"So, you have returned," Korvict said, leaning with his head in his hand as his elbow rested on the arm of the throne.
I nodded. "Yes, your majesty. We have returned. And with information you urgently need."
"Oh, really?" he asked, sounding genuinely curious. "Do tell."
So I did. I explained what our whole mission had been, before and after our captivity with the Dwarves. I explained the monsters that were chasing us, and how they were going to start coming after the Dwarves. I explained how Nolan was a traitor and what he had done to Elthinor, and the Elf, who had not put his shirt back on, turned around to confirm the story.
"Oh my," the Dwarf said, clearly disturbed at the markings on Elthinor's back. "Why are you telling us this?"
"Because we need your help," I said seriously.
"Yes. We need fighters. I have a plan, but it involves the races. All the races."
"All of them?" the king asked, his voice level, but there was a darkness behind it.
"Yes. And that means the Centaurs."
Anger flared in the Dwarf's face. "Why should we help you if you are going to go to the Centaurs?"
"Because we are going to need everybody's help if we are to defeat the Dark Ones and their minions," Valtrak said solemnly.
"Valtrak, I am pleased to see you are all right," the king said, changing the subject abruptly. "And I am surprised that Filynora decided to come back after kidnapping you."
"She did not kidnap me. I went with her on my own," Valtrak said quietly, looking at the ground.
The king's eyebrows knitted together. "Really? But you left with a knife pressed to your throat."
"She was doing that to protect me. I helped them escape that day," the violet-eyed Dwarf admitted unblinkingly. "I also took the relic. It makes sense in context. It is not just some fantastical story with no real beginning or end. It has a beginning. And we are searching for the end. As Filynora mentioned, we are looking for scrolls. What we assume is the final scroll. Ours was the third."
"I would like to hear this story in full," Korvict said.
"I would prefer if we wait to tell it to everybody in the King's Council," Jaiden said suddenly; he had been so quiet up to this point that I had forgotten that he was there.
"And why should I allow that, Human?"
"Because you could start the political mess that this will become immediately afterwards," Jaiden said plainly.
"What makes you think we will join forces with a Centaur?" Korvict asked bluntly, seemingly fine with the straightforward response.
"They are not that bad!" I exclaimed.
"Yes they are. They kill us!"
"And you kill them!" I shouted. "I saw you hack one down. You are not the innocent souls you think you are! All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God!"
Confusion was suddenly etched in his face as he replied. "God? He is mentioned in the scroll. Who is He?"
My temper was still burning, but I managed to control my designs. But I did growl at the king. Firbrawn, who had been in the room the whole time, walked forward and grabbed my arm in an iron grip. He glared at me with his black eyes and snarled at me.
"Watch your tongue, girl. He is our king!"
"Let go of me!" I jerked my arm, but he did not let go, and I could feel the bruises forming on my arm.
Valtrak was suddenly beside me, and he peeled his uncle's hand off of me, shoving the older Dwarf back.
"Do not touch her like that! In fact, I would not touch her at all," Valtrak said threateningly.
"How dare you?!" Firbrawn sputtered.
"How dare you!" Valtrak snarled. "She has been through more than you ever will be. She deserves your respect! So I suggest you give it."
The king watched all this with interest. "How do you inspire such loyalty?"
"I am a girl," I said mildly.
"You are also sweet," Elthinor said.
"And kind," Jaiden added.
"And smart," Valtrak said with a smile.
"And loyal," Pinnathir put in.
"And you are quite lovely," Elthinor finished with a smile.
I snorted at that last one but was overall surprised and quite pleased. I had never thought of myself like that. It made me feel good, but I was cautious with that feeling. I finally nodded and accepted all of the compliments, except for the last one, but they did not need to know that.
"Thank you," I said, my cheeks warming. "But we are off topic, your majesty. We need to get your answer. We need the Dwarves' help in order to defeat this enemy and get the last scroll."
"I shall pull the Council together, and we shall listen to this story. But I cannot promise we will join. Centaurs have given us no reason to trust them," the king said.
I had an idea. "What if we introduced you to a Centaurian prince?"
"And how would you arrange that?" Korvict asked.
"I know one."
"Fine. Let us meet this Centaur. How soon?"
"Two weeks at the most. Pinnathir," I said, turning to look at the Satyr.
"Take the horse. Ride back to Greensage and get Gabrithon. I want you to go as fast as you can."
Pinnathir grimaced. "Do you know how awkward it is for me to ride a horse?"
"Fine, Jaiden will go. Tell Gabrithon to leave my father in charge of the training," I said quickly.
Jaiden nodded. "As you wish. How do I get back to the surface?"
"Firbrawn, take him back up," Korvict ordered.
"No," I said flatly. "Anybody but him."
"Do you not trust him?"
"No," I replied frankly.
A Dwarf appeared. "Yes, sire?"
"Take this Human boy up to the surface. Make sure he gets to his horse."
"Yes sire," Hivton said. "Come boy."
I touched Jaiden's shoulder for a moment, and he smiled.
"Try to be careful," I said solemnly.
"I shall. I do not know if I will sleep very much, though."
He left without another word. We all watched him go. I sighed and relaxed. I did not like sending him out alone, but I knew Elthinor would not go unless I went, and if I went, my silver and green companion would want to go. To top that off, both Pinnathir and Valtrak were awkward around horses. I decided to stay because we needed to get the political process underway immediately. I turned back to the king and sighed. I hated sending Jaiden out alone. It made me worry, but we needed to show the Dwarves that Centaurs were not all bad.
"He'll be fine, Fily," Elthinor said gently.
"I hope so," I replied then looked up at Korvict. "How long until the Council is ready?"
"Tomorrow," he replied. "Until then, you all are welcome to stay in my mansion. Masnork!"
Another Dwarf appeared. "Yes, sire?"
"Please have four rooms prepared for our guests. And please get some crystals for Valtrak. He looks malnourished."
I paused. "Malnourished?"
"Yes. His eyes are dim. He obviously has not had crystals for a while."
Valtrak looked embarrassed. "Dwarves must eat crystals every once in a while. It is a crucial part of our digestive tract. We cannot process other foods without them."
I was shocked. "Why did you never tell me?"
"I did not want you to be concerned. I brought some with us, but I used them all up a while ago."
"You should have mentioned it! You could have gotten sick, and we would not have known what was wrong!"
"Well, I did not get sick, did I?" I glared at him, and he actually looked a little sheepish. "Fine, I should have told you. I'm sorry that I did not. Now you know, though. All right?"
I nodded. "Keep me informed of these things. I do not want you to die of such preventable causes."
"Yes, Filynora," Valtrak said with a smile.
The crystals were provided immediately, and Valtrak crunched on a couple while we were waiting for the rooms to be ready. I watched as he ate them. It was fascinating, because they would have broken my teeth and sliced my mouth up if I even tried. He ate them like they were venison. Masnork finally reappeared, so we were led to our rooms. I immediately took a bath, luxuriating in the hot water until it was too cool. I got out and got dressed in some clean clothes then walked back out into the room. I set my clothes by my pack and sat on the bed. Somebody touched me, and I leaped up yelling, automatically going for my knife. The female Dwarf backtracked and stood near the door, looking hesitant.
"I was sent to tend to you," she said quietly.
"Oh. Sorry. What is your name?"
"Nice to meet you Petra. I am Filynora."
"Would you like me to brush your hair?"
I ran my hands through the wet strands and nodded. "If you wouldn't mind. I don't have a brush."
She retrieved a comb and sat on the bed as I knelt in front of her. She was gentle as she ran the comb through my hair. I did not even know why I was letting her do this. I was not the kind of person that did this kind of thing.
"Is it true you fight like a male?" Petra asked hesitantly as she began parting my hair.
"Yes," I said, feeling uncomfortable. "Why?"
"I just believe it is interesting. Males sometimes have trouble fighting, you know."
"So?" I demanded.
"I am not attacking you, Filynora," Petra said softly. "I know you must be used to that, but I am just trying to understand here. Maybe I could even become your friend. Rumor is you will be here for awhile while the Council convenes."
I felt embarrassed. "Sorry. You are right. Most people tend to make fun of me for my…quirks. And I am not used to people wanting to talk just to become my friend. My friendships tend to happen over a battlefield, not talking."
"I guessed that, honestly. You do not seem like a chatty kind of girl. I do not mind teaching you."
"I have already been taught about talking. I spent some time in Stonemere, that is the Satyr capital, and with the queen and the princesses."
"You may have been with them, but you are still obviously uncomfortable with me. I think you are this way around most females. Am I right?"
I nodded, feeling my hair moving around. What in the world was she doing? "I am not used to being around them. I doubt I ever will be. I'm surprised I'm used to being around anybody. I was not very well liked in my home village. I was only ever around my mother and my pets. I had to let my pets go, and my mother is…dead," I swallowed, barely getting out the last word.
"I am so sorry," Petra said solemnly. "Do you miss her?"
I froze. Nobody had ever asked that question. Not Elthinor. Not Gabrithon. Not Jaiden. Not even Miyana and her daughters. She finished doing whatever she was doing with my hair and let it go. It fell heavily against my back and I reached over and grabbed it. It was a braid. She had braided my hair. I suddenly found that hilarious and began laughing. And laughing. And laughing. Suddenly my laughter turned to sobs, and I fell apart. I did miss my mother. I missed her horribly. It hurt. I was suddenly wrapped in strong arms and held against the Dwarven female's chest. She rocked me back and forth as I cried myself out. When I had relaxed, she helped me onto the bed and wiped my cheeks.
"It is all right Filynora. Now, you lie back, and I shall bring you some coffee."
"What's coffee?" I asked, confused.
"A nice hot drink that will soothe you."
She left but returned within ten minutes. The coffee was a black drink and I sniffed it. It smelled strong and slightly bitter. I tasted it hesitantly and found I liked it. I downed half the cup then leaned against the stone headboard. I closed my eyes and sighed.
"What is wrong with me?"
"You are grieving. You did not grieve properly did you?"
"After the initial phase when I cut my hair, not really. I had no time. I had to get back on my mission."
"Then we shall work through your grief while you are here. You are obviously past denial and anger. We shall work on the final three stages later."
"Stages?" I asked.
"Dwarves have noticed that there seem to be stages in the grieving process. Now, I suggest you rest. I do not know if you will be involved in the sessions, but I have heard they are grueling."