fantasy cave with a ruined castle inside, marble staircase and a painting

A Sneak Peek.

Since I am getting close to finishing book two, I thought I would post a preview or two until it is finished. This is an unedited draft of the first chapter that has not yet been seen by my proof reader, so please keep that in mind. Also, the photo attached is not going to be the book’s cover, I just thought the post could use some color. I hope you enjoy…

 

Chapter 1

Meric stared in awe. The few days he had spent in the caves at the end of the war years ago, and the week just past, could not possibly have prepared him for the view he now faced. He stood on the landing at the exit of a tunnel that had felt like it slanted downward for days. In front of him was a sight unlike anything he had ever seen.

A huge lake spread out as far as the darkness allowed him to see on his left, tapering to a head where it flowed over a cliff edge directly in front of the landing. It must have been a mile wide where it disappeared over the drop-off. To his right the cavern wall curved out of view, and he could not see through the pitch black to where it came back around. Beyond the cliff, through the mist and spray from the waterfall, a grand city could be seen.

Light shone down on the city from several glowing crystals similar to the ones Dhuren’s party carried, only of a much greater size and brightness, revealing structures of many shapes, colors, and sizes. Buildings topped with domes, spires, and arches were laid out in a precise pattern of squares. Spread throughout were lush gardens and galleries full of varied sculptures, the details of which could not quite be made out from so great a distance. Bridges spanned the tops and upper levels of many of the buildings, creating pathways to traverse the city from the outskirts all of the way to the center.

At the center of the square city a wall much like the one in Dallena surrounded a massive natural cave column that had been shaped by the Dwarves into a many storied, fortress-like structure.

“Doanimar,” Dhuren said, breaking the hush that had fallen over the group. “Birthplace of the Dwarven people. You are among a very small number of humans that have ever set foot in this place, and the only ones still alive today.”

“We are honored by the trust you have placed in us.” Meric still could not tear his eyes away from the view.

“I have never seen anything more beautiful in my life.” Alyssa’s voice was filled with wonder, and was barely audible over the roar of the falls.

When Meric finally did look away, it was to see all of his friends at the landing’s rail, equally entranced. Movement out of the corner of his eye, resolved into the rest of Dhuren’s party passing them by and heading to a bridge. This one was massive, and stretched out across the water, and down out of sight beyond the cliff in a gentle slope. They had left twenty of the original thirty Dwarves behind in the caves near Glendon over a week ago. The sturdy warriors that had accompanied them were all in good spirits, laughing and joking with each other, as they reached the final leg of their trip home.

“Come, my friend,” said Dhuren, slapping him on the back. “Let us finish this journey. We can refresh and rest at my home, and tomorrow I will seek an audience for us with King Leonar.”

The walk across the bridge was long, but the many sights and sounds made the trip seem too fast. The rails of the arching causeway were light grey marble with traces of black slashed throughout. Underfoot were slate tiles of varying sizes and colors placed to present a mosaic of different scenes depicting the origin of the Dwarven peoples. Dhuren narrated each scene as they reached them to a fascinated Alyssa.

When they passed beyond the cliff, Meric looked over the side of the rail and down into the churning black water. The large lake below spread out for miles to either side of the city; on the right it wrapped around almost to the halfway point, and on the left it became another river, hugging the edge of the city and trailing behind to fade into the darkness. There were several boats out on the lake, floating in the calmer water a good distance from the falls. Ahead of them, the bridge met the city in the center of an area that resembled any of the major ports on the surface.

They made their way down a wide street that carved a straight path to the center of the city, each of his friends craning their necks this way and that, trying to take in as much as possible. The layout combined with the diverse architecture was chaotic, yet it still felt structured. Meric could not explain it any better than that. Everything appeared sturdy, solid. Even the walls and fences around the parks, gardens, and residences looked able to withstand an assault.

Many Dwarves were out and about, most stopping to stare at the group as they passed. Some appeared to be socializing, some running errands, and others could be seen performing various tasks. Their party was trying to look everywhere at once, and got a good opportunity to gawk at one point when they had to pause to let a heavily laden cart pass. The cart itself was a sight to behold, or rather, what was pulling it. Six thick legs carried the stocky, dark green body of what was, as far as Meric could tell, a short, fat lizard. The stubby tailed creature ambled about its business, seemingly docile, chewing away on a handful of some vegetation given by the beast’s owner as he walked alongside. Just one of many strange sights.

The clothing of Dhuren’s people ranged from simple knee-length tunics or shirts and trousers to elaborate robes. The material and colors also varied, though linen and leather were the most common. Their group eventually trickled to a stop not long after entering what looked to be a market square. Meric was sure that he was not the only one having a hard time deciding where to turn his attention. He did notice Dhuren standing next to him with a patient, knowing smile on his face.

Stalls lined the outside of the square; from small, one-person operations, to sections ten paces deep and wide with two or three Dwarves manning them. There was also a less populous, yet similar, setup at the center of the area and surrounding an elaborate, multi-tiered fountain. The variety of goods was amazing. There were merchants selling garments, tools, or food. Other stalls had materials of all different kinds that could be used in crafting everything from clothes to weapons. Fastil was leading Brody and Silas to one of the larger stalls, lined with racks of weapons and armor. Meric looked back around in time to see the rest of his friends focusing on Dhuren. The Dwarf chuckled and then addressed them all.

“Go on, have a look. Who knows if we will have time later?”

Alyssa hesitated and asked Dhuren a question.

“You… and all of your men as far as I could tell, speak excellent Common. Is that the case with all of your people?”

The Dwarf let out a hearty laugh.

“Well of course they do, Lady. Who do you think taught it to the Humans?”

She blinked and opened her mouth to respond, but simply shook her head ruefully. After a moment she just walked off throwing a “We can talk about that later” over her shoulder.

“This is quite something. We might have to drag Brody away,” Meric said.

“We do love our merchandise. Nothing like a good session of haggling to get the blood pumping. Our large friend may find a good replacement shield, or some other armor that can be fitted to him. As far as a weapon… that smith will be more interested in buying Brody’s axe than trying to sell him anything. That death dealer is the finest example of it’s kind, anywhere.”

“A kingly gift. Why did you really give it to him? That whole story about hating to see him swinging that ‘ugly hammer’ around never quite fit.” Meric hoped he was not going to offend the dwarf, but he was more curious than ever.

“Ahh… well, I guess you could say that I did it out of hope. Though, Fastil believes it was out of guilt.”

When Meric arched an eyebrow in question, Dhuren sighed, scratched it his beard before smoothing it out and then explained.

“I believe that it is time for us to reenter the world once more. Not just return to the surface, but become involved in your world again. With the Orcs becoming more active, and some of the troubling things we hear about the kingdom of your birth… I feel we could do some good.”

“How is it you hear things that are going on in a kingdom that believes you are no more than a myth?”

“We have our ways,” he said, and chuckled at the look Meric gave him. Holding his hands up defensively, the Dwarf went on.

“We have become good at hiding, and there are old tunnels that run underneath many of the larger human cities. We have done a good bit of listening from the shadows over the last century or so. There are many of my people that have always believed that we would emerge from our caves one day, that we should emerge. There is a lot that our two peoples can offer each other.

“Anyway, back to your question; My hope was in building a lasting friendship. Fastil says I acted out of shame. That day in the tunnels was not the first time we had seen you or your friend. We watched some of your battle from hiding. We were forbidden from interfering, but we watched… and hoped. In the end you and your people won the day, but it was not easy to stand by and do nothing.”

Dhuren finally turned to look Meric in the eye, something he had studiously avoided for the last part of his speech.

“I can see that you are troubled, and I am sure I know why. We could not risk the Orcs knowing that our people were once again venturing out from hiding. As much as you and yours hate the Orcs, they despise my people a hundred fold more.”

“In my head I understand your reasoning, but my heart says many lives could have been spared had you came forth.” Meric was not sure what to feel.

“In the short term… but one clan and a small number of reinforcements would have turned into all of the clans flooding over the mountains to hunt down their ancestral enemy. They would have destroyed any that got in their way.”

They were silent for a moment, but it was short lived. Dhuren cleared his throat and waved Meric after him as he moved off.

“Let us go find that lady of yours, before she outsmarts some poor dwarf out of all his hard-earned money.”

Meric let the dwarf change the subject, needing time to think about what had been said. They found Alyssa and Malina standing next to a table of leather goods. Most of the material was just different enough that he knew it did not come from the same animals as their own gear, but the principal appeared to be the same. A female dwarf, an inch or two taller than Dhuren and a bit more slender, was discussing a knapsack with the two Human women. She was pointing out something on the pack when he and Dhuren arrived.

 

<#>

A loud, deep gong sounded five minutes after they had walked away from the market in the direction of the city center. At the obvious curiosity on the human faces, Fastil informed them that it was the mid-day bell. Any businesses would be closing for two hours, allowing for time to eat and relax before opening up again until the evening bell.

“What happens if you need something during the two hours that everything is closed?” James asked.

“Well… you wait. That was always the trouble with you humans, though. You’re in such a hurry to do everything.” Fastil was the one who answered.

“What if it’s an emergency?” Brody chimed in.

“I suppose that you could track down whoever it is that you need, but it had better be life and death. You go interrupting a Dwarf’s mid-day drink, and you might end up with more worries than you started out with.” This brought a quiet laugh from both of the Dwarves accompanying them.

“Something our people learned from living a span of four to five centuries; life is meant to be experienced, not scurried through like some squirrel frantic to find the next nut,” Fastil continued.

“I’m sure that philosophy works well when you live ten times longer than a human,” was Brody’s response.

“I suppose that could change ones outlook in life.”

“Of course… I kind of like the idea. A couple hours to relax with a good beer, or three. It might just put me in a better mood to deal with the customers.” Brody smiled at the thought.

Meric snorted and slapped his friend on the back before speaking.

“After two hours of drinking, you would not have any customers. They would all be friends, and the drinks would be on the house.”

Brody frowned at this, but then grunted in agreement.

“Nothing wrong with making new friends,” Fastil said encouragingly to Brody.

Brody’s response was stopped before he could even speak it as Dhuren brought the group to a halt in front of an ornate gate opening to a beautiful yard that fronted an elegant three story manor. The yard was covered in a yellow, grass-like vegetation that was only a few inches in height. There were several colorful bushes and areas sectioned off by hedges, with benches and chairs spread throughout. A fountain gurgled from off to the right of the path leading to the front of the residence. All in all, a very peaceful scene.

“Wow,” breathed Malina.

Meric could only agree. The house was just as impressive as any other building in the city. Beautifully crafted, yet solid as a fortress. These Dwarves did not fool around when it came to building things. He followed the group into Dhuren’s home, head twisting this way and that, still trying to take in as many of the sights as possible.

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