The guards are grumbling along the way, as though they are burdened with an abomination or a contagious disease. As they enter the caverns through its main tunnel, a dwarven druid approaches them and says,
‘Greetings. I’m Uli Nockimble, druid, at your service. Shall we proceed to Rollo’s cave? We don’t have all day, you know!’
Uli happens to be a female dwarven druid. Her face is chubby and friendly-looking. The guards grunt again, louder than before. It’s obvious that ‘higher class’ dwarves disdain the worker classes and consider them as ‘lowlifes’.
Uli seems to know the way to Andreas (a.k.a. Rollo)’s cave very well, and after about an hour walk from the main tunnel, they arrive at an opening. As they go outside, Chris and Carolyn are astonished, and Robert eyes only open widely.
Chris says, ‘WOOOW! This is AWESOME!’.
It’s a small valley, totally blocked by the mountains around it, and everything in it looks like a paradise, a vale of trees, birds, flowerbeds and grass. It seems the winter outside the mountains doesn’t affect this area. Various fruit trees grow there, even some of them are fruits from the tropical areas – apple, mango, banana, orange, lemon, strawberry, and more – And the strange thing is, they seem almost untouched. Robert secretly puts a smile on his face.
‘Welcome to Falambum Vale!’ says Uli in an excited tone. ‘And that is our hut’.
Uli points to a direction, and there it is. A simple, wooden cottage about five meters in length and width, with a chimney. It’s much like a human’s cottage. It seems well kept and occupied, but something in Uli’s words ignites Carolyn’s curiosity as she says,
‘Excuse me; did you say “our”? Are you...’
‘Ooh, yaa! I’m Rollo’s wife. Ya!’ Uli says with a giggle.
‘His WIFE??’ Carolyn and Chris yell together.
‘Of course. And we have kids, you know. Ah, here they are now. Ivor! Eni! Come here and help! Dad’s home!’
They see a young male dwarf cutting wood outside the cottage, and a dwarf maiden coming out from the house, carrying laundry. they put their works away immediately and rush to their father. Ivor, the younger, is well-built, with hairy chest and arms. And without a moustache and a beard, he looks stunningly handsome – at least among his fellow dwarves. And Eni, the elder, her long, blonde hair wit ponytails adds more fairness into her cute, round face and her rosy cheek.
Eni says worriedly, ‘Dad? Oh, by Vadis! What happened to him? Is he...’
Uli tries to calm her down by saying, ‘Don’t worry, Eni. He’s only unconscious. But he must be treated right away. Gentlemen, will you please carry Rollo inside? That’ll be most kind of you.’
Uli says that while putting her hand into her waist bag, takes it out and shakes one of the guards’ hand. The guard’s gruff expression turns calm, almost smiling. He puts his hand into his pouch, and there are sounds of jingling coins inside it, as though there are some more coins added in it.
Uli says, ‘Come, come in, fellow humans. Make yourselves at home!’
The guards carry Andres into the cottage, lay him down gently on his bed, and take their leave. As Uli, Ivor and Eni are finished treating Anderas, the three of them go outside the bedroom. Ivor and Eni smile at them and then go about their own errands. Uli, on the other hand, goes to the kitchen and about five minutes later comes out with three wooden mugs on a tray, puts the mugs on the table and sits with the guests in the living room.
‘Please, do try our mango juice! Fresh from the trees!’
The humans take a drink, and obviously they have never tasted anything as fresh as mango juice before, even mangoes. Tropical fruits are rare in the continent of Aurelia, and only rich people and nobles have the privilege to enjoy them. The tropical fruits are usually magically teleported from the tropics, and they are very, very expensive.
‘WOW! This is awesomely fresh!’ Carolyn cannot hide her excitement and takes another drink.
Robert, who hasn’t spoken since their meeting with the Grand Trow, finally talks, ‘Well, ma’am, I believe we are not properly introduced yet. My name’s Robert Chandler and these are my friends, Christopher and Carolyn.’
Uli responds with a big smile and wide-open eyes, ‘Oooh, Carolyn! Rollo told me a lot about you! You used to be his student in Valanis, right? He taught you Vadism, as well as healing. He was one of your teachers there.’
Carolyn answers, ‘Well, yes, although only for a short while. I learnt a bit about healing, although I have to admit that I am better versed at attacking magic than healing.’
‘A bit is good’, says Uli. ‘But “nothing” is much better. My child, it’s not always about learning and understanding, but to live it, live the magic and put all your heart and soul in doing it. So we have to “unlearn” our lessons and start to live with them.’
‘I understand, ma’am. Although I still want to perfect my attacking magic for the time being, maybe someday I can be good at healing, too.’
‘Take your time, my child, take your time, ya.’
Robert then asks, ‘Ma’am, forgive my rudeness but as far as I know, Father Andreas is a monk and you’re not supposed to live with him. This puzzles me.’
Robert expects a harsh answer, but instead of being angry, Uli giggles amusingly, and starts explaining.
‘Haha. Ya, ya. I see you’re observant and a man of logic. As you may well presume, Rollo and I are druids. We have been married for a few years before he left to seek ‘a greater wisdom’. Well, he didn’t leave willingly, but he was forced to, being expelled by our community because they think we’re ‘odd’ and ‘radical’. Since Rollo and I found this place, we tried to convince more people to live in us in this vale, but they refused and told us they preferred their old ways of living than trying something new and different for a change. We’ve been scrutinized and treated like oddballs and lived like hermits since then. One day a group of workers came to us and threatened us to leave this valley or they would burn us alive in our house.’
Uli pauses with a deep sigh. And she talks again.
‘But Rollo... he made a bargain with them and said he will go if they spare me, Eni and little Ivor and let them live here. They agreed, because they thought I, Ivor and Eni can still be “altered”.
So, Rollo went for twelve years and returned as a monk with his new name, Andreas Marvellini. He still regards me as his wife and regards his children too, but the community still can’t accept him. He hid and disguised himself for some time until one day; he saved a dying boy suffering from a rare illness, which beyond my expertise and no other druids can heal. So the society admitted him back.’
‘Both of us continued to serve the people as healers. Thus he began to spread his belief among the people. Some converted and became his disciple – I and Eni were among them – But the others wouldn’t convert and even thought of him as “a menace to society, a pagan and an infidel”. The Grand Trow heard this “social unrest”, and tried to stop Rollo’s teachings. When persuasion failed, rather than stopping him by force, the Grand Trow sent him on dangerous missions, each time demanding him not to return until the mission was accomplished – hoping that he would be killed during then – But so far, to the Trow’s disappointment, Rollo always came back alive and accomplished all the missions, but this time... ‘
Carolyn is amazed, and she says, ‘Whew, it’s a good thing that he has you there to help him. He’s really lucky.’
Uli replies with a smile and says, ‘Ya, that’s what a family is for. We stand for each other, help each other, and take care of each other. And it’s all based on love.’ She pauses for a moment, and then continues.
‘Although, well, Ivor has a dispute with Rollo about their beliefs, but that doesn’t stop them from loving each other as father and son. Hmmm, maybe you should start your own families as well someday.’
Chris nods, Carolyn is blushed and beams towards Robert. Robert, however, doesn’t react at all, but in fact he’s thoughtful. He sees Eloise’s pleading face again in his mind and it makes him look sad and serious. Seeing that, smile vanishes from Carolyn’s face.
The party stays and sleeps in Rollo’s living room for the night, and Chiel is somewhere outside, enjoying the warmth of the magically tropical climate of the vale, nesting itself on a big mango tree. And the next day, thanks to Uli’s masterly treatment, Rollo regains his consciousness. His health and stamina are also fully recovered. And at night, they sat down together. This time Rollo tells his part of the story.
‘Uhum. As you can see, I and Uli were considered as “freaks” because we are the only healers who serve the workers, and our way of living is different than the rest. They agreed to banish me only, because Uli was a better druid than I was, and the workers still needed Uli as their healer. We are a family of healers except Ivor who wants to follow the way of the warrior.’
To this, Uli only shrugs and Ivor scowls.
‘As for my last mission, I think The Grand Trow Haägi obviously meant to kill me this time. I knew he made a pact with Sheena Mekh’ta and her gang to ambush me on my way home. Blöin was not killed. Sheena didn’t mean to give me that chance, but she didn’t know that I can check Blöin’s condition by reading his aura from a distance. I managed to read that before her bandits gave me these wounds.’ Rollo points at his body. ‘I think now they’re plotting something even worse to get me killed... or banished forever – away from my family.’
Rollo rubs his big nose and frowns. It’s his habit whenever he feels uneasy, tensed or worried. Then he continues his story.
‘What’s more, I don’t think they even care for the mythril armor or anything of that sort that signifies the old alliance. Only humans and elves can wear them, and it was forged by the dark elves of Terranova, although the materials came from Grad. The Terranovans keep the belt; the Grads keep the greaves; the Escudians – the breastplate; the Arcadians – the helmet; and the Loreans – the gloves. The Mythril Armor, also known as Eil’thanath was splitted and distributed by Emperor Sage I the Fireheart to seal the alliance between the kingdoms during the First Crusade.’
‘We went to Escudia to claim the breastplate, but King Jaime has given it to his champion, Don Hernan y Parvaez. Since this Don Hernan always goes from place to place for adventures (and pretty maidens, as rumors said), they needed time to search for him, so I and Blöin went back first. King Jaime DID refused to help escort the breastplate to Grad. It seems he smelled something bad would happen during the transport, but I couldn’t figure out what it might be. I thought Haägi was honorable and would never betray his fellow dwarves. But this time he did. I don’t want to take revenge upon him, but this time I must be better prepared to protect my family because the worst is coming. And it can be any time now.’
‘Grand Trow Haägi... a traitor... I can’t believe that!’
All heads turn to see the speaker. It was Ivor.
Rollo answers patiently. ‘You better believe it, son. I can never lie to you. Vadis forbids.’
Ivor jeers by showing a scornful smile and says, ‘ooh, ya! I know. It’s you and your stupid Vadis thing who were the cause of these troubles. Why don’t you just give that up and return to the old dwarven ways? Huh?’
Suddenly Ivor receives a slap on his left cheek and he looks right to see who did it. It was Uli, his mother who says ‘That’s for blasphemy.’ Before Ivor can say anything else, another slap lands on his right cheek. It was from Uli again. ‘And that’s for disrespecting your father.’
Ivor is greatly irritated now ‘Argh! Not you too, mom!?’
Uli scolds Ivor angrily “Can’t you understand, son? Vadis’ teachings make us better healers than before. The power of love can bring miracles and overcome everything. Vadis is love! Vadis teaches love! What are the teachings of Ulric, Thürlam, and Joldin anyway? NOTHING! If any, they are just warrior codes and the race for prosperity!’
With gritted teeth and a great disappointment, Ivor turns around and runs out of the house.
Rollo tries to stop him, but Ivor has run away from sight. Uli comes to Rollo and hugs him, her eyes in tears. Robert, Chris and Carolyn can only watch them with uneasiness in their hearts.
Robert is deep in his thoughts. And then he asks Rollo, ‘Father Andreas, pardon me for asking you in this situation. But, I need to know who are Ulric, Thürlam, and Joldin?’
Andreas sighs. Robert thinks Andreas will be angry, but Andreas a.k.a. Rollo speaks in a calm voice, ‘Ulric, Thürlam, and Joldin were the founding fathers of Grad.
Ulric was a mythical dwarven hero wielding a great hammer named Ougl’ludlum (Cave Maker). A single swing of his hammer can bring down a house to rubbles, or block or open up a cave with ease.
Thürlam, also known as “Thür the Iron Skin” was a great hero during the escape from Thalag’Dhega. With a single slash of his great axe, he decapitated a great number of minotaurs at once, and he has the strength of ten thousand men.
Joldin found the Grad mines and the first mythril deposit there. Deemed as “The Prospector”, he managed his fellow dwarf refugees during the exodus to explore and dig caves and eventually they found Emöle Grad, the vast, dead volcano crater and built a city there. The Ylbarra Citadel was built for nearly 300 years, step-by-step, day-by-day. Joldin was chosen as the first Grand Trow of Grad.
The Founding Fathers have also set the