Gabriela returned to herself to find, Caleb sitting on the ground next her. His knees pulled tight to his chest and head buried in the space between. He was sobbing. Her cold heart melted a little to see him in such distress. She reached a hand to touch him but hesitated for a moment as a fleeting thought crossed her mind. She had second thoughts about using him, he was already a broken being. But then, she thought better of it as the image of her beloved Otar appeared.
Gabriela reached to Caleb and gently touched his shoulder as she tried not to startle him. He raised his head to look around. His face was tear stained with red rimmed eyes. He wiped away the tears with the palm of his hands. He blinked repeatedly not believing the image before him.
“Ga-Gabriela? Where do you go? Wh-what happened? You were here but you weren’t here?”
“Shhhhh, Caleb,” she placed a finger on his lips to quiet him. “I’m here now that’s all that matters. I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
“I have never felt so helpless. Here I was, stuck on this beach with nothing and no way to reach you. No way to get home.” Caleb moved to hold Gabriela’s hands. He caressed the top of her knuckles while looking deep into her eyes. “This can’t continue, you will send me home now. I’ll have a sleeping draught made so I can come back and we can get this done.”
“Caleb calm down we wont solve this today,” cautioned Gabriela. “We’ve already planned to meet again in two days time. That will give me time to rest and gain enough strength for a longer stay. In that time, see what ingredients you can gather. Also check the date of the next dark faced moon.”
“About that, what is a dark faced moon?”
“It’s a fancy way of saying the night before the new moon. On that night the moon looks dark. It’s the best night for banishing spells,” Gabriela explained.
“I’m glad you know this stuff. I wouldn’t know what to do with out you.”
“We wont be apart for very much longer Caleb.” Gabriela said, inching closer for a kiss. She paused just shy of his lips, her mouth was open slightly, she searched his eyes.
Caleb couldn’t stand the anticipation of her kiss any longer. He closed the distance between them, capturing her mouth he kissed her deeply; trying to communicate his feelings with a single passionate kiss. Closing his eyes, Caleb drank her in.
Caleb moved to pull her into a tight embrace only to find that he had been sent back to the chair in front of the fire. “Damn it, I am really starting to hate that!”
“That’s it there,” Hugo pointed out the roof top, over Amanita’s shoulder, that was just visible through the tree stand separating one field from another.
Hugo and Amanita took to the tree’s for travel since the snow was too deep and fluffy to walk through. She flashed them from tree to tree. Luckily for them, the Jenkins’ farm separated fields with a natural fence of coniferous trees. The trees also acted as wind buffs. Protecting the land from severe wind and storms. The trees proved a safe way for them to travel. They offered protection from predators and the winter winds that continued to gust.
“A little closer and I’ll get us there in a flash,” Amanita replied. “Do you know where the Oracle’s home is located?”
“It’s located in the oldest part of the hedge rose brambles that fence the backyard. We’re to meet up with Woody near the gate; from there he will guide us to the Oracle’s home.”
“Do you think we’ll run into much resistance?”
“Na, these mice are to fat and comfortable to be out after a storm like this.”
“Aw, that’s no fun,” Amanita pouted. “I wanna play. Ugo you promised we’d have fun.”
“We will dear one. I’ll let you dispose of everyone in her mansion, including this pixie, Woody.”
“But if you give me all that then what fun will you have?”
Hugo smiled then answered, “I’ll get to watch.”
“Well, okay. If your sure.”
Hugo pulled Amanita close wrapping his arms around her waist. “I’m sure. Plus, I was thinking depending on how this works out, maybe there is another way WE could have fun.”
“Oh you’re terrible,” Amanita responded playfully slapping at Hugo’s chest.
He nipped and kissed at her neck playfully working his way to her lips. Hugo ran his hands up her back, pulling her in closer. They kissed passionately until they were both breathless.
“Let’s go have some fun.”
“Yeah,” Amanita giggled, then turned to find her next target.
The snow that fell hard and deep, the past few days, covered the garden gate door almost completely. The gate was a wooden arbor with a squared top and a half door. The arbor was three feet deep with the door on the inside nearer the house. The walls of the arbor and door matched. They were mostly solid, with long narrow oval cutout patterns where the wooden boards met. The pattern was offset with one cutout high then the next low, it continued high, low, high, around the arbor walls and door. The garden gate was topped with an open slat decorative top; that measured about a quarter of the height of the wall. The door, itself had an arched top. Woody sat waiting, huddled on the arbor ledge in-between the wooden slats on the garden gate top.
The hedge roses appeared to swallow the arbor fighting to hold them back. The roses stood slightly taller then the arbor and had, in fact, grown across the top affectively hiding the structure. In the dead of winter, the roses were a deeply tangled mess of thick thorny branches.
Woody watched as Hugo and Amanita flashed to the arbor. They appeared on the opposite arbor wall from him standing in-between the slats. Woody flashed to a slat next to them.
“You must be Woody? I’m Hugo and this enchanting lady is Amanita.”
Woody nodded his acknowledgement, “I was told to get you inside.”
“So, you’ve been inside. Is there a lot of mice in there?” Amanita asked with a glint in her eye.
“Not too many, but there is one I must worn you about.” Woody cautioned. “Her name is Mina, she’s the assistant to the Oracle. Mina has an uncanny way of detecting my presence. She’s the reason I haven’t been able to get close to the Oracle.”
“Oh really?” replied Amanita. “Hugo honey, if you don’t mind? I’ll go first. I’ve been dieing to have some fun.”
“What do you mean she can detect you?” Questioned Hugo.
“Well, each time I get close, she shows up,” Woody confessed. “I’m not like you both. I’m no trained fighter. Hades, before this I was just a runner. I would get whatever Caleb wanted.”
“Any idea how she knows your there?” Hugo pressed.
“I wouldn’t worry about that. I want them to see me. Remember what he said, Ugo? He said I could stop anyone who gets in my way. Enough with the talking, I wanna play. Let’s go Woody,” Amanita demanded.
“Okay, you go ahead I’ll be right behind you. Try to save one or two for me,” Hugo answered.
Woody took Amanita’s hand and a moment later they were in the Oracle’s bedroom. Woody looked around the room quickly. He breathed a sigh of relief to see no one was around.
“This is her bedroom,” he whispered.
Amanita nodded an motioned for him to return for Hugo. Woody flashed out of the room. Amanita with drew her knife from it’s sheath on her belt. She wore a tight fitting jumpsuit. The fabric allowed for free movement. Her boots were high cut ending mid-calf, they buckled close. Tucked within both were spare knives should she need them. On her left arm, she wore a formed shield. The shield wrapped around her forearm from the back of her hand up to her elbow. Amanita wore a second separate shield around her upper arm. The shields were made from dragon scales, the toughest substance known anywhere. It took special magic to create the shields.
Crouching slightly Amanita made her way to the door. “If they could sense Woody’s presence then why hasn’t anyone showed up yet?” She pondered.
The room was completely empty and there was no sounds coming from outside the room. Amanita was just to the door when Woody returned with Hugo.
Hugo tensed and ready to fight looked around the room. He relaxed a little once he realized they were alone.
Amanita whispered, “I haven’t heard a thing. A hunting we should go?”
Hugo smiled and nodded his approval.
“Wh-what about me?” Woody asked. “What should I do?”
“Stay here,” Hugo instructed. “Cloak yourself and we’ll return when we’re done.”
Grateful at being left out Woody replied, “Thank you.”
Amanita slowly turn the door knob and opened the door a sliver. She looked out into the long hall to find it empty. Ever so slowly she opened the door further, all the while, she watched for any signs of someone coming.
“I don’t see anyone,” she whispered. “I’m going.”
“Right behind you, dear,” Hugo replied as they slinked their way out into the long hall.
Woody found a dark corner with full view of the room to crouch in. He settled into a small ball and pulled his legs in close to rest his chin on his knees. There he would wait for the two of them to return. “With any luck this whole thing will be over soon and I can go home for a spell,” Woody thought as he cloaked himself.
Quickly and quietly Amanita and Hugo checked each room down the long hall.
“There’s no one here,” Hugo confirmed.
“That’s odd,” Amanita commented. “You’d think that we would at least run into a servant cleaning one of these rooms.”
“Yeah, a place like this takes constant maintenance. Something isn’t right.”
“How much you wanna bet the old bitty isn’t home?” Amanita asked in a tone that echoed of slight agitation.
“Do you think our good friend Woody has anything to do with this?” Hugo speculated.
“No, he’s such a patsy. I’ll bet he doesn’t have a clue why he is even watching her.”
“Well love, should we continue searching this place or just off the shroom and call the boss?”
“I still wanna play Huey,” Amanita whined. “You promised I could have fun and I got all dressed up for it and everything.”
“Ok, this place seems pretty deserted; go have your fun them meet me back in the room. I’m gonna try to reach the boss. I wanna let him know what we’ve found ASAP. He’s not gonna like this.”
“What about the wood boy? You gonna do him or do I get him too?”
“I think we’ll both leave him alone for the moment. Given the turn of events the boss my still have a use for him.”
“Aw man! You’re right of course.”
“And don’t you forget it,” Hugo teased. “You better get going before someone stumbles upon us.”
“Right chief,” Amanita said with a click of her heals and a mach salute.
Hugo rolled his eyes and shook his head at her antics before heading back to the room.
“Yeah, boss it’s Hugo,” he said speaking to the crystal communicator.
“Is it done?” Caleb’s voice came through clearly.
“About that…,” Hugo started.
“Is it done or not?” Caleb asked again annoyance seeping through his words.
“No, it appears that she is not here. Woody, Amanita and I are searching the Oracle’s home now but I don’t think we’ll turn anything up.”
“What?!” exclaimed Caleb furious at the set back.
“She’s not here. In fact, I don’t think she ever came back from the looks of it. What do you want us to do?”
“What I want you to do,” Caleb said through clenched teeth, “is to find it and bring it back here! She couldn’t have fallen from the face of the earth!! Find her and bring her here!”
“We don’t have any idea where she could be,” Hugo reminded him, thankful to have the distance between them.
“Well then, you’ve got your work cut out for you now don’t you. Here’s a thought, why don’t you and your little girl there start talking to mice and see what you can find out? Someone has to know something. If they don’t know anything then dispose of the worthless wretches.”
“That will take some time with just the two of us.”
“I don’t care how long it takes! Just get it done.” Caleb finished ending their connection.
“I wonder what’s got him in a knot?” Hugo said aloud.
“I don’t know,” replied Woody. “But he sure is pissed off. What are you gonna do now?”
“Well first I’m gonna wait for Amanita and fill her in on the good news. Then I’ve got to figure out how to find the Oracle. We know she left the Orchard to come back here but didn’t. Where could she be?”
Hugo quietly pondered that thought for several minutes waiting for Amanita’s return.
“There was hardly anyone here.” Amanita said reentering the room. “Barely enough to just wet my whistle. I feel cheated”
She finished pouting her lip and crossing her arms like a defiant child.
“By any chance did you find out any info on where the Oracle might be?” Hugo asked.
“No, they were too scared to say a word. They knew nothing. The pudgy lumps of fluffy they spilled everything after a single scratch. No one here has any idea where she could be.”
“Shit! Woody are you sure she left the inn?” Hugo asked the pixie.
“Yeah, they took off by crow to fly back.”
“By crow? Why would the crows get involved with the affairs of mice?” Amanita asked.
“That’s none of our concern,” Hugo reminded them. “We are here to do a job and nothing more. Amanita how bad of a mess did you make?”
“Not horrible,” she replied. “As you can see not a drop on me.
She did a spin to show off her pristine appearance.
“We should bunker down here for the night at least. Who knows maybe they got held up by the weather like we did. We can stay here get some sleep and food then regroup in the morning.”
“That is an excellent idea, Huey. I’ll whip us up something good. Judging from the size of the help this place has anything we could want. Come on Woody you can help me clean up for dinner.”
“What do you mean clean up?” Woody asked, trying to hide the fear in his voice.
“Tsk, tsk tsk, you know what I mean,” chided Amanita. “Stop being so squeamish, man up for Gods sake.”
“Hey, th-there is n-no need to degrade me,” Woody asserted.
“Stop acting like a sniveling human and I wont,” replied Amanita as she walked out the door but not before sticking her tongue out.
Woody quickly ran after her like a puppy.
“Are we there yet? I’m so tired of walking in these dank, caves,” Fay complained only a few hours into their journey.
“Oracle Fay, no offense but this is going to be an extremely long trip if you start complaining now. We’ll be traveling like this for days to reach the Dark Alter, so don’t start complaining now,” reprimanded Ky.
“We don’t even know how long it will take to find a dwarf to help us,” Ari added.
“Judging from the change in the echo of our foot falls we may be closer then expected,” Rogan commented.
“What do you mean the change in echo?” Apple asked. “I don’t hear anything different.
“Well I’m no geologist, but I am sure that whatever stone we entered into is not the same one we are walking on now. I would’ve expected a change in the sound as we passed over different stone formations. The change in density and structure would allow for changes in tones or pitch of the sound, even wither or not there was an echo at all.
“That’s all and good,” grumbled Fay, “if you’re a musician but what does that have to do with dwarves?”
“With very little light in their world they rely heavily on sounds.” Rogan explained. “It’s how they communicate their location. A couple taps with a hammer and given pitch and tone they can decipher distance.”
“Still don’t see how that helps us?” Fay moaned.
“This principal only works well in areas where dwarves have tuned the caves.”
“So, what you’re saying is, you think this cave has been tuned by the dwarves?” Questioned Apple.
“Very good, that’s exactly what I mean,” replied Rogan.
“Yeah, I got it right honey,” exclaimed Apple smiling brightly up at Todd.
“You are one smart cookie,” Todd said. “I’ve always known that.”
“Rogan, any thoughts on how we will safely get the attention of a dwarf?” Mina asked.
“I’ve got a couple of thoughts on that but haven’t settled on one yet. Everyone should keep a listen for any unusual sounds”
“Ya, because I’m usually in caves enough to know what sounds are normal,” commented Fay in her usual sarcastic tone.
“Anything that isn’t the sound of dripping water I would consider unusual,” Rogan answered.
“Todd dear, I am having fun on this journey.”
“Really?” Todd asked skeptical of Apple’s assertion. “How can you find wondering through dark, damp caves fun?”
“Think about it,” Apple answered simply. “We are seeing a place very few creatures get the privilege to see. Yes, it may be dark and dank but that is another exciting aspect. It is so different from our home that I feel like we are in a new universe on a voyage of discovery.”
“You’re not serious?” interjected Fay. “This place is awful. I feel like we are traveling into the mouth of the under realms were the dead rule.”
“Oh no Fay, you mustn’t look at it so negatively,” exclaimed Apple. “I admit I can’t see much but the rocks that we’ve past have been remarkable. The ones growing from the ceiling and floor are scary yet hold a quiet softness to them. The way the tips look so threatening and pointed, but look past the tip and you see the smoother rippled sides.”
“If you like those,” Ari added. “You’d love a quartz cave. With any luck we’ll have to pass through one.”
“That would be something,” Apple said serenely, as she dreamt of how a cavern might look full of quartz crystals.
“Can we rest for a while?” Fay requested.
“Again?” Ky replied with growing irritation, “It hasn’t been that long since we last stopped.”
“Need I remind everyone I’m an old woman?” Fay said admonishingly.
“No, but at this rate we will never reach the alter. And wasn‘t it just you who complained about being here?” Argued Ky.
“Ky, Fay, that’s enough,” Mina scolded. “We need to work together. Oracle Fay can you walk for a while longer?”
“I suppose so,” Fay answered.
“And Ky how about you slow the pace down a little.”
“Ok, I’ll slow down,” Ky promised. “Now can we get back to walking?”
“Ky,” Mina called. “Ky wait up. I wanna walk with you.”
Ky slowed just long enough for Mina to catch him.
“What’s eating you?” Mina asked in hushed tones so the rest of the group wouldn’t hear.
“Don’t give me that. You normally have patience for her.”
“Nothing is eating at me.”
“So, that’s how it is?” Mina accused.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That means, I don’t appreciate you keeping things from me. How am I supposed to trust you if you keep secrets?” She asked in an angry whisper.
“I don’t like being surrounded by all this rock. Ok?” Ky confessed. “I can’t hear anything and I’m not used to that. It makes me uneasy.”
“What do you mean you can’t hear anything?” Mina asked puzzled. “You seem to hear me just fine.”
“No, see you don’t understand,” frustration built in Ky’s voice as he struggled to hide his unease. “I. That is…how do I explain it?”
“Just start from the beginning,” offered Mina. “I promise to hold all questions until the end.”
Ky smiled at her innocent gesture.
“Okay, you know the telekinetic communication we have?”
“Well, I can do that at will. In fact, I had to learn how to shut the noise out. My mind is like giant antenna picking up on everyone’s thoughts,” he informed her.
“Oh, I think I get it,” Mina said. “Your used to constant noise and being down here is like sensory deprivation.”
“I like what you just said,” Ky replied. “See, I can’t even think a coherent thought.”
“Don’t worry so much. I’ve lived my whole life up until a few nights ago without hearing others’ thoughts. It can be done and quite effectively I might add,” Mina replied with a bump.
Ky smiled, “Thank you for understanding. I will try to bite my tongue when Fay acts up.”
“You know she just does it when she’s scared?”
“Imagine that, some one lashes out instead of just admitting to a little fear.”
“Hey, did anyone else hear that?” Apple called from the back of the group.
“Hear what?” Rogan asked.
“I-I’m not sure,” said Apple hesitantly.
“Honey, if you heard something just tell us,” urged Todd.
“I’m really not sure how to describe it.”
“Just try,” pleaded Ari.
“I thought I heard a clank sound; something like metal on stone,” Apple offered. “But it was so faint I can’t be sure.”
“We’ll wait here for a few minutes,” Rogan directed. “Find a comfortable place out of sight. Sit quietly and listen for the sound to repeat. If we don’t hear it again after a while, we’ll start walking again.”
“Okay everyone you heard him, park it and zip it,” Fay said to the group.
“There’s a good spot over here,” Ari called to the group from just up the path. “It looks like a camp circle and nothing can see us behind this huge column.”
“Everyone settled?” Ky asked addressing the group. Everyone nodded their answer. “Good, then I’m dousing the torches.”
The group sat in darkened silence for a few moments before the noise sounded again. A soft metallic cling rang briefly though the room. Excitement follow quickly, running through the group like a static charge. One, then another would fidget in their seats. Squirming with anticipation and a hint of fear at the prospects of who could be accompanying the noise.
Cling. The noise sounded again. It was still far off in the distance somewhere behind them. And yet, it seemed closer.
Cling, clang. Two strikes this time. They were a little louder. Who or what making the noise was definitely moving slowly closer.
Apple sat squished tight against Todd. She squeezed his hand so tightly it caused him to lean down and place a sweet gentle kiss on the top of her head. The warmth and safety she felt in his tender action relaxed her enough to release the death grip she’d held on his hand. Todd let out a sigh of relief at the circulation returning.
Rogan and Ari sat rod straight intensely listening for the next sound.
Mina was sandwiched in between Ky and Oracle Fay. Fay held tight to Mina’s hand.
Ky sat as straight as Rogan and Ari only he focused on biting his nails.
With her free hand Mina patted Ky on the leg. A simple offering with the hopes of dissuading his nerves.
Clang, the noise was closer now.
The tension between everyone grew exponentially with each passing moment. It didn’t help that they couldn’t talk. Questions circled their minds, round and round they flew faster and faster as the anticipation grew. Who could it be? Would they help us? How much longer until it reaches us? What if it passes right by? And the worst question of all, will it eat us?
Clang, the noise seemed to come from all around them now. It reverberated through the room, seemingly lasting for an eternity.
Mina’s ears rang from the loud clang.
It was close, any moment now it would be right on top of them.
Rogan, torch in hand, carefully rounded the column on the side furthest from the noise. He wanted some distance between him and whom ever was approaching.
Thumf.., thumf.., thumf.., came the soft foot falls through the cavern.
Rogan wasn’t sure if the noise was truly foot steps or the sound of his own heart racing.
Thumf.., thumf.., thumf…
It’s now or never, Rogan thought a moment before he lit the torch.
“Who’s there?” The voice boomed out loudly once the torch was lit.
Rogan’s hands flew to cover his ears at the loud thundering voice.
“I am Rogan, guard of Lord Fennik. I am here on official business to the GODS. I request your assistance.” Rogan called to the large dwarf standing before him.
The dwarf was of average height, about the size of a human toddler only wider. He had short stumpy legs and arms, with round pudgy hands that held knobby fingers.
The dwarf had long grey hair that he kept tamed by a pointed cap. His hair, what didn’t fit under the cap, hung in a tangled dusty mess down his back. His eyes were barely visible under a tangled thick, heavy brow. They were a shiny black. Just above his beard a bulbous round nose sat. He had a long grey pointed beard that reached his knees. It was just as dust cover as the rest of him.
His clothing was ripped, torn, colorless and grimy; stained from a life spent underground in the dirt and mud. Repairs and patches were made in several key places but not much more care was taken. He wore a thick leather belt, which hung a variety of tools including picks and hammers. Over his shoulder he carried a dusty old pack.
He stood tall as a giant compared to poor Rogan. His knobby, dirt crusted hands covered his sensitive eyes.
“Did this Lord of your’s not teach you any manners?” The dwarf growled at Rogan. “Put that damn light out. It’s as bright as day. I can’t see a blasted thing.”
“I’ll put the light out just as soon as we have an agreement.” Rogan said in defiance.
“What do you want?” The dwarf asked annoyance seeped through his words. “Gold, I suppose. That’s what anyone wants from us. Golden this or golden that. Well? What is it you want?”
“We need your help, not your gold.”
“You need me to make you armor? That’s it, isn’t it?” the dwarf asked continuing his interrogation. “You can tell this Lord no thanks. I’m not a smithy for hire. We have proper channels that negotiate jobs like that. If he truly is a GOD he would know that. Now put that light out before I stomp you.”
“What we need is safe passage and guidance,” confessed Rogan. “I am prepared to pay you richly for your services.”
“Hah, that’s a laugh. What, pray tell, could you offer me? Riches, jewels, charmed armor, all hold little meaning for me. I have all that and more. This is my last warning; put out that light.”
“I have something you want alright, I have something that will deliciously wet your whistle,” teased Rogan. “Do you still want me to leave or do you want to hear more?”
“Wet my whistle you say?”
“Yes, I have a very special drink just for you,” informed Rogan.
“How could you possibly have enough drink to wet my whistle?” asked the dwarf. “You can’t carry a carafe, or skin big enough to sate my thirst.”
“It just so happens, I have with me a specially enchanted carafe. It is small but that shouldn’t be a problem for you. I can tell you’re a powerful caster, surely someone like you wouldn’t have a problem solving that one obstacle. The drink itself is some of the best mead you could ever imagine.”
“Temping as your offer may be, I’m still not convinced that I should help you,” sneered the dwarf.
“Well, let me sweeten the deal for you,” continued Rogan.
He could tell the dwarf was enticed with his deal by the way he licked his dry, cracked lips in anticipation of the golden liquid pouring over them.
“How could you sweeten the deal?” probed the dwarf, his voice revealing the excitement he tried to hide.
Gotcha like a worm on a hook, Rogan thought, now time to reel him in.
“The carafe is a very rare one indeed. I know for a fact there is only one other like it in existence. You see it is,” Rogan paused for effect, “bottomless.”
At the last word, the dwarf removed his hands from his eyes for a very brief instance.
“Bottomless, you say?” The dwarf asked doubtingly.
“That’s right,” Rogan replied smugly, satisfied that he’d won over the dwarf. “Do we have a deal? Safe passage and guidance in exchange for the bottomless mead.”
A sly smile slowly spread across the dwarf’s face, “I have just two words for you. Prove it.”
Rogan shocked at the turn of events, now wiggled like the worm on a hook.
“How do you expect me to do that?” He asked, shocked the dwarf turned the tables on him.
“Simple,” the dwarf answered. “We drink.”
Rogan’s mind raced. He needed a way out of this game.
If I drink with this guy he will win. For starters, he’s got the size advantage. He would drink me under then run off with his prize and we’ll be out of luck.
“I’ve got it!” exclaimed Rogan.
“What are you going on about?”
“I wont drink with you,” Rogan stated surely. “But, I have another way I can prove to you the carafe is indeed bottomless.”
“Go on, I’m listening,” encouraged the dwarf.
“I’ll dump it out,” he answered.
“Dump it out?” The dwarf scoffed at the very idea of such waste.
“Yes, there is a depression just to your side. It might take a little while but I’m sure I could fill it easily,” challenged Rogan.
The dwarf pondered his options. It was a game of wills and cunning. The dwarf hadn’t had such fun in a long time. He enjoyed matching smarts with the likes of this small creature.
“I’m not one for wasting good mead on foolish displays,” he finally conceded. “Anyone willing to poor out his mead like that has to be telling the truth.”
“Then we have an agreement?” Rogan asked again spelling out the terms. “You will take me and my friends from here safely to our destination. You will help us navigate this under ground world through all it’s perils including other dwarves, ensuring quick passage?”
“Your friends?” The dwarf asked angrily at the deception. “You never mentioned friends before. Just how many of you are there?”
“Seven total. I’ll explain more once I have your binding agreement.”
“This is tiresome,” the dwarf surrendered. “Fine you have my word, I’ll give you safe, protected passage to your destination. This pact I make with you lasts until you arrive at the destination in exchange for a bottomless carafe of mead.”
“Now, put out that damn light so I can see!” The dwarf said sternly.
“Unfortunately, I can’t douse it completely my friend,” Rogan confessed. “We are not as well equipped for underground travel as you are. We still need to see.”
“Dim it then, but you’ll have to follow me so it doesn’t bother my eyes.”
“How about you giving me that carafe?” The dwarf demanded.
“First, let’s go over a few things,” said Rogan. “Come on out everyone it’s safe.”
Ari let the group out from behind the giant column.
“As you already know I am Rogan. This is Ari, he is another of Lord Fennik’s guards along with Ky here. Then we have Mina, handmaiden to Oracle Fay Fontina of the order of Muridae Fey. And lastly, this is Todd and Apple Monterey.”
“Wow, you’re a big fella,” exclaimed Fey. “What’s your name?”
“I’m called Grimgour.”
“Grimgour, I want to thank you for you’re help on behalf of my family and child,” Apple offered. “It really means a lot to me that you are willing to grant us safe passage.”
“You’re child?” Grimgour questioned.
“Yes, she has not arrived yet,” Apple explained. “I carry her here with me in my stomach.”
“I had heard stories about that,” Grimgour said. “Dwarves are not born from other dwarves. We are carved from the very stone.”
“Um, I hate to interrupt…,” Fay started.
“No you don’t,” Ky mumbled.
For which, Mina effectively elbowed him, “quit it.”
Fay cleared her throat drawing everyone’s attention, “As I was saying, I have a question. How do any of you suppose we follow our large friend Grimgour? His steps are large we would half to run the entire way to keep up with him. I’m not sure if you‘ve noticed but I am too old to go chasing anything and Apple is too pregnant.”
“I have something that would help,” Grimgour spoke up. “But I’m gonna require that mead first.”
“What’s the plan?” Rogan asked skeptical of handing over the carafe so quickly.
“I have a wheel barrel that you can all get in,” he offered. “It will hold all of you comfortably and I can move you easily though the caverns.”
“First tree rats, then crows now wheel barrels,” Fay complained. “This just keep getting better and better.”
“I’ll hand over the mead once we’re all inside,” Rogan agreed.
Apple leaned in towards Rogan to whisper her question so as not to offend their friend, “Why don’t you trust him? Doesn’t he have to fulfill the pact?”
“Yes, but they all tend to be notorious drinkers.”
“I can hear you,” Grimgour cautioned.
“I’m sorry,” Apple squeaked surprised at being heard. “I meant no offense.”
Grimgour reached into his pack and pulled out a small stone wheel barrel. He set it on the ground in front of the group.
“That thing is way too small to hold one of us let alone all of us,” Fay scoffed.
“Patience,” Grimgour instructed with a glint in his black eyes. “Watch.”
He touched a hand to the wheel barrel’s handle and a wind began to stir around them. Small pebbles littering the floor vibrated from the energy Grimgour was manipulating. Moments later the wheel barrel started to grow. As it expanded, small stone seats formed in three rows on the inside.
The whole process took only seconds before it was over. A final blast of wind struck the group sharply, throwing dust past them as Grimgour removed his hand form the finished barrel.
Rogan quickly removed his back pack and fished out the carafe. “Here you go,” he answered holding the carafe high above his head.
Grimgour licked his lips and reached for the carafe. He gently pinched the top between his fingers; effectively plucking it from Rogan. “Thank you.”
In the time it took for him to pluck the carafe from Rogan and carefully lift it to his mouth it grew to full size. Grimgour removed the cork and drank deeply.
He let out a loud belch and wiped his chin on his dusty sleeve once his thirst was quenched.
“That’s is some good mead, my friends.”
“Can we please get this show on the road?” Fay groused. “I’m not getting any younger.”
“Or nicer,” added Ky.
“Oh my gods,” Mina said to Ky. “You’ve got to calm yourself.”
“Ha, ha, ha, I like the old one,” said Grimgour in better spirits. “She’s funny. I’ll help you in first.”
He set his large hand on the ground for Fay to crawl into. Mina helped Fay climb in and sat with her while he carefully lifted them into the wheel barrel. Next, Todd helped Apple and so on until the entire group was in and seated.
“Ready?” He asked.
“Yes, we’re all set,” Apple replied.
“Good, off we go,” Grimgour said as he pushed the wheel barrel to a bumpy start and took another swig of the mead.