Chapter 2: Return to Calador
Banx turned his glance towards the sun which was just beginning to peak over the dirt path bending through the trees to the east. It lit the road and the trees on either side and left the rest of the view with the gray of morning. The gray blobs swayed fluidly in the breeze. This was a cool morning for late spring.
“Heading west to the market?” questioned Banx.
“Aye. And ye’re heading to the woods?” Darowyn signaled to the thickets to the east.
Yet, Banx turned back to the west. “Father has yet to set out for the woods. He knew I’d stop for breakfast. Mayhap we meet him along the way.” They followed the road to the west, until finally Banx spoke, “About these evil-eyed figures in the mountains, you remembered something thy father told you.”
“Aye. Knowin’ what I shall speak to ye, Kycan will surely make ill use of this news. Take care he never hears of it; think it best not to share this news with any.”
“I’ll speak less of it. You have my word,” said Banx firmly.
“Two hundred years ago, afore I was of this world, my father had shared in many bold adventures and defended our home with his life.” Darowyn paused for a moment in reflection. His memories were foggy. “Tales of goblin invasions, battles with orcish armies, and conquering evil spirits he spoke. When he separated from the crowded colony of dwarfs under the Spinespear mountains in the north, he made the long journey to build a new home. He settled there, in the Stoneclaw mountains.” He waved his hand northwest, namely north. Over large fields of crops sprouting barley, rye, and wheat and crossing past the eastern exit of Tanock, the town in which they now stood, the Stoneclaw Mountains rose. “’Afore Tanock was built, when the lands were ravaged by foul creatures, yet none so foul as what dwelt deep inside the Stoneclaw Mountains.
“After my father’s troop defeated an underground clan of goblins, still clad in their armors and weapons, they marched out the goblin holes into the main tunnel. The main tunnel delved deep into the underground on their left flank and curled up to our dawnin’ city on the other. Therein the main tunnel, from the underground side, danced fifty red eyes gleamin’ in the darkness. The eyes, fixed in a cruel stare, turned the dwarfs’ skin pale; liken to the eyes I saw upon the mountainside which hid quickly behind a tree or aught.” Darowyn shivered, recalling the event.
He strained for a moment to recall the events, and then, he shook his head. When he began the story again, he closed his eyes, “They attacked. Several dwarfs had been lost battlin’ with the orcs, weary of war and wound. Pointy-eared foes cast upon them arrows and spells, while their warriors crept in attacking fierce and fast. They were not immune to an ax, which struck many of their heads. The enemies lost a score of their hateful company, but so, too, were brave dwarves cut down. Two score, my uncle, Raiwyn, among them. Only eleven dwarfs made their way out from those holes.” His eyes were still closed as his mind began to wander. The muscles of the left side of his neck began to twitch.
“Most would’ve fled; your father must have been brave.”
“What ye be knowin’ about my father!” the dwarf bellowed, his face flustered a deep red.
Banx jumped back in surprise.
The dwarf took a deep breath and was calm again. “I sorry lad. I just… there be more to life than bein’ brave. Sometimes bein’ brave not be enough.” He won’t believe that, but it was all Darowyn could tell him. Nightmares and rage… again. He hung his head.
Banx quickly changed the subject, “By what name were those red-eyed menaces called?”
Darowyn looked up, though still with an ashamed look. “They have many names, but I remember only one, the dark elf.”
“Evil elves, I see now thy reason to tell naught to Kycan.”
“Aye. But it be a passin’ fancy, they’ve not been seen for hundreds o’ years. All the more reason not to get hot about it.”
They passed several homely houses on their right, owned by serfs. Most of the serfs were already working the fields.
On their left, they passed medium-sized houses, many having pens for livestock. Many of these craftsmen lie asleep in their beds, but a few were awake, and they opened their shutters from which they sold their goods. From their open windows, some quietly greeted the two as they continued along the path.
They passed a road leading south and ending at a round well made of stone bricks. Beyond it, about a mile back, they beheld the Thachian Sea flowing along the southern border of Tanock.
The second house on the left set back from the road more than the others. Chunks of firewood were stacked beside the house, and behind the house six-foot-long logs covered the ground.
The door stood ajar and in its frame stood a cloaked man, standing a little over five feet tall; blond hair dangled about his shoulders, a quiver hung from his back, a bowstring stretched across his chest, and a hunting knife was sheathed at his belt.
“Good morning, Tearan. What are you hunting this morning?” asked Banx, enthused by his brother’s hunting garb.
“Things with four legs.” answered Tearan casually. Banx’s courteous smile withered away.
The dwarf grunted with disapproval.
Tearan bowed respectably to the dwarf.
“Mind the legs,” added Banx, recovering his smile, “If ye begin felling things with only one leg, mays’ well come fall trees with father and me. Where’d that old lout get off to? I’ve been waiting on him half the morning.” Banx suddenly tapped his ear.
Tearan quickly pulled his green hat over one of his pointy-topped ears. “Getting the oxen ready to work. Mother’s gone to get herbs, the Dillan Family have the bloody flux again.”
“Again.” repeated Banx, “They’d be long suffering if not for mama’s herbs.”
“She said she was cleansing everything this round: they’re to all have hot baths, new bedding, washed teeth, and are not to so much as breathe on each other for at least a week.” said Tearan, intrigued with his mother’s fervor.
The dwarf, having been lost to his thoughts, broke in, “Won’t help the matter. Need a sewer.”
They looked at him as if he were crazy. “What’s that?” they said together.
“A sewer” The dwarf attempted to explain the concept of a sewer system. They didn’t understand. He gave up easily, for he was still brooding upon his angry outburst.
Banx shrugged. “They’ll be well to do if they heed her advice.”
“Aye, they would and they will. Mother was bent upon it. I must be going, little brother.” Tearan quickly turned aside and, without a sound, made for the woods in the west.
“I must help father with the oxen,” Banx stated as they neared the northern end of the house. “Farewell friend. I wish you a safe journey.”
“Take care, lad.” They parted ways and the dwarf strode nigh to the watermill before turning back. He saw father and son, pulling an ox each, strolling westward into the woods.
The sun now peaked over the tree tops, and day began to bloom, but Darowyn paid the sky no heed. After passing by the watermill, Darowyn rested for a moment on the bridge which stooped over the Tzende River. He looked southward where the stream flowed into the Thachian Sea. It powered the waterwheel on the west side of the millhouse. Like most dwarfs, he wanted little to do with the sea.
He thought for a moment about his previous outburst. He knew Banx did not believe his reason, either. Maybe the previous night had spent his mood more than he had expected. Would this never cease? His outbursts would have been of little concern if it had been his first outburst, but there had been one with his wife and one with his son. Was it happening again? Would he lose himself again, lose control? His legs went weak, and he leaned heavily on the rail. All color left his face. Not again, he could not do this again to his wife, his children. If that be the case, they would be better off… He looked into the water below. It made him queasy. Such a selfish and cowardly thing to do.
Standing up straight again, he crossed the bridge and headed for the stables on the left. Entering the double doors, he greeted the stableman and walked down the wide middle aisle. When he came to the stall holding his two ponies, they neighed expectantly at the sight of him. They had been fed and his wooden cart of goods rested outside the door; both were much the way he had left them the night before.
One by one, he led the ponies out and secured their harnesses to the cart. Having missed him, the ponies nuzzled him. He struggled up the side of the cart, steered the cart to the eve of the double doors, paid the attendant for his services, and, after the stableman had opened the double doors for him, strode out into the daylight once more.
As he turned the ponies to the left the marketplace was already in sight. He bounced along towards the market, crossed the road where it came to a ‘T’, and rolled into the grass near a tree. There, he tied the ponies and headed into the shyly-populated market.
The shops in the market were lined up in rows. Most of the shops sold food items such as flours, breads, vegetables, fruits, meats, or fish, but there were also shops selling tools, clothes, and shoes. The tools and clothing left much to be desired, being only of simple design and low quality, and, thusly, sold cheaper than a custom piece made by a seamstress or tailor. They were often purchased by the peasants and serfs of the kingdom. The sole purpose of the marketplace, though, was to provide food items for purchase.
As it happened to be, this was also the dwarf’s intent there, for dwarfs did little hunting, Calador was a good distance from a waterway, and, though they had sown crops, this year’s crops had failed from lack of sunshine. The human crops had fared better.
Darowyn purchased a bag of flour, a pound of meat with some salted fish, and, finally, some fruits and vegetables. He placed all of the smaller items, the cowhide-wrapped meat and fish, fruits and vegetables into a small sack hanging from his sash. At his waist he carried a small coin purse containing copper coins, silver shillings, and gold pieces from which he paid the shopkeepers.
Just as he was leaving the food markets, he spotted a child staring hungrily at the food for sale. The boy seemed on the verge of stealing food. Although stealing was a serious offense, and only a few decades ago could cost a hand, it was not as serious as it had been, for the current king made a selfless attempt to keep the people fed. Indeed, the king had often said if any person’s plate was empty, it should first be his.
Darowyn returned to the shop and purchased the bread at which the child had been staring. Much to the child’s surprise, the dwarf gave him the bread.
“Th-thank thee, sir. I shall not forget the kindness of dwarves as long as I live,” exclaimed the boy. He quickly stuffed a mouthful into his mouth, waved at the dwarf, and then was gone.
He remembered a time when he was a young lad, standing in this very market. He had felt so sorry for that poor child, as well. He had pulled his father’s attention to— Darowyn cleared his mind. He couldn’t do that. He mustn’t. It was his fault for giving the bread, he shouldn’t have done it. He had no self-control. If he lost control, his family would suffer; it would be his fault.
Darowyn then remembered his wife’s requests, strolled over to the spice market, and purchased several spices including parsley, pepper, and so forth. The spices were contained each in a pewter cylinder topped with a small piece of white cloth tied down with string about a grove inset near the top of the container. Along the side of each was carved the respective ingredient. He tucked them away into his small sack.
His shopping complete, Darowyn returned to his cart and loaded it with the bag of flour and, after untying it from his belt, the bag of goods. He then untied his mares, clambered to his seat, turned the ponies towards the road, catching a glimpse of the castle near to the south, and took the other road of the T-shaped intersection leading northwards. He travelled past two houses on his left and stopped at the third which, coming from the opposite direction, he had stopped at the night before. He lifted his hand to knock upon the door, yet knocked on air as the door swung open. The tailor and his wife, a skilled seamstress, greeted him warmly.
“Is the gift ready?” Darowyn asked expectantly.
“Aye, as we promised it would be,” the tailor answered.
Darowyn collected a neatly folded dress and wished them a good day. He returned to his cart and continued down the dirt path until reaching a less-worn road stretching to the foot of the Stoneclaw Mountains. He ventured down this smaller path, smashing several blades of grass into the dirt under hoof and wheel, until he came near the end of the path.
On the right there was a house; within sat a burly man gazing out the window at the birds chirping in the bushes across the road. His house was significantly larger than many of the other houses Darowyn had seen on his passage through Tanock. It was also made of stone, where others had been made of wood. Smoke poured heavily from the top of the building. Upon the door was fastened a highly decorated shield with two swords crisscrossed behind it. Darowyn dismounted and entered the grassy lawn.
As Darowyn travelled across the long lawn, a man on a horse trotted down the path and made it to the house before him. He dismounted and greeted the man behind the window.
“Hello Master Greenwich,” the blacksmith responded, “what need you of me this fine morning?”
“The king wants more blades, some sharp, some not, and leather armors,” answered Master Greenwich.
“I’ve not but a few dull blades at present and no sharp blades, for the king has my supply empty. I’ve no leather armors, the armorer may have some. Why for is his need so great?”
“Training equipment, for he wouldst like to see the townsfolk trained in combat. I wager to fight the elves if they should attack,” interjected Mr. Greenwich.
Darowyn would have scolded him, but he held his tongue for he had never met the man. Instead, he grumbled loudly.
“I’ve been hearing that for months. What’s changed?”
“The three nights ago, Timock, one of the guards of the west wall, claims he saw an elf about the gate. But when he reached there, he saw nothing.”
Darowyn put his hand to his hip. If he couldn’t find an elf, how was he so sure it was an elf?
The blacksmith shook his head. “Bah, ‘tis just boredom with his post; if I had to be there all night, I might let my mind get the best of me, too.”
Darowyn almost chuckled. At least some around still had a mite of sense.
“There is more than that, even. A sword was stolen from the armory—“
“Nay! Not just any ol’ sword, one belonging to the Captain. A gift from the elves I heard, holding a sapphire upon its green hilt and having a strange and silvery blade. The Captain’s furious. If ‘twere me I’d have part with it sooner, for I want not a gift of them at all.”
A long pause followed, even Darowyn found himself a little perplexed.
“You may find the supply in my shop,” instructed the blacksmith, turning towards the dwarf. “Hello Darowyn. How’s trade?”
“I’ve yet to sell anythin’ today. How run yer stocks?” asked Darowyn. He watched Mr. Greenwich enter the shop and begin collecting the items he needed.
“I’m low of both weapons and utensils.” answered the blacksmith, leaning his chin upon his hand. He knew he would have to fire up the forge behind him before long and start a long day of tinkering.
“I’ve several whitesmithy goods: spoons, forks, candlesticks, and the like. Yet, I’ve only a few swords and one set of armor.”
“Let’s have a look.” The blacksmith stood and strode through the decorated door. The man from the castle followed him out fiddling a couple of swords.
The blacksmith glanced over the goods for sale in the dwarf’s cart. The dwarf had only a small number of blacksmithing goods because he rarely made equipment for use by the much taller humans.
The blacksmith found his pewter utensils, as well as the few made from silver, and the handful of bronze and tin goods of excellent quality. In fact, dwarven-made items were always of high quality, especially if made by Darowyn, a master smith.
“I’ll give five and twenty gold coins and five shillings for the lot of ‘em,” offered the smithy.
“They’re of the best quality ye shall find in all of Kaebin. Thirty gold coins and we have a trade,” bartered the dwarf.
“Humph.” wagered the blacksmith, eyeing more carefully the sword he pulled from the cart. Suddenly, he struck the blade against the stone wall of his house with nearly all his might. The blade sang a ringing note that lasted for a moment, vibrated softly, and then quickly fell silent. Inspecting the weapon, the blacksmith found neither scratch nor dent nor dullness upon the edge of the blade. Mr. Greenwich was dumbfounded. “I’d give one hundred gold coins if told how such fine blades are made.”
The dwarf shook his head. “Dwarven secrets are to be left so. Have we a trade?”
“Aye, thirty gold coins it is. Bring more blades next time you come hither from thy mountains,” he suggested and Mr. Greenwich nodded in agreement. The blacksmith turned and entered his house. He soon returned with the coins. Then he, with the assistance of the dwarf unloaded the purchased goods into his shop.
Thereafter, Darowyn bade farewell to the man and smithy. Darowyn also wished him luck filling his supplies. He started his long walk back to his cart, knowing well that he had left the two to barter over the sword he had just sold. One thing was for sure, next time he ventured to trade, he would have to visit the castle to see if the belief of elves desiring to attack was held by the king. Something was amiss.
He climbed to his seat, directed the ponies to turn about-face, and trotted back to the main path. Turning left there, he trotted to the northern gate of Tanock and, after being wished a safe journey by the gateman, galloped out of the town.
After three hours of riding beside the Stoneclaw Mountains on his left and the Methual forest a few miles to his right, Darowyn entered the Hourglass. The Hourglass was so named for it was a valley shaped thusly by the edges of the Selahal Forest to the north and Methual Forest to the south. It was like a great hourglass set into the land. Its bottom rested at the foot of the Stoneclaw Mountains.
Darowyn stopped at a mountain stream to rest. He feed the ponies, let them drink from the stream, and ate of the fruit he had purchased. An hour passed, and then he returned to the cart.
As Darowyn continued on, the valley below slowly came into view. The sun gleamed well-above Methual to the east; it was about one o’clock. The trees of Methual sloped down into the valley to the north and out of sight. Where Methual hid, Selahal rose. Selahal sprung up upon the north slope of Hourglass, still miles away.
The wind wailed through the trees, bending them to and fro. Their aching cries echoed across the valley below. An eagle glided over the tree tops, then soared higher and higher. It screamed proudly at the skies, as if to spread them asunder and ascend into the heavens. With a rapid descent it swooped back into the valley, leaving Darowyn’s eyes behind upon the seven stones, called Heaven’s Shield, in the center of the valley.
The seven stones were shaped into a grand shield with a mile from one stone to the next. His eyes locked upon the scene of his dreams and, for a moment, saw his father standing amidst the stones, but then the apparition dissipated. A searing pain burned in his chest, and a sickening guilt bubbled in the pit of his stomach. The muscles of his left neck pulsed.
He concentrated his view upon the mountain side, lest he should see the haunting stones again. An intolerable hour passed. His dreams dredged up the worst assortment of dark and unavoidable events. Could he ignore the location indefinitely? What was a little more pain and misery? He turned his glance again to the stones. The moment passed easier, and he kept it in his sight as he strode on for two more hours. His expression became bland as his mind dropped the curtain on his memories.
When he reached the center of the base of Hourglass upon the side nearest the mountains, the sun had passed overhead and was halfway into the mountain summits. After halting the ponies, he faced the stones standing erect at the bottom of the slopes and in the midst of the valley. He debated for a long moment to move on or to visit the stones. Finally, he willed himself over the slopes of the valley and towards the stones. After all, he hadn’t been there since that day twenty years ago.
After two hours had slipped away, he reached Heaven’s Shield at its western end. The bottom of the valley seemed darker, liked he’d ascending into dark hole. After dismounting, he stood on the outskirts of the stones, looking over the three miles over which Heaven’s Shield spanned. His corded neck muscles began to pulse again. The trees on either side of him sobbed in the screaming wind.
At length, he said to himself, “No sense riding down here for naught.” Each step he took seemed harder than the last. Finally, he entered the circle of white stones and stood in front of the nearest monument which towered twelve feet above his head. It was intimidating. The bottom of the monument was wide as a tomb and the top slender. The whole of it was round and smooth, save an egg-shaped groove inset at the base. He fingered the smooth groove and found his fingers colored with a grey dust. Each of the stones had an inset, all pointing towards the middle of Heaven’s Shield. His body felt weak. Sitting down, he leaned against the stone.
He remembered the dream he had early that morning. He closed his eyes, looking back into the darkness, looking into that face. A long time ago, if he closed his eyes and thought about his father, he could see father’s face in his mind. Now, when he closed his eyes, all he could see was a shifting greyness. Was this truly the end his father deserved? To be forgotten by his own son? His father had trained him in the art of battle. If he were a great blacksmith, it was only because his father was greater. He could hear his father’s voice criticisms of his handiwork, though he welcomed them just for that voice to resound in his mind. A voice he had not heard in twenty years. A cold chill spread through his trembling body. The trees were screaming. He closed his eyes. The voice came again.
“Come with me, son.”
His blood-shot eyes burst open, and his tensed body stood erect. He screamed at the top of his lungs, at the top of his anger. His body began flailing, pounding the unmerciful stone. He continued to scream, blood spurting from his mouth. Blood ran upon the stones as bones broke under his sheer horror, but the pain could not climb to the height of that which ripped through his soul. His body could not escape that which his mind knew. His mind shut down, unable process and unable to remember.
When he came to again, he sat on his cart and was already next to the mountain again. Slowly, he remembered going to the stones, but not coming back. He examined his sore hands. As he fingered each, he found at least two broken fingers. All of the knuckles were burst and bleeding. His cheek burned, and it stung as he tongued it. He had bit off a chuck of skin. He had not had an episode such as this in years, years.
He peered back into the valley below. As he looked at the stones, he felt an overwhelming dread and pure fear. His body trembled at its sight. He turned away.
He lifted the whip to drive the ponies on, but found himself staring at his ponies. The whip fell from his trembling hand.
“No!” he whimpered as he climbed down from the cart. His face twisted in an expression of pain and guilt. Lacerations. Twenty or thirty lined each of his ponies. He fell to his knees, and looked upon his broken hands. Would he ever win? Was there no end in this cycle of pain and death? Would he ever be free of it?
He returned to his cart, pulling out a few medicinal herbs. He carried such things in his cart for emergencies. He mixed them quickly, returned to the ponies, and applied the soothing herbs generously to the ponies. He saved none for himself.
Soon, light would fail and darkness would flow over the land. Ignoring the throbbing of his hands, he turned the cart to the north and eased the ponies on.
After three hours, night had come and seeing would have been difficult, if not for the moon and his acute vision in darkness. He knew that there was a dark memory in his mind that he could not remember. He knew he had found it at those stones. Whatever his mind had forgotten down there, he did not want to remember.
As the ponies trotted along at an easy pace, an eerie feeling came over him and the hairs on his back spiked. He looked up towards the slopes of the mountains behind him. Upon a col and nearly out of the tree line, he saw four red eyes bouncing in the darkness. They swiftly disappeared upon his scrutinizing glance. So swiftly, he deduced the figures themselves had already been hidden behind the trees and were watching him with peeping glances.
He slid his hand to his axe propped beside him and squeezed the handle. “Danger nips at our heels. Hurry now,” he whispered, urging the ponies to a faster pace. He had no intention of confronting whatever red-eyed brigands lay behind him, for, if indeed they were spying upon him, their night vision was twice his. Also, his body was weak and weary and in no shape for a fight.
He only lacked a half-hour race to the midst of the Stoneclaw Mountains whereupon was carved the entrance to his home. He half-expected to hear the whizzing of, or feel the sting of, arrows; the other half expected to hear barking or growling of an unearthly hound, one perhaps deadened or hellish. No sound came from behind loud enough to hear over the stamper of hoofs in front, and the once-moonlit eyes remained hidden.
Minute by minute time dragged on, and Darowyn continued listening and watching for any movement behind him. He saw tree branches looming above his head. Turning his view back to the road ahead, he was grasped about the neck. He struggled at the icy grip upon his neck with his hands and, consequently, yanked the reins. The cart bounced wildly from left to right, nearly overturning, as the ponies panicked and then, abruptly came to a dead stop, throwing Darowyn and his attacker to the ground between the ponies.
The vice around Darowyn’s neck remained unbroken. Grabbing it once again, he, with a mighty yank, pulled the large snake from his throat. Darowyn, angered more by being startled than by the attack, beat the creature against the stones about his feet, above his head and back to the ground, multiple times; although after the first thrashing, the serpent had went limp liken to a cooked noodle. At length, he tossed what was left of the poor creature, with much exaggeration, towards the side of the path. “Ye blasted slithering worm,” he whispered as loud as he dared.
Quickly, he clambered back to his cart, peering into the distance behind. He could hear or see no stalkers. Why the brigands had not attacked, he knew not. If seeking to steal caravan goods, they had missed their chance. If hunger was their purpose, they would have attacked by now. Surely, the smell of fresh blood would have drawn them. No, either they were following him to know his destination or had no interest in him. If they had no interest in him, then what intentions did they have? Abduction? Murder? But of who? Royalty? Nah, royalty rarely travelled these parts.
Darowyn now sat before the looming passage into the largest mountain of Stoneclaw. The lack of explanation bothered him more than the threat of an attack. Maybe, he had imagined those eyes. Perhaps, he was going crazy. He looked at his mangled hands and the abused ponies. Perhaps, he was already crazy.