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Wednesday, July 12, 2006 Little People, Big Heads

They set off early the next morning. Andreas is feeling a little stronger now after a good sleep and hot soup. And their journey is getting easier as the cold wind dies down. Then the path declines. Thanks to Andreas’ guidance, they are able to find a secret path hidden between the rocks and they have to move the rock that blocks it aside.

As they walk through the gate into the caverns, they see dwarves roaming around the tunnels. They are mostly miners, smiths, coolies and foragers with ragged clothes and dirt all over their faces and torso. They live in the poorer parts of the region – ex mining tunnels that were deprived of almost all valuable minerals – mined out, they say. And the dwarves dig holes on the cavern walls that serve as apartments furnished with stone-carved or wooden furnitures. But mind that the miners and the rest of the worker classes are trained and can serve as militias if Grad is attacked.

The tunnels are formed into a labyrinth, so it’s extremely frustrating for foreigners to go to the citadel without a dwarf as a guide. As Andreas and friend move along, they receive no offer of guidance from the dwarves along the way. Some of them only stare at the strangers, as no humans may enter the citadel, some only take a glance at them and then go about their own businesses. Only the kids are awestruck to see ‘big people’ as they rarely or never see them before in their lives. A few dwarves recognize Andreas and greet him with a gesture, or say ‘Welcome back, padre’ or ‘Vadis be with you.’

Carolyn looks at them with amazement. ‘So there are Vadisians among the dwarves, eh, Father?’

Andreas smiles feebly and answers her, ‘Well, aye, there are a few, if you count hundreds against ten thousands... but aye, they do understand a bit about the power of love that Vadis teaches us.’

They keep walking along the labyrinth, supporting Andreas who is still weak, and soon they arrive at a large tunnel, one of four tunnels connecting the caverns and the citadel. Now they are heading to a large crater-like opening with the sunlight comes in from the opening above. As Robert looks farther, he can see city-like structures that form a round, great fortress. And the sunlight that reflects upon it makes the city as though shines like the city of gold. Robert thinks, ‘It’s beautiful!’ but his expression is unchanged.

Only Christopher who seems excited on seeing that magnificent view. He says, ‘Man! A city of gold! Imagine, we can be rich just by picking up the gold from the streets!’

The good-natured Andreas, who seems to be undisturbed by Chris’ insults and careless talks, only comments, ‘Go ahead, greedy boy. Do that, and the dwarves there will make a joke on you for mistaking common stones to gold. There’s no gold in the streets. The dwarves do have lots of gold, but they always store it in a hidden, safe place and if you or anybody dares to set foot on it, they will chop yer head on the spot without asking first.’

Christopher gulps, he feels as though he wants to slap himself saying dumb things like that. Andreas indirectly told him to be extra careful in this realm, because dwarves are a proud race. They are materialistic and selfish, but if a threat comes to their kind or their city, they will stick together and form the most formidable defense ever formed – more impenetrable than humans’ or even elves’.

And without any trouble, they soon arrive at the great gate of the Ylbarra citadel, a heavily fortified castle built in the middle of the dead crater. The city of Grad itself is built around the citadel on the crater walls, and extends throughout the Grad Mountain Range, making it a vast realm for the dwarves. The caverns were formed during the mining process, and as the minerals were all mined out, the dwarves will use the tunnels as roads or residences. The most valuable mineral in the Grad Mines is Mythril, which is also known as Escudo in Escudia. Mythril is the lightweight and can be made into threads, but they are harder than common irons. Some say the weapons made from Mythril are unbreakable, and the armors are impenetrable. Mythril is also known as the Eternal Ore because its durability can last through the ages.

As they walk into the citadel, they see a completely different atmosphere than the caverns. It’s obvious that they have arrived in the rich part of the realm. The dwarves in the citadel are wearing rich robes and shiny armors. The dwellers are mostly in the high social statuses and classes, such as military officers, merchants, scientists, scholars and nobles. They all look at Andreas and the humans with amazement, fear and disdain. Some even try to conceal their necklaces, jewelries and valuables they are wearing. It seems that there are no Vadisian to greet Andreas along the way.

Carolyn murmurs, ‘Vadis’ ways are always more obscure to anybody blinded with wealth.’

As they arrive in front of the castle gate, two gruff dwarf guards are eyeing them and blocks their way. One of them says, ‘HALT! Non-dwarves are forbidden in the castle except with the Grand Trow’s invitation. And you, state your name and business!’

Then Andreas Marvellini salutes them with the special dwarven salute – two right hand fingers on the forehead – and says, ‘Rollo Bigstumble reports on duty to The Grand Trow Haagi Thornhelm. These humans are my escorts.’

The guard observes Andreas a.k.a. Rollo’s face to make sure that he was telling the truth, and then speaks, ‘Rollo Bigstumble, we were given specific instructions that since you are in an important assignment, you are not allowed to return until the mission is accomplished. Did you accomplish your mission?’

Andreas is thinking hard on hearing this. He is in a delicate situation now – to tell the truth means to face banishment – no chance to meet the Grand Trow at all. But if he lies, he and his friends will face death sentence if it’s found out. After a short while he says, ‘Aye and nay.’

The guard is a bit puzzled and angry. ‘Aye and nay!? Be more specific, we don’t play games here!’

Andreas Marvellini says calmly, ‘Aye, we have received the goods and nay, we need your support in case of transportation. The Escudians are not allowed here so they decided that the dwarves alone will carry the goods. You see the rest of my companions aren’t with me right now. So I need to speak to the Grand Trow himself as he holds the power to decide. This is an emergency. Only with the Grand Trow’s decision and cooperation this mission can be completed perfectly.’

‘Right, right. But humans are not allowed to enter the citadel. Wait here until you hear the summons.’ After saying that, the guard goes inside. Andreas shrugs and is ready with an answer in his thoughts. Well, it’s half the truth so no harm done.

Andreas and Robert’s party stand there to wait for about an hour or so. Then the guard dwarf returns and says, ‘Very well then, you may proceed, and your human escorts too. The Grand Trow hopes that you can explain the whole thing. But remember, if your explanation displeases him, there will be no escape, and death is certain. Follow me.’

The party and Andreas follow the guard silently, and they are directed through one grand, great hall after another.

Chris is marveled by its splendor, and the can’t help feasting his eyes upon the vast riches displayed in each hall – Diamond goblets, gold and silver statues, tapestries with colorful gems attached on them, and mosaic pictures that were made with rare gems, in golden frames. He also observes the dwarf officials going to and fro in the halls, all of them, male and female are wearing rich robes and jewelries – even one small trinket can be sold for a fortune.

Andreas suddenly remembers something, and as he glances at Chris, he knows at once that The Grand Trow allowed the humans to come with him to gain an easy but justified excuse to kill them. He scolds Chris in a low voice.

‘Chris, keep your eyes on the walkway and look straight. Don’t touch or even stare at the riches. The dwarves might see you and behead you on the spot, and yer greedy look will only make things even worse. The dwarves here surely like to keep their riches on display, but don’t like anyone – even their own kind – to look at them. And touching them is a more serious offense. They might think you are planning to steal the treasures – and the penalty is mutilation – it’s more devastating than death sentence because they want the offender to live in terror and shame – remembering their greed. So, watch yourself!’

Chris is zapped, and shivers at once at this prospect if his ‘offense’ is found out by the dwarves. Chiel the Micha even acts as though he understands Andreas’ warning by trying to close its eyes while still flying straight – straight to a wall. It bumps into the wall and falls. Before it reaches the floor, Carolyn catches it, saying, ‘be careful, Micha.’

Micha only responds with a weak ‘chi, chi’ voice. It seems dizzy. And Carolyn keeps it on her lap to let him rest and recover.

After walking for a long time, they reach an opening. It’s the largest hall in the Ylbarra Citadel, The Hall of Emoldrum. In dwarven language Emoldrum is derived from two words, Emolë Dol’drum, meaning ‘The Dome of Mother’s Womb’. From this dome-shaped hall, warriors are made, great decisions are made, and everything that sustains the growth and prosperity of the dwarven kingdom is ‘born’. It’s located in the core of Ylbarra, and automatically, this dome is also called the core of Emolë Grad (The Womb of Grad) volcano – permanently inactive for more than five centuries.

Robert’s party looks around. The throne hall is indeed magnificent. The royal throne hall in the Marlham Palace in Alceste, Kingdom of Lore looks like a district courthouse compared to this hall. They see dwarven ministers and officials sit in two rows on the left wing and right wing tables. And there is a wide circular space at the northern end of the dome. At the center of the space, the Grand Trow’s throne stands on a high platform. And behind it, three great statues stand there – the statues of the Fathers of Grad or in the dwarven language: Paderen il Grad. Three figures of first Grand Trow and great heroes of Grad ever since the great exodus from the lost mines of Thalag’dhega after the disastrous defeat from the minotaurs. Now Thalag’dhega at the southern Escudia is the realm and stronghold of the minotaurs – again. Mind that the dwarves drove the minotaurs away from Thalag’dhega about 1,000 years ago, and the minotaurs took it back about 500 years later. And the statues stand there magnificently: the long-bearded dwarf in the middle with a great axe, the statue on the left with a big hammer, and on the right with a sword and a shield.

Sitting on the throne is the Grand Trow himself, Haägi Thornhelm. He sits there casually like a small boy on a very large chair. He stares warily at the incoming guests.

Andreas signals Robert’s party to follow his moves. They walk slowly, with their right hands on their chests and left hands loose but visible, and walk on with their heads down until tehy stop and kneel. And Andreas talks, ‘Thêl Kadra, O Myvar Trow! (Long live O Grand Trow!) Hail the monarch who is mighty and true. We are in awe of your greatness!”

The Grand Trow responds, ‘Kom’sha (thank you), Rollo Bigstumble.’ And he talks on.

‘Now I believe you have some important news to tell me that you have the nerve to return here. I see that your companions, Pungli, Banzi and Blöin are not with you. Where are they? Explain!’

Andreas Marvellini, or in his dwarven name, Rollo Bigstumble answers feebly as he is still in a bad shape, “O’ Grand Trow, I came in an emergency. Like I said, I left two of my companions in Escudia because King Jaime refused to help transport the Diamante mythril armory we claimed as the Escudian humans are not allowed in this citadel. There were only four of us to escort the armory, and no pigeon can fly to here during winter, so we decided that I left with Blöin to return here and ask for more escorts. Alas, we were ambushed by bandits. There were about 30 of them. Although we fought bravely, Blöin was slain by their leader, a muscled tan-skinned female wielding a pair of scimitars as if she came from the deserts.’

Robert reacts on hearing this; he suddenly recalls a name in his mind, ‘Sheena Mekh’ta, The Bandit Queen.’

‘I was saved because I ran and Blöin covered my escape, but the woman bandit caught up with me and delivered a fatal blow at me. I stumbled and fell into the river. She thought I was dead but she didn’t know that I am the one and only dwarf who can cast healing spells. So I healed myself but barely, because my wounds were too many, and I walk as far as possible with my remaining strength. When I fainted on the snow, somehow I was lucky to be found by them, the humans. They also carried me back to Grad, where I regained my consciousness and guided them here. So that’s the whole situation at hand, O’ Mighty Trow.’

Andreas expects a sudden outburst of anger from Haägi Thornhelm, but he unexpectedly remains calm and his tone is unchanged when he talks,

‘I see. So this mission turns out to be too difficult for only four dwarves with that bandit queen around. I will investigate this matter further, and you are pardoned for your failure to complete the mission on your return here in exchange of this important news. You can return to your “secluded abode” now to rest. And about your human “escorts”, I understand that they are also your savior. Please state your names and your reason to save Rollo Bigstumble.’

Robert talks, representing the party, ‘O’ Mighty Trow, forgive us from our insolence by violating your prohibition. My name is Robert Chandler, and these are my companions, Christopher and Carolyn. We are bounty hunters by trade, and our reason to save our fellow dwarf here is solely due to compassion.’

Suddenly the Grand Trow cuts in with a loud laugh, and speaks in a loud voice.

‘Did you really? HAHAHA! You humans are all the same! Always making excuses, excuses! Compassion, my foot! There must be something ELSE you want to add for that! Greedy, greedy humans. I can see it in your eyes! I can see what you want! Gold, glamour and glory! Compassion! HUH! I know what to do with you! GUARDS! Take them away! Put them in the dungeon!’

Before the guards reach them, Christopher yells, ‘NO! Please, Lord of The Dwarves, hear us out until we are finished first. We admit that there IS something else other than compassion that moved us to rescue Andreas. You see my cousin Carolyn here used to be Andreas’ disciple in Valanis, so... it’s her duty to rescue him as thanks for his guidance, and as her relative and friend we are also obliged to help. That’s so!’ (Well, that’s the first clever remark from Christopher that put a shock in Carolyn’s face and at least in Robert’s heart).

Haägi smirks and replies, ‘My, my, my. Are you trying to defend yourself with such lame excuse? There’s no such thing as a coincidence! The probability for that is near to zero. How dare you made such a story up, and talk with such insolence! You’ll have your tongue cut off for this!’

And now it’s Carolyn’s turn to talk. ‘Please hear us out, O’ Great Trow. Father Andreas is truly my ex-mentor in Valanis. And this is the proof. This mark on my hand is the seal given by a mentor to his disciple after finishing the lessons for witchcraft and wizardy and passed the personality aptitude tests.’ Carolyn takes off her wizard glove to reveal a special mark on her right hand, right below her palm and shows the mark to the Grand Trow. That mark can’t be erased, because it was applied magically and if someone should cut some skin to take it off, he will cut the blood veins in the hand too.

Andreas also speaks, ‘And I also have the same mark on my left hand as the mentor’s sign. I have a different mark here on my right hand, because I was taught by a different mentor.’ And he shows the mark on his left hand. The same ‘M’ figure mark (an initial for ‘Marvellini’) with Carolyn’s.

Carolyn continues on, ‘And about coincidence, we truly didn’t expect to meet Father Andreas there in such a sorry state. It was Vadis’ will that I must meet and help him. So that were not merely a coincidence, but it was part of Vadis’ plan for this world.’

Thornhelm’s expression is unchanged, so Carolyn continues, ‘And if you should need another proof, Father Andreas has taught me much about magic, and I can only master fire and lightning elements. I can give you a demonstration just to satisfy you, but I bet you’ll be displeased because there’ll be some damage here.’

After a brief pause, the Grand Trow clears his throat and speaks, ‘HMM… The mark will be enough. You know, we The Kindred of Grad need to be always careful. We need to know your intentions, whether you are like the others or not. So far I’m satisfied that you three can keep your tempers level and stand for each other in spite of our rude remarks. But, I did see greed in – who is that lad? (Indicating Christopher) – Oh yes, Christopher, in his eyes. But his display of calm diplomacy, bravery and selfless attitude proves that his wisdom exceeds his greed, so we can accept that.’

Carolyn thinks, ‘Yeah, but his trash-talking exceeds his wisdom.’

Christopher gulps; he thought for a moment that he might’ve lost his head because of his greed and insolence. But the Grand Trow’s answer lifted the entire burden in his mind and replaced it with a surge of determination to prove himself that he can be a man everybody can count on, especiall by his cousin, Carolyn.

The Grand Trow continues, ‘HMM… Enough explanation. I hereby declare, by the might and blessing of Ulric, Thürlam, and Joldin, that from now henceforth, these three worthy humans are the Comrades of Grad, having saved the life of our kind, at the risk of their own. Now you all may retire. I will see further to this matter and our healer will treat Rollo Bigstumble in his abode. And you humans may accompany him until further notice. Myvar Trow has spoken.’ And the Grand Trow waves his hand and rests his densely bearded chin on his upright knuckle, with his eyes shut – he doesn’t want to hear another word at the moment.

Andreas sighs in relief on hearing this, but then his strength is failing him – He’s still weak upon his recovery from unconsciousness, his wounds and the pressure of this meeting – and he collapses, sprawling on the floor, and faints again.

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