The White Badge of Deceit; Chapter 7

The twisting, interconnected valleys of the Grey Alps formed the only above-ground transportation arteries in the Grafdom. They climbed and descended, curved and meandered. High up every mountainside were towers and larger buildings to provide the dwarven tunnels inside the mountains with fresh air and a means of defense. Each one of the peaks had its own name and within was a city, called by the same name, housing a separate dwarven clan. The merchants Fenstelt were going to Kasseldram, a place known for fine textiles. It was not one of the larger clans, but it did rank among the most affluent. It was right along the way Twitch was travelling, and so he was happy enough to stop there and say a proper farewell. The gateway into Kasseldram was an enormous affair. It jutted out from the base of the mountain as if the square tower had been pushed out of the hillside from within. The stone was dark grey, as was every outer structure in this realm. The gate tower had on its ramparts several colorful flags though, and their vividness seemed even brighter when contrasted with the grey stones. The banners of Slothjemia, the old Grey Alps ensign that was now used as the standard for the Grafdom, and the flag of the Kasseldram clan. The fluttering of the flags was almost deafening in the rocky canyons.

Bort and Gerda said their farewells to Twitch here. After shaking their hands, Twitch nudged Sixx and the horse began to move down the canyon road. He turned and waved to the merchants. “Fair well friends! And may you profit abundantly!”

This brief pause had not delayed the bard unduly, but he still felt as though he needed to make up some lost time. He nudged Sixx to encourage his steed to pick up the pace. They were trotting happily through the canyons as Twitch took advantage of his being alone to look around and go over his plans yet again. Every now and again they would encounter a dwarf with a mule toting something or other along the road, or a small ox cart hauling goods across the Grafdom for export on the other side. There were regular watering pools all along the canyons that were fed by the innumerable springs and tiny waterfalls that cascaded down the mountains. Sixx drank his fill at every stop, and at every clan gatehouse they ate and rested. Twitch never had to produce his badge again to prove his right to be traversing through the Grafdom. The guards at each gatehouse were happy to share some of their rations in exchange for a few songs, and they even offered ale or the stout wine that they had imported from the Slothjemian Coreland. The sky was cloudless, and at night the stars provided a terrific amount of ambient light. The gatehouses of course were very well illuminated. The journey was made immeasurably easier by the well paved road, the abundant water, and ample amounts of food for both horse and elf. The sense of security helped even more and Twitch decided to simply press forward and not bother finding a place to sleep. Instead he watched the stars, listened to the winds and sang softly to himself and his horse.

The time went by quickly as he and Sixx made their way through the rolling maze of valleys. A lot of the surface traffic was in dwarves taking their goods from their clan strongholds to the outside world. There were well-hewn tunnels of almost unheard-of size connecting the mountain lairs beneath the ground. But these did not break out into the plains surrounding the Grey Alps. Twitch chatted occasionally with these dwarven tradesmen, and did so only in the language common to Geldenreich. It was time to begin thinking in that language, as well as speak it.

The language of Geldenreich was not very dissimilar to the Slothjemian common tongue. In fact there was a common root to both, a linguistic thread that ran up to the northwest as far as anyone had ever travelled and still found land to walk on. But the details of the Geldenreich tongue were more intricate, not as coarse as the Slothjemian dialect. Elves had a joke about the Slothjemian language being the same as Geldenreich but only if you spoke it like a drunken dwarf.

Twitch enjoyed languages, and he also enjoyed dressing the part of whatever role he was playing. For this trip he had not brought his usual clothes that he employed for the role of travelling minstrel. This time around he was wearing loose, baggy legged pants made of silky material with vibrant blue and yellow stripes. His tunic was yellow with puffy sleeves, perfect for hiding things that might be useful. His doublet was a bright blue with vivid white trim. Inside the padding he had hiding places for his priceless but well-worn black wallet, and some coins for an emergency. In the back of his doublet he had sewn in his stiletto. He also tucked a handful of useful scrolls into the shoulders just in case he needed some powerful magic at a moment’s notice. He did not have a hat to go with this ensemble, but he was enjoying having dark hair and showing it off.

Packed in his saddlebags were more utilitarian clothes. His long, flowing black cloak; perfect for lurking in shadows or vanishing altogether in the night. Gloves and boots designed for climbing walls, or trees, or anything else that needed to be scaled. A fine silken rope and a small grappling hook in case there was a tougher climb on the agenda. And a set of simple peasant garb should he need to just walk about a bit and not be noticed. He had a big floppy hat for that disguise to help cover his elven ears. A simple look for a harmless serf. The simplest disguises were always the best.

It took two full days to ride through the twisting valley roads of the Grey Alps. Twitch enjoyed every minute of it. He ran through the maps in his mind that he had for Debreken and the floorplans of some of the major buildings he would have to enter in order to fulfill his task. He also thought about how he was going to get across the border into Geldenreich. The frontier was wide open. The border ran through a rolling plain with few natural barricades to intrusion. There were no sizeable hills, no mountains, and no rivers of any significant size. The dwarves had built occasional watchtowers at regular intervals very long ago and these were now maintained and manned by non-dwarven Slothjemians who served as the Rural Constabulary for the lands of the Grafdom that were not contained by the mountains. Geldenreich had border crossings and garrisons along the roads going into their lands, and utilized knights on horseback or mercenaries to patrol the open ground between these sites. On the Slothjemian side, the plains were mostly unkempt, and herds of wild deer and other animals ran free. On the Geldenreich side there was significantly more discipline. Manor lands were carefully maintained, and guarded by armed serfs or hired soldiers who worked for the various lords overseeing the manors. There were a lot of small castles dotting the countryside of Geldenreich here, and the risk of sneaking in really didn’t seem worth it to Twitch. Crossing at a proper border post was the best option.

Twitch rode out from the Grey Alps via the Hopeldorg Gate on the northwest side of the mountains. This gate looked very much like the Grondelburg Gate and the guards here were no different. Exiting, though, they didn’t ask for any papers and were satisfied to just grin and wave. Twitch watered Sixx one last time, and played a few songs for the guards in trade for some dried meat for himself and grain for Sixx. He took a long look across the rolling plains. He would be at the border around midday. Plenty of grass along the road for the horse, and nothing but clear blue sky and billowy clouds all the way around. The sun had just come up and it was as gorgeous a day as he had ever seen. The road ran almost straight across the rolling countryside, a wide dirt ribbon running through prairie grass that was high enough for fully-grown gnomes to walk through completely unseen. Twitch settled into the saddle, and off he went towards Geldenreich.

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