Tales of Strange Adventures

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Home Index of Tales of Strange Adventures

"Call of the Dragon, Part I"

"Call of the Dragon, Part II"

"Ruins and Hopes"

"Shield Maiden" Cornell #3

"Warrior Eternal" Cornell #4

"Childhood of a Fighter"

"The Pledge" Cornell #5

"The Rock of Discontent"

From here on, downloads will only be listed at the Downloads page!

"A Tale of the Gods"

"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6

"Life's Values"

"Tangled Elves"

"The Pilgrims' Trial and Faith"

 

 

 

The Rock of Discontent

  by Marc H. Wyman & Chris Bogues

 SECTION 1 / SECTION 2 / SECTION 3 / SECTION 4

“It’s beautiful!”

“Goodness gracious,” Flink agreed, “it looks neat!”

In his hands the alreu held a small piece of rock. Shimmering dots pierced the gray, dull surface everywhere, glistening in the soft light of the glowater bottles in the tunnel. The dots seemed to form a pattern, a pattern that was shifting whenever Flink moved the rock slightly. For a moment, they looked like the picture of the main cave of the alreu kennel, Tieferbau. A minute tick to the left, and there was the image of a mouse stealing cheese from the kitchen. A little more, and Flink could just see the face of his late father, Hastig.

He sighed, suddenly remembering the day when his father died in the shaft collapse.

“Give it to me, Flink!” his companion urged, reaching out for the rock.

Instinctively Flink pulled it back, cradling it close to his chest. “No!”

Ungestum, the other alreu, stared at him. “Why not? It’s beautiful! It’s perfect for the mobile I’ve got in my room, that’ll make it wonderful!”

“Well…” Flink drew the words out very long, feeling the rock in his hands. Almost he could make out the tiny holes through which the ore shone, the dots that made up the pictures. “I… have to think about it. I mean, it’s so good, and I have those… things that…”

His companion snorted. “As good as my mobile? I don’t think so, kid. You know that I’m better with my tools than you’ll ever be, so hand it over.” Ungestum took a step towards his young cousin, reaching out a demanding hand.

Almost did Flink follow the command, then the words sank in. “What do you mean, you’re better with your tools?!” he shouted. “I’ve seen your mobile, it’s… it’s so…”

“Yes?” Ungestum asked quietly. “Do you have anything to say about my work, dear cousin of mine?”

The younger alreu frowned, wondering what he should say. After all, he couldn’t say out loud that he thought the mobile was absolutely ugly, and that this marvelous piece of rock would only be tainted in the contraption. Oh, well, the construction was perfectly good, there was no doubt about that, Ungestum knew his tools, right, sure, yet – did it have to be so ugly? “Errr… not really, cousin,” he finally whispered.

“Oh, well, then not,” Ungestum shrugged, as if he had forgotten the possible slight of his work. “So, Flink, do you want to ruin the rock? Come on, cousin, I can put it to much better use!”

“I –“ Flink started, then forced a smile to his lips. “I will think about it. You know, with something this beautiful I don’t want to make a rash decision.”

He felt his neck muscles tense, but Ungestum only smiled and slapped him on the back. “Then it’s fine. Use that brain of yours, and I’ll have it tomorrow, right?”

Flink smiled brightly, without answering the question. A moment later he excused himself in flowery words, then hastened through the corridor, cradling the rock in his hands. Back home, in his room, he would study it more closely. Perhaps he would find that angle again when the dots looked just like his father.

 

 

“Hello, son,” Sorgend, Flink’s mother, grunted. Not that she was a gruff woman – quite the opposite, in fact – but considering that her son had just entered the kitchen via the trapdoor at the top and fallen on her, there weren’t many other tones of voice she could have chosen from.

He quickly leaped off his mother, scrambled to his customary seat at the table and peeked at the oven. “What are you cooking? Are you fixing something new?”

“Oh, my,” Sorgend sighed while she picked herself off the floor. “It’s just a soup made from vegetables your uncle brought down from the surface. From the fields of that awful human who keeps trying to chase him away.”

Her son nodded earnestly. “He’s a strange kind of person. Sometimes I feel as if humans don’t like people. But then, I think to myself, it’s just that they’re having a bad day. Happens to everyone, doesn’t it? So that’s probably what’s wrong with that farmer.”

“Probably,” Sorgend frowned. She went back to the oven and stirred the soup a bit. “Have you done anything interesting today, son? Or have you just hung around with your useless cousin Ungestum?”

Flink shrugged, all the answer his mother needed. She dropped the spoon next to the pot, then turned to face her son with a worried look in her eyes. “What are you doing here, anyway, son? You’re sixteen years old! You should be out in the main cave, talking to one of the girls there. Flink, at your age, your father had already married me! And you, you’re living with your mother!”

Not again, flashed a thought through Flink’s head, and he nearly said so aloud – but caught himself at the last moment. What he did not prevent was his eyes rolling towards the ceiling (quite of their own accord, as he would swear all kinds of oaths to in front of his mother).

The oaths would hardly have helped, anyway. “Flink! Stop that!” Sorgend shouted, enough to make her son instantly sit up straight at the table and fold his hands in his lap. She shook her head furiously, then sighed and sat down at the table opposite from her son. “Boy, I hate talking to you like this,” she said slowly, looking her son deeply in his blue (not rolling but earnest) eyes. “Sometimes I wonder about you. All the time you’re talking about the surface, but you haven’t been there more than once or twice in your life. What happened to your plans? Just before…” She paused, pain blowing across her face like a hurricane for a moment before her looks softened into the worry frowns again, then continued, “You had already packed your bags, Flink! I still remember how you wore your brooch of adulthood, and how you were yearning to see the sun! Why are you still in the kennel?”

Flink shrugged, fidgeted on his chair – when a single look from his mother straightened his pose once more.

Sorgend closed her eyes briefly. When she opened them, she smiled. “Did you know that Maedel was here yesterday? She just came by to see you – while you were off with Ungestum, as usual -, and it’s a real pity. She wanted to take you to the dance tomorrow night, and you should have seen the look on her face when I had to tell her that you weren’t here. Maybe you could go to her and ask her?”

“Mother…” Flink moaned quietly.

“Where is the problem, son?” Sorgend cried. “You like Maedel! You used to spend so much time with her a while ago! And anyway, Flink, you’re just the right kind of man for any girl. You’re small, pale and handsome – the girls are lining up for you, if you would only open your eyes and take a look! I’ve seen Magd’a look at you, goodness gracious, the daughter of the Second Kennel Maintainer! “

“Say, mother –“ Flink started, but was interrupted by Sorgend who sighed and said, “Am I asking so much of you, dear son of mine? You should live your life! It’s a good life! And –“

“Should the soup be boiling like that?” he asked innocently.

Sorgend’s head flew around, saw the soup bubble up over the rim of the pot – and instantaneously she was off to haul the pot off the fire and twirl the spoon vigorously in it. Her son used her momentary distraction to rush off into his own room.

 

 

The next morning Flink was on shovel duty. Tombcave shift, he always called it. Every adult male was required to spend two days each week helping to maintain and expand the kennel. Tieferbau was growing ever so quickly – sometimes Flink thought he couldn’t take two steps without a child being underfoot. So new caves had to be added often, and with the growing size, there were so many older caves that needed looking after.

He fully understood the need – goodness gracious, you didn’t want the roof of your cave to fall in on you, did you? But the rules… Was it really necessary that nobody speak, except when absolutely necessary? Oh, sure, everybody says that you ought to talk to the stone in your mind, focus on your work. That’s shovel duty, that’s too important.

What it worked out to was a deadly silence. Just like a tombcave.

Right now, though, he liked the silence. They had to build a new living cave for Kandiert, an alreu who was – rather distantly – related to Flink’s family. His wife, Sonnig, just had had triplets, and they needed a lot of space for the little whirlwinds. Only last week, Flink had nearly stepped on one of them – they were already rushing all over, on all limbs (and occasionally the head), at only five weeks of age. (Actually, when he had tried to avoid hurting the infant, Flink had toppled over a bench, rammed his head into the stone wall. It had taken two days for the swelling to subside.)

But, anyway, he didn’t have to talk. And shoveling dirt out of the way, being busy, that kept his mind off of dire thoughts.

Why was Mother after him like that, all the time? Goodness gracious, yes, he did like Maedel. She was his age, had turned adult last year – girls always were slower than boys, and a good thing it was -, when she had gone on a tour of the surface. The good old wanderlust had grabbed her. Oh, yes, when they were younger, they had spoken so much about the surface. They had been planning to go together. For a while anyway. Then Flink had realized that he would turn adult a year before her, and so they had agreed that he would return to Tieferbau on the day of her ascension to womanhood.

Things hadn’t turned out that way, had they? Flink drove his shovel deep into the dry earth ahead of him, twisted it to make more ground come lose. With a pickaxe, it might be easier, but that was dwarven attitude, right? Can’t be like a dwarf, gotta be alreu. Sure. Pickaxes. Could use one. Focus on the job. Use a shovel, if you can’t have a pickaxe. Focus.

Maedel wanted him to go to the dance? With her?

Goodness gracious! After all this time? She had changed so much on the surface, had grown up… She was a real woman! And he… For a moment all Flink thought about was getting rid of the dirt, shovel it into the cart, push the cart back to the waiting alreu hands behind him and receive an empty one.

He’d spent all the time in his mother’s cave, it seemed. And he hadn’t changed one bit. He was still a little boy who followed his mother’s every command. Well, almost every command. But Maedel… Was there anything he could offer her? What would they talk about in their marriage bed?

Oh, goodness gracious, there’s that word again! He shivered. Marriage!

“Flink? Maintainer wants to see you!” a voice yelled from further behind.

He whirled about in shock to hear words spoken on tombcave shift – only then did he understand the meaning. Now what? I worked hard, maintainer can’t find fault with that! But now that, a good chewing-out by Maintainer Ordentlich would surely get his mind off of things!

So it was with some degree of glee that Flink stuck his shovel into the earth ahead of him, then threaded his way through the other workers back down the shaft. Foreman Schnell pointed wordlessly to a cave just off the new shaft.

Flink hastened in there and found the kennel maintainer standing bowed over a table with sheets of paper piled on top of each other. Ordentlich was fat. No way one could state it politely, he just was. On the other hand, you just had to look at him moving to know that there were plenty of hard muscles under the fat, and that he could slam you into the next wall with a single slap. That was no surprise, since the maintainer had spent almost all his life shoveling dirt, hauling carts and working out. Few alreus knew as much about Tieferbau as he did, where each cave was, who lived where, and more importantly how to keep the caves and tunnels stable. On the downside, after all the time on tombcave shift, without speaking, he wasn’t used to saying much. Most of the time he just pointed, grunted something incomprehensible, and you had to figure out what he meant.

Now, though, Flink was stunned to see a smile spread on Ordentlich’s face when he came in. “There you are, son,” he said and straightened his back, stretching his overweight frame with a sigh. “Kandiert will have his home, soon, won’t he?”

“Uhm, yes, sir,” was all Flink could think of. This didn’t quite seem as if Ordentlich would reproach him for lagging behind in his work, right? But why else would the maintainer call him over?

The older alreu finished stretching – apparently it took a long time for him to be satisfied with getting all the cramps out of his muscles -, then he said, “Heard there was a dance on tonight. You don’t happen to have a girl to accompany you, do you, son?”

Flink’s mind was about to collapse as terribly as a shaft’s ceiling. “Uhm, no, sir.”

“Magd’a doesn’t either,” the maintainer nodded gravely. “I think she would like to see you by her side tonight. Why don’t you go over to my cave and ask her?”

“Uhm, I… Kandiert’s cave, I mean…”

“Oh, don’t worry about that, son. I’ll release you from shovel duty. What am I the maintainer for, if I can’t use it a little?”

Flink hadn’t planned on going to the dance at all. Maedel was bound to be there, wasn’t she? And, besides, his dancing skills were… Well, he couldn’t even count all the female feet he had stepped on in the past couple of years. And he could count quite well. “Uhm…” he muttered.

Obviously, Ordentlich took that as confirmation. Flink should really have thought of that. Having relied so little on clear words, grunts were the kind of communication the maintainer was used to.

“So go on, son. Magd’a will be – oh, but get yourself cleaned up first,” he grinned. “You’re a good worker, son, but shovel duty gets you sweated up, and you don’t want to be that when you meet a nice woman. Oh, son, you’re a good one at the shovels. Maybe you could be a maintainer one day!” His eyes gleamed, looking over Flink as if he was already drawing up the papers for his promotion.

“Uhm…”

“And don’t use the glowater to clean yourself, son,” Ordentlich grinned.

“Uhm, right, I won’t.” For a moment longer, Flink stayed in the cave until he realized that the kennel maintainer had once more leaned over his papers, the plans for the new cave – including the calculations for stability. Apparently, the conversation was over. Rather impolite, Flink found. Then again…

Like a whirlwind he raced out of the cave, happy to have this confrontation behind him. Off he was to find the next pool of water – regular water – to clean himself. Glowater! Now that was an incident he’d rather forget. For two days, his skin had been glowing, no matter how much he’d tried to wipe the liquid off himself. Goodness gracious, there was a lot of magic in that glowater – like something divine.

“Ooops…” he muttered and skittered to a halt about two tunnel crossings behind the maintainer’s cave.

Just how had Ordentlich learned about that incident? After all, Flink had spent all those two days well hidden in his own room, with Mother keeping every visitor well away. Mother was the only one who knew about this, didn’t she, so…?

“What in the names of the gods is going on here?” Flink set his jaw straight and resolved to find out. Later. First there was the matter of cleaning himself up and facing Magd’a in her home cave. Oh, yes, she was a nice girl. Goodness gracious, was she a nice girl!

But, well… dancing? In public?

And, anyway, wasn’t she bound to bring up that… that word again?

On the other hand, Maintainer had pretty much ordered him to do this, right? Right? Uhm… Sure, and actually, Flink still was on shovel duty, so…

None too happy with himself, he resumed his race down the tunnels, deftly avoiding any other people – until another memory of his conversation with Ordentlich hit him, and he nearly rammed a wall full-speed.

“Son”?!?!?!

 

 

Flink’s cheeks were burning from the kiss Magd’a had planted on each side. “You look marvelous!” she had exclaimed when he walked into her family’s living room to pick her up for the dance. And she had bounced off her seat to sling her arms around his neck to kiss him.

As much as he did enjoy that – and that was quite a bit – his eyes had been oh so fully focused on the faces of her parents who were watching them with clasped hands. And Flink was sure that if he had squinted just a little bit he could have read the words Son-in-law on their foreheads.

“Goodness gracious!” he muttered.

Magd’a, jumping ahead of him through the tunnel, suddenly stopped and looked at him mischievously. Boy, did she have a wonderful smile. And, boy-oh-boy, did she look great in that black, tight-fitting tunic, or did she? “Something the matter, Flinkie?!” she cried. “Is your jacket crooked?”

And off she was, reaching out to tighten Flink’s jacket – which was very much straight, in all its red-golden gleam, the best clothes he had been able to find in his closet -, and her smile never wavered. “There! It’s just perfect, and… oooooh…” A frown creased her pretty face. “I forgot something! Oh, my, that’ll be great, it – You just wait here, right, Flinkie?”

She didn’t even wait for an answer as she ran off down the tunnel, back in the direction of her parents’ cave. Flink felt his eyes bulge over, staring intently at the opposite wall, wondering just when he had got himself trapped in this mess.

It took him a minute to realize something else.

“Flinkie”?!

Goodness gracious!

Four minutes later – he had kept exact count, wondering if there was some way he could safely sneak back to Mother’s cave and not have any repercussions follow – Magd’a bounced back through the tunnel. “Here, I have it!” she cried, and before Flink could make any evasive motions, she had pinned something to his jacket. Desperately, urgently, he craned his head to make out what that something was – and it turned out to be a brooch, a silver oval, meticulously worked over with minute tools, a series of stones – simple stones! – worked into it, but… they fitted so perfectly, that… they…

“It’s beautiful!” he exclaimed despite himself.

Magd’a beamed. “You think so? I made it myself, just the day before, you know when Father told me you’d go with me to the dance. Oh, Flinkie!” Suddenly he felt her arms around him once more, her body pressed tightly against his. However had this happened? She hadn’t moved, had she? “Flinkie, my Flinkie, this is the best time of my life!”

“Uhm…”

Was it a family trait that these folks just eradicated all his ability to speak? Goodness gracious!

Read on in
SECTION 2