Chapter twelve: The Dwarfen Kingdom of Barlendure
Come the morn the companions gathered their things and rode from the marshes headed southwest over the Tawz River and into the Jarleime jungle careful to avoid Fagie at all costs. Fagie was the home of the Zarquilen a cannibalistic peoples whom, though small in number, were extremely dangerous. Not even the bravest knights of Hain Oringard would dare brave a fight with them.
At one time the Zarquilen had lived near the Tribes of Taine, Galam, and Ubear. They had been peaceful and had established trade with their niebors. They were a small tribe and so were seen as no threat. The passing of five years however brought a dramatic change. The Zarquilen declared open war on all three of its fellow tribes, seemingly without any cause. Sheer suicide, for what hope could such a small tribe have against the Taine, who were at the time the largest and most powerful tribe on the plains, let alone its brother tribes united with it. But what the Zarquilen lacked in numbers they more then made up for with speed and intelligence. They proved to be brilliant strategists. They also possessed an almost insatiable blood lust, coupled with this they possessed weapons the likes of which none of the other tribes had ever seen. Duel swords with long, slender, black blades that could shred through a man like wet paper.
Despite the efforts of the united tribes the Zarquilen continued to advance dealing out heavy punishment. In the end there was only one course for the three tribes to take. They ambushed the Zarquilen by night slaughtering all except twelve who managed to escape. Among the twelve survivors was Zallacron one of the tribe’s best warriors. By unanimous vote he was elected the new chief of the Zarquilen and his first act was vengeance.
The next night the Taine hosted a victory feast. True more then some of them were sickened by the underhanded course of action they had been forced to take in the end but their families were safe again and that was all that mattered. After the festivities had ended Zallacron and two of his fellow warriors crept into the tribe of Taine and kidnapped chief Folcrain.
The next morn Folcrain’s head was found in the open land between the three tribes. Below it, in the chief’s own blood, was written,
We ate him
Word of the grisly message and fear of the Zarquilen spread through the country like a brush fire. For a while the three tribes feared that they would return to claim more victims, they never did. Zallacron and his tribe settled in Jarleime and named their new home Fagie, which in the common translation is Blood born, from where they hunted and feasted upon unwary travelers.
Once clear of Fagie the companions traveled with greater ease. Riding west they soon came in site of the Karzendarn Mountains and the gate of Barlendure. Well at least were the gate was said to be. The gate of Barlendure had been designed to blend with the rock face of the mountain so that it would not be found, save by those who knew where to look. And Drell knew exactly were to look. He rode up to the mountain and called out,
“Keepers of the mountain we have traveled far and we seek an audience with your King!”
“Oh? And what if we refuse?” called an unseen voice from the mountain. Drell shrugged
“I should warn you not to be so rash and to look upon this before you make any costly decisions” Drell pulled the Dragon Eye stone from his beneath his leather armor and held it up for all to see. Laughter erupted from the mountain and the lone voice sounded above it
“Ha! And what exactly is that supposed to be?” Drells voice hardened
“You know damn well what it is and what it is capable of” again the laughter sounded.
“What if I do know what it is? It makes no difference you cant use it”
“Are you willing to bet your life on that?” the laughter stopped. For in truth they could not be curtain that he was incapable of using it. Again the voice came.
“You threaten us with death but I would like to see you try and touch any one of us while you are still outside of our walls, whether you can use the stone or not” Drell shook his head
“You shall not die by my hand but by the hand of your King if you do not allow us through”
“And how do you reason that?”
“Think about it guardian of Barlendure. No doubt the King knows of the stones absence. If he finds out someone came here with the intention of returning it and you turned them away. Just how angry do you think he will be? Further more if I, a Shamera, was able to locate your main gate do you not think I might know other ways also?” A few moments of silence passed and the Gate of Barlendure slid open to allow them entree.
Drell rode in at their head, the stone still clutched tightly in his hand. The antechamber they entered was vast and round. The ceiling rose upward and disappeared into the darkness. The floor was an intricate mosaic depicting The Feast of Four Kings, a great and famous event in dwarfen history.
Several hundred years ago the dwarfs of Karzendarn had been divided under the rule of four feuding families. After the death of King Alsgron the Good there was great debate over who would succeed him for he had left behind no heir to his throne. Four of the richest lordly families put forward their candidates for the throne. Drasfer of the Mountain Tamers, Edrikal of the Ironforgers, Boremear of the Twin Hammers, and Nazer of the Wells. In the end they split the kingdom between themselves. After twenty years of nothing but fighting Boremear Twin Hammers had had enough. He invited the other three to his castle at Barlendure. There they made peace on behalf of their families. Drasfer, Edrikal, and Nazer supported Boremear as true King and chose Barlendure as the new kingdoms capital. The other three became the first members of the Counsil and would later found the High Counsil. A year after the Feast of Four Kings the three councilmen created Vandrazmarn the Law City by combining their three lordoms.
Drell looked upon the mosaic for long moments then looked away to take in the rest of the chamber. On the opposite wall stood three doors. The center one, the largest of the three, lead to the inner keep and on to the city. The door to the right of it led to the ironworks and there into the mines. The remaining door led to nowhere, a tunnel that wound on and on and eventually led to a dead end, a trap for invading forces. Above the doors, high above, stood a railed ledge with many doors leading onto it. Two staircases led down from either side of the ledge onto another smaller ledge that wrapped all the way around to the front of the chamber where the battlements stood. From this second ledge two more staircases led down to the main floor.
Dwarfen Knights, in heavy armor and chain mail, hefting spears lined the second ledge and filled the floor of the chamber. The different colored plumes upon their helms revealed their rank and all wore the same stone-faced expression. The grand center door opened to reveal two more lines of Knights, who filed in then stood aside to allow a lone dwarf to pass. He was young with a glossy black beard and eyes like to the color of green ice. Over his armor he wore a deep blue tunic adorned with two crests. The first and largest was that of the Twin Hammers, two war hammers crossed and held together with an iron ring. The second crest was smaller the image of a crown and an ax, the royal crest. The dwarf approached followed by two more knights; he came to a stop before Drell and nodded by way of greeting. Drell bowed
“Are you the King of this mountain?” the dwarf gave a small barley discernable smile and shook his head.
“No that title is not yet mine, I am Gorlon Twin Hammer my father is Zorn King of the Mountain and I ask that you hand over that stone and be on your way” he held out his hand. Drell squeezed the stone and held it to his chest
“I am sorry Lord Prince but I shall deliver it to your father and to no one else” Gorlons face turned to stone.
“Then give it to me and my father shall receive it” Drell shook his head. Gorlon went red. “Do you question my honor? Do you dare think I would take the stone for my self?” the knights standing near him tensed.
“No my good Prince I am not in the habit of assuming such things. However I find my self trusting my own eyes and ears better than those of others. If I deliver the stone to your father personally, as I intend to, I will know that it has gone to whom it was meant to and was not tossed ideally aside. So if you would be so kind to show me to his Magesty” Gorlon crossed his arms over his chest.
“And what if I were to tell you to go to the Abyss and take the bloody stone with you?” Drell sighed
“Then I shall tell you what I told your men. You know what this stone can do and you cannot be sure that I don’t know how to use it. If you make any attempt to attack us I could activate it, kill you all and force my way through to your father. Are you willing to gamble your life over a stone?” Gorlon stood in silence, as did his men, as he contemplated this. His face twisted in frustration as he realized the truth of Drells words.
“Captain” he called over his shoulder.
“Yes sir” replied a red plumed dwarf as he came to stand behind his Prince.
“Go fetch my” Gorlon stopped him self, groping for the word he wanted. There was a word he did not want to use in reference to what he wanted and he wished to find another, but there was none.
“Go fetch my… brother” he said the word as though it were poison and watched as the Captain bowed and departed through the grand doors.
“Brother? I was under the impression that the King of the Mountain had only one son” Gorlon scowled
“I am his only son, sort of. You see he isn’t really my brother he’s…” Gorlon sighed, “Never mind you’ll see when he gets here” he lapsed into silence and refused to say anymore. Half an hour passed in wait for the Captain. Gorlon stood with his arms folded facing the door. Most of Redtree’s Knights had dismounted and were now milling about the chamber. Drell and Loroedor remained on their mounts and patiently waited for the arrival of the prince.
Fifteen minutes passed the half hour footsteps sounded in the tunnel beyond the doors signaling the Captain’s return. All the knights stopped in their tracks and turned to face the doors. As the doors opened and the Captain strode in all gawked in disbelief at the figure that followed behind him.
Drell rubbed his eyes for surly there had to be some mistake. But upon a second look there could be no mistake. The figure walking behind the Captain was, an elf. An elf wearing armor like to Gorlons and a deep blue tunic with the same two crests. An Elfin Dwarf Prince, if Drell had not seen it he would not have believed it, nor would anyone else he imagined. He was peculiar looking for an elf and Drell had never before seen the like. He had an almost sickly pallor, like to that of a man who had never lived in the sun, but he appeared in good health. His hair and eyes had the same pallor. His hair was long and flowed freely over his shoulders. His eyes were wide the pupils nearly swallowing up the iris, another adaptation to living underground which was unusual territory for an elf. His ears were also unusually wide, almost like a bats. As he approached he had a knowing smile upon his face, as if he were used to this kind of reaction from foreigners. He bowed,
“Greetings I am Valorn youngest son of Zorn King of the Mountain” Gorlon snorted and turned to his Captain.
“It took you long enough where the abyss did you find him?”
“He was on the training ground sir practicing his archery” again Gorlon snorted
“I should have known,” he muttered. He then spun on his heel and barked
“Well I have more important things to do than banter further with terrorists so I leave them to you Valorn. Take them to the King, where ever he is, and be done with them” with this Gorlon departed through the grand doors with the Captain and the other Knights that had come with him following. Valorn sighed and turned to Drell
“Forgive Gorlon for his harshness I know you are not terrorists”
“Oh? And how did you come to that conclusion?” Valorn smiled.
“A group of terrorists would not have given options or ask to deliver something personally”
“But an assassin would” said Drell again Valorn smiled.
“Assassins don’t travel in such big groups. They don’t want to be seen. Believe me you would be a rather stupid group of assassins if you allowed your self’s to be seen by so many and then kill the King. You would be walking to your own deaths. And once more assassins travel by night, much safer that way. The only reason Gorlon called you terrorists is because his fat head pinches major arteries, blocking blood flow to his brain” a mild chuckle passed through out the dwarfen Knights that remained and Drell smiled.
“You are vary wise Prince Valorn and you are right we are not assassins or terrorists. I assure you that if your men had remained steadfast I would not have carried out my threats. I simply did not see any other way to go about securing the co-operation of your men” Valorn nodded
“I understand, now come I shall take you to my father” Drell, Mina and Loroedor dismounted. Valorn gazed about, “You there take their horses to the stables” the dwarf charged with the task looked frightfully at Nerohain. Drell saw this and smiled,
“Have no fear, he shant harm you as long as you do no harm to him”
“There you see you worry for nothing, now do as you`re told” said Valorn who watched as the dwarf called two of his fellows to help him. “Now that they`re taken care of please follow me,” Valorn turned and led them toward the grand doors. Beyond the grand doors was a vast tunnel lined with torches. The ceiling above was pierced by murder holes and half way through there was a heavy iron door that could be activated by a hidden lever at the vary end of the tunnel. The tunnel stretched deep into the mountain for longer then Drell had originally thought and ended with another set of double doors, which Valorn pushed open with ease.
“My Lords and Lady welcome to Barlendure” a gasp passed through out the party as they beheld the cities grandeur. They stood upon a stone bridge that led out onto the city square, an enormous column of stone that rose up from the floor of the massive mine shaft that made up the city. Valorn led them across the bridge into the city square so they could get a better look. Railinged ledges and outcroppings of rock that lined the shaft made up the streets of the city. Doors to homes and shops were made of wood while those that led to other tunnels were of iron. Stairwells littered the walls of the shaft leading up and down to all the different levels. Three other stone bridges, like the one they had just crossed, led out from the square to the city it self. Drell leaned over the rail and looked down to behold yet more levels and stairs, more stone bridges leading to other sections carved out of the stone column that they now stood atop.
“This is amazing,” breathed Loroedor. Valorn smiled,
“That’s exactly what I said when I first arrived here. Only I used many more words” thinking of Valorns strange presents here Drell turned to question him. Valorn raised a hand to stay him,“I know what you want to ask me sir Drell and believe me my father can explain it far better then I so let us move on” Valorn took the north bridge and began leading them through the streets of Barlendure. As they passed few stopped to take notice of them. They bowed respectfully as Valorn passed but then did not bother to cast a second look at Drell and his party. Drell lost count of how many stairwells they climbed before reaching the door they were looking for. It was larger then the others, cast in iron and banded with gold. Valorn pushed it aside to reveal yet another tunnel.
Unlike the first this one branched off in many places but Valorn lead them strait on. Presently it opened into a grand hall lined with columns and doors like to which they had passed through earlier. Chandlers of crystal hung from the arched ceiling lighting the hall with a shimmering radiance. Aristocrats of varying rank milled about the hall and bowed low as Valorn passed. An iron-bared gate at the end of the hall stood open, beyond it was the castle of Barlendure. Carved out of an enormous quarts crystal the castle of Barlendure was full of sharp angles and jaunting points. It was unlike anything Drell had ever seen before and he was awed to silence, as were the others. Valorn had gone a head to confer with a guard. He returned,
“My father is not here. He’s in the observatory, this way” he led them to another iron door on the right side of the cavern. Beyond this was another tunnel that ended in a silver ladder, so tall that Drell could not see its end. Without hesitation Valorn began to climb and stopped when he realized no one was following.
“Well come on its up this way. Its perfectly safe I assure you and its not as far as you may think” again he began to climb, this time Drell went up after him followed by Loroedor and the others. The ladder came to an end on a wide landing with two doors. One bore the image of a star, the other was bare. Valorn made to open the door with the star only to have it done for him by a Knight coming out. Seeing the Prince the dwarf bowed and departed through the unmarked door. Valorns eyes followed the Knight as he left.
“That was one of Gorlons men. You can bet that he has just finished telling my father that I bring him a group of terrorists. But I wouldn’t let it concern you. Father knows how given to exaggeration Gorlon is, come” he led them through the now wide open door and on to the observatory.
The observatory was a round chamber of grand size. Charts covered the walls and books littered the floor and tables. In the middle of it all was enormous brass Star Glass. Not far from the Star Glass was a large iron rod connected to an immense steel shutter in the ceiling. The shutter was open now and the Star Glass was pointed to the fast darkening sky above. Standing at the Star Glass`s eyepiece was a dwarf with salt and pepper hair and beard. He wore comfortable deep blue robes lined with black and adorned with the royal crest. Valorn approached him and bowed
“Father” the dwarf turned. His face was kind with dark brown eyes that appeared uncharacteristically somber. He nodded to Valorn then looked to the companions.
“I am Zorn King of the Mountain, so you are the terrorists” Valorn shot to his fathers side,
“No father, they” Zorn raised a hand to silence him.
“I know my son don’t worry I know” he stepped forward to stand before Drell. “I understand you have something for me, well let’s have it” he held out his hand. Drell nodded, removed the stone from his tunic and placed it in Zorn’s waiting hand. The Kings eyes widened then settled on Drell
“Where did you find this?” Drell explained about Minas capture by Blood Fox and his band, her rescue and the discovery of the stone in the bandits camp.
“Once we realized what it was we decided to bring it back to where it belonged, where it would be safe” Zorn nodded as he silently contemplated the stone, “We also wanted to know how it could have possibly fallen into the hands of bandits,” Zorn thought for a few moments more, switching the stone from hand to hand.
“We had a human merchant come through here not too long ago. It was during the winter and the weather was harsh. He had lost his way and was nearly frozen to death when one of my men found him. Some of his wares were lost in the snow and without them he would loose a great deal of his prophet. So I told him he could help himself to a few things from the treasury. I sent a guard with him of coarse to make sure he didn’t make off with anything too valuable. He must have taken the stone while the guard had his back turned or something. These bandits you speak of must have robed the fellow the merchant sold it to, or the merchant him self it matters not really. But I am glad that you saw fit to return it. I shudder to think what might have happened had this fallen into the wrong hands” he placed the stone in a pocket of his robes. Loroedor stepped forward
“Begging your pardon your highness but I don’t see how that would worry you. For even if the stone did fall into the hands of evil they couldn’t possibly use it” Zorn looked up at him.
“Don’t be so sure young elf. It is true that the stones were designed to recognize and respond only to their true masters. But there is a possibility that those with the blood of Arnon and Haiyat flowing through their vains could also activate the stones”
“But the Dragon brothers had no offspring” said Loroedor. Zorn shook his head.
“You can’t say that for sure” Loroedor stood muted, as did the others not understanding what the King meant. Zorn sighed, “Think about it. Arnon was a soldier and I have yet to meet a soldier that didn’t sow some wild oats at least once while off duty. And Haiyat was away from home for a long time. Mage or not he was still a man like any other and no doubt he met some rather attractive women in his travels. So you see it is quite possible that one or both of them spawned a son or daughter who could use the stones to their own ends” a deeper silence settled upon them, clearly this was something they had never thought of before and the truth of it frightened them. To their complete surprise Zorn bowed to them
“I am grateful to you all for returning the stone to me and I would be most honored if you would dine with my sons and I” Drell smiled and returned the Kings bow
“With an invitation like that how could we possibly refuse your highness?” Zorn straightened, grinning from ear to ear
“Wonderful in that case follow me my friends” Zorn made his way to the ladder and began to descend.
“Well? Come along, I’m already at the bottom what’s taking you slow pokes so long?” called Zorn, his voice echoing up the shaft. Valorn laughed and followed after his father. Loroedor smiled and hurried after him
“Come along” said Drell as he climbed down after his brother.