Eventually, the dwarf without a beard discovered the wooden cart by stumbling against a rock wall, and it when he fell through, the canvas covering the entrance to a cart maintenance room dropped, covering the group in dirt and other particulates.
Zesnye sneezed, as was expected; Prymgu scowled at the beardless dwarf; Pypha laughed heartily and shook the grime from his brown tunic like a beast. He finished the display by slapping his blue trousers clean, a chuckle accompanying each movement.
Although Lubfash was soft-spoken, and preferred to work alone, his prowess with tools was made evident by his disassembling several carts to create one usable one. His brown outfit disguised the grease, but his green coif revealed the streaks of grime and oil. Tobias was impressed by the shy dwarf’s prowess.
Once the woman was secured in the cart, their journey continued, but now instead of stopping for Tobias to rest, they waited patiently as Tobias muscled the cart over obstacles.
* * *
On the third day of their journey, Pelyse awoke with a shout that would’ve made Prymgu proud. “Danger, Odc!”
King Odc rolled off his rucksack, and looked to Prymgu, who was already up, and wielding his hammer, one eye closed, peering into the darkness beyond their fire that burnt down to cinders.
“Stay your weapons, Dwarven Guard,” a voice echoed off the stone walls.
“King John,” whispered Pelyse.
“Show yourself, John,” declared Odc.
A stately man appeared from the enveloping darkness. Is frock coat and black trousers barely distinguishable in the low light. His waistcoat was a brilliant pinstriped purple, and instead of a silk puff tie, he wore a pair of goggles over his white collar. If his collar wasn’t detached as it caught on his goggles, or his boots scuffed, betraying the oil used to maintain its color, he would’ve appeared regal.
“Give her to me,” John declared, and looked past Tobias at the sleeping woman in the cart.
“You just wait a…” Tobias started, but was interrupted by Odc.
“Our magick is but equal beneath the black mountain, King John.” Odc heaped as much scorn on the honorific as he could.
“That may be true,” replied John, “but I believe I have an advantage in this situation.”
Odc squinted, and crossed his arms over his chest. “Do tell, Your Majesty.”
John rotated a Homburg in his hands, and swatted at an unseen blemish. “Boots and blood,” he replied nonchalantly, as if Odc hadn’t challenged him. The group became aware of soldiers suddenly, as if a spell of seclusion had suddenly been dropped.
Each soldier wore trousers, a jacket, and a rucksack. Their heads were covered by a brass helm, and their eyes were hidden behind a purple neckerchief.
“Now!” shouted Odc, and Zeysne threw a canvas pouch into the embers of their fire. A wave of nothing radiated in concentric circles from the flaming pouch. John’s eyes were focused on the fire, and his mouth hung agape, but he was frozen in time.
Tobias walked up to one of the soldiers, and pulled the purple neckerchief down. The sightless eyes caused his heart to flutter, and he staggered back, falling on his rump.
“He’s clumsy just like Poedy,” Prymgu declared, brandishing a rare smile.
“Demons take you, Prymgu,” Poedy retorted.
Tobias stared first to Poedy, then to Odc.
“What?” Odc replied to a question unasked.
Tobias’s eyes darted to Poedy, who sat on the ground scratching his beardless chin.
Pypha chimed in, answering Tobias’s look of shock. “I told you he never tried to speak, not that he lacked the ability.”
“How long does this spell last, Zeysne?” Prymgu inquired in a gruff voice.
Zeysne opened his mouth to reply, but Odc interrupted. “Long enough for us to escape this foul bunch.” He jerked his thumb at John and the soldiers. “We’ll need to leave the cart behind.”
The Dwarven guard weaved amongst the soldiers, with Tobias and his companion taking up the rear. As he passed John, he snatched the Homburg out of frozen hands, and slapped it on his own head in a jaunty angle. “Always wanted a fine hat like that,” he whispered to the sleeping woman over his shoulder.
* * *
The group made it to the dwarven stronghold without further interference from John or his forces. In a central room, rested a glass coffin. It’s not a coffin, it’s a box, Prymgu had said when Tobias mentioned it.
Tobias gently laid the sleeping form that he once knew as Ceridwen in the ‘box.’
“Why do you even have this thing?” Tobias asked of Odc once he had completed the task of filling the glass box.
Odc ran his finger along the glass wall. “This magic box has a history lost to legend and conjecture,” and left the chamber, closing the door behind him.
Tobias frowned at the non-answer he received from the leader of the band of dwarves. He stood at the head of the tapered glass box, and studied the woman’s features. His gaze kept returning to her blood-red lips. He leans down and as his lips touch hers, her eyes snap open.
Tobias stumbles back, but regains his composure to return to the glass box. His eyes meet the woman’s, and she whispers, “Thank you for saving me.”
“Pray tell me your name, Mi’Lady,” Tobias whispered in response, his hand resting on her shoulder.
She blinked, and reached up to place her hand on his. She pulled Tobias down and a moment before their lips met again, she whispered, “My sisters call me Sky.”
Next: Form of Shadow