Chapter 3: Home under the Mountain
Through the entrance, the wide path descended slowly downward into the cold, dark earth. The inside of the mountain was round and rocky, but the floor was smooth. After a few paces, Darowyn climbed down from his cart and lit a lantern he had retrieved from it. Though the light did little to improve his sight, it guided the ponies. It was deathly quiet, save for a solitary dripping that echoed a lonesome sound through the empty corridors. They continued along the path for a quarter of an hour before coming to a bend.
Turning sharply right, only Darowyn’s weak light lit the path, but he could see an opening on the left. The straight path sunk deeper into darkness. He approached the meticulously-rounded opening decorated with a smooth, well-crafted trim upon which was etched a simple, but beautiful, design. Between the two seemingly pillars merging into an arch near the ceiling of the underground passage, the dwarf stood, staring at the door before him.
Like the gates to most dwarven dwellings, the door was of a magical nature, only opening with a key or a certain incantation. He looked over both shoulders, especially scrutinizing the curve to the left to ensure he had not been followed. Though he never felt assured no prying eyes or ears were near, he whispered “Ithgor ordum” so softly he barely heard the words. The doors swung open into an elongated enclosure contained by two running battlements on either side. Fiery braziers ornamented the battlements and stretched over one-thousand feet to the barbican. This was the Great Eastern Wall of Calador.
It was a wonder of architecture and battle strategy. The towering battlements left visible only a slit of the cave ceiling. For an enemy, this sight was one of impending doom. They entered, scarcely able to fit siege equipment through the short door for the walls were tall and tight around them. For the small portion of an army that could fit within the deathtrap, arrows fell upon them from all directions, swords stabbed them from either side, and, if all else failed, an angry river of dwarfs, issuing forth from the barbican’s opening portcullis, carried them, thrashing about at the end of lances, out from wince they came. Darowyn plodded along mindlessly.
As Darowyn neared the barbican, a deep voice from above the portcullis spoke to him through the barred window.
“Good Evenin’, Darowyn” shouted the night watchman.
“Good Evenin’, Demgee. I’ve a notion to speak with ye. I’m comin’ up” Darowyn responded loudly, for Demgee was a distance away. The watchmen nodded and opened the gate.
Once past the gate, he parked his cart. On either side of the barbican, two more merlon-topped walls were spotted with ventilation holes and met the sides of the tunnel. He then climbed the slender stairs along the back side of the wall, and, upon reaching the top, could see the deathtrap below. The entire fortification was double-T-shaped with the magical door between its two feet.
Outside, a soft breeze of fresh air blew against the mountain, entered a large hole dug into the mountain’s cliff, fluttered down a slanted ventilation shaft, rolled along the floor, and, finally, passed through the hole-filled wall below Darowyn’s feet. As Darowyn entered the barbican, he saw an identical ventilation shaft on the opposite side of the cavern. Demgee asked how he could be of service.
“Watch yer gates closely, for evil brews through this night, but dares not walk the light,” warned Darowyn. He told the stalky guardsman of the figures he had seen.
“Thank ye Darowyn, I heed yer advice. More alert shall I be tonight than ever.” Demgee returned to his post.
Upon mounting his cart again, Darowyn rode into a square tunnel just beyond the barbican. The walls were once a natural tunnel created from water that once flowed. Now, they were dry, dully lit, and refortified.
Further ahead, he neared a flat bridge. Along a dwarven-made trench hugging the right wall, water flowed, crossed under the bridge, and splashed into a chasm on his left. A faint smell of dung and urine stained the air.
Darowyn had travelled several paces from the bridge when, clawing its way up from the depths of the chasm, a shadow emerged near the bridge.
Darowyn now approached a stone wall with a doorway opening its left flank; Water flowed from under its right flank, and several slits populated the in between. Several small holes lined the ceiling. Passing through the slender passage, the walls were several feet thick. Upon exiting the passage, on his right side was a rounded stone, like a milestone, that could be slid into the mouth of the passage impeding entrance. To the left sprawled a small leveled flight of stairs leading to the holes above the alleyway.
This outpost had previously been the main gate, from which arrows could be shot upon enemies and, also, through which fresh air flowed. Ahead, the small tunnel opened into a gigantic cavern and enclosed the dwarven city of Calador which set in its center. He stood upon the tunnel’s edge, staring out into the vastness he called Home, while, behind him, a shadow crept through the passage of the outpost. The shadow’s master stopped just slight of the passage’s end and there it waited. It convulsed violently for a moment, and then, white drool seeped from its festering gums, spilled over its gnarled lips, and dripped upon the stones.
In front of him, spanning a hundred feet upwards and miles back, he marveled at the dwarven city of Calador. The architecture of a dwarven city was fantastic to behold, even by a dwarf. A shining stone, set into the center of the cavern’s ceiling, shimmered softly into the spacious subterranean city. The stone, a dwarven-made and see-through material called starglass, strengthened the natural light sources of the world above several times fold. Above the starglass, an array of tunnels shot out in all directions, giving passage to the starlight and moonlight outside. The magnified light gleamed over the entire city, save the exterior walls that ran along a carven trench filled with burning oils.
Darowyn rode into the stone streets of Calador. Significant buildings populated the city, such as the main mess hall, the council hall, the clerics’ guild, a large stable, a magnificent chapel, a brimming water reservoir, a sizable garden, a brewery, and a collection of marketplaces. Large corridors led in all directions at the north and south sides of the city. These great tunnels branched many times into smaller tunnels that branched again into dwarven homes.
The stables along the west wall housed not only horses, but most of the livestock in Calador. Darowyn pressed the ponies onward through the quiet streets of the city and travelled past the water reservoir.
The water reservoir connected to a large metal pipe that curled up and along the cavern ceiling to a central pipe intersection composed of eight sturdy pipes, which travelled mostly north and south into the sides of the cavern. Stone blanketed many portions of the pipes, bracing them. A ninth pipe pierced the rock above.
Upon reaching the stables, Darowyn threw open the door of the first stable and parked his cart at the back of the dark building. He stalled the ponies which rapidly reposed to rest, their hoofs and legs fatigued. He petted them, hoping they would forgive his abuses. He checked their feed and water, relieved to see these chores had already been completed.
Desiring to repose his own feet, he hastily gathered his goods, the two bags and the dress. He strode briskly back across the hay-filled floors and opened the door, allowing the moonlight to stream in from above. It was not the only thing that entered, for as soon as the doors opened, a moonlit creature leapt from the wet and soiled floor, pounced upon Darowyn’s shoulders with claws extended, and knocked him to the ground.
Trapped upon the floor under the hairy breast of the beast, he pressed his left forearm with all his might and urgency across the wet fur-matted throat, holding back the mouth that continued to strike frantically at his face. The large furry rodent heaved itself more and more heavily upon his arm. Darowyn’s right arm groped his side to find his axe, while his left arm gave way, little by little, under the ferocious force and rage of the rabid rat.
As white pus bled out and dripped upon his beard and mustache, the dwarf realized that, in his foolish haste, he had left his axe on his cart. It would be the end of him, he dreaded, as he struck with his other arm to overturn the beast whose teeth were drawing ever nearer. It would not budge. Suddenly, the giant rat kicked its hind legs and leapt forward, its teeth nearly grasping the dwarf whom had, seizing his opportunity, kicked up his short legs and, with all limbs, thrust the rat over his head. The rat squirmed in the air and then thudded to the floor upon its back.
Neither one stayed on its back for long. Scrambling to its paws, the rat quickly resumed its pursuit of Darowyn whom ran along the stalls on its left heading for the cart. If ever a dwarf could move like lightning with such short legs, he did. He was more than half-way to the cart when the oversized rodent threw itself at him once again. More aware of the vermin this time, he nimbly dodged the pounce, but the rat clawed the stall, broke the latch to turn itself, and regained balance. Darowyn glanced back over his shoulder; he had a lead and did not waste it. He reached the end of his carriage, raced towards the seats, and, just as the hilt of his axe slid down his palm, was knocked down, jerking the axe from his hand. The rat leaned hard upon his left arm, and the dwarf’s right arm squirmed helplessly upon the floor. He could not turn. It is over, he thought, as the rabid animal gaped abnormally-wide its infection-laden mouth. It lips tore slightly at the edges; it seemed to gag on its own sputum, for its excitement about feeding had increasing it salivary secretions.
The dwarf closed his eyes. He felt the emptiness of the city, for all were deep in their tunnels asleep. The animals in the stables clambered about terrified. He could see the mournful faces of his wife and two children. He could hear the heavy breathing of his attacker, the racket of the terrified animals, and the sound of hoofs galloping upon the stone. He opened his eyes, only to see, in slow-motion, the hideous mouth lunging for his face, but it was suddenly swept away by the soft, furry face of his free and courageous pony. Rolling onto his knees, Darowyn lunged for his axe and pulled himself to his feet.
Spinning around, he saw the animals standing off, the pony, rearing on its hind quarters, and the crazed rat, crouching and hissing. As he ran into the fray, the horse slammed its front hoofs into the rat, one striking the rodent’s shoulder and the left one just missing its head. The rat retaliated by clamping its grotesque mouth upon the pony’s left shank. The pony reared from the pain, yet the dwarf drove his foot into the side of the rabid animal, causing it to let loose the pony, and swung his axe into its head.
While the creature wreathed about in spasms with an axe snug in its head, the dwarf grabbed the reins and led the injured horse away from the dying rodent and towards the wash basin. “Quite a nasty bite, Faphax,” Darowyn comforted the pony, from the side of his clenched mouth, while he ran water over the wounded leg to wash off the blood and mucus left by the rat. After examining the wound closer, he washed the putrid mucus from his own face that had run amuck upon his beard, mustache, and one side of his clenched lips. “Come daylight, I’ll send for a cleric. Ye saved my life, I owe ye that much.” He stroked its ears affectionately and led the limping pony to an empty stall. The pony lay on its side with its wounded leg up.
The dwarf retrieved his axe from the rat that was now still and, after cleansing it in the basin, tied the axe about his waist. Not trying his luck without his axe anymore tonight. He decided to remove the carcass in the morning. As he made his way to the entrance once more, he noticed that the animals had quieted. After retrieving his items that were scattered in front of the door, Darowyn left the stables.
He then travelled through the quiet streets of the city towards the northern corridors. He entered a brazier-lit corridor and travelled on past many dark and smaller corridors leading to stone doors held fast with three or four great hinges. The trim of the rounded doors were smooth and decorated. He continued on until he reached a glowing home on his right where the trim around the door was decorated, with a shield-shaped emblem of an eagle at the top. Etched along the round emblem were the dwarven letters for “ARBOW”. The door stood slightly ajar leaving a gap from which light poured out. He grasped the stone handle, pulled the half-foot thick door open, strode inside, and secured the door by driving the rounded stone bolt, dangling about a stone latch, into the hole upon the left wall.
The stone-carved room widened having five wooden doors, two upon its east wall, two upon its south, and one upon the eastern corner of the north wall. He crossed the medium-sized dining room and placed the bags he carried in his left hand upon a stone table. He then strode over to the wall wherein were inset many drawers. He pulled open one such drawer that was filled with cloth towels and, lifting them up, hid the custom-made dress, which had previously draped over his arm, beneath them. He then pulled out a chair from beneath the table and sat upon its cushioned seat. He threw his legs upon the table and his boots dangled off the end. Home at last, he sighed.
The easternmost door on the south wall creaked open and a husky lady in a nightgown peeped out. When she saw her husband, she asked if he would be needing anything.
“A bit famished I am,” answered Darowyn.
His wife hobbled across the room. “Get yer filthy boots off my clean table,” she demanded, swatting his legs which Darowyn promptly placed upon the floor. She then tinkered in the kitchen, warmed the cooled stew, and poured it into a pewter bowl. She brought the stew with her and set it in front of Darowyn, and then she sat across from him. “The spices, did ye get them?” she asked.
“Aye. Thither, in the bag,” answered Darowyn, pointing to the bag on the table.
“I thought ye’d forget them. Did ye travel well?”
While he ate, the dwarf told his wife about the people he had spoken with, the goods he sold, and, lastly, the red eyes he had encountered. She listened attentively and, at length, she said, “Becoming quite dangerous to go out-of-doors of late.” Then she eyed him sternly, “Precisely why I told you to take a companion. Lucky to be safe, ye buffoon,” she scolded.
Then, she saw his hands and folded her brow. “What happened to yer hands? Ye have a fist fight with a bear?”
“Nearly was I eaten by a savage rat in the stables. Caught me off guard it did, and I nothing to fight him back with but my hands. If it had not been for Faphax, this seat wouldst be empty.”
Delsyia seemed surprise at first, but then she said, “I’ve heard of an infestation in the sewers, and one of yer council requested yer presence in the council hall two days from this night.”
“Be needin’ a block over the drain to disallow the creatures from entering our city. Suspect I was followed from there. Come dawn, I’m off to see the cleric. Blasted rat bit Faphax.”
Delsyia gathered the meats and fish from the bag. She opened a thick door to a frosty cupboard near the stove and threw the meats and fish upon the coldstone chunks within. “While ye are about the city, gather some coldstone lest the meats spoil. I’m off to bed,” she ended, “Ye will be following shortly?”
“Methinks a warm wash will serve me well, and then I’ll follow shortly” answered the dwarf wearily, while his wife stood up and returned to the bedroom from which she had come. As soon as the door was shut, the dwarf returned his legs to their repose upon the table.
After he finished the stew, he placed his utensils into the wash basin, peeked on his children whom were fast asleep in their beds, and then followed his wife. Once he pulled his boots, he took the bedroom entrance into the washroom.
The washroom consisted of a basin with a side shaped as a scrub board. The pipes in the washroom came from a large pipe just outside the residence. The large pipe was connected to the pipes in the center of the dwarven city. The washroom had two pipes coming from the ceiling, one for the deep basin and one for the well-smoothed, full-sized tub made from stone. Each pipe was capped at the end with a lever to open and close it. Water from both pipes flowed through a small reservoir that could be heated.
The dwarf turned the lever and nearly boiling water poured into the tub. As the reservoir continued to drain into the tub, cooler water flowed out of the pipe. Meanwhile, Darowyn washed his swollen and bloodied hands in the wash basin. He undressed, threw his dirt-covered clothes to the stone floor, stirred the bathwater with his hand, and climbed into the tub. The stinging of the hot water on his skin relaxed his mind and body. The worry of brigands, elves, and vermin plaguing the city slipped away. Unfortunately, the throbbing of his hands only seemed to grow.
After he had dried himself with a towel, Darowyn pulled the pewter plug from the tub. The water drained out into a slightly slanted shaft running under his home, also serving as a backup ventilation shaft; it then streamed down the trench of the large corridor outside his home, flowed out of the city, under the bridge he had crossed early, and into the sewage chasm, which eventually flowed out of the mountain for it dumped into a major waterway below.
Darowyn then climbed into his bed, consisting of a hammock hung from an encircling stone structure with a hollowed center. He snuggled in a blanket beside his wife and fell fast asleep.