The sun was setting, and you could still make out the weary travellers on their cart, laden with cloth, spices, food and ale, but mainly money that they had acquired from trading in the market town of Prokvist located within the Second Province ruled by the warlord Two’Bit. The travellers on the cart were dwarfs heading home to theFerralMountains.
Driving the pony-tethered cart was Sinatwho was the oldest of the group. He was a bossy person, who liked to throw his weight around. He always had an opinion on everything and if Sinat spoke, his word was final. He was sat puffing away on his clay pipe. Every now and then, he would flick the reins not because he wanted the ponies to go faster; it was just out of habit.
Then there was his younger brother, Sacul, who was the youngest of the bunch. He was very wet behind the ears, but always keen to learn. He was slumped in the back fast asleep, also on the cart were their cousins, Tormsand Nakie.
Tormswas sat up front next to Sinat he was the second oldest out of the group, he was a great craftsman and thinker but always had to play second best to Sinat. Then there was Nakie who was a fine specimen of a dwarf, he was shorter than most dwarfs but much stockier, and his motto was ‘If you can’t eat it, fight it.’ He was doing what he did best, and that was looking after the food as he sat in the back stuffing his face.
They all lived together up in the Ferral Mountains, where they had a small mine and dwelling called Barren Rock. It got its name due to its location as no one wanted to mine there as it was thought to be barren but after a few years digging they had struck gold literally but thought it best to keep the name as it was. As Gold Rock would have brought them unwanted attention, and they would have soon found themselves with quite a few new neighbours moving in.
They had left the Second Province earlier that day and were on a track, which took them into the Brocken Mountains. Beyond that, it was another day’s journey along the edge of the Emerald Forest, which marked the start of the borders to the Elven Kingdom and then into the mountain range of the Ferral, where the Dwarf Kingdom lay.
They had been on the trail for most of the afternoon and were halfway along the mountain path when Torms, who had a keen eye even in the dimming light, spotted something up ahead on the rock face. Although it was very dull, it had a unique glow about it. Tormsleant forward, put his hand on Sinat’s shoulder.
“What’s that?” asked Tormsas he pointed out the glow in the distance. At this point, Sacul was woken by a chicken bone, which had just bounced off his head from the direction of Nakie. Who was now on his fourth chicken with grease running down his beard, which had more leftoverdinners in it than a banquet hall.
As they pulled up to the place on the rock that Torms had pointed out, he noticed the rock face had recently been disturbed by some kind of landslide. He got down and examined the wall of rock. There was a tiny section that gave off a slight glow of amber speckles embedded into the rock.
“Sacul, bring me a pick,” said Torms in a hushed voice, trying not to shout.
Sacul’s face lit up, keen and eager, as he jumped from the cart with a pick in his hand. Torms held out his hand as Sacul handed him the pick and with one mighty swing, struck the rock. A piece split away from the rock face and fell to the floor. Torms picked it up and put it in a pouch under his jacket. Torms and Sacul got back onto the cart. But just as they were about to continue on their way, there was slight creaking noise.
“Shh, stay still,” ordered Sinat with his hand held up, as he listened very carefully, his hairs stood up on the back of his neck. Something was close, very close. Nakie was in the back of the cart with his feet up, just about to tuck into his fifth chicken, when a hand appeared over the edge. The hand was as big as his head and covered in dirt, with huge thick knobbly fingers. Then a second appeared, and then two big gleaming eyes were staring straight at Nakie.
Now it wasn’t that Nakie had anything against mountain trolls, but when they were staring at him and looking at his food, well, there was only so much a dwarf could take. Without a whisper or a blink of an eye, Nakie tore a drumstick off the chicken he was eating and shoved it straight into the troll’s right eye. As the troll let out a deafening shriek, Nakie swiftly grabbed his double-handed axe and embedded it right between the eyes of the troll. There was another almighty scream, and the troll fell backwards clasping his head. It rolled around on the floor for a minute, made a gargling sound, and then it all went quiet. All three of them looked at Nakie, then at the troll’s head as Nakie jumped down, pulled his axe out, retrieved the drumstick out of the troll’s eye, and took a bite out of it. As he turned around the others just sat there staring at him.
“What you lot looking at? a dwarf’sgota eat,” snapped Nakie as if nothing was wrong.
Torms shook his head in disbelief as Nakie retook his place in the back by the food. Sinat didn’t want to hang around, just in case, there were any more trolls ready to take on Nakie and his drumstick. They might not be so lucky next time. So, with that thought in mind, Sinat tugged on the reins and ushered the two ponies pulling the cart with a quiet, “Yah.” The ponies instantly pulled with all their might; although they were ponies, they somehow knew when Nakie was on board, and that if they didn’t pull their weight, they could be his next meal.
The cart sped off at high speed into the dimming light, knocking Sacul over in the back as it went. They were travelling along a narrow mountain track with a steep rock face on one side and a dense forest on the other. Once they were out of the mountain range, they would camp during the day on the edge of the Emerald Forest, which marked the border of the Elven Kingdom and travel at night. Because they didn’t trust the elves, elves to dwarfs were long, tall people with strange ways and customs. If anything doesn’t fit in a mine, it has no place in a dwarf’s world.
They finally emerged from the mountain range just as the sun was breaking through the treetops. Sinat halted the ponies in a clearing where they usually stopped on their way back. Sacul was the first one out of the cart, which was no surprise. He started unpacking their beds and supplies; what was left of them after Nakie had been looking after them. Sinat got down from the cart, his bones were stiff after driving all night. As he got down, he stretched from side to side, well as far as a dwarf can reach, and that’s not far.
Torms got down off the cart and looked like he was surveying the area, going deeper and deeper into the forest. When he had gone deep enough, he put his hand into his pocket and pulled out the glowing rock he had chipped away from the rock face. His eyes were wide open, staring in amazement. He looked at the rock and thought, could it be.
‘SNAP!’ echoed around the clearing of trees, within which Torms was encircled. He turned around, but nothing was there. He suddenly realised that he was too deep in the Emerald Forest for comfort. He quickly put the rock back into his pocket, and then returned to the clearing at the side of the track. As he returned, Sinat was leaning against a tree smoking a long clay pipe, which was customary among dwarfs, and he had taken his boots off, much to the disgust of the others. Every now and then he would wiggle his toes, which made Nakie think of sausages. Causing him to grunt at Sacul, to get the fire going, which he didn’t mind doing, anything to help his fellow dwarf.
Soon there was a hearty fire ablaze, and the dwarfs were sitting down drinking flagons of ale and eating, whilst thinking about their mine up in the Ferral Mountains, all except one. Torms was thinking about the rock, he couldn’t yet be sure he had to wait until he got home and do some tests. Torms was suddenly aware that they were being watched. It was the same feeling he had had in the forest. Although elves rarely attacked dwarfs and vice versa, they still didn’t see eye to eye; well, they couldn’t because the elves were about three feet taller than the dwarfs and compared to Nakie’s size. The only time he had seen an elf, all he remembers is staring at a belt buckle.
The only time you saw an elf in the forest was when they wanted you to. They were masters of the woods, just as the dwarfs were masters of the mountains.
After a long break, Sinat got up and put his boots on, much to the relief of the others. “Right, let’s be going, let’s load the cart,” he ordered. This was interpreted by the others for Sacul to ‘hurry up, my bed needs rolling up, and you’re the dwarf to do it,’ which he didn’t mind at all.
As the cart was pulling off, Torms caught a glimpse of somebody or something disappearing into the forest. It was a silent and elegant figure and moved with such grace that it left Torms wondering if it was just the wind.
Gillant was a great ranger and tracker. He was one of the Elven Kingdom’s finest, and he was heading through the forest at great speed. It would take him a day to reach the Elven Kingdom, so he pressed on. He had to tell Pholanthion, the Elven King, what he had seen, or what he thought he had seen, in the forest: that small piece of rock with the glowing amber specks and with that thought in his head, he pressed on even harder.
After another half day’s travelling the cart finally pulled into the courtyard of Barren Rock the dwarfs’ dwelling, and right in front of them was their mine. What a lovely sight, the whole party thought, there’s no place like home. To the left was their dwelling, made of stone, sturdy and strong like most things the dwarfs built. It was big enough for all four of them, opposite that over the other side of the courtyard was their storeroom. Which now had its doors wide open, as Sacul unloaded the stuff from the cart.
Torms’s had made weapons and armour to take into the warlord’s provinces to trade for goods and money which they did every year. They had quite a hoard stored down their mine after many years of trading. However, if Torms had anything to do with it, there would be a lot more money coming their way, he thought as he headed off towards his workshop.
Sinat was now inside the house getting a fire started. Nakie was putting the ponies in their pen next to the storeroom, much to the fright of the ponies; they moved ever so nervously when Nakie came near them.
Torms was in his blacksmith’s workshop, which was attached to the other side of the storeroom. It was getting dark outside, and Torms had lit a lantern. The light of the lantern illuminated the workshop. It was an excellent workshop full of craftsman’s tools: in the middle was a furnace, and next to it a giant anvil. Above the anvil hung various hammers, which through many years of use were old and battered. But they were Torms’s trusted companions on the long winter nights; as locked himself away hammering away till the early hours of the morning.
Torms turned his gaze to the pile of books and scrolls over in the corner. He moved over to a dusty bookcase and put his finger on the books and ran it alongtheir spines. Dust started piling up on his finger. His finger stopped, he pulled out a book, blew off the dust and started flicking through the pages.
Sacul had finished unloading the cart and was walking along the cobbles to their small dwelling when he noticed the light was on in the workshop. He wondered what Torms was doing, but you couldn’t go into his workshop without being invited, it would be like trying to steal food from Nakie; you just didn’t do it. He kicked a small stone across the courtyard and went inside. There was a roaring fire blazing in the hearth, Sinat was slumped in a chair smoking his pipe, while Nakie was in the kitchen, making a feast for an army. Sacul was feeling tired, so he went into a little room at the back of the house where there were four comfortable-looking and well-used beds. He took off his light leather tunic and hung it on the end of his bed. As he got in, he placed his head on a cloth pillow filled with straw; and started to dream of being a great miner and craftsman like Torms one day, as sleep fell upon him.
Sacul was woken, not by the sun shining through the window, but by Sinat. He was shouting at Nakie for eating all the food. There was nothing left for breakfast. Sacul looked around the room, but he couldn’t see Torms. He put his tunic on and ran out into the courtyard. Torms was still in his workshop, Sacul called the other two out; all three of them just stood there watching the workshop. Every now and then the odd sound of clanking or banging came from within.
“What’s he doing?” asked Sacul.
“Beats me, he’s been in there all night,” said Sinat, as he took a puff on his pipe before continuing. “You know he’s always got his head stuck into a book or making something.”
They sat there for what seemed like hours, just watching the workshop. All that disturbed them was the occasional tap of Sinat’s pipe against his boot as he refilled it.
Nakie was starting to feel uneasy, because it had been at least a couple of hours since his last meal and his stomach had begun to make noises; which were starting to scare the ponies.
At last the doors to the workshop flew open and out strolled Torms. “Friends, get your best armour, we’re going to Ironclad, and we’re going to the palace,” he announced.
Sacul’s face lit up. He had never been to the palace before. He had been inside Ironclad the Dwarfen kingdom and had wasted many a few hours just staring at palace wondering what wonders lay within but had never set foot in the palace itself.
Torms took a good look at them. What a sorry looking bunch they were, with food all in their beards – particularly Nakie; every inch of hair on his head was greasy and matted, especially his beard.
“Sacul, get the bath out of the storeroom,” he shouted, clapping his hands.
Sinat jumped up. “What are you playing at?” he snapped, feeling offended by Torms shouting orders. But Torms stood his ground.
“Cousin, trust me. We’re going to be rich,” he said, then turned away with a glint in his eye and quickly, before Sinat replaced the glint with his fist.
Nakie was the last one into the bath, seeing as none of the others wanted to go in after him. It took all three of them to try and get him in. Eventually, they chucked a half-eaten chicken in, and Nakie nearly broke his neck trying to get in after it. After about two and a half hours, Nakie’s beard had finally let go of all the chicken bones, all apart from one, which was at the bottom of his beard and steadfastly refused to come out. Torms tried to cut it out but got a smack in the mouth for his efforts. Followed by: ‘A dwarf’s beard is his own,’ from a be-grumbled Nakie.
Sacul had polished their best armour and was giving the breastplates their final rub down when Torms stepped out of his workshop with four gleaming steel helmets with chainmail hanging down the back; this was the kind of helmet that said. ‘You are someone.’
The detail of craftsmanship was second to none, and the decoration and patterns were amongst the best they had ever seen. Nakie even stopped playing with what looked like a potato duck in the bath and looked up.
“Where did they come from?” asked Sinat.
“I made them last winter during the cold dark nights when I was bored. I think you will find they will fit. I took your measurements off your heads when you were all sleeping,” said Torms, feeling rather pleased with himself. He strode over to Sacul and laid each of the helmets on top of their rightful owners’ armour, then turned around. “We leave in one hour,” he said, then walked off, with one eye still on Sinat.
Gillant was standing outside The Great Tree, with two imperial elven guards blocking his way to the entrance. “I have urgent news for the king,” Gillant spoke out.
“And who shall I say is calling?” asked one guard somewhat cynically as they both looked him up and down.
“Tell the king, Gillant is here. He will see me.”
The dwarfs were ontheir cart and heading towards Ironclad the Dwarfen kingdom. This was located towards the eastern edge of the Ferral Mountain range. It would take them until dusk to reach their destination. Once there, they would have to apply to the advisor at the palace gate, which was located inside the kingdom for an audience with King Crackzull, the powerful Dwarfen King.
As the cart rolled alone Sinat sat there pondering on what lay ahead. It was hard evenfor the king’s mum to get an audience with her son, so what chance have we got? thought Sinat.
It wasn’t that the king didn’t like his mum; with most dwarfs, he had a rough and tough image to uphold, and like most mums, they tend to forget that their sons have grown up. Still insisting on getting their hankie out and rubbing a mark off your face that only mothers can see. When you would have sworn blind, wasn’t there when you last looked. And seeing as the last time the King’s mum visited him, upon seeing her son immediately got her handkerchief out; much to the amusement of the sniggering guards, followed by her complaining that her little bundle of joy was looking thin and had he eaten that day.
It was safe to say that whenever the king’s mother wanted to visit him, he was always on other pressing matters. One of which had been inviting in all the mothers of the sniggering guards to the palace not just for a day, not even a week, but to permanently live within the palace walls and not only that move in with their sons. King Crackzull was known for his ruthlessness, but no one ever thought he could have been that ruthless.
Sinat didn’t say anything because he wanted to see the look on Torms’s face when he got booted out of the kingdom. He didn’t hate his cousin, far from it, but Sinat was their leader, and he hadn’t a clue what Torms was up to.
Each time he asked Torms what it was they were supposed to be presenting to the king, he would reply, “Wait, you’ll see.” He would then tap a pouch, which had the rock hidden within, and smile.
This unnerved Sinat a bit, but he hadn’t been to the kingdom for a long time, and he was looking forward to tasting the fine ales and having a smoke in front of a roaring fire, and one in particular, The Pickaxe & Pony.
The cart finally pulled into the entrance of Ironclad. The kingdom itself had been carved out of the mountain, with fifty-foot high steel doors embedded into the rock face. The carvings on the door were of the great King Crackzull himself. There were only a couple of hours of daylight remaining. At sunset, the massive doors were closed, and if you weren’t in by dusk; you stayed out until the morning.
The two main guards waved them inside and didn’t pay too much attention to them as they fitted the general description of a dwarf; short, stocky, had a fat nose and an array of weapons with them, that could stock an entire armoury, but most importantly they had beards. However, one of the guards did have to take a second glance at Nakie who was sat in the back chewing on bones. To establish if they were bringing a wild beast into the kingdom to trade, as that would require a section 247 form to be completed upon entry or 2 gold coins depending on which guards were on.
As the cart rolled in through the main entrance and into the Kingdom, Sacul’s face lit up as he stared in awe at the enormous cavern they had entered. Way up in the ceiling, were small holes in the mountain roof, about a hundred feet apart, which let the sunlight in and the smoke out. This was because all the streets inside the cavern had torch beacons filled with oil to light up the dark nights. Then there was the city itself. It was marvellous: there were inns, blacksmiths, armoury shops and everything else you could think of. The streets were packed with dwarfs engaging in one activity or another. Everywhere you looked, Dwarfs were doing deals on this and that, pushing laden carts this way and that way, and before Sacul knew it, he’d be looking at something else of interest that had just rolled past.
He felt at home amongst so many dwarfs, a feeling of excitement arose in his stomach. He felt proud to be a dwarf: if you were a dwarf, this was the place to be.
Gillant walked into The Great Tree, also known to outsiders as The Living Kingdom. The Great Tree stood in the middle of the Emerald Forest, which outlined the borders of the Elven Kingdom. The Great Tree was quarter of a mile round; on each of its branches,there were high platforms which housed libraries, banquet halls, study rooms, classrooms, and everything else associated with the graceful lives of the elves. As you went higher up the tree, the nobler you were,until you arrived at the throne room at the top of the tree. Beyond that stood the royal chambers containing The Great Hall, where meetings of the Elven Kingdom took place.
Through those windows,you could see the whole Elven Kingdom and every other race living on Gryphon Island; named after the Gryphons that used to live high up in the Brocken Mountainsbefore the trolls moved in and wiped them all out. To the north could be seen the Ferral Mountainshomeland of the dwarfs and to the south the provinces of the warlords. To the east was the coastline of the BaleantSea, and to the west was The Island of Black Rock and sat upon Black Rock was The Dark Fortress, surrounded by the harsh waters of the Black Ocean, this is where the sorcerers ruled.
No one knows how the ocean got the name of Black; some say it was because of the dark mystical creatures that lurked below. Others say if you swim in its black icy waters it will wash away your soul. However, swimming in it probably would take your soul due to the powerful currents. But if the truth were to be known, it was down to an old and ancient sorcerer only referred in old ancient texts as X, deep down within the long-forgotten section of the library within The Dark Fortress. X was one off the first sorcerers to step foot on the island, and when he did, he turned its shores deadly black and icy cold to keep out unwanted visitors, or as he put it; mindless time-wasting peasants.
Each race was happy in their own lands except one, the warlords. The warlords were divided into four provinces. The First Province was owned by Strangaurd, who was a broad muscular man standing seven feet tall. He was a cruel and merciless ruler; his province was mainly wasteland and marshes, what little it did produce was from farm stock. He squeezed every penny out of the farmers who worked his land. If they didn’t pay, he would kill them and hand the land over to somebody else who could make him money. He spent most of his time sat within Castle Attin, scheming all day.
The Second Province was owned by Two’Bit. He was a short, fat, chubby man who would sell his own grandmother. But he couldn’t because he had already sold her when he was seven for two bit’s, and that is how he got his name, ever since that day the name stuck. He didn’t mind; in fact, he liked it. Being born into a market-trading province, the name Two’Bit had quite a good ring to it, and it helped when he was trying to do deals. If he could sell his own grandmother for two bit’s what else was he willing to sell.
The Third Province was owned by Zelton; he was sturdy looking, even for a warlord. He had chiselled features with a square jaw. His province wasn’t as large as the first two provinces, but it had a good fishing port, Zelton ruled his province with a fair hand.
The Fourth Province was owned by Wykep. This was the smallest province of them all. Nothing of interest happened here. Wykep was tall, with handsome features, and very rich. His subjects paid their taxes and were left alone, his province was a trading port. If you were rich in any of the other provinces, you would try and buy your way into the Fourth Province.
Sacul was the first one off the cart looking at this, touching that, whilst Torms had one place in mind and one place only, the palace, which was situated at the back of the cavern; its walls were the inner mountain itself. It had taken generations of dwarfs a thousand years to craft the rock into all the halls and chambers that lay behind the golden doors. The doors stood tall and proud, with carvings detailing the entire dwarfen, ancestral kingship.
“Wait here whilst I go and make an appointment with the advisor, so I can seek an audience with the king,” said Torms as he got down from the cart.
“Who do you think you are talking to, I make the decisions around here,” snapped Sinat.
“Nakie, Sacul, take the cart down to The Pickaxe and Pony and put the ponies aroundthe back.” Ordered Sinat.
The Pickaxe & Pony was the biggest and one of the roughest tavern in the entire Dwarfen Kingdom; it wasn’t for the faint-hearted, it was the kind of tavern that searched you for weapons on the way in and if you didn’t have any you were given some.
“Meand Torms will meet you in there later. I’m going with Torms; this I’ve got to see,” said Sinat mockingly.
“Can I come?” asked Sacul.
“No,” shouted Sinat as he climbed down onto the street.
Sacul put his head down and muttered something under his breath protesting about wanting to see the palace. At that exact moment, a large cart rolled past and ran over Sinat’s foot. As the wheels continued to roll over the small bumps in the cobbles, an apple fell, bouncing off Sinat’s head and landed on the floor.
“Oh, for the love of diamonds,”shouted Sinat, and began hopping around the place like a street performer.
After about a minute, he began to calm down. “I think my toe’s broken,” he shouted.
“Two copper pieces and one silver, not bad,” said Nakie.
“What?” asked Sinat, still in pain as he was now holding his foot whilst rubbing it.
“That’s what you made, I didn’t realise you were so nimble on your feet.”
Sinat raised his hand to wallop Nakie. Torms stood between them. “Well, come on, we haven’t got all day,” he said, ushering Sinat towards the palace, as Nakie and Sacul climbed back up onto the cart.
Nakie tugged on the reins and the ponies set off through the crowded streets. Sacul just sat in awe as he took in all the sites and different smells, accompanied by an array of noises as they rolled past. They had been travelling along the streets for a good twenty minutes when Sacul finally turned his gaze back towards Nakie.
“When will we find the tavern?” asked Sacul inquisitively.
“You’ll know,” replied Nakie.
As soon as the words had left his mouth, an axe came flying out of a smashed window and embedded itself in the side of the cart.
“We’re here,” said Nakie. “Take the ponies and cart around the back. I’ve some business to take care of.” He pulled the axe out of the cart and went into the tavern; or rather he jumped through the broken window from where the axe had just come, shouting, “Who threw that?”
All Sacul could hear was the dragging of chairs, bottles breaking and an occasional scream from a dwarf as they flew headfirst out of the window. After ten minutes it went quiet. Sacul went into the tavern and saw Nakie sitting on his own in the middle of the room at a table; there were piles of bodies all over the floor, in agonizing pain. The odd one or two were wedged in the ceiling, with their fat stumpy legs dangling down through the splintered floorboards above.
Nakie looked at Sacul. “Found him,” said Nakie with a grin on his face.
Torms and Sinat were walking down the street towards the palace gates. At least Torms was walking; Sinat was hobbling, saying something about getting his hands on the owner of a large cart carrying apples. They reached palace and stood at the bottom of the steps that lead up to the enormous golden doors.
As they walked up the steps, a very skinny dwarf wearing a robe that was far too big for him met them; it looked like he only wore it to try to make himself look big. Accompanying him were two rather large dwarfs, carrying golden battle-axes; who did look big.
“My Name is Tennant, advisor to King Crackzull, what do you want?” snapped the advisor.
“We urgently seek counsel with the king,” said Torms.
“Oh, you just waltz up here and want counsel? Do you think it’s that easy? Do you know how long the waiting list is? now be off with you and don’t come back.” Snapped the advisor, before muttering under his breath about not having time to deal with common folk.
Torms winked at Sinat. “OK,” he said, and turned and went to walk back down the steps. Just as he put his foot on the first step he turned back around, “Oh, just one more thing, can you give this to your philosopher for me, he might find it interesting.”
With that, he threw the small pouch containing the sample of rock towards the advisor. The advisor caught it and muttered under his breath, “As if I haven’t got enough to do already,” and shuffled off dragging his robe behind him.
“I’ll be at The Pickaxe and Pony,” shouted Torms. The advisor just put his hand up to dismiss them and didn’t pay any more attention as he shuffled off through the palace gates.
“WE!” said Sinat. “We, will be at The Pickaxe and Pony, not I,” he grunted.
“Oh yes, sorry: we,” said Torms as they walked off down the steps to find the others.
“Well, we might as well make the most of it now we’re here,” said Torms as they strolled off.
Sinat was silently chuckling to himself. Who did Torms think he was, walking up to the palace gates like that. Well, everything was back to normal now: he’d be in charge, and there would be no more of this counsel with the king business. All Sinat was looking forward to now, was a flagon of ale from a dirty flagon, from a dirty tavern, in front of a roaring fire while puffing away on his pipe. What more could a dwarf ask for, he thought.
Gillant walked through the grand oak carved doors that led to the throne room. It was magnificently grand, everything in the long hall shone with elven craftsmanship. The Great Tree itself made up many parts of the room, with many fine carvings of leaves etched into its trunk.
Pholanthion, the Elven King, sat at the end of the hall on a giant oak carved throne, and seated next to him was the fair queen, Lynthia, who sat proud and noble. The Elven King sat perfectly straight, his robust and slender figure was dressed head to toe in fine clothes; which gave him a graceful presence.
“Come closer and lift your head up so I can see your face again.”
Gillant lifted his head and caught the eye of the king. “How long has it been?” asked Pholanthion.
“About two years, Your Highness,” answered Gillant.
“Far too long. What news have you?” asked the king.
“It is news I would like to discuss in private. It is of the utmost importance.”
Pholanthion waved his hand, and his advisor appeared. Velthrone was a tall, slender elf with grey-silvery hair; he had served Pholanthion’s father before him, he was all-knowing and had mastered every elven art one could imagine.
“Velthrone, see Gillant to the private chambers, feed him and give him anything else he requires. Then open up The Great Hall and bring him up in two hours.”
“Thank you, Your Highness,” said Gillant.
Now it wasn’t the fact that Nakie minded people throwing axes, he just didn’t like them coming his way. By now dwarfs were starting to come back into the tavern, but, if it was all the same to them, they were giving Nakie a wide berth seeing as he still had his hand resting on his double-handed axe and his other on a chicken leg.
“Sinat, Torms,” shouted Sacul as he saw them walk into the tavern. They looked over and headed towards Sacul.
“Well, get the ale in Sacul, and keep it coming and while you’re at it, get another three chickens,” ordered Sinat.
Nakie grunted. “Make that six,” Sinat added, “and while we are here, we might as well stay the night. See if they have any rooms.”
Sacul headed towards the bar. After pushing and shoving, he finally got served. “Four ales and six chickens, and do you have four beds for the night?” he asked the fat, chubby innkeeper, who now stood before him.
“Sorry, out of beds, we’re full up,” replied the innkeeper, tapping his chubby fingers on the bar.
Sacul was a fast learner, and he had learnt a few things from Torms through the years. He leant forward, closer to the innkeeper. “See that dwarf over there, the one who returned the axe? Well, what do you think he will do when I tell he has to sleep out in the street tonight?”
“Will that be one or two pillows with your beds, sir?” replied the innkeeper somewhat hastily.
“One will be sufficient thank you. Oh, and when the ale and food are ready would you be so kind as to bring them over,” said Sacul smiling to himself.
“Yes, sir, right away, sir,” said the Innkeeper.
Sacul walked away feeling quite pleased with himself. By the time he had pushed his way back through the crowd, the food and ale were already on the table. He sat down and picked up the nearest tankard. “Now that’s what I call service!” he said with a grin.
The dwarfen advisor was shuffling along the inner chambers of the palace with his burning torch; he had one more stop to make before he finished. He was looking forward to putting his feet up bya nice log fire. He had been the king’s advisor for over fifty years and never once had he had a thank you, or a well done fromthe king. It wasn’t that he was bitter; the job was good so was the pay, and he had his own chambers inside the place. ‘Well, it beats working down the mine,’ were his thoughts on the matter. Even though he was a dwarf, from an early age he didn’t even practically look like a dwarf, he was skinny for a start and taller than most dwarfs, plus he never liked to get his hands dirty.
That would usually be punishable by death in dwarfen law, so he had studied hard and worked his way up, even if it was to the mockery of the other dwarfs. This included his own family, particularly his father.
“You want to write on paper for a living and don’t want to work down a mine?” were his last words before throwing himself in front of a cart.
“Ah, here we are,” he said to himself. He knocked on the philosopher’s door, and then opened it, peeking his head around. There wasn’t anybody there. The study was big, and the torches on the walls were all snubbed out. “Oh well, I must have missed him,” he muttered as he walked across the study, his torch casting a huge shadow of himself on a verity off bookcases as he shuffled across the room. He went over to the philosopher’s desk placing the brown pouch in the middle and turned to walk back out. As he did, his overlong sleeve caught the pouch and knocked it off the desk. It bounced off the arm of a chair, and the rock fell out, landing under the table.
The advisor was unaware of any of this as all he was thinking of was a nice cup of cocoa. He walked out of the room and slammed the door shut. The room was pitch dark once more, all except under the philosopher’s desk; where a dim amber speck started to glow.
Velthrone opened the door to The Great Hall. “Gillant,” he announced to King Pholanthion. Gillant walked in; Pholanthion was staring out of the window watching the sun go down. “Thank you Velthrone, you may leave,” he said.
“But Your Highness,” protested Velthrone.
“That will be all.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” concluded Velthrone as he bowed his head and left.
Pholanthion turned to face Gillant. “Well, come here my old friend, you’re not on show anymore.” Gillant went forward and gave Pholanthion a hearty hug.
“It’s been far too long. I am pleased to see that you’re so fit and well,” said Pholanthion.
“Thank you,” replied Gillant.
“Well, what’s this important news you have for me, or did you just want to talk about old times?”
“Oh no, I have news,” replied Gillant.
“Well, let’s sit down at the table and have some wine and talk.” Pholanthion gestured for Gillant to sit.
“Well, as you know, Pholanthion, I wander the forest as a ranger.”
“And a fine one at that,” added Pholanthion.
Gillant nodded and accepted the praise before he continued.
“When my travels took me out onto the western edge of the Emerald Forest I came across a party of dwarfs.”
“What, you are into watching grubby little creatures now are you, Gillant?” laughed Pholanthion.
Gillant accepted some more wine as he continued: “I saw one of them disappear into the forest, so I followed him into a clearing. He was holding something. When I saw what it was, I nearly fell out of the tree!”
“Well, what was it, a giant diamond?” asked Pholanthion.
“No, it was Amberinth,” replied Gillant.
Pholanthion dropped the bottle of wine. It rolled to the end of the table and onto the floor, pouring out its contents. Pholanthion was transfixed and staring at Gillant.
“Amberinth? Are you sure? You must be mistaken.”
“I know what I saw, and it was Amberinth,” answered Gillant.
“Did the dwarf know what he had in his possession?” asked Pholanthion.
“I think he had a good idea. He headed back to the Ferral Mountains with the other dwarfs. It looked like they had been trading in the provinces. There were four of them altogether, so that means if they were heading towards the mountains the Amberinth must have come from somewhere south of the Ferral,” informed Gillant.
“How many paths are there between the Provinces and the Ferral Mountains?” asked Pholanthion.
“There are about four major ones, but the only paths open to the dwarfs are the coastal trail and the main track, which clips the edge at the Emerald Forest to the west. It was on that main track they were travelling. The other two paths lead through the Elven Kingdom, and if you don’t know where you are going, you get lost or even killed.”
“So, let’s say the dwarfs had found some Amberinth and were going back to inspect it, how long do you think it would take them before they had confirmation of what it was? How quickly could a dwarf mining party be sent out?”
“Well, they would under dwarfen law, have to apply for a mining licence,” said Gillant thoughtfully.
“Yes, but that’s only for the Ferral Mountains. What about somewhere outside their borders?” asked Pholanthion.
“I don’t know,” replied Gillant.
“I do,” said Pholanthion. “Velthrone,” he shouted. There was a short pause, and the doors opened.
“Come in and shut the door.”
“As you wish,” said Velthrone.
He shut the doors and moved over to the two figures sitting down.
“What we are about to tell you goes no further, and it stays between the three of us and these walls,” said Pholanthion.
“What do you know about Amberinth?” asked Pholanthion.
“Amberinth, Your Highness, was the ancient mineral of the Gods. It was indestructible once it had been properly forged. Not even one of our finest bolts would pierce it. It is said the only time it has ever previously been seen was a thousand years ago, when Rancore the powerful warlord ruled the lands and all who lived in them, including the elves, dwarfs and sorcerers. The story says he died in some great battle and the lands were divided equally, as we now know it. However, some of the books don’t go back that far, so a lot has been forgotten, and only myths and legends remain. However, Your Highness, this tale is for the story-rooms, it is only a myth,” said Velthrone.
“Until now,” said Gillant.
Velthrone’s eyes flickered slightly, but he kept his composure. “What makes you so sure?” he asked.
“Because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. The amber glow, only Amberinth has such a colour. I’ve also studied the ancient books, and I know what I saw.” explained Gillant. He then went on to tell Velthrone about the dwarf in the forest.
“This now brings us to your expertise, Velthrone,” said Pholanthion pausing slightly before continuing. “How long would it take for a dwarf mining party to set out southwards on an expedition, and would they have claim to any minerals outside their own mountains?”
“I would say only a matter of days once they had discovered what it was they were mining. Dwarfs don’t hang around when there’s mining to be done. They would be quite quick to mine the mineral. Once they had mined it, and with their expert craftsmanship, they could make the ultimate armour, making them a formidable foe. Or if they sold it, they would be showered with untold wealth, and as long as it was on neutral land it would be rightfully theirs. Whoever had an Amberinth army would be unstoppable! Your Highness” concluded Velthrone.
“We need to prepare,” said Pholanthion looking a little concerned; pausing briefly taking in what he had just heard and thinking about what to do next.
“Go and get Cluzac, the Captain of The Elite High Guards, Velthrone, and bring him to me.”
Strangaurd, Warlord of the First Province was sitting on his throne looking at a large map of Gryphon Island. His massive frame was hovering over the table when the door came crashing open. In came Gypsy, a large-framed mountain troll dog. They were bred thousands of years ago to defend villages against troll attacks. They were known for their solid stature and vicious temper, but somewhere along the bloodline, there must have been a mix-up.
Gypsy looked the part: big, strong, and vicious, with scars all over her muzzle. However, she was soft and as daft as a brush. She only had the scars on her muzzle because she kept breaking out of her cage. She had broken out so many times that Strangaurd thought it easier to let her roam wherever she pleased. It saved him the cost of cages and people did stay away, every time someone wanted something or approached the castle, there was Gypsy, either barking out of one of the windows or from one of the mounts. Which was enough to scare them off; they didn’t know she only wanted to play and it saved Strangaurd on a few guards.
There was a time when a travelling pie man was walking past with his cart, full to the brim with pies. Gypsy jumped the fifty feet into the moat, swam across and chased him. He put up a good run, but after a two-mile chase he finally dropped his cart and all its contents. Gypsy scoffed every pie in sight, and just for good measure chewed the cart to pieces before returning home. Since then, nobody had seen a travelling pie man in the First Province, or any other salesman with food products. Once word had got out about Gypsy, the traders had taken a vote and now boycotted the First Province altogether just to be on the safe side.
There were a few adventurous tradesmen that ignored the boycott, but they soon went out of business.
Gypsy now had her head tilted to one side and was staring at Strangaurd. Strangaurd was trying to wave her out of the room but wasn’t getting anywhere, when a falcon came through the window and landed in the centre of the table, right on top of the map, with a message tied to its leg.
Strangaurd went to pick the falcon up, but before he could, Gypsy was up on the table faster than a bolt of lightning, her back legs overtaking her front ones as she made a mad dash for the falcon. The bird flew gracefully up into the air just as Gypsy passed underneath, taking the map with her as she disappeared over the table. Then her head appeared from the other side covered with the map; she then proceeded to thrash around on the floor pawing and gnawing at the map to get it off, eventually reappearing with a bit of Emerald Forest sticking out of her mouth; The rest of it was scattered all over the room.
Strangaurd’s face went red; his veins were starting to stick out from his neck and face. “GET OUT! GET OUT!” he shrieked.
Gypsy cowered with drooped shoulders, as she walked slowly out of the room, dragging the remains of the Ferral Mountains with her as it was wrapped around her back leg, occasionally stopping while she gave her back leg a slight kick and wiggle, but the map remained.
Strangaurd shut the door and looked up into the rafters. He saw the sharp eyes of the falcon staring back down at him. He tried to coax it down but without any joy. He got his chair and put it on the table, then lifted his big frame up and onto the chair. When the falcon was in his grasp, he took the note from its leg and unfolded the message. The writing was in the most excellent of hand, and read:
“The break which we have been waiting for has arrived.”
It was quite late, and Sinat was leaning back in his chair smoking his clay pipe. Nakie was chewing on a chicken bone. Sacul was quite drunk and was sitting with a smile on his face. “Make it one pillow,” he kept muttering; the others hadn’t a clue what he was talking about.
Torms had turned around and was now talking to a large fat dwarf with a big ginger beard, which was sat alone on the next table.
“So, then that’s all you do each year is it, trade with the provinces?” asked Torms.
“Yes, and I do very well at it. Plus, I buy and sell all over the Ferral Mountains. Today I bought a big shipment of apples into the Kingdom, about a couple of hours ago.”
Sinat stopped sucking on his pipe and turned to face the dwarf. “Apples?” he asked.
He moved his chair closer. “Exactly how big is your cart?”
“Oh, it’s huge, with great big wheels on it,” said the ginger-bearded trader proudly.
“And you say –”
Before he could say, any more Sinat was interrupted by a ’THUD,’ as Sacul’s head hit the table. He was out for the count, snoring, and every now and then he’d hiccup.
“I think I will take him to his room,” said Torms. “Give me a hand, Nakie.”
Nakie grunted in protest because he had to leave his food.
“One, two, three lift.” They picked up Sacul and disappeared into the crowded room. Now there was one thing Sinat knew, and that was that Nakie never left his food.
“Now, where was I?” asked Sinat. “Oh yes, you were telling me about your great BIG cart and its great BIG wheels. But before you carry on, would you like some food?”
“That would be splendid,” said the trader.
“Well come and sit at our table.”
“Chicken, my favourite,” said the trader as he sat down, were Nakie once sat.
“Well, tuck in, I’ll go and get the ale,” said Sinat with a small smile on his face. He stood up and walked towards the bar. “Too easy,” he muttered under his breath.
Nakie returned from putting Sacul to bed. You couldn’t actually see him coming; you just saw all the other dwarfs go flying out the way as he barged into them. Finally, he arrived at the table to find some ginger-bearded dwarf eating his supper.
All the apple trader can remember was looking at the chicken one-minute, and the next he was looking at a pile of his teeth, which were now embedded in Nakie’s fist. Then it all went a little blurry; with a strange sensation of wind rustling through his hair. The next thing he could remember was the sound of breaking glass, and the feel of cold wet cobbles of the street, which he was now lying face down on in a heap.
Nakie had his uses, thought Sinat as he walked over and passed Nakie a mug of ale to calm him down. “What happened there?” he asked, trying not to laugh.
“I dunno, I went upstairs then came back down and there he was; a great big ginger thing eating my chicken.”
“Oh well, that’s dwarfs for you,” said Sinat with a smile.
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