then,' he said, 'because you seem to be doing an excellent job now. I would have loved to have been in your care when you were in your prime.'
'Yes, you would have,' said Dana. 'He was a wonderful man just as he is becoming again.'
'You rest, m'Lord Duke,' Thomas said. 'You have a bit more healing to do before you'll be ready to do much talking. The young Lady and I will talk for a while and I want to see my other patient.'
'Yes, sir,' the Duke said with exagerated meekness. He turned his head back to the wall and composed himself for sleep which came to him quickly.
Thomas shifted his weight and turned so he could look over Martug. He looked worried to Dana, but refused to admit there was anything wrong when she asked him about it. She decided not to push the point. Maybe Martug was getting worse, but it might be best not to worry about it too much. She sat back and let Thomas care for him.
It had been 11 days since she last saw her son, who had not been away from her for more than a few hours before. She missed him terribly. It was hard. She lost herself in memories of their home life, and of Jonathan. There was a good man. She did not think she would ever find his equal. He may not have been of noble blood, but she knew his heart had been pure and he had done his best for her and their adopted son. It had been years after he returned from his futile quest for Marchan's own people before she had let him even sit beside her. Memories of her uncle's relative had haunted her. Through it all, Jonathan had been very patient. He had never pushed her. He even let her stick to her ways, conscientiously going around the table to sit across from her when it would have been easier to sit beside her. She had eventually warmed to him, but had still held back from him. When, without thinking, she had sat down beside him, he had turned to look at her suprised and then smiled and had said, 'You are sitting beside me. Is that fine to you?' It had suprised her when she heard herself say yes. At just that time Marchan had entered the room and they went back to their lives, but from that moment on Dana had found she had been healed. Not completely, of course, but the hurt and mistrust was gone. A few days later she had opened up to Jonathan, telling him about about why he had found her in that Sanctuary. Every few minutes he had interrupted her to tell her she didn't have to tell him anything she was uncomfortable with, but he was obviously interested in listening to everything she had to say.
That had been such a release to stop keeping her past secret from him. She had almost burst into song. No one else mattered. After she had finished her story, she buried her face in his chest. He just stood there and held her. He didn't say anything for a long time.
The carriage stopped, bringing Dana out of her memories. David opened the door and said, 'There's a overturned carriage in the road. Samuel and I will go see if there's anything we can do. Healer, you had best prepare your things as someone might need your help.'
David closed the door again and Thomas started to gather his equipment. He looked at Dana and said, 'Look after these two. I'll see what can be done and be back as soon as I am able. Definitely before Martug's bandages need to be changed.' And with that he opened the door and was gone.
Dana was alone, but for two sleeping men. The regular breathing and complete lack of noise from outside started to threaten to lull her to sleep. Suddenly, the Duke snorted and sat up. 'Why have we stopped?' he asked franticly.
'A carriage had overturned,' Dana replied soothingly. 'Samuel, David and Thomas are helping out.'
'It's a trap!' said the Duke quickly. 'Hurry, call them back. We must leave immediately.' Then he fell back and went to sleep.
Dana was not sure whether to call them back. She opened the door and looked out. Everything seemed fine to her. The sun was shining and a breeze was rustling the leaves of the trees beside the road. Suddenly, everything was not fine. She screamed, hoping it would warn Thomas and Samuel. Men were descending from the branches overhanging the roadway. One of them dropped on top of the carriage while another dropped near the door. Dana shut it but was unable to hold it shut. He pulled on the door, even as his companion started to pull open the window on the other side of the carriage. Dana had little choice but screamed again. She extracted up a metal and glass object that she had noticed hanging in a bag made of netting just behind the door. With the object she bashed against the head of the man coming in the door, then whipped around and aimed for his companion who had the window open by this time. Suddenly, a noise like thunder filled the air and light that outshone the sun made everything seem white. Dana dropped onto the floor of the carriage, it didn't seem quite solid, but held her just the same. She closed her eyes, but everything was still bright, despite facing the floor, and the noise overwhelmed her even though she had her fingers in her ears. She could not think or do anything but wish that the noise and light would stop.
The brilliant light continued to make the walls and floor of the carriage seem like mere phantoms, but the sound faded away after a while, but the ringing in Dana's ears continued for several minutes. Dana noticed a strange smell, like she had never smelt before, a kind of smell that made her think of rotten eggs and a cool lake at the same time. She cautiously went to the door of the carriage. Outside was a bright light. It made everything around it brilliant. By looking at what it lit up she could see inside things. She suddenly looked down. Her clothes were almost non-existent! She thought of hiding as best she could in the carriage, but she knew that anyone looking at her would still see, so she stepped down out of the carriage. The men who come down from the trees were nowhere in sight.
The sound of metal scraping on metal, together with something like a shovel scraping ice, came from the direction of the bright light. Dana tried to shield her eyes and see what was making the noise, but her hand did not block any of the light. She could see nothing in that direction except the light which completely blinded her.
Dana gave up and looked around again after her eyes adjusted again. She could see things as she had never seen them before. When she glanced into the carriage again she could see the Duke's heart beating and his lungs moving. She could even see the phlegm in some of the sacs, blocking his breathing. She wished that Thomas could see and hoped he would be able to help.
She turned back in the direction of the light again when she heard the sound of someone walking from that direction. The gait was stiff and the footfalls were very heavy. She carefully did not look in any direction within a few degrees of the light. She stepped aside a bit, hoping to be able to see the person just before that one came even with her. She was sure whoever it was could see her already.
Suddenly a voice came, 'Where is the Child of George?'
Dana was startled. The voice did not sound quite natural; it was like someone spoken through a can, but, even so, the pronunciation was very stilted. Dana motioned toward the carriage and stepped out of the way. The person, she still could not figure out if it was male or female, did not seem hostile. He, Dana decided to use 'he' until she knew which 'he' was, walked forward and looked at the Duke. He touched the prone figure with a his baby finger and then looked over at Martug.
'Who is that,' he asked. 'One of his servants?'
'Mine,' Dana found her voice. 'The Duke hired him for me.'
The strange person reached his finger forward again and touched Martug, then turned to Dana. She was finally between him and the light. He seemd real, while everything else was mere shadow, and seemed about to be blown away in the wind. The odd thing was that he did not appear to be like anything she had ever seen before. His face was not a true face, but merely the front of his head. The nose and chin seemed to have been painted on. The eyes were not sunk back and he did not appear to have lips. Dana was quite sure that this was not a female of any species. She was not sure, however, that it was male. Ungendered might be the word.
The stranger spoke to her again, 'Now, who might you be that you be travelling with this Child of George. He has not often had a woman with him since his wife died some years ago. Let me see.'
And with that he reached up and scratched Dana's face. She was so shocked that she attempted to slap him in the face. He deflected it easily
'You would not like the result of slapping my face, little girl. It is much harder than anything you've slapped before. Ah, you are a Child of George, although not so closely related to the heirs as he in the carriage.'
'There's no royal blood in me!' Dana said, suprised at the thought. 'My ancestors were all Dukes our Duchy.'
'That is true,' said the solid one. 'I am not speaking of King George. George was also the name of his great grandfather. He was the one to whom all Roubbes were beholden, and now to his heirs. You are not one of his heirs, but it is our understanding that we must serve all his descendants.'
He reached up again and touched her cheek where he had scratched her. She could suddenly feel it healing itself. As she marvelled at that, her feet suddenly felt like they were soaking in warm water, not like she was standing in worn shoes on the side of a road. As she started to marvel at that, she realised that other aches and pains had suddenly disappeared.
'You have just been given a great gift,' said someone.
Dana turned to the new voice and recognised the Duke. He was as hale as he had been when she first met him. His voice was strong, like he had never been sick.
'What is going on?' Dana asked him.
'You stand in the presence of a Roubbe,' said the Duke. 'They are the Protectors of the World, and the Servants of the Royal House. By their Deng, they keep the weather as nice as it is, and with it they serve whom they choose. Do not be frighted by them. They are very powerful, but it would destroy them to destroy you.'
The Roubbe suddenly started walking away without saying 'Good-bye' or otherwise giving them a sign that one cared. The Roubbe disappeared back into the light. The Duke suddenly reached a hand out to Dana and said, rather loudly, 'Put these in your ears.'
In his hand were two small nibs. Dana reached out and took one and placed it in her ear and suddenly lost hearing in that ear. She realised that the noise was likely to start again and placed the other one in her other ear. It suddenly felt like the world had lost all sound. She looked around. Even the sound of her own breathing was gone.
Suddenly there was noise again, but not really noise so much as the shaking and beating through her chest of what she knew would be very loud if she didn't have those little nibs in her ears. After about a minute, it subsided and she waited a little longer, then reached up to try to scoop the nibs out of her ears. The Duke's hand came out and stopped her. She looked at him and saw him shaking his head. Then he held up a finger to tell her to wait a minute. After a short time, he crooked his finger and then tipped one ear toward her. He cupped his hand under his ear and with his forefinger and thumb tugged lightly on his earlobe. A nib popped out of his ear. He turned the other ear to her and repeated the procedure.
She felt confused but attempted to copy his procedure. When she tugged on he ear she could suddenly hear again, it was quite a shock.
'Wow,' she said. 'These are amazing.'
Smiling, the Duke nodded and said, 'Yes, I remember the first time I used them as well. I've gotten used to them though.'
She popped the other nib out of her ear and handed them back to the Duke. 'Have you often been visited by these Roubbes?' she asked.
'No,' he said. 'This is the first time. I've used them when I needed to save my hearing while visiting some rather loud places like armouries.'
'So these aren't from the Roubbes?'
'I'm not really sure, actually,' he said. 'I think they're from the era of The Ancestors who lived in the Heavens, when the world was wide and the land uninhabited.'
'And the Ancestors came in their mighty ships and created this land,' Dana finished the passage.
'Ah, you're also familiar with the Book of the Ancestors,' the Duke said. 'I am quite sure you are learned in everything.'
'That's as may be,' Dana said. 'My father considered joining the Sons of the Ancestors, but decided it was a little hokey. He much prefered the beliefs he had. I sneaked a read of his copy of the Book of the Ancestors before he died. I think my uncle actually joined their group. I don't really know.'
'I read it once,' said the Duke. 'I even got in to see their rites. They are a sad bunch, wishing for the Heavenly Age to return by doing what they do. Anyone who's communed with the Roubbes, though, becomes inured to the doctrine of Ancestor calling. The Roubbes still remember why the Heavenly Age ended. All the same problems we have today: greed, envy, strife, selfishness, lust, insecurity, phobias, prejudice, ambition, disease, illness, death. They merely got them in a different form. We will return to an age like theirs eventually. Of that I have no doubt. But I truly hope that when we reach it we're better people.
'Anyway, let's go find the doctor and my men,' finished the Duke.
'So, what happened here? Why did that Roubbe appear to us?' Dana wanted to know.
'By the looks of it, you hit the Orb with which I commune with the Roubbes. That's almost always a bad sign, and when I didn't respond right away, it became a summons.'
'So, the men that were attacking us?'
'I do not know. I'm guessing the loud noise scared them off.'
Martug at this point joined them. He was looking again as fit as the first time Dana saw him.
'Where are we?' he asked.
'On the road to the Capital,' Dana said. 'You've been very sick.'
'Well, I feel fine now,' he said.
'Good,' said the Duke. 'You can help us find the rest of our party.'
As they were leaving the Shoemaker's, Marchan spotted Peter walking on the other side of the square. He appeared to be carrying a large full bag. He was obviously struggling with it, but he was walking quickly. Marchan started over toward him and Trevor asked him where he was going.
Marchan replied, 'You see that boy struggling with a large bag of something? That's Peter whom I met my first day here.'
'I'll go catch him,' said Trevor and ran across the square. As he approached Peter he called out to him to stop. Peter saw him and started to run even faster, disappearing up an alleyway. Trevor, despite not carrying a heavy burden could not catch him, and returned to Marchan and Richard.
'He ran away,' he reported.
'You scared him,' said Richard.
'What?' said Trevor, 'I'm not that scary.'
'No, but your clothing is,' said Richard. 'I overheard one of the merchants when you called for him to stop. He said, "What is he going to say that poor boy's done now? Won't they leave him alone?" Then he noticed me and became very embarassed. Peter over there likely thought you were going to accuse him of something.'
Trevor looked down at his uniform. It was still neatly pressed and gave him an air of authority in the marketplace which was slowly thinning out as merchants packed up and headed for home. He started to look embarrassed.
'So I chased him away? We won't be able to find him now.'
'Not at all,' replied Marchan. 'We know where he's likely going. Franna said that Mama Rita had sent him on an errand. He's likely delivery that bag to her. We'll just go back to her house and meet him there. This time try not to scare him away.'
Trevor looked a little downcast, but, seeing that Marchan held no grudge, he nodded and obediently fell into line as Marchan led them back to Mama Rita's. He knocked on her door and a head popped out an upstairs window.
She was a woman a little older than Franna, she looked down at the three of them standing around the door and said, 'We didn't do nothin'. You got nothin' on us.'
Marchan called up, 'Is Peter here?'
'He didn't do nothin' neither,' she said.
'Actually,' said Marchan. 'He did do something for me and I wanted to thank him. Is he here?'
'You just being sneaky.'
Marchan thought about it. If they were having trouble with the city authorities and those same authorities wanted in they would likely give similar reasons for gaining access. What could he do that would be proof he wasn't here to "get them"?
'How about Franna? Is she here?' Richard called up. 'We were here earlier today with her.'
'I ain't saying.'
Marchan suddenly remembered that Franna had recognised his name. He called up, 'Did Peter tell you about meeting me? My name is Marchan. I came to the city about a week ago. Franna recognised my name.'
'How do I know you Marchan?' the woman asked.
'Look at me. I'm quite short for my age. If you could see my face a bit closer, you would see I'm no nobleman.' He turned to Trevor and Richard. 'It might be easier if you guys went back to the square. I'll send someone for you after they let me in.'
Richard nodded. Trevor just looked around and followed Richard back to the square. Marchan looked back up at the woman in the window.
'I sent them back to the square,' he said. 'You saw how short I am compared to them. If you think I'm not a Dwarf, I must be just a child. Surely you're not afraid of a little child? And if I am a Dwarf, I'm the only Dwarf for many kilometers, so I must be Marchan. No?'
The door opened a crack and another young woman stood there. Marchan stepped up and into the house.
The place reeked of urine. Marchan's nose closed against the smell and he switched to breathing through his lips. The smell from earlier in the day was nothing like what was to be found now. As he looked around, he saw Peter laying on a stack of furs; he heard women laughing and splashing noises from the back courtyard; and he tasted the urine in the air. He was not sure that breathing through his mouth was that much better.
Marchan walked over to Peter. He lay comfortably sleeping but seemed distrubed by Marchan's feet. He opened an eye and suddenly jumped up.
'Mr Dwarf!' he exclaimed. 'You have found me! I did not know you were here. I got back just moments ago with the clay and lay down to rest. Wow, how were you able to find me?'
'I met Rita this morning via Franna who we were starting to make friends with.'
'Oh, you have other dwarves here?' Peter said looking around.
'No,' said Marchan. 'My friends are human. I sent them back to the square because the women wouldn't let me enter until I had.'
'Oh. I don't know why that would be. Anyway, what do you think of our set up.'
'What are you doing? It stinks in here.'
'Cleaning clothes. You're quite right it stinks, but that stink provides us with money. The citizens of Kingcity want their underclothes to be brilliantly white, so we whiten them for them. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it.'
'You're cleaning clothes with urine?'
'Yup, you let it sit for a while and it becomes a very powerful cleanser. Mix it with this special type of clay we've found and it takes out everything. The clothes that leave here are as white as clothing can be. The girls then take and wash it and perfume it before returning it to its owners.'
'Wow,' Marchan said. 'I had no idea. My mother always cleaned all our clothes.'
'Well, the nobility don't like doing it themselves, and we can get it whiter than most of their servants, so this works well for everybody,' Peter said. 'My job is to dig up the clay and bring it from outside of the city. When you first met me a week ago, I was just on my way out of the city to get some. I just got back from this week's trip.'
'So where's Moma Rita?' Marchan said after a slight pause.
'Come, I'll show you,' Peter said and led him back to the cubicle where they first met Moma Rita.
There she was again, reading more of that book to her ancestor. The ancestor seemed to exude enjoyment from it. Marchan couldn't quite figure out how a figure that was laying almost lifeless on the bed could be exuding enjoyment, but it was. He watched and listened for a few moments before Moma Rita noticed him and Peter by the door.
'Ah, you've returned Master Dwarf. Welcome. You've caught us when we are cleaning. The smell is nearly intolerable for most. Even sometimes those of us who live and work here. I hope you aren't offended by it.'
'I just closed off my nose,' Marchan said. 'I can't smell a thing right now.'
'Oooh, that sounds like a wonderful ability,' said Peter.
Marchan followed Peter into the rear of the house. There, in a courtyard, a gaggle of maidens were stepping around in a large tub which was full of a liquid quite yellow. They seemed to be having a lot of fun, splashing one another. Just as Marchan entered the courtyard one got some in her mouth and spit out onto the flag stones. Her friends all laughed at her all the harder.
Peter explained to Marchan, 'The easiest way to mix up the clothes and cleaning fluids is to walk around with them in the tub. Legs are much stronger for doing that than arms. You'll notice the girls are all wearing shifts that they wouldn't normally let themselves be seen in public in. In fact, that was likely why they wouldn't let your friends inside. It's hardly proper attire.
'Anyway, when the dirt is all gotten out of the clothes here and they're nicely whitened, we take and store them in this clay I had brought back. It seems to absorb any oil stains. From there they're taken to a large water pool where they're washed by hand to get rid of the smell and the dirt from the clay. After that, we return them to their owners homes with various spices stored among them to mask any residual smell. It's a nice little operation and feeds all these girls.'
'So, what they were telling us today, that Moma Rita just looks after poor orphans and everyone is surprised by how she can feed them, isn't true?' Marchan was confused.
'It was true until a few months ago. Then we hit upon this. All these girls were orphans. We all lived here under Moma Rita's tutelage. She cared for us and fed us and we have no idea where she got the money to do that. Every stray child or animal that crossed her path found a home here. She is a truly wonderful mother. When we discovered that we could clean clothes better than anyone in the city, we started doing this. Bit by bit we took Moma Rita's cares. A few days ago we bought a house off Middletrusk Square. We're doing a bit of work on it and soon it will become an orphanage as well. There are quite a number of starving children there too. Gayle and Gillian are over there and have already taken in a few of the children. Our work here will pay for most of that and Moma Rita's connections will likely pay the rest.'
'So you wish to start orphanages all across the city?'
'Well, not in Kingcity. We could not afford to buy a house there, and there aren't any children living on the streets there.'
Marchan stayed for a while longer with Peter and after a while said goodbye as he thought Trevor and Richard might be wondering about him. He walked back to the square and discovered them sitting quietly on a bench.
'There you are,' said Trevor when he saw him. 'Was your friend Peter there?'
'Yes,' said Marchan.
'Are we done here then?' Richard asked. 'It will soon be the end of the day and I would like to return to the Hall of Records.'
'Yes,' said Marchan. 'I am done here. Let us return.'
They went back into Kingcity and returned to the Hall of Records. It was no longer a strange place to Marchan. It seemed quite a bit like home. Not the house that he had grown up in, but that feeling of this is where he belonged.
The next morning Marchan found the gardener who had helped him a few days prior with getting some marble from the block in the courtyard. With his help he took another large chunk and returned to his quarters. All that day and all the next he worked hard. Richard came and took him for lunch, and Trevor took him for supper, but aside from meals and short breaks, Marchan stayed in his quarters chipping, shaping, sanding and polishing. At the end of the second day, while eating with Trevor, he said, 'I was wondering if you would be able to make another trip to the Jeweller's with me?'
Marchan pulled from his pocket a chess piece and placed it on the table. Trevor stood up and leaned closer to it. It was exquisite. It was a Queen. Trevor could see her flowing hair and it seemed her individual eyelashes were visible if he looked closely enough. Her lips and nose were of perfect shape and Trevor was quite sure he could see rings upon her fingers.
'You did all this in two days?' he was incredulous.
'Well, I still have four more Footsoldiers to do to finish the set.'
'You work very fast for such intricate work.'
'Yes, well, it's very fun. I could do this for months or years without getting bored.'
They arranged to meet the next morning and Marchan returned to this quarters to finish the work.
When morning came, Marchan was surprised to find not just Trevor, but also Richard, Gordon, Michael and Jeannie standing outside his quarters.
'Good morning,' he said.
'Good morning,' said Richard. 'Trevor told us about the work you've been doing and I don't think you want to go just the two of you. It could be quite dangerous.'
'So six is better?' asked Marchan.
'That should ward off almost anyone who might try to waylay you,' said Richard.
'Uhm, all right then,' said Marchan a little mystified that anyone would want to steal his work.
They made their way back to the Jeweller's and the Jeweller was very pleased to see the chess pieces. He quoted a price to which Richard looked a little shocked.
'Come,' he said to Marchan. 'We can find a better deal elsewhere. I'm sure there's another Jeweller in this city who would offer a much better price.'
The Jeweller asked them to stay and quickly the price jumped by leaps and bounds, soon he was offering more than twice as much as his original offer. It seemed a nearly fair price to Richard's eyes. At this point, however, the Jeweller announced he would need time to raise such a sum. He could not afford to keep that kind of money in the store, he said.
'How would you like a trade then?' Marchan asked.
'A trade?' the Jeweller inquired.
'Yes, you must have the sum you originally proposed. I'll sell you half my pieces for that amount, then trade the other half for diamands, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, pearls and other such gems.'
'That is quite a good idea,' said the Jeweller smiling.
'And you're going to give him a good deal on those, now aren't you?' said Richard stepping closer to the Jeweller.
'Oh, of course, Your Excellency! Of course!' The Jeweller started to collect what Marchan asked of him. Marchan could feel desire for the gems grow in him. He wanted them so much. When the Jeweller had collected everything Marchan had asked specifically, Richard declared it was not enough. He said that the pile of jewels was less than the cash amount they were replacing. Marchan looking at the pile realised he had never seen such a pile of valubles and finally understood why Richard had insisted upon a guard. Richard and the Jeweller haggled a bit more and the Jeweller put another diamond into the pile. It was larger than any that were already in the pile. Marchan lifted and looked at it. He was very pleased with it.
He turned to Richard and said, 'Enough! That will cover everything I need.'
The Jeweller clasped his hand and said, 'Thank you little master. This officer was about to empty out my store. I am pleased with my trade just the same. You are welcome to my store anytime.'
Marchan shook the hand that clasped his and said, 'I am well pleased as well. Do you have some way for us to carry all this?'
'Why yes,' said the Jeweller and brought out some small wooden boxes. They filled six of them with the money and jewels and spread them among the six people from the Hall of Records and returned there by a most direct route.
It did not take long to find the rest of the party. The Doctor, Samuel and David were all near by laying face down on the ground with their fingers in their ears. There appeared to have been a scuffle near them, but no one else was in sight.
Dana put her hand on the Doctor's shoulder. He rolled over quickly and looked like he was going to attack her but changed his stance when he saw who it was.
'My Lady,' he said. 'We feared for your safety when the attackers appeared. We tried to fight our way back to the Duke's carriage, but we were unable to achieve it before that noise began and the strange light. But, what's this? My Lord Duke, you are well again? And you?', he continued turning to Martug. 'Do my eyes deceive me?'
'Not at all,' Martug said. 'I'm in fine shape. I was in some strange dream a few minutes ago and a hand came and touched me and now I am hale. Would that all such sickness could be so cleansed.'
'Then I would truly be without work!' said the Doctor. He stood up and kicked his companions so they got up as well. 'Look here, sirs, our two patients became healthy while we lay down.'
'My Lord,' Samuel cried out. 'I did not expect to see the day again so soon. I am well pleased that you are hale.'
David did not seem quite sure what to do. He smiled and echoed Samuel's words.
'Well,' said the Duke. 'We are gathered together again. I suggest you tell none of what happened here today. Few would believe you and those that did are not the kind who should know about these things.'
'Well, what did happen?'
'We were visited by a Roubbe.'
'A Roubbe?' burst out Martug. 'They're just an old fable. They do not exist.'
'Our visit today proves otherwise,' said the Duke.
'A Roubbe, here. But why would he come here?' asked the Docter.
'They were summoned from my carriage,'
'You are of royal birth then, my Lord Duke?' said the Doctor. 'I have heard they listen to the King. Are you close to him.'
'As a matter of fact, I am. I know him quite well. I am also decended from his great grandfather. My great grandfather very nearly was King when Our King's Mother ascended the throne. But that is water under the bridge. Let us continue our journey.'
They all returned to the carriage. The horses did not seem to have minded the noise or strange light. They were a little spooked, but that seemed to be from the actions of the humans around them. Samuel soon had everything ready and they headed off again.
Early that afternoon they reached a villa owned by a close friend of the Duke's. They had their midday meal and left their tired out horses with the friend and continued their journey. They reached other friend's home about nightfall. This friend had a mansion and was able to provide everyone with room. When he discovered Dana in their company, he insisted she take his niece as her lady-in-waiting.
'She is old enough she should see a little of how society works,' he said to Dana in a side room when she tried to object. 'You are going to the Capital. She will see life there. If you find her a good husband, I am willing to put up a small dowry. She is an orphan you see. She has little, and I must provide for my own children. I think your Duke of Quirnotol will likely but up some as well if it comes to that. She may get even more than if I treated her as one of my own children. Believe me, it's best for her that you take her.'
The girl's name was Magra. She was tall and slim and much paler than Dana. She was not very talkative that first night as they were preparing for bed. Instead, she listened as Dana reminisced about how long it had been since she had had an attendant.
'I was probably younger than you are,' she said. 'The last time I had someone waiting on me. My first husband did not keep me very well and refused to provide me with an attendant until I was almost six months along. Then he begrudged it to me since I was having so much trouble getting dressed. Oh, but when my father was still alive, I must have had three or four attendants at any one time. And they wore such beautiful clothes.'
By this time Magra had her undressed and was helping her put the night shirt over her head. Dana was so tired she did not notice the girl's look of terror as Dana reached to help her undress in turn.
'No, my Lady,' she said. 'I can get it myself.'
'You are my servant now, young Lady,' said Dana. 'I wish to help you undress, so you will serve my by allowing it.'
'Yes, my Lady', Magra bowed slightly.
This actually took longer than it had for Dana because Magra had more and nicer clothing and more complicated clasps. Dana sighed that she would need even more clothes.
When they were done, Dana led her over to the bed and they pulled down the sheets and climbed in. There was plenty of room for both of them and they were soon sleeping.
The sun got them early the next morning and the growing party continued on their journey. Around noon they reached yet another friend's home, a small palace this time. It's courtyards and cloisters seemed to go on forever. After their midday meal, they again swapped horses and continued on their journey. Martug was impressed by how much faster they could travel by swapping the horses rather than waiting for their horses to recuperate from the morning's trip.
'Really,' Samuel told him, 'we're still taking it pretty easy. IF the Duke was in a great hurry, we would have stayed overnight here rather than at the last place. But it doesn't matter. We'll be at the Capital in time for the endday meal.'
'Wow,' said Martug. 'I had never thought of swapping out horses.'
'The Duke got the idea from an Ancient Book, seems from before the Ancients could fly and what not, they used horses themselves. Quite a few books referred to horses. Marvelous animals they are.'
'That is certainly true,' agreed Martug.
They arrived in the Capital that night as the sun set. Dana felt like she was finally coming home. It was the first time she had seen something that she remembered from her earlier life as a duke's daughter. The walls of the Capital had always meant fun and festivities when she was a child. Dana remembered always becoming excited when the walls could be seen beyond from their carriage.
Samuel rode quickly past the barracks and past the fields into the streets of the Merchants' City, then he carefully threaded the carriage through those streets, being sure not to hurt any chance stray animal. They soon reached the orchards and Dana could smell the apple trees. The scent reminded her of once when they entered the city and her father had reached out and picked her an apple. Her mother had been surprised that there was no one to stop them.
Samuel stopped at the gate to Kingcity and called out that the gate be opened.
'Who goes there?' called the guardsman.
'The Duke of Quirnotol and the Duchess Laura Lu of Loussington!' called back Samuel.
'Odd,' said the guard as he came closer. 'I just admitted the Duke of Loussington. I thought he had his Duchess with him.'
'That would be mine uncle,' said Dana. 'I look forward to seeing him.'
'I'm sure,' said the guard and motioned to his companion to raise the gate.
They passed into the City and Samuel quickly brought them to the Duke's residence within the City. It was gorgeous! Dana was impressed. She was sure it was a much bigger residence than her father had had when she was young.
Their supper was quite relaxed. Magra at first did not know what to do with herself. She seemed to think she should stand behind Dana's chair and be prepared to jump whenever Dana spoke to her. It took some time before Dana, the Duke, Martug, the Doctor, Samuel and David convinced her to sit at the table with them. It finally took Samuel, David and Martug all pointing out to her that she was of a higher caste than themselves and that if she had to stand so had they. They all stood, Martug behind Dana with Magra and the other two behind the Duke.
The Doctor looked around and seeing he had no one behind him said, 'It seems I'm not worthy of this company. Two servants each, and I have none. I believe I'll have to bow out.' And he started to rise.
Dana was starting to feel at a loss and unconnected when the Duke started to laugh. He laughed quite hard.
'I'm sorry,' he said to Dana seeing the look on her face. 'I'm suddenly understanding how the King feels sometimes, and the look on your face tells me you do now too.
'Now,' he continued as he turned to Magra, 'sit yourself down. I will not have any standing around to wait on anyone in my household while I myself am seated. I'm just a man. The Duchess here is just a woman. You can argue that she's a Lady, which she is, but she's just another human, nothing special that you have to stand in her presence. If you ever come with me to meet the King, you'll see I treat him as just another man. There's really nothing special about him, either, aside from his tremendous age. And he wouldn't have me treat him any other way. He'd likely tan my hide if I started acting like a mere servant. You are a friend to us now. So sit, enjoy the meal with us.'
Magra bowed and sat in the chair they had for her. She seemed very closed.
As the other sat down again, Dana thought about it and then quietly got up and fetched an apple from a basket by the wall. She took and sliced it and placed it in front of Magra who just then noticed that her new Mistress had risen.
'Now,' said Dana, 'I have served you. I very much wish us to be friends. I will serve you again and again. I hope you will come to find it a pleasure and a privilege.'
'Yes my Lady,' said Magra.
After supper, David and Samuel brought out a fiddle and a tom-tom. They started playing and Samuel honoured them with his singing. Dana was surprised he could sing so well until he told her that singing calms the horses and good singing makes them feel well in the worst of times. He had his Master's horses to love the sound of his voice, whether he was singing or just speaking. Dana was not sure whether or not to believe him.
The sun was setting when they finally all went to their rooms. When Dana turned to help Magra undress, she discovered this time the horror on Magra's face.
'What is wrong, dear?' said Dana. 'You learned that I didn't hurt you last night.'
'It's a great shame, my Lady,' said Magra.
'What's that? You are ashamed of your body?'
Magra thought for a second and then said, 'Yes, my Lady.'
'Of what is there to be ashamed?' asked Dana.
Dana started to think she might not get anything else out of her handmaiden, so she decided to be a little more firm. 'Listen,' she said. 'I am not ashamed of my body, nor need you be of yours. You are mine and I am yours. If your body is shameful to be shown to others we won't show it. But it is mine. There is nothing which is my own that can be shameful for me to see.'
Magra accepted that and allowed Dana to help her. They soon climbed into the bed and were fast asleep.
The next morning, Dana woke early. Her companion was still sleeping and she quietly rose, put on some clothes, wrapped herself in a big warm housecoat she found in the wardrobe and proceeded into the hall. Not far was Martug's room. It seemed to Dana he was up since a fire was brightly burning in his room. The chill morning air seemed to be bit less chill as she drew near. He heard her and jumped when she entered the room.
'My Lady, good morning, I hope my getting the wood did not wake you,' he said.
'I don't believe so,' said Dana. 'But why are you up so early?'
'Every morning, from the time I was a little child, I have prayed to Goddess Gina for my mother, that is, the woman who raised me.'
'Where will that get her?'
'My Lady? I pray that she will watch over her and protect her. Now that I have seen what the gods can do, I ask her to heal her from her hobble.'
'When have you seen what the gods can do?'
'Was it not a god that came down and healed me, and the Duke? Anyone who could do that is a god.'
'The Duke explained to me,' Dana said. 'Those are not gods. They aren't even alive. They cannot hear your prayers.'
'How could they not? I speak them to the air.'
'They are not in the air that they could hear them.'
'Then there are no gods.' Martug seemed resigned.
'I wouldn't say that,' said Dana. 'I believe there is one.'
They heard a noise in the corridor. Turning, Dana saw that Magra had gotten up and was walking, still undressed. She quickly took off the housecoat and wrapped around Magra. It was then that she noticed that Magra was still sleeping. She gently led her back to their room and lay her back in bed.
Dana then got Martug to fetch some wood and bring some flame from his room to get a fire going in hers. Soon enough she had a warm fire burning as she waited for Magra to wake up.
Meanwhile, Martug left to find how breakfast was coming along. He soon found David in the kitchen starting a fire to prepare toast.
'That's a strange girl,' said Martug.
'Eh?' said David. 'Whom are you referring to?'
'Magra. She does like sitting or laying down. She was just a few minutes ago walking in her sleep.'
'Oooh,' replied David. 'She's cursed is she? They say sleepwalkers are under a heavy curse.'
'I don't know about any curse,' said Martug. 'She freaks me out. My Mistress is one fine lady though. She cares for her just fine. Me too.'
'Yeah, my Master is a good man too. Too bad they're so different in age. We could try to set them up. Although, his son is probably the right age for her. I think a year or two older than she is. Although poor young master, his father still thinks of him as in his late teens. Even said so a week ago to her.'
Magra woke with a start, and Dana was at her side immediately.
'My Lady,' she said as she shook the sleep out of herself. 'Why am I dressed in a housecoat? Was I sleep walking?'
'Yes,' said Dana. 'Is that what you were ashamed of?'
'Yes,' replied Magra.
'Well, no worries. I'm sorry I pressured you. We'll work out something in the coming days. Now here, let's dress and see what the Duke's men have for us for breakfast.'
They were soon dressed and joined David and Martug in the kitchen. The toast was just ready to be buttered. As they got to helping, Samuel walked in a moment later.
'Good morning,' he said smiling. 'My Master bids us to start without him. He is not feeling well.'
'Oh?' said Dana. 'That's too bad.'
'The Healer is with him and will let us know as the morning progresses.'
The ate and the conversation turned to the news of the city. Samuel had gone out and found someone to give him the news.
'First off,' he said. 'The King is not in the Capital, but is expected back in the next few days. He is returning from a trip west to the land of the Horingas. It's rumoured they wish to have more say in their own affairs and the King has been meeting with them to see what is to be made of their demands. Next, oh hello Healer, how is my Master?'
This last was said to the Doctor as he entered the room.
'Not well, unfortunately, I'm afraid. The sudden healing that happened two days ago seems to have reversed. I can see no reason why. He'll be fine soon in a day or two however, I should think.'
'Well that's a relief,' said Samuel.
An hour or so later the Duke made it out of bed. It obviously hurt him to walk, but he insisted that they go to the Hall of Records to see his son.
'If I have to be carried, I am going!' he exclaimed. 'I had hoped to surprise him two weeks ago in time for his birthday.'
David and Samuel arranged the carriage while Martug and the Healer helped the Duke out to it. Dana and Magra came along and Martug stayed behind to wait for the staff to come in. The residence was normally only staffed when the Duke was in town and they had not been expecting him.
The carriage moved slowly through the streets and soon came to a marble building with a bridge from the roadway across a lazy stream. Two guards stood at attention on the other end of the bridge.
David hopped down and crossed the bridge to them. He talked to them a few moments and then one raised his spear and let it fall back onto the bridge. Everything shook and a resounding noise echoed in Dana's heart. A moment later, from up the road came another carriage, with an emblem upon it that Dana recognised quite well. It had been the emblem of her grandfather.
As she was staring at that a man came out to meet David, gave him a bear hug and crossed the bridge with him.
'Father, I was not expecting you in the capital until the winter festival,' he said as he approached the carriage. He opened the door and looked shocked as he saw the Duke laying back in obvious pain. 'What has happened, Father?'
'A mishap along the way. But it was worth it to protect this young lady,' said the Duke, then partly turning to Dana he said, 'Son, may I introduce you to the Lady Dana Laura Lu of the Lossington family. Lady Dana, may I introduce you to my son, Richard of the Quirnotol family.'
'My pleasure,' said Richard.
'Honoured,' said Dana. He seemed nothing at all like his father. His mother must have come from a very different stock than his father. His eyes sparkled as he looked at her.
He turned back to his father and said, 'But why should this young lady need protection, father?'
'She is the adopted mother of a dwarf and some rabble wished to hurt them.'
'A dwarf!' said Richard. 'Would his name be Marchan?'
'Yes,' said Dana excited. 'Have you seen him.'
'Oh yes,' said Richard. He's inside now with a bunch of jewels doing something with them.'
'Where is he?' cried Dana, jumping out of the carriage, ignoring all decorum. 'Come on, now. Show me. I have missed him these past two weeks.'
As she jumped down she noticed the footman from the other carriage approaching them. His livery was her family emblem. There was no mistaking it. She quickly calmed down and covered part of her face with her shawl. She looked up at the Duke and signalled him. She did not want to meet her uncle under these circumstances!
The Duke seemed to understand her meaning and called to her. 'Dee-dee,' he said. 'Get back into the carriage. David, Samuel, Richard, these women with no family are so wild and need to be taught to be more discreet.'
Richard looked puzzled but David standing beside him whispered to hima and he nodded.
The footman arrived and spoke to Richard, 'M'lord Captain, my Master, Duke Chowonga of Lossington, requests to see his son, Trevor of the Lossington family.'
At the name Lossington Richard jerked a bit, but quickly regained his composure. He nodded to the footman. 'I will send him out straightaway. I know precisely where he is. Tell your master so.'
The footman retreated and he turned to Dana, now my Lady, I think I will have to learn a bit more of your history. Would you and your companion come with me? I will lead you to your son.'
Dana got down with Richard's help, and she could not help noticing how strong he was. He turned and helped Magra down and the three of them crossed the bridge and passed by the guards. The courtyard stunned Dana. She had seen many beautifully built palaces in her childhood, but she did not remember any that were this lavish. The marble must have been carved by masters. Richard led them into the Hall proper and up some side stairs, down a hallway and found three adolescents standing outside a door.
'Trevor,' he said to one. 'Your Father is awaiting you in his carriage outside.'
'He's here!' said the young man. 'Cap'n, may I have leave?'
'Of course,' said Richard. 'Three days. The King will be back soon.'
Trevor ran off in the opposite direction. Richard looked at the other two. 'For what reason do you stand here. The King will return soon. Please be so kind as to do your work. Marchan will show us his work when he is ready.'
'Yes, Cap'n,' they both said and passing Dana and Magra walked away up the hallway.
'His work?' Dana started, but Richard raised a finger to his lips. He knocked on the door. 'Marchan!' he called out. 'I have a surprise for you.'
'Come back later,' Dana heard her son call and felt her heart go out to him. 'I am very busy.'
'Oh, I think you'll want to see the surprise,' said Richard.
A few seconds later the door opened and there was Marchan. Dana cried and hugged him. He took a second and then cried and hugged her.
'It was hard, Mother,' said Marchan. 'I've never been away from you for so long before.'
'Nor I from you for many years,' said Dana. 'I see you are well.'
'Oh, I am,' Marchan said. 'They've fed me very well. And shown me something new. I have a surprise for you. It's not quite ready but I don't want to wait to show it to you.'
Marchan led Dana into his room and Richard followed. Marchan placed led her to the window where she saw light reflecting off jewels, gems, and the most beautiful chess pieces she had ever seen. It was like the sun had come to the earth and was wrapped up in these pieces.
'Where did you get these?' she asked.
'I carved the chess pieces out of marble,' said Marchan, 'and set the jewels into them.'
Richard picked an elephant up and looked closely at it. 'Astounding,' he said, 'how did you get the stone to wrap around the jewels and make them stay so well?'
'I just did it. Can't anyone do that?'
'There's not a stone worker in the kingdom that can do that!' said Richard. 'At least, not without leaving a very bad crack in the stone.'
'Oh, well, I..' started Marchan.
'Actually, don't tell me. I probably would not understand. And it's best if I don't know. This is exquisite!'
Dana hugged Marchan again. The pieces were fantastic, and looked quite like their names. She looked at them and hugged him again.
Marchan was crying. His mother had returned! He wept into her bodice. He had always known she was beautiful, but the dress she was wearing suited her so much better than the frocks she had worn on his father's farm. They released her beauty and here he was soaking the bodice with his tears. He pulled away and apologised.
'No, it's fine, my loving son,' said Dana. 'I would rather your tears than anything.'
They started telling each other what had happened over the last few weeks. When Dana told Marchan about Martug, he exclaimed, 'Hand is here? Where is he?'
'Martug is out in the carriage, dear one.'
'Then let's go see him. I can finish my work later.'
Richard led them back out of the room and they started toward the stairs. Suddenly Dana froze and started looking for a place to hide.
'What is it, dear lady?' asked Richard before Marchan could speak.
'My uncle, he's coming. I just heard his voice.'
'Uncle?' asked Marchan. Dana had never told him that she had an uncle. In fact, now that it entered his head, he realised that he knew nothing about her family.
'In here,' said Richard and led them into a old guard room, from which they could look out but not be seen. He stepped out again to meet the party coming up and closed the door.
Within a few moments, Dana saw her uncle rounding the bend. The past 14 years had not been kind to him. He walked with a horrid stoop and leaned heavily on his cane. The young man that Richard had sent off to her uncle was beside him, almost leading, without stepping in front. She supposed he was her half-cousin. He looked like a fool beside that old man. Behind them walked four large men who were obviously not the serving men their uniforms proclaimed them to be.
'Trevor,' said Richard. 'You've come back. I thought you wanted leave for a few days.'
'I showed Marchan's work to my father and he wanted to meet the Dwarf.'
'Well, Marchan has left,' said Richard. 'You'll have to wait if you wish to see him.'
'Oh, I owe him some money, too. Now that my father is here, I can pay him.'
'I'll see that he gets it if you give it to me,' said Richard.
'I will not give you anything you peasant thief,' said the old man. 'I know your kind. You get a job for the King and think you can order anyone around. Well, you can't order us around. I am the Duke of Lossington and you will bring me to the Dwarf. I command it.'
Richard looked at him silently.
'Father,' started Trevor, but the old man waived him aside.
'Don't interfere you lilly livered sobbing heart child. Your mother was too soft with you and you think everyone should be soft to everyone else. Well, that's not how the world works. I have a much higher rank than this slave of the King. I will not be twarted by anyone and I will not be turned aside by you. I am the Duke of Lossington and I got here by hard work and I will continue to get what I want by demanding what I am due. Now, sirrah,' he said as he turned back to Richard. 'Take me to the Dwarf or I will have your guts be made into fiddles.'
'Are you quite done yet?' asked Richard. 'Perhaps you would like to continue ?'
'You are insolent, presumptuous and quite rude to your betters. I will have you caned. Boys, do your thing.'
Trevor looked up at the four men who started to walk forward and said very quietly, 'If any of you cane me you can be assured you will not leave this building as free men. You might possibly leave it alive. If you are alive you will wish you weren't as the punishment for caning a duke is quite severe.'
The four of them hesitated. Trevor shouted out, 'He is the son of a duke. That was his father's carriage outside.'
The old man turned and struck Trevor with his cane. 'You miserable worthless boy, the woman who whelped you was a botched job. The only reason I touched her at all was that there weren't any other women around that day.' Every few words were punctuated by a strike with the cane until the old man almost fell over and then he used it to regain his balance.
Just then a small contingent of Richard's men came up. They had heard the shouting and decided to investigate.
Richard turned to them and said, 'You two, take the boy to the infirmary. the rest of you, take the old man to the gaol. If any of those four buffoons in serving uniforms attempts to resist or cause trouble, kill him or lock him up, according to your choice. I will back you up. If they don't, treat them well, and let them have access to their master.'
'Yes, Cap'n,' said the leader and soon the hall was clear except for Richard. He looked around and opened the door to the room Dana and Marchan were in and beckoned them out.
Come,' he said. 'We must go out to the carriages. I'll have to do something with your uncle's carriage.'
'Don't worry about that,' said Dana. 'I think I know what we can do.'
The returned to Marchan's room and gathered his belongings, which for the most part consisted of his old clothes, all his jewels and the marble and stone working tools. He carefully wrapped them all into his old tunic and they left for the carriages. When they got to the gate, Dana turned to the Lossington carriage. She walked up to the coachman and said, 'Brill, it is time to go.'
He looked a bit surprised and then dropped to his knees. 'My Lady!' he exclaimed. 'My Lady has returned!'
The remaining footman came around the carriage and dropped to his knees as well. 'Our prayers have been answered!' he cried. There were soon tears on his face. 'We thought you were dead. Your uncle has gone quite mad.'
'If you take me back to the mansion, would I receive such a welcome?'
'I'm afraid not, my Lady,' said the coachman sobering a bit and standing again. 'Your Aunt, who styles herself the Duchess of Lossington rules the house. There are very few of us left who could still recognise you and the few that do are lorded over by the scoundrels that he has dressed up in our uniforms.'
'I was afraid of that,' said Dana. 'We'll have to become stronger. How long can you hold my uncle?' she asked Richard.
'Your uncle is indefinitely mine. At least until it comes to trial that he ordered that I be attacked. I have seven witnesses, although your uncle might try to claim his son and servants can't bear witness against him. I can at least hold him until we can arrange a trial which will likely be three days at least. And then there's what he did to his son. I think that'll keep him for quite a while.'
'That should be plenty of time to make sure he forces the issue when he is released. I will see what else I can get from him. In the meantime, we will have to stay at your father's house.'
'I'm sure my father will be pleased.'
'Yes, could you go up to your father's carriage and send my two servants back here. Tell your father we will meet him at his house.'
'Yes, Dear Lady, I would be delighted.'
A few minutes later, Magra joined them at the carriage.
'Where's Martug?' Dana asked.
'Mom,' Magra said. 'He's back at the Duke's house.'
'Oh, I must be forgetting myself,' Dana said. 'Marchan, dear son, let's go back to the Duke's house and we'll see what we're going to do next.'
She had the footman, Boris, ask the Duke have Samuel lead them back to the Duke's house and they were soon riding through the city into parts that Marchan had not yet seen. He watched as the huge houses passed by. Many showed great workmanship and were made of marble. He wondered where the marble came from. It did not appear to be all from the same place, wherever it was. When they arrived at the house, Martug met them in the courtyard.
'My Lady,' he called when he saw her descending from her carriage. 'I did not expect to see you so soon. The Duke's servants have not all arrived and I have not been able to get the few that are here to properly prepare for you.'
'I'll see about that,' said the Duke. 'In the meanwhile, this is my son, Richard and I believe you've already met Her Ladyship's son Marchan.'
'A pleasure,' Martug said to Richard. 'So we meet again,' he said to Marchan. 'I told you I would do all I could to help your mother. Well, I think she has done much more for me. She rescued me from a dungeon and certain death. I know now that your mother is a good woman. I expect I'll want to serve her for many years.'
'Yes,' said Dana. 'Well, come now both of you. And you, too, Magra. We've got a family together again and I'm going to enjoy it.'
They went into the house and joined the Duke and his son who were just sitting down in front of the fire. It had gotten quite chilly as the morning had wore on. It seemed winter was approaching.
The Duke looked at the two newcomers in his home. They were joined to the young Duchess he was helping, but something didn't seem right to him. It was like she had stolen them from her uncle. He called her aside.
'So what are you going to do now? Are you going to try to take all your father's servants from your uncle?'
'Well, no,' said Dana. 'I hadn't really figured out what to do. I thought I'd scare him and his wife. Maybe convince them that I can oust them.'
'This isn't the way to do it. It'll be much better to meet with the King. He'll give you back your rightful place. Stealing, even when it's your own property, is still stealing.'
'Oh,' said Dana, a little saddened by the correction.
'In the meantime, though, we can give your father's people hope. Send these two back with news for your father's people that you're still alive and will be returning.'
'Yes, you're quite right,' said Dana, unsure that she would know that was true any which way.
They returned to the circle of people and told Brill and his companion the decision. Brill was unhappy that he would have to return to Dana's aunt.
'You're going as an infiltrator,' said David. 'I actually envy you. To be working for someone else while pretending to work for an enemy.'
'I hope that wasn't a suggestion you are displeased with working for my father,' said Richard, with a mischievous look.
'Oh, not at all!' exclaimed David. 'My Master is a wonderful master. I would not want to work for anyone else. It would be fun to be a plant, however.'
Brill accepted his new assignment and the two left, taking their erstwhile master's carriage back.
The Duke turned to Marchan.
'Now, you,' he said slowly. 'You got me into a bit of trouble. The Doctor here had me bed-ridden for a month! And the Roubbes themselves seem to have had trouble healing me. I still feel quite sick.'
Marchan was surprised. He did not expect such a greeting. He froze, uncertain what to do.
'Now,' continued the Duke. 'Tell me what trouble you've gotten into here in the city?'
'No trouble, M'Lord Duke,' said Dana. 'He's been busy creating ...'
The Duke interrupted her. 'I did not ask you, M'Lady Duchess of Lossington. I asked the young lad here.'
Marchan picked up where Dana had left off. 'I've been creating handicrafts. The jewellers of this city are amazed at the simplest bit of work. Take this for instance.' With that Marchan pulled out one of the pieces he had been working on earlier in the day.
Everyone in the room crowed around to see it. The workmanship was exquisite. It was a King, each line on his face quite distinct. Royal robes hung naturally down from his shoulders. His crown was full of tiny diamonds and emeralds, appropriate for his size. His sceptre was topped with a ruby and the individual fingers of his left hand could just be made out holding it and a wedding band upon the third finger. In his right hand he held an orb topped with a stylized tower, an imperial ring upon the second finger. A regal sword hanging from his belt completed the ensemble.
'You must have been working on this a long time,' exclaimed the Duke.
'About an hour this morning,' said Marchan. 'A few of the diamonds I traded for the last set of pieces made very good carving instruments, thought I'm afraid I damaged them while using them.
'I've also received a lead to where there may be more dwarves. "Far to the east of here, at the north end of a peninsula, in the rock of a volcano, East across the Bay of Chitay."' This he chanted like a refrain, having memorised it.
'I've also made a few friends. Trevor and Richard, whom my mother met, and a boy named Peter out it in the Merchant's City. I've also been shopping for clothing to wear on the journey to the East.'
'You have been qutie busy,' said the Duke. 'I'm glad you have been behaving yourself and no one's been bothering that you're a dwarf.'
'Actually, here they seem to like dwarves,' said Marchan. 'My tailor and my shoemaker both seemed to want to give me fancy clothing. I had to almost trick them into letting me purchase travel clothes at full price.'
'Yes, people in the city seem to be more generous to stranger types,' said the Duke. He turned to Thomas. 'I think I need to rest now. I may have just been exhausted and my body needs rest. Come you can take my pulse and whatever else you need, then I'm going to nap until after dinner.'
The two of them left and David and Samuel came up to Marchan. 'How could you make such detailed work?' Samuel asked.
It's quite easy,' replied Marchan. 'I just imagine what I want to make and carve everything else away. I start with a rough idea, but think ahead for things sticking out like the sceptre, the orb and the sword.'
'Do you have others?' David wanted to know.
'Yes,' said Marchan. 'A whole set of the them. I've already sold two sets, though I don't think I'm going to be properly paid for one of them. That Duke we met at the Hall of Records, Mother, his son promised me his father would pay the rest of the price he offered.'
'Don't worry, my son, I will receive all he has, and then will pay you,' said Dana so fiercely that Marchan was taken a bit aback.
'Mother, what is it?' he asked.
'He usurped my place, but I will regain my place as Duchess of Lossington.'
'That is the business of the Hall of Records,' said Richard. "I would be happy to help you personally, M'Lady Dana.'
So, the next day Dana started spending large amounts of time with Richard as they tried to discover proof that she was who she claimed to be, and that the Duchy of Lossington was hers. This job he did not seem to want to delegate to his subordinates. Marchan felt a little left out in the evnings as they continued to discuss what they had found during the day. He and the Duke returned to Kardin Square and purchased Marchan's travel clothes. He was quite pleased with his new clothes and boots. Marchan tried to find Mama Rita and Peter again, but all his inquiries were rebuffed, even from Mardic and Cartalla who had admitted knowing them before.
The Duke sighed. He took Marchan aside, 'It may be they refuse because I am with you. For reasons I cannot enumerate some people snub nobility merely for the sake of it. They somehow think it makes them more important. You will not get any information today. If you came back without me on another day, you might get a different response.'
'That's a very strange way to be,' said Marchan.
'Strange or not, it's what happens sometimes. Anyway, we'll return now.'
They returned to the carriage and returned to the Duke's abode.
Within a few days, Marchan was bored again. He caught his Mother alone that night.
'I'm going to start looking for my own kind again, Mother,' he said. Trevor looked oh so hard and found what he could. It's up to me to take that information and look for my own kind. I don't belong here. The tables are too high, the door knobs, everything.'
'Yes,' said Dana thoughtfully, 'that might be best for you. I'll miss you terribly.'
'And I already miss you, Mother,' he said.
The next night they had a little going away party. Trevor had come back from his leave of absence, looking the worse for the time, and joined them at the Duke's abode.
During the evening, Trevor suddenly stood up in front of Richard and asked a boon.
'What is it?' asked Richard.
'Promise you'll grant it first.'
'But it may not be in my power to grant.'
'This one is,' said Trevor. 'If it is not, I will take it upon myself.'
'Very well, what is it?'
'Send me with Marchan. I know the roads from here to the eastern limits of the kingdom. I can be a guide to him that far. For all your talk of having to complete our work before the King returns, we are far ahead of our schedule. You can spare me for three months and we would not be behind.'
'That is asking much. I do have power to grant you that. But first you must do something for me.'
'What is it? You've only to name it.'
'In your father's study is a scroll, sealed with the signant ring of his father. Do not ask how I know this. It is my business to know.'
'What of it?' asked Trevor trembling.
'I want you to make a copy of that scroll. You have worked in the Hall of Records long enough to know how to open a scroll and roll it without breaking the seal. Bring the copy of the scroll to me and I will grant your boon. I will give you orders to guide Marchan to the eastern limits of the kingdom. I can neither order you, nor give you permission to continue past that point.'
Trevor trembled for a bit then nodded his assent. 'I will have that scroll to you before the end of the first watch,' he said confidently. 'I will also bring myself some travel clothes.'
'Yes, do that,' said Marchan. 'I will be glad to have your company upon the road.'
Trevor stole out into the twilight. The first watch of the night was just beginning. The Duke looked mystified at his son.
Richard smiled at his Father. 'The contents of that scroll are the key to everything we need for Dana's case. Within a couple of weeks of receiving the contents of that scroll we will be ready to start her case. Without it, it could take months to find the information that we need.'
'But what is in it?' asked Martug.
'I believe a very direct statement from Dana's grandfather deliberately disinheriting her half-uncle from anything more than a single estate, and referencing the location of his will. Together with some notes describing his favourite granddaughter, Dana.'
'But why would he keep such a document?' Dana asked.
'To prove he's the son of his father. He seems to believe that the actual legal ramifications of the document are irrelevant, since Dana has been for the last fifteen years or so in no position to bring a legal case agatinst him. As long as he believes that we will be able to get ahold of that scroll during legal discovery.'
'You've thought this through haven't you?' said the Duke.
The Duke now turned to Marchan. 'To speed your journey, I am giving to you two horses. I will be very surprised if Trevor there does not know how to ride. You may have to be led, or ride with him and leave the second horse for a pack animal. These two horses are endurance horses. They can travel for many miles without much rest each day, but do not go too far with them! They are not particularily speedy animals, but I do not suppose you will need speed.'
Dana piped up, 'And I've got something for you that you haven't had for some time.' She pulled out a satchel and inside were pumpkin cakes. Marchan's favourite food! He almost reached for them then noticed his Mother's look. 'These are for your journey,' she said. 'Don't make the mistake of eating them now. And do share them with your companion.'
Samuel looked over at Marchan and said, 'I'll pack some saddle bags for you. No worries, there'll be some stuff in there from me.'
'I've got little thing you might like,' said Martug and passed over to Marchan a short sword. 'Admittedly, Dwarves by all accounts carry axes, not swords, but this is the best I could do on short notice.'
'It'll be fine,' said Marchan. 'My Father taught me a bit of sword play a few years ago. Anyone I come up against will likely be surprised enough that I've got a sword not to notice I'm so clumsy with it.'
Magra looked embarrassed. 'I've nothing for you,' she said.
'Come,' said Marchan. 'I've only just met you the other day. You've no reason to be embarrassed. Here, give me a hug and we'll call it even.'
She hugged him tightly. He was surprised by how tight it was. 'I wish I could have gotten to know you better,' she said.
David spoke, 'I'll have something for you in the saddle bags too. You'll have reason to celebrate from time to time, me thinks. I'll make sure you have something to celebrate with.'
Richard came last, 'I've something you will hopefully never need,' and handed him a wrist-knife. 'Strap that on your wrist under you shirt. No one will notice it there, but if they try to ambush you, you can have it sticking out over your hand faster than you can say "Boo!"'.
Marchan thanked each of them in turn and promised to come back to visit when he could. In the room was almost everyone he had ever cared about. He did not want to leave them, but he knew life would be difficult with them as he reached adulthood.
The continued to talk for the rest of the watch. All sad that Marchan was leaving, but hopeful, just the same. Eventually, the Duke and most of his household went to bed, leaving Dana, Richard and Marchan sitting up waiting for Trevor's return. Marchan started napping as Dana and Richard talked in low tones by the fire. The scene reminded him of his early childhood, but he could not remember why.
Marchan woke with a start when Trevor returned. Richard and Dana rose to greet him. Trevor was triumphant.
'I've never done anything against my father before,' he said. 'I've always been too afraid of him. It doesn't matter anymore, though. I'm not going to see him for a long time.'
Richard sat down at the writing desk and wrote up an order for Trevor. 'Trevor, you are ordered to escort the Dwarf known as Marchan to the limits of the Kingdom. You are to see that he is well provided for and protected and aided in his journey as you escort him.'
'Thank you,' said Trevor. Dana led Marchan off to his bedroom as Richard led Trevor to where they would bunk.
'I'm so proud of you, Marchan,' Dana said. 'Remember I will always love you as my own dear son. I look forward to they day you can come and visit, and maybe show me my grandchildren.'
Marchan got embarrassed. He stammered a bit and then said, 'Now that we're together again, I'm not sure if I want to leave you again.'
'You'll see,' she said. 'You needn't worry about it. Once you get on the road again, you won't be missing me any more. But if it chances that you do miss me, look at this and remember.' With that she took off the necklace that she had worn since as long as Marchan could remember.
'It was a gift to me from my father,' she said. 'The only thing that I kept from my family when I was married. Do not lose it. Just remember I love you and you're never far from my heart.'
Marchan smiled and hugged her. She tucked him in and went to her own room.
Early in the morning David and Samuel led Marchan and Trevor to the stables. They saddled two horses and loaded another with baggage. After being sure that the horses were ready to go, they led them out into the courtyard where the rest of the house met them.
Magra and the Doctor said their goodbyes, Richard had a few words of instruction for Trevor while Dana hugged Marchan for the last time. Finally David helped Marchan up into the saddle, which, even with the stirrups tied as short as they could be, fit Marchan badly.
Trevor swung into the saddle and Samuel said to him, 'You mind those horses, young man. They're the Master's good horses and he'll be wanting an account if you mistreat them.'
'Never fear,' said Trevor. 'I love horses to bits. My father complains that I love them too much. He complained that I wouldn't learn to use them when I was learning to fight with them. '
'That'll be well then,' said the Duke. I hope you find what you are looking for, both of you.'
They turned the horses and slowly rode them out of the courtyard.
Past the various gates they went, through the orchard, the Merchant's Ring, the fields within the city and finally past the barracks. Marchan breathed deep when they finally reached the forest beyond. He could smell the earth again. The smell of animals and food and perfume and humans and plants. The inhabitants of the city had overshadowed the smell of the living rock and the earth.
Trevor started to lead the other two horses into a gallop. 'Let them stretch their legs,' he said. Marchan held on to the saddle horn as best he could, but he felt so much like a sack of apples tied to the horn.
After a little while, Trevor slowed and looked back to notice how Marchan was sitting. 'No, no,' he called and slowed his horse, but Marchan's horse also slowed to match it. Finally he let it stop and turned his horse so that he could talk to Marchan.
'Here,' he said, 'you must grip the body of the horse with your knees. And keep your back straight up, don't hunch over so.'
Marchan tried to do as he was told but felt sure he would fall off. He leaned forward again to grasp the saddle horn.
'No, no, oh, I never thought you might not have learned to ride a horse! I thought everyone did!'
'Listen,' he said. 'It's okay if you fall off. See the ground here is soft turf. Now, watch see how I sit in the saddle.'
Marchan finally sat up and looked around. It was an exhilerating feeling to be able to see so far. He noticed the pack horse starting to wander away.
'What about that?' he asked.
'Yes, it's fine,' said Trevor. 'I'll get it in a moment. Now that you're siting up, turn your legs a bit and try to dig your heels into the horse, without loosing your grip with your knees.'
Marchan did as he was told, but could not avoid loosing his grip with his knees. His horse, spooked by the sudden jab darted forward and Marchan spilled onto the turf, which he didn't think was that soft.
Trevor turned his horse again and quickly caught Marchan's, then gathered up the pack horse.
'I guess that's a good start,' he said when he returned. 'Here, I'll help you into the saddle again.'
He dismounted and lifted Marchan back up to the stirrup. Marchan pushed the nearer foot into it and swung around, to discover himself facing the back of the horse. Trevor laughed.
'I'm sorry, I forgot to tell you which foot to put into the stirrup. Here, dismount and I'll help you again.'
They tried again and then Trevor mounted again and got hold of the bridles of the other two horses and led them on again. This time, Marchan didn't quite feel like a sack of apples. He kept his chin up and started to feel like he had some idea of how to ride. He knew that he wasn't directing, but there couldn't be all that much to it.
At noon they dismounted and let the horses graze while they ate their lunch. The first saddlebag they opened contained enough food to last them several days. They would easily be able to hold off spending Marchan's money until for a number of days.
After lunch Trevor helped Marchan mount and showed him how to properly guide the horse with his heels. 'These horses are very well trained,' he said. 'Samuel was not exagerrating when he said these were the Duke's good horses. The captain never told me his father was such a horselover. Or that they had such wonderful horses. I begin to wonder what else I do not know about the captain.'
'So what are these for?' Marchan asked holding up the reins.
'They can be used to guide or slow her down, but she's so well trained that you should need them much, as long as you keep your head about you and do as I've instructed. I'm still going to tie her bridle to my horse until you get a little more used to guiding her though.'
'She?' Marchan said.
'Your horse,' said Trevor surprised. 'Didn't you know your horse is a mare?'
'Uh, no,' said Marchan.
'Well, she is,' said Trevor. 'I guess they thought you might want a gentler beast since you've not ridden before. She's quite a beaut too. We'll probably have to watch with the stallion that they gave me.'
'So she don't get pregnant. When we're travelling is no time to deal with a pregnant horse. The pack horse is a mare as well. My poor stallion. He's so going to be in for it in the summer if we're still all together.'
Marchan kept quiet. It was all a little too much for him.
They continued their journey and the next day Trevor let Marchan ride without being led. At first the mare wouldn't do what he wanted, but, after a bit, she got the idea and moved as he indicated. He was excited to think of it.
Dusk a few days later caught them as they approached a small village. The gatekeeper was surprised to see a dwarf atop a horse, but let them in without a problem and directed them to an inn where they might spend the night. After the innkeeper showed them their room, they entered the public room for supper. The fire smoldered and various patrons sat around the tables. A lutist was plying his trade. After they found a table, a wench came and asked them if they wanted supper.
They agreed and asked for some ale to go with it. They listened as the lutist sang the Ballad of Jilan's Flight.
'A man of the villages, run from his home,
Burdened with life, tired to death
Aged forever, young as a duckling
Always alive, never living
The music took Marchan away to some of the stories that he remembered his father telling. He suddenly missed him terribly. It seemed forever since they had buried him, and yet just yesterday. Marchan longed to see him again.
Suddenly, he woke up. The supper and the ale had been finished and he had fallen asleep at the table. He looked around and noticed that he wasn't the only one. Trevor was talking with someone in the corner.
Marchan was about to say something when he realised what had woken him. A large burly man had entered the room and was seething at the sight of Marchan. He recalled the look on Martug's face and knew what was coming. He ducked. Just in time. The table his head had been on splintered in pieces as the man's fist dove into it. He yelled and tried again as Marchan slipped away under the next table.
The man started yelling, 'Get that thing out of my house! I want nothing to do with such vermin. Get it out of here.'
The serving wench, at whom he was yelling, ran over to Marchan and ushered him outside.
'The landlord is not a kind man. My master lets the rooms for him. Come, let's get your things and get you out of the house. Hopefully your friend will have the sense to come out of the public room and join us.'
They rushed to the room and Marchan took the packs and headed back to the stables. The horses were comfortable in their stalls and not a little upset to have their rest cut short. Trevor and the man he had been talking with met them there.
'This is Charook,' Trevor said. 'Charook, this is Marchan.'
'It is a pleasure to meet the son of a noble race,' said Charook. 'Come my home is not far. I will put you and your horses up for the night.'
The serving girl said, 'I'll watch the landlord so he doesn't see you leave together. I've no idea why he hates you, but there's no telling what he might do.'
'You are as wise as you are beautiful, Kaidlan,' Charook said. 'Please be sure no one knows. I look forward to seeing you later.'
She smiled at him and headed back to the public room.
'Come,' said Charook when she was gone. 'I will show you to my home.'
He led them out of the innyard and down a few dark lanes and came to a small house, a bit apart from the others, but still within the walls.
'I've a small gate over there which your horses should be able to go through,' said Charook. 'I'll let you out there in the morning.'
'Why did the landlord act like that?' Trevor asked after they had seen to the horses.
'Some people apparently blame my race for losing some battle,' said Marchan. 'It's a little strange to me since I wasn't even born yet.'
'I'm not sure that's why the landlord is like that,' said Charook. 'He tends to do all kinds of strange things. Last year, he got the notion someone in town looked a bit too pale. Claimed the poor guy was a freak of nature and beat him to a pulp. Then punished anyone who would have anything to do with him. The guy eventually left. I've not heard anything about him recently.'
'That's horrible!' said Trevor. 'Some people think I'm a bit paler than most. I'm glad we're just passing through.'
'Yes, be glad,' said Charook. 'Now, I'm afraid I don't have any beds to put you up in. I normally sleep on this mat myself. You're welcome to it for this evening. I'll sleep over here.'
'Oh, don't bother yourself about your mat. You sleep there. We've got bedrolls in our baggage,' said Marchan. 'Thanks for offering though.'
'Well, then it won't be a horrible night,' said Charook.
They retrieved their bedrolls and settled down for the night.
In the morning they left early. Trevor leading Marchan and the pack horse out of the village. Charook wished them well as they left and told Trevor he looked forward to seeing him on his way back. The land around them was well cultivated and they travelled for some time before coming to a spot they could stop and let the horses eat grass without being too close to someone's crops. The fields were ripe and ready to be harvested. Marchan missed the days with his father as they brought in the grain together. It had been a few years since he had helped his father harvest the grain, but seeing the fields all around him brought it back with fresh potency.
Days passed as they travelled. Marchan's saddle sores started to get saddle sores. The sun was before them as they started out and cast long shadows behind them as they looked for somewhere to settle for the night. As weeks went on, they started to meet more soldiers on the roads. At first they were single messengers who did not look twice at Trevor and Marchan, but as they got closer and closer to the limits of the kingdom they met bands and whole companies. Some of the bands stopped them and asked questions. Some of the questioners were just curious about the goings on in the capital. Others, however, asked piercing questions asking their business. Trevor's rank as a ensign usually quieted these questions, until they met a captain who outranked him.
'What do you do here?' asked the captain. His squad took up defensive positions around the two travellers, as though they expected a fight. 'Are you abetting this spy?'
'I am following the directions of my captain to accompany this son of a hero to the limits of the kingdom, as you can see in these my orders,' said Trevor pulling out the orders Richard had drawn up the night before they left.
'Yes, all in order,' said the captain. 'Unfortunately, I can have someone about to leave the kingdom see our holdings. Your companion will have to be blindfolded as he passes through.'
'That's ridiculous!' exclaimed Trevor before Marchan even thought about it. 'You can't blindfold an ambassador!'
'Your orders said nothing of an ambassador,' said the captain warily.
'Of course not,' said Trevor. 'He has been travelling incognito. But he is travelling from the Capital of His Majesty's Realm to the Capital of the Dwarven Hold across the Bay of Chitay. You can hardly expect he's anything less than an ambassador.'
'Or a spy for that same Dwarven Hold,' said the captain. His men the whole time had kept their defensive positions. 'I have not yet heard him talk. Tell me,' he turned to Marchan at this point. 'Who are you?'
'I am as you see me,' Marchan replied. 'I am looking to join my own kind. I am no spy, for I have never been with them that I might work of them.'
'Very well,' said the captian. 'I will let you pass,' he paused, ' this time. There's something very strange about the whole thing, but orders are orders.'
They continued their journey. The road became better maintained and straighter, like military roads are wont to be. They met very few civilians in this area.
Finally one day came when Trevor pulled up and announced, 'As clear as I can make out, we've now reached the limits of the kingdom. This road, while build by our people into the reaches beyond, will lead us out of the kingdom. Except for incursions into the petty kingdoms beyond and in force, military men of our kingdom do not venture beyond this point. An ensign such as myself would most likely die at the hands of any of the random people out here.'
Marchan was surprised. 'So does that mean we must part ways?' he asked.
Dana watched as Marchan and Trevor ride out of the courtyard. She knew she would likely never see him again and already missed him terribly. When she turned she discovered Richard standing at her elbow.
'May I, my Lady,' he said. 'Trevor's copy will be quite useful to us and I thought you should see it as I open it. Come.'
Dana felt sad to have life forced on her again as she mourned the loss of her son. She turned and walked with Richard back into the office. As he read, she understood why he wanted this copy. It described in great detail the estates of Dana's grandfather and told of his son and little granddaughter and the little mole on her back.
'Is it still there?' asked Richard. 'This could prove to be enough, if you come, looking so much like a Lou of Lossington with the mole. Even your uncle probably wouldn't be able to claim against it.'
'Yes, that mole is still there,' said Dana.
'Well, that might be all we need then. Next we present all this before the King when he returns. Anyway, I think it's time I leave for my work.'
So he left. That day, the Duke took Dana and Magra out shopping. He told them to get nice clothing for each other and applauded their choices. Magra thought Dana got a frock much too nice for her, but Dana knew that Magra had to look good. Dana wasn't sure she completely liked the dress Magra picked for her, but the Duke said he thought it very fitting and in the latest style. When David and Samuel saw them in their new clothes when they returned to the carriage, both felt extra special. Dana was surprised by how much more attentive David was to make sure and give Magra help into the carriage and how Samuel bent a little extra as he helped herself in.
The Duke settled himself into the carriage with them and instructed Samuel to go to Kardin Square and a jeweller's shop not far away. At the jeweller's shop, they found one of Marchan's chess sets. Offered for sale at an extreme price. The Duke looked at it and said he was sure that Marchan had been given a very poor price for his work. The Jeweller acted offended.
'You suggest that I have deceived someone? I don't actually expect to be able to sell this set at such a price. My young artist did not warn me how much attention this set would bring attention to my shop. I have gotten so many people asking to buy it at ridiculously low prices, even less than half what I paid for it. They think that such things are mere dish rags. I set the price out to dissuade such rabble. For such an esteemed man such as yourself, I'm sure we could come to some better agreement upon price.'
'Oh, I'm not really interested in the chess set exactly. I was more interested in your tiara's for the young lady here.'
'Ah, it's a one of a kind set, the young artist assured me he would never make another just like it.'
'No, he most likely won't,' said Dana. 'I have the next one he made. It's inlaid with rubies and diamonds.'
'And emeralds and pearls and sapphires? I sold all those to him for this set. To think my jewels grace such a set. I am very proud to have dealt with such a young man. His workmanship is exquisite and so very detailed. But he can't have finished another one already.'
'Oh yes, he has. And has now left the city.'
'Ah, well, that's a great loss to the city to be sure. Talent such as that is beyond anything our poor city has to offer. I fain would look on such a set.'
'Anyway, about your tiaras? One loaded with jewels such as you sold the young chess artist, but not so much as to be gaudy?' put in the Duke.
'Oh, of course, my Lord,' said the Jeweller.
As the Jeweller disappeared into the back, Dana pulled the Duke aside and said, 'Why are you buying me a tiara?'
'So you'll look presentable before the King, of course. He is expected to return to the Capital any day now. We need you to look presentable. And I think you'll look good in a tiara.'
The Jeweller returned and held up a tiara. It was so beautiful that Dana fell in love with it immediately.
'Why do you want me presentable before the King?' asked Dana after the tiara had been purchased for about a quarter the price the jeweller originally asked and they had left the shop. 'It seems like a lot for you to put out.'
'Do not worry about it,' said the Duke. 'I want to make sure you make a good impression on him. If you make a good impression on him, he might be more on your side when he makes his judgement.'
'Really, now,' said Dana. 'Why do you care so much about my winning back my inheritance?'
'Partly because I want such a pretty face to be happy. Also, because of the principle of the thing. Your uncle has no right to be in your place, not to mention he's bad at it. I've done a bit of research. He's actually wasted about half your inheritance. Destroying property just because he can. And destroying his tenants in the process. It's a pity a man like that even got anywhere near power.'
They were back in the carriage threading their way back to Kardin Square. A large crowd had formed and Samuel was unable to make the carriage move quickly. Just as they entered the Square, a figure came running, threading its way through the crowd. As he got closer they could see he was little more than a boy, though nearly as tall as a man. He spotted them and ran directly up to the carriage.
'M'Lady, M'Lord, have pity on a poor b'y. They wanna lock me away. I ha'en' done anythin' wron', 'on'st,' he pleaded into the carriage.
Dana had trouble understanding him, but the Duke told Samuel to stop and opened the door. The boy was inside before David could step down to help him up.
'Now, who wants to lock you away?' said the Duke, noticing a group travelling through the crowd toward the carriage.
'Th'cops,' the boy said. 'I didn' do't. I didn'!'
'What do they think you did?'
'I didn' gill Mama Rita. Sh'jus' died. Fell over. I saw 't all. She was fine then she wasn'. But then they's'd I mussa kill'd her, but I didn'!'
'Mama Rita,' said Dana surprised. Marchan had mentioned her one of the nights they had had together.'
'You know of her?' asked the boy, a little surprised.
'Just what my son, Marchan, told me. He said he had met her through some other friends, Franna and, oh, I forget his name.'
'Peter,' the boy said, starting to calm down, which didn't last long as the police officers appeared outside the carriage.
'Peter,' said one of the officers, 'come with us. You'll have to pay for killing the only woman who took you in. You have no right to involve these nobles. I'm sorry, M'Lord, that he got into your carriage.'
'I'm not,' said the Duke. 'And I'm afraid you'll have to convince me of a few things before I'll let you take someone who as asked me for sanctuary.'
'We will charge you with obstruction if you resist us.'
'Oh, I have no intention of obstructing you, Sergeant,' said the Duke with a humourless laugh. 'You can be sure of that. First off, I'll have you know that this young man is a friend of a friend of mine. A few weeks ago, he met someone named Marchan who is a rather good friend of mine, which by the way makes him a friend of mine. Second, I am a Duke of the realm and a close friend of the King's, so that makes this young Peter here a friend of a friend of the King. I would say he, therefore, has a closer affinity to the King than you do.'
The officer who had spoken swallowed and looked a little less sure of himself.
'Third, I would like to point out that this young man says he didn't kill this Mama Rita and our justice system does not allow the officers to declare someone guilty.'
'Now, Peter,' said the Duke, turning back to Peter. 'As I said, I'm a Duke of the Realm. I'm also familiar with how things work among the people; however, I'm quite sure that you can go with these men without worrying about anything bad happening to you. You can be sure that if anyone hurts you before I catch up to you again, the sergeant here and his men will learn what hurt is.' While speaking that last bit the Duke narrowed his eyes and turned slightly toward the sergeant.
'Oh, nothing will happen to him,' said the sergeant quickly. 'Provided he doesn't try to escape.'
'Good,' said the Duke. He turned back to Peter, 'Do you trust me enough to go with these men willingly and not try to escape?'
'I trust her,' Peter said nodding his head toward Dana. 'If she says you can keep me safe, I'll believe it.'
'Oh, he can keep you safe,' said Dana.
Peter got down out of the carriage and allowed the officers to put shackles on his wrists.
'Now, one last thing, Sergeant,' said the Duke. 'You are expected to send a full report to the Duke of Quirnotol at his residence in the city, and you can be sure I'll know if it's incomplete.'
'Yes, M'Lord,' said the Sergeant.
Marchan looked at Trevor sadly. He knew that eventually they would have to part ways, but he had hoped it would not come so soon. Trevor pulled out his orders and read them again slowly.
'Hey,' he said suddenly. 'These order say nothing about stopping here. I'm merely ordered to escort you to the limits of the kingdom. What I do after that is not specified. As such, I will take the course that seems logical and correct to me. And that is to accompany you further on.'
'Do you mean it?' asked Marchan. 'Are you sure it's okay?'
'Actually, that was why the Cap'n wrote them this way,' said Trevor, breaking into a laugh. 'He knew I had no desire to return to the Capital any time soon. And that my father would punish me whenever I return.'
'What? Why's that?' asked Marchan.
'Well, you know of the document I retrieved from my father's study. Also, he gave me a sound beating the day he showed up at the Hall of Records. He knew that you were there when he saw the chess pieces I bought from you. Somehow he knew that a dwarf made them.'
'You got a beating because of me?' Marchan got out.
'Yes, unfortunately,' said Trevor. 'But don't worry about it. It's in the past. And I hope I'm better for it. Anyway, let's continue our journey.'
They journeyed onward. Very suddenly the roads all but disappeared. They went from wide streets paved with stone to what were little more than dirt paths through the wilderness. The paths wound around from here to there, meandering like river beds.
Eventually they came to a small walled town. There did not seem to be any fields around the town and when they knocked on the gate a burly man answered from atop the walls.
'And 'ho be you,' said the man.
It did not quite sound like a question but Trevor called up, 'Travellers!'
'Your uniform gives you away,' replied the man. 'You be an skirm'sher! To arms!' This last bit he yelled over his shoulder back into the town.
'No,' called Trevor. 'We're just peaceful travellers.'
'Not dressed like that,' said the man.
They could hear the sound of men on the other side of the gate getting ready for combat. Trevor looked at Marchan and then called up to the man, 'Very well,' and took a knife to his uniform, quickly shredding it to pieces.
'Hold on,' said the man loudly. 'Are you then a spy?'
'Hardly,' said Trevor. 'I've already let you know I'm a peaceful traveller. And you'll hardly let me into your confidence. But I don't want there anyway. I just want lodgings for the night and then I will continue my journey.'
'Aye, very well then. There's an inn down the road. They usually put up merchants and the like. Don't try to cheat the master of the house though, or we'll be after you for sure.'
'Thanks for the directions, and the warning,' called Trevor.
Marchan and Trevor continued down the road and soon found the inn. It was built in a defensive style, no windows on the outside on the ground floor, three wings around a central cloister and a wall covering the final side of the square. At first the master of the house looked suspiciously at Trevor's tattered garments, but welcomed them quite well when he saw their gold. They were brought into the common room while a room was made ready for them.
'Lovely looking world, isn't it?' said a short man coming up to Marchan.
'Eh? What's that?' asked Marchan.
'Lovely looking world,' said the man motioning to a painting on the wall of a beautiful grassy valley and trees on the slopes of the far side. Marchan immediately felt pulled into the painting. It was quite lovely.
'Why yes,' said Marchan. 'Is that not in this world?'
'What?' said the man. 'You don't recognize the work of an Ancient painter?'
'The innkeeper owns an Ancient painting?'
'Oh, this is a copy, to be sure,' said the man. 'But it's most definitely a painting of the Home of the Ancients. See the strange trees running in a line across the fields beside the road? The ones that seem to have some sagging line between them? Those don't grow on our world.'
'Oh, I didn't notice those,' said Marchan. He started to wonder where Trevor was all this time, but then noticed him in a corner talking to another stranger.
'I've travelled to many places,' said the man. 'But I've never seen such strange trees.'
'You've travelled?' said Marchan. 'Have you ever met any dwarves?'
'Terrible few,' said the man. 'You're probably the fifth I've ever seen. As far as I can tell your kind keep pretty much to themselves. I only came to talk to you because I figured you must not be like that to have a Man as your companion.'
'To tell the truth, I've not many any dwarves at all in my life. I don't know what they're like,' said Marchan. 'I'm looking for some just now.'
'Well, I couldn't tell you where to find any. I remember about a score of years ago seeing a small band of three pass through my home town. That's long way from here and proabably a bad spot to start looking anyway. Then a few years later a saw a couple in Listowell. I seem to remember hearing a rumour of an army coming to the aid of the Capital kingdom. You could ask them if you'd care to enter that kingdom.'
'We just came from there,' said Marchan. 'All their Hall of Records could find was that there was once Dwarven Halls far to the east beyond the bay of Chittay.'
'Oh, you've been in the uncanny kingdom?'
'Why do you call it uncanny?'
'Don't you think it odd that their current King has been on the throne for eight score and more years? That's what they say anyway. And they say he'll go on living forever. Not nat'ral, that's not.'
'Oh, I guess I never thought of it.'
'And there's these stories of doctors that can raise men from the dead. I'm wondering myself if their King hasn't been raised a few times himself. We calls them zombies where I come from.'
'I'm sure that's not it,' said Marchan getting a little uncomfortable with where the conversation might be headed. He decided to change the topic. 'And would you know a way across the Bay of Chittay?'
'Well sure,' said the man. 'Never been across there myself. All I've heard tell there's not much to interest a man. There's a volcano that spits out some liquid earth from time to time; other than that, nothing interesting. But if you want to get there, you can travel southeast from here and go south of the Bay and around to the volcano that way. Or you can go a bit northeast from here and come to a Eastport on the other side of the mountains. From the Eastport, you can maybe hire a ship if you've got the money. Or some way to pay for it.'
Just then, Trevor and the person he had been talking to came up to Marchan and the other man.
'Telling your tall tales again, Canod?' asked Trevor's companion.
'Sinter, my tales are quite true,' said Marchan's companion.
Sinter turned to Marchan. 'This man you're talking to is called Canod. He appeared in our village about six months ago with wild stories of all kinds of areas of the world. If you wish to listen to him, you're welcome to, but the villagers generally disregard him and don't much appreciate anyone getting him started on his stories. Most of them are quite impossible.'
'I see you've some dispute with him,' said Marchan. 'No worries, he wasn't telling me any impossible stories. I was just asking him how to get across the Bay of Chittay.'
'That I wouldn't recommend,' said Sinter. 'It's terrible out there. In fact, to get there you have to cross the mountain range. Winter's coming on and you'll freeze to death. And if you do get past them, there's not much on the other side, from what I hear. Nothing but a few small towns of fisherfolk.'
'That's as may be,' said Marchan. 'But that is where we're going.'
'I can lead you as far as Eastport,' said Canod. 'I was there, once, in my wandering days.'
'Was that when you could fly like an eagle?' asked Sinter somewhat sarcastically.
'No, that was after I'd lost my cart,' said Canod.
'Listen,' said Trevor. 'I'd prefer not to hear the tail end of some story. How about Canod, you come sit with us as we have our supper?'
'Why, I'd love to,' he said.
Sinter looked at Trevor disappointed and walked away disgustedly. The three sat down and asked the serving wench to bring them supper.
As they were seated, Marchan realised just how small Canod was. He had nearly as much trouble as Marchan getting into a chair. Marchan looked over at Canod inquisitively.
'I've never met a full grown man as short as you,' he said rather bluntly.
'To be sure,' said Canod. 'I'm not exactly a full grown man. I'm not of the race of men. Or maybe I am. Anyway, all the people in my home town are much shorter than your friend here. I'm about average height for that neighbourhood. I ran away from home and have been looking for a new home since.'
'Interesting,' said Marchan.
'So, are you willing to guide us over the mountains?' asked Trevor. 'You seem to know how to reach the Bay of Chittay and even have an idea how to get across it. I must admit, I do not have the foggiest idea of anything outside the Capital Kingdom.'
'I dare say you don't,' said Canod. 'First off, you might not want to let on so easily that you're from there. The locals all around here are generally consider the kingdom and its people arrogant and dislike or fear them. They do accept merchants and the like, but you're dressed up as soldiers and bear all the arrogance on your shoulders. You'll do well to be a little more humble and keep your tongue quieter.'
'Hmm, I see what you mean,' said Trevor. 'We've other clothes in our packs that are less military looking. And I'll try to take your advice and not hold myself as I've been trained.'
'Good, now,' said Canod. 'The next question is whether you have money. I don't know how you were travelling inside the kingdom, whether on the King's purse, or what, but you'll not get much help from anyone here. They'll want gold and the more you have, the more they'll find things to charge you for.'
'That should not be a problem,' said Marchan. 'We have enough for a little while, and we know how to get more should the need arise.'
'Good,' said Canod. 'Then I think you've got yourself a guide as far as you are willing to take me. I don't claim to all the ins and outs of the land from here to the Bay, but I'm willing to show you as much as I know.'
They finished their supper as Canod told them a bit of the lay of the land ahead. They agreed to his plan to head east by north east toward Eastport and attempt to hire a ship. He assured them the lands to the south of the Bay were dangerous now and they would most likely be waylaid often.
They bedded down for the night and in the morning when they were go settle the bill, the innkeeper gave a low whistle when Marchan pulled out his sack of gold to pay him.
'You need anything else? A new saddle or something?' the man asked, eyeing Marchan's sack. 'I can get you a good one easily enough.'
Canod spoke up, 'No, Balsillie, your guest has a plenty good saddle. You've been well enough paid. Don't bother him any more. You might actually get a repeat customer if you leave him alone.'
'Aye, I might at that,' said Balsillie and moved off.
The three of them mounted their horses, Canod taking the horse that had been the pack horse and they were soon on their way. Once they were out of town and earshot of everyone, Canod pulled up beside Marchan and said, 'Fool. You should never let on in these parts that you have more gold than you need to pay the current man. Letting anyone know you have any money makes you a mark for theives and conmen. Balsillie saw how much you have and will let others know that a rich dwarf is travelling through these parts. We'll be harrased for days to come. If we can even hold onto your gold.'
'There's a quick fix to that then,' said Marchan as he dropped off his horse. Trevor reined in and turned his horse to see what Marchan was up to. Canod reined in as well. Marchan walked over to the side of the road and, pulling out a small spade, which had been one of the gifts from Samuel, quickly dug a small hole and dropped most his remaining gold into it. He quickly put the earth back into the hole and patted it down. He carefully looked around and then, crossed the road. He found three stones, each the size of his head and placed them in a triangle pointing into the forest away from the road. He then walked down the road twenty feet and marked an X on a tree with the sword that Martug had given him. He clicked his down and his horse came up to him.
He mounted and said, 'There, I've very little left to steal. The three of us, know where this is and can return to it should the need arise. If we need more gold as we get farther away, we now how to get more. This will be our stash in this neighbourhood.'
They continued their journey. Within a couple of hours, they heard hoof beats behind them. They turned off the road into the forest. Horses came abreast of where they were. They appeared exhausted, even to Marchan's novice eyes, as though they been ridden very hard beyond their abilities. The men on them were armed and had their swords out. 'We must be close now men,' called one of them as they passed, but Marchan could see that the men were getting tired of the pursuit.
The three of them, still unmounted continued through the woods, paralleling the road. They walked slowly and reasonably quietly listening for the pursuers returning. Within half an hour they heard them return. They were travelling much slower this time and their swords were sheathed.
'I'm going to kill that Innkeeper!' said one.
'Not if I get to him first,' said another. 'Sending us on a wild goose chase. There's nowhere they could be along here. The road ahead is empty as far as the ford which is hours more in distance. Unless they rode their horses are much faster than ours.'
'I say string him up by his guts, said yet another. 'Let him feel some real pain before he dies.'
'Aye, he'll feel pain all right,' said the first.
They passed out of hearing and the three travellers returned to the road and continued their journey, hurrying their mounts this time lest their pursuers find where they left the road and followed their trail through the woods. None of them was a woodsman and the horses left tracks in the soft soil. Within 10 minutes, they crested a hill and saw on open plain before them. The road went quite straight and they could see all of it down to a ford many miles ahead of them. Nothing moved on the road, it was completely empty. Grasslands stretched in all directions, except behind them, as far as the eye could see. There was no where to hide should their pursuers return.
A day or two later, Dana, the Duke and Richard went to look up Peter. He looked well rested and fed.
'Hi,' he said to them. 'This place is great. At least for me. Some of the other prisoners are having a rough time though. I'm probably the best off person here.'
'So you're doing well?' asked Dana.
'Well, I'm sure our work is suffering. The girls can't carry the loads of earth that I bring in. Also, there's no one to protect them. Mama Rita gave me that job. I was to be their brother and guardian. Now there's no telling what manner of unsightly behaviour might be going on.'
'Yes,' said the Duke. 'How if I send someone to help them? I've got any number of gentlemen I can spare.'
'Well, sir, I would take that as a kindness. The girls, they can do pretty much anything for themselves, but some men think they're ptuibaten and would force themselves on them if they haven't any man around.'
'I'll send one of my men as soon as I get home again,' said the Duke. 'I've no stomach for such wanton behaviour.'
Dana turned to Richard, 'Can you help this young man's case?'
'I would need to know the facts, first, madam,' he said. Then, turning to Peter, he added, 'So what has happened?'
'Mama Rita, our mother and protectress has died. A sad day for so many people.'
'Okay, Peter,' said Richard. 'How did she die?'
'It was time for her to go home. That's what she said,' said Peter. 'See, her ancestor died a few days ago. The time had come. Then Mama Rita started bemoaning that she had no living relatives. See, she hadn't any children of her own. When we tried to cheer her up with the thought of all the children she had helped, she just moaned all the more. Then, once when she was alone in the house with me, she turned to me and said that it was time for her to go home. Within half an hour, she went from a healthy woman to this scrawny, shrivelled up woman. And then, she died. She kept saying how happy she was that she was going home.'
'Strange,' said Dana.
'That she could die that way?' asked the Duke.
'No,' said Dana. 'The other day, when we met you in the square, Peter, you were talking like you couldn't put a full word together, and now you're using all kinds of educated sounding words.'
'I was scared and excited that day,' Peter said. 'Today, I'm relaxed and can remember my lessons at Mama Rita's knee. She taught us all, took us right through from our letters to our numbers to advanced calculus, history, chemistry, and sociology.'
'She was an extraordinary woman then!'
'I'm not sure she was a woman,' said Richard. 'I met her that day with Franna. I seem to remember some suggestion that she was very old, much older than even the King himself. It was like standing beside a pool whose very bottom is deep beyond reckoning.'
'That may be,' said the Duke. 'I've heard in our family tree are some who live almost forever. Hundreds upon hundreds of years. Some cousins of ancestors that are still alive today and were alive in King George's day, five centuries ago.'
Peter looked a little frightened. 'I was brought up by some kind of ghoul you mean?'
'No,' said Richard. 'Most certainly not a ghoul. You know how good she was. There's no denying she was a good person. Remember her goodness and ignore anything else.'
'Hmmm, yes,' said the Duke. 'She was a good person. No need to fear anything about her.'
'So, why would she have never said anything about it?'
'May hap it never came up, or she thought you would figure it out on your own.'
'Well,' said Dana. 'What's to be done now? It's no good leaving Peter in gaol, is it?'
'No, certainly not,' said both Richard and the Duke. Dana almost laughed at the way father and son sounded so alike.
Richard continued, 'So, why are they claiming you killed her? Did the police claim you poisoned her or something?'
'I think they were saying I put some kind of hex on her. I don't know any hexes or curses that do such things.'
'I'll get to the bottom of this,' said Richard. 'It's ridiculous is what is is.'
He left the cell and called for the warden. The three still there talked about the kinds of things Mama Rita had taught Peter. Dana had never heard of some of the types of math, but his knowledge of history was obviously superior to anyone Dana had ever talked to. When the Duke asked him about George and the founding of the Kingdom, Peter went on for sometime telling them interesting and sometime rather outlandish things about the adventures of the Founding King. Some of it sounded quite fanciful, but the Duke told her that what he related was what was in the history books, though in some cases, Peter seemed to know a few things that the Duke was quite sure weren't in the history books.
Eventually, Richard came back. 'They're being stubborn,' he said. 'A hex, a curse or the evil eye. They seem to believe anyone can just look at you and cause you to have horrible luck, even shrivel up and die. And to prove that it's possible they use Peter as the example, even though that's their only instance. I'll have to come back with an order from the King to release him. I'm sorry, Peter.'
'Don't worry about me. I've got some time to think here. Not doing all the time. Just, Your Masterfulness, if you could send a man around to help protect the girls, that would ease my heart considerably.'
'Don't you worry, there'll be a man there within the hour,' the Duke told him.
They left the place and when they returned to the Duke's house, Richard, Samuel, Martug and David all went to Mama Rita's house. The Duke had Magra instruct the cooks to make them something to eat. He then sat before the fireplace and told Dana to sit with him.
'Tell me, my dear,' he said. 'What do you think of him?'
'Him?' said Dana, afraid of whom he might be talking about.
'Him, my son,' said the Duke. 'I've noticed a certain glow on your face when you're with him and especially when you're talking to him that isn't there when he's not around. I've also noticed him smiling and looking dreamy when he thinks he's alone these last few days. Much more than I have ever seen him.'
Dana's fear had been right. 'I think he's a good man,' she said. 'Why do you ask.'
'And well,' said the Duke. 'I would like grandchildren from my son son one day. I would also like to see him happy. And also to see you happy. You've already become like one of my own household. I remember your story of the first husband that your uncle gave you, and how your Jonathan was a perfect gentleman with you. You've no children... that is to say, we have to think of your future. Say you regain your father's duchy. Then you could have any man you wanted, but you wouldn't know that that man was not merely interested in your money, and could very well treat you like your uncle's relative. I would like to see you with someone considerably better, and if my son isn't a quite gentle with you, you can be sure I would censure him severely.'
Throughout this speech the Duke was looking nervous and had changed the pace of his voice quickly and running through it.
'I don't know,' Dana replied. 'Don't you think he should say something to me first?'
'Well, that could be sense, except I taught him to talk to the Lady's guardian first. To avoid the family having an issue with him, to respect that guardian, and to hear from someone who knows her heart a bit more. When my daughter's friend decided he wanted to be with her, he came to me before saying anything to me. And right he was to do it. A previous friend of hers had tried to talk to her first and turned out to be a scoundrel. Anyway, after hearing the friend the came to me, I talked to her about it and then told her he was welcome to join us at family meals for a while to get to know her better.'
'So,' said Dana. 'You're not coming to me as your son's advocate, but as my guardian?'
'Well, my son didn't feel right in approaching you directly. Nor did I. I am certainly not your guardian. I...'
Dana interrupted him, 'Yes, you are,' she said. 'I'm glad you placed yourself there. You've provided so much for me. I'm quite sure you and my father and my grandfather would be friends. I don't think I could ever thank you enough for taking us in and bringing us here, and then helping me regain my father's duchy. And now to guard me from men who would desire to take advantage of me. You have been too much.' She felt tears well up in her eyes, but she continued. 'If your son is half the man you are, I would be happy to be with him for the rest of my life.' She smiled as tears did start down her cheeks. 'I didn't think he would be interested in a woman who is twice widowed.'
'My son does not believe in bad luck like that,' said the Duke.
'No, that I'm not... that he's not the first.'
'Don't worry about that. He fell in love with you hearing your son tell him about you. He knew 'a woman like that is worth her weight in gold.' (Those were his words.) He also told me that when he saw you he decided that Marchan had no idea how beautiful you were since he had never mentioned you were even pretty. Ah, but now I think I'm advocating for my son. I should let him do that. Shall I tell him that you would be willing to let him suit you?'
Dana nodded. She was sure that her voice would not come, so she did not even try.
The bivouaked that night without a fire halfway to the ford. They had travelled all afternoon across the plain, but had been able to make it only halfway to the ford. Looks were deceiving and the plain made the ford look accessible after a mere afternoon stroll. They weren't even sure they were half the way there yet. It might still be a day's journey or more to the ford. They weren't quite sure. Canod said he had come another way from the mountains that was more roundabout and had never been on this plain.
The next morning they woke to brilliant light. The sun coming up over the mountains ahead of them was glinting off the snow on their peaks. Trevor grimaced and said, 'It'll be winter soon enough. We'll have to hurry to avoid getting caught in the mountains.'
Canod nodded, 'I've been in the mountains in winter. It's not fun without a place to stay. Travelling through is nasty. Still I'll lead you as best I can.'
They started out, Marchan tired as his sleep had been interrupted by strange dreams. The horses plodded on and they did not seem to be going anywhere, the mountains were ahead, the ford was ahead, there was a small strip of dark green on the horizon behind them to mark the forest which had gotten smaller as they travelled the previous day, but now seemed to stay the same size. After an hour, nothing could tell Marchan they had moved at all.
Eventually the yellowed grass started getting thicker and they noticed wet patches on either side of their trail. Canod said they must have gotten to the same level as the river. The trail continued straight as sight. Whoever had built it had done a lot of work to make it straight. It did not skirt the web patches, which as they went on got bigger and started to look boggy, but rather was built over collections of round tubes that passed underneath, letting water pass without affecting the trail. The trail itself was about a meter wide and seemed to made of a deep black substance that was not affected by the weather. The hooves clopped on it as the horses continued their measured pace. The result was so soothing that eventually Marchan fell asleep and fell. Trevor and Canod had trouble not laughing at him, but he smiled good naturedly and remounted his horse which had stopped when he fell.
Just before sunset they finally arrived at the ford. The road appeared to go right through the river. Marchan could see the strange black trail surface continue into the water where it was covered by sand and then contined up the other side. It was almost as though the little tubes below it were missing in this little section. Marchan didn't think about it too much but just urged his horse to follow Canod's as his walked right out into the water.
Unfortunately, Marchan's horse decided it didn't like the dark water and stopped. He urged it again and it spooked, reared dumping Marchan on the ground, and bolted. Trevor turned his horse and followed Marchan's until it settled and he was able to catch it and return with it. As this was happening, Canod had reached the middle of the stream, when suddenly they heard a loud noise of water rushing and Canod urged his horse on. The river suddenly swelled and rose. Marchan had never learned to swim and so balled himself up against the rushing water as it came through the grass to him. He tried to hold his breath and felt the water roll him over and over again. He was just reaching breaking point with holding his breath when the water stopped and was gone. He lay on the wet grass, panting. He heard horses and men coming through the grass. He rolled to see them and discovered it was not Trevor and Canod. Any thought of fleeing evaporated as he jerked and discovered new pains all over himself. The men came up to him and one held a sword at Marchan's neck as another tied him up.
Marchan soon found himself carried through the wet grass, back upstream to the ford. He didn't know who had captured him, nor why. He didn't much care as he was in too much pain to care about it. His carriers put him down on the road and others were bringing Trevor and the two horses down the road. Apparently he had been far enough away. By this time, it was getting rather dark, though Marchan could see everyone, each one glowing as if by his own light. He looked around as best he could without hurting himself, but he could not see Canod.
'Who are you?' asked Trevor, 'And where are my friends?'
A man near him hit him, but another spoke as if with authority. 'Light the torches. Perhaps the other one will come to the light.' Marchan had trouble understanding the man as he seemed to speak very peculiarly.
Torches were lit and soon Trevor saw Marchan tied on the ground. 'What have you done to him?' Trevor exclaimed and started to run to Marchan.
'Back you!' said one and pushed Trevor down.
The leader spoke, 'He was washed away in the flood of water. Don't worry, he'll be fine, as long as no one does anything rash. Now, tell us your business for being here.'
'We're just travelling through,' said Trevor. 'Our guide led us here.'
'And where are you heading?'
'The Bay of Chittay,' said Canod, as he came into the circle of light. 'I am their guide and I will answer for them.'
'Oooh, and who might you be,' said the leader of their captors mockingly.
'Oh, no one at all, I assure you,' said Canod, 'but these are guests of your master Roger son of Crighton of the line of Gordon. You would not want your master to think you were mistreating his guests, nor their servants.'
'Ehh, now why din' ya say so,' said another of the ruffians, his accent was worse than the earlier speaker's.
'Ehh, Ah jus' deed.' said Canod. 'Ah wa' washt'way bah th' wat' 'n' jus' go' ba'.'
After a bit more talk, of which Marchan was unsure he understood any, they were mounted on their horses and led across the ford and upstream to a tower. Inside the tower they found a large room with a roaring fire and a large supper.
The fire made Marchan realise he was cold and he started to shiver. The ropes tying him started to chafe his arms and legs as his shivering caused them to rub. The Lord of the Tower saw the new comers from his dias.
'Whataya there, Duncan?' he called out.
'Trespassers, M'Lord,' replied the leader of their captors.
'Guests of Roger son of Crighton!' called out Canod.
'Well which is it?' called a jester by the wall. 'Indeed,' he continued, 'if they be trespassers, that implies they be unwelcome, but if guests welcome is as welcome does.'
Marchan was surprised to discover that he understood the jester perfectly. Almost everyone else when making so long a speech was almost completely unintelligible. He pondered that as a debate arose around them between Canod and the captors, much to the amusement of the Lord of the Hall and his companions. The debate finally ended when the Lord of the Hall turned to Canod and said something that Marchan later understood to mean that Roger son of Crighton was in the gaol below the tower and Canod and friends would join him if they wished to be his guests.
Canod considered this news for a second and annouced, 'For myself, I do wish to be the Lord Roger's guest. I am fond of him and he was kind to me the last I was here. Unfortunately, I am also responsible for those I am guiding that I teach give them the best they can get.'
The Lord of the Hall considered this and said something which Marchan later heard translated as 'You are a poor guide to lead your charges into as simple a trap as we have let upon you. But you have not been here recently if you think Roger is still Lord here. I am Lord here. You I will put in with Roger and your charges will be my guests.'
Canod was led away. As he left he called over his shoulder not to worry and that everything would be fine soon enough.
Now Marchan and Trevor were alone with people whom they could not understand. The whole interaction had been from beginning to end (aside from the Jester's words) a confusion of strange words. One of their captor's men came and started talking to them, but they could not understand and after some attempts at comprehension, both sides fell silent. Marchan and Trevor were put in a corner with a guard, untied and given food and water. As they looked they saw about the room signs that a good man had lived there. The walls were painted with beautiful and uplifting scenes, some of them Marchan recognised from stories his mother had told him. Some of the most beautiful and uplifting had been hacked with knives and blunt objects. On some were splashed rotting foodstuffs. The new residents of the Hall cared very little for their new house.
After a while, the jester came near them and capered a bit for their guard. By this time the feasting had quieted down and most of the feasters were starting to retire or find places on the floor to bed down. The jester did a twirl and suddenly had a small tube in his mouth. He blew through it and their guard started to sink down like he had fallen asleep.
The jester came over and held the guard so he still looked alert, then spoke in low tones to the travellers.
'You are from Turrisple, no doubt? I recognise your speech, for I once spoke it myself, and still do from time to time to amuse. It is very strange to the ears of those who live here and they find it funny. I love my Lord Roger and desire greatly to free him and I think with two warriors such as yourselves we can, if you are willing. Your friend well describes my Lord Roger when he says he was kind. He is kind to all. And that proved his downfall. The ruffians took advantage of his kindness to them and locked him up. Some few of his servants are still at the ready, but we are not warriors. Alas, the warriors they killed or trapped.'
After over an hour of hearing only a strange tongue the familiar speech of the jester was quite refreshing, but its content disturbed them.
The jester quickly explained that he had blowguns for each of them and sufficient darts to knock out many more men than there was in the place. Each dart had been dipped in a sleeping fluid he had gotten from the alchemist. He would provide them with blowguns and the three of them would use them to make sure the sleepers stayed asleep, and then they could take out those who were awake.
Marchan and Trevor agreed to the jester's plan. They didn't know what was going on, but things seemed to be best if they did some work to help the former Lord of the Tower to regain his place. The jester provided them with their own blowguns and they waited for the fire to burn low. It didn't take long and the room was dark. They crept forward and went to each sleeping form and blew a dart into each man's neck. Each man would wake a bit and then fall into a deeper sleep. It did not take long for them to be sure everyone still in the main Hall was not going to wake up.
Then they expored the side rooms. These were very dark, but with the help of a smouldering brand from the fire, they were able to give enough light to each room to be able to see if there were a sleeping form in it and to despatch each such form to deep and dreamless sleep. No one woke as they continued their work. Marchan always seemed to be able to see sleeping figures where the other two were unsure. After what seemed hours, the jester led them into a passageway past the stairs. There were still men awake this way. They seemed to be having some kind of game in a room where the fire still burned brightly.
Trevor, as the only one trained in moving silently, crept forward and peeked into the room they were in. He came back to report that there were six men in the room, apparently playing knucklebones.
The jester said, 'We could take out three with a quick blow each, but then the other three would be upon us. I might be able to reload, but I doubt you too could. On the other hand, I could walk in there, they most likely would not suspect me. But I do not know of anything I might do, once there, to change our chances.'
'How about asking for a couple of them to give you a hand, or something?' asked Trevor.
'They would not lift a finger to help me,' said the jester. 'I am not at all loved.'
'May hap, we could free our people below without alerting these men and then come upon them unawares.' suggested Marchan.
They decided to try going back to the stairs and descending to see what was below. The jester was unsure that this would work, as the gaol doors were loud and would ring out, awaking anyone who had not been drugged.
'We will see,' said Marchan who had his own ideas about opening prisons.
At the bottom of the stairs, they found it quite dark. Marchan led the way, as light seemed to him to flow from themselves and show him their surroundings. Soon they reached a small door past which Marchan was sure there were people but was not sure of anything else.
He slowly turned the door handle, it did not creak or make noise as he did so, but he was sure it would have if he had moved quickly. He opened the door millimetre by millimetre and when it was open a crack he peeked through. Beyond the darkness continued, but he could see, as if lit by themselves, three figures. They were guards, sleeping in their chamber. He continued to open the door slowly and whispered to the other two to wait, then entered and drugged each of the guards. He brought his companions into the chamber and led them beyond to another door. This one was locked. They searched the guard chamber but were unable to find a key.
Marchan found a stout, but long, metal rod. One end had been flattened. This end he slowly wedged under the locked door. Then he took another piece of metal and shoved it under the rod partway along its length. His companions could hear him moving about the room, but could not see him as their ember had gone out. He slowly pulled the outside end of the rod down, and could hear the door bit by bit be lifted off its hinges. His companions heard it also and realising what he might be doing stood by the door to receive it so it would not fall making any loud noise.
The door came off and they laid it aside. Inside the room beyond Marchan could see two figures sleeping beside a covered fire. One of the figures he recognised as Canod. He went in and stirred up the fire and soon had it burning bright enough for the jester to gasp at the sight of the other figure. He said it was the Lord of the Tower, but that he had been beaten badly and lost much weight.
Marchan told them to wake them and left the room again. He went back upstairs and found in a dark room a pot and filled it with water. He returned to his companions and set the pot on the fire to warm. With the warmed water they bathed the wounds of the Lord Roger while they filled him in on the happenings.
The Lord Roger was grateful for his new rescuers, but realised there was much still to be done. When his jester explained that Marchan seemed to be able to travel around in the dark, the Lord Roger looked over at Marchan.
'Ah,' Roger said, looking closely at him in the low light. 'You are a dwarf. I had assumed you were a child. Now that Stee Vohn has said it, I see that you are a dwarf.'
'What did he say, sir?' asked Trevor.
'That your friend can see in the dark. It's a trick of the dwarves. All dwarves can do that,' said Roger. 'The Ancients made them able to see in the dark.'
Marchan fell silent. He had noticed that other people couldn't see things in the dark as easily as he could, but had not thought it was a special thing to dwarves. He looked up. 'You know of dwarves, sir?' he asked, hopefully.
'You are the first I have seen in a dozen years or more,' was the reply. 'There once was some traffic between here and the dwarf city east of here beyond the Bay of Chitay. When I was younger, I journeyed there and learned a few things about them. I am glad to see that the dwarves are abroad again.'
'They're not, that I know of,' said Marchan. 'I have never seen one of my own kind. I was rescued from a battlefield as a babe.'
'Oh, we will talk more about this later. Right now, we must remove the remaining enemy within my tower. Can you gather weapons for my men. That will probably be the best way to allow us to retake the tower and if you can go around without torch light and go silenty that will be a huge advantage to anyone else going.'
Marchan nodded and walked away. He went back upstairs and scoured the rooms they had been in for weapons. Suddenly, he heard the sound of yelling. Apparently, one of those still awake had found one of his drugged companions. Marchan rushed back downstairs with the weapons he could carry and discovered a man in the guard chamber. He set down the weapons on the floor and readied his blowgun and tried to shoot the man, but heard a man behind him, coming down the stairs. He turned and shot the newcomer, who fell as the drug overtook him. The man in the chamber, however, came running out with a torch at the sound of the fall. Marchan stooped and raised a spear so the man had to stop short to avoid it. Marchan stepped forward and poked the man's belly. He dropped the torch on the ground where it started to smoulder and drew his sword. Marchan tried to poke his belly harder, but the man swiped it aside with his sword and rushed in too close for the spear to do much good. Marchan dropped to his knees and took a full punch into the man's upper leg. He fell on top of Marchan who grabbed a knife that he had laid there and slit the man's throat.
Suddenly, Marchan realised what he had just done. The supper he had been given suddenly reappeared on the floor before him. When he was finished, he dragged himself across the guards chamber, opened the door again, released his friends and sat down. The warriors came out and Trevor found him on the floor.
The Lord Roger found the man with the slit throat. He came back to Marchan and Treover, 'You are a warrior now, child. I will forever be in your debt. When we have regained what is mine I will give whatever you need for the quest you are on. In the meantime, rest. You have done enough.'
The men left, picking up weapons in the hall as they went by. Trevor went with them, as did Canod. The Jester found Marchan in the guardroom and lay down beside him.
'I shall now play leech,' he said. 'You are a new warrior and the best that I can do, unfortunately, is to drug you and let you sleep it off. If you didn't find your first kill like this I would question your sanity. Men who kill without remorse are the worse type of men.'
He pulled out one of his darts and pricked Marchan's skin with it and Marchan knew no more.
Dana was hidding in her room. She feared what could happen. Richard had decided to start his suit on this night and had come in with flowers for her. They were actually rather pathetic, drooping down like they had been out of water far too long. Dana guessed that Richard had never tried to pursue a woman before. He really had no idea what he was up to. He was, however, quite sweet and gentlemanly. She decided to brave whatever might come. She was sure he would become himself again after his initial embarrassment wore off. Poor Magra was feeling redundant and in the way. Dana would have to tell her she was doing wonderfully.
The night did end up going well. Richard had relaxed after a while and Dana had enjoyed his company on a moonlit walk through the gardens of a near by park.
The following day, news reached them that the King was indeed returning. He had sent ahead many of his courtiers to prepare for his arrival. It would be at most two days and he would be in the city. Richard raced back to the Hall of Records to be sure that all the work would be done before the King's arrival. The return of the King's Recorder would start them off again with large amounts of work copying, recopying, error checking and filing the new bits of history that had happened on the King's journey. All must be findable by the King when he asked for a particular piece of it.
Dana felt piqued by his sudden departure. He could not have been as interested in her as she had thought. True, she did not want him to be a failure at his job. It just annoyed her and made her feel that his job was worth more to him than she was.
That evening he returned and brought sweets. He was no longer embarrassed and was quite manly. She found the time with him made up for the time he was away. It could be she had underestimated what she wanted.
The next day was again a whirlwind of emotion as Richard spent the day at the Hall of Records making sure everything was in order for the return of the Recorder and the evening with her. Part way through the evening, the Duke sought them out.
'Ah,' he said. 'I thought I might find you alone together. I have some thoughts that I would like to share with the two of you.
'While I did my part in bringing you together, you seem to have lost no time in binding yourselves fast together. I'm afraid your emotions are running very high right now, and I think you're already imaging a wedding day. You're much too far forward thinking of that. It's now time to be just enjoying each other's company and discovering each other's likes and dislikes. It just happens that I know both of you better than anyone, so I'm going to pop a little quiz.'
With that he seperated them into seperate rooms and told Dana to wait while he went into the room with Richard. Dana wondered what kind of quiz he could mean. She waited with increasing impatience. She wanted to be near Richard.
The Duke entered after a while. He sat down near her and started asking strange questions about her hopes and desires, and about Richard. She discovered that the answers to many of the questions she had never thought about. At one point she felt despondent about ever knowing Richard. His father knew him so much better than she did.
'Well, well, well,' said the Duke after a while. 'I see that you are in quite a state with my son. You have answered correctly in many cases by saying that you don't know. That is well. If you had guessed, I would have known. I see that you are for the most part, understanding how well you know him. Well, I'm an old worrywart, apparently. I'll leave the two of you alone for now.'
'How well did you expect me to be able to know him after only 2 evenings together?' asked Dana.
'About as well as you do,' replied the Duke. 'What I was afraid of was that you might be thinking you knew him better than that. I am quite glad to see that my fears were unfounded. Your dreaming is not even outside of healthy if I can read you aright.'
At that minute Richard came in. 'Father,' he said. 'Do you think maybe you were being a bit too much of a busybody? Or maybe interfering?'
'I dare say. I apologise. Apparently I was. I'll go to bed now, I have a meeting with the King tomorrow.'
'How did you arrange that?' Dana asked. 'He isn't even in the city yet.'
'I have ways and means,' said the Duke. 'You are to come with me. Please dress your best. That's why I bought that dress and jewelry for you, not to please my son.'
He went out. Richard and Dana looked at each other and laughed. 'He's a bit stranger every year,' said Richard. 'Sometimes he comes up with the strangest things to do. The fun part is I might do the same when I have children.'
Dana was flabergasted. 'You would do this to your children?'
I dare say I might,' said Richard. 'I am my father's son. Anyway, you'll likely need to bed yourself early. I will say good night now. Please do not worry about this now. I am sure I'll handle it better when I am on the other end. I will see you in the morning.'
In the morning Dana had Magra help her dress in the most extravagant way possible. The Duke would be pleased with what he saw. If he was not pleased, it certainly was not going to be because Dana had not done her duty. When the two of them arrived for breakfast, Richard, Martug, David and Samuel all stood to their feet and Richard wore a huge smile.
Martug stepped forward, 'My Lady, you are dazzling. Allow me to say, you are a very beautiful woman.' He pulled out her chair and stood behind her as she sat. David pulled out Richard's seat and stood behind him as he sat. Samuel looked around and stood behind his master's empty seat.
The Duke came in a few mintues later and accepted the seat that Samuel pulled out for him. He looked at his son and said, 'You are going to be at the Hall of Records today? Good, I may send David to you to get the document we discussed yesterday.'
'Of course, father,' Richard said. 'I will have it ready.'
The Duke ate his breakfast and then looked at Dana. 'That dress does become you,' he said. 'The King's courtiers will certainly believe you are a duchess. Come it is time to go.'
They left the table and Samuel had the horses ready in an instant. David and Martug assisted them Dana, Magra and the Duke into the carriage and stepped onto the back in their place while Samuel mounted to his place. All were dressed as best as could be. They were going to see the King.
The trip to the Palace was not very long. The Palace was at the center of the city and all the noble's houses were in the ring just outside of its gardens. No ne of the nobles had to go far to reach the Palace and the Duke's house was close by the front entrance. Dana wondered who might have houses near the servants' entrance. Perhaps those who served in the Palace? She probably had learned when she was a child, but that was now seemingly long ago.
The Kings of the city were not like other men. The first King, George, had married a Fey, a princess of the Elves and by her had a son Gareth who reigned for over a hundred years before passing his kingdom on to his eldest son and departing to lands unknown. Each king thereafter had reigned a long time, though shorter than his fathers, and did not have any children until age had caught up to him. Then one King had had only a daughter, his queen dead giving birth. The daughter, Bedua by name, was just reaching adolescence when her father died. Until that time, the kingdom had passed into the hands of the eldest son, never had a daughter, though older than her brother taken the throne. Bedua's cousin, son of her father's next oldest brother, tried to take the throne as doubt crept in.
Bedua, however, had good friends who rescued her from her cousin who desired to marry her to help validate his claim to the throne. They exitted the city by night and built the first of the barracks which in Dana's day encircled the city. To those barracks they gathered all the women they could find and taught them in a few days to fight for their Queen. For they knew that they could never hold as their own anything, if the Queen could not hold the kingdom as her own. After some days, they invaded the city and took the Palace from Bedua's cousin, and she reigned supreme.
When time came for her to marry, she found the eldest child of the eldest child regardless of gender, all the way back to George and Gareth. He happened to be a young unmarried man, a leader of his peers, a captain in the army. She offered to make him King if he would marry her. And so a King and a Queen ruled in the City once again. Their union produced Claivon who had now ruled over the City for three generations of men. He had lived longer than any of his forebears, except perhaps Gareth who had departed. Already in Dana's time, Claivon's eldest child, a daughter, had passed away, leaving a son for Claivon to train as future King. But he in turn had already become old and his daughter in turn was already dying. Her son in turn, now but 50 years of age, it was expected would be the next King, if Claivon remained but 2 decades more.
Dana knew all this, but she did not expect to be met at the gates of the Palace by an old man. The man was not decrepit but stood erect. His wrinkles and hair the main pointers to his advanced age. His clothing was that of any nobleman, and he wore no sign of office.
'My good Duke!' he said to Dana's companion, his voice still quite strong. 'Long have your family served me well. I owe so much to you. And who is this lovely young lady you bring to me? You did not have a daughter the last I heard.'
'No, M'lord, she is not my daughter. She was the granddaughter of the old Duke of Loussington. The daughter of his eldest son. Her father was Duke for a short time, but after he died, her half uncle claimed the seat for himself and she is now here to reclaim her place.'
'Oh, this is a travesty if true. We must hold court and have a judgement on that. Call her half uncle, if he still be alive, and gather what evidence you can. We will get to the bottom of this today.'
'But now come, tell me what other news. How is your son, Richard is it. Has he met this young lady?'
'Indeed, he has. He has asked permission to court her.'
'Excellent, mayhap there will be some babies to come.' Dana felt herself blanche and the King continued. 'Ho hoo, don't be embarrassed my dear. I desperately need more children of the right kind. Our dear Duke's son is definitely the right kind. He does not stand on ceremony on claim that his position as Duke's son entitles him to anything. If even a tenth of my nobles were of that kind, I would not fear so much for my kingdom. As it is, I fear. I fear greatly that my kingdom will soon be an oppressive empire. Already I can see oppresssion on the faces and backs of the peasants. Already I can see men desiring to be nobility so that they might live at ease, and so many nobles living as though they had no responsibilities. It's so sad. If I could be a father to the nobles and the nobles a father to their people, the kingdom would be a wonderful place. But many of the nobles will not allow me to talk with them. I remember your grandfather. He was such a kind hearted soul. It was a pity when he died. And your father, I remember your grandfather's son. He was just such a man as I would desire to lead my people in peace. Sigh, your uncle, however, I have never known. I met him but once. He spurned me as I tried to talk to him. I have not the power to force any of the nobles to my wishes. Your uncle is not the worst of them, but I will not miss him when you take his place. But we must hold court to show the other nobles that he holds his place unjustly.'
Dana was surprised that such an old man could talk so much and seemed not to mind standing for so long. She, herself, was starting to wish he would offer somewhere to sit. She shifted her weight.
'Ahh, my dear, I am so rude. Come let us sit on a bench not far from here. I see you are tired and your patron here and I have so much to discuss.'
He led them to a bench in his gardens. Dana noticed that there were various people walking about, doing various garden chores, and realised they were all dressed similar to the King. Were the King's gardners all nobles?
The Duke noticed her gaze. 'Each one of the people in this garden (aside from Samuel, Martug and David here) is at least a Baron,' he said. 'I myself worked here when I was younger. My son, however, has proved himself more able at working in the Hall of Records. It is the privilege of the nobility to serve the King.'
'Yes, there's another thing that's missing. Some are refusing to serve. There are Barons, Counts, even a few Dukes who refuse to come and serve me. Those who refuse to talk to me but are willing to serve are just as bad. They are expecting me to give them orders and don't understand suggestions, nor are they willing to give me their creative gifts. You see this garden? I only keep here those who are willing to talk to me. I trust these men and women. The children of those who once talked with me, or my forefathers, but who themselves won't talk with me, I keep close but not this close. They are given tasks that don't require any creativity, or hard labour. I try when I can, to talk with them, but they refuse. Anyway, my good friend. I need to discuss the political situation on the frontier with you.'
The conversation suddenly became much less interesting to Dana. She did not understand much at all any more.
When Marchan woke up he discovered himself under mounds of blankets. He slowly crawled out from under them.
The sun was shining with the strength of midday. The windows of the
room he was in all faced south and the fields, covered in whiteness, reflected back the sun's light.
Marchan looked around and decided the room must be a guest room in the tower.
The walls were sparse, but had a few paintings on them. Marchan did
not recognize the subjects. There was a dresser on one side which must be
quite low for men but was still rather high for him. On it stood an
ewer and a large bowl beside a towel. Marchan went over to it and found the ewer was full of water.
He poured some into the bowl and washed his face in it. It felt good.
He was just finishing when he heard a soft tap on one of the doors. He approached the door
as it opened and a man came in. The man, seeing Marchan, tipped his head down
and held out the clothes he was carrying. At that point Marchan realized that
he was a little chilly and not wearing much so he approached and with the
man's help put on the clothing. It was of a strange cut, but fit him
The man said something in the local language, but Marchan was unable to understand. Then the man
beckoned and they left the room.
The man led Marchan along a hallway and then down some stairs into the hall where Marchan and Trevor had first been held. Lord Roger was sitting on the dias and noticed them come in. He stood and called Marchan forward. On the dias, sitting with him were Trevor, Canod and the Jestor. Everyone else in the hall stood when they noticed that Lord Roger was standing.
'I am greatly in your debt, young master dwarf,' Roger said. 'These three have told me of your activities last night and I remember your rescuing us last night. Welcome to my home. You are my guest as long as you need to be.'
Marchan bowed. He was rather embarrassed to have all these men standing for him. He took the empty chair on the dais, which had extra pillows on it so he could comfortably sit up to the table and speak with his neighbours. The Lord Roger sat again and everyone followed suit.
A feast was laid before them. The Lord Roger spoke to Marchan, 'We were saving this for the Fall Rejoicing, but your arrival and saving us and our people from that brigand has got us into a truly festive mood. We decided not to wait for the Fall Rejoincing.'
Marchan bowed as well as he could from atop all those pillows and focused his attention on the food. There were many things that he did not recognize, but the baklava and tabulie got his mouth watering so he was willing to try the rest and found he liked it.
After the meal the Lord Roger took Canod, Trevor and Marchan to a smaller room where they could relax a little more. Roger was very interested in Marchan's quest.
'You would be well advised to stay here for the winter. The birds are flying south and the nights are getting colder. I suspect a very cold winter.'
As Marchan was digging himself out of snow one morning he wondered why he hadn't taken that offer from Roger. Canod had led them up into the mountains, well provisioned from the Lord Roger's stores. At first they had had good weather, but then a storm had struck, then another and then another. They found the easiest thing to do was to create snow forts and wait out the storm. No one, not even Marchan, could see as the snow blew around them. It wasn't easy to build the snow fort, but it cut the wind down and they were able to huddle together and their ponies to keep warm. Trevor had it worst. His larger body size meant more space to lose heat. When they stopped among trees that they could burn a fire helped considerably. The days they could walk were sunny but very cold.
One cold sunny day, they came across a small house in a valley with smoke curling out of its chimney and falling down over the roof and disapating as it fell to the snow aroudn the roof. The snow piled up around the house. They walked around looking for a door. Eventually they found a hole in the snow that took them into a tunnel that led to a door. Trevor knocked. They waited a little while then Trevor knocked again, then opened the door. Beyond them they could see an mostly empty room with hay scattered around. They went in and saw another door on which Trevor knocked. This time they heard voices beyond the door and a man came to the door.
The man was thin and his face pasty. His hands rough. As soon as he saw them he said, 'Travellers!' then opened the door a little farther and motioned them to come in. 'Come in, come in!' he said.
They found themselves in a kitchen. Around the wood stove in rocking chairs were a thin woman and a girl. Beside the woman was a younger boy huddled and on the girl's lap was a small child cuddled into her. The woman spoke, 'Here, let the travellers warm themselves by the fire, Joanna. And get some water so I can make them some tea.'
The girl rose and motioned to them to take her chair, while the woman also rose and offered her chair. The girl then lifted a bucket of water and poured it into a small kettle which she placed on the stove.
Meanwhile, Trevor spoke to the man, 'Our ponies are freezing,' and before he finished his sentence the man spoke up.
'Let's get them into the stable then. Come and we'll get them,' and he put on his coat and boots and left with Trevor.
Marchan stood close to the stove and warmed himself. They hadn't been in such a snug place for months. Slowly he felt the life come back into his hands and arms. He looked over at the young boy hiding behind his mother's skirts. Marchan smiled at him and then spoke to the woman.
'Thank you for your hospitality, Ma'am', he said. 'My name is Marchan. This is Canod and Trevor went out to see about the ponies.'
'My name is Joan. My husband's name is Pedro. This is Joanna, Micheal and my baby Sam. I'm sorry we don't have much to offer you,' said the woman. 'I'll prepare what I can.' She turned to Joanna and said, 'Please start turning the mill, dear. 'We'll need more flour to make enough bread.'
The girl nodded and went to a cupboard and scooped out some grain and a small hand mill and pouring in some of the grain started grinding.
'Oh,' said Marchan, 'We have provisions, you needn't bother.'
'You are our guests,' said the woman. 'I could not not offer you something.'
'Why thank you,' said Marchan.
Just then Trevor came back with Pedro, carrying some of the provisions. 'Look Joan, let's feast with these folks tonight,' said Pedro. He opened one of the packages and out came dried fruits, sausage and cheese. Joanna's face lit up and Trevor said, 'Yes, let's feast a bit. Our provisions have been lasting longer than we expected and we're not worried about running out before spring now.'
Marchan nodded and so did Canod. They were tired of rationing their food.
The meal was a cheery one. The company was quite welcome and their
hosts were gladdened both by the company and the different food.
Apparently they had been subsisting on bread made from fresh ground
wheat that they had grown the summer before. They had some seed potatoes
and other garden seeds, but that and the grain was all they had left,
besides a bit of salt and spices. Even their cow had dried up for the
After the meal, Pedro pushed back his chair and asked about their
journey. He admitted he had not seen such a travelling group for many years.
Few enough journeyed over the mountains and fewer still were willing to
stop at a house in the hills, lest it be a theives' hideaway.
Marchan started, but his grasp of the language that Pedro spoke was
still rudimentary. Canod helped when he could, being the only person
in the room who could speak both languages fluently. Marchan described running
from the village he grew up near and meeting with a great lord in the
Kingdom of Teh, how many people of that kingdom treated dwarves
and his flight to the Great Capitol, his meeting with Richard and
Trevor and their help in finding that there once existed a community
of dwarves east beyond the Bay of Chitay.
Trevor picked up the story and described their quest from the Great
Capitol past the borders until they had met up with Canod who picked
up the story and described their climb into the mountains.
Pedro looked long at Marchan after Canod desribed Marchan's ability
to see so clearly in the dark. At the end of their tale he said to
Marchan, 'In the morning, if you could help me with something I'd be much
obliged would be glad to help you on your journey as best I could.' Then turning to
Trevor and Canod as well, 'Anyway, you are all three welcome to stay here
a few days to rest up. The sun is returning from her marches in the
south and the days are getting longer. You'll travel faster if you get some
rest and the storms should be easing up soon.'
The thought of staying for a few days was a great comfort to the travellers
but Marchan wondered what kind of help that Pedro was hoping for. The
conversation though turned to what lay ahead of them. Pedro had travelled both
ways out of the mountains. Eastport was still a little north Pedro said
they had only one more pass to climb and then they would come to a river
and they could follow the river down from the mountains and the river
fed into the Bay of Chitay just a few miles south of Eastport.
Trevor asked about canoeing down the river to Eastport. Pedro thought
there were a few falls and rapids as you went down the river, but they were welcome to try.
In the morning Pedro took Marchan, Trevor and Canod outside and around
behind the stable. The sky was bright, but Pedro said they had best hurry
as there was going to be a storm later in the morning. When Canod
looked at him, he pointed to a small dark cloud in the north east.
'That, is currently out over the Bay of Chitay. It's gathering up
water out of the bay and growing bigger. It'll be here before the
sun is around to the south of us.'
The three travellors looked at each other. Being able to predict
when a storm was coming would be a great help for them. They would
be able to make preparations before it hit.
Pedro led them to the base of a cliff and dug about in the snow
until it suddenly gave way under him and he fell into a cave. The
other three rushed down to see if he was okay, but he stood up and
brushed himself off. He took out a torch from his backpack
and lit the torch with a match. The cave was not particularly high or
wide (Trevor had to stoop and they could only go two abreast), but it went some distance under the cliff. They followed his
torch the cave started to show signs of widening, and that someone
had worked the stone, making the opening wider here, leveling the floor
there. Nothing particularily noticable by itself, but together giving
Marchan the impression someone had been coming in and out of this cave
After a time, Pedro stopped. The cave had widened a little bit
though it was still rather low. Pedro had them sit in a circle and
said, 'Just past here a wind comes from every which way and blows out
my torch. I am unable to get a match to light in the wind. I do not
know how much further I have to go before the wind dies and I do not
want to continue lest I fall and am unable to come back.'
Marchan immediately knew what Pedro wanted: someone to explore the
cave who didn't need a torch. He nodded to Pedro and asked, 'Why do you
want to continue exploring the cave? Is there something down here?'
'When I first came to this valley, before I even met Joan, I think it
was twenty years ago, I was just travelling through plying my trade as a
tinker looking for customers. Well, there was some elves staying in the valley
and they saw me and invited me to join in their meal. They weren't
interested in any of my wares. They said they could get better pots and pans
that never wear out and are a pleasure to clean. Well, I asked if I
could buy from them, and they refused me. When I asked where they got
them from, they pointed at this cave and said they make them from the
taitaim in this mine. Then they laughed at me, and said they were
familiar with the ways of my people and I was welcome to have any gold
that's in the mine, I just had to bring it to the surface. Well, I'll
tell you. I've done my utmost since to find that gold. I brought Joan
up here on the promise of gold and it's a wonder she hasn't left me. But if you'd help
me, I would finally be able to fulfil my promise to her.'
'I see,' said Marchan. 'I've little use for a lot of gold myself
right now as I'm travelling, but I do feel I need to pay my guide, Canod here.'
Canod looked up, he had been translating for Marchan and Trevor all
this time, but hadn't really thought about the travellors receiving a share in the gold.
'Oh, of course,' said Pedro. 'I don't know how much gold there is down here, but we will all share as
we see fit.'
Marchan stood up and took the lead, Pedro still carrying the torch behind him
and Canod and Trevor behind him. Suddenly the cave widened out and a
stiff breeze blew on them and the torch went out.
Marchan paused as his eyes adjusted to the new light level. He turned
and could see his companions just fine. They seemed to glow in their
own light. He slowly took a look around the cavern they were in. It
was huge. He could see old scaffolding on a far wall with ladders allowing
passage from one level to the next. There were large boulders here
and there strewn throughout the cavern. His companions started to
make noises of uncertainty and Trevor spoke up.
'So, can we move forward, it's really weird not being able to see
'Careful,' said Marchan. 'The ground just in front of you is rough,
and uneven. One step at a time. That's it. High steps will look after
everything that's just here. Oh, feel that? The breeze has died down again.
You may be able to light your torch again, Pedro.'
Pedro pulled out his matches and tried to light the torch, but it
would not light. There was still too much air movement. Marchan walked
them several more steps forward up to one of the boulders. When they
were in its lee, Pedro was able to light his torch again. The four of
them looked around the cavern from this vantage point. They could see
nothing that looked like gold. Marchan decided to try his luck looking
around the cave without his companions, while they went
around the cavern with the torch. Marchan from time to time found
seams of mineral in the mine, but it lacked the liveliness of gold.
The others searched for some time, but eventually had to give up since Pedro said
he was sure the storm would be starting soon after they returned to the
surface. Marchan grabbed a few pebbles and stones from the floor of the
cave and after leading them back through the breeze waited for Pedro
to relight his torch and then followed him out of the cave.
Before they reached the surface, the wind started to howl in the
cave and blew out the torch, but there was enough light from the
entrance that they didn't need Marchan's help. When they finally got
out of the cave, the light seemed queer, like a very heavy storm cloud
blocked the sun. They hurried as best they could but barely made it back
to the lean-to before the storm hit them. They were trapped back in
Months of life in the Capitol had passed. The King had brought court
on behalf of Dana and returned her Duchy to her. Richard had asked for
her hand and she had accepted. The time was good, except that Dana missed
Marchan more than she believed she could. She felt it worse when she
looked at the chess pieces he had made for her. She admired them
for they were truly wonderful craftsmanship, but that was not why she
treasured them. They were the best for reminding her of her son.
Month after month went by and winter came on. She would not visit
her estates until spring, and in the meantime there was a wedding to plan.
So much work to do.
Peter had been released relatively quickly and had become an assistant
to the Duke out of gratitude for Richard's work in getting him released.
Peter proved to be quite able to take on the largest tasks, though
sometimes he didn't know his way around either the city nor how the
beaureaucracy worked. The Duke often kept him up at night talking of
calculus and genetics. One day the Duke mentioned to Dana that he
hoped Peter would be able to engineer a power station on his estates and
Dana had had to admit to him that she did not remember what a power station was.
"You've seen a water wheel? It turns as water flows past it
and it turns cranks and gears which might for instance turn a miller's wheel.
Well, if instead of turning a miller's wheel, we could turn something
called a turbine, we can produce electricity, like the Ancients had.'
'Electricity?' Everyone knew about electricity, it was what
caused lightning and thunder in the clouds and the Ancients had mastered
it in the Ancient world. Could mere mortals master it as well? 'Do
you think you can?' Dana asked. 'It's a very dangerous thing. I've
heard the Great Enemy Chloris tortures his slaves and prisoners with it.'
'I dare say he does,' said the Duke. 'But that's not what I'm going
to do. I want to use it to make some of the things the Ancients had.
Peter is very knowledgable in many of the things the Ancients had.
I'm sure with some good work we can build some of their devices. He's
even mentioned to me that they had ways of talking long distances nearly
instantaneously. If that's so, think of how that would help my King!'
'Do you think you could do that?' Dana asked. 'Maybe I could talk to Marchan again,
wherever he is...'
'Well, from what I understand we would have to get one of the devices
to him, but I guess it's possible,' said the Duke. 'I'm going to go
talk to the King about some of these ideas. He asked me to bring you
along if you were up to it.'
'The King asked for me?' Dana was surprised.
'Yes, as a matter of fact, he told me that you brightened up his
day when we visted him in the garden back in the Autumn.'
Dana glowed. She could feel the blood coming up into her face.
They entered the Duke's carriage and set off for the King's Palace. The
winter was reasonably mild, but still cold enough that the snow crunched
under the wheels. They rode in silence for a while, and then the Duke
'I am glad to have you on this trip. My King is a very demanding man.
And, unfortunately, he's coming near the end of his life. Don't look
at me like that. He's been King for a very long time. He's must pass
on at some point. His son and heir has already done so, and even his
granddaughter is so old that she's unlikely to hold the throne for
any amount of time if our King should pass on first. I love my King
and would prefer he remain for many more years, but all men and women must eventually
approach the Throne of Judgement and either receive Mercy or not. The
King has asked me and my son, your fiance Richard, to become executors
of his estate when he does that. He should see who else will be
carrying the weight of that. His heir, whether his granddaughter or
great-grandson will become the next Monarch, but we will have the
burden of seeing this King's wishes carried out.'
'The burden?' Dana looked at her future father-in-law wonderingly.
'Yes, he's started giving me instructions, his will if you will.
I'm reasonably sure that they will often come into conflict with his
successor's. But I am sworn to execute my King's will. It is only
by his orders that I can do anything. The really interesting part is
that by the constitution of the kingdom it's only by the executor's
sayso that the next Monarch is crowned. But no Monarch has ever seen
it like that. And you married to my son, who's foresworn the same as I have,
will also put you in the middle of any and every conflict. It won't
ever be easy, hearing a Monarch saying nasty things about your husband.'
'You're scaring me,' Dana said in a whisper.
'I know,' was the reply. 'And that's why I'm telling you all this now.
You love my son, but you do still have the option to pull out of the
marriage if don't think you can handle it.'
'And abandon him?' Dana became fierce. 'Never!'
'That's what I wanted to hear. Now, also the King will have some
things to say to you as well. I'm not sure what all he will say. Ah,
here we are.'
And they were.