I shifted my weight as I waited impatiently for the verdict. They were coming out today to give the answer of whether they were coming with us or staying in Crystalmoor. It had been fifteen days since Gabrithon had arrived; the poor Centaur was up all alone on the surface. Suddenly the door opened, and the king came out, the council following. Elthinor, Valtrak, Pinnathir, and Jaiden came out last. They were all staring at the king, not smiling, not looking downcast, just staring intently. The king had not shared his decision. Korvict stood there with his hands clasped in front of him, scanning leisurely over the faces in front of him.
"Filynora," he said with his deep voice. "Come stand with me."
I moved through the enormous crowd to stand with him. There were so many Dwarves that it was difficult; they were all packing the streets to hear what the outcome was. Before the king had come out, they had all been murmuring about whether or not they were to go to war. I finally got to Korvict and bowed respectfully. The Dwarf inclined his head, and I straightened. Then he held out his hand. I stared at it. Dwarves didn't shake hands. They exchanged pipes to greet one another, or when pipes were absent, they press an open hand onto the right cheek of the other Dwarf. I gazed at his hand for a few moments then extended my hand and shook it. He squeezed lightly, showing off his strength, and I squeezed back, knowing my own strength was nothing compared to his. He laughed and placed his other hand on mine.
"I have decided to go to war, for the sake of my friend Filynora and the trouble her race is in. In case you decide to argue, our race is soon to be taken captive by the same monsters if we do not hurry."
There was an explosion of noise as the Dwarves took all this in. I felt my face break into a smile as Korvict looked at me. His expression grew serious.
"Do not make me regret my decision, Filynora. We are going to trust Centaurs at some point and that is a lot to ask," he said with a nod.
"I know. Thank you, Korvict. I sincerely mean it." I paused. "What are we going to do now?"
"I am going to send runners to the other Dwarven cities to relay the message that all Dwarves who wish to fight the enemy are to come to Crystalmoor with their weapons."
"What about females?" I asked. "Wouldn't it be prudent to have them with us for sewing and cooking or even as warriors? Even your females are immensely strong by Human standards."
"Maybe you're right. I shall include Dwarfinlas in that as well," he said with a nod.
"Dwarfinla? That's what you call female Dwarves?" I asked.
"Yes. It is a little used word anymore, but your scrolls called the first female Dwarf a Dwarfinla. I suppose, if the scrolls are true, that is where that term came from."
I smiled. "I did not know that any of the races still used the original terms, save Humans and Satyrs."
"It used to be quite common, but over the years it has faded," Korvict admitted. "I believe I'm going to try to bring it back." He paused and looked around. "Quickly! Let's go tell Gabrithon before the guards notice me leaving."
“They are not looking and will not see me through the crowd. Now, come!”
I was startled by what he said but willing to comply. We hurried through the crowd towards the tunnel. When we came out of it, it was afternoon, and a rainy one at that. Korvict stared up through the branches of the trees and didn’t seem to mind the droplets dripping down on him.
"Is this rain?" he asked, sounding fascinated.
Gabrithon was up against the trunk of a large tree a little way away. He was staring at the king in confusion.
"Of course it is rain! Haven't you ever seen it before?" he asked, trotting over.
"No. I have been up to the surface so few times that I can count them on one hand. This is only my fifth trip up here. And it was never raining on any of the other times."
"Sounds like a horrible life. As much as I hate the weather sometimes, it's something I wouldn't like to go without. I don't understand how you can live underground all your lives. There's no sun, no rain, and no wind. That's not really a life."
"Some Dwarves are content with it, but may I tell you a secret?" Korvict asked and waited for us to nod. "I never have been. I want to be in the parties that explore the world, that spy on the Centaurs, that get to be out of those blasted tunnels and caves! When you have lived in darkness your whole life, sunlight is one of the most amazing experiences. Rain, too."
He caught a droplet with his tongue, and Gabrithon and I just stood there watching him enjoy the rain. After a few minutes, when we were properly soaked, Gabrithon turned to look at me.
"What did you two come up here for? Are the negotiations over?"
"Yes. They're going to war with us," I said.
"Really?" Gabrithon asked.
"Yes," Korvict said, coming out of his daze. "We go to war when we have all of our volunteers. It will take a couple more weeks to gather them then we leave."
"It's because of Filynora, isn't it?" Gabrithon asked knowingly.
"Partly. And partly because they will come after us soon. If the stories are to be believed that your friends have told us, those creatures will no doubt find our caves. I fear that they would cave in the tunnels to the surface or come down them to attack. Either way, we would be trapped. I shudder to think of what would happen after that."
"If we can destroy them, it won't happen," I said confidently.
"What if they destroy us, Filynora?" Korvict asked solemnly.
"They will only if it's God's will."
"You truly believe that story? Don't you have other gods in your culture?"
"Those of stone and wood. They're carved into fearful images that we pay homage to. Some people even sacrifice the first of their newborn lambs. Those are mainly the farmers who have flocks to do that with. The false gods in my village are inside homes. It's considered bad luck to leave them outside, save the images carved on the doorposts. But I don't believe they have any power. My mother always taught me they didn't, and she never allowed any of those idols in our house or on our farm. I know now that she knew of the one true God, but she never told me of Him or of His son Jesiah. I don't know why, but she didn't."
"So you really believe in God," he said. "Well what about the great stonemaker? Is he fake?"
"Let me ask you this. What if the great stonemaker is actually your twisted image of God and you've been worshipping not just the false god of the heart of the earth, but the false god of the stonemaker, too? What if that's what has been going on the whole time?" I countered.
Korvict's eyes widened. He stared at me for a minute without saying anything. He slowly composed himself, and he began running his fingers through his wet beard, thinking.
"I never thought of that," he admitted. "Maybe there is some truth to that story."
"It's not just some truth, Korvict. I believe it is all truth."
"I'll certainly think about that, Filynora. Thank you for that insight."
"Why don't you have your guards with you?" Gabrithon asked after a short silence.
"Because I snuck away with Filynora while they were distracted," Korvict said, his eyes gleaming with mischief.
"They aren't going to be happy with you," the Centaur said with raised eyebrows.
"I don’t care. I have been stuck in those caves for too long and can go nowhere outside the mansion without guards. They can panic for a while if they want to. They deserve it."
"You must trust me," Gabrithon said slowly.
"Not really. But I trust her," the king said, gesturing at me.
Gabrithon smiled. "Trusting Filynora is something on which we agree."
There was silence again then a scramble at the tunnel and some guards came out. I stared at them, amused, but Korvict glared at them, though there was no real heat; they were only doing their jobs. Gabrithon just watched with detached interest as they hurried to the royal Dwarf and began looking him over. I grabbed him, pulled him out from their circle, and put him behind me.
"Leave him alone. He's fine," I said calmly as axes were drawn threateningly.
"He is our king! He needs protecting!" one of them said.
"He was doing just fine without you."
"But the Centaur!"
"Gabrithon won't hurt him. Will you?"
"No," Gabrithon replied. "That would upset you."
"See? He's fine. Now go away."
"No!" that same guard said.
"Oh Filynora. I'm going back down. Stay up here as long as you like," Korvict said sadly.
"May I ask the king something?" Gabrithon asked.
The Dwarf looked up. "Yes."
"Do you have any rope and a large waterproof tarp?"
"I would like to make a Centaurian dwelling. It would help to keep me dry."
"Certainly. I shall send a servant up with the items. Now I bid thee goodbye Gabrithon."
I watched angrily as he descended into the tunnel. How could he live like that? But then, I thought, glancing at Gabrithon, they probably thought the same thing about us.