Before dawn began to peak over the plains to the east, Twitch was awake and getting ready for travelling. He wasted no time in getting his belongings together and Sixx ready for the road. There would be no military patrol here for an escort, which suited Twitch just fine. He could make better time on his own. The extra time and energy spent on keeping up the charade of a mere wandering entertainer could be better used on planning out the job he had before him. He led his horse out of the stable just as the sun began to rise over the horizon.
His heart fell just a little when he realized that the Fenstelts were out in the village square getting ready to go, too. They were headed to the Grey Alps, same as he was, and it would be the height of rudeness not to suggest that they travel together. He quickly put on his warmest smile and swung up on to Sixx. With a pat on the neck, the two of them meandered over to see what Bort and Gerda were up to.
The jolly merchants had crammed their baggage on to a packhorse and were happily getting ready to head out of the town and begin the journey into the heart of the Grey Alps. This geographical area was roughly circular in shape when viewed from the air, about eighty miles across at any given point, and filled with a large number of abnormally high and rugged peaks that seemed to rise suddenly from the surrounding plains. The entire clump of mountains was heavily fortified by the native dwarves as a bulwark against invasion from the semi-nomadic human tribes that once terrorized these plains on horseback. Time had changed the political and economic landscape of this region but the dwarves still maintained their defenses and kept a wary eye on Geldenreich, with whom they shared a long border from due west up around in an arc to the northeast. On every other side they bordered the Grafdom of Dreicounty.
The Grey Alps had once been an autonomous nation, ruled by a dwarven king. The growth of common enemies, however, caused them to form an alliance with Slothjemia that years later developed into a merging of territories. Instead of a king, the dwarves now had a Graf, and their lands were semi-autonomous now. They could not enter into any alliance with a foreign power without the approval of the ruler of Slothjemia, but that was hardly a sacrifice. The dwarves just wanted to be left alone anyway. They did not host an army corps, as did every other Slothjemian Grafdom. Instead they relied on their own army to defend their precious mountains. Having secured roughly 70% of their border just by merging with Slothjemia the dwarves could now concentrate on watching those shifty humans to the north. And watch they did.
Getting into and crossing the Grey Alps was always a challenge in itself. Unless you had excellent papers of transit, or some other means of identifying yourself in an official capacity, the border guards and internal security of the dwarven Grafdom could be positively ridiculous in keeping you out. The narrow passes that allowed travel through the mountains were dark, and covered in shadow virtually all of the time. It was always cool or downright cold, and snow on the peaks would cling to the mountains almost year round. Everywhere were watchtowers and citadels, perched on every outcropping was another location from which the dwarves could watch your every move. Nothing was more sacred to the dwarves of the Grey Alps than their privacy and sense of security.
This was precisely why Twitch loved this area. He was reluctant to let down his guard anywhere, but in the Grey Alps he always felt the most at ease. As Bort and Gerda saddled up, each one clutching their travel documents in small parcels, Twitch couldn’t help but delight in the prospect of a safe journey. His own passport was somewhat unorthodox, and rested in that well-worn black wallet he kept close to his heart.
The happy trio set off and in just a couple of hours reached the junction in the road that led west into the Grey Alps and north to go around the mountains. Of course all three were headed west. They rode for just a short while as they began climbing the slope towards the great fortified gates of Grondelburg, the eastern entrance to the valleys of the Grafdom. It was crafted from the rocks of these very mountains, and looked more like a dam to hold back water than it did a barricade to keep out trespassers. It was tall, far taller than it probably needed to be. The dark grey stone had been meticulously hewn with almost supernatural craftsmanship and then fitted with dwarven magicks to appear seamless and solid. Every valley was thus sealed off all around the perimeter of the pocket mountain range. To call it formidable would be a grave understatement.
As they approached the enormous gates they were met with a hundred or so heavily armed and armored dwarven guards milling about just outside. The portcullis was open, and inside, the interior doors were closed save for a small door to grant pedestrian access. An officer stepped forward and held out his hand. “Stop please!” he called out. “Papers and identification!”
The merchants held out their parcels to him, which he took and opened. He looked over the documents thoroughly and then handed them back. “You may proceed. Thank you for choosing to do business here!” the officer said smiling. Bort and Gerda rode on as the big doors were opened for them.
Bort looked over his shoulder at Twitch. “We’ll wait just on the other side for you, good bard!”
The officer stepped over to Sixx. “Would you mind dismounting, sir?” Twitch sighed. The perils of being an elf.
He got off of Sixx and stood before the officer. The dwarf looked at the horse, then at Twitch. “Do you have transit papers, sir?”
Twitch replied “I have credentials, captain. They are in a wallet inside my tunic. May I?” Twitch held his hands out to show he was not armed, at least not openly. The dwarf nodded, pleased that this elf knew protocol and was operating on proper etiquette.
Removing the wallet from inside his shirt, Twitch opened it and showed the contents to the dwarven captain. The dwarf’s eyes grew big and he couldn’t prevent the “Ah, yes” from escaping his mouth. Inside the wallet was the unmistakable badge of the Office of Exterior Investigation. It was pointy, enameled white, and had gold trim on the edges. In the center was the emblem of the Midnight Skull, the nearly sacred symbol of Slothjemia. This was a badge seldom seen, and yet everyone in the realm knew it on sight. This was no ordinary elf. This fellow was on her majesty’s secret service.
The dwarf looked Twitch in the eye and asked “What is your name sir?”
The disguised shadow elf replied “Twitch.” The two men smiled.
“Welcome to the Grey Alps, Twitch.” The dwarf removed his gauntlet and held out his hand. Twitch took off his riding glove and shook the captain’s hand. “Should any issue arise while in our fair stronghold, just let us know. If we don’t happen to see it occur, we can at least help clean it up.”
The two laughed. “My journey takes me beyond your home, captain. But thank you.” Twitch swung back on his horse. The dwarf stood back and motioned for him to continue. Sixx carried Twitch through the gate of Grondelburg and into the Grafdom of the Grey Alps. The merchants were waiting just past the gates as they had promised. And somewhere further down the road, awaited adventure.
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