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Volume 3182
Presents
ROSE OF STORMGAARD
By Ken St. Andre

Chapter 4.  Underground

Bitsyby and Tam were drinking herbal tea and playing Trolls and Dwarf when the four friends came back upstairs, clean, happy, and ready for supper. It was a simple game.  One Dwarf who could move two spaces per turn tried to elude four trolls who could move one space per turn, and one extra space for any one troll.

Petal walked to the front door and peeked outside. “It’s raining frogs and catfish!”

They all turned to the bath house attendant. “Bitsyby, could you let us down into the tunnels, please.”

“Of course, Rose, anything for a good customer. But you know that our tunnel needs a little maintenance.”

Rose pulled out a coin purse and withdrew four small silver coins. “Please accept this small contribution toward the care of your tunnels. They are a great help to us all, especially on rainy nights.”

Bitsyby pushed two coins over to her guard. Then she went and securely bolted the front door, putting out the “Closed” sign. “Tam, please take our guests to the tunnels, and on your way back, tell that adventurer, Arth, that we’re closing, and he has to leave.”

Tam pocketed the coins with a grin, got up, and beckoned to Rose. He led the four ladies over to his usual guard station near the front door, moved his chair, moved a small carpet, and opened the trap door thus exposed.  A ladder led down into the darkness. At the bottom of the ladder a small light gleamed at them.

Thorn climbed down first, then Petal, then Calyx, then Rose, lastly Tam. He closed the trapdoor above them, and shaft became much darker.Up above, Bitsyby replaced the cover and the chair.

“You don’t have to come down with us, Tam.  We know the way.”

“I want to come. I need to go by the public baths and check up on this Arth guy. He’s taking an awful long time.”

“You think he’s planning a robbery or something? We’ll back you up.”

“Probably not, but Bit was going to beat me in a move or two. It’s a good time to make my rounds. Maybe I’ll bring up a little keg of ale from the wine cellar, just for the two of us.”

At the bottom of the ladder Tam picked up the small lantern and led off into the darkness. With every step the sound of running water grew a bit louder. Then he stopped at what looked like a barren stretch of stone wall. He leaned into the stone at a spot near a white outcropping of quartz and it slowly pivoted open. Tam stepped through and led the way down a short tunnel ending in another blank wall. There he pulled aside a short section of stone and looked through the hole he had made.

“Ha, that explains it. He must have been really tired. Look, Rose, he was resting in the warm pool, and he fell asleep. Ha! I’d better go wake him up.”

Rose took a look. The adventurer was half in the water with his head on the rim of the pool. He snored gently.

“Let me see, Rose. Is he handsome? Can you see his man-tool?”

“Petal, you’re such a lech.” Thorn let some disapproval creep into her voice.

“He’s not bad. Needs a shave. Yes, I can see it. Tis an adequate tool, perhaps a little more. Nothing prodigious.” She changed the subjects.  “You ought to tell him about the tunnels and see him safely into them, Tam. It would be a shame to send him back out into that storm  right after he got warm and clean in here.’

“It would be cruel to eject him into the storm, and if I sent him off from here, I wouldn’t have to open the door and let any rain blow in. Yes, good idea, Rose. Shall I tell him that you saved him a soaking? And that he can express his gratitude to you at the Black Dragon?”

Rose smiled. “You could do that, Tam. I woudn’t mind seeing him again.”

Petal had to stand on tiptoes to look through the portal. “Not bad for a human. He seems a bit bigger than most elves. Is it true what they say about human tools, Rose?”

“They do get larger with use, Petal, but you ought to know all about that.”

The Forest Elf giggled.

“Let me see,” said Calyx. She pushed Petal away from the peephole. “Oh, he would split you in half, little girl.” Calyx brightened into a smile. “But he might be just right for me. We should look this Arth fellow up some time, Rose.”

“I have a feeling that our paths and his will cross again,” Rose answered.

“We need to get to the Black Dragon. I’m hungry!” Thorn was getting tired of waiting around for these women to stop fantasizing about every strange man they met, or almost met. “Let’s get going!”

“Spoken just like a Dwarf. You eat enough to keep a Troll alive.”

Thorn glared at her tormentor. “We’re already late for supper.”

“Goodbye, ladies. Visit again soon.” Tam opened the secret door and walked out onto the path that led down to the bathing pools. Beyond them the river Gaard flowed swiftly through the darkness.

Rose stayed for another moment and watched Tam nudge Arth awake with his boot tip. The man looked startled, then embarrassed, but he didn’t seem to be giving the guard any trouble. As he climbed out of the water she did catch another glimpse of his man-tool. She thought about what would happen to it if she should kiss it, and a lecherous smile bloomed on her face. But, not now.

She shut the portal and they were all in total darkness. Calyx spoke a word in the Elven tongue, and a small, but very bright, spark of blue light popped into existence.  It hovered a few feet in front of wherever the High Elf looked.

They set out and soon left the tunnels beneath the bath house behind them.  They went down, up, crossed the river, and suddenly their path opened up into a tunnel twice as large.  A hundred yards ahead a bonfire burned and half a dozen beings clustered around it. A spit had been set up, and some animal was roasting over the open fire. It looked like a big dog, but it could have been almost anything.

The four women walked on toward the fire. Some of the beings looked up. They weren’t men, dwarves, or elves—shorter than all of them. Rose knew them as hobbs, short hairy humanoids with big eyes, bigger ears, and even bigger feet. They were a sort of underclass in Stormgaard, and here they were in the undercity.

“Is there a Buggins in the group?” she called out as they walked closer.

The one turning the spit stopped and looked at them more closely. “Rosie, is that you?”

“Ollahay, Bug, yes it’s me.”

“I haven’t seen you in a cat’s age. Where have you been? Did you bring me a present?”

“We saw him, or somebody just like him, last month,” muttered Petal.

“It’s hard for him to remember that far back,” hissed Calyx.”

“Sorry, Bug, I didn’t bring you anything this time. I didn’t know that I would see you today, but stop by the Black Dragon later and I will buy you an ale.”

“Rosie has money to buy ale?” They looked at her as if that was an amazing thing. It would have been an amazing thing for any of them to have money.

“We met some goblins today who weren’t using their heads for anything important, so we took them, and sold them to the City Watch. By tomorrow they will be displayed on spears over the southern walls.”

“Rosie the Goblin killer!” Another hobb shouted that. They all began hopping up and down and hooting. “Wootle! Wootle! Kill the Goblins!”

Rose and her friends walked on by them.

As they walked Calyx let her witchlight go out. They didn’t need it. There were more people now, more fires, some torches, lanterns, candles.  A little farther along they saw some stairways leading up—some led to closed doors, some led to open ones.

“Heya, Rose,” a lanky human dressed in rags and tatters called out, “I saw you in the Thieves Market today.”

“I saw you, too, Flitch. How much did you get from that fat Dwarf merchant you bumped into.”

“Heh, nothing but a bruise. The purse he was wearing around his neck, which I so deftly nicked and got away with before he could even raise a shout, was full of flat pebbles.”

“Baru khazad!” Thorn snorted quietly. “Dwarves aren’t dumb.”

“Better luck next time, Flitch.”

“I’ll be all right, Rose. I managed to beg a silver piece from some rich elf in the morning. All I had to do was carry a basket of apples for her from the market to her quarters.”

“Porter would be a good job for you, Flitch,” Calyx told him. “If you keep trying to be a thief, you’ll be dead or crippled soon.”

The skinny thief flinched. Prophecies from High Elves had a way of coming true all too often. “Thanks for the advice, High One. I will heed it. Do you need anything carried right now?”

“Not right now, but I will remember you. If you want to earn some honest money in the future, seek me out.” She waved a long-fingered hand to dismiss him.  Flitch waved hesitantly at Rose and scurried away.

They had been walking steadily during the conversation. Thorn pointed a stubby forefinger at the carved and painted figure of a black dragon perched on a post up ahead.  A short stairway climbed up to an open door. Two well-muscled guards with daggers and truncheons stood beside it. Sounds of music and merriment poured out into the underground.

Within forty paces there were four other such doors. They had reached the tavern quarter of the city.
 


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