Authors: Thomas Rath
They had been hiking through the mountains now for an hour and his interaction with them had become considerably less and even felt suddenly cold. He had tried to ask questions about the dwarfs’ home but had only received grunts and curt answers before they became extremely quiet and somber. The dwarf’s behavior was beginning to slightly alarm him. They had seemed so affable before.
He looked up again at Tchee and wondered if he shouldn’t just forget Segford’s offer and go elsewhere for his appeasing gift. Although, meeting Helgar was something he had ached for since the first time his mother had told him her story. He probably would not ever get another chance like this one. He glanced up again at Tchee. The dwarfs wouldn’t dare try to hurt him with her around. But why would they want to hurt him at all? By what his mother had told him, dwarfs were a rough lot to begin with but they were not evil. Why would these three be any different? He was being silly.
How else do you expect them to act
? He laughed to himself shrugging off his apprehensions. Everything was going to be just fine. He looked up again at Tchee.
The sun was beginning to descend quickly below the mountain peaks when the small group dropped down next to a tiny stream that inched its way towards a massive rock wall that was
cracked right down the middle. It was as if the mountain had split itself in two just to let the tiny stream continue on unobstructed. As they approached the opening, Teek could see that it was just wide enough for a dwarf to walk into if he turned himself to the side. He would be able to make it going straight in. Without a word, Hilden led the group forward into the stream and towards the crack. Tchee suddenly screeched from above and dropped down into the water in front of them blocking the narrow opening and bringing the group to a halt.
“What’s going on?” Segford grunted moving up next to Hilden.
“She doesn’t want me to go in there,” Teek guessed, “because the opening is too small for her to fit.”
“Well, tell her ta move,” Segford growled. “That’s the way we got to be goin’.”
Hilden put a hand on Segford’s arm and squeezed it. “No need to git yerself all upset Segford,” Hilden hissed. “I’m sure that Teek here will handle it. Won’t ye, lad.”
Teek stared at the two dwarfs, Segford holding a scowl and Hilden smiling. He jumped when Jancar’s hand touched his shoulder. “No need ta fear, lad,” Jancar said. “This
be the way to our home. We almost be to the door.”
Teek watched the dwarfs for a long moment unable to decide when Segford suddenly broke loose of Hilden’s grasp and started towards Tchee.
“’Tain’t no matter to me what ye do, lad. Stay or come, it all be the same to me, but be so kind as ta move yer friend here so that I might be gettin’ home ‘fore dark.”
Tchee let out a deafening roar as Segford approached bringing the dwarf up short. Turning back to Teek he threw up his hands.
“Well, lad. What’s it gonna be?”
Teek let out a deep breath. “I’m sorry. Of course, I’m coming but how do I get her to move?” he asked pointing at Tchee who seemed ready to perch there forever.
Segford looked at the Roc and then back at Teek and shrugged his shoulders.
“I’ve got an idea,” Hilden said moving over towards Segford. “Ye stay here, Teek, while the rest o’ us go through and then ye follow. Let her know it
be all right and that ye’ll be back tomorrow. If she let’s ye past, then we’ll be at supper together within the hour. If she don’t, then we part ways here an’ we’ll give Helgar yer best.”
Without another word, the three dwarfs moved toward Tchee and then walked their way around her to the right, watching her the whole time as they did so. Tchee made no move to stop them, keeping her eyes locked on Teek the whole time. When he could no longer see the dwarfs, he started towards her, his arms outstretched.
“It’s all right, Tchee. I’m just going to go with them for tonight. Tomorrow I’ll come out the same way and we can leave.”
Tchee gurgled low in her throat as if in rebuttal but made no sign of moving. Teek stopped in front of her and reached up and rubbed the soft feathers on her chest. She let out a soft coo of approval and then gave a gentle chirp. Teek stepped back and looked into the blue eyes that were taking him in. They held him for a moment as if drawing him into a hypnotic state and then without warning she raised her head and blasted the mountain walls with a loud cry. EEEERRRRROOOOCCCCC!!! He quickly pressed his hands against his ears trying to protect them from the explosion of sound. And then, to his amazement, she hopped away from the opening.
He smiled. “Don’t worry, Tchee,” he said softly trying to reassure her. “I’ll be back tomorrow, and then we can go home, all right?”
Tchee didn’t move or make a sound.
Teek shrugged and then moved towards the crack in the mountain. Just before he entered he paused and looked back at her. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he started to say when a pair of rough hands grabbed hold of him and yanked him into the narrow opening. Tchee’s head darted forward like lightning just barely getting it into the crack but it was too late; she couldn’t move in any farther and Teek and his captor were already too far away for her to reach.
Teek kicked and thrashed about with his tiny body trying to free himself from the hands that accosted him but they were too strong. “What are you doing?” he shouted, as he realized the hands belonged to Segford. Tchee was digging at the side of the rock now with her razor talons trying to break the mountain away to get to him, her cries ones of fury and promised death.
Segford didn’t answer but just pulled him back farther, deeper into the canyon and away from Tchee. The Roc’s cries were getting farther and farther away when Segford dragged him around a corner where the canyon suddenly separated into a bowl shape that curved up the walls and around overhead and then straight up again. Teek saw Hilden and Jancar waiting there and called out to them. “Help, Segford’s gone mad!”
“Shut up, ye thief,” Jancar spat, grabbing his legs and quickly tying them together with rope.
“Thief?” Teek cried. “What are you talking about?”
But there was no answer. A sack was forced over his head and then something hit him in the back of the skull.
Teek slowly regained consciousness in a swirl of dizzying motion that seemed to move with the rhythm of the pounding that shot through his head from the back of his skull and then out through his eyes. The ground itself seemed to tilt and sway with the spinning in his head upsetting his already weak and empty stomach. He gripped at the rough-hewn floor in a futile attempt to stop the perceived motion and gain a tiny bit of relief. The cool hardness of the uneven ground was all he could grasp as reality so he concentrated on it, feeling the surface with his hands and gaining the slightest relief from its chill. He took deep breaths in an attempt to calm his stomach and clear his head through the ache but it was slow in coming. He tried to think of what happened but his senses were muddled and thinking only made his head pound harder.
The air smelled damp and moldy giving him the strange perception of death. Was this death? He never thought it would be so disorienting and painful. Was this where you went until someone completed the appeasing journey to release you to the ancestors? That thought ignited a spark and tiny flashes of memory began peeking through the haze and pain. He suddenly felt an urgent need to be going somewhere and to be doing something. Faces flashed in his mind that he knew he recognized but couldn’t quite identify. Suddenly, a voice pushed through the fog.
I will watch over you on your adventure
. What adventure? He reached for the voice as it came again echoing through his mind.
I will watch over you on your adventure
. He knew that voice, he knew he did. The face of an old man came into focus in his mind as he repeated the words.
I will watch over you on your adventure
. Twee? Twee. The name meant something, he was certain of it. Twee. Then he remembered. Something connected in his brain and the fog and confusion dissipated in a rush.
Reaching down to the cloth around his waist he felt the hidden pocket that was laced inside it and touched the hard figure of the medallion his old friend had given him at his death. He had forgotten it was there but felt great relief to find it still safe. That and the dagger his mother had given him were all of his cherished possessions. He felt his side for his mother’s gift but knew before he reached for it that it would not be there.
The dwarfs. But why? His mother had always told him that the dwarfs were a good race of noble people. It was a dwarf that had given her the dagger and also the gems to help her complete her own appeasing journey. Why would they attack him? It was all too confusing and trying to work it out only made his head ache more. The best thing for the moment was to merely lie still and wait for the beating in his skull to cease. He listened to the wispy sound of his own breathing and tried to will the pounding out of his head and into the cool rock beneath him.
* * *
He awoke with a start. He thought he’d heard a door close. A tiny candle winked at him just a few feet away straining to beat back the darkness of his new home. It wasn’t bright but was just enough to reveal the outline of a hardwood door just to its right. On the left he could make out the shape of a bowl emitting just the tiniest hint of steam. Taking a deep breath, he tried to catch the scent of it but only caught the dusty smell that haunted his cell.
With a heavy sigh, he crawled slowly toward the light, shading his eyes as he did so. Though a tiny flicker, his eyes had become accustomed to the suffocating blackness that squeezed in on him and they were now reacting as if they’d never seen light before. Had he been here that long? Of course, there was no way of
telling, though he figured it couldn’t have been more than a couple of days. His head felt better, the pounding more like an echo now, but he didn’t want to move too suddenly and wake the pain again.
Reaching for the bowl he found a mound of something pasty. Pulling it up to his nose he took a hesitant sniff but could still only catch the dusty scent of the room. Dipping in a finger he touched the mash to his tongue and found its taste was not much stronger than its odor. Taking a larger piece he swallowed it down. His stomach didn’t seem to object, in fact, a rumble traveled up his chest as if pleading for more, so he put his whole hand in and grabbed what was left. As he ate, Teek glanced about his surroundings taking advantage of the tiny amount of light before the candle went completely out. It became obviously that its purpose was to allow just enough time to eat before consuming itself in a tuft of smoke.
The light revealed a crude cave of sorts carved out of sold rock that formed a perfect square. He figured he could stretch his arms out from the middle of the room and still have just enough space to take a step in any direction. It was small and confining. The door was made of a solid piece of hardwood that snuggled in perfectly with the rock opening making a tight seal except for a tiny crack along the bottom. It was curved at the top and lacked a handle. It was obvious that escape was futile. And even if the chance to get away presented itself, he didn’t know where he was; where would he go?
The candle flickered and gasped and he knew it was only moments before he was embraced by darkness again. Surprisingly, he found that he was not as afraid as he thought he might be. Having accepted his circumstances he felt little anxiety as to what was going to happen to him. It had to be a misunderstanding. That’s how he comforted himself anyway. His mother had told him of the dwarfs many times. They were a fair and honest people. He would just wait until they came for him and then everything would be worked out. The candle suddenly gave one last breath of life and then choked itself out encasing him in a cocoon of darkness.