This is the sixth chapter in the story, if you have not read the previous chapter please do so before continuing: Chapter 5 – The Elves
As I am looking to you to give me feedback, please use this link as a guide:
Here is the Sixth chapter:
SEEKING THE DWARVES
By the middle of the next day, they had reached the edge of a small stream. Which was determined as part of the border of Vorholm. The unicorns bade the four farewell, and watched them as they marched on. Carla began to practice more intensely with her sling.
Shortly after they passed over the stream, Lungand said, “We should go to the castle of Lord Wyrgenhelm. He is nearest to our path, and we can get horses there. Not to mention letting it be known that the King is alive.”
“Do you think that will be safe?” asked Wissagebreht.
“Wyrgenhelm is a man who, though he fancies himself as important. Has not the courage to do anything drastic. Such as attacking his own king. We will be as safe there as anywhere.”
By midafternoon they had hit the road which led, among other places, to the castle of Wyrgenhelm. With a proper trail to follow, they were able to move somewhat faster and had covered a good deal of distance before evening.
Carla continued to practice with her sling. She was now picking marks and casting at them, developing her accuracy.
In the morning they moved on, and in a short time were coming in sight of a castle. It was not much of a castle, though at the time Carla had little to compare it to. There was an inner keep, and five towers around the walls. From the keep flew a pennon, the She-wolf’s head on a yellow background, signifying that the Lord of the Castle was in residence. The walls at a distance had seemed forbidding. But, at closer sight, had revealed stones which had fallen out of place. Whole sections of wall were bulging at the base as the weight of stone and the effects of winter frost began to cause the wall to fall.
All around the outside of the castle was a town, mostly consisting of huts of the sort that Carla had lived in. There were one or two slightly better-seeming houses, and a great many shops and vendors. If she had seen it before she had seen Drefcwed, the Elves’ city, Carla felt sure that she would have been greatly impressed.
Carla had already put her sling away. But Wissagebreht said to her, quietly, “Best not practice with the sling in the sight of the guards of the castle or their Lord. Such people feel a little uneasy about weapons in the hands of such as we.”
Bruderic surveyed the castle as they came closer. “It would not be proper now, when we are going to ask Wyrgenhelm for help. But when the quest is over remind me to send him a message regarding the upkeep of his castle, Lungand.”
The Chamberlain nodded.
They walked the road toward the castle, passing through the town. From all Carla could see, it was less of a town than many she knew, and she wondered at the temporary nature of the buildings. Wissagebreht answered her unspoken question. “It is unlawful to have buildings outside the castle walls; they might be used against the castle in a siege. Every so often the Lord of the castle must send his soldiers out to tear down and burn the buildings and drive the people out. Most of the people come back in a week or two and build again, but in such a case, who would bother to build a proper house?”
At the gate of the castle two guards lounged about, leaning on spears. They were slowly surveying the people around with expressions of bored dismissal. As the four made their way to the gate, the guards’ eyes fixed on them. They could see the guards taking in their dress, and the fact that two of them bore swords. Suddenly there was little of the boredom left on the guard’s faces.
Lungand stopped in front of them. “We must talk to Lord Wyrgenhelm. I am the Lord Chamberlain Lungand, and this is King Bruderic.”
The first guard, looking at them in disbelief, sneered, “Yes, and I’m Queen Guendatha come back to demand vengeance. Be off, then or—“
The other guard was hissing urgently in his ear. Something to the effect that he had seen the Chamberlain at court, and this was he. The first guard paled, swallowed, and tried to speak. Lungand addressed the second guard.
“Escort us to your Lord.”
Himself very pale, the guard marched along before them toward the keep.
Carla heard Bruderic mutter. “That guard is an ignorant boor, Lungand, but I do not want you to demand any punishment for him. It will be punishment enough for him to wait a few days in anxiety about his fate.”
The Chamberlain merely nodded.
Wyrgenhelm was a slender dark-haired man with, it seemed, a perpetually worried expression. He had dark hair, watery eyes and a huge moustache which, on his small face, looked somewhat ridiculous. “Your Highness, Milord, this is a surprise. I had no idea you were coming.”
A bolder man might have made a plain statement at the discourtesy of giving him no prior warning.
Bruderic spoke. “I presume that you have heard that we have been on a quest to seek out the reason why the unicorns do not return?”
“Why, yes, Highness, we had heard that.”
“The quest is not yet ended; there is yet a thing to be done, and it is I who must do it. I regret being able to give you no warning of our coming. But we did not know ourselves until just lately that we would be coming this way, and it was not possible to send anyone ahead.
“But I must ask a few favours of you.”
“Whatever I can do, I will, Highness.”
“We need your hospitality for the night. We need horses to carry us further on the way. And we need a swift messenger to be sent to the capital to bring word of the situation to the Lords reigning for me.”
The Lord was nodding as the King spoke, and when he had finished, Wyrgenhelm said, “Of course, of course. Please, let me have some refreshments sent for. You have been travelling a long while on foot, I can see.”
“The message first, Lord, then the refreshments.”
A moment later King Wyrgenhelm had sent a servant for paper, pen and ink, and another for refreshments. The servant with the refreshments arrived. Meanwhile the King was in the process of writing out his message. Since Wyrgenhelm had no notion of the status of Wissagebreht and Carla. Save that they had arrived with the King and Chamberlain. he assumed that they were due the same courtesy, despite their looks.
Wine was served, a surprisingly good wine, along with small cakes which were also quite good. When Bruderic had finished his message, folded it, and given it to the messenger with instructions for delivery. He also took a cup of wine and a cake. Wyrgenhelm sat almost literally on the edge of his seat. He was fearful lest the least thing done or left undone should attract the notice of the King. Bruderic, on the other hand, strove to put him at ease by discussing all manner of harmless subjects. At last, Wyrgenhelm suggested that quarters be found for the four. Bruderic agreed, and they were soon in a set of rooms in the north part of the keep.
It was not possible to leave that same afternoon. Not if courtesy was to be maintained. But Bruderic made it clear that they would have to leave the next morning. They dined with the Lord and his chief officers that evening. Once again in borrowed clothing, and once again Carla noticed Bruderic looking at her.
Being King, Bruderic had to be seated at the head table and Lungand was with him. Wissagebreht and Carla were seated at lower tables among the knights and ladies. Wissagebreht was seated across the table from her. On her left was a young knight, named Aelinth, who paid lavish attention to her.
As the evening went on, he became bolder and bolder, and more free with his hands. Finally Wissagebreht leaned across the table toward him. “Aelinth, you have not been properly introduced to my ward, Carla. She has been under my protection since she was born. A fortunate thing for a child, to have a Wizard’s protection, don’t you think?”
Aelinth looked at Wissagebreht and turned pale. Suddenly devoted his whole attention to his food.
After the meal, Bruderic sought Carla out. “I noticed that fool Aelinth pestering you. I have a mind to talk with him myself, perhaps introduce him to better manners.”
“You needn’t bother. Wissagebreht warned him off.”
“Still nothing! Wissagebreht is my guardian, it is for him to protect me, not you!”
Bruderic shrank back, then smiled. “Ah, but I am your King, and have a responsibility to protect you, as well as all my subjects. But if you insist, I will do nothing more. For this time.”
He bowed and turned away, leaving Carla still wanting to shout something at him. But she was not quite sure whether she thought he was a mere pest or a caring friend.
In the early morning they were riding out of the gate of the castle. The road stretched long and white ahead of them, and the day promised to be fair. Indeed, they had good travelling, and made very good progress towards the capital that day. In the morning, it suddenly occurred to Bruderic that the men-at-arms who were waiting at Wissagebreht’s hut should be informed that they need not wait there any longer. He had therefore had a special messenger sent off to tell them.
They reached the capital the next evening, without incident. As they went in the main gate, Carla saw a man leap on a horse and ride up the main street as though his life depended on it. She remarked on that, and Bruderic said, “Yes. That will be a messenger taking word of our arrival to the Regents. They would not wish to be caught off-guard at the return of the King. Watch; they will have a huge party out to greet us.”
He proved correct. As the rode into the palace courtyard there were two rows of men-at-arms in polished armour. They stood like statues with spears held upright in right hands, shields on left arms. Down the way between the two rows the travellers rode, up to the knot of people who waited at the last step of the palace.
As they approached, all of people went down on one knee. Bruderic spoke. “Rise, faithful servants.”
The people came to their feet. A certain few of them, clearly assigned the task beforehand, came to hold the horses while the travellers dismounted. Bruderic came over to Carla quickly and extended a hand to help her down.
She snorted, and jumped down, ignoring him. She stumbled, almost falling. When he caught her arm to steady her, she was all the more angry. But she decided it would be better not to make too much of a fool of herself in front of so many people. She smiled at him, and he turned to speak to the Regents.
“Good day, Milords. May I present you to the rest of my company? Lord Volkenor, Lord Nechtgang, these are the Wizard Wissagebreht and his ward, Carla.”, Announced Bruderic.
Volkenor was old, not, extremely old, but older than Lungand, and somewhat stout. There was a young page with him whose duties included standing by and letting the Lord lean on his shoulder whenever he must bow. His face was round and brown, with black beard and eyebrows. Only a ruff of pepper-and-salt hair was left round the bald crown of his head. There was something about his eyes that Carla didn’t trust, though she could not quite put words to it.
Nechtgang looked even older; he was thin and spare, with a full head of white hair and a white beard as well. When he moved, it could be seen that all his joints were stiff. His eyes were bright and clear, though, and when he spoke it was clear that age had not dimmed his thoughts. In him, Carla could feel something of old bitterness. He appeared to be a man who felt that for ages he had been denied his rightful due in the world.
Volkenor spoke first. “Wissagebreht I have met before. I welcome you back to the court, Wissagebreht. As for the young lady,” he took her hand and bowed over it, only a slight bend of the back, “she is indeed a charming addition.”
Nechtgang gave a quick sideward glance of disgust at his co-regent and himself bowed over Carla’s hand. “I too know Wissagebreht, and I am pleased to make the acquaintance of his ward. Shall we go inside where we can be more comfortable?”
They went inside to the throne room. Volkenor said, as they were about to enter, “Milord King, you have had a long journey; would you not wish to wash up before you take your throne again?”
“No, Milord Volkenor, I have no time. I shall be here only the night, then I must go fulfill the last part of the quest.”
The two of them looked at Bruderic together, hesitated, then went on into the throne room. The throne was set up on a raised dais, and two smaller seats had been set up at the foot of the dais. Since the Regents could not possibly aspire to the throne. The Regents did not take these seats this time, however, but rather stood facing the throne to wait until the King should seat himself.
When he had done this, he looked down at the two. “Have there been any difficulties raised in my absence. Difficulties which were beyond your capabilities?”
They answered, almost simultaneously, “No, Milord.”
“Good. Since we will be going out again in the morning, I would prefer to spend the night resting.”
“You will eat with us, Milord King?” asked Volkenor.
In all this time, Carla kept noticing the Wizard Gaistferu moving around the crowd of courtiers. His eyes always slipping from one to another of the powerful people. She remembered Wissagebreht’s assessment of him. She then wondered what might happen if his ambition someday overpowered his fear.
In the morning, as Bruderic promised, after they gathered provisions and new mounts, they set out again. The trip went well, with no particular incident. Carla continued to practice with her sling, now from horseback. She was now able to hit a stone about the size of a man’s head six times out of ten at a distance of twenty yards, from a moving horse. Wissagebreht watched, and when she looked at him after a good shot, he smiled at her.
Lungand remained grimly silent. Carla asked Wissagebreht, “Has he not yet accepted that this quest must be fulfilled?”
Wissagebreht smiled, a little sadly. “He has, or he would voice his objections. It is only that he wishes it were not necessary, wishes that they could stay in the Kingdom.”
“He still feels that someone will rise up against the King while he is away?”
“Yes. There is less danger of that now, since we have come back through to show that the King still lives. That he has not disappeared off the face of the earth. But there is still some chance that some leader will find it possible to gather enough force to make the attempt.”
“And if an attempt is made, it seems doubtful that the Regents could do much about it?”
He shook his head. “Don’t mistake the Regents. They are both proven men on the battlefield, and fully experienced in the ways of convincing others into a wise course of action. Or at least against an unwise course.”
Carla shook her head in mystification. “Then why should Lungand be so concerned?”
The Wizard grinned. “Firstly, because Lungand trusts very few arrangements in the Kingdom unless he is himself present to oversee them. And secondly, because he fears that either or both of the Regents may suddenly realize that if the other Regent were to die. He would be well on the way to supplanting the King.”
“Then we should perhaps not go—“
Wissagebreht waved a hand. “You may remember how Bruderic chose the two. Neither of them trusts the other, and each will be greatly concerned about any plot by the other. I do not plan to dawdle on this trip, for I recognize the dangers. But then again, what we do is something that must be done, and if there are risks, they must be taken.”
On the second evening out of the capital Bruderic looked across the fire at Wissagebreht. “We are in much the same situation as when we went to the Elves, are we not? For the Dwarves live under the mountains, and it is said that a Man rarely sees a Dwarf who does not wish to be seen. How do we talk to the Dwarves, then?”
Wissagebreht smiled. “I have had dealings with the Dwarves from time to time. There is a door I know of, and hopefully there will be someone around to answer when we come knocking.”
The foothills were considered beyond the territory of Vorholm. So, as they entered the foothills, the unicorns rejoined them. They had apparently been concealed in a small copse, for as the travellers went along, suddenly the unicorns were there.
Yssagarit trotted up to Carla and rubbed his muzzle on her leg. “I see you have new mounts; my companions and I wish you to know that you were not that heavy.” There was laughter in his voice.
“Ah, it is good to see you again, Quickfoot! But be truthful now; did you not find us at least a little heavy?”
“Well, perhaps a little.”
Up into the mountains they went. Carla had seen the mountains from afar, of course, and wondered at their blue aloofness. The white caps on the highest of them, and how some of them even reached up into the clouds. She had asked Wissagebreht about them, and he seemed to know at least a little about everything. So she now knew something about the mountains and what went on in them.
The trip became more arduous, for they had to climb. To climb, ever going upward. It would have been possible to ride all the time. But in order not to wear the horses out completely, they walked from time to time, leading the animals.
It grew cooler also, as they went upward. On their second day in the mountains Wissagebreht smilingly produced heavy fur garments which he had quietly procured in the capital during their brief stay. From the look on the face of Lungand it was clear that packing warm garments had completely slipped his mind, even though he had known where they must go.
“Fortunately,” said the Wizard, “we are travelling in summer, and hence need not fear the winter storms. What we must beware of, however, is the possibility of avalanche.”
“What is an avalanche?” inquired Carla.
“When huge masses of snow, ice, dirt, and rocks break loose from the mountain and slide down, carrying everything before them. There is something about the weather in spring which makes them more likely to happen at that time, and in summer only a little less so. The path I intend to take is one where such snowslides are not likely to happen. But ‘not likely’ does not mean ‘impossible.”‘
They saw one avalanche, far away. As they were plodding slowly up the mountain slope, with a fair green valley to their left, Wissagebreht suddenly spoke. “Look!”
They looked to where he was pointing, across the valley and upward. There had been a heavy overhang of snow there, and just before he pointed it had broken off and fallen to the slope. It began to slide, picking up speed, and as it went it pushed up more snow before it, which increased the force of it. The sound of it eventually reached them across the distance, a continuous roaring.
Then it hit the first of the trees, burying some under the snow, snapping off others and carrying them along, until the slope began to level off. By then the force of the slide was so terrific that much of the debris continued to move, almost all the way down to the valley floor.
“When the conditions are right, even a loud noise can suffice to start the snow sliding,” said Wissagebreht.
The other three looked in silence at the devastation that had been wrought.
It was not much longer until they were up beyond the level where trees still grew. For a while, then, there were thin and scrawny bushes. They were tough little things anchoring themselves in tiny pockets of earth on the mountain’s rocky face. There were also little patches of tough grasses which the horses did not like. But which they ate, for want of anything better.
“Forbidding country for anything to live, man, beast, or dwarf,” commented Lungand.
“Ah, the Dwarves do not commonly live this high; they prefer the lower areas, just as men do. But the entrance through which they welcomed me was high up, and perhaps for that same reason. No one would come this high without good and overriding cause.”
“So they feared you might spread the word of this door to everyone?”
“Let us say rather that they were very cautious. The treasures of the Dwarves are legendary, and what might happen if the wrong sort of people knew of doors that gave easy access to those treasures?”
For some reason, the less hospitable the country, the more the unicorns liked to gambol and play. Even Lungand had difficulty avoiding smiling when they went into their three-cornered dance in the evening.
It was afternoon of the next day when they came upon a small rock overhang, not unlike any number of similar formations they had seen previously.
“Ah, here we are!”, declared Wissagebreht.
The others looked around for any sign of Dwarves, indeed, for any sign that anyone had ever been there. Beneath the overhang was the face of a great boulder, somewhat convex in shape, but no sign of a door anywhere.
“You are sure?” asked Lungand.
“Of course I am sure!” said Wissagebreht. “And of course you cannot see anything; I did tell you it was a secret door. How could it remain secret very long if it could be seen so easily?”
“So what do we do now? Knock?”
The Wizard raised his eyebrows. “As good a notion as any.”
He took up his staff and rapped on the rock. There was no reaction.
“Well?” demanded Lungand. “What now?”
“I expect we are being surveyed. Dwarvish doors very frequently include cunningly fashioned spyholes. This is so that they can look at those who demand admittance before they admit them.”
“And for how long do we expect them to survey us before they admit us? And if they decide not to admit us, what then?”
“You worry too much, Lungand.” But nevertheless, Wissagebreht took up his staff again and rapped once more on the door. There was still no answer.
Lungand merely looked at the Wizard. Meanwhile, Bruderic, who had thought only of coming to the Dwarves to fulfil the quest but had not thought that it might be difficult to arrange a meeting with the Dwarves, looked on in consternation.
Wissagebreht shrugged. “I would truly prefer to do nothing drastic, though I am prepared, if it should come to that. Let us camp here. If we have no sign of Dwarves by morning, I shall try something else.”
Lungand’s look showed how little he liked this, but he said nothing. He maintained his grimly disapproving look throughout the evening. He even seemed to maintain that expression after he went to sleep. Carla, who had great trust in Wissagebreht, wondered how long the Wizard would put up with this. She then began to wonder if Lungand’s face had possibly set for good in a disapproving expression. This caused her to giggle, and she had to avoid telling either Wissagebreht or Bruderic the cause of her mirth.
In the morning the Chamberlain’s disapproving expression was, if anything, stronger. After they had breakfasted, cleaned up the dishes, and packed their things, Wissagebreht once again rapped with his staff on the rock.
There was an almost inaudible scraping sound, and a large part of the boulder swung inward. In the doorway stood a Dwarf, shorter than Carla, broadly built, with strong arms and fingers. His face was broad, brown, weathered, and covered from the nose downward with a curling brown beard. There was a short sword slung at his left side. A dagger at his right, and he wore a plain brown smock over a pair of grey hose, and a pointed brown leather cap on his head.
He bowed. “Good morning to you, Wissagebreht,” he said.
“Good morning. You have been watching us all night?”
“No. There is no regular watch at this door, but a patrol goes by regularly. Last night’s patrol reported a party camping here, and I was sent with a small party to watch and see if it was merely chance travellers, or someone come to pay a call. So here I am, and here you are. What do you wish with the Dwarves?”
Wissagebreht frowned. “Do we discuss such matters on the doorstep?”
The Dwarf answered the frown with one of his own. “We let none in here without good reason. You may tell me here at the doorstep why you wish to be admitted, and I decide if that is sufficient reason.”
Carla could feel Lungand’s face becoming a thundercloud, but Wissagebreht was calm. “I am here with the King of Vorholm, his Chamberlain, and my ward, Carla. The King wishes to have a memorial made to the late Queen Guendatha.”
That was Chapter Six. Please let me know what you think by emailing me at [email protected]
Or if you want to wait, I can email you a pdf of the complete beta in a month or so once the chapters have been released.