Fight, Swear, Loathe; Chapter 21

As Hilde and Belynda walked cautiously up to the spot where Cinder was sitting, they watched for any sign of trouble. It wasn’t clear which of them first saw the spider totem carved in the rock wall, but they looked at each other, and sighed heavily. This was unmistakably the territory of the drow. There wasn’t anything particularly bad about this, as long as they knew that Hilde and Belynda were Slothjemian. But if they didn’t know, or didn’t care, then there could be trouble. The drow could be wildly unpredictable when provoked, and it didn’t take much to provoke them.

Inside this branch of the cave complex, about a hundred yards away from where they were standing, was a grey stone wall. It ran all the way across the two-hundred or so foot distance between the natural cave walls, and ran all the way up to the ceiling. There were some arrow slits, or at least that is what they looked like from here, up near the top of the wall, and right in the middle at ground level was a large, metal door. The door appeared to be a good twenty feet tall, and it had the image of a gigantic black spider on it.

Hilde began to look at the ground around her, to see any sign of arrows that might be able to reach them. She was, to put it mildly, reluctant to approach the door. Belynda stood there, quietly, watching her mistress. After several minutes, Hilde said, “I guess I should go knock, and see if anybody is home.” She looked down at her squire. “You can wait here, if you like. I can’t guarantee what kind of reaction we will get.”

Belynda smiled. “I am the one that knows how to speak a little drow. I’ll go with you, and yell hello.” The xvart shifted her backpack, and Cinder climbed up her leg and perched on the back of the bag.

Hilde took a deep breath, and said, “Ok, then. Let’s go yell hello.”

It was a long walk, made longer by the fact that at any minute they could suffer an archery attack by unseen snipers. As cool in temperature as the caves were, both Belynda and Hilde were sweating profusely. Hilde left her swords sheathed, and cursed under her breath for not having brought a shield. Belynda walked beside her, holding her little staff so that they could see clearly. Cinder sniffed the air incessantly, the entire distance. The soft crunch of the gravel under their feet could not have sounded louder.

They walked directly up to the door, and not one arrow was shot. They didn’t trigger any traps, and no alarms were sounded. Hilde looked at Belynda, and whispered, “This didn’t go quite as I expected.” Hilde looked at the big metal door, and with her plate gauntleted fist, she pounded on the surface next to the huge spider sculpture. She had hoped it was painted on, but no, it was a massive sculpture attached to the door somehow. It was hideous.

The adventurers waited for a minute, and then Hilde pounded again on the door. The silence was deafening. She looked at Belynda again, and said, “I thought you were going to yell hello.”

Belynda cupped her little hands around her mouth, and in her loudest, most vocal holler, belted out “HELLO!”

After a moment, Hilde said, “I thought you were going to say it in drow.”

Belynda blinked at her. “It’s the same.”

Hilde blinked, and said, “It’s a good thing I brought you.”

Belynda cupped her hands again, and yelled, “HELLO!” Hilde punctuated it by pounding again on the door.

There was a metallic grinding sound on the other side of the door, startling Hilde who could have sworn the spider sculpture was coming to life. Belynda took a step back, and tried to not panic. The clanking continued, interspersed with a sort of rattle and hum.

Hilde muttered under her breath, “Hello, indeed. I could have done that. Same thing. You’ve got to be kidding me.” The door didn’t seem to budge, but the sound didn’t cease.

The sound stopped, and then there was a loud click. A loud ticking sound began, and the door started to swing inward and up. Hilde and Belynda both took a couple of steps back. Belynda was in better vantage point to see what was on the other side of the door than Hilde, but there wasn’t anything to be seen. It looked like a large entry room, and a soft purplish light spilled out. It wasn’t as powerful as Belynda’s light, but it was much prettier.

Once the door was fully opened, it clunked into place, and four drow elves stepped from the shadows on either side of the door, their shiny black armor glowing pleasantly in the light. They had their scimitars drawn, dark, evil-looking blades, no doubt possessing magical power of an unpleasant nature. One of them was a woman, and she said something, her voice sounding confused, or perhaps bemused.

Belynda looked at Hilde. “She wants to know who we are, and how we got here. I don’t know how to translate the profanities, but they were pretty potent from the context.” The xvart slipped a scarf over the top of her staff to dull the light. Dark elves of the underdark are quite sensitive to this level of brightness.

Hilde responded, “I am Shar Hilde Eigenblade, on a quest for Baron Hossler, who owns a gold mine that joins to your caves several miles up that-away.” With that, Hilda pointed back towards the direction they had come.

Belynda turned, and was about to translate, when the female elf said, in broken Slothjemian, “You are Slothjemian! How did you getted to this, though? Those caves go noplace!”

Both Hilde and Belynda were surprised that the drow knew their language, even in a rudimentary fashion. Hilde went to say something, and then thought better of it. Instead, she replied, “It is a long story. It goes someplace, now. It didn’t before, but it does now.”

It was an awkward few moments before the drow woman said, softly, “That was not long story. Was short story.”

Hilde shrugged, and in a deflated tone said, “I guess you had to be there.” Belynda started giggling, and Hilde bit her own lower lip to keep from laughing.

The drow elves seemed perplexed by this entire exchange, and the woman said, “You be waiting here. I go and check on something. Relaxing, please.” With that, she turned and walked away. She moved like a woman accustomed to being in charge of things, and Hilde liked her instinctively.

The other three elves, all men, stood awkwardly waiting for their commander to return. They sheathed their scimitars, and Hilde had a chance to admire their armaments. Everything was bathed in the soft, purple glow of the magical light that emanated from the runes on the walls inside the entry way. Belynda explained to Hilde what the runes said, and they were all variations on a theme; this was not a main portal into the dark elven realm, it was more of a backdoor into what they considered to be a useless backyard. The runes warned of dangers beyond this point, and also contained encouragements for the hunters that went out from here to seek out trouble. No wonder they had been surprised to see strangers here.

Belynda struck up a conversation with the elves, and they seemed to be a friendly trio of men-at-arms. Hilde had no idea what was being said, but she took full advantage of using her newfound linguistic skills by saying “hello” to each of them. While her squire chatted with the elves, Hilde just looked around and appreciated not having been shot by an archer.

Hilde had no idea how long the elven commander was gone, but she set down her backpack, and squatted to relax her legs. Belynda had the elves laughing about something, but they sobered up quickly when the commander returned. With her was a swamp orc; a man wearing a fine doublet made of black silk, with silver thread embroidered spider web designs on the sleeves, and matching trousers with black leather boots. Seeing a jor here was more than surprising. Hilde was stunned, and quickly stood up.

The jor waved, and smiled. His tusks were exquisitely carved, and looked to have diamonds inset in them. His hair was slicked back into a ponytail that hung down his back. He had gloves, but they were tucked into his black leather belt. “Hello!” he said, his voice strong and clear.

Hilde muttered to Belynda, “Look at that, he speaks flawless drow elven, too.”

The elven commander motioned to the jor, and said, “This is honored guest. He say to speak for you.”

Hilde looked at the swamp orc, and said quietly, “I have no earthly notion what that is supposed to mean.”

Laughing, the jor said, “I am to vouch for you, milady. As a fellow Slothjemian, it is assumed that I would know each and every one of my countrymen.” His laugh was subdued, almost as though he had never been around real jors, who were renown for being loud and boisterous revelers. “What is your name, if I may be so bold?” he asked Hilde.

Doing her best to look as though she hadn’t been rock-climbing for two days or more Hilde replied, “My name is Shar Hilde Eigenblade, lately of Brakoff.” She gave her best smile, and added, “This is my first quest, so you probably don’t know me.”

The jor bowed politely, and replied, “No, I am afraid I don’t recognize the name. My deepest apologies, but I haven’t made it to Romilmark, yet. I am sure that had I done so, I would no doubt have been acquainted with such a lovely, and dedicated warrior.” His smile was disarming in a way that Hilde was quite unprepared for. She could tell she was blushing, but thankfully in this odd lighting, nobody could tell.

“Allow me to introduce myself.” Said the jor, placing his hand on his chest. “I am Shr Rackerby Helfenstein von Slothjem. It is a pleasure to meet you; and this lovely young woman is your squire?” he said, looking at Belynda.

“Oh my, yes!” exclaimed Belynda, fairly gushing with delight. “An honor to meet you, too, your majesty!”

The jor laughed in his quiet fashion, and held his hand behind his back. “No, no, my dear. I am just a humble knight, in service to my Queen.”

Hilde felt faint, but she shifted her hips and placed her hand against the doorframe for balance. “But you are a von Slothjem. Certainly, that must make you a prince.” Hilde was not used to this sort of feeling, a mix of minor awe and acute awareness of a distinguished, and very handsome fellow.

“Only if everyone else in my family dies, my lady.” Said the jor, punctuating his statement with a disarming smile.

Belynda bubbly exclaimed, without any forethought whatsoever, “Oh, then you have a chance!”

The swamp orc’s gentle laughter turned to a more familiar howl of delight. “Yes, I believe you are right. A remote chance, but I can at least draw comfort in that slimmest of possibilities.”

Hilde was mortified, but Belynda couldn’t stop smiling. Her pupil-less eyes darted from Hilde to the fancy swamp orc, as if to exclaim even louder how awesome this was to meet a member of the royal family. Meanwhile, the jor was speaking to the elven commander, and when they finished conversing, he motioned to the ladies to come into the entry hall.

“Everything is taken care of, dear ladies. You’ll be my guest here.” The jor said, “Follow me, I’ll take you to my cottage. You’ve arrived just in time for the final day of the mushroom fish festival.” He smiled again, and added, “You are in for a real treat!”

Belynda jogged to keep up with him, and Hilde picked her backpack up and followed, as well. The guards set to closing the big metal door, and had they been listening, they would have heard her muttering, “Hello, indeed.”

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