Part 140: Tales of the Lost Kingdom - Rescuing the Princess - Part 6
Tales of the Lost Kingdom - Rescuing the Princess - Part 6
The heavy man was almost dead. Dead as a Dodo.
But he had luck: he had found a healing-potion he had hidden the day before while planning the surprise attack. Slowly, he went onwards. Only his magic had saved him from death; he used everything of his magic power to remain alive, so far.
Having finally reached and drunk the potion, he felt better again. He decided to get back to his house at one of the camps. And he swore revenge...
The old Wizard had reached the mountains. He chose to hide himself from the coming storm, as good as was possible. He knew a small cave where he could at least remain dry. Like a bad fog the cold seemed to entangle his mind. He needed all his will-power to fight against his lack of self-confidence. He needed all his power to go against the upcoming evil forces.
The "Ogre-Fight" had given him about a day avail. Without knowing it, the Princess had given him a small advantage. He hoped that this group of heroes would be able to help him, although he feared that they might consider him as an enemy, since his Fireball had become a little bit too big.
Having arrived at the small cave, he sat down on a rock, resting for a while.
Alrik dreamt of fire, of the Dragon, different dangers, and - at last - of the Unicorn, which silently whispered to the strayer with a soft voice: "Don't be worried so much. Dreams can be foreshadows of coming events, or afterglows of incidents in the past - but they are passing by. Now sleep, tomorrow will be a long day."
In this night the magic cast by the Unicorn upon him lost its influence.
Early in the morning, Xera woke up as the first one of the whole group. The cottage stank of sweat and alcohol. Not very fine for an elven nose!
She decided to go out - leaving the smell behind her - trying to collect some berries and hunt for food. Yesterday she had noticed traces of a small bourn, so she chose this direction. The still thick mist interrupted her hunt, forcing her to go back.
Arriving at the house, she saw Sajet and Thorwyn standing outside, with the Dwarf in the middle.
"Which direction should we go now?" Thorwyn just asked him.
"You should go directly to the mountains. After about four hours you'll come to a small bourn. You will have to follow it until you reach the entrance of a canyon. It goes up there, finally broadening itself to a plateau. Having come so far, you should then go rather to the east, evading the first miner-camp, and then..."
"For the Gods sake! We'll surely need a local to lead us! Don't you think the miners could show us the way?" asked Sajet.
"No, no. I strongly discourage you contacting these rascals. Normally, it is difficult to trust them; nowadays, it is simply suicide."
"Well, can't you lead us - showing us the way?" Thorwyn asked desperately.
"Why should I do this? What have I lost in the mountains?" Krasnegar made a grimace. "What's more, there are better things than stumbling upon graves with you as my company..." He glanced at the young Xera, the Elf, who was just helping Aidan putting his rucksack into a relatively comfortable position.
"But we helped you..." Thorwyn began.
"I didn't ask you." Krasnegar answered.
"No "but". What an idiotic idea, fighting the Dragon! By the God's Smith!"
"Well, then we must go on and try to help those Dwarves alone..." murmured Sajet, glancing at Krasnegar from the corner of her eyes.
"What was that? What kind of Dwarves?" He seemed to get seduced by the bait.
"Well, we heard of Dwarves who were enslaved by the Dragon to mine Gold ore for him..."
Krasnegar looked irritated. She was surely up to manipulate him! But, on the other hand - it could be true. He had heard rumours of Dwarves and even whole Dwarf-Clans being lost inside of the tunnel-systems. It was said that the Dragon had kidnapped them. And - weren't inhabitants of the next village gone, too? They had to help them! There was still some stock for the winter beneath his chamber. He surely needed his old chain-mail - armour, then. The blade of his hunt-knife had to be sharpened...
"No! I won't go into the tunnels!" The Dwarf was determined not to take a single step into the "stony realms" as the tunnels had been known for a long time. He had noticed that he even began making plans for travelling with these hero-newbies who wanted to fight the Dragon. What a ridiculous idea! "I won't never ever lead you there. I'm not that crazy!"
"Leave him alone, Sajet." Thorwyn said. "He can't make it. He is just too old for such a task, you know?"
"WHAT? What did you say, young ma? ME - TOO OLD? My, this is... I have more experience in fighting even in my smallest toe than you will ever have in your whole life! The next thing you will tell me is that I fear this... this thing, isn't it? Well, you'll surely see... In one hour we move on! And I don't care if you're ready or not!"
Determined, the Dwarf went into the house, while murmuring: "Me - too old! ... What a nonsense! ... Ridiculous! ..."
Thorwyn and Sajet looked at each other, both grinning wide. He winked with his eye...
After a while, Krasnegar came out of his small cottage, grumbling and saying: "We still don't know how to travel through the mountains. There are two ways: One over the mountains, and one under the mountains. The first one isn't passable with an Elf, and the second one isn't passable for me. At least I won't go there - no 10 horses can bring me into the tunnels!"
He sat down on a stem, and began smoking a pipe. "As I said before, there are two ways. The first one is quite hard and needs about 2 days to travel, the second one is far easier to go and needs only about 12-14 hours.
The first one isn't acceptable for an Elf because of the miners. After 3-4 hours you would come to a miners camp. It is said that one of these were attacked by Elves a few days ago. So going with an Elf into a mining-camp would nowadays be suicide; they hunt Elves now. Leaving your Elf behind would mean that we could easily travel under the sky. Although it needs more time, it is safer than travelling beneath the earth. Although... not that safe. The miners tend to see in almost everyone a foe who wants to steal their Gold, Except for long known and trusted merchants. I guess, your small, harmless looking group won't get into trouble. You should try to understand them: They have been attacked by bands of criminal men, greedy for gold! I even suspect that the attack which is said to be done by Elves has been manipulated by one of these Bands.
I have never seen Elves in the mountains. They don't know what wonderful things can be made of Gold! They don't even seem to use steel for their arrows! Well, rabbits can be hunted by arrows made of wood, too.
The other way...well...yes. It was about 400 Years ago when Dwarves began searching for ore in the mountains. Especially for Gold." The Dwarf grinned. "A great Mine arose in the following years through the hard work of the Dwarves (and a few from other races). After a hundred years or so the miners discovered a natural system of caves - deep in the mountain range. Through measuring it the miners deduced that the system would nearly go through the mountain range - to the other side! In the following time then the people managed it to build an exit passage.
That way through the mountains was soon well known in the dwarfish world and many, many of my peoples used this passage as an easy way to travel; even traders used it.
But - the miners also discovered a second natural cave. But all the Dwarves sent into it for prospecting and exploring the cave never came back - at least we never saw them again. It it still possible that they might have survived - under special circumstances. Dwarfs can live a very long time in caves - as long as they have water and mushrooms available.
In the course of time, more and more Dwarfs disappeared in the system - possibly seduced by the unknown cave - so many that we decided to abandon and close the system, around 50 years ago. I can draw a map for you; but I will never go in there again."
The Dwarf took a deep breath and paused a few minutes.
"As a principle, the way is rather easy to find. The only think you must hold in mind is going along the right side. There are 3 turns, but they end after a while, because there was nothing valuable to find there. After 3-4 hours of walking, you should come to a good aired resting-room complete with benches and places to cook, all crafted of stone. Following the way, you would soon enter the natural system of caves. There are several caves, which follow one after the other like a string of perls.
Additionally, you should look for the mushrooms in the caves and especially those on the walls. I hope they are still there. They are fine, tasting good, but too much of them leads to hallucinations. They were a good healing agent in those days." He looked to Xera, as if he was her teacher. "You can make a paste or a powder from them. They can be put directly on wounds for a cure or eaten, if you wish. I would be very grateful if you'd bring me some!"
Again, he paused a while, still smoking his pipe.
"Having travelled through them, you should shortly come to the original dwarfish way again. It goes straight to the end of the tunnel: the exit behind the mountains. You know it when you see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Having finally come out of the stony realms, there is a meadow before you (at least if it still exists there). The hill, you are standing then on, goes down, to small loch. A good place to rest there!"
Krasnegar was satisfied. He had told them everything he knew about the two ways - maybe except the dangers lying there. But with his help they should surely be able to evade them.
"Hey ho! Let's go!" he shouted, and everyone packed his and her backpacks. Krasnegar pointed to a wooden box standing next to the house. Open it and take some torches, my old oil-lamp, and some flasks filled with oil." Ulath took the lamp, thinking: "This doesn't sound that dangerous." Derlaf and Sajet took the flasks and the torches. "We still have a way before us! 4 hours and we'll reach the entrance! Enough time to make plans!" Krasnegar began walking, followed by a strange group of heroes.
The way was muddy and wet, not easy to go. The heavy rain from the day before had turned the small bourn into muddy waters. At least it didn't rain anymore. The increasing temperature made thick clouds of fog ascend from the ground. It seemed like the earth itself was breathing. Luckily, the sight was good enough to recognize the way and enemies would be seen early enough.
The strayer and the Fox obviously liked the mist; they were once again gone - into the woods, still following the path. Xera shook her head. She liked the woods, too, but going through the wet bushes and trees was too much for her: she had no desire to fight against masses of wet leaves.
The fellows discussed the forthcoming way to go. The Dwarf wanted to leave the Elf behind and to travel outside. The miners could be friendly to him, but he was not that sure. At least he knew his foes.
Xera tried hard to listen to their words, but she didn't succeed. She only saw Ulath shaking his head several times.
She would regret being left behind. Until she had met Aidan, she had known not much about the world outside her village (and the surroundings), only other Elves and travelling traders. Now, everything was so different, so new! There were so many different people in the group! Ulath, the giant, Alrik the hiding strayer, Eolus the magician, the strong Sajet, the mysterious "Fox", the bard Aidan, the strange Derlaf with his missing hand, the quite normal Thorwyn with his talkative sword, - and now a dwarf! She had never seen dwarves before! She had only heard stories about them... The people in the village didn't seem to like them that much, but she never understood why...
After a while the way became more and more stony. As the road climbed up, the trees became smaller and fewer. The mist was also gone. The mountain range was now clearly visible.
The group had a good, tiring walk. They became a bit more silent. Aidan in particular had a few difficulties with the stony path. "I should leave the inns more often and rather wander through the world" he thought.
Around midday they came to a clearing directly under a slope. The way seemed to end here. All around were the remainders of houses and shacks. Krasnegar pointed to the rest of a house which was still in a good condition; only the roof was gone. "I think we can rest here." he said. "Over there" - he turned and pointed into a different direction - "is the Entrance to the tunnels. It is hidden now behind some bushes. I'd propose that the Elf, the strayer and the one you call the "Fox" go out and try to find some food for us. Our singer will make a small fire, and the rest will go with me - trying to open the Entrance. Don't wonder about the houses - here lived some traders. After we had abandoned everything, the buildings declined."
Aidan had no problems making a fire. It seemed as if this building had been a resting place for several wanderers. Three walls were still intact, the others burned almost to the ground.
Bearpaw found the warmth of the fire comforting and laid down, next to the fire and next to Aidan. Aidan had found an old pot. He wanted to see if he was able to cook some tea in it. "Watch over the fire, Bearpaw, I'm only away for some water. I'll be back soon!" He went to a small stream he had seen at the border of the wood.
Krasnegar showed the others the slope. "Now - where's a door here? Or a cave?" Ulath asked. The Dwarf grinned, swinging his axe towards some bushes. "First, we have some work to do!" he said. Sajet took a closer look - she could see a darker area behind the bushes. Maybe this was a door. But for now she couldn't do anything but help Ulath and Krasnegar.
After a while of hard work a door appeared. It was a dwarfish door. Which meant - it was made of stone. At least that was what Sajet thought. It was dark behind the bushes, but inspecting the door, she discovered her mistake. The dark area was nothing than a mass of planks, nailed on the entrance to prevent travellers to accidentally invade the tunnel-system.
Thorwyn separated himself from the others a bit. The sword was about to jabber once again. "Well, recalling the fight against those Ogres once again, it remembers me of a fight against raw, wild Woodmen; I don't exactly know what they actually were. But there is one thing I know: They were wild! And they were strong! They were big, too.
I remember that my former owner was on a journey, then. My owner and his company were attacked by those Woodmen. They were strong ones, and everyone knew that they had to fear them and fight for our lives. A fight of simple clubs used by strong, heavy, wild men against fine crafted swords, used by sophisticated fighters! What a fight it was! And a heavy fight it was!
There missed not much, and I would've been broken by some simple clubs! Recalling it, I must say that the flesh of those "Woodmen" felt a bit like the flesh of those Ogres we have fought a few days before. After a while we finally managed to win. It had been hard, and no-one was left without wounds. I only thank the creator for the fact that we had won - otherwise I would have laid in the wet earth, rusting myself away!"
Suddenly the sword stopped. "Oh," it said with a rasping voice, " I think I'm getting hoarse. I must stop talking now."
With a sigh if relief, Thorwyn put it back and went to the others.
Krasnegar released the entrance from the planks. "My, it isn't even locked!?" Ulath wondered. "Why should it? The planks only purpose is keeping people from accidentally going in. And by leaving the whole thing open, we wanted not to lock up others who might be in the system. Let's go back." Krasnegar answered.
Meanwhile, Aidan had begun cooking some tea in the pot, with herbs from his backpack. Ulath and Krasnegar might not want my tea, he thought, but Sajet and Xera might like tea made from herbs. And if no-one liked it, he would drink it alone. Aidan laid down beside Bearpaw, waiting for the others. The sun was standing high.
In the afternoon, everybody was back, except Alrik and the Fox.
Ulath had taken a look into the cave. "Anybody there with a torch?" he asked. Without saying a word, Kranegar made his way to him. When you go deeper into the system, you should came across a stock of torches."
"Does anybody have things to make a fire..." Krasnegar asked. The strayer stood beside Krasnegar, giving him what he needed to make a fire. "No-one's near our camp..." the strayer said with a lightly rough voice.
Ulath lit the torch. It lit up the "entrance hall".
"Are you sure you want to enter this Labyrinth?" Krasnegar asked. "Strange things are going on in there..."
"Don't be so superstitious!" Thorwyn answered. "If your map is correct..."
"I made it myself!" Krasnegar's voice sounded a little bit insulted. "But I think..."
Suddenly the Fox and strayer appeared within the group, telling what he had found. "We are not alone here. Out of our range, beyond a small forest, there is a big camp. I have heard many voices and..." the Fox held himself back: he had been about to say that he had smelled many men... "seen many men." He didn't want to let the others know that a real fox could smell better than a human.
"A Camp? In our situation we should avoid any contact..." Krasnegar said.
"Well, sure, but - there is a problem..." the Fox answered. "As I approached them, I suddenly heard a dreadful crying, followed by sounding laughter. Then I quickly returned to you, so I could try to make you understand the importance of this situation."
"What have to do with them? What if they kill each other now?" Eolus said coldly.
"We cannot ignore them!" Sajet looked angry at the magician. "What, if they have caught an Elf and torture him now?" she said. "At least we must go and have a look at what's going on there.
Xera looked thankful at her. "I'm for it!" she said.
"Should we part? Half of us going under the mountains, the other half over the mountains?" Derlaf asked.
"It's a big camp! Many men!" the Fox looked at them.
"We shouldn't part," Ulath decided, "we should rather go there, and have a close look. But I think it won't be easy, approaching the camp in the light of the day."
The Fox and the strayer Alrik looked quite insulted.
Unexpectedly, it was Eolus who suggested making the inspectors invisible.
But Xera said: "I'll make it. And I'll take Krasnegar with me, he knows them better than we do..."
"WHAT? Taking with you? At the end you will try making me invisible, too? I don't want to have anything to do these worthless tricks..." But Xera already drew him with her away.
The Fox escorted them a bit, showing them the right way. The strayer looked after them, curious, because he hadn't seen anyone so far making himself invisible. As Xera finally made herself invisible - and everything she held in her hand - the Fox began to smile, as he noticed that Krasnegar had shut his eyes... So they disappeared... He went back.
Alrik was astonished. Incredible! It was possible to make himself disappear - so completely, so invisible! It would be safer for him. If he only could do it...
Rethinking it, he highly respected Xera and the one they called the "Fox". They were highly talented in sneaking and moving through the woods and shadows - like him. The "Fox" would be a good ranger, he thought.
Eolus couldn't stand seeing his companions simply standing around, waiting for something. "What's going on? Shouldn't we begin entering the cave-system?" He said, making himself ready. Ulath shook his head "You can enter the cave, but I thin it would be better to wait for them. Let's see if our musician has made a fire..." Arriving at the place where they had left Aidan, Ulath couldn't suppress a smile: The bard was sleeping...
It became evening. Sajat said that it would be wise to get to sleep early, they didn't know what lay before them. Ulath told her that he wanted to study the map a bit further. The rest of them went to sleep, Sajet covering Aidan with a quilt, then laying herself next to him, while Krasnegar and Xera inspected the camp, Eolus inspected the cave, and the strayer inspected his curiosity...
1. Sajet, female human from the Southlands
2. Thorwyn, male human (with his magical sword)
3. "The Fox", male "human" (an intelligent Fox polymorphed into human shape)
4. Ulath, male human, from the Northlands (a bit of a drunk)
5. Aiden, male human, an inexperienced and unworldly bard
6. Alrik, male human, a strayer or wanderer who is uneasy in crowds
7. Eolus Thunderstorm, male dwarf
8. Xera, a female Wood-Elf (who wishes to see some of the world)
9. Krasnegar, male dwarf (crippled right hand and possibly crippled left hand)
10. Gideon Derlaf, male human, aka Hookhand (has a hook for a left hand)
11. Keledan, male human, a scout
12. Bearpaw, male dog, former pet of Sam Dry River (deceased)