Portent looked up and looked worried for a second. “I was going to give you the tour, but I think we best get back to our families and move on.”
“But what is this place?” Hermes asked.
“Movan Mountain,” Portent said, as he picked up the pace and they started moving. “It was a dwarf home ages ago, but abandoned when the gold and silver and copper finally gave out. That was about two thousand years ago.” Briana whistled, but Greta explained.
“That is only a few generations ago for dwarfs. Two thousand years is not that long when you live to be six to eight hundred.” Greta paused when she heard Hermes whisper to Mavis.
“And how old are you?”
Portent picked up the story. “About ten years ago, Piebottom got the notion that there has been a lot of earthshaking here in the last thousand years. He thought maybe the goodies in Movan filled up again. I don’t know. My great-great grandfather said they left because they struck water and the water got too deep to dig, but Redmold said that now that we know how to pump out the water, maybe there are more goodies, just underneath all that wet. Then King Diggerclaw said the place where we were, over in the Alps, started running dry, and some already moved into Gaul and some all the way to Britannia, but me and mine figured we would check out old Movan to see what we could find.”
“Redmold? Diggerclaw? Piebottom?” Briana asked.
“Nicknames, mostly. But it is hard to translate dwarfish into a human tongue. Some names are ludicrous, even hilarious to human ears, but the nicknames are easier to remember than Gleffondre, Porledwert and Ableminisco.” Portent stopped and stared at Greta. The dwarves stopped with Portent, so the others stopped as well.
“You must be the one,” Portent said. “I never would have guessed. You look like ordinary flesh and mud to me.”
“I am ordinary flesh and blood,” Greta responded. “And getting tired of these tunnels.”
“Just coming to that,” Portent said, with a grin, and led them into yet another great chamber, only this one still had some furniture, a stone table and stone chairs, and a big stone ring waiting for a cooking fire.
“How far do these tunnels go on?” Alesander wondered.
“Through the whole mountain. We are half-way to the northeast door at the foot of the ogre’s pass.”
“You mean a real ogre,” Briana said. It did not sound like a question.
Portent nodded. “They used to charge a fee to go through,” he said, while the other dwarves and dwarf women magically found some lumber and started a fire. No one saw where the food came from, but it soon smelled wonderful.
“It is mostly not magic,” Mavis explained to Hermes. “It is the design and ventilation that draws the smoke away from the chamber and into deep chimneys.”
Bogus explained to Vedix. “It is pixies and Hobgoblins and such who live near the surface. They play the middle men between the light elves and dark. Now, light elves prefer to work in simples, like wood and cloth. Dark elves, what some call goblins dig deep, far below the scratches men put into the earth, and even below what the dwarves normally dig. Hobgobs make a good living keeping light elves and goblins on edge with each other, but dwarves, now they keep to themselves. They hold on to their homes and mind their own business, mostly.” He shrugged. “But the concern is most times dwarves abandon their homes because they dug something up that isn’t so nice. Goblins deal with that mostly, though they got a sense about it and know when to leave certain places alone. Dwarves got no sense and sometimes don’t leave enough ceiling to keep it from collapsing.”
Briana took Nudd’s hand and made him let go of Greta’s cloak. “You can open your eyes now,” she told him. He blinked a few times, but mostly he did not want to see.
The food got ready at the same time they heard another boom. It sounded very loud, but the roof of that cavern seemed solid enough. Then there was another boom, and another, and every eye looked at Greta to explain.
“If they arrived in a troop shuttle or transport, there may be as many as a hundred Wolv, and they would have access to several smaller vehicles, like fighter-bombers.” They did not understand, so she simplified it as much as she could. “They can fly in a machine and shoot explosives at the rock and fire bigger and stronger heat rays than these little pistols you carry. If they don’t break open the door, they could melt it.”
“Melt the rock?” Lucius had to think about that.
“One way or another they will get in, and soon,” Greta said.
“And we must be moving.” Portent did not sound like he liked that idea. “Eat up,” he hollered, while his fellow dwarves extinguished the fire.
A good hour, they heard a distant howl in the echo of the caves. Only Mavis heard anything earlier with her good elf ears. Portent stopped to sniff the air and announced that the Wolv had indeed gotten in, but they were a long way off. Everyone wanted to panic, but held tight to their courage, until they heard a roar behind them, between them and the Wolv. The roar sounded much deeper and more earth-shattering than any Wolv roar.
“Bogie beast, or worse,” Bogus mumbled, as Portent started to run. Everyone else raced after him. A couple of runners tried to pass him.
After an hour, they all huffed and puffed, and stopped in a grand hall where two dozen more dwarves were waiting patiently for Portent and his crew. Mavis shivered, and her feet kept stomping, like she had not finished running, but Hermes stood right there to comfort her. He turned her to poor Stinky who sweated and stunk up the whole place like only a mule can do. Mavis hugged the mule in sympathy.
Alesander and Briana had their swords drawn and stared into the dark passage they just exited. Lucius stood there to back them up, but he only fingered the hilt of his sword, like a man waiting to see the whites of his enemy’s eyes. Nudd kept clinging to Greta’s cloak, his eyes closed and weeping. Bogus once again explained to Vedix as the two huffed and puffed for air.
“Of course, after two thousand years or more, other things, dark things that avoid the light, tend to find their way in to abandoned Dwarf homes and set up housekeeping.”
“But what was that?” Vedix asked. Bogus just shook his head since Portent started yelling.
“Ring around the May pole, make a right, sweet merry-go-round.”
The dwarves made a circle around the room and began a soft chant. The chant rose in volume until it became a shout and something ghostly, like a wraith moving fast in the night, shot off down the ten corridors that emptied into the room.
“Our scent and signs of our passage will be found down each of these halls and tunnels. Some go to living quarters, some to mining operations. Four go to outside doors from this antechamber. We take the second tunnel, to the northeast door that lets out at the foot of the mountains below the ogre’s pass.”
“But how will we get through the pass?” Hermes wondered.
“We won’t have to,” Greta said. “We traveled to the other side of the mountain in a day.”
“Quite right,” Portent said. “And we best move before we hear more roars in the distance.”
It still took an hour or more to the door, and then they had to wait another hour while Portent sent dwarves to the portholes and spy nooks to be sure nothing lurked just outside. Once they opened the door, a string of wraith-like ghosts sped off in every direction.
“The scent and signs will give out in a mile or so, but at least if your enemies make it to this spot it will make them pause to decide which way you actually went.”
“Thank you, Portent. Thanks to all of you,” Greta said, and waved and smiled for her dwarves. They smiled back, but clearly, they had their own path to go.
“I think maybe the Roman side of the Alps. I hear there are rich veins waiting to be discovered.”
“There is gold in them thar hills,” Greta said, and she took her people into the woods that covered the foothills on the north side of the Carpathian Mountains. They walked for several miles, until dusk, and then had a cold supper before bed since they were not willing to light a fire.
Now on the trail, the next direction is to go through the forest of fire. See you Monday.