The Worm

The Worm

The elf was lead into the chamber by two little gray gnomes, shackles around their wrists and ankles.

“Sit, sit,” said one.

“Please, please,” said the other.

The room was richly decorated, the oppressive stone walls almost completely covered with tapestries, paintings, weapons on plaques, and various other items. All of them, however, seemed old and unkempt. Relics from a time long past. In the middle of the chamber was a huge stone table, a map of the Reshte Cavern City etched into its surface. She leaned over the polished surface to get a closer look.

“Please sit!” said one of the gomes, sounding very anxious.

“Right, right,” she said, allowing them to pull a heavy wooden seat for her to sit in. It was far too broad for her, and also quite short. She leaned back in it, and addressed one of the slaves.

“Do you have anything to drink? Anything without a blind fish swimming in it, preferably.”

“Yes, yes!” said one.

“Wine,” said the other, nodding. “The master loves wine. We will fetch it. Please wait for master.” They scuttled out, their chains dangling. Poor dears, she thought, though she spared little pity for the creatures.

The two large double doors at the other end of the chamber, decorated with shields emblazoned with a strange tentacled creature on their bosses, creaked open. The deep dwarf, or duergar in their tongue she remembered, was dressed richly in black and red silks. His skin was a very dark gray and his hair and beard a fiery red. He was bald except around the crown, and his nose was one of the largest she had ever seen. She stood when he entered. He ignored her, took the chair at the far end of the table, and yelled out.

“Slaves!” he yelled. “Where are those damn gnomes?”

“They’ve gone to fetch me wine,” the woman said, leaning back in the chair, looking uninterested. The dwarf eyed her, as if seeing her for the first time.

“Oh, it’s you,” he said, gruffly.

“In the flesh,” she returned, looking at her nails.

The two little gnomes ran in, eyes wide with terror. One slammed two goblets down on the table, filled them with a deep red wine from a very dusty bottle, and placed them in front of the dwarf and elf. The other set a large platter of what looked like giant maggots, still alive and pulsing, in front of the dwarf, as well as a small contraption that looked like a metal candle holder. He lit the top of it, and it sparked and flamed.

They scurried out as the elf placed a hand over her mouth in disgust.

“You’re not going to eat those?” she asked in disbelief. He simply smiled and speared one of the pale grubs with a two pronged fork of black steel. It wriggled on the fork, and he put it over the strange flaming device. It’s skin began to blister and cook.

“It’s a delicacy,” he said. “Baby purple worm, right out of the egg sack.” He took it from the flame and bit into it, strange juices spattering across his face and the table. The elf looked like she was going to be sick.

“I came to talk business,” she said, pulling a handkerchief from her blouse to hold over her face. “I didn’t come to see you gorge yourself on filth.”

“I know why you came,” he said, continuing to pull the maggot apart and suck it down. “You could’ve sent a messenger, but no. You’ve heard about the King’s Moot and had to come ask me yourself.”

“So it’s true then,” she said, sitting up. “They’re meeting.”

He smiled, and licked his lips. “You realize the King’s Moot and it’s laws date from centuries before the Schism War? From before we and the rest of the dwarves had our little…split?”

“Yes, yes,” she said. “It’s an ancient custom for times of turmoil. How will you use this to your advantage?”

“I don’t think you’re getting the point. We’re invited.”

She looked at him, incredulous. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “They wouldn’t. Just let you walk into the Krell Caverns? Especially not after that business in Gwydren.”

“You underestimate the dwarven reliance on tradition,” he said. “We’re sending someone. The high priest himself knows and approves. He hopes it’ll be a step toward peace.”

The elf finally shook her head, and started laughing. He chuckled with her, spearing another morsel.

“So this makes things easier, does it?” she asks.

“It might, it might, now, if your people are still playing their part,” he said, pointing the fork at her.

“Dorthone almost needs no help in staying on it’s knees,” she said. “The Queen is getting pulled this way and that, and my master ensures it will stay that way.”

“Master, or masters?” the dwarf asked. She narrowed her eyes.

“Your suspicious,” she said.

“It pays to be. You can’t become King of Reshte without seeing daggers in every cloak my dear.” He wiped his hands on a silk napkin.

“There are other rumors,” she said, allowing herself a half smile. “Secret deals, down in the dark.”

“Hmph,” was all he said. She eyed the shields.

“You play a dangerous game,” she said.

“We all do, elf,” he said. “Now you should be running along to pass your whispers into the right ears.”

She stood up to leave, but stopped right at the door. She turned her head.

“You might think these kings weak,” she said.

“They are,” he said, spitting. “Fat, weak wormlings. Most of them probably haven’t held a pick or hammer in years.”

“My information is the opposite,” she said. “Turmoil and change, Kesh. The forge of tragedy has ever shaped the strongest dwarves.”

She went through the door, leaving Kesh to his thoughts and worms.

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