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Two Trails - Title

Chapter 31

Storm was frowning off into the distance as they finished eating lunch. They’d landed near the bend of a small stream to eat and refill their canteens. The burbling of the water was the only sound aside from their pegasi cropping grass. “What’s wrong?” Lorelei asked.

He shook his head. “I don’t know. I can’t shake the feeling something is wrong but I can’t put my finger on it.”

Lorelei let her eyes run around the landscape. They were leaving the hill country of the Dales behind as they finally entered the southeastern edge of her homeland, the great Biqah Prairie. The prairie grass was still short this early in the season. There was nothing for an enemy to hide behind, and the occasional tree didn’t provide much cover either. To her experienced eye, they were the only living things within leagues and leagues.

Still, she’d learned to trust Storm when he said something was wrong. His sense of danger was the best she’d ever seen.

“Is it close?”

“No,” he answered promptly. “I guess that’s the problem. It’s so faint I’m not even sure it’s real.” He looked around again. “It keeps bugging me though.”

“Maybe it’s Durin’s test,” she suggested. “We haven’t heard from them since yesterday. Let’s call them and find out how things are going.” Already she was getting used to staying in contact with far away friends.

That wasn’t it but doing something was better than nothing. It was certainly better than worrying, Storm decided. “Sure. Let’s take a peek at their ugly mugs.”

“Ralt is the handsomest man I’ve ever seen,” she chided him gently as she dug out the mirror.

He gave her a crooked grin. “It’s a guy thing.”

She rolled her eyes. “Here. Call them.”

He shook his head. “You call ‘em for a change.”

She laughed and flipped it open. She spoke the command word then waited and waited. They didn’t answer. Just as she was starting to worry, the mirror cleared and Ralt, slightly out of breath was looking at her. Behind him she could see the top of Durin’s head and someone else besides.

“Hi!” A shining staff was leaning against something beside him.

“Hi, yourself,” she answered. “What took you so long to answer?”

“We were just coming back from the Fire Cavern. Look what Durin made for me this morning!” He grabbed the shining staff and waved it in the air. “This is Shadow Flame!”

Storm stuck his head next to Lorelei’s. “Sounds like quite a story,” he remarked. “But we haven’t been able to contact you in several days so why don’t you start at the beginning instead of catching us by surprise?”

Ralt had the grace to look embarrassed. “Sure.” He launched into a fast recounting of everything that had transpired since the last time they spoke. Storm and Lorelei were amazed, then amazed again when Ralt told them about his sudden engagement to Missy.

“Wow. You’ve known each for what?, four or five days and you’re engaged?” Storm shook his head in wonder. “Are you sure you know what you’re doing, buddy?”

Ralt was surprised and warmed at Storm’s affectionate language. The first time they’d met he’d tried to kill Ralt the moment he’d learned he was a wizard. Now he was calling him a buddy. It was quite a change of heart. He pulled Missy close so they could see her.

“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.”

Lorelei smiled at her. “Congratulations! He’s a fine man.”

Missy smiled back. “He speaks highly of the two of ye, so I thank ye for yer kind words.”

Storm gave in. “Alright. I’m happy for you. Congratulations, Ralt. Welcome to the family, Eira.”

“Missy,” she corrected him. “Everyone calls me Missy.”

“Missy,” he agreed.

“But what family?” she asked curiously.

Storm waved a hand to indicate all of them. “It’s a Jerry Springer kind of family, I grant you, but a family all the same.”

She shook her head in confusion. “A who’s family kind of family?”

“Uh, sorry, long story.”

Beside her, Ralt was mouthing the words ‘long story’ in time with Storm. Ignoring her expression he asked them. “Why are you following the Cliff Road? Can’t you cut across country? Lorelei should know the Biqah better than any of us.”

“I do,” she sniffed, “but not from the air. Everything looks different. And I only know the part of the Biqah where my tribe lived, on the edge of the River Lands.”

“Since we don’t have a compass, we’re stuck following the roads from the air,” Storm finished for her, then he launched into the tale of their battle with Adrammelech and his men. “Aram is going crazy over the implications of it,” he concluded. He’s in hog heaven.” Everyone laughed.

It was true though.

Aram’s amazement at the news had been palpable. It had loosened his tongue enough he’d even let them in on the contents of some old, usually private, Temple records recovered from the First Age. The records, written by people who’d followed the gods from Elder Earth to Gaia, hinted the gods had been forced to make major concessions to each other in order to be able to work together to create Gaia. One of the pledges they’d had to make dealt with their followers, resulting in Adrammelech’s inability to attack them but that was widely considered a myth until Storm verified it. Details were scarce but Aram warned them the records seemed to indicate once a non-follower attacked one of the gods, all bets were off. The revelation had given Storm plenty of food for thought, especially the part of about the gods making pledges.

The five friends spent some more time catching up and “chewing the fat” as Storm called it before finally saying goodbye.

Ralt snapped the lid shut on the mirror.

“I like this,” Missy said, reaching out to caress it. “It’s too bad we don’t have more of them. Imagine what an army could do with these.”

Ralt and Durin shared a look. She saw it.


Durin nodded at the mirror. “Storm said da same ting when he first learned about ‘em. He has our friend Gerald makin’ more of ‘em.”

“More o’ wot?” Grior asked, stumping into the room.

Ralt slid the mirror smoothly into his pack and rose without missing a beat. “More sticks to beat you over the head with. Why do you have to have Durin take a second test? Didn’t the first one convince you he is who he says he is?” He was rather proud of himself for covering so well.

“Seeing a legend come ta life is difficult fer our people,” Grior defended himself. “Most of us tink he’s Durin, a’right, but we gots ta be sure.”

Durin was getting tired of them questioning who he was. “So wots the next test? Let’s git goin’!”

Grior nodded. “Dat’s why I’m here. Thrgin said ta bring ya to da armory.”

Durin sighed heavily. “Lead on.” He could only imagine what sort of test he might have to take in the armory.

Missy laced her fingers with Ralt’s. “Why didn’t you want Grior ta see da mirror?”

He glanced around, slowing their pace so Grior couldn’t overhear them. “You’re part of our family, maybe even our Army of Light, but he’s not. None of them are, at least not while they’re questioning who Durin is.”

She glanced at him quizzically. “Army of Light?”

“Long story,” Ralt answered shortly, laughing at himself for using the same answer he hated getting from Storm. “I’ll tell you as soon as we get a chance,” he promised.

She smiled and reached up to kiss him lightly. “Be sure ye do. It sounds fun.”

They followed Grior through several sturdy doors guarded by dwarves in heavy plate armor. Finally, they passed through a massive door like a bank vault and entered a large room with weapons and armor of every kind in it. The room was too large by half for the meager amount of weaponry stored in it.

Ralt frowned. “Not much here.” He pitched his voice to a low whisper so only Missy could hear him.

Grior heard it though. “Der’s enough fer everyone in da tribe,” he muttered defensively. “There just ain’t many of us.”

Ralt thought about it then realized every one of them must have been present in the Fire Cavern. Most of them were here too.

Thrgin was waiting beside a small wooden table like a kitchen chopping block. A faded purple velvet cloth was draped over the top. A small object was hidden beneath the cloth. Grior motioned Ralt and Missy to stop while Durin went on alone.

He stopped in front of the table.

Thrgin looked him up and down. “We ‘ave two treasures left to us from da First Age,” he intoned solemnly. “The hammer ye used ta forge da mage’s staff –”

“Shadow Flame,” Durin interjected.

“Shadow Flame,” Thrgin acceded with bad grace. For some reason he’d been less than enthusiastic about Durin forging it. It seemed the more Durin proved who he was, the less Thrgin liked it.

“But dat was only half of da test ye have ta pass.” He looked warningly at Ralt, “And da penalty fer failing dis part is still death fer ye both.”

Ralt felt Missy’s hand clench on his but that was her only outward reaction. He and Durin nodded in tandem.

“Git on wit it,” Durin rumbled.

Thrgin took one edge of the velvet cloth. “Our second treasure is here. Identify and use what lies here before ye!” With that he whipped the cloth off the table.

A light blue diamond, about the size of a large marble, lay in the middle of the wooden block. A glowing spiral was embedded in the middle of it. The gentle glow from it filled the air.

Durin sucked in his breath. “Yahalom Eben Thangadrim,” he breathed in wonder. “How came ye by dis?”

The dwarves in the room stirred at his instantaneous identification of the diamond.

Ralt shook his head. “What?”

Missy pulled him down to whisper in his ear. “Yahalom Eben Thangadrim means Diamond Stones of Thangadrim. According to legend, dis is one of seven. But that’s the old name for them. Today we just call them Kingdom Stones.”

“Ye know it?” Grior asked Durin.

Durin shot him a look of disgust. “O’course I know it. I was der when me father put a lock of ‘is hair in each of dem. Dat’s what be glowing in da center of it, his hair.”

“Bold words,” Thrgin snapped irritably. “We only be interested in knowing if’n ye ken use it, not if ye can name it.”

Durin smiled. It was the expression of someone who already knows ahead of time what’s going to happen. “Me father and twelve elders bârâ’d a lock of ‘is hair in the center of seven blue diamonds. One stone was embedded in ‘is throne. If any of his blood line holds any of da other six, it will put out a beam of light pointing da way back ta Thangadrim.”

He picked up the blue diamond. Instantly, a beam of light, thin as a hair, shot out pointing to the distant north-by-northwest.

There was dead silence in the room as the shocked dwarves stood staring at the beam of light coming from Durin’s clenched fist. For a long moment nothing happened.

Grior stepped forward and dropped to one knee before Durin. “All hail the King,” he shouted. “Hail King Durin!”

First one, then another, then all the dwarves in the room dropped to their knees before Durin. Thrgin stared angrily at the beam of light, then his fellow dwarves kneeling and finally, slowly, bent down on one knee.


Durin’s voice sounded different, Ralt noted. It was still his voice but there was a tone of command that hadn’t been there before. Although they’d known since early in the quest to rescue Krista that Durin was royalty, a prince, the heir apparent of a king, this was the first time it had been proven before those who owed him their fealty. Now, seeing Durin among his own people, with them acknowledging him as their King, the full weight of that position was already making itself felt. Was this the way he sounded when he’d lived in Thangadrim? Careless royalty that assumed instant obedience?

Once again, Ralt found himself wondering exactly what it was he’d helped unleash.

The dwarves rose to their feet then crowded around their new sovereign, reaching out to touch him, to pledge their loyalty to him, to have him notice them.

Missy tugged on Ralt.


She pointed back toward the door. Thrgin was slipping out, unnoticed by anyone except them. “Sour grapes,” she opined. “He liked being in charge. Now he ain’t.”

Ralt’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully. The lust for power was a curse as old as time. If Thrgin suffered from it, his jealously might drive him to desperate measures. It might be wise to keep an eye on him.

Missy agreed with him when he told her his caution. “I hate myself for thinking like that, though,” he added. “Durin has been King for less than a few moments and already we’re thinking about watching out for political adversaries.” He spat on the ground. “This sucks.” It was one of Storm’s Earth sayings that seemed to perfectly capture his feelings.

He heaved a sigh, then pushed forward through the crowd. His mithril staff was like the bow of a ship parting the waters. The dwarves gave way without protest. Durin smiled at him.

“We need to talk. Sire.”

Durin’s face clouded at the honorific. “Dat was me father.”

Ralt brushed it aside. “Your father is dead, Sire. You’re the king now. We need to talk.”

Durin stared hard at him. “Fine.” He glanced around. “Dis be as good a place as any.” He raised his voice. “Everyone out while I ‘ave a word wit me advisor.”

Still in shock at the confirmation of a legend that was thousands of years old, the dwarves moved unquestioningly to obey. In a trice the room was empty. Missy started to leave but Ralt refused to let go of her.

When the door slammed shut, Durin turned to him. “Alright, we be alone. Talk.”

“You’ve proven who you are,” Ralt said without preamble, “but you’re not the king until you’ve been crowned. Where will that have to take place?”

“Thangadrim.” Durin’s voice sounded normal again.

Ralt nodded. “That’s what I thought. Right now, they’re doing what you tell them, but how long with that last? Thrgin walked out as soon you told everyone to rise. Who knows what he’s going to do.”

“Nothing good,” Missy interjected.

Ralt glanced at her. “Grior was right, you do speak out of turn.” He smiled to take the sting out of it. “But, he was also right when he said you’re right when you do.”

“So wot would ye ‘ave me do? Arrest ‘im?”

Ralt looked around for something to sit on. A half-empty weapon rack was the right height and he sat back on it. “Of course not, but you’ve got to keep them too busy to think until you can lead them to Thangadrim.”

“I ken git ‘em started forging mithril,” Durin snorted.

“That’s a good start,” Ralt agreed, “but that will only work for a few weeks. After that, I was thinking of something a little more – robust. How about taking on those giants like Storm was talking about doing?”

“Are ye daft?” Durin roared at him. “We don’t know ‘ow many der are up der.”

“So, send out spies or scouts or whatever you call it and find out,” Ralt countered. “But if you keep them doing the same thing that Thrgin had them doing, pretty soon they’re going to wonder why they need a king for that. But before you lead them halfway across Gaia, you need to lead them in a successful battle closer to home.”

Missy was staring at him in wonder. “Ye sound more like a dwarf than he does,” she breathed.

“He’s maken’ sense though,” Durin said. He eye him owlishly. “And wot will ye be doing all dis time?”

Ralt sighed. “I have to call Gerald. We’re going to need some help.”

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