B10 – NIGHT’S DARK TERROR
12 FYRMONT OF 1005 AC
AT THE GNOMES’ FERRY AND THEIR STRONGHOLD
“Home.” Adrik muttered to himself, almost ashamed to be heard by his friends for what was, in fact, a sentimentalism, certainly unworthy of the image that a dwarf, anyway, had to give of himself. Marjana though, walking alongside him, had to have noticed because she had given a gentle smile to express more than words, the closeness to her friend.
Highforge was the kingdom of the gnomes of Karameikos and the small dwarf community to which he was referring. Dorfus Hilltopper was the king of that community and, although he was a gnome, he was respected and appreciated by nearly a thousand dwarfs who lived in the stronghold. A small town, a few dozen houses, was the surface part of Highforge, sturdy homes, built with stones and bricks. Not very high, with small square windows and flat roofs, mostly shops, bazaars, emporiums and warehouses for the storage or registration of goods to and from the stronghold. Here they conducted much of the trade with the cities of the Grand Duchy. A militia, composed almost exclusively of gnomes, kept watch along the streets or in the vicinity of the most important buildings. But this was only a tiny part of the Highforge stronghold. It was only the tip of the iceberg, the rest was underground, almost the entirety of the same stronghold. A bridge of stone and steel, driven by special winches and chains protruding from a low mountainside, stretched over a wide moat, filled with chevaux de frise, steel spikes and other defenses, and it was the first line of defense of Highforge. After crossing the bridge there was a wall against any assailant, extending directly from the mountain in a semicircle and closed by a large bronze door ten meters wide and just under half high. When it was closed, usually from dusk to dawn, it formed the chubby but austere face of a gnome. These should have been the founder and first king of the gnomes of Highforge (the 1st of the Hilltopper line) but not many years before and under the pretext of restoration, there were significant changes and now, many swore that the face looked a lot more like the present day sovereign than his illustrious predecessor. “Gnome stuff!” Adrik thought all the time. Things you do not get mix up with. He was only interested in his studies in history before and his magic then. Yes, magic… He had to hide it to his fellows as he do not know how they would have reacted to such a revelation. Kagyar, their God, had created and forged them specifically to make them resilient to magic. This on the one hand made them particularly resistant to it, it was their main defense, but at the same time made them unsuitable and unable to understand the arcane mysteries and master the primal forces from which it drew strength and life. In short he was, as far as I know, the only dwarf in the world able to master it and to use it, although undoubtedly with more effort than a human or an elf.
“What do we do with those three?” asked suddenly Titus. It took a few moments to Adrik to banish from his mind the memories of his past that the sight of his home had called back. Thus he observed for the umpteenth time the three humans, captured the previous night near the gnomes ferry. Everything about them betrayed their membership to the underworld of the Grand Duchy. The unmistakable mark of the Iron Ring, a tattoo of iron handcuffs on the inside of the left wrist, confirmed their affiliation to the odious slave group.
Two nights earlier they had helped Loshad, the chevall, to free some horses and men prisoners of a large group of slavers of the Iron Ring. Loshad had taken into custody men and beasts with the intention of bringing them to Sukiskyn while they continued along the ancient road, and they arrived in the evening at the gnome ferry . They expected to spend a quiet night in the hostel run by some gnomes and then the next day to ferry on the west bank of the river Shutturga. But their intentions were immediately awry when Dan became aware of the presence of a couple of suspicious patrons in the inn. Thoragon and Titus had followed one but he had tried to escape. During a daring chase that involved the new companions from Thyatis, they stumbled upon another large group of bandits affiliated with the Iron Ring. So much for the good intentions for a dinner with decent food and a restful night’s sleep on a bed! After the confrontation only the fugitive and two attackers had survived. The first captive guy, named Aksel, seemed to be in charge of the slavers’ group, or so he said. Not that he had doubts about the persuasive methods of Thoragon to pry the information, even from the most difficult and hard subjects. Aksel was undoubtedly a tough, hardened criminal and an evil person but Thoragon was … Yeah. What was exactly Thoragon? Neither a dragon nor a man nor a lizardfolk. Yet he was something that reminded all three species, merged into one. The scaly and golden skin resembled that of a dragon, he had never seen one, but he had read everything there was on them in the library of Highforge. The features recalled a lizardfolk. Eyes, hands, general connotations. But he was undoubtedly human, more than he could appear to a superficial observation. It was as if the human part was .. how to say .. his innner side. The way of speaking, thinking, pose.
“We will bring them to Highforge and entrust them to the local authorities to take them over.” said resolutely the dwarf. Glimreen nodded.
“What do we do instead of all the money found in Xitaqa?” asked Dan.
“Right. We certainly cannot bring them with us. It is an enormous sum and it would end up slowing us down.” pointed out Marjana.
“We put them in the banks of the fortress.”
“The banwhat?” asked Marjana.
“A store where you can bring your money. They guard and protect them from thieves.” Dan said. “In Specularum there are several and most of them are managed by the racket.”
“In this case it’s not so.” assured Adrik. “The Highforge bank has a long tradition. It’s a respectable institution. However, if you do not trust .. “
“I trust it! Cut it short Marjana. “I trust you Adrik. And your knowledge of the things of Highforge. If you say it’s a good thing, then fine for me. “
“It’s good for me too.” said Dan. Within moments all agreed.
“Perfect, then it’s done! I will take the money and I will enter Highforge. Glimreen is a gnome and he will not have many problems to enter and accompany me. It would take too much time for your permissions to access the underground part of Highforge. Blasted gnomish bureaucracy …” said Adrik. “You bring over there this scum, in the meantime.” he pointed to a long, flat and very boxy building. “It is the seat of the guard manning the emerged part of Highforge. They will take care of these three and .. Well, gnomes and dwarves do not like slavers and, if things go well for him, he will serve for the next few years in some precarious and unstable mine work.” He knew it was not true and that the gnomes would likely lead them to Kelvin and bring them to the justice of the Grand Duke but he liked too much the looks on the faces of those three criminals, at his words.
“Well, then let’s hurry, tonight I want to sleep in Rifflian and have dinner by my friend Stubbs Plattermann“. At that point Stephan intervened in the discussion. The companions exchanged glances of approval, after which everyone took the directions that Adrik Indicated to them.
“I’ve heard of it as one of the best places to eat throughout Karameikos” said the dwarf to Glimreen as they walked toward the bronze door. Adrik in his heart was already looking forward to the delicacies served at the Silver Swan.