Sword of Kings: Tested by Adversity
by Bill W
Copyright © 2015 by billwstories
Copyright © 2015 by billwstories
The Treasures of Thorold
"I will be happy to grant your request," the wizard told Garreth and Romaric, "but I think there is more going on here than what you've told me."
The teens immediately became uncomfortable and started fidgeting with their hands, while also trying to avoid Beraut's intense gaze, but it didn't seem to help. Eventually, they reached the point where they felt they had to respond.
"We just don't want to go," Garreth advised him, hoping this would suffice, but his comment was unconvincing.
"I certainly didn't expect this from either of you," Beraut informed them, shaking his head slightly. "After all you've already done for Kieren, I didn't figure you'd abandon him at this late date."
"But he's different now," Romaric blurted out, since he was finding it hard to stifle his anger any longer.
This caused Beraut's eyebrows to rise, as he began to gain some insight into what was going on.
"I believe there is still more to this than you're letting on," the wizard prodded.
Beraut then stepped back and gave them some time to think about how they wanted to respond. When he did this, the two elves looked intently at each other, since they silently hoped to be able to read what the other was thinking, but it didn't work out as well as they might have wished. They also had another problem, which was that they knew they were running out of time and had to say something.
"It's just that Kieren thinks he's a big shot now," Romaric added, bitterly. "He told us to grow up and then said that we didn't have to watch over him and we didn't need to be together all of the time. He acts like he's the only one who has any feelings and the rest of us don't matter any more."
The wizard stroked his beard and eyed the elves, while trying to determine how he should handle this.
"I know for a fact that isn't how he truly feels," Beraut began, thoughtfully. "Kieren doesn't think he's important at all, even though I would say he is more valuable to our cause than any of us, including me. Whether you understand it or not, he's the only one who can fulfill the prophecy, no matter who else might want to try."
"But that doesn't make him the only one whose feelings count," Romaric shot back.
"True," the wizard told him, reassuringly, "but remember, Kieren didn't ask for any of this either. It was thrust upon him. He could have said he wouldn't do it, but he didn't. He's accepted his role in all of this and is doing his best to cope with it, so I feel we should be willing to make some allowances for him as well."
"Yes, like maybe staying away from him," Garreth added, mockingly.
"Why do you say that?" the wizard demanded, putting him on the spot. Beraut, however, was only trying to better understand the root of the problem.
"Because he doesn't want us around any more," Garreth told him, as his expression drooped. "He doesn't care what we think or how we feel either. We used to do everything together and he would always ask for our suggestions before we did anything, but he doesn't do that anymore," he added, while growing even more upset as he thought about it.
This caused Beraut to suddenly remember what he had seen in Kieren's bedchamber the previous evening, when he spotted Qaim sleeping on the floor next to Kieren's bed, although neither elf was present. At the time, Beraut thought it was a bit odd that the elves were conspicuously absent, but he merely wrote it off as Kieren needing some time to himself. Now, he finally thought he was beginning to see the picture.
"I believe you might be misreading Kieren's intentions," Beraut warned him. "I'd hate to see you boys stay here and then end up regretting that decision later. Although I pray nothing like this occurs, but what if something were to happen to Kieren along the way? How would you feel then, if you weren't there to help protect him?"
Garreth and Romaric looked at each other quickly, since they hadn't considered the possibility of anything like that happening.
"But he'll still have the warriors with him and they can take care of him better than we can," Romaric countered, while trying to downplay their significance.
"The warriors were with him on the way to Thorold too, but if I remember what the others told me, the two of you were still needed to help protect him. You did things the soldiers either couldn't do or you reacted more quickly than they were able to in those situations. Don't diminish your value on this mission, because Kieren might have been seriously injured, or even killed, had either of you not been with him at the time."
The two elves began to scan each other's face, while starting to feel ashamed about wanting to allow Kieren to go on without them.
"We didn't do that much," Garreth added, sheepishly, in an effort to downplay their importance. He hoped this might not only make him feel better, but also take him off the hook with the wizard.
"If you won't take my word for it," Beraut countered, "then let's go ask the warriors. They will tell you, just as I have and as they told me previously, that your presence was essential on the first leg of this mission. Without you, things may have turned out much differently."
Garreth was beginning to feel a little selfish now, once it started to dawn on him that he had been willing to risk the safety of one of his best friend's merely due to a bruised ego. However, Romaric wasn't quite as convinced.
"Maybe he'd deserve whatever happened to him if we didn't go," the elf protested.
"Do you really believe that?" Beraut asked. He was hoping that by questioning Romaric's comment that it would cause him to think this through more thoroughly.
"Yes, I do," Romaric responded quite coldly.
Upon hearing this, Beraut stared intently at the elf and didn't break eye contact with him for several seconds. However, it didn't take that long for his stern gaze to affect the recipient.
"Ok, so I don't want anything bad to happen to him," Romaric finally conceded, but after saying this he quickly turned away from the wizard's intense scrutiny. "But he IS acting differently," he added, almost to himself.
"That may be true," Beraut concurred, "but I doubt if it has anything to do with his feelings for the two of you. I don't think his bond with you has changed at all. I think his problem arises from the fact that he is worried about placing either of you in danger, so he's trying to find a way to justify asking you to go on. While he's doing this, sometimes he needs to be alone so he can work things out in his mind. I believe last night may have been one of those times."
"But he let Qaim stay with him," Romaric corrected. "It was just us he didn't want around."
The two elves were a little surprised that Beraut even knew anything about what had happened the previous evening, so they were eager to see how he responded to this last comment.
"There might have been other reasons for that," Beraut pointed out. "From what I've seen, as well as what I've heard from the others, Qaim feels very out of place here. He doesn't like being below ground or around so many dwarfs. That's why he didn't want to enter Thorold when you first arrived, at least until Kieren convinced him it would be all right. Qaim seems to trust Kieren and looks to him for protection, which is why he was in Kieren's room. I don't believe Kieren wished to have Qaim's company last night either and only allowed the aignx to stay with him, because of the promise he made to get Qaim to come inside. The aignx also doesn't talk much and moves about very quietly. Qaim even slept on the floor, so he didn't disturb Kieren's thoughts."
Both elves took a minute to think about this, as they considered Beraut's words. They were totally amazed that the wizard was so aware of what transpired the previous evening. Finally, one of them responded.
"Fine, I'll go then," Romaric grunted, as he started to stand up.
After making this comment, Romaric began to head for the door. When Garreth saw him doing this, he jumped up and followed after Romaric. This caused Beraut to shake his head, slightly amused, before trailing closely behind the pair.
"Is anything wrong?" Rhys asked, once they came out into the hallway. The Akiktite was wondering why it took them so long to join the rest of them.
"No," Beraut assured him. "Just a slight misunderstanding, but everything is fine now."
It wasn't clear if any of the warriors had noticed the looks the three teens were furtively giving each other, but if they had they might not have believed the wizard's simple explanation.
"Please collect your belongings, which I had brought down here for you, and then follow me," King Brolin encouraged the others. Once they were ready, he led them down a series of tunnels.
The three teens still weren't eager to walk next to one another, as they continued to harbor the lingering effects from their little spat. As his way to avoid further conflict, Kieren quickly made his way to the front of the group, while Garreth and Romaric dragged their heels slightly and stayed near the rear of the procession. This seemed to lessen the tension between them, at least for the time being.
As they moved down the passageways, Kieren observed the outside of some of the family dwellings they passed along the way. These structures housed the common folk of this hard working race and were carved entirely out of solid rock. There was a thin line etched into the stone on the outside of the structure, which marked the outline of each home and helped to distinguish it from the domiciles on either side of it. There was also a symbol carved above the entranceway, which was used to identify the particular residence from the others.
Each of these dwellings had two small windows, with wooden shutters, and a semi-circular door. They were the only external openings into the structure, but of course, there were other doorways that led between the various chambers inside. The entire dwelling had been excavated out of the stony interior of the Amber Mountains and then constantly reused, from one generation to the next. Each collection of these hand-hewn caverns served as the living quarters for a dwarf family. The only light sources used within these structures came from a scattering of candles and a few oil-burning lamps. The soft, flickering glow given off by these items was the only thing that kept the dwellings from being constantly engulfed in total darkness.
"What are your homes like?" Kieren asked the dwarfs, once his curiosity had gotten the better of him. His primary intent for asking this question was to discover how similar these abodes were to the elfin dwellings he was familiar with, back in Wildoness.
"They are more comfortable than most of the other races are willing to believe," Doenilio told him, with a wry smile, while maintaining the same brisk pace. "My home, for example, has four bedchambers, although most living quarters would have between two and five such rooms. In addition to those, we also have a cooking area, an eating space and, most importantly, a parlor. The parlor is where my family spends a great deal of their time together."
Sensing something was happening at the front of the group, Garreth and Romaric inched their way forward, so they could hear what was going on as well. They still didn't move beside Kieren, but they did close the large gap they had allowed to form between them previously.
"Four bedchambers!" Alairic said playfully, with a broad smile across his face. "I remember you saying you have a large family, but how many children does that accommodate again?"
"I have six offspring," Doenilio answered. "Two to each bedchamber and the final one for my wife and myself."
There was a slight twinkle and hint of pride in his response, which let the others know his family was very important to him.
"You're a very lucky man," Alairic added, still smiling. "I'm certain you must be very proud of them."
"Indeed, I am," Doenilio responded, while sporting a huge grin. "Most dwarf families would have between two to eight children, although there are those rare cases when a family has even more than that."
"What do the children do for fun?" Garreth blurted out, but then his face began to redden.
Even though this had allowed his immature side to show through temporarily, Garreth merely wanted to see if the dwarf children were anything like the elves.
"Well, the children play like any others and usually have all kinds of devices to entertain them," Doenilio answered. "My youngest daughter has a marvelous little toy that is constructed with large beads on sturdy, twisted wires. These beads can be moved from one area to another and helps to improve her hand-eye coordination."
"What else?" Garreth asked. "They must have more than just things like that?"
"Yes, my sons have some toys that are designed with a combination of pulleys, levers, inclined planes and hinges, so they can learn how these simple devices function. Some of the younger children have toys with wheels or rockers too, but most of the devices they have are the sorts of playthings that require them to use their imagination before it is of any value. We feel this is important to help develop their cognitive skills while they are playing."
The boys were intrigued to learn the dwarfs weren't that much different from the elves, except they seemed to put much more emphasis on the practical nature of how things work. Maybe it also explained why the dwarfs, as a group, produced so many capable engineers. The teens had previously thought the two races were nothing alike, but the longer they stayed in the dwarf homeland, the more similarities they found between the two groups. These discussions also helped to make the long walk pass by more quickly.
"Are your homes furnished with items similar to those that were in our rooms or the hall in which we dined?" Rhys wanted to know.
"Oh, no," Quintain answered, this time. "Items made of wood are only used in the Royal apartments or in the common areas, where visitors might be entertained or housed. Most of the household furnishings that we use are generally carved from rock."
"That certainly doesn't sound very comfortable," Rhys observed, while contemplating having to use such objects.
"That is because dwarfs, as a race," Quintain replied, "are not disposed to extravagance where comfort or design are concerned. We tend to be more concerned with the practicality of such items. If an individual wishes to be able to enjoy something softer, pads can be made and filled with whatever substance the owner prefers. They can then be set upon the chair or bed to accommodate this desire."
"Pray tell. Thou must prefer some small pleasures," Turquinine suggested.
"All most dwarfs desire is a loving mate, plenty of tasty food and some strong drink," Doenilio answered for the others, while flashing a slight smile.
When he finished speaking, Quintain thought of something else he wished to add to that list.
"And a selection of sweet tobaccos and a fine long-stemmed pipe, which can be used to smoke the tobacco with," he interjected.
Quintain now felt satisfied with the answer and nodded his head, almost as if he were confirming the appropriateness of what he had just said.
"Speaking of your mates," Hadwin interjected. "What are the dwarf women like?"
This query brought some snickers from the other warriors and caused Sedain and Quintain to scowl. They mentally questioned the Nardinian's intention for asking this question and began to wonder why this northerner wanted to know about the dwarf females. Since Doenilio didn't have these same concerns, he responded to the question.
"They are quite loving and very hard workers," the dwarf stated, simply. "Most take care of the household, the children and the meals, as my wife does. Some occasionally even work alongside their husbands for a small part of the day," he added, as the group plodding behind him listened intently to every word he spoke.
The conversations continued as they walked along, but after nearly an hour of travel, the guests started to notice that they were now passing by the last abodes of these hearty people. From this point on, their path grew considerably barren and much more dimly lit. As they continued to walk down these desolate corridors, Kieren concluded this section of Thorold must have been left undeveloped by the dwarf architects who had originally designed this place. Such an area would allow for the future growth of the population, as the years flew by. When the need arose, the current inhabitants could develop this location to suit their current needs and not have to rely on the foresight and effort of their predecessors.
As the group trudged on, at a fairly brisk pace, the boys were no longer consciously trying to keep their distance from each other. Kieren was walking relatively close to both Garreth and Romaric at this point, except at this juncture they still weren't going out of their way to speak with each other. Instead, they focused on the conversations the others were having or were busy visually inspecting their surroundings. They were also maintaining the same rapid pace King Brolin and Beraut were setting for them.
Eventually the long barren stretch of tunnel came to an end and the group reached a fork in the roadway. They were informed that the right branch gradually ascended for a short distance before leveling off. Shortly after it did that, it continued on until it disappeared from sight and passed by the burial sites of the former residents of Thorold. After telling them this, King Brolin indicated they would be following the path that veered off to the left and progressed along at the same level as the tunnel they were currently in. He informed them that this route would eventually lead them to the Royal Burial Chamber.
As the entourage began to follow this rarely used path, the various individuals were wondering why they were now heading toward the Royal Burial Chamber. These thoughts were interrupted a few minutes later, however, when they came to a halt in front of a gigantic door, which was set upon a heavy iron framework. This massive covering was over a foot thick and seemed to be specifically designed to protect the entrance to the royal tombs from those who might wish to plunder the ageless treasures contained within. There was a single series of runes engraved in the stone, on either side of the portal, and King Brolin stepped forward and began to touch the symbols in an order prescribed by an age-old ritual.
Deftly, the King's hands danced from one rune to another, as his arms waved from one side of the doorway to the other. King Brolin continued this process multiple times, until the barrier finally began to swing outward of its own accord. This permitted the assemblage to pass over the threshold and enter the sacred chamber that lay beyond.
Just before he went inside, the dwarf king removed a torch from one of the last brackets in the hallway and held it in front of a round opening, which was located just inside this new area. As if by magic, a collection of brackets that ran along the walls of this mausoleum began to ignite, one by one. This started with the ones nearest the entranceway and then continued down the length of the gallery.
Once the others had also stepped inside this chamber, Kieren's breath caught in his throat, just as soon as he realized what was inside. As the various brackets started to glow, the light began to glimmer off of the vast treasures that lay around the ancient sarcophagi, which had had been set aside for the use of the deceased rulers in the afterlife. The vast quantities of treasure stored there was staggering to the outsiders and seemed to spread out endlessly in all directions. The magnitude of the wealth contained within this area was absolutely breathtaking. It also made them suddenly realize what a great honor was being bestowed upon them, by merely allowing them to view this incredible cache.
Normally, the dwarfs would be justifiably hesitant about letting outsiders even enter their kingdom, let alone be willing to give them a guided tour of its well-guarded secrets. Therefore, the other companions, like Kieren, were totally engrossed with this sight and voraciously looked at the accumulation of valuables that surrounded them. For a few brief moments, they stood frozen in place, while King Brolin went about the process of resealing the portal they had just passed through. Before the king finished this duty, Kieren spoke up and broke the silence.
"Are these all of the dwarf kings?" he asked, amazed.
"These are the kings beginning with Thorin," Beraut stated, since King Brolin was still preoccupied making sure the chamber was resealed. "Although I do not know all of the details, I do know the crypt on your right is that of King Thorin and the one across the aisle is that of his immediate successor. From there, the burial vaults continue on, in the order of each king's reign."
"Beraut is correct," King Brolin interjected, as he rejoined the others, "but if you will follow me, I will fill you in as we continue to walk."
The others did as they were told and the group started moving again, as King Brolin continued the explanation.
"The first four vaults you see contain the remains of our first four kings, under whose direction this marvelous place was begun," the dwarf ruler explained. "They were the ones who oversaw the very early stages of its construction and who also encouraged their subjects to continue on with this important venture."
"These burial vaults seem to be much larger than would be required to contain the remains of a single individual," Hadwin observed, since he immediately noticed what he believed to be a negative aspect of their construction.
"That is because each of these sarcophagi is designed to house the remains of both the king AND his queen," Brolin responded. "That way they may journey through the hereafter together, as they had traveled through life. In addition to this courtesy, a small part of their personal possessions, which you can plainly see surrounding the tombs, were placed there to give them the items they would need to live in the world beyond. It is offered so they may also enjoy some of the prosperity they had earned in this life and use it to sustain them in the next.
"If you look closely at the lid covering each sarcophagus," King Brolin added, as they continued to move along, "you will also notice that it is adorned with the life size replica of both the sovereign and his queen. The facial features used for these images were duplicated from the original death masks of that ruler and his mate."
The outsiders now strained to see if they could get a better look at the representations of the dwarf kings of old. They wanted to see if the ancient rulers looked anything like their descendents. As the companions moved nearer each funeral vault, Beraut offered a stern warning.
"You must heed my advice and not touch any of these objects, even accidentally," he emphasized. "Remember, the dwarfs are a clever bunch and greedily protect that which rightfully belongs to them. They've booby-trapped these items in many ingenious ways, and once sprung, any of these devices will either badly maim or kill the intruder. In addition to these mechanisms, some of the items are coated with a very potent poison. When mixed with body oils or perspiration, these poisons can be absorbed through the skin and kill those coming into contact with it. Even those who innocently pick up a trinket to admire its beauty, and with no intent of larceny in his heart, will suffer the same fate as those who intend to filch this booty."
As they listened to Beraut's admonition, the companions continued to eagerly follow the dwarf king, as he purposefully moved down the center aisle. Cautiously, they passed between the burial sites of each king who had ever reigned over this race. As they strolled along, the visitors continued to visually examine all of these new crypts and absorb as much of the splendor and detail as was possible.
None of them had ever beheld or imagined such treasures as were strewn about the burial vaults and each person stood nearly transfixed, while gawking at these various marvels. There were crowns, armor, weapons, serving dishes, statues and a multitude of other ornaments that lay before them. Most of these items were made of gold or silver, and many of them were also adorned with precious gems. These offerings to their former monarchs were of every size, shape and description, as well as being too numerous to even count.
It was hard to comprehend how much wealth was scattered about in this chamber, but other than the elaborate precautions used to enter this area, the dwarfs made no pretense of trying to disguise its presence. Around each stone casket was stored but a mere fraction of the previous owner's worldly belongings and the aggregate riches assembled here was mind-boggling, to say the least. Although it was uncertain as to how the thieves might have learned about this treasure, it was no wonder they started a war to get at these items.
The companions were not only in awe of the value of the fortune represented here, but they were also totally fascinated by the artistry and beauty of each individual piece they beheld. The skill of the craftsman who had produced the items was obvious and the splendor of each artifact could still be appreciated, even though they had lain neglected and tarnished for many years. Here was one of the loveliest collections of jewelry, goblets, dishes, weapons and armor that had ever been produced in Tarolia, yet they remained hidden from most of the world.
The visitors continued to relish their unique position of being allowed to witness this sight for themselves and tried to make sure they noticed every detail possible. Their heads continually pivoted back and forth, as they looked from one side of the room to the other and strained to view each item as they came to it. Unfortunately, this slowed their progress down considerably, so it wasn't long before Beraut realized they had already tarried here much longer than they should have. For this reason, he broke the silence.
"We must quicken our pace," the wizard urged, "or we shall fall dangerously behind the schedule I have set for us. I am sure King Brolin will allow you to return sometime in the future, after this task has been completed. At that time, you will be able to view these things at your own pace. For now, however, speed must be our utmost concern."
The companions quickly glanced over at King Brolin, who nodded in agreement with the wizard's comment. Once they had this commitment, they began to move more briskly down the aisle. They were still trying to observe as much as they could and would occasionally see something that reinforced the warning they had been given earlier.
Intermittently, they would chance upon the carcass of a long deceased animal, such as a rat, a bat or other small creature. Unfortunately for them, these animals had unwittingly found its way into this hall and then into these piles of treasure. When that happened, many of those critters had fallen victim to the effects of the deadly poison that had been spread over each item. Others had been felled by one of the unseen devices the dwarfs had placed there to dispense with unwanted guests. Their remains now served as a silent witness to what would happen to any curious or greedy individual who decided to disturb the treasure that had been left there.
As they continued to move forward, the others also began to notice that they were coming to the end of the royal gravesites, although not to the end of the chamber itself. Once they had reached the last of the stone sarcophagi that adorned the room, King Brolin pointed out the fact that this particular vault would be the final resting place for him and his queen. There was even the form of a male and female dwarf adorning the lid, although the facial features had been left blank. They would be added later, using the death mask of the deceased royal pair.
This harmless little gesture caused Kieren to reflect upon his own mortality. Suddenly, he thought about how someday his remains, as well as those of his friends, would each be stored or disposed of according to the custom of his people. This caused Kieren to suddenly look at this place from a completely different perspective.
Now, Kieren began to appreciate the fact that the vaults they had just passed represented beings that had once walked these corridors and breathed the air. Up to this point, Kieren had somehow thought of these long dead kings as only being a part of history, so he never really pictured them as being vital, living beings. However, it had now finally occurred to him that these rulers had also once lived here, as King Brolin does, and someday others would pass by this current ruler's tomb and come to the same realization.
Having gone by the last of these crypts, the companions continued their journey along the remainder of the now empty chamber. They were currently passing the area that would someday house the remains of kings yet unborn. This large, barren expanse continued forward for quite a distance, so it took them another forty minutes of travel before they eventually reached the doorway at the other end of the chamber. This portal was identical to the one they had used to enter this crypt and, once again, King Brolin set about touching the runes adorning this archway. As he followed this ageless ritual, the door restraints finally gave way and allowed the portal to open into the hallway beyond.
As they exited into another corridor, the King paused and hurriedly resealed the entrance to the chamber behind them. When he finished, they were ready to move on.