"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"
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"A Tale of the Gods"
"The Miracle of Solstice Day" Cornell #6
"The Pilgrims' Trial and Faith"
The main cavern of Tieferbau was decked out beautifully. Bowls of glowater were hung under the ceiling, covered with translucent paint in the most diverse colors. Its light transformed the cavern, making it even more wonderful. The statues carved from the walls – all excellent alreus of passed ages – looked alive, as if they were about to step down from their niches and join the festivities. Red and blue garlands stretched out across the ceiling, and hung from them were a large varietey of other objects made from paper: birds – just like those on the surface -, tiny tunnels that had alreus bouncing around in them if there was a gust of air pushing them, and with all the alreus moving about below, there was plenty of air movement -, and oh, so much more that Flink couldn’t possibly spend enough time looking at everything.
Not that he had any time to do much looking towards the ceiling.
Magd’a occupied pretty much every moment he had, dragging him out to the dancefloor, hopping to the rhythm of the musicians on the offside of the cave. “Come on, let’s dance, Flinkie!” she cried, and already he found himself trying his best to move to that rhythm. Oh, he could feel it, resonating deep within himself. If only his feet could hear that resonance! Step, left, whirl about – oops, whirl her about, not yourself – and, thank the gods, she’s smiling! Grinning, actually. Once more… and, don’t step on her feet, all right, done it.
There wasn’t much thought about doing anything else, anything as enjoyable as sitting on one of the benches around the walls and just looking at the spectacle. Goodness gracious, did this woman never tire? Her feet really ought to be tired. His own were, and they hadn’t been stepped on by anybody four or six times already!
“Cousin, you’re here, too?!” a familiar voice interrupted Flink and Magd’a. More by accident than any intent of his, Flink didn’t even malign her toes once more, when he suddenly stopped dancing and gaped at the two alreu next to them.
Ungestum beamed proudly, and Maedel – Maedel! – had slung herself around his right arm, cradling her head on his shoulder. “Hello, Flink,” she said coyly, “a pity you weren’t home yesterday.”
“Yes,” he replied slowly, his eyes flashing from Maedel to Magd’a and back again.
Magd’a held on tightly to Flink – tighter than before, he would have wagered, if that was possible. “Maedel,” she said.
“Magd’a,” the other woman acknowledged.
Did the air just freeze in here? Flink wondered. No, not possible. He was still breathing – more or less, considering that Magd’a was pressing herself so close to his chest. And, besides, the glowater in the bowls up ahead would have burst its confines and sprayed a mist of ice on them. Not to mention that it was still bright and shining.
He could still have sworn that the temperature in the main cavern just dropped a lot.
Ungestum grinned, disengaged his right arm from Maedel’s grip and placed his hand around her waist “So, Flink, you’ve been dragged down here, by the maintainer’s daughter, no less. Quite a prize.”
He had no idea, why he did it, but somehow Flink’s hand reached out to place his hand on Magd’a’s hip. The girl gave a brief, surprised noise, then her own arms tightened the grip around his chest, and he could just feel the deep smile on her face, without even looking. “No, Ungestum, I dragged her down here. Magd’a is all the prize I ask for, no matter her parents.”
“Right,” his cousin dragged the words out, his hand slipping onto Maedel’s hip. Her eyes widened, the smile freezing quite clearly on her face, but she did nothing to remove Ungestum’s fingers. Instead she stared straight ahead – incidentally right at Magd’a. “You dragged her. No doubt.”
“Oh, Flinkie,” Magd’a moaned, “can we go on dancing. You’re such a good dancer, any girl in her right mind would be happy to be twirled about by you!”
“Oh, really?” Maedel muttered. She quickly removed Ungestum’s hand from her hip, placed it properly around her waist, whirled about to face him and smiled, “Well, I have the best dancer here in my arms. And the music…” Her gaze shot to meet Ungestum’s eyes, as if she realized his presence for the first time, then her look mellowed suddenly, as she whispered to him – very audible to the other couple -, “Oh, Ungestum, let’s dance. You’re so good at it.”
The male alreu needed no further incitement. Immediately he picked up the rhythm, started her moving, and off they went to mix with the other couples on the dancefloor. Somehow, mysteriously, they easily stayed in the sight of both Flink and Magd’a.
“Look at them,” Magd’a snarled. “So rough and unhewn. Bad maintenance, my father would say. Let’s –“ She caught herself, smoothly put Flink’s hands into the proper positions – as well as her own, although they might have been a tad lower than ordinarily -, and smiled graciously at him. “My Flinkie, let us show them what a good dance looks like, shall we?”
He didn’t have time for any more replies for he already felt her tugging on him to finally get his feet moving. Oh, well, if she so desired to have her feet trampled on, who was Flink to disagree?
By the same mysterious way that both dancing couples always stayed in sight of each other for the duration of the entire evening, Magd’a somehow avoided having her feet stepped on. And somehow he felt his own dance seem more fluid – better maintained, one could say. And his eyes always strayed from Magd’a to Maedel and back.
“Are you ever going to get out of bed?” Sorgend asked, standing in the doorway of Flink’s room.
Her son, all five blankets piled over his head, just groaned. “Not if I can do something about it.”
“Well,” Sorgend frowned, “Maintainer Ordentlich is here, and he says you ought to report for shovel duty.”
“What?!” Suddenly Flink’s head shot out from under the blankets, his shock of red hair in utter disarray. “But I’m not on shovel duty for another three days!”
His mother shook her head. “He’s here, and you know what a maintainer’s word means. So you’d better get yourself out of bed and dressed.”
There was no disagreement with that tone of voice, he knew, and after a moment or two’s grumbling, Flink did as he was asked. In record time he had slipped on his tan breeches and the linen shirt and was out into the kitchen – where he was shocked to find Ordentlich at the table, his fat frame squeezed onto Flink’s customary place, sipping at a cup of tea. The very best cup Mother owned! Made by Hastig himself! The china was cracked in a place, yes, but there were the intricate pieces of gold Flink’s father had welded into it – the gods alone knew how he had managed that, but it was a work of art, and Flink always dreamed about being able to do that, too – and, goodness gracious, only Flink himself had ever been allowed to drink from it! And now the maintainer… goodness gracious!
“Uhm, Master Ordentlich,” Flink said, trying to sound his most polite and earnest – despite a rather strong quiver in his voice, not least because he remembered how late it had been when he had escorted Magd’a back to her cave -, “did I miss an order? Most valued Master Maintainer, I thought there was –“
“No need to get yourself into a knot,” Ordentlich said, taking another sip from Flink’s own cup, made by his father. “Oh, Sorgend, this is terrific. The best tea I’ve had in a very long time. You just have to tell my wife where you got the herbs! It’s so good I want it every day.”
“Oh, don’t worry, dear friend,” Flink’s mother said. “Dear friend”?!?! Sorgend went over to her cupboard and withdrew a small pouch which she handed graciously over to Ordentlich. “My cousin – on my mother’s side, mind you – knows just where to find them. There’s always a good supply, and I’d be happy to share it with you.”
“Splendid!” Ordentlich exclaimed, pocketing the pouch quickly. “Ah, dear Sorgend, you are a good friend. I look forward to seeing you in our cave at the solstice feast. You will come, won’t you?”
Sorgend was taken aback for a tiny moment, then the smile was back on her face, reinforced if anything. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world, dear friend. And I would be happy to prepare this tea, if you would like.”
The maintainer smiled, a bit of greed in the smile. “Valued Sorgend, you don’t know how happy I would be.”
Now it’s “valued”? And the solstice feast? Goodness gracious, that’s reserved for family members!
Flink’s stormy thoughts suddenly found themselves in the eye of the hurricane when he realized the one key word. Family?!
Somehow the kitchen suddenly felt very much closed in, as if the ceiling was about to collapse. All right, the maintainer wouldn’t be sitting quietly at the table if there was any danger of that happening in the next, oh, twenty or thirty years, but still…
“Uhm, Master Maintainer?” Flink said carefully – and felt all his concentrated resolve fall apart when Ordentlich turned to him with a proud smile.
“Of course, son,” he nodded, “you’re eager to get on. And don’t worry, you won’t have to touch the shovels today. I just want to show you all the caves and tell you a little bit about stability. You want to know about maintaining the caves, right?”
Actually, Flink wanted that very much. He had always been wondering about how that was done, and just putting in the odd wooden or stone pillar didn’t do much to understand this. It must be so great to know how to keep the caves stable, and to be responsible for them! Goodness gracious, he really wanted that. Fiddling around with the small tools in his room, or picking locks, that was one thing. But the caves! All of Tieferbau? Or just the regions that, say, Ordentlich took care of. That was…
On the other hand, just why was Ordentlich offering that to him? Flink had been a good worker, yes, but he hadn’t shown any special regard for…
Oh, yes, he’d shown a lot of regard for her last night. Not that the maintainer would know much about it. And not that Flink himself felt all too sure about said regard, not with thoughts of Maedel (with Ungestum!) rushing through his head.
And, what was it with this conversation with his mother? What was it with this family thing?
“Flink?!” his mother said strictly.
“Uhm…” Flink muttered, then somehow regained his composure – not to mention a straight back, as Mother had taught him – and looked Ordentlich straight in the eye. “Good maintenance is what every alreu needs.”
Ordentlich beamed broadly. “I could have said that!” he exclaimed and quickly finished the tea, not without mentioning its quality once more to Sorgend, before he ushered Flink out of the cave to quickly begin the tour.
Flink had only the time for one short thought before he had to concentrate on the kennel maintainer’s words. You did say that.
The tour of the tunnels took more than eight hours. After Ordentlich returned Flink to his mother’s cave – not forgetting to slap him vigorously on the back, great reward for his having remembered every detail the maintainer had explained -, the young alreu felt as if it would take a couple of weeks before he would feel his legs again. The dancing, then all that walking and climbing throughout Tieferbau…
He forgot his worries when he entered the kitchen. Ungestum was lounging at the table, watched by a mistrusting eye of Sorgend, while another eye was watching one of Kandiert’s children toying with a number of kitchen tools. His mother greeted Flink happily, never taking her eyes off either Ungestum or the infant. All right, when did she get more than two eyes? Flink wondered in the back of his head. Women – mothers in particular – seemed to manage this feat all too easily.
“Oh, cousin, there you are!” Ungestum said and raised a hand in greeting. “Have you made up your mind?”
“About what?” Flink wondered, clearly disconcerted. Sorgend squinted, watching both men with more than a little mistrust. Flink could just hear her reproach him once his cousin had left, “What kind of mess has he dragged you into? Flink, sit up straight and answer me!”
“About the rock! What else could I be talking about!” Ungestum snorted. “The girls? By the gods, who cares about them?”
You, Flink thought direly, remembering the way his cousin had held onto Maedel the night before. Almost as tightly as Flink had clasped Magd’a.
“Oh, the rock,” he said nonchalantly – almost happy that it wasn’t either of the girls they were discussing. And he’d nearly forgotten about the stone, anyway. The little precious item was stowed away in his room, where he had planned on inspecting it more closely. Perhaps a specific angle could make the shimmering dots look just like Magd’a? Or – he hated himself for the thought – Maedel? “Uhm, no, I haven’t decided yet.”
“Whyever not?!” Ungestum exclaimed, shooting up from his chair. (Sorgend, by the stove, instinctively picked up her spoon. In past years, she had easily chased Ungestum out of the kitchen with the threat of the spoon, and it was rather difficult for her to realize that he was now adult and might not react quite as well to said threat.)
Flink was taken aback by the sudden fury of his cousin. Fury was rather unknown in Tieferbau, after all. Oh, he’d seen Ordentlich furious when somebody had messed up on shovel duty. But that was a serious affair in itself – goodness gracious, he’d learned that in the past eight hours, hadn’t he? Maintaining the kennel wasn’t the great adventure he’d thought, so very difficult from toying about with his tools – but so very much more satisfying it was! And… Oh, right, Ungestum.
“I haven’t had the time, all right?!” Flink cried. “Give me a little more time! It’s a precious rock, so it’s gotta be used for the right purpose. Maybe I will use it!”
“You?!” Ungestum laughed heartily, a rough edge to his mirth. “Cousin, you couldn’t make a pendant that the ugliest woman would stoop to wear!”
“Oh, really?!” Flink shouted – but before anything else could happen, Sorgend suddenly shot forward, the spoon raised over her nephew, and ordered imperatively, “Get out, Ungestum! I don’t want to see you here again for the next week!”
Ungestum was fully adult, his shoulders wide enough to fill a regular tunnel, but somehow the sight of his aunt so intent did make him follow her orders. And just perhaps he remembered the pain that her spoon had inflicted on him so very often in his boyhood. Whatever the reason, Ungestum shot out of the kitchen at such a speed it was a miracle he neither threw over a chair nor the table.
“Now,” Sorgend said, once her nephew was gone, and turned to her son, “which rock were you talking about?”
rock lay on the table in the kitchen, its dots shimmering in the light of
a glowater lamp Sorgend had put close to it. The dots connected to form a
myriad of images, all in the minds of their beholders, but all with so
many implications and memories interweaved that its beauty was beyond any
cannot keep it,” Sorgend sighed. “For one single time, Ungestum is
right. It’s too beautiful for your abilities, my son.”
nearly tipped over his cup – his precious cup that Father had made –
and spilled the ao’coc, a sweet liquid boiled from roots that
were grown in the lower levels of the kennel. “Mother?!”
you know it’s true.” Sorgend sat on the chair opposite her son. She
tapped her fingers carefully on the rock, changing its angle ever so
slightly to bring up new images. “You are good, but something like this
requires more than you have. Or your departed father had, may the gods let
his soul run free.”
Ungestum would just destroy it.”
thank the gods, Flink
thought, for a moment I thought my own mother had lost her mind!
shook her head. “Do you know anyone who could do honor to this
I –“ Flink stopped himself. Somehow he hadn’t even begun to think
about this. So much had happened, all the time since he had pulled the
rock from the surrounding dirt in the tunnel! Unfortunately his mother’s
gaze, so calm yet so insistent, brooked no further delay on his part.
“Well,” he finally continued, “there’s… well, Handfertig’s
good with metals, and then there’s Huebsch – do you remember, she made
first kennel maintainer’s holiday robe, and there were all those pretty
sparklestones she’d woven into the robe, that was beautiful, so I could
reason that –“
Sorgend asked slowly, after Flink paused suddenly, his forehead deeply
son pursed his lips, thinking hard and fast how to best continue. After
all, it was a difficult task, and there were so many decisions to be made.
And he didn’t like decisions! They had such an awful way of sticking
with you, hadn’t they?
he sighed, reached under his vest and withdrew a small brooch. His
mother’s eyes immediately focused on the object, racing across its small
surface to take in every detail – and a sense of satisfaction quickly
settled on her face. Flink sighed again, then said, “Uhm, Magd’a, uhm,
gave this to me yesterday evening, and it’s… Well, she told me she’d
made it the day before, and for something so quickly done, it’s…”
Another sigh, then in rapid fire words, “Well, I just think she could
find a really good use for this stone!”
gave this to you?” Sorgend asked, and Flink suddenly felt as if he had
made a serious mistake. Particularly when looking at the new gleam in his
mother’s eyes. The cup in his hands quivered, as if it wanted to remind
him that Ordentlich had been permitted to drink from it this morning. From
his own cup, and – Ooops.
nodded and leaned back in her chair. “It is a beautiful work.
Have you ever seen Maedel’s works?”
beg your pardon?!
Flink’s mind screamed. I thought you wanted me to – why else, and
mother smiled quietly, waiting for Flink to think things through.
he asked after a few rather long and awkward moments – awkward for him,
not Sorgend -, “a choice?”
my little firebrand,” Sorgend smiled and reached across the table to
hold her son’s hands, “what did you think? My son ought to make his
own choices, no matter what others think. Isn’t that what I always
taught you? And, besides, I think it is far too early to consider any gift
a bridal present.”
mother, of course!” He took a deep sip of the ao’coc, praying
that it would burn his tongue so much he didn’t have to answer.
Unfortunately none of the gods was paying any attention. “I have
seen Maedel’s works.” True, although it was a goodly two years ago he
had last laid eyes on any of her creations. “She’s fairly good with
her tools, but she… Well, she likes to work cloth more than metals.
It’s just something she prefers, while Magd’a, she…” He fingered
the brooch in his hands.
once his mother didn’t complain that he didn’t finish the sentence.
“Is the matter settled then?”
didn’t answer immediately. He stowed the brooch under his vest again,
then picked up the rock to watch it closely. Goodness gracious, he’d
been so longing to do that for more than a day, and he just hadn’t found
the time for it before! Now, though, his gaze tried to take in every one
of the shimmering dots while his fingers slid over the surface, feeling
the texture, imprinting it into memory.
stomach shifted. Odd, that was. He’d eaten well so he couldn’t be
hungry. And it hadn’t been quite that much. Besides, it was
really cold in the kitchen. Mother must have forgotten to keep the stove
burning well, and… He heard the crackle of logs in the stove, burning
his imagination, then, he told himself.
shivered nonetheless, then he returned the rock to the table.
frowned when he realized that it was warm in the kitchen after all. Oh,
well, maybe he was starting to catch a cold. Heating in the lower shafts
wasn’t very good – no wonder, since the ducts had yet to be laid down
there -, and he’d been only wearing his vest over his usual clothes.
Perhaps he should add a sixth blanket tonight, yes, that was the best idea
he’d had in a long time.
noticed his mother’s questioning gaze. “Uhm, I think – I think
Magd’a would do something great with the stone.”
Sorgend smiled. “Now go to bed, son. Your day has been tiring.”
have no idea! Flink
thought as he finished his cup of ao’coc and slipped off his
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