Healing a Princess...23 (Tastes like Chicken)


 Healing a Princess...23
 (Tastes like Chicken)
By Tim Knight
            “Hey Scamp.” Nevyre called to the stable boy.
            Adiah blushed. “Why are you calling me a scamp?” She demanded.
            “Anyone who tries to pick-pocket me is a scamp.” Nevyre pulled a silver out of his purse and made it tumble back and forth on the back of his knuckles. Adiah watched with fascination. Nevyre tossed the silver to the disguised princess. “Practice that. It will help you to nimble up those delicate fingers of yours.” He smiled.
            “…..Pass it on.” A voice came from ahead of them.
A soldier turned towards Nevyre and then eyed the stable boy. “The Captain says that we are approaching a large cavern and that everyone is supposed to stay with the group, on the road. So don’t go off exploring.”
            A few moments later, the squared off walls opened up into a massive underground cavern. Huge pillars and columns of stone soared away into the darkness. Ten people could hold hands and not stretch all the way around a few of the pillars. Stalagmites rose like giant fir trees into the blackness. A chorus of dripping water sounded like rain as mineral rich drops fell from above, a sharp contrast to the almost rumbling sound of horses hooves and wagon wheels. Echoes of peoples voices reverberated back to them indistinct, like a ripple on the edge of a large pond.
            Crystals encrusting the rock of the walls as well as the stalagmites, glimmered as torches from the group passes by, causing them to wink like stars that one could reach out and touch.
            “Wow, look at that.” Adiah pointed past Nevyre. A large pond illuminated by bio-luminescent fish cast a glow that filled showed the surrounding stalagmites in better detail. “It’s like a scary, underground forest of stone.”
            “Scary?” Nevyre inquired.
            “Yeah, it’s hard to see and there are all of those shadows and it’s so dark down here.”
            “Only because you’re not used to it.” Nevyre looked from the shadows surrounding the stalagmites to the disguised princess. I only see a lot of fun and mischief that can be had over there.” He winked at her. “Imagine playing hide and find, or cat and mouse amongst the shadows.”
            The princess smiled. “That would be fun, wouldn’t it.”
            “Practice with the coin, and I’ll check on you later.” Nevyre smiled. “I’ll make a pick-pocket out of you yet.” Nevyre rode towards the front of the group, casually taking in the incredible beauty of the underworld. His mind drifted as his eyes followed a large column’s mass skyward. He wondered what was above them at this moment. What was this massive column holding up? Mountains, trees, someone’s house?
            As he rode forward, a roaring sound reached his ears. It was low in pitch and rumbled like an ice bear’s growl, but deeper. The air seemed more moist but that could be because they were in a large cavern after all, many of the stalactites had pools of water under them. Water in which the glowing fish swam and illuminated the darkness, if only a bit. Gasps of wonder escaped the lips of those ahead of him. Nevyre strained his eyes and looked all around trying to see what was causing all of the commotion.
            A movement ahead caught his attention. A ghostly shape rushing up from the ground. He leaned forward and squinted his eyes a bit more. 
            “What by the three gods is that?” he wondered aloud.
            “Someone up there called it a ‘gie-ser’.” A soldier nearby answered.
            “A gie-ser…...gie-ser” Nevyre repeated, rolling it around on his tongue getting the sense of the word. “What is a gie-ser?”
            “The dwarf said that it’s boiling hot water rushing to the surface.” Another soldier said.
            Nevyre urged his horse forward.
            “…… redirect most of them. Some are used as a way of heating rooms, others for bathing water.” The dwarf was explaining.
            The rumbling and hissing grew louder as they approached the geyser. The force that the water was being thrown into the air was incredible. A hot mist began to coat everything around them. Nevyre could even taste sulfur and minerals on his tongue from the airborne water. 
            Almost as suddenly as it began, the rumbling started to slacken and slow down in intensity.
            “What’s going on with the gie-sir?” Monyka asked the dwarf. “It seems to be running out of water.”
            “Oh it’s quite alright.” Kalgar reassured her. “It’s only blasts out of the ground every candle mark or so. It then rests and builds up energy to do so again.”
            “How long has this been going on?” Rikki inquired.
            “Since before we opened this cavern.” The Ambassador explained.
            “And they all do this?” The Princess asked.
            “For the most part.” Kalgar stroked his beard. “They all blow at different intervals and intensities but they all explode like that.”
            The geyser rumbled and became a low boiling gurgling mound of water and slowly slid back into it’s hole. The hot mist slowly settled, coating every surface in the area in a glittering blanket of moisture and minerals.
            “I’m glad that you were able to see this geyser during its eruption.” Kalgar said. “Otherwise, I might have asked for you to make a stop so that you could see it. This particular geyser is such a beauty and it’s belonging to this beautiful cavern, our ancestors decided to leave it in it’s natural state rather than cap it, or use it for power.”
            “Are there others that are left alone?” Tonya looked to her stout guide.
            “There are, but they aren’t nearly as spectacular or some are not as regular as this one.” Kalgar grinned.
            The caravan of tourists seemed to sigh as a collective as they reached the other end of the massive cavern and enter a squared off tunnel on the other side.
            “Ambassador, is there anyplace we can stop for a meal break ahead?” Captain Kalhoun looked to their host.
            “Not anyplace big enough to hold this large a group, Captain. I’m sorry.” Kalgar shook his head. 
            “Grymm?” the Captain called out. 
            “Yes Captain.” Grymm answered from the shadows behind him.
            “Have a few cavalrymen help hand out what food our cooks can scrounge up for us. We aren’t going to be able to stop until we get to Hobro.”
            “Yes captain.” Grymm wheeled his mount around and disappeared in the shadowy darkness that seemed to swallow everything that wasn’t with in a few feet.
            Nevyre realizing he was getting curious looks from the Princess’ guard, reined in his horse and dropped back in the always moving caravan.
            “Did you see that gie-sir?” Kadyr asked dropping back to be with his old friend.
            “That was pretty cool.” Nevyre grinned back at the lieutenant. “How was your night last night?” he raised his eyebrows.
            “It was good.” Kadyr said dead pan.
            “It was good?” Nevyre shook his head. “You took the Princess’s handmaiden off to a private place. And all you have to say is ‘it was good’?”
            “It was very romantic.” Kadyr corrected.
            “You’re hopeless.” Nevyre growled. “You must really like this one.”
            “I do.” Kadyr smiled thinking of Monyka’s long curly hair and gentle touch.
            The moment was spoiled as Grymm, galloping up the line to the Captain, drew their attention.
            “Captain?” Grymm reigned up next to his senior officer. “We have a small problem.”
            The two pulled their mounts off to the side to keep from impeding the flow of traffic. “What is it, Cavalryman?” Rikki inquired.
            Nevyre and Kadyr reined in along side.
            “The cooks say that they don’t have enough travel food to feed everyone without stopping to cook something.”
            “Do they know that we don’t have a place nor the time for them to set up a kitchen and cook?” the Captain scrubbed a hand through his hair.
            “Yes, Sir. They are flustered and seemed quite embarrassed.” Grymm tried to soothe.
            The Captain stared off into the darkness for a few moments. “Okay Grymm , tell them to fix something nice for her Highness, but not to go overboard. Have them feed the retinue and servants, but half rations. Make sure that the Princess’s body guard get half rations as well. We can’t have her body guard loosing concentration because their stomachs are growling.” Captain Kalhoun paused. “Do you think they have enough food to feed that many?”
            “I couldn’t say, Sir.” Grymm shrugged.
            “See if they can put together enough to feed that many….. The cavalry and heavies will have to rely on whatever travel rations they have on them until we get to this …… Hobro.”
            “Yes Sir.” Grymm wheeled his horse around and disappeared in the dark again.
            “Kadyr.” Rikki looked to his lieutenant. “Remind me to have a talk with the head cook, after we reach Hobro.”
            “Yes, Captain.”
            Rikki rode back up to be near the princess’s wagon.
            “Do you have anything to eat?” Kadyr asked Nevyre.
            “I lifted some cheese and a loaf of bread on the way out of the last cave.” He smiled.
            “I’m just kidding.” Nevyre smiled. “Just kidding.”
            The royal caravan had passed several wagons loaded with goods heading the opposite direction over the course of the morning. The drivers of these wagons, were astonished to see humans in their underground. Most openly gaped as they urged their draft ponies to quicken their pace, to get by the tall strangers on tall horses. 
Twice they came across a long line of wagons, traveling in a caravan similar to how the Riponian party was traveling. Twenty to thirty wagons, laden with everything from beets to wood products rolled slowly by. None of the wagons seemed to have food that could be readily eaten. Captain Kalhoun was hoping to find at least a wagon of apples or perhaps bread. But this just wasn’t to be his day. A boy sitting in the back of one of the dwarven wagons popped his head around the side, and watched wide eyed as they passed. Nevyre waved and smiled at him, getting a sheepish smile in return.
Grymm rode up a bit later, bearing a small basket. He reined in next to the wagon carrying the Princess and handed the basket over to Monyka. “With compliments of the cooks.” Grymm smiled. He then rode to the Captain. The two of them rode off to the side of the highway and dropped back out of hearing distance of the Princess’s wagon.
“The cooks say that they think they have enough for the servants’ half rations as well as the bodyguards. But that is about all, Sir. I think they are planning on giving the Ambassadors a bit of cheese and old bread, which won’t make Zareb too happy.” Grymm frowned.
            Rikki rode up next to the dwarf. “Ambassador, might I have a word with you?”           
“Why certainly, Captain.” Kalgar excused himself from the Princess and joined the Captain. “What can I do for you, Captain?”
            “This is kind of embarrassing, Ambassador.” The Captain began. “Our cooks didn’t have enough, or prepare enough food for us for mid-day meal.” Is there an inn or market up ahead close by that I can send someone on ahead and buy some foods?”
            “Aye,” Kalgar nodded, “I believe there is a small grotto up ahead that has a small population. They might be willing to sell you some of what they have. It won’t be much, but they will definitely take your coin.” He smiled.
“Here, Grymm.” Captain Kalhoun handed over a purse. “Take Symon and Yyan and ride ahead. See if the dwarves of the grotto can spare some bread cheese and other easily eaten food stuff.”
“Yes, Sir.” Grymm’s face looked determined. Grymm wheeled his horse around in search of Symon and Yyan.
A few minutes later, Grymm, and the other two guided their horses into a trot to take them past the Royal wagon. Once they disappeared into the darkness ahead of the convoy, they urged their horses into a gallop.
“Ambassador, how long do you think it will take us to reach Hobro?” Rikki inquired.
            “We should be getting there around dinner time.” Kalgar stroked his beard thoughtfully. “It’s kind of a shame though, because Hobro is one of our more beautiful cities.”
            “Shame?” Rikki inquired.
            “Aye, Hobro is one of only a couple of dwarven settlements that is open to the elements.” The Ambassador explained. “It is built in a deep crater formed, some say by the Gods. The entire bottom of the crater is a beautiful lake filled with many different kinds of fish. But as beautiful as it is at night, with the bioluminescent fish moving like glowing stars in the lake, by daylight it is a wonder to behold.”
            “Is there any place, the cooks could stock up on some food items, bread, cheese, fruits?” Rikki looked to whom he was considering a good friend.
            “Aye. It has several markets. You know, I’ll bet Princess Tonya would like to see some of its wonders too.” The dwarf winked at the captain.
            “Would it be a good place to rest some of my men?”
            “Aye, it would.” Kalgar grinned. “The waters of the lake are rumored to have healing qualities, as well.”
            “Then perhaps we could, suggest to her Highness, that maybe we could spend a day in Hobro recuperating?”
            “That might be good for Hobro’s economy as well.” Kalgar’s eyes twinkled in merriment. “A boost in economy is good public relations, after all.”
            “Ambassador, are there any places near Hobro, that I might be able to use to run my men through close quarters fighting?”
            The dwarf thought about it for a moment. “I believe that I might be able to work something out.”
            “If we can get the Princess to stop for the day, that is.” Rikki sighed. “A good work out and a day of not being on horseback or foot might do them some good.”
            “Ambassador.” The Princess’s voice called out, “Ambassador?”
            “If you will excuse me, Captain?” Kalgar bowed his head slightly.
            “By all means, Ambassador.” Rikki smiled. “I’m just on my way to talk to the cooks.”
            “Ambassador Kalgar,” Tonya looked curiously from him to the side of the highway beside them. “What are those dwarves doing?  It looks like they are painting the cavern walls.”
            He watched as several dwarves took long handled brushes and dipped them into buckets. They then rubbed a creamy liquid on the walls of the cavern. “Aye, in a way they are, your Highness.” Kalgar smiled. Two of the workers stopped and watched, wide eyed and with suspicion, as the large party of humans began rolling past.
            “Those Dwarves are Grazer Shepherds, and they are sowing the walls.” Kalgar tried to explain. The perplexed look of the Princess made him want to chuckle. Humans were a strange lot he decided. “That stuff they are putting on the walls is a mixture of fertilizer and a bit of light resin mixed with the spores of a certain kind of fungus.”
            “They are trying to grow fungus on the walls?” Tonya shook her head in disbelief.
            “Once the fungus grows, it attracts Cavern Grazers which are large grub-like larvae.” Kalgar smiled as he saw Annyka and Tonya both shudder. “The Cavern Grazers slowly crawl along the walls and ceilings of the caverns and tunnels eating the fungus. Why we encourage it is because they, like the fish you saw the other day, glow, giving us an inexpensive source of light. Seeing them sowing the spores means that you’ll be able to see these interesting creatures in a little bit.”
            “Do their whole bodies glow?” Tonya inquired.
            “Technically it is their stomachs and intestines that glow. The fungus reacts with a chemical that their stomachs produce causing them to glow brightly, but their bodies are translucent, so it looks as if their whole body glows.”
            “Are they slimy?...... Do they bite?” Annyka wasn’t sure she liked the idea of giant grubs crawling around them.
            “They are only interested in eating the fungus.” Kalgar assured her. The only thing remotely dangerous about them is if they fall on you,” Seeing her face become white he added. “Which doesn’t happen very often. When they get to a certain stage, they cocoon themselves, and the Shepherds go along and harvest them.”
            “Harvest them?” Tonya asked puzzled.
            “We use them for things other than for light. Waste not, want not.” He smiled.
            “And what ‘things’ do you use them for?” Tonya raised an eyebrow.
            “What don’t we use them for would be a better question.” Kalgar chuckled. “We’ve found uses for them in everything from clothing and jewelry to medicines and eating.”
            “Eating?” Annyka made a face.
            “They are an excellent source of meat. Especially for the less fortunate families.”
            “It’s actually not bad.” Kalgar stroked his beard. “Kind of tastes like chicken.”
            “You said that the Cavern Grazers cocoon.” Tonya changed the subject from food. “What do they change into?”
            “If allowed to change, they become Carrion Crawlers.”  Kalgar sighed. “That is why we harvest them when they cocoon.”
            “Carrion Crawlers?” Annyka shuddered. “I thought they were made up monsters to scare children.”
            “Oh, they are real, Annyka.” Kalgar gave her a solemn look. “They can be quiet helpful, as long as their population is kept to a minimum.”
            “Helpful?.... How could they be helpful?” Tonya’s eyes scanned the walls and ceilings.
            “We use them in our garbage dumps to get rid of a lot of our refuge.” Kalgar explained. “We’ve been known to use them after battles to dispose of the dead, and I believe some crazy dwarf is experimenting with them to use in battle.”
            “Disgusting.” Tonya grimaced.
            “Aye, it can be.” Kalgar agreed. “But garbage goes in and fertilizer comes out. Its actually a great system.”
            “Is that one of them?” Annyka pointed at the ceiling just ahead of the wagon.
            Kalgar looked up and spotted the long glowing body on the ceiling. “Aye, that is one. Would you like a closer look?” He asked. 
            “Eww yuck…. No way.” Annyka grimaced.
            “Maybe later, Ambassador.” Tonya made a face as well.
            “Well, you’ll be seeing more of them soon enough.”
            Over the next few minutes, Tonya started to notice more and more of the glowing grubs. Some were on the ceiling, others on the walls. Every once in a while they would be clustered together, but for the most part they were spread out. She cringed at the thought of these glowing grubs changing into nasty Carrion Crawlers.
            “Ambassador?” Tonya called to the dwarf.
            “Yes, Highness?” Kalgar rode up next to the wagon.
            “How can the Shepherds tell when the Grazers are going to start to cocoon?”
            “That is an excellent question, your Highness.” Kalgar stroked his beard thoughtfully for a second. “When the Grazers get ready to start their metamorphosis, their glowing isn’t as bright, because they stop eating the fungus. Soon all that glows is a part of their butt, and that is when the Shepherds come by and harvest them.”
            “What did you find, Grymm?” Captain Kalhoun asked as the cavalryman rode up to him.
            “These dwarves are pretty excited about the Princess, coming to see their Emperor.” Grymm smiled. He gestured to his full saddle bags. “Symon and Yyan are coming up behind me. We’ve got full saddle bags, cheese, mushrooms, bread and some fruit.”
            “How much did it cost me?” Rikki went to scrub his hand through his hair, but only got quarter of the way there before easing his arm down. The burn itched.
            “These bags only cost a few silver, Sir.” Grymm paused. “Sir, I may over stepped my authority, but I made a deal with the grotto town up ahead.”
            “Why am I afraid to ask?” Rikki used his other arm to scratch his scalp.
            “The grotto is just a mark ahead of us, at our current speed.” Grymm explained. “The grotto town is going to have some roasted meat ready for us when we approach.”
            “We can’t afford to stop, Grymm.” Rikki sighed. Sometimes he wondered about the choices of his men.
            “We don’t have to stop, Sir.”
            “Go on.” Rikki encouraged.
            “They are going to have the meat spitted on sticks so that the men can eat in the saddle.”
            Rikki relaxed and made a mental note to not underestimate his men, especially Grymm in the future. “How much is that costing me, Cavalryman?”
            “Three gold, five silver.” Grymm frowned. “I tried to get them to go lower, but they were pretty firm…. But still that isn’t bad….for feeding all of us….” Grymm hoped that his Captain wouldn’t be too upset with him.
            “You did well, cavalryman.” Rikki praised him.
            Grymm’s frown turned to a smile, he sat taller in his saddle and began to feel proud that his captain felt that he made a good decision in hiring the dwarves of the grotto to assist them.
            “Symon, Yyan.” Rikki greeted. “You three go ahead and give what you have to the cooks to divide up. Then silently pass it along that we will be getting something to eat in about a mark.”
            The three saluted him and rode back towards where the cooks were recovering from the talking to, that the Princess’s Captain had given them.
            Rikki rode foreword rubbing his sore arm. It was time for some more tea. As they were riding as fast as they could to the grotto and then to Hobro, he would have to wait until they got to the grotto to brew some. He cast a despairing look up at the tunnel’s walls and dark ceiling. The glowing grubs spaced about, did little to comfort him as a shiver ran down his spine, causing him to shudder. “Damn caves.” He muttered. Sefu snorted as if in agreement with his rider. Rikki reached down and patted the Stallion’s neck reassuring him as well as taking comfort in his four legged friend.
            One princess’s safety was more than enough stress for him to deal with, now he had to make sure that Adiah got safely back to the rulers of Truno. What they did to her after he returned her, he could only guess. He could almost picture Dianthe embracing her daughter in a long tight squeeze then bending her over her knee for a royal spanking. Talison he could envision giving her a warm hug and then a scolding. Rikki felt like bending her over his own knee for the stress she just added to his already over loaded plate. 
He would just have to add some chores to the Adiah’s workload to make sure that she would stay out of trouble. Sefu could use an extra good currying, not that you could see his black coat shine in these blasted caves, but it would be something to strive for to keep her from having time to try and cut some one else’s purse. Rikki snickered to himself trying to imagine Adiah sneaking up on Nevyre and trying to cut his purse while he supposedly slept.
As he approached the tail of the Princess’s guard, Rikki sobered from his thoughts. The half-elf Taelah was riding along side Takoda again. The old Sergeant leaned close to the short blonde woman and muttered something. The half-elf threw her golden mane back and laughed. She spotted Rikki out of the corner of her eye and rested a hand on Takoda’s arm. Takoda looked around, spotted Rikki then closed the smile from his face, locking a his famous stone mask into place. He nodded acknowledgment to the captain then pulled away from the half-elf’s horse and rode up to talk with Sergeant Galyway.
            “What game are you playing, Taelah?” Rikki grumbled to himself. He cast the blonde a iron look as he passed her and rode up to check on Tonya.
            “How are you doing, your Highness?”
            “I’m fine, Captain.” Tonya looked from the ceiling to her protector. “Can you imagine those things becoming Carrion Crawlers?”
            Rikki shot a glance at the ceiling, shuddered and shook his head. “Dwarves are a strange race, Highness.”
            “I think they are wonderful.” A toothy smile greeted him.
            “Well, these wonderful dwarves are fixing an ‘on the go’ lunch for us just ahead.”
            “Lunch?” Tonya inquired. “I’ve already had lunch.”
            Rikki sighed. “Due to our cooks being ill prepared, you and the retinue are about the only ones that did.”
            “Do I need to speak with the cooks?” Tonya’s smile turned to a grim face of resolve.”
            “No, Highness, I took care of it. I don’t think it will happen again.”
            “I have some fruit and cheese left of mine, would any of you like it?” she said this last part to the bodyguards around her.
            Most of the cavalry and heavies around her, ignored her, the few that acknowledged, declined.
            “Well, I’d hate to see food go to waste.” Nevyre spoke up. He rode forward and bowed as best he could from horse back to Tonya and graciously accepted her left over lunch.
            “Don’t let me hear of you selling that to anyone.” Rikki ordered the rogue once the Princess’s attention was diverted.
            “Why Captain… I would never…”
            “Just see that you don’t.” Rikki cut off what ever else he was about to say. Rikki moved Sefu up next to Takoda and rode in silence next to the senior officer. “You hungry?” Rikki offered.
            “I can wait.” Takoda kept his gaze ahead of them.
            They rode on listening to the horses hooves, the jingling of tack, the murmur of the body guard and the squeaking of wagons.
            “We can’t take her with us to Sherstone.” Rikki broke the spell. “The Dwarves don’t like, or trust Elves, even if she is Half- Elf. It’s a lot to ask, just to include her in the retinue.”
            “I know.”
            “I don’t trust her either, Sergeant.”
            “You’ve said that before, Captain.”
            “I can’t ask the dwarves to watch after her, either.”
            “I can stay with her.” Takoda offered.
            “I will need you when I speak with the Emperor and his…… what do Dwarves call their generals?”
            “Hammers.” Takoda offered.
            “See, that is precisely why I need you with me in Sherstone. I’ll need you to assist me in making diplomatic progress and plans with the Hammers.”
            “Who do you plan on keeping watch on her?” Takoda didn’t change the pitch of his voice.
            “Edwyn for sure. He’ll be upset about not being included in Sherstone but he is the only Cavalryman I have that can speak Elven somewhat fluently. ….. I’ll let you pick another.” Rikki offered. “Just not Grymm. He’s become too valuable an asset.”
            “You should probably promote the lad.” Takoda suggested.
            “I’ll take that as you feel he has earned a promotion…. He has taken on a lot of responsibility on this trip.” Rikki thought aloud. “I’d like to get some input from the other officers. I don’t want it to seem like favoritism.”
            “Most of the Cavalry see him working hard, Captain.” Takoda went on. “I doubt they would see it as favoritism. He sets a good example for the Cavalry as well as for Galyway’s Heavies. Besides, if anyone gave him gruff about it, I’m sure he’d be able to put them in there place.”
            “After we get settled in Hobro, I’d like to hold an officer’s meeting anyway. Lets bring it up there.” Rikki proposed. “Tomorrow morning, I’d like the men to get a good work out and go through some training drills and exercises. I’ll ask the local Battleaxe or whom ever is in charge if his solders could work with us.” 
            “I’m sure they could teach us a lot on close quarters combat as well as their techniques in dealing with the Elves.” Takoda agreed. “I’ll also pull her Highness and her ladies aside with Grymm for some personal training.” Takoda grinned. “Her Highness won’t like it, but she’ll do it.”
            “That sounds great, Sergeant.” Rikki rubbed at his sore arm.
            Their progress came to a sudden stop. Rikki looked ahead and immediately saw the reason for it. They had reached the grotto that Kalgar had told them about. Several dwarven children approached the front standard bearer, and handed him something as well as those behind him.
            “Lunch is served, your Highness.” Kalgar announced proudly as she looked around to see why the wagon had stopped.
            “Grymm!” Rikki called out.
            “Behind you Captain.” Grymm broke ranks three rows behind where Rikki had been talking with Takoda. 
            “Spread the word that…”
“…lunch is being served. Yes, Sir.” Grymm turned his horse and trotted it down the ranks.
            “Scary, that one.” Nevyre commented aloud.
            Slowly the line moved forward as the folks from the grotto handed out food to each of the soldiers who accepted the hot food graciously. While a group of dwarves and their young were handing out food, another group came forth with buckets of water and allowed the horses to drink.
Rikki rode up to meet the dwarves who were responsible for this generosity. He dismounted and handed the reins of Sefu to Johnak. As soon as he turned around a small dwarven boy handed him a metal spike about the width of a nail, and almost as long as his forearm . Pierced by the stick were chunks of meat, alternating with chunks of potato and what looked to be chunks of mushrooms.
            “Thank you.” Rikki looked up but the boy had already disappeared among the organized chaos.
            “Are you responsible for this parade?” a gruff voice greeted him.
            “I’m the one that gets blamed for it.” Rikki sighed.
            “Welcome to the under-kingdom. How does the food taste?” a dark haired dwarf folded his hands over his chest almost daring the Captain to complain.
            “I haven’t had a chance to try it, hold on.” Rikki put the spike up to his mouth and grabbed a chunk of meat off the end with his teeth and pulled it free from the length of the metal and chewed. Surprisingly the meat was quite tender and seasoned with foreign tasting spices. “Mmmm.” Rikki’s stomach almost jumped with joy at receiving something solid. “That is very good, thank you.” He took a chunk of potato off the end and savored it.
            The dwarf’s face cracked slightly into a semi-grin. “Glad you like it, it’s my mum’s recipe.”
            “Could I trouble you for a mug of hot water?” Rikki inquired. “I have a medicine I need to take.”
            “Come with me.” The dwarf turned and started off. “Bit of the flux?”
            “Arrow through the arm.”
            The dwarf turned and looked Rikki up and down in a new light. “Elves?”
            “Yes, we were ambushed.”
            “Filthy forest fiends.” The dark haired dwarf led Rikki over to what appeared to be an out door kitchen. Out door for being in a cave. A large metal grill loaded with row upon row of metal spikes of food steamed and sizzled over a smokeless fire.
            The dwarf led him over to the other end of the area, where dwarves bustled around pulling some of the food off the grill, another turned the spikes over, moving them to replace the ones that had been removed. Once they were moved, he coated the cooking spikes with a sauce.   Another dwarf was placing uncooked ones on the newly cleared area of the grill. Four dwarves gathered around three large containers, grabbing meat, potato, and mushroom alternately from each container and spitting them on the metal spikes.
            “I don’t see or smell smoke, what are you burning to cook this?” Rikki looked at the grill.
            “Natural gas.” The dwarf shrugged. “This grill was created many, many years ago. The flame heats up rocks spread out under the grill. The heat radiates and cooks the food, or as in this case…” he gestured. “heats water.” He poured steaming water from a kettle into a mug and handed it to the Captain. Rikki dumped the mixture that Badiah had given him and let it steep in the water for a few minutes.
            “Thank you for coming to our rescue.” Rikki managed between bites.
            “Aye, thank you for your coin.” The dwarf grinned as he led Rikki back towards the front of the grotto where the retinue was now being handed the spikes.
            “How do we return these spikes to you?”
            “I’m sending my son with you.” The dwarf explained. When you’re finished, he’ll collect them and bring them back.” The dwarf took the empty spike from Rikki replaced it with another.
            Rikki drained the medicinal tea from the mug, made a sour face and quickly took the end piece of meat off the spike to cover up the horrid taste.
            The Captain settled back into his saddle and stripped the last morsel from the unique eating utensil and handed it back to the dwarf. “That’s really good…. Chicken?”
            “Grazer.” The dwarf smiled.
            “Grazer?” Rikki was confused.
            The dwarf pointed to the ceiling above them where there was a glowing grub. “Cavern Grazer.”
            Rikki shrugged his shoulders and took another bite of the meat. “Thank you again for helping us out.” Rikki leaned down and shook the Dwarf’s hand.
            With full bellies and horses watered, it seemed like the party picked up its pace a bit, and were in a better mood.
            A low murmur started in the back of the procession, slowly building in volume as more joined in. Rikki turned around and looked back into the darkness at the trailing column behind him. 
            The gypsy rover came over the hill,
 down through the meadow, so shady.
            He whistled and he sang
till the green woods rang
And he won the heart of a la-a-ady.
            Rikki recognized the song immediately as it reverberated and echoed down the tunnel. He looked over to the Dwarven Ambassador to see his reaction and was pleased to find that the Dwarf wasn’t only smiling, but had joined in on the merry tune. His growling bass rumbled around them as he hit some of the lower notes.
            Rikki noticed a different kind of movement ahead of them, coming towards them down the opposite side of the highway. He had seen several caravans of dwarves making their way to other cities, and markets using wagons, but until now, they were mostly pulled by mountain ponies, and even mules. Coming towards them, now, was a team of six large horses. Not quite big enough to be called war horses, but strong, well muscled beasts. The carriage that they were pulling was long and low to the ground. He thought it was a carriage because of the roof on it, but what made this carriage different was that there weren’t any sides to it. As it drew closer, he discovered that it wasn’t hauling cargo or goods, it was hauling dwarves. The bed of the wagon was made up of several rows of bench seats, most filled with dwarves, sitting there, gaping at the singing humans. 
Three female dwarves sat together in the front seat of the carriage, pointing and talking amongst themselves, possibly giggling. Rikki had a hard time seeing through their veils from this distance in the dark. Two stern looking Dwarves sat behind the veiled ladies, cautiously watching the Riponian guard. To Rikki’s trained, eye, those two were not to be messed with.
“What is that, Ambassador?” Rikki looked to his guide.
“That’s the public transit carriage.” Kalgar explained. Carriages leave the major populated areas twice daily. They travel to each end of the Under-kingdom it costs a silver a day to ride, and that doesn’t include lodging or food.” The Ambassador stroked his beard. “it is a pretty good way to travel. Not every dwarf can afford a horse or pony, you know.”
“It travels every day?” Rikki asked above the singing.
“Aye, it does. Every morning and every evening, although sometimes the evening ones tend to be mostly packages, and mail. Not many like to sleep on a moving carriage.”
Captain Kalhoun fell into a quiet, as those around him continued to sing and enjoy themselves. He thought about what it would take to create such a system. It would be easier and most likely safer to travel that way. It was like the Ambassador said, not everyone can afford a horse.
            He wondered if it would feasible for Riponia to try such a service out. It would need places to keep horses, maintain them and change them out. Of course they would need carriages. Carriages that would be fairly comfortable to spend the day in, and that could protect it’s riders from the weather. The inn’s along the routes would be glad to see new arrivals, they might even help set the project up. Rikki made a mental note to speak with his Majesty when they returned to Ripon. 
*          *          *
            “Captain,” Ambassador Kalgar called out. “Just ahead is the magical city of Hobro.”
            “How can you tell?” Rikki asked. “The tunnel looks the same now as it did when we first entered it.
            “We dwarves have a sense about these things.” Kalgar stroked his beard. “We just know where we are when underground.”
            “What is the procedure for a force of this size entering the city.” Rikki asked. “Do we have gates to go through, do we have to surrender our weapons?”
            “Your men will be able to keep their weapons as long as they don’t draw them.” Kalgar assured again. “There is a gate of sorts up here, but it isn’t too formal on procedures. No one gets into the Under-kingdom unless they are invited. The only reason that these gates are here, is as a precaution of someone taking Hobro to get into the Under-kingdom.” Kalgar chuckled, “I find that highly unlikely though.”
            “How come?” Rikki inquired.
            “You’ll see soon enough, Captain.” The Dwarf chuckled.
            The party soon came upon massive stone gates. They weren’t nearly as large as the ones that they had passed through on the way into the underground, but larger and more dense than any fortress gates Rikki had seen. And these were considered minor?
            “Kalgar is that you?” a gruff voiced called out.
            “Who wants to know?” Kalgar called back.
            A gray-haired Dwarf with a black beard in three plaits stepped forward.
            “By the Gods, it’s been a long time.” Kalgar gasped. “How are you doing, Tallak?”
            “We heard that you were bringing a bunch of long-legs down here.” The Dark bearded dwarf replied.
            “Aye, They were wandering around in the upper caverns, I took pity on them and brought them down to civilization.” Kalgar clasped the other dwarf’s forearm in greeting. “You’re a Battleaxe now?” Kalgar shook his head, what is the Under-kingdom coming to, giving you the rank of Battleaxe?”
            “Aye, it was a sad day for me too.” Tallak nodded. “I’d have asked to be demoted back to Kama, if I’d know what a headache being a Battleaxe is.”
            “Battle-axe Tallak, this is Captain Kalhoun,” Kalgar introduced. “The Captain is in charge of the Princess of Riponia’s security.”
            “Welcome to Hobro, Captain.” The Battle-axe greeted. “We heard that you have close to three hundred with you.” Tallak looked from Rikki down the line of soldiers slowly making their way towards the gate. “We’ve got special quarters reserved for the Princess, and the Ambassadors, with plenty of room for you and a squad to be near the Princess. The rest, I’m afraid will have to settle for two of our larger inn’s.”
            “It sounds like you have every thing in hand, Battle-axe, thank you.” Rikki grinned.
            “That, the Princess?” Tallak looked towards the make shift wagon.
            Tonya was studying the gates gathering as much detail as she could as the wagon passed through them.
            “Aye, that is her.” Kalgar sighed. “She is fascinated in our science and culture.” He looked to his friend. “You know how primitive Humans are.”
            “Do they bathe more than once a month yet?” Tallak smiled.
            “It depends whether or not you like to stand in the rain, or go swimming.” Rikki smiled at the Battle-axe. “If you will excuse this smelly long-leg, I need to see to my smelly Princess.”
            The two dwarves roared with laughter as Rikki allowed Sefu to trot towards the front of the procession.
            Rikki caught up with Takoda and Kadyr.   Thankfully Taelah wasn’t anywhere to be seen,   “Kadyr, I want you and Grymm to accompany the Princess to her chambers, and make sure that they are secure before allowing her to enter.” Rikki looked around. “Grymm!” he called.
            “Right here, Captain.” Grymm called from the other side of the wagon.
            “Find Cavalryman Symon, and Yeoman Baely. Have them report to me.”
Rikki issued. “Then join Lieutenant Kadyr in securing the Princess in her quarters.”
            “Yes, Sir.” Grymm went in search of the Cavalryman and Yeoman.
Rikki got a nod of acknowledgment from Kadyr before turning to Takoda. “I want you and Sergeant Galyway to get the heavies and Cavalry situated for the night. Make sure that they are aware that we are going to be running drills in the morning. I may even be able to get the local Dwarven military to join us, or mock battle against us.” Takoda smiled at that. 
“Sir?” Cavalryman Symon reported to his Captain.
“Symon, I have a special detail for you.” Rikki began. He glanced quickly at Takoda then back to Symon. “You’re not going to like it and will think that I’m picking on you.” Rikki paused.
“What is it, Sir.” Symon inquired warily, but not enough to show concern.
“I’m going to have you act as the Half-Elf’s security detail.”
“Sir?” Symon raised an eyebrow.
“Sergeant at Arms Takoda will be choosing another to accompany you in this duty, Cavalryman.” Captain Kalhoun continued. “Elves are not welcomed in Sherstone. Even Half-Elves. You and your partner, will be staying here in Hobro with Taelah while we proceed to the capital. We will rejoin you here before moving on.” Rikki had to admire the Cavalryman. Disappointment was written all over his face.
“Yes, Sir.” Symon felt crushed. Here they were in the Dwarven Under-Kingdom and he was delegated to baby sitting a Half-Elf, just because he knew the language. 
“Sergeant Takoda will have your assistant report to you in the morning. Just keep her safe and from running away. I may be over reacting, but I don’t trust Elves of any kind.”
“Yes, Sir.”
“Go ahead and relax, and get anything you feel you’ll need for this duty, Cavalryman.”
Symon saluted again before falling back in the ranks of bodyguards.
“Takoda, Kadyr.” Captain Kalhoun drew their attention back to him. “I want an officer’s meeting after dinner. There are a few things we need to talk about.”
“Captain, you asked to see me?” Yeoman Baely joined them.
“Skot. How are your men doing down here?” Captain Kalhoun asked.
“A few are feeling the confines, Sir, but they are holding up well.”
“Good. Skot, you and I are going to over see the retinue and servants when we arrive at the inn that the Battleaxe has reserved for them.  They are probably quite tired after two long days of traveling.”
“Okay, Sir.”
                        *          *          *
Monyka stood supporting some of Tonya’s weight as they waited for Kadyr and Grymm to finish a security sweep of the suite of rooms that the Dwarves had prepared for them. Annyka yawned wide and quickly covered her mouth with a hand, hoping that the Princess hadn’t noticed. The Journey from Radec to Hobro took all day and worked its way into the evening. Some of the servants weren’t done with their chores yet either.  
Two of the Cavalrymen were unloading the Princess’s traveling chest, while some of the Stablemen with the help of the cavalry were unsaddling, feeding, watering and currying their mounts. Most of the retinue and servants were doing like they were, waiting for room assignments, and getting something to eat before getting a good nights sleep.
“Okay, your Highness.” Grymm opened the door for them.
“I think it is ridiculous that you have to snoop through my room before I’m allowed to enter.” Tonya sneered quietly as she passed the ever smiling Grymm.
“I don’t blame them one bit, your Highness.” Battle-axe Tallak stood behind them. “In fact, I’d worry about who was in charge of your security if they didn’t.”
Tonya huffed.
The room must be reserved for royalty when they passed through from Sherstone. The richness of the room was as breathtaking as the suite that they had stayed in while at Bolton. The suites were lit by many different types of illumination. A quick glance at the ceiling though caused a sigh of relief, there were no cavern grazers munching and glowing on the high ceiling. 
A large fireplace in the sitting room was lit, and casting a warm flickering light, while oil lamps on various small tables glowed with scented oil. The room was decorated in rich green and golds. The floor, where not covered by a rug was tiled in a herringbone pattern, in what looked to be a light limestone and a golden limestone. The walls were chiseled to meet one another in sharp angles. However they seemed to arch up to the tall ceiling. Just inside the arching perimeter of the ceiling an elaborate knot work was carved in relief, it’s hard angles somewhat reflected the pattern in the floor. 
“Where would you like to go, Highness?” Monyka whispered.
“To a soft chair for now.” Tonya pointed one out near the fireplace. “When my stool gets here, I’ll explore a bit.” She looked over to Annyka. “Are you hungry, Annyka?”
Monyka felt for the young girl. Again she was reminded of herself when she first had come to the Palace at Ripon. Everything seemed to be out of a fairytale.
“No, your Highness.” Annyka’s eyes darted from Tonya’s to the rest of the room. Just then her stomach growled. She quickly looked to see if the other two had heard it and turned pink at having been found out.
“There is a tray of fruit and cheeses, there,” Tonya directed with her chin. “Go ahead. In fact, why don’t you bring the tray here near the fire and I’ll eat with you.”
Monyka helped ease Tonya down on the green and gold chair and propped her leg up on an ottoman. “Would you like anything else at the moment, Highness?”
“No, thank you, Monyka.” Tonya popped a strawberry into her mouth.
            “There will be two Cavalrymen outside, you Highness.” Kadyr bowed from the door.
            “Thank you Lieutenant.” Tonya dismissed him with a sigh.
            The other side of the sitting room of the suite held what looked to be double doors. The center of the door was replaced with square panes of glass. Light weight curtains seemed to give the suite more privacy. Monyka turned the latch on one of the doors and pushed it open. 
            The door opened onto a large veranda that looked to be carved from the rock. The faint sound of a waterfall was a dull roar in the background.  Its sound filled the whole outside area echoing and reverberating off the cavern walls.  The air outside the suite was cool, crisp, and smelled clean.  The veranda looked out over a vast open area. Lights from oil lamps and flickering fireplaces twinkled and flickered all around the large open area. Monyka’s breath caught in her chest. the twinkling lights seemed to be all around her, reminding her of the cavern that she and Kadyr had explored last night. 
The Handmaiden walked to the stone railing of the patio and looked down. She released her breath in a long hissing sigh. The veranda that she was standing upon was hundreds of feet above what looked to be a lake. Unlike other lakes that she had seen, this one glowed a lime green color. Glowing clumps of something or another seemed to move slowly under the surface of the lake, changing direction at a whim. 
“Must be the fish.” Monyka wondered softly to herself.
Her eyes scanned the lake, recognizing docks, and small boats, that looked like tiny fingers protruding into the glowing green water. A murmur of voices sounded the constant buzzing of an insect. She looked for their source and realized that it was the soft murmuring of the different people all around her, talking softly on their private porches and verandas. Her eyes continued to scan upwards. To her surprise, she discovered that the city wasn’t underground. True it was built underground, but the lake and the verandas were open and exposed to the night sky. Monyka took in a deep breath of the crisp air, now knowing why is smelled so fresh and smiled at the moons just peaking over the rim of the crater. 
She had heard the Ambassador describe the city of Hobro as a crater, but this was unlike anything she expected. This was more like a huge hole bored into the earth, as if the gods were drilling a hole into the ground to place a well. The sides of crater city, with the exceptions of the verandas, were as close to vertical as one could get. With the water fall pouring water into the lake hundreds if not thousands  of gallons per second, she speculated to why the water level wasn’t rising. There had to be an outlet somewhere.
“But where would that much water go?” She wondered aloud to herself. She took in another deep breath of sweetly scented air and exhaled slowly. “Breath taking.”


Tim, Great Chapter. Love The Look At The Under Kingdom

Those Drawves are quite good at developing their resources and they might be part French with their usage of  those critters. This Crater City reminds me of Crater Lake. I hope that your other fans come and read the latest chapter.

May Your Light Forever Shine


More character development and some more nice details about the Drawves and their culture. The Captain is doing everything right and its up in the air how this will play out. Things are beginning to come to a head. Elves, Drawves and Princesses oh my!
nice work Tim!

Tastes like chicken?!?! Then it will need some BBQ sauce!!

Hello Tim!!!   ^___^  ;-D

How many times we have heard that from our parents when we were kids in trying a new food?  Too many!!!   hah, hah, hah...  Yes, you better find that BBQ sauce to doctor it up.   For those Grazers the hot sauce might work better.  Make that the "armor piercing" variety...hah, hah, hah...

Thanks for the imagery on this chapter, it is great.  So Hobro is a city on a crater lake, cool.  Sure Symon is crushed to learn that he has to guard the half-elf.  Hopefully, on the return trip that he will be able to see Sherstone, and that is a big if because of the dangers ahead.  Public transportation?!?!   Egads, more traffic nightmares on congested highways.  Oops, I forgot they don't have cars and buses in this story.  Well, it would be just like it was 100 years ago before the gas engine was developed for our era.   But for them, public transportation has not been invented yet, and I mean yet.  What will this do for commerce for all?   They will need protection on these routes to protect them from highway robbers, which happens anyway on an individual basis.  But now the thief has a larger target or a 'bigger bang for the buck'.   A lot of thought will have to go into it to make the routes safe.

Good idea to have a mock battle with the dwarfs, it will be good practice for close quarter fighting.  They need to know their strengths and weaknesses when confronting the elves which will happen.  I can see that coming when it happens. 

Well time to go.  Have a great week.  Waiting patiently for the next chapter.







Bad feeling about the half elf.

I just think this one has treachery stuffed in her bosom.

I do so want the princess in the arms of the powerful Rikki.

As always a great pleasure.


your wish is my command

Gwen, you may get your wish in the next chapter... I'm not sure yet, since it isnt written, but we'll have to see how what I have planned unfolds. ;)

Tim Knight

Ooh, sigh, squirm, giggle.


Thanks for this part

Dear Tim,

Thanks for this new part ot the HP-serial. And it is especially nice that I can reach this

place without having to fight with ways of getting around internet fights between differenent

ISPs. I am pleased to see that the story does not have the overwhelming mysterious things,

just that much to make it almost plausible

Keep on with the two stories, but remember that it is better for us to wait an extra day or two

than to have you stressed in a way that would hinder you to continue.

Even if it is  story/saga it is fascinating to try to put it somewhere on this globe. But so far I have

not been able to do neither a geographical nor a time-period confirmation although some things

might put up "boundaries" both in time and geography. This just adds to the interesting story you give us

Best Greetings from Sweden and


Relaxing Chapter

You're doing the sense-of-wonder thing fascinatingly well as the story proceeds.

A problem with serials is that it's easy for a reader to miss something (like the resemblance of the troubadours at Truno to the rug merchants on the river and the homesteaders on Tonya's alternate route).

But it's hard for me to see why everybody's going to Sherstone if they're all going to return to Hobro afterwards to pick up Taelah and her security detail. Sure, it's the capital and Princess Tonya would be politically remiss if she didn't pay her respects to the emperor and offer formal thanks for use of the underground highway. (And I'm sure you want to take the story there.)

But it'd seem faster and less costly to send the majority on ahead with Taelah and meet them all at Narva, if I read that correctly in the last chapter. If the emperor wants to cause them trouble, they're all dead anyway, whether they're in one party or two. Assuming he doesn't, all that the main party would seem to need is protection from any dwarven outlaws on the road -- and we haven't seen any.


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