Chapter 1: The Jaded Pearl
Darowyn stared out into the stormy night, sheltered by the cave of the Stoneclaw Mountains. The hefty dwarf sat on a flat rock not two foot from where the rain streamed down. A flash of lightning lit the valley, called the Hourglass, and the forests on either side. He waited there often, thinking about his father and the evil brewing in distance lands. A wretched hand seemed to be reaching and casting a shadow over the valley below. More than anything, he was waiting for his father’s return.
He could barely see the valley below for the storm had all covered in darkness. He was about to return to his home, the dwarven city of Calador connected to the cavern in which he now sat, when the lightning flashed again. This time it revealed figures on the far side of the Hourglass. The flash reflected off a shield; a shield bearing his family crest. The next moment, Darowyn had abandoned the lip of the cave and was running in the blinding storm.
Could it be, after nearly two years, his father finally returning? These thoughts quickened the dwarf down the slopes faster and faster. He slipped and fell in the wet grass, but his excitement was beyond caution. A terrifying roar sounded from the valley, yet he ran fearlessly on while the wind whipped at his long hair and stubbly beard. The rain pelted him violently and relentlessly.
Finally, he reached the bottom of the valley, where he saw five or more figures. “Father!” he shouted, yet no answer returned. The figures in the distance had taken notice of the short, stalky dwarf. He raced to the first towering stone on his left. His father lay there, leaning against the stone and surrounded by the figures. Darowyn dropped to his knees and placed his hands upon his father.
“Father! What ails ye?” Darowyn asked. The figure stirred, and Darowyn drew up his hand to shield his eyes from the rain. As he did so, he saw blood dripping from his arm. The figure stared at him now. He looked back into the fading eyes of his father. Then, Darowyn awoke.
He sat up in the bed, drenched in sweat and trembling. Disoriented from the dream, he did not know where he was. The room had wood walls, and was definitely not his room which was carved from the stone in the mountains. He then remembered bidding his wife farewell for he was to trade his blacksmithing goods in the human city of Tanock.
Darkness lingered in the room like grief. A trickle of light entered through the window; a trickle more than the dwarf needed to see the hands of the clock. It had five hours; it mocked him. This had been the third time his dreams had not let him sleep. Would they ever stop? With a fling of his arm, the clock shattered against the wall. He was awake, a different nightmare entirely. He slid his boots on and went downstairs.
For the least fancy of the inns in town, the Jaded Pearl served the most delicious breakfasts, thought Darowyn, as he reached for another warm and moist roll. His face always had a glow as he ate a particularly good meal, as if warmed by sharing in hearty laughter, although there was none on this early morning. Perhaps it was the presence of his long, black hair and thick, drooping beard that brought all the attention to his rough, ruddy cheeks and deep-inset green eyes.
As he ate, he rehearsed over the list of goods he had travelled the whole of the previous day to obtain. Indeed, he had come from his dwarven city to this human hamlet for the purpose of trading goods. As he finished rehearsing, he glanced up just as Banx, the woodman’s son, ducked through the doorway. A large and stout fellow with short brown hair, Banx towered over six feet and was the tallest human Darowyn had ever met. He had little facial hair for he was only seventeen years old, yet his broadness heavily overstated his age. If he were as clumsy as he was large, the innkeeper would have quite the start on adding a second door. As he took notice of Darowyn, he smiled, handed a small knapsack to the innkeeper, and, in great strides, came before his table.
“Good Dawn, Banx.” greeted Darowyn. “I’ve yet to decide if ye look more dwarf than man, though more dwarf ever I look upon ye. Take seat and have word with me, young friend.”
“Good Dawn,” responded Banx as he waved towards the innkeeper and sat across from the dwarf, “Looking upon thy face tells the rolls are much to miss.”
“Aye, they alone make the journey worth it.” He reached for another. “How fares yer father?”
Banx waved his arm in dismissal. “Good, yet stubborn as ever.”
“Hast ye still not let loose yer voice? Those whom are heard are those who break the silence.”
“Over the old matter o’ faller and bearer of trees, indeed I have spoken. He tired one afternoon and, finally, I took a swing at it with that ol’ axe. Since, we trade the tasks lest work becomes tiresome.”
“Swingin’ an axe suits ye well. Ye’re more becoming of a dwarf, save only to grow shorter. What news have ye of yer brethren?”
“Not heard from my younger brother for several fortnights. Last visit, he bade his training nigh complete and would then cometh home to us for good.” Banx paused for a moment, and his face softened as he peered through the rounded window to the eastern hills and the sky beyond.
“I long for his return; close he is to me in ways my elder brother is not. Close he is to my elder brother in ways that I am not. Such is the way of the child in the last of three, a comfort and peacemaker betwixt sky and sea.” He paused for another moment with his eyes fixed as far as they could see, waiting, as if speaking these words would summon his dear brother to suddenly come over the hill. He came not.
“Take heart lad, he will come back.” Darowyn patted Banx’s shoulder, disrupting his gaze from the window. “He’s not off to war, only to train; nor do I say he would fall easy for he’s beyond gifted. Tell me more of thy elder brother, Tearan.”
“Like mother, he doesn’t agree wholeheartedly with the duties of father and me, but men don’t live in trees!” Banx shook his head. “We’d find more ground in common if we took up working at the quarry, yet there are few who fall trees for a trade; father loves the forest. All of us love the forest, seems all Tearan and I have in common.” He scratched his neck irritably.
“Time changes all at end, like the stream shapes the rock. Ye may find fondness growing, where before there was naught, when restless youth gives way to enduring age.” The dwarf slurped a draught from his cup, belching like a dragon afterwards.
“Aye, even father intends to—“
Banx let out a choking cough as a dreadful, dwarven morning breath clutched his nostrils; and, dramatically, he wafted the smell away. “Such foul kindness lingers on thy lips as ever I heard or smelt!”
“Ever a bearded lass learns a dwarven chap manners, my mead I’ll lay down!” He released a wry grin.
Banx exploded into laughter that continued until his breath was short and nearly painful.
At length, Darowyn asked, “Whatever did I speak that humors ye so?”
“My apologies!” gasped Banx, “I thought it only a tall tale that thy ladies had beards!” With that, the young man was bent with laughter, tears rolling from his eyes. The innkeeper shook his head and smiled from across the room.
“Nay. Our ladies have beards like horses have manes. ‘Tis little wonder dwarflings are rare. We need hard, dwarven ale, and much o’ it, to keep our mountainous cities dwelt in.” The dwarf chuckled softly until he realized he could not remember the last time he had a good laugh. After Banx was settled again, the dwarf asked, “What is this business of yer father?”
“He intends to retire from the woods. He knows not when. What shall I do after that?” As Banx spoke, the miller came through the doorway. He settled in beside Banx before speaking.
“Another trip for supplies?” guessed the miller, smiling slightly at Darowyn. ”I trust you had another uneventful coming.”
“Namely, save for a feeling of prying eyes.” The dwarf, done with his meal, crossed his arms and leaned back into his chair. “As I rode along the mountain side, I saw eyes shining against the moonlight. Not the eyes of a wolf. No, nor eyes of any creature belongin’ to the night. Nay, the eyes were pale and red. Their gaze upon me made me hairs stand like wheat in the fields. Then, they were gone. I saw nothing else.” The dwarf shuddered, remembering the uncomfortable feeling the eyes had left him.
“Those rotten elves, I bet,” snubbed the miller, brushing imaginary dirt off his expensive costume, “waiting for a chance to kill us in our sleep!”
“Ye speak rashly. How quickly ye name yer once greatest allies as enemies,” scolded Darowyn, jumping from his seat. “Unless ye live to see such times as elves attacking humans, which I doubt, ‘tis best to hold yer tongue. Very words akin to yers start unwise rumors.” The miller sat grimly, making only short eye contact with the dwarf. Then, he turned around and lazily watched the innkeeper bringing breakfast on a tray to the guests and carrying with him Banx’s knapsack filled with a few biscuits and rolls. It was a humorous sight to him, for the innkeeper seemed either likely to spill the one or to drop the other.
“What do you think it was?” Banx asked.
“The tallness of man it seemed to have, though mistaken I may be. But those red eyes,” the dwarf said, running his fingers through his beard as the innkeeper neared the table to the left of the miller, “I’ve heard of before, but blast! I can’t remember.” The innkeeper reached the table and decorated it with more breakfast morsels, and began chatting with the miller. The dwarf’s brow sunk in thought. “Mayhap from a book or a tale. I’ll tell ye one who could tell a mean tale ’twas my… father—“
At that moment, he gasped as his mind flashed back to himself as a lad, tucked in his bed, while his father told him a battle story. He was wrapped in a woolen blanket his mother had woven for him before she passed from the world. It bore an eagle upon it, and he clung to it as he did the memory of her. The warmth of it reminded him of her warm embrace. The scent of the oaken torches rising from their decorated sconces upon the wall reminded him of his mother’s meals. Everything in the room shown vividly in his mind.
Except his father’s face which was a blur. Darowyn though, in his mind’s eye, could see his father’s lips moving, “The most dangerous of enemies, the red-eyed menaces that killed yer uncle in that very battle, be called—“
The miller missed the gasp for the knapsack on the table flopped to its side, dumping a few rolls into the floor. Banx, though, heard the gasp. He waited for Darowyn to speak of what had come to his mind, but he did not. Banx figured it was not a matter he would share, at least not at this table, not with this company.
“Oh, blast me!” exclaimed the innkeeper, as he bent to pick up straying rolls on the floor. “Now I’ve done it, dumped thy breakfast. I’ll fetch thee some cleaner ones.”
“Don’t trouble thyself,” Banx insisted as he stood up, “I’m not royalty! More dirt and sweat enter my mouth on a day of work than the whole of thy floor hath.” He took the rolls, before the innkeeper could dart off with them, and shuffled them into the knapsack. The innkeeper was relieved at the temperance of his guest. The miller looked rather disgusted.
“The lad wastes not one roll! A lad after my own heart,” the dwarf slapped him on the shoulder. “I best be on my way. Kycan,” he nodded to the miller. “Yer service been most enjoyable.” He bowed to the innkeeper. Apologies for yer clock, he mumbled inaudibly.
“Father is waitin’. I must take my leave of you, as well,” Banx announced, as he lifted his knapsack. “Good day to thee, gentlemen,” with that, Banx and Darowyn strode out into the early morning air.