Healing a Princess...22 (Cave of Wonders)

Healing a Princess...22

 

(Cave of Wonders)

 

By Tim Knight

 

 

 

After he changed his bandage, Rikki, ducked down the stairs and entered the common room of the Inn.  Several of the Princess’s volunteer servants sat along the long wooden tables. They looked mighty uncomfortable sitting on the low chairs with their knees, nearly at tall as the table tops.  Some of the women, to retain their dignity, sat sideways to the tables allowing them to stretch out their legs keeping them covered by their skirts. 

Other than the few younger servants, the only other person who looked comfortable among the smaller sized tables was the Half-elf.  Taelah sat across the table from the Sergeant at Arms.  She leaned in towards the grizzled old man and spoke something softly to him with a smile.  The Sergeant threw his head back and guffawed heartily.  She turned towards Rikki and smiled at the Captain, before turning her attention back to Takoda.

“What can I get for you, Captain?” Kagami nearly made him jump, coming up behind him without a sound.

“Could I get what ever is on the menu tonight, and a mug of hot water?” the Captain looked down at the veiled woman.

“Water?” Kagami snorted.  “You on duty tonight, Captain?” she asked.

“I am always on duty.” Rikki sighed.  “I have some medicine that I need to steep.” He explained.

“Find yourself a seat, Captain, and I’ll bring you out a plate.”  The woman pushed him towards a table that had an opening before heading into the kitchen.

 The Captain followed the women’s example and sat on the end of a bench, sideways to the table.  He then took his first real good look at the room.  The walls were all made of cut stone.  The stones were so precisely cut that he couldn’t see any hint of mortar.  Unpainted, the stone walls had a simple beauty similar to that of a natural wood table.  The veins and striations of the stone showed movement where there wasn’t any.  As if the ripples on a pond were suddenly frozen in place.  A large fireplace nearby gave off a comforting warmth.  Comforting only as long as he didn’t think about being under a mountain.  The fire had the absence of burning wood, smell.  He looked closer at its contents and found that there was a strange black rock in the fireplace, burning.  How can a rock burn, let alone give off heat?  Leave it to dwarves to find a way to burn rocks.  The tables of the common room all held an oil lamp that seemed to give the stone walls life, giving the establishment a cheery glow.

 “Here’s your grub, Captain.” Kagami placed a heaping plate on the table before him.  “Oh, and here’s your hot water.”  The woman sat down across from the Captain, with a tinkle from her hair gems. 

Rikki slipped the small envelope from his pocket and stirred the herbs into the hot water.  Kagami watched as the Captain took a few bites of the food.

 “This is good, what is it?” he asked.

 “You really don’t want to know, Captain.” Kagami smiled. “Most humans have a hard time with it, once they find out what it is.”

 Rikki stopped mid-bite and looked hard at the dwarf worrying what he might have put in his mouth.

 “It’s hog, Captain.” Kagami chuckled.  “It’s just plain ole hog.”

 Rikki joined her in her merriment realizing that she got him good.

 “Captain?” Kagami became quite serious, and leaned forward a little. “You don’t plan on taking that half-elf to Sherstone, do you?” she tilted her head in the direction of Taelah and Takoda.

 “She’s come this far,” Rikki pointed out.  “I don’t like it much either, Kagami, but she has assisted us in an invaluable way.”  He paused to finish another bite.  “She helped in giving us information thwarting an attack by Elves paid for by a Trunonian Duke.  All she has asked in return is to accompany us to Blaire.”

 “I understand the honor behind what you say, Captain, but if you take her to Sherstone, it will be seen as an insult to Emperor Ramah, an he will execute her.”

 “Even under the protection of Princess Tonya?” the Captain asked.

 Kagami sighed.  “Even if the Gods had brought her.”

 “I’d feel awfully shamed, if I turned her out.” Rikki confessed.

 “What if you left her, with a guard in Hobro.” Kagami suggested.  “You could then travel down to Sherstone, then retrieve her either in Hobro or even in Narva.”

 “You will have to forgive me Kagami, but I am blind down here.” Rikki confessed.  “I don’t have maps of the Under-kingdom, or know where anything lays.”

 Kagami reached over and dipped her finger into a half drunk mug of ale and put  four dots on the table.  “This one is Radec.” She pointed, “Here is Hobro,
Sherstone and this is Narva.” She re-dipped her finger then drew a wet line across the table connecting the four cities together.  “You can leave her here, at Hobro.” She pointed, “Then either pick her up there, or up here in Narva.  Just don’t take her to Sherstone.”

 “Thank you for your advice, Kagami.” Rikki smiled.  “And thank you for the excellent food.”  He drained the last of his foul tasting medicine and got up from the table.

 Lieutenant Kollyns knocked on the Princess’s door.  His heart pounded like it did just before a battle.  The palms of his hands became slick with perspiration.  He quickly wiped them on his pants, hoping that the guard wouldn’t notice.

 “Come.” The Princess’s voice came muffled.

 The Lieutenant took a deep breath and opened the door to the small well lighted room.  The flowery scent of the women already permeated the room.  The Princess leaned up against pillows stacked against the wall reading a book.  Monyka and Annyka sat on the opposite bed, Monyka showing Annyka how to needlepoint.

 “Yes, Lieutenant?” The Princess set the book down in her lap.

 “I was wondering, if it might be alright.” Kadyr’s mouth was dry and he felt like a thousand eyes were on him.  “If you don’t have need of her.” He licked his lips.  “If I might take Lady Monyka out into Radec to look around.”  There, it was out, for better or worse.  His eyes, darted from the Princess, to Monyka’s back to the Princess’s then to the floor.

 Strange emotions flooded through Tonya.  Giddiness, that she was being asked if her best friend might be able to accompany a good looking man on an evening out.  Jealousy, that someone else wished to spend time with her best friend, whom she knew wanted to leave her, to spend time with him. And loneliness, for the want of someone to come and want to spend time with her. 

 Tonya looked from the Lieutenant, whose eyes were studying the floor between him and her bed. To her best friend, who was nervously fingering her necklace and looking hopefully at her.

 “I guess I could do with out her help this evening, after all, I have a new young lady who is in training.” Tonya smiled to Monyka then to Annyka.  She caught the Lieutenant’s eye and held it.  “Just have her back before I go to sleep.”

 “Yes, your Highness.” Lieutenant Kollyns bowed with a smile of relief.

 “I’ll meet you down in the common room in a few minutes, Lieutenant.” Monyka glowed with excitement.

 Kadyr retreated from the small room with another bow and hurried down to the common room.  His heart, which moments earlier was booming with trepidation, was now fluttering with excitement.

 Although it was only a few minutes, I has seemed like an hour, before Monyka joined him in the common room.

 “I can’t believe she let you go.” Kadyr greeted her.

 “Neither can I.” Monyka beamed up at the good looking blonde.

 Kadyr took her hand in his and ducked through the short door and out into the enormous cavern.  Two horses were saddled and waiting for them, a medium sized pack was tied behind his saddle. 

 Monyka was about to mount the horse provided when she felt strong hands encompass her waist.  She looked up to find Kadyr smiling down at her.  “May I be of assistance?” he asked.

 “Sure.” She smiled up at him. 

 With a light leap, and help from Kadyr’s powerful arms, she was sitting astride her mount.  Kadyr lightly swung up into his saddle and looked to Monyka, a flash of mischief sparkled in his eyes.

 “What are you up too, Kadyr?” Monyka’s voice had an edge to it.  “And why do we need horses if we are going to see Radec.  The cavern isn’t that large.”

 “The Ambassador told me of place that you might wish to see.” Kadyr turned his horse towards the highway.  He glanced back,  “Of course you could always go beck upstairs to your needlepoint.”

 Monyka’s mouth fell agape, then clenched to resolve as she heeled her horse to join the Lieutenant’s.

 “Are you sure it’s okay for us to be out here?” Monyka asked after they had ridden a few hundred yards down the highway.

 “The Ambassador, said we might get a few strange looks, but that it would be fine.” Kadyr explained.  “They don’t just let anyone into the Under-kingdom.”

 Ten minutes later, they came to a small corridor that joined with the highway.  A sign over the door was written in the language of the dwarves.  Kadyr pulled out a small scrap of parchment and compared it to the sign.

 “This is it.”  He folded the parchment back up and dismounted.  “I’ll light us a torch.”  He pulled one out of the pack behind his saddle and had it lit in only a few seconds.  He then held the torch out in front of him and led his horse into the dark corridor. 

 Monyka watched as he entered then rode in after him, ducking under the arched entrance.  A little ways into the new tunnel, it opened up into a cavern.  It didn’t have the pretty stalactites or stalagmites that some of the other natural caverns had, it did however have a hitching post along one wall, and a large door bolted into the opposite wall.

 “Are you sure it’s alright for us to be here?” Monyka questioned again.

 “Ambassador Kalgar wouldn’t have told me that about it if it wasn’t.” Kadyr hitched his horse to the post and began untying the pack.

 “We aren’t going through that door, are we?” She asked.

 “That is where our destination lies.” Kadyr  stood beside Monyka’s horse and held his hand out to assist her in dismounting.

 Monyka slid off her mount in to the waiting hands of Kadyr.  The firmness of his hands around her waist, was somehow reassuring as he slowly lowered her to the ground.  A warmth spread over her as his hands, lingered a moment longer than was required, and gently, reluctantly released her.

 Kadyr grabbed the pack in one hand, held the torch aloft with the other and led her to the large iron bound door. 

 “Where are you taking me?” Monyka’s voice held no conviction.

 “Away from your duties for a little while.” 

 At the door, Kadyr pulled a hooded lantern out of the pack and quickly lit it using the torch.  He shuttered the lantern and handed Monyka the torch so that he could pull open the door.  “Kalgar said to leave the torch out here.” He took the torch back from Monyka and eased it into an iron bracket mounted beside the door.

 He took the young ladies hand and entered the dark tunnel.  Once inside, he set down the pack, turned around and shut the door, closing them both off from all light.  “Kalgar told me that we had to keep this door closed.” Kadyr explained.  “Let’s stand here for a moment and see if we can get used to the dark.”

 Not being able to see, Monyka’s brain screamed for stimulation.  The air in the dark tunnel was cooler and heavier with moisture.  The faint echo of water pouring and dripping along with a high pitched hum tickled her ears.  If it wasn’t for Kadyr’s reassuring hand gently holding hers, she would have been terrified.

 “Wow, can you see that?” Kadyr whispered.

 “What?”

 “Can’t you see that glow?”

 “I can’t see my hand in front of my face.” Monyka protested.

 “This should shed some light on it then.” Kadyr released Monyka’s hand and opened a shuttered side of the lantern, suddenly spilling light ahead of them.  Monyka had to blink a few times to adjust to the seemingly bright light. 

 The light from the lantern only allowed them to see about ten feet in front of them.  The floor of the tunnel was hard packed dirt and free from rubble.  Kadyr picked up the pack and started forward, Monyka following close behind.

 It wasn’t long, before Monyka thought she could detect a glowing ahead of them too.  The glow wasn’t a flickering kind, as if from a fire, it was constant.  It made her think of the fish in the glass bowls back in Tonya’s room.  The pouring of water was becoming more distinct too.  There was actually a low roar, almost like a waterfall, and another sound, like water dribbling and dripping.  Over the top of that, she could hear what almost sounded like frogs, chirping.  Except this was more steady, more of a hum.  A hum of different frequencies all blended.

 “Oh wow!” Kadyr exclaimed in a breathless whisper.  He dropped the pack and quickly closed the shutters on the lantern.

 “What is it?” Monyka asked, brushing against his shoulder.

 Kadyr took her arm in his and led her forward a few steps.

 “Bless the Gods!”  Monyka gasped.

 The two of them stood on what seemed like a raised platform carved out of the side of a large cavern.  Before them was a sight that Monyka could not have even dreamt.  At the back of the cavern, a small waterfall, poured out of a hole in the ceiling and into a pond, which was aglow from what looked to be from the bio-luminescent fish they had seen earlier in the day.  Large rock formations, stalactites hung from the ceiling.  Reaching up from the floor were their mates, the stalagmites. The biggest difference these structures and the ones they had seen on the way to Radec were that these were covered by thousands of glowing dots. Under some of the hanging rock formations and scattered among the stalagmites, were small crater like pools.  Some of the pools glowed similar to the pool under the waterfall, others contained small, glowing dots which seemed to cover the ceiling as well.

 Water dripping from the stalactites created a melody of pings, plops and tinks, while the deep, low roar of the waterfall could almost be felt, underneath.  Over the top of strange percussion, were a variety of high and low, chirps and humming.

 “Where is that sound coming from?” Monyka was practically breathless.

 “Kalgar said that it comes from the singing salamanders.”

 “Salamanders?”

 “He said that they have glowing spots on their bodies.  The males hum to attract the females.” Kadyr whispered to her.

 After a few moments of staring in awe, Kadyr opened his pack and spread a thick blanket out on the ledge.  He lowered himself to the blanket then assisted Monyka who lay with her head against his chest, adding his heart beat to the music produced by the magical cave.

 The tens of thousands glowing spots carpeting the ceiling and rock formations gave the illusion of a star filled night, reminding her of the night before, on the top of the outpost.  She held him close, not wanting this moment to end.  Loving the smell of leather and horse that mingled with his musky scent.  She felt as if she was the only one in the world, as if she was the Princess, while in his arms, as if no one could bother her, or ask for her.  She was all his, and he, all hers. 

Monyka wanted to feel him, to be a part of him, to be one with him.  She gently pushed him on to his back, and like the singing salamanders, hummed as she tucked her curly brown hair behind her ear and tenderly pressed her lips to his.

Kadyr’s fingers, combed through her luscious locks and finding the nape of her neck, held her lips to his, while he parted them, allowing her tongue entry.  The cold from the stone floor that had been slowly chilling him, now, kept the fire that raced through him at bay. 

One with him. Her body was hot as blood raced through her, swelling her breasts, lips, and moistening her between her legs.  She needed to feel as one with Kadyr.  She needed to feel like she did last night.  Her hand reached down and made quick progress of opening his pants, freeing his hard male shaft. 

Begrudgingly, she parted from his lips.  She spread her skirts as well as her thighs, and slid him into her folds, joining with him.  A sigh escaped her lips as she became one with him.

  * * *

“Oh, I don’t know, guys.  I’m pretty wiped out.” Nevyre protested.  He gathered up the meager coins he had left and attempted to stand.

“Just another go around, friend.” The dwarves coaxed. 

“I really have do be in some kind of shape to travel, tomorrow.” Nevyre’s knees felt wobbly and his feet felt like thousands of pins were being stuck in them.  From having to cram his long legs under the small table while sitting on a smaller chair for as long as he had.  He winced and shifted his weight to alleviate the discomfort.

“All right, all right.” He smiled around the table at the six other dwarves.  He fished out his purse looked at them one by one. “One more time, but since I haven’t got much, I’ll bet all that I have in this purse.”  He gently dumped the coins from his purse into the middle of the table.  “Let them fall how they may.” 

A quick totaling of the coin, one gold, ten silver and seven coppers.  The dwarves were a little surprised, since they had only seen him deposit a couple of silver and five coppers.

Nevyre received the dice from one of the dwarves and rolled them.  His heart pounded in his chest as they skittered across the table.  Then, one by one, they toppled, and lay to rest. 

“By the Gods, he did it!” exclaimed one of the dwarves. 

Nevyre scanned the dice a second time, his heart beating like a hammer against his ribs.  The dice landed to his favor, obliging each of the dwarves at the table to match the coins that he had dumped in the middle of the table.

“On that note, my bearded friends I do need to get to bed. But…. “ he added.” Please except my thanks and have two rounds on me.” Nevyre separated three silver from the pile of coins he was scooping into his purse.

“Only a scoundrel human would leave the table and not allow us the opportunity to win some of our money back.”  One of the dwarves grumbled.

“Friend, You asked me to play one more round.  I did, just that.” Nevyre shrugged.  “Am I to be blamed if the dice finally rolled in my favor?”  Nevyre tightened his purse and secured it to his belt before bidding the table adieu and leaving the bar. 

Light from windows as well as that from well placed lamps lit the dark cavern as he exited the establishment and headed towards the soldiers encampment.  Softly whistling to himself, he made his way towards the back of the encampment.  He may not have been important enough to have scored a bed in one of the inns rooms, but he was able to secure himself one of the more sought after spots to unroll his bedding.  Quite a few of the soldiers had already climbed into their bedrolls and were sleeping soundly, their armor and weapons neatly arrayed and close at hand. 

Nevyre tip-toed silently through the rows of sleeping men until he reached his prized place.  He took off his hat and lay back against the saddle that acted as a pillow and closed his eyes.

He was on the verge of sleep when he heard a light footfall near his bedroll.  Soft breathing accompanied the soft sound.  The person making the noise was either small, or quite clumsy.  Nevyre kept his eyes closed and his breathing steady as he used his ears to asses his surroundings.  It was probably one of the dwarves from the dice game, wanting his money back.  The rubble on the stone floor, could be heard grinding against the rock as the person knelt down near him.  Nevyre made no move or sign of noticing anything and concentrated on breathing deeply and listening to the person’s rapid shallow breathing.

The person whom ever it was, was all thumbs.  He felt fingers lightly touching his purse and trying to open it.  Like a viper, Nevyre struck, snatching the small wrist.  A high pitched cry escaped his assailant’s lips as they tried to pull away.  Nevyre opened his eyes to see not one of the Dwarves from the game, but a young boy wearing a wide brimmed, beat up hat, and an expression of shock on his dirt smudged face. 

“What are you trying to do?” Nevyre whispered harshly.

“I…. I’m sorry.” The boy’s high pitched voice trembled.

“I’m sure you will be.” Nevyre sat up still holding the boy’s wrist.  “Come with me.”

“Where are we going?” the boy asked in alarm. “What are you going to do to me?”

“I’m not going to do anything to you.” Nevyre whispered as he led the boy through the sleeping soldiers back to the more lit part of the cavern.  He led the trembling boy up to one of the gas lights and took a good look at him.  “What is your job in the caravan?” he posed to the boy.

“I’m an assistant to the ostler.”

“Ostler?”  Nevyre blinked.  “You are Trunonian.  How did you become one of the Riponian servants?”

“What do you mean?” the boy exclaimed.

“Don’t lie to me boy.” Nevyre squeezed the boys wrist, causing him to wince.  “Riponians have ‘stable masters’.  Only Trunonians call them ‘ostlers’.”  Nevyre started off down the street again with the boy.

“Where are you taking me?” The boy demanded.

“To see the Captain.” Nevyre snapped.  “To let him know that he has a spy in his caravan.”

“I’m not a spy?” The boy cried.  He started to struggle against his captor’s grasp.  “I’m not a spy.”

“Be quiet, or you’ll be in even more trouble with the Captain, especially if your cries wake up the Princess.”

The boy stopped struggling and trudged along after the rogue who pulled him up the stairs of the inn and knocked softly on a door towards the back.

The Captain answered the door bedraggled.  “What is it?” he grumbled.  He looked from Nevyre to the young boy, then back at Nevyre. 

“We need to talk, Captain.  I would have waited until morning, but I don’t believe it could have waited.”

“This had better be good.” The Captain opened the door to his room allowing Nevyre to drag the boy in.  The Captain took a seat on the ruffled bed and rubbed at his arm.  Nevyre stood, with his back to the closed door, still holding the boy’s wrist.

 “What is it Nevyre?” the Captain stifled a yawn.

“I caught this young boy trying to get into my purse, while I slept.”  Nevyre accused.  “While questioning him, I discovered that he is Trunonian, not Riponian.”

The Captain’s eyes snapped up to meet his then to the boy’s who looked down at the floor then back to Nevyre’s.  “How did you find that out?”

“When I asked him what service he provided, he answered ‘Assistant to the oslter’”. 

“What is your name?” The Captain asked leaning forward.

The boy remained silent and hid his eyes in the shadow of his hat.

“I asked your name, boy.” The Captain put more sternness into his voice.  “Remove your hat and give me your name and how you joined the Stable-masters service.”

The boy slowly raised his hand to his hat.  His hand trembled on the brim as he pulled it off his head, allowing long chestnut hair to cascade past his shoulders.  He looked up and looked the Captain in the eye.  “I am Adiah, Princess of Truno.”

 Nevyre’s jaw dropped upon hearing this admission.  His gaze went to the Captain’s whose face looked like he had seen a ghost.

 “Adiah?” The Captain looked more closely at the young princess.  “What in the name of the Gods are you doing here?”

 “I wanted to get away from Truno for a while.” The princess looked down from the Captain’s gaze.

 “Do you have any idea what your parents are going through right now?” The Captain’s voice started to take on an edge.  “You took off…….. ran away, without even leaving a note for them to let them know where you were?  Right now, they are turning Truno upside down looking for you.  They have been sending pigeons out to every known corner of the continent, asking about  you.  I wouldn’t be surprised it they were having the Palriada dredged, half hoping to find a body, just to know what might have happened to you.”

 Silent tears were starting to run down the princess’s cheeks.  The Captain’s eyes looked from the princess up Nevyre’s “Nevyre, this information is to be kept silent.  If I found out that you let it slip, that we have Princess Adiah with us, I will personally make you wish you were never born.”  The last was an icy warning.

 “My lips are sealed, Captain.” Nevyre shivered inside.

 “You may leave.”

 Nevyre hurried out and closed the door behind him.  He released a deep breath almost a sigh.

 Rikki stared hard at the young princess.  How was he gong to explain this to Tonya, let alone the Trunonian Monarchs.  “Where have you been sleeping?”

 “Mostly with the horses.” Adiah was barely audible.

 “Were you assigned a bed here in the Inn?”

 “No.  I am to stay with the horses and keep them calm.”  Adiah explained.  “Sefu can get kind of jumpy in the middle of the night.  Comyn doesn’t get enough exercise during the day and has a hard time sleeping.”  Her voice trailed off.

 “What am I going to do with you.” Rikki muttered mostly to himself.

 “You aren’t going to send me back, are you?”

 “I don’t see any other possibility.” Rikki’s gaze made her look at him.  “Your parents are frantic, trying to find you.”

 “I’ve been found.” She protested.  “Now they don’t have to be so scared.  Please, Captain, please take me with you to Malden.  I’ll be good, Captain.  Please let me stay with you.”

 Rikki stood up and stepped around her and poked his head out of the door.  “Cavalryman.” He whispered loudly.  “Will you please escort this stable boy back to the horses.”  Rikki turned back to the young Princess.  “You had better tuck that hair back under your hat.”

 Adiah’s wide eyes sparkled with a bright smile as she started wadding her hair up.  “Thank you Captain……”

 Rikki held up his hand, silencing her.  “I haven’t made up my mind what to do with you yet.  My gut tells me that I should have you bound and hogtied and dragged home.  I need to think about this a bit more.  Until I decide, you are to remain the stable boy.”  He paused, his heart flip flopping at the delight written all over her face.  “This doesn’t mean that you can start slacking in your duties either.” He added.

 “I won’t, Captain.” Her face although serious, glowed with excitement.

 “We aren’t through here.” Rikki muttered as she followed the Cavalryman down the hall.

 Lieutenant Kollyns escorting Monyka, slipped past the Cavalryman and stow-a-way.

 “You’re up kind of late, Captain.” Kadyr looked concerned.

 “A new problem to solve, I’m afraid……. How was your evening?” he asked absently.

 “We saw one of the most amazing caverns.” Monyka beamed.

 “I’m glad you had a good time.” Rikki smiled absently.  “Lieutenant, I need to see you after you are finished saying good night.”  Rikki turned back into his room and closed the door.  He flopped down on the short bed, allowing his legs from the knees down, to hang over the end.

 This assignment was a nightmare.  First a fight with the Princess.  Then her collapse at the ball, and having to smuggle her out of Truno.  Loosing men in the attack on the riverboat.  Dealing with the Duke of Roberton’s attack.  Getting wounded, dealing with claustrophobia,  and now finding the missing Trunonian princess as a stow-a-way among the servants.  “What next?” Rikki asked aloud.  “No, I take that back.  I don’t wanna know.”
 
“Captain?” Kadyr entered the small room.

 “Pull up a chair, Lieutenant.” Rikki mumbled, with his arm thrown over his eyes.

 Kadyr sat down and waited.  He was about to clear his throat to wake Rikki, when the Captain spoke.  “We have a problematic situation.” Rikki sighed.  He removed his arm and looked over to the Lieutenant.  “The missing Princess, Adaih was found this evening.” Rikki continued and described to Kadyr about his being wakened by Nevyre and his conversation with the wayward princess.  “At this point, I can’t see how we can justify loosing a squad to accompany the Princess back to Truno.” 

 “With the two attacks we have encountered so far.  I don’t see how a squad could safely get her to Truno.”  Kadyr affirmed the Captain’s thoughts.

 “I will have a note ready to send to Talison and Dianthe by morning.” Rikki thought aloud.  “See if there are any secure places to fly a pigeon from nearby.”

 “I’ll ask the inn keeper.  If she doesn’t know, then I’ll track down Kalgar.” Kadyr rose from his chair, shaking his head.  “How do we get into these predicaments?”

 “I’m don’t know, but I sure would like a break from them.” Rikki sighed.

 * * *

 “I heard we have a bit of a Royal problem.” Kalgar smiled as he sat down next to Rikki at the Inn’s table.

 Rikki pushed his plate towards the dwarf.  “Go ahead, I’m too upset to eat.”
Kalgar pulled the plate closer and began to shovel the eggs and toast into his mouth.  “Have you informed Tonya yet?” he asked between bites.

 “Not as of yet.”

 “What are you going to do with her?” Kalgar asked.

 “I want to keep her working for the Stableman.  After this stunt, she doesn’t deserve to be relieved and allowed to ride in comfort with Tonya.”

 “Sounds to me like she’d prefer it that way.” Kalgar chuckled.

 “Okay, Captain, the pigeon is off.” Kadyr sat down opposite Rikki, banging his knees on the table as he did so.

 “Where is Takoda?” Rikki asked.

 “I believe he is overseeing the men breaking camp.”  Kadyr rubbed his sore knee.

 “Not eating this morning, Captain?” Kagami greeted.

 “Too many things to worry about.” The Captain winced.

 “I’ve got just the thing for you.  I’ll be right back.” Kagami hustled off, her braids clicking and ringing as she disappeared into the kitchen.

 “How long will it take for us to get to Hobro?” Rikki asked the dwarf.”

 “Two days if we continue at the pace we are going, or one long march.” The Ambassador related.  “Itching to see the sky again, Captain?” Kalgar smiled.

 “Why is Hobro above ground?” Rikki asked.

 “Not exactly.” Kalgar scratched at his beard.  “You’ll just have to wait and see for yourself.” He smirked at the confused look on the Captain’s face.

 “Here you go Captain.” Kagami set down a bowl of oatmeal in front of him with what looked to be honey poured over the top.  “And drink some of this.” She set down a mug of steaming tea in front of him.  “Which reminds me, have you taken your meds yet this morning?”

 “Is it morning?” Rikki grumbled.  “I didn’t sleep.”

 “I’ll take that as a no.” Kagami sighed.  “Take your meds, Captain. And the tea will help wake you up a bit.”

 “What a fine woman.” Kalgar sighed after the woman left the table, her braids and charms bouncing.  “Too bad she’s unfruitful.”

 “Unfruitful?” Kadyr looked to the Ambassador.

 “She is un able to have children.”

 “So?”

 “So.  If she was able to give birth, she’d have a lot of status.  I might even court her myself.”

 “You dwarves are an awful strange race.” Kadyr shook his head.

 “Lieutenant, have you ever wondered why you don’t see many female Dwarves above ground?” Kalgar inquired.

 “Yeah.”

 “That is because the ratio of women to men is very small.  Only Dwarven men of status can afford to have a wife.  In return, she helps keep the Dwarven race populated.”

 “So if a dwarven woman isn’t able to produce offspring they aren’t worth anything?”

 “Oh they are, but some choose to lead a different lifestyle.” Kalgar attempted to explain to the sky lovers.  “Kagami married for wealth instead of status.  Her late husband owned this inn.  When he died, she inherited it. It’s not a great life, but it is one she chooses.”

 “I still think that you are all strange.” Kadyr smiled.  He looked back over to the Captain who was grimacing from drinking the nasty medicine.  “Here comes Takoda now.  My guess is that everything is ready for the Princess.”

 Rikki stretched his neck and back.  “Could you inform and assist the Princess, while I clear the Inn?” Rikki asked standing up.

 “Yes, Captain.” Kadyr stood as well and headed up the stairs.

 Rikki turned to the common room of the inn and raised his voice.  “I know this is an inconvenience for you all, but I need to ask that everyone please leave the Inn for a few minutes while we take some security precautions.”

 Groans and grumbles were heard through out the common room as various dwarves, grabbed their mugs of ale and headed out the door.

 “Her Highness is ready.” Annyka announced from the stairs.

 “Thank you, Annyka.  Please inform her Highness that she may come down.”  Rikki smiled at the young girl.  It wasn’t her fault that Tonya was being so formal about such things.

 Takoda and Kadyr gently lifted the Princess and took the stairs.  Tonya looked to be floating down the stairs like some angel gliding across the ground, their feet never moving or touching the filth.  Rikki stood mesmerized until they set her down at the foot of the stairs.

 “Good morning, Captain.” The Princess greeted.

 “I wish it was, Highness.” Rikki returned a smile.

 “What’s wrong, Captain.” Tonya asked as she hobbled near him.

 “Once we start off, I’d like to join you and talk about a small problem that developed last night.”

 “Of course, Captain.” Tonya looked bewildered.

 The exited the inn to a crowd of dwarven onlookers who cheered the appearance of the Princess as she was assisted into her open carriage.

 “Thank you Kagami.” The Princess took the dwarven woman’s hand.  “Your establishment was warm and hospitable.”

 Rikki swung up onto Sefu’s back and looked up and down the strange subterranean village filled with the Princess’s men and servants, and surrounded by a Dwarven  populace un used to such sights.  “Move out!” he called to the front of the line.

 The dark recess and low ceiling of the cavern seemed to add to the weight he already felt on his shoulders as they made their way out of the cavern and back on to the main highway. 

 Once the entourage settled down into some semblance of routine, Rikki rode back to the Princess’s wagon.  He dismounted Sefu directly on to the side rail and stepped inside.  A cavalryman took Sefu’s  reins as the horse slowed down rider less.

 Rikki smiled to Monyka and Annyka and sat on the side of the wagon next to the brunette lady in waiting. 

 “You said we have a problem?” The princess looked to her Captain.

 “Princess Adiah was found.” Rikki explained.

 “How is that our problem?” Tonya asked.

 “She was found in your entourage, Highness.”

 “How come she wasn’t found before we entered the dwarven under-world.” Tonya’s temper was flaring.

 “If you will remember, Highness, when we received the letter from Dianthe back in Granite Falls, we decided not to raise and alarm, and to seek her out quietly.”

 “Why didn’t we find her then?” Tonya’s voice was like a knife.

 “She was in disguise, as a young boy.”

 “Where is she?” Monika asked.

 “She is back with the Stable master.” Rikki frowned.

 “The stable master?  What on earth for?”  Tonya’s face was one of shock.

 “That is where she is happiest, your Highness, with the horses.” Rikki answered.  “I would like your input on a solution, your Highness.  We can send her home with a small detachment for security from Sherstone.  I would hate loosing any more men that I need to keep you safe, though.”  Rikki paused.  “The second idea is that we keep her with us and deliver her to her parents on our way home.  That way she can be protected, and we won’t be loosing any needed soldiers.”

 “Have you sent word to Talison and Dianthe?” Tonya asked.

 “Sent a pigeon off two hours ago.”  Rikki rubbed at his sore arm.

 “Stop rubbing at it.” Monika admonished.

 “It itches.”  Rikki complained.

 “Because it’s healing,  Leave it be.” Monyka swiped his arm away from the other.
 “Dianthe and Talison know where she is, and that she is safe.  That will help calm them down.” Tonya spoke to herself.  “She ran away to explore and see something outside of Truno, Right?”

 The Captain looked at Monyka and then back at the Princess.  “Sure.”

 “Well lets let her see it with our protection.  It couldn’t be that much harder to protect two Princess’s than one, right?”

 Rikki didn’t know how to answer that, or if he should.  “Keep her with us and return her to Truno as we stop through?”

 Tonya refocused on the people in the carriage.  “Yes. I think it would be better if we could ‘develop’ relationships with our neighbors.  She will be a power to reckon with one day, and I would rather her remember us with fondness.” Tonya smiled.

 “Do you think Talison will marry her to one of his courtiers, or to one of the neighboring kingdoms, say Blaire, Lademore, or Hasslemere?” Monyka asked.

 “If you Ladies will excuse me.” Rikki swung a leg over the side board.  He paused and looked at Tonya.  “May have your leave, Highness?” he inquired.

 “Yes, go on, Captain.” Tonya muttered half paying attention.

 Rikki hopped down out of the moving wagon and swung the door back to be latched by he assumed Monyka.  The cavalryman who had Sefu was riding just behind the wagon, guided the dark horse up to the Captain who mounted without the stallion loosing it’s pace.  He guided Sefu up through the ranks to where Kadyr and Takoda were riding.

 “What does she want to do about ‘you know who’?”  Takoda looked to the Captain.

 “Nothing for now.” Rikki scrubbed a hand through his hair.  He tossed a deplorable look up at the ceiling which still couldn’t be seen in the limited light.
 

I Am Glad That You Have Posted This Chapter Here.

I have enjoyed this story ... I hope that you get the chance to publish this story because it has all of the hallmarks of a classic tales .

May Your Light Forever Shine

With luck

Thank you Stanman.

With lots of luck, I will be able to finish a decent story that will be publishable by the mainstream publishing houses. I just need to keep my muse happy with chocolate and hope that she doesn't abandon me too often. ;)

Tim Knight

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