"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"
XV. Through the Hole <=== / ===> XVII. The Village Green
The goddesses had covered the remaining distance to the dwarves in only a few hours. Darktime had fallen. The jungle had grown more silent than in the day, yet there was still plenty of noise to distract Maidoyú and make her wonder which creature made the sound. A lonesome howl rose from the trees, much like a wolf, yet with a shriller sound that she couldn’t identify. She would have gladly investigated the hollering beast, but Taurkémad kept plowing on through the thick of the jungle, and Maidoyú didn’t want to be alone again. At least, not for a while.
Smoke came from up ahead. She didn’t see any particular brightness through the foliage, so she reasoned that it must be from a campfire by the dwarves. Maidoyú wondered how the little creatures had started the fire. It must be difficult to do so in this moist forest, when one couldn’t just make a couple of burning logs appear.
“There they are, my little dwarvies!” Taurkémad exclaimed happily.
Finally, Maidoyú thought and started to brush the remaining branches aside – when her companion instantly made those branches immobile for the weaker goddess. “Why –“
“I want to take a look at them first,” Taurkémad announced, while she lifted herself several feet into the air and gently coasted closer to the dwarves’ campsite. “To see how my little ones have made it so far, without the aid of a god,” she added proudly when she was ready to peer through the leaves.
Maidoyú shrugged and joined her companion. The clearing ahead was very small, no more than ten feet at its widest. Big enough for the eight dwarves huddled around the dying fire between them. The twigs and branches were shoddily arranged, by somebody who hadn’t had much experience in building a fire. Why, even Maidoyú herself knew better than that! At least the dwarf had taken care not to light any of the foliage around them, or the entire jungle would have gone up in flames, she was sure.
“Eight dwarves…” Taurkémad whispered, a mixture of excitement and frustration in her voice.
“Yes, there are eight,” Maidoyú confirmed, then a thought hit her. “Oh, didn’t you say there were only four? And weren’t they only males?”
Taurkémad swallowed hard, but didn’t answer.
What was she so worried about? All right, there were now eight of them. Maidoyú was quite sure that four of the dwarves were female, since they had no beards and their faces seemed a bit softer than those of the males. They were more like basalt, instead of the masculine granite. But… “They don’t look right, do they? The women, I mean. They’re so swollen up.”
Taurkémad’s voice was raspy when she answered, “They are pregnant.”
“Pregnant? You mean like animals? I thought sapients couldn’t have youngens.”
The other goddess didn’t reply. Maidoyú sighed. All this seriousness, just because somebody had toyed around with the dwarves. After all, that happened often, didn’t it? You make something, then a deity from another abode comes along and changes it. Why, those villagers in the midrealm, nearly all the gods there were had taken a part in their creation. Maidoyú hadn’t, of course. She had never been interested enough.
“You should be happy,” Maidoyú decided after a moment. “There are going to be even more dwarves for you to like.”
“Animals!” Taurkémad rasped and turned away from the sight. “My dwarvies have become animals.”
Maidoyú frowned. One of the dwarves, a male, put his hand around a woman and spoke to her in a guttural voice. The speech wasn’t as clear and well-defined as that of a god, but it was language. “Animals don’t talk. The dwarves are still sapient. So they have children… I wonder what dwarven children look like, and how they act!” More and more enthusiastic, she remembered the various young ones she had seen of other species – animals, yes, but those very little ones had been so cute! How they tried to figure out how to walk, or how to fly, and all of that! “I really want to see those children, you know, Taurkémad? They must be precious. Oh, come on, look at them! They’re still your dwarvies. Taurkémad?”
The other goddess didn’t answer. Maidoyú still sensed her in the vicinity, but now her companion had taken much higher to the air. She floated up as well, bubbling with the desire to talk about dwarven children. Yet looking at Taurkémad’s face, she realized that words would drive her off, leaving Maidoyú alone again.
So she resigned herself to silence, waiting for her companion to speak first.
The fire below died down. The dwarves settled down to sleep, paired off as they already were. Did they have names? Maidoyú wondered. She could think of several for each of them, but perhaps they had chosen for themselves. Now that was fascinating. Creatures choosing for themselves! And they would have to teach their children the art of choosing, too. She desperately wanted to dive down to the dwarves, perhaps take their form, and share their little adventure. But, no, there was still her companion.
“Decirius promised,” Taurkémad whispered. “He promised that the dwarves would stay in their cave, untouched by another abode. We made them. We put so much work into them! I wanted to see how much they could become. They were supposed to be the perfect sapients, unlike the hodge-podge villagers and elves. All that work – and then some fool couldn’t keep his dirty hands away from them! They’re ruined!”
“Ruined? How can you say that!” Maidoyú cried. Why did these words hurt so much? “They can have children now. That’s… that isn’t bad! They have all the space of the mortal world to explore, so much more than their dark little cave, and they can teach their children. Oh, Taurkémad, imagine how the parents walk their little ones around – that’ll be just like we have the other sapients, right?”
Taurkémad finally looked at her. Coldly, she said, “They are not gods. They are only sapients. We gave them intelligence, and they pay us back by their worship. Having children, sapients will start to see themselves as deities. I will not have my dwarves forget their proper places. Move aside.”
The cold voice seemed to bite into Maidoyú’s heart. “Why? What are you going to do?”
“I told you to move aside, child,” Taurkémad snarled. “I’ll take my dwarves back to their cave where they belong, and those new dwarves – I’ll teach them polluting my good creatures!”
She wants to destroy the women! Maidoyú realized with sudden fright. But the females were pregnant, they would give birth to little dwarves. And she wanted to watch the children! “No, please,” she said, “let them live. They –“
A whirlwind suddenly caught hold of Maidoyú, twisting her away, whirling her about herself, like a twig in a hurricane. Meanwhile Taurkémad shot down towards the camp. I can’t let her do that! Maidoyú screamed to herself – then caused a hurricane of her own to thrust Taurkémad aside.
The goddess crashed into a giant tree, waking a flock of birds that scattered in moments. Taurkémad stared up, her eyes full of fiery anger.
“Please stop,” Maidoyú shouted. “Just don’t hurt them, and we can talk, and –“
Taurkémad hurled a bolt of lightning up, its bright discharge rushing towards Maidoyú. The goddess dodged, and without thinking sent a bolt of her own into the treetop. She hadn’t aimed.
Neither had she needed to.
Stupefied she watched the entire tree light up for a heartbeat, then it blinked out of existence. As easy as that. Flakes of ash rained down, along with the body of Taurkémad who dropped out of the sky. The goddess fell on a smaller tree, setting it aflame with the heat still in her, then she crashed to the ground, her body twisted and mangled.
The fire of the second tree spread to the next, closer to the dwarves. Maidoyú had to protect them, and moments later a sudden rainstorm doused the fire.
Taurkémad still didn’t move. She should have come back up again, shouldn’t she? She was stronger than Maidoyú, after all. Not that they had ever compared strength, not that Maidoyú had ever cared, but…
She suddenly felt cold. Only a little while earlier had she killed the harsnett. And now?
“No,” Maidoyú breathed a sigh of relief. She could still sense Taurkémad with her. The goddess hadn’t died, she was only unconscious.
Only unconscious? What have I done?
“I’ve…” She frowned, trying to come to terms with something very unfamiliar. “I have protected the children.”
Perhaps she had found her purpose, after all.