Father of Kings

Willen Ironmaul felt a touch of elation as he and his personal escort — named the Ten in honor of those who had served Colin Stonetooth — emerged from the first warren into the great cavern of Thorbardin. His mission to the lands of eastern Ergoth had been a success. He knew Tera would be pleased. His immediate desire was to go straight to the new Hylar delvings and see her, but a reception committee was waiting for him at the cable-way.

“The drums told us you had returned.” Olim Goldbuckle grinned. “Business first, Sir Chieftain. How went your visit to the human lands?”

“Very well, I believe,” Willen said. “Not only will they build a roadway to the mountains, following Cale’s route, but the knights have agreed to patrol it at their end to stop the migrations toward Cloudseeker. Lord Charon gave me his oath and his hand on it.”

“Marvelous!” The Daewar slapped the big dwarf on his armored back and started him along the shoreline path to Daebardin. “I have called for the Council to assemble,” he said. “Now, how about trade? Did you discuss trade with the Ergothians?”

“They will trade grain, dyes, and fibers for tools and glass.” Willen nodded. “I agreed to no more than that, but if it goes well we can expand upon the commodities. Oh, and Lord Charon is prepared to discuss more extensive trade with the Overlords in Xak Tsaroth. He feels it will give his people a nice edge there, if their clerks can act as agents for things like woolen goods, embossed plating, leathers, and ironware. Oh, and gemcraft. His exact words were, Those pestilent city-dwellers love anything that sparkles, and if they can’t steal it, then they’ll buy it.’”

“Did you discuss weapons?”

“They know we can make better weapons than they can, but I didn’t discuss trading in weapons. I felt that should be a Council decision.”

The Daewar prince glanced at Willen shrewdly. “A wise notion,” he said. “We should go slowly in providing humans with fine weapons. But that may come later. The more secure we become in Kal-Thax, with Thorbardin as our fortress, the less we shall need to worry about our goods being turned against us.”

Through the outer Theiwar digs they walked, and Willen was taken by the extent of the delving that had been done just in the time of his journey. Many of the delvers working there, he noticed, were Daewar.

“We’re doing some bartering of skills,” Olim noted. “We do what we’re best at, they do what they’re best at, and we all come out ahead.”

Everywhere, as far as could be seen around the lakeshore, the great cavern bustled with activity. By the hundreds and by the thousands, the people of Thorbardin were working to build cities and homes for all of the emerged thanes.

Past the Theiwar digs, the little procession entered a wide tunnel and emerged into Klar territory. Here the delves were different — lower and wider, with stout barricades for walls. The Klar had their own ideas of architecture, and their own ways of doing things, but here again, Willen noticed a mix of races. Much of the delving was being done by Daewar, much of the hauling by Theiwar and quite a few Hylar were involved in the masonry of the heavy walls. The place was being built for Klar, but there weren’t many Klar to be seen.

“More barter?” he asked.

“Of course,” Olim chuckled. “The Klar don’t care for construction, so they’re working the warrens while this goes on. They do have a way with worms.”

Across a waterway, where cable-ferries plied, they entered a brighter territory. Hylar designers were supervising the installation of a mirrored sun gallery for the Daewar beneath one of the mountain’s quartz shafts.

“The other chiefs will meet us in my assembly hall,” Olim Goldbuckle said. “But I think there is time for a bit of ale first.”

Willen started to nod, then turned abruptly, looking out across the waters of the subterranean sea. Out there, where the huge mass of the “living stone” stalactite stood above the water, drums were speaking. He listened for a moment, then handed his packs to the nearest of the Ten and grabbed Olim’s arm. “Hang the council meeting!” he said. “I have to go home! Where are your docks?”

With the chieftain of the Hylar in charge, and the prince of the Daewar in tow, the two sprinted away, leaving their stunned escorts to stare after them.

“What was that all about?” a Daewar guard stammered.

“The drums!” A Hylar grinned. “Our chief is about to be a father.”

Mistral Thrax had heard the drums, too. Now, as he hobbled from his temporary cubicle in Daebardin down to the shore of the Urkhan Sea, the echoing clamors of the great cavern seemed to take on the sound of them, and he hopped faster, flailing his crutch as he ran. The palms of his hands, which had once touched magic, tingled and itched, and he felt the lore of past and future gathering around him.

Tera Sham’s child was due, and the drums called, and Mistral Thrax wanted to be there. A child was borning, and the child was of the seed of Colin Stonetooth.

At the pier below Daebardin’s main way, Mistral Thrax hobbled across to where a cable-boat was tied. The boatman — like most boatmen working the new cable-ways from the shores out to the lower end of the great stalactite that was being delved for the Hylar — was a sullen-looking Theiwar. The Theiwar had proven adept at handling cables and winches, and many — unlike most dwarves of other clans — could swim. Thus they often bartered service in the cable-ways, and particularly the waterways. Their skills they bartered for the skills of Daewar to delve living spaces for them, of Hylar to construct walls and doors, and for materials from the Daergar mines and forges.

It was a system that had evolved in recent times, this trading of skills among the clans, and most of the dwarves felt it worked well enough, except for the resultant necessity to deal with people for whom centuries of enmity were not easily forgotten. Daewar delvers riding the boats or cable-carts tended to ignore the Theiwar who operated them, as though they were not there. The Theiwar, in their turn, did all they could to make their Daewar passengers uncomfortable.

As for the Daergar, delivering loads of ore to the furnaces and foundries, they simply ignored everybody unless someone happened to bump them or get in their way. Hardly a day went by in Thorbardin without some major dispute that in many cases had to be resolved by the Council of Thanes. Already, plans were being drawn for a Hall of Justice, because of the pugnacious attitudes of the people who had come to live — more or less together — in Thorbardin. And there were more people each day, as Einar from outside came to join the undermountain clans.

At pierside, Mistral Thrax poised himself on his crutch, then hopped down into the big cable-boat, causing waters to lap along its sides and drawing a frown from the Theiwar at the winch.

“What do you want?” the boatman snapped.

“What do you think I want?” Mistral growled back, seating himself in the stern. “This is a boat, and I’m a passenger. I want to go to the stalactite.”

“Well, that’s good,” the Theiwar said, “since that’s the only place this boat goes. Hardly worth the effort, though, just for one old gimper. Gonna work, might as well have a load.” He glared at the old Hylar, and lounged pointedly against his cable housing.

“I didn’t ask your opinions on the subject of efficiency!” Mistral glared back. “Get that winch going!”

“What will you give me to take you across?” the Theiwar asked.

“It’s what I’ll give you if you don’t that should concern you!” Mistral raised his crutch like a cudgel.

The Theiwar sighed, then cast off his moorings and grasped his winch handles. “At least you’re no gold-molding Daewar,” he muttered. “I hate taking orders from Daewar.”

Mistral lowered his crutch as the boat began to move. “If you don’t like this job, why do it?”

“It beats digging rock,” the boatman allowed. “There’s a team of delvers slaking out a dig for me and my family in Theibardin. So I’m over here hauling this scow.” A trumpet sounded, and he looked up. “Oh, now that’s more like it,” he said, reversing the winch. Immediately, the boat stopped and started going backward, back toward the Daebardin pier.

Mistral turned. There were people at the pier, waving frantically. Among them were Willen Ironmaul and Olim Goldbuckle, a brace of panting guardsmen, and a pair of aging Hylar women carrying bundles of cloths. There were also several Daewar women, and a Theiwar woman carrying copper pots.

As the boat approached the landing, the crowd pushed forward. “Hurry up, Chard!” the Theiwar woman called to the boatman. “We are wanted over there!”

Even before the boat had nestled against the dock, people were piling aboard, pushing and shoving for space. The last to board were the chieftain of the Hylar and the prince of the Daewar. “Hurry, boatman!” Willen snapped. “It’s time!”

The Theiwar gazed at him impudently. “And what time is that?”

With a surge and two strides, Willen was in the bow, pushing the Theiwar out of the way. The big Hylar took the winch-handles in hands like iron sledges, and the boat plowed water as it headed out across Urkhan’s Sea.

“You and your attitudes!” the Theiwar women snapped at the boatman. She brandished her copper pots at him. “Don’t you know what these mean?”

He stared at her stupidly, then his eyes widened. “Ah?” he said. “Ah! That time!” Staggering forward, he joined the Hylar chieftain at the winches, and the boat fairly raced for the tip of the stalactite in the middle of the lake.

Mistral Thrax frowned, shoving for space between two of the females. The women always know, he thought, the women with their cloths and their serious expressions, the copper pots for heating water — probably they knew even before the drums sounded from the Hylar quarters. It was time for a child to be born. His palms tingled and itched, and he clung to a wale to keep from being pushed overboard as the women shifted their positions in the boat impatiently. “Hurry!” one of them demanded. “Can’t you people pull faster?”

Muttering an oath, Mistral Thrax tapped his crutch against the timbered deck, then stared at it, blinking. For an instant, the crutch had seemed to glow. And in that instant it had seemed not like a crutch, but more like a fishing spear — a spear with twin tines. Mistral looked up. Apparently, no one else had noticed anything. He noticed that other boats were coming from other piers around the big lake, all pulling toward the center.

Approaching the giant stalactite was like approaching an upside-down mountain suspended from the sky. It was a huge, glistening mass of stone, rounded at the bottom where it almost touched the little island beneath that was its twin stalagmite, rising from the water. The distance between the stone surfaces was less than ten feet, and they were coupled now by a masonry shaft where the Hylar had installed a lift-belt, of the kind Handil the Drum had perfected in Thorin. The lift rose upward, into the main shaft where delving had begun and where the first quarters of the Hylar had been installed.

The boat creaked and nestled into a stone quay made of rubble from the delving above. Guards hurried forward from the lift to secure the lines, then stepped back as Willen Ironmaul stepped ashore and turned to lend stout hands to the others debarking. “How is my wife?” Willen asked.

“Very well, Sire,” a portal guard assured him. “But those with her say that her time is at hand. The child comes soon.”

Willen headed for the lift, but the women crowded ahead of him. “You wait your turn,” one of them snapped. “She needs us now more than she needs you. Just stay out of the way.”

“Here!” the Theiwar woman thrust her copper kettles at the chieftain of the Hylar. “Make yourself useful. Bring water.”

He handed the kettles to a guard. “You heard her,” he said. “Bring water.” As the lift stages disappeared up the shaft, carrying the women, Willen swung aboard the next stage and Mistral Thrax scrambled on beside him, clinging to Willen’s breastplate to keep from falling. Behind them, Olim and others crowded toward the next stage.

Upward through its shaft the lift-belt rumbled, and they stepped off onto fresh, hewn stone where a delve had been completed and shorings and partitions put into place. With Hylar craftsmen following them, Daewar delvers had dug an open area ten feet high and expanding a hundred feet in all directions from the central shafts. The Hylar had partitioned the space into various cubicles and enclosures, their pillars and masonry walls serving both as partitions and as braces to shore up the ceiling. The great delve, in the living stone of the stalactite, was only just begun, but already there was space enough for twenty Hylar families.

In a cubicle floored by fine carpets and hung with bright Daewar tapestries, Tera Sharn lay in her bed, radiant and determined. Dwarven women were gathered around her, and the new arrivals joined them. When Willen pushed through the crowd, Tera’s eyes brightened. “Willen!” she cried. “You’ve come back! How did it go with the Ergothians?”

“There will be a road,” he assured her, leaning over to plant a kiss on her lips. “And you?”

“Splendid,” she said. “Everything is well, my love. Our child is — ”

“Mercy!” a Daewar woman snapped, tugging on Willen’s belt. “Back off, you oaf! Give her room to breathe.” Others joined her, and Willen allowed himself to be hauled away. Beyond the crowd he turned and bumped into another dwarf. It was Olim Goldbuckle.

Other boats had landed, and suddenly the little cubicle was packed with people. Slide Tolec was there, and Bole Trune leaning on his cudgel and looking thoroughly out of place, and others, everywhere.

“We heard,” the Theiwar said, “so we came. The birth of a child is a — ”

“I’ll tell the lot of you what it is not!” a Hylar woman hissed, glaring at all the males packed into the room. “It is not a public spectacle! Out! All of you, out!”

Sheepishly, most of the leading citizens of Thorbardin were herded from the room by irate females. One, though, remained. Mistral Thrax refused to budge. He clung to his crutch and to a tapestry, shaking his head. “I won’t leave,” he insisted. “I am needed here.”

“Then stay out of the way,” someone said, and turned away to close the doors, shutting out all the other males. For a time the crowded cubicle was alive with bustling, chattering women doing mysterious things, then a silence fell which was broken by a slap and an angry wail. “A boy!” someone said. “A strong, healthy boy!”

The wail had carried through the closed doors, and now they flew open and people thronged in again, deep male voices laughing and chattering, aahing and oohing, hard hands slapping Willen on his armored back as he tried to see past the mob of women. In the bed, a tired and radiant Tera Sharn held her infant close to her and smiled her pleasure.

Mistral Thrax was not watching, though. His hands ached and his heart was pounding, and his gaze was fixed on the open doorway. There was something there — barely visible — something like a whiff of smoke that grew and roiled and formed itself into the tenuous shape of a tall, human man. In dark hollows a pair of spectral eyes opened, and Mistral pushed forward to face the apparition. “No!” he shouted. “No! I forbid you!”

The “eyes” began to glow, a murky red that grew brighter and brighter.

“I killed you once,” Mistral Thrax rasped. “I’ll do it again!”

The smoke flowed but held its shape, and now all eyes in the room were on it, people backing away in fright. A voice like a whisper of smoke said, “The child. The seed. In morit deis Calnaris,” it whispered. “Refeist ot atium — ”

Roaring a challenge, Willen Ironmaul threw himself at the vision … and rebounded as though he had run into a wall. The whispering voice hesitated only an instant, then repeated, “Refeist ot atium — ”

Raising his crutch, Mistral Thrax flung it at the smoke. It seemed to strike an invisible shield, but it clung there and began to glow. It turned red, then brighter red, and its shape changed. The crutch became a spear — a twin-tined fishing spear in the hand of a tattered, ancient dwarf who seemed only partly visible.

“- ot atium,” the smoke whispered. “Dactas ot destis!”

Fires flew from the glowing “eyes,” fires aimed directly at the infant in Tera Sharn’s arms. But they did not get there. Like a magnet drawing iron, the spear in Kitlin Fish-taker’s hand drew the fires. They raged into its point, along its shaft, and into the spectral dwarf who flamed as bright as sunlight. He flamed, absorbing the curse, then thrust the spear forward into the heart of the smoke, and the flames flowed back from him into the specter. For long seconds the two stood motionless, sharing forces that were beyond imagining. Then the flaming shape of Kitlin Fishtaker raised its free arm over its head and opened its hand. In its palm lay a medallion — a fourteen-point star melded from seven metals. Above the roar of fire-forces, the dwarf-apparition’s voice said, “The child’s name shall be Damon. He shall be known as Father of Kings.”

A moment more the glare raged, then it flared out as though it had never been. The smoke-vision of Grayfen the Magician was gone. The spear was gone. Kitlin Fishtaker was gone, and a stunned silence lay on the packed little room.

There was a tiny thump as something fell to the floor, landing on bright carpet at the foot of Tera’s bed. Willen Ironmaul, just getting to his feet, stooped and picked the thing up, looked at it, and then held it up for others to see. It was that same amulet — the one forged by the thanes to bind the agreement among them, the one whose final weld came from the hammer of Colin Stonetooth.

“Father of Kings,” Willen muttered, shaken. He turned, gazing at his wife and their infant child, then gently laid the amulet on the pillow beside them. “Damon,” he said, touching his son’s pink brow with hard, gentle fingers. “Damon. Father of Kings.”

In a corner, unnoticed, Mistral Thrax held his hands open before him and gazed at their palms. The marks were gone. As though they had never been there, the scars of magic had disappeared. “I’m free,” the old dwarf muttered. “I am clean at last … and free.”

Without anyone noticing him, he turned and hobbled out of the room, using a guardsman’s pike as a crutch. Suddenly he had a real yearning for a mug of cold ale.

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