Chapter 12: Wine
Thorn started to fall and then stopped. She hung there in the air, in clear defiance of the law of gravity. Calyx was looking at her. The High Elf had her hands cupped as if to catch someone. She raised her hands slowly up over her head, and then swung them around from the abyss to the solid stone beneath her feet. Thorn rose and floated out of the abyss, and over the solid stone. Calyx lowered her hands, and then opened them, and Thorn found herself standing on solid rock.
“Hoorah!” shouted Rose. “Well done, Calyx!”
Thorn fell to her knees and kissed the ground. “I thought I was dead. Thank you, Calyx.”
“You are most welcome, Thorn, my dear.” Calyx had the biggest grin anyone had ever seen on her face.
“That was amazing,” said Arrth.
“Oh, it wasn’t that big a deal,” said Petal. “A simple levitation spell, but she had to get it right and save our Thorny Dwarf.”
“Oh, and why did she have to save me?”
“Because you’re carrying the food and other provisions!” laughed Petal. That relieved the tension and they all found themselves laughing.
“Let’s move away from the chasm and have a break,” said Rose. “I think we all need some rest before we go on.”
“Why don’t you get out the arrow charm and find out which way we should be going?” suggested Arrth.
Rose dug it out. She suspended it from a string and thought of the armband they were seeking. The arrow spun wildly for a moment, and then did something impossible. The arrowhead rose, and the feathered end sank until it hung, quite impossibly, parallel to the string it was attached to.
“The arrow says up. That’s what I was afraid of.”
“What does that mean?” asked Arrth.
“I hope it means there is a higher level to this dungeon, and the armband is there. But, I fear it means that Nam lied to us, and the armband was never lost. It was just a ruse to get us into this dungeon trap.”
“We know he is a liar,” said Thorn. “We saw it more than once.”
“And it’s just the kind of trick that unloving scumbag would delight in pulling on us,” said Petal.
“But why would he do that?” asked Calyx. “We had never done anything to him.”
“Let’s find a good place to camp, and then think about it,” said Rose. They picked a tunnel passage—there were three to choose from, and moved into it until they passed the first turn.
“Look,” said Petal. “A door. Let’s go in. I’m tired of these hallways.”
The door opened easily enough. They moved into a room that was about twenty feet square. There was a table and four chairs in the center of the room, and there were four straw pallets and four wooden chests. “Looks like a barracks room,” said Arrth.
“The creatures down here have to live somewhere,” said Rose. “We’re lucky they weren’t at home. Calyx, lock the door.”
Calyx pointed a slim finger and said something in Elvish. They all heard a distinct click. “The door is locked.” Calyx smiled.
“I think it’s time for a little wine,” Thorn declared. Everyone looked at Rose. Drinking in a dungeon could be dangerous if it impaired judgment, but it could also be a tonic for a group under stress.
“Break out the third best stuff, Thorn. Two swallows each. I know I could use a drink about now.”
Thorn opened the large backpack, which was no longer on her back, and took out a full wine-skin which was tightly stoppered. She pried the waxen plug out of the skin with her belt knife and offered the drinking container to Rose. The leader of the Raiders took it, sniffed it, smiled, and took a very tiny sip. Then she passed it back to Thorn. “You probably need this more than any of us.”
“Damn right I do! I thought I was going to die back there, or at least break every bone in my body. She tilted the wineskin back and took a long steady pull at it.
“Hey! Leave some for the rest of us!” Petal reached over and tried to pull the wineskin away from the thirsty Dwarf. She couldn’t do it until Thorn finally let her have it. The Forest Elf then took a drink nearly as long and strong as the Dwarf’s.
Petal passed the skin to Calyx. The High Elf only took a sip. “Yagg, how can you all drink that stuff? It’s vinegar.” She gave the wineskin to Arrth.
He took a mouthful, held it in his mouth and rolled it around as if to wash the dungeon flavor out of his throat, and gave the skin to Rose. This time she took a full swig of the liquor, before giving the skin back to Thorn. “Leave enough for the others.”
“There are two more wineskins of this.”
“Leave some for the others. You need to keep your head, Thorn.”
Thorn just took a mouthful. By the time Arrth got the last swig, the wineskin was empty.
“Why do you think the arrow pointed up, Rose?” asked Calyx.
“I think the armband we’re looking for isn’t in this dungeon at all.”
“I don’t understand,” said Arrth, scratching his chin. “Why would the wizard pay us all that money just to get us into this dungeon?”
“A few years ago, I visited the river town of Khosht,” Rose took a storyteller’s position, standing and left the chairs for the others, but they all stood up and clustered around her. “While I was there, I heard about a wizard named Gristlegrim who runs a dungeon for his own entertainment. Adventurers are invited into his dungeon and they fight and die and sometimes come back out with considerable wealth, all for the entertainment of the wizard.”
“Do you think we are in Gristlegrim’s Dungeon?”
“No, this is not Gristlegrim. But it may be someone who has the same idea, someone who is watching us for his own amusement.”
“What can we do about it?”
“I don’t know. I am thinking about it.”
“Gristlegrim is no wizard. He is the God of the Dwarves of Trollworld.” Thorn was emphatic on setting the record straight.”
“You believe this wizard is an actual god?” Arrth showed his incredulity. Thorn’s comrades knew all about her beliefs, but the idea was new to the man.
“If someone creates your Kindred, wouldn’t you call him a god?”
“Gristlegrim created the Dwarves?” These were things Arrth had never heard before.
“Enough mythology. Arrth, you can learn the true history of the Dwarves later, if we get out of here alive. Right now, this group needs some rest.” Rose cut short the storytelling. “Who wants to take the first watch?”
“I’ll take it.” Arrth walked over and leaned against the door..
“Convenient,” said Calyx. “Four beds in this room. I don’t think I want to sleep in one, though. I’ll just spread my cloak and sit here and meditate.”
“May I lean on you, Calyx?”
“Of course, Petal, dear. Just sit here in the circle of my legs and lean back.”
Petal made herself comfortable and leaned back into Calyx’s breasts. Calyx wrapped her arms around the smaller Elf and hummed a quiet melody. It only had four notes and just went up and down in a regular pattern.
“Will you sleep on a lizard bed, Thorn?”
“Nay, Rose. I will just curl up under the table. A Dwarf can sleep on stone easily enough. But these don’t look like lizard-beds to me. They would make more of a nest. This room was constructed for something not so bestial—uruks, perhaps. Where will you rest?”
“I will stay up with Arrth for a while. We don’t need eight hours of rest here. Two will do. I will wake you in two hours, Thorn. You can have the second watch.”
“Then don’t keep me awake with your jabbering.” The Dwarf folded her cloak in half, laid the pack at one end of it, and curled up just like a dog. Within a couple of minutes her snores filled the room with a kind of buzzing sound.
“That noise should help us stay awake,” said Arrth.
“She sleeps very gently for a Dwarf. I’ve heard much worse.”
Rose and Arrth picked up chairs and carried them to the far corner of the room, partly so that their voices wouldn’t disturb the sleepers, and partly so they could hear themselves over Thorn’s snoring.
“Tell me something about yourself, Arrth.” Rose smiled at him, a disconcerting display of tushes and big yellow teeth. In her illusion disguise as an uruk female, she didn’t look much like the beautiful woman he had seen in the streets of Stormgaard.
“Not much to tell. I’m a warrior. My father was a warrior, and his father was a warrior. The family home was in Kasar, but no one lives there any more. I’ve been working for this noble and that for as far back as I can remember.”
“You’ve never been a pirate, an outlaw, or a thief?”
“I’ve always tried to stay on the right side of the law. Still I might be an outlaw back in Seahaven. I had to leave suddenly, but I assure you it was simply a disagreement with a superior officer in the town watch.”
“A disagreement over . . .?” She looked at him expectantly.
“It was over a woman. That oaf didn’t think a woman could make up her own mind on choice of bed partners. He thought he owned her.”
“And you ran away from that fight?”
“So, with you gone, will he be able to do whatever he wants to the woman?”
“No. He’s dead. But, I had to leave because he was my superior officer, and military forces really hate it when enlisted men kill their own officers.”
“So, you’re a lover, a fighter, and a strategist?”
“Well,” he drew the word out and shrugged. “I hold my own, and getting out of Seahaven was only a matter of common sense.”
“It’s the lover part of your history that interests me now,” said Rose, blinking her bloodshot urukish eyes at him. “Do you think you could ever love someone with a face like mine?” A coy smile on the lipless face of a she-uruk is a fearsome thing.
“Um, maybe,” he answered, “if I keep my eyes closed.” He reached out and put his arm around her shoulders, and pulled her toward him. She didn’t resist. Their heads moved toward each other, and what looked like a grotesque nuzzling proved to be quite a pleasurable kiss.
“Ahhh,” sighed Rose. “I needed that. Too much fighting with men makes a woman start to feel like a monster.”
“You look like a monster,” Arrth laughed, “but you certainly don’t feel like one.” He kissed her again, and as her mouth opened their tongues got acquainted also. “I’ll fight for you, Rose, but not with you.”
On the other side of the room, Petal watched them through slitted eyes. “There she goes again,” she whispered to Calyx, “hitting on all the good-looking men before we even have a chance to get to know them.”
“Don’t be jealous, Petal, dear. He is of her kind, and good humans are so hard to find.”
“But so much fun when you do,” quipped the forest elf. “And as long as Rose is having fun, you know, I could use a few kisses myself.”
“I will never get any rest with you around,” grumbled Calyx. She leaned down and planted an upside-down kiss on Petal’s pouting lips. The forest elf uttered a little moan of pleasure, and squirmed around in Calyx’s lap to face her friend.
“Actually, the beds don’t look all that bad,” Petal suggested.
“The armor stays on,” said Rose, just a little sharply. “We may be resting and having a little fun now, but we’re still on the job and in a dangerous place.”
“I would have been willing to take my chances,” said Arrth.
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