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Sword of Kings: Tested By Adversity

 by Bill W
Copyright 2015 by billwstories
Chapter 16 – Dwarf Preparations. 


 Beraut slept soundly throughout the evening, even though he awoke for a few moments partway through the night when he began to feel chilled.  That’s when he finally removed his robe and put on his nightclothes, so he could slip under the covers.  This was something he should have done earlier, but he was just too tired to bother with it at the time.  After he’d changed, he spent the remainder of the evening engulfed in the soft folds of the mattress and nestled under the heavy quilts, which helped trap his escaping body heat and kept him snug and warm.  The comforting embrace of the bedding also produced a series of extremely pleasant dreams, and Beraut was happily reliving a very fond memory from his youth when he was gently shaken awake.

Good morning, Master Beraut,” came the quiet voice of Commander Elgin.  “I really hate to disturb your slumber, but it is nearly the time you told me to have my units meet you.  If you hurry and get dressed, you still have time to enjoy a modest breakfast before you begin instructing my troops.”

Thank you, my friend, for making sure I was awake,” the wizard stated, with a slight grin.  “I’m afraid I might have slumbered much longer than I wished without your intervention.  I shall join you shortly, but I shall need a few minutes to prepare first.” 

Hearing Beraut’s response, Commander Elgin graciously excused himself and made his way out of the room.  Once he was alone, the wizard began to hurriedly wash, dress and gather the materials he needed to take with him.  When all of this was completed, Beraut walked briskly to the King’s personal dining hall, where he planned to enjoy a hasty morning meal. 

Once he finished eating, the wizard grabbed the items he had carried with him to the dining hall and exited the room.  He then quietly made his way along a series of corridors, while basically ignoring everyone he passed along the way, and soon found himself at the main gate. 

After exiting through the opening in the large wooden portal, the wizard walked partway down the slope, which led from the dwarf stronghold to the plains below.  About three-quarters of the way down the path, he found a rock landing, which jutted out over the ground where Commander Elgin’s troops awaited him.  Beraut quickly determined this would be a good place from which he could address and observe the small army, so he took his position on the ledge. 

The wizard immediately surveyed the diminutive warriors formed on the plain, to see what type of formation they were in, because that would determine how many variations of the camouflage design he would need to use.  Beraut also did a quick visual check to make sure the troopers had come adequately prepared and brought the required items with them, before he began to speak.  Once he felt confident everything was in order, he muttered a short spell that would amplify his voice and allow everyone to hear his directions. 

As you might have already heard,” he began, “there is a new threat to your safety and one which you will most likely have to watch out for while on this mission.  In order to help you do this and in an effort to prevent a confrontation, I have designed a ruse that will increase your chances of remaining undetected.” 

The wizard paused briefly, to give the warriors a chance to comprehend what he had just told them.  While he waited, he scanned their ranks to see if he could gauge their reactions, but he didn’t notice anything that he would consider out of the ordinary.  Since they didn’t seem too distraught over the things he had just told them, Beraut continued.

We are going to use the basket lids you were told to bring with you and cover them for this purpose.  You will use this disguise to keep from being spotted from the air, whenever this new threat passes overhead.  It will be imperative you keep the lids pressed tightly against one another as you carry out this deception, because any flaws could give away your presence and render the ploy ineffective. 

Seeing you will be crouching down and holding these coverings above your head, you will also have to be very careful not to waiver in the slightest.” Beraut warned them.  “Even the most insignificant gap or tiniest movement might be enough to allow your presence to be detected and cause the beast to attack.” 

Once again the wizard hesitated for dramatic effect and to give everyone a chance to digest the significance of his warning.  Beraut knew it was important that each dwarf fully understand the ramifications that even the slightest infraction in execution might evoke.  Such a breach would most likely result in an abrupt and fatal end to their assignment. 

Once he was satisfied this small army fully understood the importance of what they were about to do, Beraut gave them a little more information about the threat they would be facing.  This news left these hearty warriors nearly speechless and helped to reinforce the importance of this deception.  Since he was now confident the troops were ready to do as he instructed, the wizard strode down to the spot where they were formed up and began to guide them through the process of camouflaging their wicker lids. 

It was a lengthy and complicated endeavor, because the types of materials each soldier attached to his particular lid would depend upon where he stood in the formation.  Since they had each brought a variety of items, they now shared them with each other and selected only the items that Beraut had indicated would be most appropriate for their position in the ranks. 

Since the terrain varied significantly from the mountainside to the adjacent plains, those closest to the mountains would use a combination of pebbles, dirt and small shrubs to attach to the wicker surface, along with a few longer grasses.  This would help them to meld in with the slopes and not make the break appear to be too straight.  Those on the opposite edge of the formation, which was farthest away from the mountainside, would use more grasses and flowering plants, so they would blend in with the valley floor.  In order to keep these various props in place, the soldiers were required to use a magical glue, which the wizard had prepared specifically for this purpose.  The glue was meant to secure the objects in place and keep them from falling off while they marched, regardless of the current weather conditions. 

Once the camouflaging process had been completed, the wizard then took a few minutes to inspect the overall impact of the deception.  Since he wanted to gauge the effect from a vantage point similar the one the condor would observe it from, he climbed back up to the ledge and surveyed the coverings from this elevated position.  After making a few minor adjustments to various individual lids, Beraut was satisfied the effect looked natural.  He was now confident that when the condor looked down at them as it passed overhead, it wouldn’t notice anything unusual.  The various materials used in this deception would merely make the dwarf troops appear to be an extension of the natural terrain, provided they pulled it off smoothly.   Since Beraut was pleased with the visual effect, he quickly moved on to the next phase of his plan. 

At this point, the wizard started to put the columns of dwarf warriors through a series of drills, until they were able to perform the deception to perfection.  Throughout this practice session, Beraut would critique each of their attempts and comment on how successful they had been at carrying out the evasive maneuver.  He would also point out any mistakes they made that might doom the operation. 

The wizard continued this process and watched the troops continually improve, until they reached the level of efficiency he expected from them.  Beraut had been very demanding and made the dwarfs repeat the effort numerous times, because he knew their lives would depend upon their performance.  When he was satisfied they could not improve their level of execution any further, he gave them one final warning, before sending them on their way. 

I cannot emphasize enough,” he told them, “about the importance of remembering all you have been taught these past few hours.  Your failure to reach Tunstan and join in the battle would fatally diminish the overall strength of our army and jeopardize our chances of being successful.  As you set off on this venture, I will leave you with my parting wish.  May your legs carry you swiftly, your path prove free of obstacles and the blessings of the Gods be upon you.  I shall hopefully see you next, once the hostilities have commenced.”

At this point, Commander Elgin took charge of his troops and barked an order for them to begin marching, as Beraut went back into Thorold.  He was forced to make this extra trip, due to the fact he’d had his hands full carrying the items necessary to assist the first group’s preparations, so he wasn’t able to bring his other gear with him at that time.  Somewhat displeased by this inconvenience, Beraut grudgingly returned to the room he had used the previous night and retrieved the items he would need to take with him for the upcoming battle. 

It was during this return trip, as he was coming back from the room with his belongings, that Beraut ran into King Brolin.  Graciously, the King offered to accompany his old friend, so he could find out how things had gone with Commander Elgin’s troops.  Once that topic had been exhausted, they began to talk about the march ahead and commented on what they might expect along the way. 

By the time they arrived at the area where Beraut had assisted and drilled Commander Elgin’s warriors, the first group had marched off and Captain Baith’s soldiers were currently forming upon the same patch of land.  Beraut and King Brolin made their way down to the plain and seamlessly glided into position to the left of Captain Baith.  Then, they waited for the military leader to give the command to propel his small force forward. 

As they passed by Crystal Lake the sun was just passing its zenith, and even though the sun was bearing down on them, they were able to enjoy a cool, late autumn breeze.  This actually helped to make the exertion of the march much easier to endure and slightly less draining. 

Beraut spent his time during the march chatting with King Brolin and Captain Baith, as he shared more details about his journey across the Valley of the Dead and his observations of Kieren.  He informed the pair that even though the young man had endured a great deal of misfortune and hardships since they had first met, he felt the lad was maturing with each crisis.  This didn’t mean Kieren’s behavior was perfect and he was without any flaws, but he was doing much better than most young men his age.  He still had a few issues to deal with and some growing up to do, but Beraut offered his belief that Kieren wouldn’t disappoint them. 

Beraut then mentioned how impressed he was with Kieren’s leadership ability.  He felt the details the warriors had told him about the way Kieren had handled the situation in Briarwood to be a perfect example. 

I’m also truly amazed by his instincts and insightfulness,” the wizard told them.  “Some of the comments and suggestions he made when we discussed the history of the Tarolian rulers were extraordinary and he isn’t afraid to take calculated risks when the situation calls for it.  I truly feel that Kieren has the potential to become one of Tarolia’s greatest monarchs, once he defeats Madumda.”

That is very good news indeed,” King Brolin commented, “but does he inspire loyalty?” 

The wizard flashed a sly grin before answering this question. 

Of that I have no doubt,” he finally admitted.  “Not only would his two childhood friends sacrifice their lives for him, but I also believe every member of the group traveling with him would do so willingly as well.  They not only would do this because of the importance of the mission and Kieren's status, but because they truly admire and believe in Kieren too.” 

Beraut was beaming after saying this, when he suddenly thought of something else. 

Kieren also exudes a natural charisma, which draws others to him and then bonds them together with deep ties of fealty and devotion.  I will admit he has suffered from a few moments of self-doubt, but I believe that is to be expected, since he is so young.  Other than that small flaw, the others eagerly seek out his advice and respect his leadership potential.  Even the aignx, a race of beings that generally shies away from others, has taken to the young man as well.  That, in itself, speaks volumes.  I truly believe these traits will only enhance Kieren’s limitless potential as he continues to grow and develop.” 

Is this loyalty based on the fact that he is the heir to the throne and we are dependent upon his success?” Captain Baith inquired. 

Possibly to a slight degree,” Beraut conceded, “but I’m convinced it is far more than that.  I mean Qaim, the aignx they found in Briarwood, would not be impressed by anything as superficial as a title, so it is not the reason he has attached himself to Kieren.  Not only that, but Garreth and Romaric looked to him as their natural leader long before they learned about his true lineage.” 

Beraut took a second and gave Baith a contemplative look after saying this, because he was trying to determine if the captain had gotten the point.  When he thought the dwarf had, the wizard continued. 

After talking to the warriors about their previous exploits and since I have also spent some time with each of them as we crossed over the Valley of the Dead, I have been able to observe how each warrior looks at the boy and reacts toward him.  With one exception, they all seem to hold Kieren in a much higher regard than they do the other pair.  It’s not that they don’t respect what Garreth and Romaric have done, because they have proved themselves quite valuable thus far, but the warriors will also readily admit the elves aren’t nearly as mature or as insightful as Kieren. 

For the most part, I sense that each of the seasoned troopers feels inspired by the way Kieren relates to them and shows his sincere concern about their welfare,” Beraut continued.  “Kieren has grieved deeply over the deaths of both Selvaggio and Doenilio, which the warriors have taken note of, and they admire his obvious respect for their sacrifice.” 

At this point, Beraut paused in his observations and gave the king and captain a reasonable amount of time to consider these comments before he added a disclaimer.

I’m not saying Kieren doesn’t have some moments when he is capable of acting like a typical immature youth, but those instances seem few and far between.  It’s mostly his self-doubt that concerns me, but I believe that will disappear as he matures and experiences more success.  Considering all that he has been through and the great burden we have placed upon him, I think it’s only fair that we should be willing to overlook some of his minor indiscretions.” 

Then I’d say your assessment is right on the mark, as always,” the dwarf king added.  “I just hope Kieren gets the opportunity to utilize those traits as king.”

After Baith chimed in with his words of agreement, the trio spent the rest of the journey reviewing the battle plan one more time.  As they did this, they searched for flaws in their strategy and discussed, in detail, various scenarios that might also arise.  Once they worked their way through numerous backup plans and contingencies, they felt they were as mentally prepared for this battle as they could possibly be.  Satisfied, they diverted their attention back to the march.

The small army continued to maintain its energetic pace, because each of them was eager to get to the rendezvous point and join up with the others.  However, it wasn’t long before their attention was drawn skyward, as a blanket of dark clouds began to roll into the area.  They immediately recognized that a storm was fast approaching and they’d soon have to deal with the additional problems this wave of precipitation would create.  Accordingly, they began to discuss the ramifications this might have for them as well. 

The weather has been particularly harsh, even for this time of year,” King Brolin commented.  “I hope this is not somehow a result of Madumda’s doing.”

No, this is just a natural occurrence,” the wizard informed him.  “I am not fond of it either, but it is not magically produced.”

The weather in the mountains and upper plains has been particularly harsh these past few weeks,” Captain Baith observed.  “Although it has been raining on the plains, snow has been falling at the upper altitudes.”

I have noticed this as well, although the snow should not turn out to be a concern for any of our forces,” Beraut confirmed.  “The rain, however, is an altogether different matter.  The heavy precipitation is going to make traveling much more difficult and make it harder for the various groups to arrive by their scheduled times.” 

King Brolin and Baith nodded their agreement, just as the heavens unleashed a torrent of rain.  The precipitation came down hard and fast, stinging their faces, blurring their vision and slowing their pace in half.  This was because the ground was getting soggier with each additional drop and causing the footing to become more uncertain.  To make matters worse, the thick clouds blotted out the sun from the sky and made it appear more like evening than midday. 

Even with the conditions as bad as they were, the three of them agreed it would be best not to stop, in order to keep to their tight schedule.  For dwarf troops, this was an acceptable hardship and after several grueling hours of difficult travel, they finally arrived at the outskirts of Veleda.  Beraut mentally noted this might not have been possible with any other force, but dwarfs were not only hearty and rugged individuals, they could also take on challenges that would overcome most of the other races.  Satisfied they had reached their destination only slightly behind schedule, the wizard eyed the river city, which was now spread out invitingly before them. 

Captain Baith had seen this location only once before, but he was still able to recognize several changes that had been made to its appearance and these changes were drastic.  As Baith searched his memory, he recalled there had been nothing to protect the community from attack before, such as the thick stone walls at Leander or Cassander, but now there were signs that a hasty barrier was being built along the city’s perimeter.  A number of men were busy constructing a sturdy log barricade that would eventually run entirely around the city limits.  Several meters in front of that, others were hurriedly digging a trench, which could be filled with diverted river water when the time came.  On the far bank of this impromptu moat stood another impediment, which would hinder an attack even further.

As they moved closer to the city, Beraut noted this additional barrier was a series of newly constructed repelling barbs, each consisting of five wooden posts.  Each of these poles had been sharpened to fine points on both ends, before being fastened together to form a three-dimensional star-shaped obstacle.  These obstacles were designed to impale any enemy troops that stormed the city’s outer defenses and their staggered deployment was designed in such a way that each repelling barb overlapped the one on either side of it.  This left no room for anyone to dodge between them, unless they crept through that maze of potential death, which would set them up for the archers to pick off. 

Between all of these various obstacles and the log barricade, Beraut noted there were also a series of small signal fires.  Each of these appeared to be manned by a small squad of soldiers and looked to be approximately fifty paces apart.  They were placed in such a way that the city’s inhabitants would be able to discern any approaching intruders during the hours of darkness.  These same fires could also be used to ignite other defensive obstacles, which currently lay hidden from view.  Boldly, the wizard led this small army directly toward one of these posts, after picking his way through the incomplete preparations.  They were still forty paces away from their destination when a challenge rang out from one of the guards stationed along the perimeter.

Halt!  Who goes there?” the defender called out.

It is Beraut with a regiment of dwarf fighting men, led by King Brolin and Baith, Captain of the Guard,” the wizard answered.  “We seek admittance to Veleda, so we can meet with your leaders and make preparations for the upcoming battle.”

One of the officers was dispatched to verify their identity and give them final clearance to enter the city.  Cautiously, he approached the armed party and relaxed only after he recognized the leaders of the troop.  Eagerly, he moved forward and greeted them warmly.

Master Beraut, if you, King Brolin and Captain Baith would be so kind as to follow me,” he advised them, “I will take you directly to see Magistrate Odilon.  He has been eagerly awaiting your arrival throughout the day and is anxious to speak with you.  One of my junior officers will show the remainder of the dwarf troops where they may set up camp.”

Beraut nodded and then the three of them were led past the remaining obstacles, through a makeshift gate and into the city proper.  They were then taken down one street after another, as they zigzagged their way into the center of town.  Eventually, they stood before a large ornate building, which was the official residence of the city’s leader.  It was, by far, the most impressive structure they had passed along the way and a fitting home for the leader of the community.  While they waited, their escort used the brass knocker to rouse the servant on the other side of the portal.  After a delay of a few minutes, the butler was peering through a small opening in the center of the door to determine who was there and why.

Please state your business,” came the very officious request from the voice emanating through the small opening.

I bring the wizard Beraut, the dwarf King and his military leader, as Magistrate Odilon requested,” their guide replied.  “Please grant them admittance.”

The servant had obviously been given prior instructions concerning their arrival, because he immediately opened the door and allowed them to enter.  The three dignitaries passed through the doorway and stood in the foyer, waiting to see where they were to proceed next.

Please remove your wet outer garments and I shall hang them near the fire to dry,” said the polite manservant.  “When you are ready, I will show you to another room where you may wait for His Grace.”

If he is busy or asleep,” Beraut observed, “I see no need to interrupt him.  We can meet with him and conduct our business in the morning.”

Oh, no,” cried the flustered butler.  “Magistrate Odilon specifically ordered me to rouse him as soon as you arrived.  I will show you where you can make yourselves comfortable while I go and get him.”

Very well,” Beraut responded, “if that is what you were told to do.”

Despite the wizard’s previous mild objection, the trio was led into a very nice room, just off the front hallway, which served as both the library and study.  Here they were told they could stay and entertain themselves, while they awaited the Magistrate’s arrival. 

Each one began a cursory examination of the room and found it contained a priceless collection of literary masterpieces.  Even though the monetary value of the contents was immense, the library was inexplicably lacking organization.  It would have been difficult to locate any single title without an exhaustive search, as well as a nightmare to keep track of the numerous volumes contained there.  The wizard merely shook his head when he saw the condition of the room, since he was unable to understand how anyone could be so careless with so many priceless tomes.

In addition to the books, the room also contained several plush chairs, which appeared to be quite suitable for relaxing and enjoying one of these fine masterpieces.  There was also a large fireplace, with a fairly sizable fire burning in it, so the guests took the opportunity to stand in front of it, while hoping they would have enough time to dry some of the dampness from their remaining garments.  They also hoped they would be able to warm up a bit while waiting for their host to join them.  However, it wasn’t much longer before the Magistrate came scuttling into the room.  Once he entered, he headed directly toward Beraut, with his arm outstretched in greeting.

I'm so glad you have finally arrived,” he told them, as he turned and greeted King Brolin and Captain Baith too.  “I was becoming concerned about your safety.  I feared something had gone terribly wrong or you’d been forced to alter your plans.”

No, it was nothing as serious as that,” Beraut answered.  “It was just a few minor inconveniences along the way.  I do wish to apologize for bothering your slumber at such a late hour though, but your servant insisted you had instructed him to awaken you when we arrived.”

He was correct, since those were my orders,” the magistrate confirmed.  “I sent word to various people when you were first expected and told them that you were to be brought directly here upon your arrival, regardless of the hour.  I am holding several communiqués for you, from the different armies.  Messengers delivered them over the past few days and I was concerned they might need your immediate attention.  I felt I could entrust them to no one else, so I’ve kept them under lock and key.”

Magistrate Odilon now walked over to his desk and unlocked a drawer, so he could fetch the documents.  Once he’d retrieved the communiqués, he handed them to the wizard.  Beraut took the parchments, broke the seal on each one and then perused their contents.  He was totally engrossed in these messages, so it was many minutes before he spoke again. 

Thank you for bringing these to my attention,” Beraut stated when he finally looked up, “because they contain very important news, most of it good.  The Wood Elves have joined up with the troops from Cassander, while the armies from Tiago and Reza have united with the forces from Udele and the River Elves have arrived at Leander.  By now, each of these groups should have begun to deploy to their next location, which means they'll arrive on the lower fringe of the central plains by midday tomorrow.  They will wait at that location for us to join them.  Has there been any word from the army of the northern city-states?”

I have received none,” the magistrate informed him, which caused Beraut’s face to screw up, as he pondered the possible reasons for the lack of information. 

I hope this is not an ill omen, but merely an indication of their inability to get a messenger safely through to us,” Odilon finally conjectured, aloud. 

Indeed,” Beraut responded.  “I pray it is just an oversight on their part and no messenger has been intercepted.  I wouldn’t want any of our plans falling into Madumda’s hands, thus giving him time to revise his strategy.” 

I’m not sure how important it is, but I have another message for you as well,” Odilon mentioned, without commenting on the wizard’s previous statement.  “It was delivered by a musician who performed at some of the seedier establishments in the area.  I wasn’t going to see him, but he carried some very impressive letters of reference, so I thought this might be important.  I hope I wasn’t wrong.” 

You weren’t, my friend,” Beraut agreed, while taking the document from him.  The wizard opened it immediately and quickly scanned its contents. 

The communication was indeed from Daimon, whom the wizard had recruited into service while at Leander.  Although they were scheduled to meet here at Veleda, so they could discuss matters in person, Daimon explained in his letter that he thought doing so would be risky.  He presumed people would question why he was meeting with someone of Beraut’s importance, but he felt he could briefly stop by the Magistrate’s abode without raising suspicion.  He could explain his visit to the Magistrate by simply stating that he was trying to solicit employment, so he decided to deliver his report in this fashion. 

After reading the missive, Beraut realized it contained some information that would prove valuable later, which made him glad he had taken the chance to recruit Daimon.  The bard also stated he would be heading to Tunstan next and would keep in touch, one way or another. 

Thank you for accepting this and delivering it to me,” the wizard told Magistrate Odilon.  “Now, back to the matters concerning your troops.  Is your army ready to march?”

Most certainly,” the Veledan magistrate replied.  “Our soldiers have been anxious to get underway ever since the news of this campaign first reached them.  I will send word, forthwith, to advise them to be prepared to march at the crack of dawn, if that is agreeable with you?”

That will be fine,” the wizard assured him.  “We shall now take your leave and return to the dwarf encampment.”

Certainly not!” the magistrate objected, looking flustered.  “I must insist the three of you spend the evening here, as my honored guests.  I have made arrangements for you to be lodged in my finest chambers, so you may get an adequate night’s rest.  You will be able to rejoin your troops in the morning, after we’ve eaten our meal.  Please permit my butler to show you to your rooms, where you may clean up before we dine.”

Our heartiest thanks, noble sir, for your hospitality is greatly appreciated,” King Brolin informed him.  “One more night out of the rain will be a luxury indeed.”

Your Grace,” Captain Baith began, “may I be so bold as to ask you for another favor?”

Anything, my good man,” came Odilon’s reply.

I was wondering if you would be so kind as to send a messenger to our encampment.  I wish for him to take a document for me that will notify my second-in-command about our plans to spend the evening here.  I’m afraid he would be greatly concerned if we did not return within an appropriate amount of time without such notification and he might even try to come searching for us.” 

Certainly, I will be pleased to do that for you.  You will find the appropriate supplies on my desk for penning your notification, and once you have finished, I shall dispatch someone to deliver it.  Do any of you require anything else?”  Odilon asked next. 

He was staring intently at each of them in turn, but they merely   shook their heads in reply.  After a few seconds hesitation, the wizard finally spoke up.

We wish to thank you for your gracious hospitality and for the other favors you have granted us,” he stated, and the magistrate smiled upon hearing the compliment.

I will give you time to get cleaned up and dinner will be waiting for you upon your return,” Odilon advised them, so the trio nodded and followed the butler to their rooms. 

Once they had washed and changed, the guests were led down to the dining hall, where a sumptuous meal awaited them.  It was quite different from the dwarven meals Beraut had enjoyed at Thorold and much more appetizing than the non-exciting fare he had eaten while on the move.  There were dishes unique to this city – recipes passed along and improved upon by successive generations, but there was also a selection of some of the more popular and traditional Tarolian delicacies.  The four of them quickly ate their fill and chatted enthusiastically as they dined, but they continued talking for a while longer after they had taken their last mouthful.  As the hour grew late, Magistrate Odilon decided to try one more time to offer his assistance.

Is there anything else I may do for you?” he asked, to see if he could assist them in any other way. 

No, all we require now is some rest,” Beraut advised him.

In that case, I shall bid you all good evening and my servant will escort you to your rooms.  I shall see you again at breakfast and may you all enjoy a slumber filled with nothing but pleasant dreams.”

The trio returned a suitable parting phrase before allowing the butler to lead them up the staircase to the second floor again.  They followed him down the long corridor and stopped only when their guide paused to open a door for the one staying in that particular room.  On each dresser was a pitcher filled with fresh warm water, a basin, a towel and suitable bedclothes.  It didn’t take long for them to finish their ministrations and then they eagerly slipped between the well-stuffed mattress and thick quilts, as they enjoyed the feel of clean bed linens around them.

Even though the beds were much softer than the dwarfs were accustomed to, it didn’t take them hardly any time whatsoever to fall into a deep slumber.  They were simply too weary from their exhausting march and the short slumber the evening before to have any difficulty, but Beraut stayed up a little longer.  Before he went to sleep, he wanted to make another mental attempt to check in on Kieren, so he could evaluate how much progress he and his protectors had made. 

Summoning his magical abilities, the wizard tried to see what he could of their present situation, but he was only able to conjure up a vague image of the party, one that made very little sense to him.  Everything looked quite dark and he couldn’t discern any details, but he knew this should not be the case.  There was a wondrous bright full-moon out this evening and the late break in the storm clouds should have allowed its light to filter through.  It should be illuminating Kieren’s present location and making everything easy to see.  So why wasn’t it the way it appeared to him now? 

This made Beraut wonder if the group could have possibly reached the tunnels of Treblanc sooner than expected, but he dismissed that notion almost immediately.  The wizard had previously calculated the small contingent would not arrive at the hidden passages until sometime the following day at the earliest, but this did nothing to explain why everything appeared so obscure. 

Suddenly, the wizard began to fear that Madumda was somehow interfering with this image.  Could the Dark Lord have possibly learned about their attempt to enter his fortress?  Considering that possibility sent shivers down Beraut’s spine.

After analyzing the situation further, the wizard gradually began to realize that if this were a ruse created by Madumda, then he would have projected scenes Beraut would have expected to see, not visions that would rouse his curiosity.  Since he was unable to resolve this problem, the wizard reluctantly let go of his concerns and gave in to his weariness.  A short time later he drifted off to sleep, but his last conscious thoughts that evening were of Kieren.



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I wish to extend my thanks to Scott, Emoe57, Andy, John and Donny for editing or their suggestions with this story. 


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