Healing a Princess. . . 31 (Deals, Steals, and Warnings)

Healing a Princess: 31

 

(Deals, Steals, and Warnings)

 

Written by Tim Knight

 

 

 

 

HaP 31

 

--o0o--

 

“Any word from your play thing?” the Elf Lord Raulah raised his eyebrow.

“Not as of yet, my Lord. I do expect to hear from her with in the week. A raspy, voice emanated from a dark cowl.

“Are you sure that she will do as asked?”

“I am my Lord.” Maskalah barely tipped his head hidden beneath his cowl. Not even the ruling Elf Lord was allowed to look upon Maskalah's face.

“The entrance to that dwarven warren has been a thorn in my side for long enough.” Raulah growled. “I want it sealed permanently. We've had too many close calls with those runts finding out what is happening here.”

Maskalah dipped his head. “I have scouts stationed every three miles watching for the half-breed's sign.”

“And it will show us the exact location of the dwarven gate?”

“Yes, my Lord. I have created it to not only throw up bright flares, but also to explode at it's base so that it will scorch the earth where it is placed. If anyone tries to move it or extinguish it, it will incinerate them.”

The Elf Lord walked over to the window opening of his map room and looked out upon the large flotilla of boats being constructed. Sleek, low riding sniper,boats built for speed. A dozen elves would silently slip through guarded waters and take out anyone who might spy the main mass of his armada. A larger version of the sleek boats were fitted with a catapult that would project pots of explosive pitch, or rocks. Behind those came larger boats that would carry fifty heavily loaded elves or one hundred lightly armored ones.

Already the trees around the river could barely conceal the growing army. Security of this operation was at the utmost. Not one soul must know of it's existence.

“The Humans of Blaire, have they been adequately dissuaded from entering the woods?” His dry voice intoned.

“You have done well in that.” Raulah nodded. “I can still smell the rotting corpses that you decorated the border with, as well as smoke from their burning villages.”

Maskalah smiled. He took great pride in his work.

“What have you promised this half-breed of yours?” Raulah inquired.

“She desperately wants to be reunited with her elven father.” Maskulah's chuckle caused Raulah's skin to crawl.

“Do we know who her father is?”

“I didn't think it was prudent to find out.”

“How are you dealing with her and her human friends?” Raulah's eyes flashed with excitement at the prospect.

“I have pulled a skirmishing battle force from the Hasslemere, Truno border and put them on alert in the general area. Their orders are to not allow anyone to leave the tree line alive. The ones that do will be begging for death as they dangle from long spears, while the birds feast upon their entrails.”

“You and your flourish for decorating.” The Elf Lord shook his head as he turned to look back out at the growing number of boats.

 

 

--o0o--

 

Rikki woke up in a strange bed. It took him a few moments to remember that they had made it to Narva. They were to meet up with the wounded that Brother Tagyrt and Battleaxe Belvedir had brought through. He stretched and swung his feet out of bed.

Splashing some water on his face and pulling on some clean clothes laid out for him, he opened the door to see a servant changing out the candles in the hallway.

“I hope I didn't wake you, Sir.” the servant bowed.

“Not at all. What time is it?”

“About two hours before the start of the day, Sir.”

Rikki wiped his eyes. “Thank you.”

“Should I have someone bring you breakfast, Sir.”

“Just point me to the kitchen.” Rikki stated. The servant looked at him strangely. “I'm more comfortable if I don't have to eat off of fine china in bed.”

The Dwarf nodded understanding and gave him quick directions to the Palace kitchen.

“Can I help you?” one of the kitchen servants asked as Rikki ducked through a door.

“Is this where a hungry human can get something to eat?” he smiled.

“Uh, sure.” the servant seemed a bit confused. “Come have a seat over here.” the servant led him to a table in the corner with a low bench.

“Perfect.” Rikki settled himself on the bench and stretched his legs out. “What do you have available?”

“Some bread was just pulled out of the oven.” the servant offered.

“Do you have some jam or some butter that can go with that? Maybe some honey?”

“I'll see what I can find.” the dwarf disapeared around the corner.

Rikki yawned and stretched. His mind seemed so clear compared to the last few days. He didn't realize just how tired he had become. Now he wished that one of his officers would have stepped up to him sooner. He rewound the last few days in his mind and hoped that he hadn't made any horrible mistakes.

“Here you are, sir.” the dwarf laid out a tray and a fresh loaf of bread. “Would you like some milk, juice, or perhaps some ale?”

“Some Juice and a bit of ale.” Rikki nodded, Thank you, this looks good.”

The servant set down two small pots, one of honey, the other of a jam.

“Fantastic.” Rikki ripped a piece off of the bread and slathered jam on it. If everything went well today, he'd be sleeping under an open sky tonight. The thought of leaving these warrens behind had an uplifting effect on his mood. The dwarven ale didn't hurt much either. He started going over the list of things he had to get done today. Talking to the cooks about stocking up some food for the trip from the mountain through the hostile woods to the gentle grasslands of Blaire. Nothing that had to be cooked or had a strong odor when cooked. That left out fresh meat for a few days. Bread, cheese, fruits and dried meat would have to be the extent of their diet. The Princess might complain so he'll have to confront her and explain the situation to her.

Seeing to the wounded that came in with Brother Tagyrt was high on his list as well as checking in with Taelah. He figured that she, like himself, must feel like she was imprisoned in this mountain. It wasn't his intention to keep her captive, but the Dwarves disliked Elves more than humans did. He wanted to keep her safe as long as she was under his guardianship.

Rikki took a long draw on his mug of ale, licked his lips and took another bite of bread.

He had to go by the market this morning as well to pick up the equipment that he had ordered.

“Ah, there you are.” Grymm ducked through the door. “I went by your room to see if you needed anything, a servant said that you were heading for the kitchen.”

“Have you eaten, Grymm?” Rikki asked.

“Not really, sir.” the Corporal shook his head.

“Have a seat and help me with this bread.” Rikki invited.

Seeing the Corporal join the Captain, the kitchen servant brought an additional plate of food for Grymm.

“How can I help you this morning, Captain?” Grymm asked.

“Have you done your shopping in Narva, yet?” Rikki asked.

Grymm reached to his belt and pulled out a blade and presented it to his Captain. “I ordered this while we were in Sherstone.” he smiled.

Rikki gently picked up the blade as if it was a robins egg and admired it's craftsmanship. “This is very nice.” He felt good about his orders. “What else did you get?”

“A few pairs of shears, one for my ma, the others for trade; good sewing needles, and some glass beads for my Ma.” he admitted sheepishly. “An Axe head for my Pa, and a couple of knives for trading.”

“Very nice.” Rikki handed the blade back to his Corporal, who sheathed it.

“What about you, Sir? What are you getting?”

“I ordered a helm, a dagger, a few knives for trade, and some new barding for Sefu.” Rikki's eyes sparkled. “looks like I need to pick up a few odds and ends for trade and gifts as well. The shears and needles were a good idea.”

“I didn't even think about barding.” Grymm groaned. “A lot of soldiers were ordering new swords. I couldn't afford one.”

“My sword works just fine, it feels nice and I would feel awkward breaking in a new one.” Rikki stated. “I don't need to die with a fancy sword when a good one will do.”

Grymm nodded. “Did you hear the news?”

Rikki shook his head and looked curiously for more information.

“The Lieutenant married Lady Monyka last night.”

“He did what?” Rikki was stunned

“He asked her to marry him. At the dinner last night.”

“What did her Highness say?”

“She approved and gave her blessing. Prince Caldric set them up in their own suite last night.”

“They're married? Already? What happened to being engaged?” Rikki forgot about his food and was staring in disbelief at Grymm.

“According to Dwarven custom. If a man asks a woman to marry him and the woman accepts, then they are considered bound for a year and a day. At the end of that time, the woman can decide to end the marriage or continue on.”

“The woman decides?” Rikki couldn't believe his ears.

Grymm nodded. “Dwarven women have most of the power in this culture. If they decide that they want out, then the man loses his status, power, and leaves with the gold that he entered with.”

“Tanek's balls, a man would be at the whim of the woman.”

Grymm nodded.

“Backwards underground place.” Rikki muttered. He shook his head, “So Monyka and Kadyr are now married.” It was a statement.

“Weird, huh?” Grymm tore off a piece of bread.

“Did the Princess know about this . . . this custom?”

Grymm shook his head again and smiled broadly. “She was a bit taken aback by it all, but from what I heard handled the news quite dignified. . . She only swore and yelled once she was back in her suite.”'

“The things that happen when I'm not around.” Rikki popped a grape in his mouth. “Well, don't give him too much free time, Corporal. We have a duty to do and that is to keep the Princess safe.”

“Yes, Sir.” Grymm nodded.

“Rouse the groom and have him inform the cooks that we will be living on hard rations while we make our way through the forest and into Blaire. No fires will be allowed, not even for cooking.” Grymm rose to his feet, finished off some juice. “Then have him meet me where ever Brother Tagyrt is.”

“Yes, Sir.” Grymm saluted and ducked through the low doorway.

“Married.” Rikki drank some more ale, sighed as he left a silver next to the plate of food and pushed himself to his feet.

 

After asking for directions, twice, Captain Kalhoun found himself in front of the double doors leading to the Princess' suite. He hoped that she was in one of her better moods. Her blue eyes always sparkled when she was in a good mood. A Mul stood barring the doors as Rikki approached.

“Is she awake?” he asked.

“She is eating her morning meal right now.” The Mul didn't move.

“I need to speak with her.” the Captain stated.

“I am under orders not to interrupt her meal.” the Mul still barred the doors.

“Whose order?” Captain Kalhoun took a closer look. It was the female, Kama Lutala.

“The Princess'.” Kama Lutala was like a brick wall.

“I'm in charge of the Princess' safety. You will stand aside, Kama.”

The Mul's jaw clenched for a moment and then relaxed as it took a large step sideways.

“The Princess will not fault you for this Kama. I however, will if I have to go through this again with you. Understood?”

“Yes, Captain.” Kama Lutala sounded like she was growling.

Rikki knocked on the door twice before opening it.

“Yes?” Tonya called.

“It's Captain Kalhoun, your Highness.”

“Come in Captain.” her voice was light and fresh. Rikki's heart warmed at the thought of her being in a better mood.

“Thank you.” Rikki stepped into the room. “So what is this I hear about my Lieutenant and your Lady in Waiting getting married last night?” Her hair shone silver in the soft glow of the fish bowls set about the room. Even in the eerie light, she looked magnificent.

“Had I known about that Dwarven custom, I would not have giving my permission last night.” Tonya growled, her voice taking on an edge not directed at her Captain.

“What shall we do about it?” Rikki asked.

“I can make her life miserable.” Tonya stated, “but it would only make my life miserable as well.”

“Keep them separated?” he offered.

“Good luck.” she scoffed.

“I guess we'll just have to accept it.” Rikki sighed.

“That doesn't mean I don't have to like it.” Tonya stated. “The only good thing I can see it doing is keep her from looking like a love sick little girl. So, what brings you here?”

“I wanted to inform your Highness, that upon leaving the Under kingdom and for a few days afterward, we will be eating hard rations.”

“What does that mean?”

“No cooking of anything. In fact there will not be any fires allowed for cooking or warmth. The smell of smoke would tell any elf within ten miles of us being there as well as our location.”

“What am I supposed to eat then?”

“Bread, cheese, fruit, we will have dried meat to gnaw on, but it won't be very good.

“What about tea?”

“I'll have the cooks brew some up this morning. Other than that, you'll have to drink cold brewed tea, water, or wine.”

“It's only for a few days, right?” Tonya asked.

Rikki nodded, waiting for her to lose her sunny disposition and start raging.

“This is how the soldiers eat while on campaign?”

“Yes, your Highness.”

Tonya looked to Annyka sitting quietly across from the table from her. “Annyka, it looks like we are going to play soldier for a couple of days.”

Annyka smiled.

“All right Captain, but if we are going to be roughing it, and since We've been cooped up in these caves for so long, I want to spend some time riding.”

“As long as you don't go running off, your Highness.” Rikki dipped his head, “And I assign a body guard for you.”

Tonya smiled and nodded ascension. Rikki's heart swelled as her smile beamed down on him.

“Care to eat something, Captain?” She asked gesturing at the table loaded with food.

“Thank you, but no, your Highness, I have already eaten.”

Tonya's face screwed up into a pout for the briefest of seconds, then returned to a smile. “I have something for you to place in the hidden chest.” She turned to the young girl. “Annyka could you please get the gift that Prince Caldric presented to us last night?”

“How is your arm, Rikki?” Tonya's voice had a softer quality to it.

Rikki stretched it out a little bit and only winced towards the end of his extension. “Much better, but still a bit stiff.”

The blond girl was back in a flash with a marble box and handed it to the Captain.

“May I?” Rikki asked.

“Yes.” she said around a bite.

Rikki opened the box to reveal the largest sapphire he had ever seen. “Is this what I think it is?” he asked.

“A giant sapphire? Yes.” She stated. “I don't know what I'm going to do with it. It's too big for a crown or tiara, and it's too large and heavy for a pendant.”

“A septer, maybe?” Rikki offered.
“That's a little ostentatious, don't you think?” Tonya asked. “Only Oba Kanu of Hasslemere carries a septer.”

“It was just an idea.” Rikki shrugged. “I hear that Oba Kanu has musicians that proceed him through out his palace heralding his coming with music.”

Annyka giggled. Tonya joined her as she rolled her eyes. “I'm glad we were able to bi-pass Hasslemere.”

“We could always go through there on the way back.”

“Not if I can help it.”

“Please don't make me come through here again.” Rikki begged.

“That bad?”

“Let's put you on the edge of a thousand foot cliff with no railings and make you look to the bottom.”

Tonya blanched at the thought. “No thank you.”

A knock came at the door, just before it opened. “Sorry I'm late.” Monyka blushed. “I must have over slept.”

“Did you do any sleeping?” Tonya chided.

Monyka turned bright red and touched her necklace.

“Is Kadyr on his way to Brother Tagyrt?”

Monyka nodded.

“Will you take off that veil, we are not dwarves.” Tonya demanded.

“Yes, your Highness.” Monyka turned bright red as she removed the green piece of gossamer.

“May I have your leave, Highness?” Rikki bowed.

“Of course. See you this afternoon.”

Rikki dipped his head and left her suite. The Princess was in fine humor, radiating like a sun on a summer day. Rikki didn't notice the bounce in his step until one of the stablehands snickered when he entered.

“Sleep well, or lack of sleep?” The dwarf chuckled.

“Slept very well.” Rikki blushed slightly. “The Princess' carriage?” he inquired.

“Next building over.” The dwarf pointed.

Rikki stashed the giant gem in the safe and headed to the quartermaster's location.

“How are you doing, Scot?” Captain Kalhoun asked the Yeoman.

“Okay, Capitan. Did you hear about the Lieutenant?”

the Captain nodded.

“What can I do for you, Captain.” Yeoman Scot asked changing the subject at seeing a flash of anger in the Captain's face.

“Where can I find Brother Tagyrt?”

Scot quickly gave him directions.

“Have the carriage fluffed and prepped, have the Princess' mount, Comyn and Sefu brushed and ready.” he instructed before leaving the room.

Scot nodded, glad to see the irritated Captain leave.

 

“Brother Tagyrt.” Captain Kalhoun greeted the priest.

“Oh, uh. . . hi. . . Captain.” Tagyrt greeted.

“Lieutenant.” Captain Kalhoun's voice had an iciness to it.

“Yes, Captain.” Kadyr turned with a smile, which flickered and vanished upon seeing the ire in his Captain's face.

“What were you thinking?” Captain Kalhoun admonished.

“What do you mean?”

“Asking Monyka to marry you.”

“We love each other, Rikki. What is so wrong with that?”

“What if we were attacked again? Where would your heart, or your head be? Your duty protecting the Princess, or protecting your. . . . wife?”

“My duty is to the Princess, Captain.”

Captain Kalhoun eyed him skeptically. “Why do you think we made sure that the volunteers for the retinue and entourage were all single, Kadyr? This duty could be dangerous. We can't leave people widowed or orphaned.”

“I understand, Sir. I really didn't expect us to be wed upon the proposal. I wanted to wait until we had returned.”

“Well it's too late now. Isn't it?”

“Yes, Sir.” Kadyr said abashed.

Captain Kalhoun turned to Tagyrt who stood quietly watching the interchange. “Brother Tagyrt, how are my men doing?”

“Um. . . well, let's see. . . . only one who isn't. . . . wholly healed.”

“The others can return to duty?”

Tagyrt nodded. “One. . . . or. . . . perhaps two may. . . be . . . a little sore and uh. . . . not able to do some. . . . . chores.”

“Who is still under your care?” the Captain asked.

“Well, uh. . . . that would be. . . . . Infantryman. . . . . . Dynel.”

“What is wrong with him?”

“Well. . . . he's got a. . . . . pretty nasty. . . . belly wound. . . . It isn't healing as. . . . well as we'd. . . . hoped.”

“He in there?” Captain Kalhoun asked pointing to the door behind Tagyrt.

Brother Tagyrt nodded.

“What does Badiah say about the wound? . . . not that I don't think you are qualified.”

“She. . . . well. . . . . She is um. . . . she is of the same. . . . . thinking as I am.”

“Can I see him?”

Brother Tagyrt nodded and moved out of the way.

Captain Kalhoun looked to his Lieutenant then moved through the door and into Infantryman' Dynel's room. The odor that filled the room was that of a belly wound. The Captain had seen enough of them to know the reek of one.

“How are you doing Dynel?” The Captain tried not to show signs of the smell bothering him.

“Better, Sir.” Dynel tried to rise in bed, but lay back down as his Captain signaled him to lay back. “Sorry I don't smell too good, Sir. I can't smell it as much as I did, but I know it's pretty strong.”

“I've smelled worse.” Captain Kalhoun stated truthfully. “What treatments do they have you doing?”

“Mostly broth diet.” the Infantryman made a face, some herbs to help with the pain and maggots.”

Captain Kalhoun looked to Brother Tagyrt. “Are the maggots keeping it clean?”

Brother Tagyrt nodded, “Yesterday was. . . . . ah. . . . yesterday was the last day of . . . . um. . . . of that . . . . particular treatment.”

“How long until he can ride?” Captain Kalhoun asked.

“Well. . . . uh. . . . . I'd have to say. . . . . . a fortnight.”

“Do you feel up to riding in a wagon, Infantryman?”

“Of course sir.” Dynel nodded. I can even sit up for an hour or so at a time now, as long as I'm bound tight.”

Captain Kalhoun nodded. Binding would help, but the jarring of a wagon would still be excruciating. “We are going to have a few days of really bumpy terrain when we leave the caverns.”

“I can do it, Sir.”

“We can always leave you here to heal and then you can travel back to Riponia.”

“I want to see Blaire, Sir. I've seen the West side of the continent, I'd like to see what's on the other side of those mountains.”

“Fair enough.” Captain Kalhoun patted the man's leg. He turned to Brother Tagyrt. “He's an infantryman, he needs meat. I think he's well enough now to eat something solid. Preferably red and dead.”

“Um. . . . okay, Captain.” Brother Tagyrt nodded.

“See you later today, Infantryman.” Captain Kalhoun smiled and left the room with the Lieutenant who was trying very hard not to breathe in the foul smelling room.

“I've half a mind to put him in the carriage with Ambassador Zareb. Tanitha knows he needs a more comfortable ride.”

Kadyr snorted at the notion. “Zareb would have a conniption.”

Rikki smiled at the thought. “I'm going to check on the Half-elf. You, Lieutenant are going to check in on Adiah,” he whispered the Princess' name, “And then You are going to help Brother Tagyrt with getting Infantryman Dynel loaded and comfortable.”

Kadyr wrinkled his nose at the thought. “This is for last night, isn't it?”

“It's for not using your head.” Captain Kalhoun nodded. “Where is Taelah staying?”

“The Restful Ruby.” Kadyr told him, “Along with a good portion of the retinue.”

Rikki nodded and left the Lieutenant and priest to find his next mission.

 

“How can I help you?” a well dressed Dwarf asked looking up at the Riponian Captain.

“I'm looking for the Half-elf.” Rikki stated.

A sour look crossed the Dwarf's face. “I don't know why you brought that demon down here.” he muttered.

“Neither do I.” Rikki stated honestly.” But I'm looking for her.”

“Some old looking human with scars on his face came and took her off to the market place.”

“Do you know what part of the market place I might find them?” the Riponian Captain asked.

The Dwarf shook his head.

Rikki checked the coins in his purse before heading off to the market place. He could kill two birds with one stone. Check to see if the Half-elf was getting along with the Sergeant at arms and pick up his orders. He pulled a piece of paper out of his purse and studied it closely. He had written down the names of each of the craftsman's shops for each item he had purchased.

“Excuse me sir.” he asked a dwarf upon entering the market place. “Can you tell me where I can find this Master armor smith?”

“Aye, his shop is just down a bit and to the left.”

Rikki thanked him and quickly found the shop.

“I've been expecting you, Captain.” a gray hair, gray bearded dwarf greeted him. “The others have already picked up their orders.”

“You were able to get it all done?” Rikki asked.

The dwarf nodded, and reached under the counter between them and pulled out a new helm and placed it in front of him.

Rikki's heart pounded with excitement as he reached out and carefully picked it up and turned it over in his hands. Three articulated plates of steel cascaded down the back, to protect his neck in battle. He set it over his head and wiggled it back and forth, testing for fit. He quickly turned his head back and forth to see if there was much in movement, the only thing he felt was the bottom plate drift across the top of his shoulders. He fastened the thick leather chin strap and found that it fit even more comfortably.

“How does it fit, Captain?” the dwarf asked with a grin.

“Very well. I have good peripheral vision and it only moves a touch when I jerk my head around.”

“I can fix that.” the dwarf nodded.

“Very nicely done Master dwarf.” Rikki unfastened the strap.

“Let me see how it fits before you remove it.” The dwarf instructed.

Rikki got down at the dwarf's level and let the Master Armor smith move it around on his head.

“Okay, Captain. Let me see it.”

Rikki removed the helm and handed it to the gray haired dwarf.

“Here is your barding.” the dwarf gestured to some special molded plates of steel and leather straps. “Take a look at it while I adjust this for you.”

 

--o0o--

 

Taelah sat on her bed and rested her shoulders and head against the wall. She opened her eyes to stare at her feet sprawled out on the bed before her. It had taken just over a day to reach Narva, her latest prison. She had always known that Elves were despised by the Dwarves but she had never known to what degree or how much her kind was hated. Even though she was half-elf, the dwarves treated her with as much suspicion as if she were full blooded. She wondered if she would ever be accepted by any race.

It was bad enough that the humans were invading the Dwarven Under kingdom, but for them to bring a filthy half-breed with them was unthinkable. When the Riponian Captain had told her that she was not going to Sherstone with the Princess and the rest of the Riponian guard, she thought he was over reacting. From her treatment over the past few days, she realized that his precaution was not the over bearing, over protective person that he was.

She, Edwyn, Symon realized very early on that she needed to keep her cowl covering her head. As long as she did so, the dwarves thought that she was just a human child, or short woman. The problem was that when they ventured out of their room in the inn it looked very suspicious that she was covering her head with the cowl, so she ended up spending most of her time sitting in the room, thinking.

Taelah pulled out the small tube and dried peas and looked at them. She had spent a lot of her time shooting them across the room at a stain on the wall. It was amuzement of some sort anyway. She sighed and put them back in her pack. She was tired of the game.

She thought a lot about her father. All she had to do was one little task and the Elves would reunite her with him. She wondered if he was just as excited as she was to meet her. She knew it was foolish to think such thoughts, but never having had a father, she often idealized him in her head. When she was a little girl, she often fantasized her father coming home and sweeping her up into her arms in a nice embrace then they would embrace her mother and live out their days with one another. Taelah was old enough now to know that dream was dead, but she still hoped that her father had missed having a daughter as much as she had missed having a father.

She looked over at her pack for the millionth time since holing up in the room. She could make out the outline of the large candle that had been given to her. Once they exited the Dwarven underground she was to sneak back to the entrance and light the candle. That was all she would have to do and the Elves would come retrieve her and reunite her with her father.

A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts.

“Come.” she called.

The door opened to the now familiar face of Edwyn. “You have a visitor.” he stated without much emotion. Although Taelah didn't care one way or another, she did try to at least be civil to the Cavalryman. He slept on the floor of her room each night and spent half of each day with her to ensure her safety.

Edwyn stood back and Sergeant at Arms Takoda stepped in. Taelah's heart instantly warmed. She didn't know what it was about the gruff, scarred old man, but he made her feel at ease and comfortable.

“How are you?” Takoda asked.

“I'm fine. I just want out of this giant tunnel.” Taelah sulked.

“We're leaving Narva this afternoon. We should be out of this giant tunnel tomorrow or the next day.”

Taelah breathed a sigh of relief.

“I have heard that you are going stir crazy in this room.”

Taelah nodded.

“I thought I'd take you with me while I pick up my orders.”

“You don't want me with you, Takoda.” Taelah stated. “I'm not welcome anywhere outside this room.”

“There have been enough humans going through the market place since last night that know one will pay any attention to you.” Takoda smiled.

“Wanna bet.” Taelah pouted.

“Grab your cloak and come with me. Make an old man happy.” Takoda pleaded.

Taelah was silent for a few moments before nodding.

“Great.” Takoda smiled, causing the scar on his face to pucker. Somehow the grisly scar added character to the Sergeant's face rather than detract from it. “I'm hungry. How about you?”

“I could eat. This inn maybe nice, but their cooks don't have much imagination when it comes to their menu.”

“They're Dwarves, what would you expect?” Takoda chuckled.

 

--o0o--

 

With a large burlap sack containing Sefu's barding slung over his back and a new helm tucked under his arm, Rikki began meandering through the market looking for items of value that he could use for trade and gifts. Grymm had the bright idea of shears and sewing needles. They were light and very portable. The smell of a bakery caught his attention. He followed the heavenly scent until he stood in front of a shop with a small line of dwarves taking their turn at purchasing something wonderful.

“What has so many lined up?” Rikki asked the line in general.

“The baker makes the best pasties in Narva.” one of the dwarves piped up.

“Well it sure smells good.” Rikki nodded. He stepped to the rear of the line and waited as the line quickly moved forward. Every few seconds a dwarf would walk out of the shop carrying three or four semi-circular wedges of pastry. The rounded outside of the pastie had a very thick crust.

“Look what we have here, a Human.” a dwarf looked up at Rikki as he reached the counter. “Our Pasties are now known in the over world.”

“I followed my nose,” Rikki smiled.

“What'll you have?” the dwarf asked.

“What every is the most popular.”

“You ever had grazer?” the dwarf chuckled.

Rikki smiled “Cooked many different ways, tastes like chicken.”

“Aye it does, but it is cheaper.”

“I'd like to grazer pasties then,” Rikki placed some coins in front of him.

“There ya are.” The dwarf handed him two pasties. “Enjoy.”

Rikki took two steps away and bit into one of the pasties. The filling was zesty with lots of different spices and herbs. Rikki turned back to the dwarf. “Excellent.” he said with a full mouth.

Pasties were definitely light weight, but they wouldn't travel well. Before he had gotten too far from the bakery, one of his pasties had been devoured and he was biting into the second. A rich gravy began to run down his chin. Rikki used the crust to scrape it off his face and soak it up for later tastiness.

When he looked around he found himself in front of a glass shop. Beautiful glass patters of every color he could imagine hung in the window. Rikki ducked through the low doorway and immediately became aware of how bit he was with the sack he was carrying.

“What can I do for you, Riponian?” a dwarf asked stepping forward. “Would you like some beads to take home with you like the others?”

“Other humans were in here buying beads?” Rikki asked.

“Quite a few. I only have some of the pricier ones left. They should make you quite a bundle in Riponia or Truno.”

“You have beautiful work.” Rikki nodded, “But I'm not in the market for glass at the moment. Thank you.”

“You wouldn't want to purchase a special goblet to drink your wine in would you?”

“No thank you.” Rikki backed out the door.

Lots of people buying beads meant that they wouldn't be worth as much. He continued on down the underground boulevard. A small shop tucked between two larger ones caught his eye. He'd almost missed seeing it. Most everything in the shop had to do with seafaring. Dwarves didn't like open water, maybe the shop catered to those who braved the lake. Rikki looked in through the metal netting covering the window opening and spotted a shiny tubular object. He stuffed the last bits of the pastie into his mouth and wiped the crumbs off of his hands before entering the shop.

“I heard that the Prince had allowed Humans down here.” a voice muttered from the back of the shop.

“Hello.” Rikki tried to say around a mouth full of pastie.

“I'm not a weapon smith or a glass blower.” the dwarf sneered.

Rikki swallowed most of what was in his mouth. “I've already picked up my armor and I'm not interested in glass beads.”

“What are you interested in?”

“Why you are selling fishing equipment so far from the lake or even the ocean.”

“Because like most dwarves I have enough commonsense to stay away from any water larger than a wash basin.” the dwarf scoffed.

“Good goddess Tanitha, you have a lot of different kinds of fish hooks.”

“There are a lot of different kinds of fish.” the dwarf rolled his eyes.

“How much do you sell these for?” Rikki asked his glance scanning several different types.

“ 'pends upon the type and size.”

“What if I wanted to buy ten of this kind?” Rikki suggested.

“Them are five coppers a piece.”

“Five coppers?” Rikki looked skeptical.

“You know, the same as the number of fingers you have on your hand.”

Rikki held up both hands. “Which one?”

The dwarf rolled his eyes.

“I can get that price for these hooks in Riponia.”

“Then go back to Riponia and buy them.” the dwarf growled.

Rikki ignored him and perused more of the different kinds of hooks. He made his way over to a table that held what he was really in the store for. Rikki picked up a spy glass and extended it out. He held the small end up to his eye and peered through it. He hefted it in his hand, and set it down to pick up a different one. It was lighter but had a larger diameter lens.

“What kind of wood is this made from?” Rikki asked.

“The kind that comes from a tree.”

“It looks like oak.”

“Aye, Cuz it is. All the way from Morpeth.”

“Morpeth, huh?”

The dwarf nodded. A friend of mine makes the lenses for them.”

Rikki put it to his eye and looked through the wire window admiring the clarity and distance. “How much?” Rikki asked.

“Twelve gold.”

“I can buy a horse for twelve gold. I'll give you five.”

“A horse will only get you off your feet, that will show you where to go. Twelve.”

“But a horse will save me aching feet. Six.”

“A horse will also give you a sore ass. Eleven.”

“My horse has a smooth gait and doesn't flinch in battle. Six.”

“But a horse costs you to feed and shelter it. Battle or no. Ten.”

The haggling went back and forth. Fishing hooks were added to the equation and the haggling went on.

Rikki cradling a oilskin wrapped leather tube containing a spyglass tucked a package containing a gross of fish hooks into his helm and started off down the market a ways. The dwarf had been gruff and quick witted but drove a hard bargain.

A human and a smaller figure emerged from a store ahead.

“Sergeant.” Rikki called. “Sergeant Takoda.”

The Sergeant whipped around after the prompting of the smaller cloaked figure. They both stepped to the side and awaited the Captain to catch up to them.

“Taelah.” Rikki dipped his head to her. “I went by your Inn to find out how you are doing. They said that you were out with the Sergeant so I came here looking for you as well as to pick up a few things.” He looked down into her cowl. “How are you doing?”

“Other than being a virtual prisoner, I'm well, Captain.” She said with only a bit of an edge.

“Were you mistreated by my men?” Rikki inquired.

“No, Captain,” She sounded exasperated, “I just have a hard time getting out of my room because I am hated here so much.”

“I'm sorry to hear that. We will be escaping these confines soon enough.” Rikki glanced towards the ceiling. “Are you finding anything in the market?”

The cowl nodded.

“Is there anything you require that I may help you with?” Rikki asked.

“No Captain, the Sergeant here has been more than helpful.”

“Good, good.” he still didn't like this woman, but he had to be civil to her on the Princess' behalf. “We'll be leaving in just a few hours so hurry up and purchase what you need and pack your stuff.”

“Thank you, Captain.” the cowl dipped.

“You are feeling better.” Takoda observed.

“It is amazing what a bit of sleep will do for you. Are you two heading back?”

Sergeant Takoda looked to the small woman next to him.

“I'm done, Takoda.” she assured.

The Sergeant at Arms looked back to the Captain. “I guess we are.”

“Could you take this bag and helm back with you? Have Grymm take care of it for me.”

“Sure.” Takoda hefted the bag from Rikki. “What's in here?”

“Barding.”

“Good investment.”

Rikki nodded. “I'll check in with you later, Taelah.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

Rikki weighed the little bit of coin he had left in his purse and went in search of his final destination.

 

--o0o--

 

 

 

Monyka tucked a dress in the chest and looked at one that Annyka brought in to her.

“She'd like you to get the stain out of this.” the girl held out the dress. “I told her that I could do it, or ask Rose to do it, but she told me, that she wanted you to do it.”

“It's okay, Annyka.” Monyka sighed. “She is just angry at me.”

“I know, why?”

“Because I got married last night.” Monyka looked down at her ring and admired it.

“But she gave her blessing.”

“That was for the engagement. She didn't know that it meant that Kadyr and I would be instantly bonded.”

“What difference does it make?”

“A lot, apparently.” Monyka looked at the stain on the front of the skirt. “I think she is scared that my marrying Kadyr will mean that I won't be around to help her anymore.”

“Oh.”

“You had better get back to her or she'll blame me for keeping you too long.” Monyka shooed at the girl.

She thought back to the wonderful evening last night. She could barely remember all of what happened. If someone asked her details, she would have had to think about it for a long while. At the end of the dinner, Prince Caldric had announced that the two would have one of the finer suites in his home. When Tonya protested, he had explained that under Dwarven law, she and Kadyr were considered wed.

A servant ushered the shocked, couple into a large suite fit for Tonya or her mother. Kadyr rubbed his face to make sure he wasn't hallucinating and looked towards her.

“I had planned on our being wed when we had returned to Ripon. If you wish, I will withdraw my proposal until we get to Blaire.”

“Do you want to withdraw it?” Monyka asked.

“No. I was offering in case you weren't ready.”

“I am ready Kadyr. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

The two just stood looking at one another, unsure of the next move. It was so sweet.

She sighed and put a bit of soap and water on the stain and started scrubbing. She worked it into a sudsy lather then rinsed it. The stain was still there. She re applied the soap and water and began scrubbing again.

“Come out.” She muttered to herself as she worked vigorously at the stain.

Monyka stepped back and sat down wiping her forehead as her head felt a bit dizzy.

“Monyka.” Annyka called from the door. “her Highness requests your presence.”

Monyka took a deep breath and followed the young girl into the front room. “Prince Caldric.” Monyka curtsied to the Dwarf.

“Lady Monyka,” He smiled. “I hope your accommodations were adequate.”

“It was wonderful thank you.”

“It was a blessing and an honor that you were wed in my home.” The Prince dipped his head to the Princess' assistant. He turned to Tonya. I will be escorting you to the exit nearest to your destination, but will not be joining you to Blaire. I'm afraid that I have some internal issues to resolve first.”

“That is very understandable, Caldic.” Tonya nodded.

“However, I will be releasing these to Muls into your service as bodyguards on your journey to Blaire and back to Riponia.”

“Oh?” Tonya was surprised.

“I have already spoken to both Kama Lutala and Kama Tamon. They understand the importance of your safety as you rally the kingdoms in this fight against the Elves.”

Monyka was starting to get used to the idea of having two giant soldiers watching over them. It was still a bit new, but having them at such immediate disposal for the whole trip was going to take some more getting used to.

“Are you sure it is okay for me to take them from their division?” Tonya asked.

“They will also be learning about other cultures, peoples and other ways of fighting. I hope that they can return and teach the rest of the Muls so that they can continually improve their proficiency.”

“Caldric, you have been so wonderful to our imposing on your Kingdom.” Tonya dipped her head. “Is there something that I can do or provide in return for your generosity?”

“Your friendship and the friendship of your Kingdom will be most welcome.”

“Consider it done.” Tonya agreed.

Monyka took her leave and returned to the dress. She turned the dress over and looked more closely. The stain was gone. The first scrubbing must have loosened the dirt up enough that the second one got rid of it. She took a small rag and rubbed at the fabric to pull out some of the moisture and then packed it.

“Monyka, when you are finished, could you inform the Captain that we are ready when he is?” Tonya called.

“If the Captain says that there is time, might I take a bath before we get into the carriage? It sounds like it might be a few days before we get the luxury of a good washing.”

Tonya closed her eyes, but nodded. “If there is time, and If you don't take too long.”

Monyka nodded and hurried out of the suite and past the Mul guarding the door. Her braids bounced causing her charms to jingle as she went.

She hadn't gotten too far when she spotted Captain Kalhoun carrying a box the size of a loaf of bread and a leather tube. “Captain?” she called.

The Captain looked up and looked like he forced a smile. Monyka's immediate thought was for Kadyr. Was he in trouble with the Captain?

“What can I do for you Lady Monyka?”

“I was sent to inform you that her Highness is packed and ready.”

“Great.” the Captain nodded.

“Also I was wondering if there was time for me to take a bath before we started out?”

“You have about a candle mark if you hurry. The soldiers and retinue are just starting to form up out there.”

“Thank you Captain.” Monyka called over her shoulder as she made her way back to the Princess' suite.

“That was quick.” Tonya looked up from her book.

“He said to thank you for being so prompt and that If I hurried, I could get a bath.” Monyka hurried through, while unlacing her bodice.”

“Annyka, could you help her?” Tonya asked. “I don't want to be stuck in a carriage with someone who stinks.”

Monyka stripped out of her dress and her chemise.

“The water isn't warm.” Annyka warned.

“As long as it is fairly clean, I don't care.” Monyka unwound the delicate chain that held her braids up. The little braids with all of their decoration, fell down brushing her shoulders as she stepped into the cool water.

Monyka dunked under the water. When she came up she grabbed a bar of soap and a wash rag. “Could you take that comb and start taking out these braids?” Monyka asked.

“Sure.” Annyka looked a little daunted by the task. “What do you want me to do with the stuff that is in it?”

“Just put it in a small dish, or even up on that small table.”

 

--o0o--

 

Adiah stood towards the back of the entourage and retinue holding Comyn's lead. The horse was anxious to get some exercise and Adiah was glad that the Princess would be riding her soon. She pulled a coin from her pocket and began to slowly flip it end over end from one knuckle to the next. Once she made a complete circuit, she sped up just a little. Soon she began flipping the coin back and forth between two knuckles, then moved it to two others and made it flip back and forth between those two.

“Looking good, short stuff.” Nevyre startled her.

“I've been practicing.”

“I can tell. I've got a new challenge for you now.” Nevyre smiled.

“What is it?”

“See this handkerchief?” Nevyre pulled a bright yellow piece of fabric from out of thin air.

Adiah nodded.

“I've asked twelve people in the caravan to place them hanging out of certain pockets. Your task is to collect all twelve with out them catching you.”

“What if they catch me?” Adiah asked.

“Then you have to hand it back to them and you'll have to try again later.”

“If I collect all twelve?”

“Bring them to me, and I'll arrange for you to take Comyn out for a ride once we are in Blaire.”

“I don't know if Tonya. . . . I mean her Highness will let me take Comyn out.”

“Pick a horse then, and I'll see about getting you an hour or two.”

“Deal.” Adiah smiled excitedly.

“By the way.” Nevyre chuckled, “This is the twelfth kerchief.” he stuffed the kerchief into his back pocket.

Adiah's mouth dropped open. “that's not fair.”

“Of course it is. By the time you get to this, one, you'll have had practice.” Nevyre grinned he urged his horse onward.

Adiah glared after him from under the brim of her hat. She slipped her coin back into her pocket and began scanning those around her for yellow kerchiefs.

 

--o0o--

 

Rikki finished strapping the new barding to Sefu and stood back to admire the new look and fit. “You're looking quite well, boy.” he smiled. “I'll bet that is a bit more comfortable than that old stuff, huh?”

He swung up into his saddle and lowered the new helm onto his head and scanned to see how the rest of the cavalrymen were doing in getting ready to move out.

“Nice helm, Captain.” Grymm admired as he rode up next to Rikki.

Rikki smiled. “Thanks, Corporal.”

“Takoda and Lieutenant Kadyr are escorting the Princess out now.”

“Is the infantry ready?”

“Aye, Sir.”

“The Ambassador's?”

“Zareb just climbed into this carriage. I believe Ambassador Kalgar will be marching along with Prince Caldric until we are ready to leave the caverns.”

“Very good Corporal. As soon as the Princess is settled, let me know.”

“Aye, Sir.” Grymm dipped his head.

“You turning Dwarven on me, Corporal?”

“Sir?”

“You are answering with 'Aye'.”

Rikki laughed as Grymm blushed.

“I didn't realize, Sir.”

“If you see Yeoman Skot, can you ask him to see me?” Captain Kalhoun asked.

“Ay- yes, Sir.” Grymm caught himself.

Captain Kalhoun rode along the long procession. He pulled up to the Ambassador's carriage.

“How are you doing, Ambassador Zareb?”

“As good as an old man can.” he nodded to the Captain.

“Were you able to spend time in the market place?”

“Oh, I walked through there.” Zareb commented. “I don't need weapons and I don't have a sweetheart to buy glass beads for, so I really didn't get much.”

“Are you looking forward to Malden?”

“I'm looking forward to getting home.” Zareb stated. “I have some pretty important treaty agreements to go over with his Majesty.”

“We don't have too much further to go before the Princess can get healed, then we can head on back. The main question is whether we risk the Northwest passage or perhaps sail back.”

“Wouldn't this Dwarven highway be faster and safer?”

“It probably would be, I'm just not comfortable down here.” Captain Kalhoun admitted. “Lets see what happens after we take care of her first.”

“How soon until we are in Blaire?” Zareb asked.

“My goal is to leave the Underground at night and travel as far as we can using the darkness as cover until we are too exhausted to go any further and camp. The best case scenario, we'll only put up a tent for you and her Highness. We'll only sleep for four or five hours before we head out again. I want to try and get out of the woods and into Blaire before we camp a second time. If it gets bad out there, we'll have Her Highness sleep in her carriage. How about you? Can you sleep in here?”

Zareb looked about. “If I have a few pillows and a blanket I think I can manage some sleep in here.”

“I might have to hold you to that.” Rikki scrubbed a hand through his hair.

“I'll manage, Captain. I've been through worse with His Majesty, I'm sure.”

“You were looking for me, Captain?” Skot interjected.

“I have a favor to ask of you, Yeoman.”

“What is it, Sir?”

Captain Kalhoun reached into a saddlebag an pulled out a package. I bought some of these today. Can you tell me if they are any good?” he handed the package to the Yeoman.

Skot opened the package and found a sack full of steel arrow heads. He reached in and pulled one out to appraise.

“These are good quality, Captain.”

“I thought so, but I don't have your expertise.”

“How much did you pay for them?” Skot asked.

“One gold, two silver.” Rikki looked expectantly at Skot.

“You were not taken for, Sir.”

Rikki let out a breath that he hadn't realized he was holding. “Could you take some of those and make me some arrows?”

“I don't have any shafts right now, Captain.”

“Once we get to Blaire, you'll be able to get some won't you?”

Skot nodded. “How many do you want?”

“Two dozen? Three?”

“As soon as we get some good shafts, I'll get to work on them.”

“Thanks, Skot.”

“Captain!” Grymm called out.

Rikki turned to see the young Corporal ride towards him.

“The Princess is ready to go.”

“Very good Corporal. Move them out.”

Grymm turned his mount around and rode towards the front of the column.

Captain Kalhoun sat on his horse and smiled at the volunteers in the entourage and retinue as they passed by.

“Cavalryman Edwyn.” Captain Kalhoun greeted as the soldier came into view.

Edwyn pulled his horse up to his Captain.

“How did your stint with the Half-elf go?”

“It was a bit rough.”

“Oh?” Captain Kalhoun raised an eyebrow.

“She was fine, Sir.” Edwyn corrected. “The Dwarves didn't take having an Elf amongst them very well at all.”

“I've noticed that their hatred of the demons rival our own.” Captain Kalhoun nodded. “What did she do?”

“She spent a lot of time in her room.”

“Doing what?”

“Mostly just staring off into space. I spent as little time with her as I could, Sir.” She makes my skin crawl.”

“Mine too. Good job Cavalryman.

Edwyn saluted and re-joined the column.

 

 

--o0o--

 

The Princess' entourage rode through out the afternoon until Prince Caldric led them through a side tunnel. They called for a meal break and ate cold rations passed out by the cooks and Cavalrymen. Horses were watered and fed a light meal as well.

Rikki loaded as many people as he could on to wagons and spare mounts as Prince Caldric up a long spiraling incline, much like they had traveled down when they entered the Underground. It seemed like a year had passed since they had entered the dark recesses of the dwarven under kingdom.

Exhausted and hungry, the two parties stopped in a large level cavern.

“Grymm pass the word down the line that we will be resting here for about six hours. Have the horses groomed, watered and fed. No tents, bedrolls only. Everyone eats and gets as much sleep as they can.”

Grymm acknowledged the orders and began riding down the line.

“Captain?” Tonya called from her carriage.

“Yes, your Highness?”

“Why don't we just leave?”

Rikki explained to her the need of darkness. “Besides, everyone, including the horses are tired from that long climb.”

Tonya nodded.

“Lieutenant Kollyns!” Captain Kalhoun called.

Kadyr rode over to the Captain. “Yes, Sir?”

“Pick four pairs of men for scout duty. Ask Skot for a few men as well. Have them meet with me in half a candle mark.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And Lieutenant, do not include Edwyn or Symon in that duty. They're both on light duty for a few days.

“Sir?”

Rikki slid off of Sefu and handed him off to a Cavalryman. “They just spent the last several days cooped up in an inn with a half-elf. I think they deserve a bit of a break.

Lieutenant Kollyns nodded before going about his task.

“Takoda?” Captain Kollyns called.

“I believe he is with the half-elf, Sir.” Cavalryman Dyrk spoke up.

“Go find him Cavalryman and have him meet with me and Prince Caldric.”

The Cavalryman saluted and took off.

“What is with him and that half-elf?” Rikki muttered to himself. “You'd think he was in love or something.”

 

“What is the terrain out there like?” Captain Kalhoun asked Prince Caldric and his Hammer.

“It's heavily wooded, Captain.” the Hammer stated. “There is an overgrown road not too far off, but it'll be difficult getting to it especially with the carriages and wagons. You'll have to clear some logs, rocks and maybe some trees. Once you get on the old road, it should go a bit smoother.” The Hammer explained. “I send out regular patrols, but I have them take different routes so as to not give away the location of this entrance. This is a strategically located gate so if you can, try not to disturb the foliage too much and try to reset the logs and rocks that might be in the way.”

Captain Kalhoun nodded “Where does the road lead?”

“South towards Blaire for most of it's route. That is one of the reason's the Ambassador and Prince felt that this would be the safest route outside of our Empire.” Prince Caldric explained.

Takoda joined the small group and nodded a greeting to the others.

“The road hasn't been used by wheeled carts for quite some time so there are areas where trees have fallen, but it should be easier than going through the forest.” The Hammer detailed.

“What is the nearest town in Blaire?” Takoda inquired.

“Lyonsgate.” The Hammer explained. “It's a few miles from the edge of the forest, the Elves have burned most of the farms and towns in border raids, but Lyonsgate is better fortified and a little further from the trees.”

“Thank you Prince Caldric, Hammer.” Captain Kalhoun

“Captain, Kalhoun.” The Hammer gained Rikki's attention again. “I have a patrol out there right now, so please don't attack everything that moves.”

“I'll do my best to prevent arrows from going into the wrong target.” Captain Kalhoun nodded. He turned to find Lieutenant Kollyns and several Cavalrymen standing twenty paces off. He beckoned to them then scanned their faces. “Pair off for scouting.” he ordered. “The Hammer says that you'll find an over grown road not far from this gate. We'll be taking that road into Blaire. Now, I want to know what is out there but don't go more than half a mile or so from the road. We need to focus on getting through that forest as quickly as possible. Got it?”

The men nodded, a few muttered 'yes, Sir.'.

“Takoda, have Galyway pick fourteen men. Ten for labor, four for watch. Have the labor team clear a small trail from here to that road. Make sure that they know that they are not to make it too obvious, we'll need to try and do as the Hammer asks and cover our tracks.”

“Use axes and shovels?” Takoda asked.

“Only where absolutely necessary.”

Takoda nodded and headed off.

“Grymm!” Rikki called out, hearing his voice bounce off the cavern walls.

“Here, Captain.” Grymm answered.

“Get me some food, then help the Princess get settled. Then tell the officers that we are going to have a meeting in a candle mark.”

 

--o0o--

 

 

Kadyr's heart swelled as he approached his new wife. “The Captain is ready for you to load up.” He told the Princess although his eyes strayed to Monyka. “We'll want to disembark in just a few minutes.”

“Thank you Lieutenant.” Princess Tonya smiled. “Please inform the Captain, that we will be ready when the time comes.”

Kadyr bowed and backed out, his gaze kept darting to look at Monyka. She had released her long curly hair from all of the braids yesterday; it now cascaded over her shoulders.

Kadyr mounted his horse and began a long slow ride down the column reminding the retinue and entourage that as long as they were in the woods that they had to keep as quiet as possible. No shouting of orders would be allowed. This was the gauntlet of the whole trip. It was a distance of only two days, perhaps three, but it was shorter than the week or more that they would be exposed if they had taken the Northwest passage.

He gave Symon a nod. The Captain wanted to station a mixture of cavalry and infantry along the retinue and entourage.

A movement of fresh air rushed into the cavern as giant stone doors down the entrance tunnel were swung open.

“How are you doing?” Nevyre joined him as he began riding forward along the column again.

“I'm fine.”

“Married.” Nevyre shook his head. “Who'd have thought you'd ever get married? And to the Princess's personal assistant?”

“Weird isn't it.” Kadyr agreed. “It was a bit sudden, but she is incredible.”

“Did you know about the dwarven custom of marriage?” Nevyre asked.

Kadyr shook his head. “I was as shocked as the Princess and the Captain. Captain Kalhoun isn't very thrilled with the idea.”

“You not good enough for Monyka?”

“That's not it. He's worried about loyalties. Who'd I protect first, Monyka or the Princess.”

“Your wife of course.”

“No. I'm sworn to lay my life down for the Princess if it is necessary.”

Nevyre grimaced. “That's pretty messed up. But I see the Captain's point now.”

“What about you?” Kadyr asked. “Has a cook or a laundress caught your attention?”

“Right now the only one other than you who has my attention is Adiah.”

“Princess Adiah? Isn't she a bit young and above your station?”

Nevyre used his head to divert Kadyr's attention to the column ahead of them. Kadyr could see the Princess disguised as a stable boy reach out and gently try to remove a yellow kerchief from the belt of a soldier.

“What is she doing?” Kadyr muttered.

“She's learning the art of gently removing items from people without them knowing.”

“You're not teaching her to pick pocket, are you?”

Nevyre grinned. “No.” he said disgusted, “I'm teaching her not to get caught. She already knows how to pickpocket.”

“So what is she doing?” Kadyr inquired.

Nevyre explained the exercise to Kadyr. “I have the twelfth kerchief.” he grinned.

Kadyr chuckled. “The real test, how to pickpocket a pickpocket, huh?”

Nevyre nodded.

Adiah finally freed the kerchief and quickly tucked it into her tunic before disappearing into the entourage behind her.

“She seems to be doing well.” Kadyr looked to his friend.

“That was one of the easier ones.” Nevyre stated.

A group of dwarves stood by the entrance to the tunnel. “Good journey.” Prince Caldric called out as they came closer. “See you when we take care of the elven problem, Lieutenant.” he waved to Kadyr.

“Thank you for your hospitality, your Highness.” Kadyr dipped his head as they passed.

The column entered the tunnel. Kadyr could see that this one too had murder holes in the ceiling and archer windows high up on the walls. He shuddered with the thought of having to storm these defenses.

He could smell the trees in the air. He breathed in deeply, not realizing how much he had missed the smell of something other than dirt, and stone.

“Smells like rain.” Nevyre commented.

“It'll help, but will make this dash for the plains more uncomfortable.”

The two friends emerged from the tunnel and into the silvery green light of the moon. Kadyr looked up to see it's belt sparkling. “Did you know that the moon's belt is made up of rocks?”

“Like diamonds?” Nevyre asked.

“No. Rocks the size of houses and castles.”

“So what's holding the belt up then?” Nevyre asked.

“I don't know.” Kadyr shrugged. “But I saw them back on the roof of Bolton through a giant spyglass with Monyka.”

They followed the winding column and wagons as it made its way like a serpent around obstacles and disappeared into the trees. A small task force of soldiers waited for them to pass before they attempted to make it look like they hadn't passed through.

“Be safe.” Kadyr told Nevyre. “I've got to go be with in sight of the Princess' carriage and the Captain.”

“See you when we set up camp.” Nevyre nodded.

 

--o0o--

 

Taelah breathed a large sigh of relief as they exited the tunnel and began the decent into the trees. Although it was a clear sky, she could smell rain in the air.

The silvery green moon disappeared as they entered the canopy of the forest. She glanced back at the dwarven gate towering above them on the side of the mountain. There was almost no way anyone could have seen the entrance if they didn't already know where it was. The Half-elf unconsciously touched the large candle that Maskalah had given her to signal his spies to the where abouts of the gate. She didn't know how they would be able to see a candle in the day time let alone the night, but she had faith that the cloaked and shrouded figure knew what he was doing.

The night was very silent. Even the horses hooves and wagon wheels sounded muffled as they traveled down an over grown road, barely larger than a trail.

“I've got to go to the bathroom.” Taelah told the Cavalryman riding beside her.

“You should have gone before we left the cavern.” he stated.

“I didn't have to go then.” Taelah pleaded. “Please?”

The cavalryman sighed. “Okay, lets pull off the trail here.” he guided her off to the side of the trail.

Taelah slipped off of her horse. “Uh, cavalryman, do you have something I can use to uh, clean my self?” she blushed. Not from embarrassment but from fear that he would be able to see right through her plan.

“No.” he sneered.

“Oh, I think I have some in my bag.” she reached into the saddle bag and pulled out the candle along with a small pouch. “Can I use that bush?” Taelah asked.

“Sure, just be quick about it.”

Taelah rounded the bush and made to look like she was undressing. She opened the pouch and pulled out a small tube and a long thin needle with a bit of fluff on the back end. She dipped the needle into a small vial of liquid and loaded it into the tube.

“This is for you father.” She whispered to her self.

She put the end of the tube to her mouth, inhaled and pointed it at the Cavalryman on the horse. She used all of her lung power and shot the needle hitting the Cavalryman.

“Ouch.” he slapped at the needle at his neck. “What in Tanek's ass? You might want to hurry up there, half breed, the insects are biting.”

Taelah dropped the weapon and crouched at a ready. The cavalryman swayed in his saddle then fell to the ground with a thump.

The half-elf jumped out from behind the bush and grabbed the cavalryman from under his arms and dragged him behind the bush. After securing his horse, she picked up the candle, quickly mounted her horse, and began racing through the trees towards the Dwarven gate.

Taelah pulled her horse up. It's sides heaved with the exertion. She could see the mountain side through the last little bit of the trees. Two Infantrymen finished moving logs back into place and scuffing up the little bit of grass and foliage in an effort to disguise the trail. Taelah dismounted and wrapped the reins of her mount to a low branch and crept to the edge of the shadowy cover supplied by the trees.

“Come on, let's catch up.” one infantryman told the other.

“They won't be getting too far ahead of us.” The other stated as they swung up onto their horses.

Taelah started to relax once they had disappeared into the trees. She counted a slow one hundred before she began to creep out of her hiding spot and up towards the cliff of the mountain. She looked where the gates had been but couldn't find an outline or even a crack of where they might be. She pulled the candle from her tunic and set it down on a flat area. She place three heavy stones around it's base to hold it in place. She reached inside her tunic and grasped a small very warm ceramic ball and pulled it out. She unscrewed the top half from the bottom half and exposed a piece of glowing charcoal.

Looking around to see if she truly was alone, she cupped her hand behind the ember and softly blew on it causing it to turn orange. Taelah held the ember to the wick of the candle until it caught and began to glow softly.

She wondered again how an elf might spot this little flicker of flame, but figured that there must be patrols who passed through the area each night. Surely a trained scout would be able to spot this.

As silently as she could, Taelah sprinted back to her horse and began riding back the way she had come. If she could get back to the cavalryman in time she could call out as if in trouble and have one of the entourage help them back to the main column.

“Halt!” a deep strict voice demanded. “I said halt!”

Taelah's heart pounded in her chest. Should she turn her horse and sprint into the forest or should she play the victim of getting lost?

The staccato sound of horses hooves racing up behind her panicked her into running.

She hadn't gotten more than a few paces before she was hit from behind by something very heavy, knocking her to the ground.

Her breath was knocked from her lungs as a large body landed upon her. “What are you doing?” it demanded.

Taelah tried to gulp in air. Her mind panicking not only at having been caught but of not being able to pull in a fresh breath.

“I. . . . I. . . . . “ She gulped air. “I. . . . was . . . lost.”

The man grabbed her by the front of her tunic and jerked her to her feet. “What happened to your guard then?” he asked.

She knew that voice. It was Edwyn the cavalryman who had spent all of those nights in her room, watching and guarding her.

“I. . . I. . . don't. . . know.” She was starting to feel light headed from lack of oxygen.

A small red orb shot into the air in the direction of the dwarven gate. Another followed. That one followed by another.

“What have you done?” Edwyn demanded.

Three more red orbs shot skyward.

Taelah was dumbfounded. All she had done was light a candle. “Dwarf . . . signal?” she could finally take a breath. Fresh air was like a drug as her body sent it to her brain. Another deep breath.

“Dwarves don't use flares.” Edwyn snarled.

More red orbs floated above the tree tops.

“I should kill you right here.” Edwyn growled.

A large explosion shook the ground that they were standing upon.

“What? What was that?” Edwyn looked at the half-elf.

Taelah had no idea. All she had done was light a candle. All she could do was blink as a fist came down across her face. She crumpled as everything went black.

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