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Two Trails - Title

Chapter 35

A contentious wife can lay low the mightiest man.
A righteous wife can glorify the weakest one.
– The Proverbs of Shedey’uwr

“Five days ye’ve been gone!” Durin thundered at Ralt as he and Missy rode their steeds up onto the “front porch” of the mine.

Spring was in full bloom around the entrance to the mines. A riot of mountain flowers had blossomed, seemingly overnight, filling the valley below with hues from every color of the rainbow. The scent of wildflowers filled the air and raucous bird calls were everywhere.

Their wild chattering was nearly overwhelming as they strutted and preened, trying to attract the attention of the females, building nests and fighting with each other in the ancient mating rituals of their kind.

New-born fawns wobbled about on spindly legs that looked to be no more than sticks, overseen by watchful does, ears pricked for the slightest hint of danger to their babies. Rock badgers scurried about the crags and cliffs, along with skunks, gophers, porcupines, mice, and field animals of every kind. The predators were out in force too, hungry after their enforced fast during the long winter months. Wolves, bobcats, mountain lions, and bears appeared out of nowhere to hunt their prey.

Other, less savory beasts, were coming out as well. Manticores had been spotted in the higher elevations, and on three occasions, frost giants had been seen in the distance.

“Good to see you too,” Ralt smiled at the fuming dwarf. He vaulted off his pegasus with the same skill as his elvish forebears then turned to help Missy dismount from her horse. It was a small one, but still large for her diminutive size.

“Wot ‘ave ye been do’n all dis time?” Durin was fit to be tied.

Missy gave him an arch look. “We just got married. What do ye think we’ve been do’n?”

Durin’s jaw dropped and he turned beet red. He spluttered helplessly.

Ralt shook his head, fighting unsuccessfully to hide a grin at the dwarf’s befuddled expression. “Married life has it’s benefits,” he told him, patting him on the shoulder as if he were no more than an untutored child. “So! What’s been going on since we left?”

Durin’s eyes bulged. “Wots been going on? I’m trying ta plan an attack on da giants and we need yer magic ta turn da tide, ye young welp!” Living among his kinfolk had deepened his already thick accent.

“Hasn’t Thrgin been able to help?”

Durin’s explosive answer was as vile as it was earsplitting. Missy covered her ears and pretended to be shocked at some of the dwarven cursing erupting from his lips.

Ralt just grinned, but as Durin’s voluminous outpouring continued, his smile faded. Between all the cursing and the dwarven words he didn’t know, he understood enough to realize Thrgin had been doing everything in his power to thwart Durin’s every move. Despite sharing the same blood, Durin and Thrgin were thousands of years apart in culture and attitudes. Where once the Shokirin had moved as one, now the dwarves were scattered into a thousand different tribes and traditions, becoming small and petty. Their ways were no longer Durin’s ways.

In spite of Storm’s jaded view of wizards – which was improving – they had often been seen as royal advisors to rulers and nobility on account of their vast book knowledge and power. Along with spellbooks they often had access to historical tomes and manuscripts written by ancient kings, telling of their successes and failures.

Gerald’s library in his tower in Zered had a fair share of each. Ralt had been forced to read, and report on all of them during his apprenticeship to the older wizard. Palace intrigue of the sort Durin was finding himself snared in, was one of the less appetizing subjects covered in those many volumes.

Ralt held up a restraining hand. “Okay, okay. I get the picture. Thrgin is bad, but killing him is out of the question because he’s still popular.”

“And dey all know ‘em!” Durin roared, “but der still gittin’ used ta me even if I am da king!” His frustration was plain to see on his face.

Missy nudged Ralt. “Tell him.”

Durin shot them a suspicious look. “Tell him, wot?” Ralt held up the magic communication mirror he’d taken with him. “Gerald and Thomas are flying in on the two pegasi we left behind. They should be arriving sometime today.” Durin opened his mouth but Ralt quickly cut him off. “AND, Krista is sending a whole caravan full of weapons and supplies. It’ll be another week or so before it gets here, but it’s on the way.”

Durin considered it. “Is da old man bring’n any magic stuff wit him?”

“You mean, to add to the mithril weapons you’ve been making?” Ralt nodded. “I believe he is.”

Durin harrumphed and led them into the mine. “We ain’t been mak’n as many as we should. Thrgin keeps say’n we need ta maintain our trade wit da folks in Far Point.”

“And they’re buying that line?” Missy demanded.

Durin glanced sideways at her. “Aye, why not?”

“Because before you came along, he was always pushing us to take on the giants so we could mine da whole mountain,” she told him.

Durin slammed to a halt. Ralt had to dance sideways to keep from running into him. “Wot?” His voice echoed down the tunnels.

She nodded. “It was uncle Grior who was always say’n we needed to be cautious. ‘Bout half were on ‘is side and the other half were with Thrgin.”

Durin’s fists doubled up in rage.

Ralt sighed. Oh well, at least the honeymoon was good while it lasted. “Don’t go off on him just yet,” he advised quickly. “Wait until Gerald gets here. I’ll have him put on his mysterious wizard act and show everyone what Thrgin is doing.”

Durin inhaled to say something then stopped and fixed him with a beady eye. “Alright, lad. We’ll try it yer way, but it don’t work, I’ll part Thrgin’s hair wit me axe!”

“I’ll hold him for you,” Ralt offered, glad to have averted a showdown, at least temporarily. He started down the tunnel again. “So, how many mithril weapons have they made so far?”

“Yer holding it,” Durin snorted, nodding at Shadow Flame.

This time it was Ralt who slammed to a sudden stop. His knuckles whitened on his staff. He gritted teeth angrily. “That’s ridiculous!” He paused to calm himself down. “Okay. If Gerald’s little show doesn’t work out, maybe I’ll get to Thrgin before you do.” He turned and strode down the tunnel.

“Yer goin’ da wrong way,” Durin called, in a different tone of voice.

Ralt paused. “Why is that?”

Durin pointed to a different corridor that was opposite the chow hall. “‘Cause da married quarters is down dis way.”

His eyebrows went up. “Well then, by all means, lead the way your majesty.”

By the time they were settled in and unpacked it was getting close to lunch. Gerald called to say he was almost at Far Point. Ralt explained how to follow the road to the mines from the air then hurried over to the chow hall.

The big room had undergone a few changes since the last time he’d seen it.

An elaborately carved oak table sat on a newly constructed dais. A throne-like chair, carved on the same lines at the table occupied the middle of it, facing the room. Lesser chairs flanked the middle one, three on a side. Durin sat in the middle chair, grumpily shoveling food into his mouth off a silver platter while Thrgin, seated on his left, remonstrated with him about something. Grior sat beside Thrgin, busily ignoring him.

Ralt started to grab one of the general tables but Durin waved him and Missy up to his table. “Ye and Missy sit here,” he said gruffly, indicating the closest two chairs on his right.

Ralt pursed his lips. Durin might be royal by birth but he didn’t know a thing about subtly. The right-hand chair was for a king’s closest advisor. Given their long association, it might be true, but advertising it so bluntly wasn’t going to help Durin’s cause. He sat down reluctantly, feeling every eye in the room watching him. Missy down beside him, equally ill at ease.

“What’s he doing?” she whispered.

Ralt shook his head.

“My lord!” Thrgin protested. “Ye can’t seriously put an elf in dat spot!”

Thrgin wasn’t addressing Durin as Sire or Majesty, Ralt noted acidly, yet another indication of his true estimation of him.

“I’ll seat who I will, where I will,” Durin growled at him.

“And overturn centuries of tradition on a whim?” Thrgin lifted his voice to ensure it carried to the whole room.

“‘Tis not whim and yer sainted traditions came about after I were born!” Durin snapped. “I bring wit me da old ways, and me father trusted wit’out counting blood. So do I.”

“The old ways gave birth to da Chaos Wars,” Thrgin sneered angrily. “Are ye bringin’ dem back too?”

Durin’s chair crashed to the ground behind him as he surged to his feet. Fenris Fang slapped into his outstretched hand with a meaty thwack!

Thrgin leaped to his feet, along with most of the dwarves in the room. “Are ye a tyrant ta slay a man fer speakin’ ‘is mind?”

Ralt slammed the butt of Shadow Flame on the floor before Durin could answer. A thunderous roar shook the room, making the tables dance. Plates shook and cups fell over, spilling their contents across the tables onto the floor.

Shocked silence engulfed the room as he slowly stood to his feet.

“Enough.” He glanced around then fixed Thrgin with a steely gaze. “You’ve been after Durin since the moment he arrived, badgering him about the tests to prove himself, then slighting him when he passed every one. You wanted mithril but it’s been a week since he showed you how and so far, this –” he shook Shadow Flame in the air “– is the only mithril weapon or anything that’s been forged, and he was the one who forged it!” He swept his gaze around the room then turned back to Thrgin. “Don’t you think the rest of them want to forge mithril too?”

A murmur of agreement washed across the listening dwarves. He could see in their faces they were eager to try their hand at it.

Thrgin sensed he was losing their support. “We ‘ave families that need feedin’ and takin’ care of a’fore we git ta forging . . .”

“No!” Ralt cut him off. “You’re not the king. Durin is. It’s his decision. Maybe, he should just give them permission to do whatever they think is best for their own families. Let each one decide for himself.”

Heads nodded quickly around the room. They liked that idea.

Thrgin had lost this confrontation and he was wise enough to know it. Still, he couldn’t help trying one last gambit. “Ye speak well, fer an elf.”


Durin’s quick reply cut Ralt off before he could open his mouth.

Thrgin hesitated, then bowed reluctantly. “Wizard,” he corrected himself. “My appetite seems ta have left me. If ye’ll excuse me, I’ll take me leave.”

Durin tossed Fenris Fang on the table with heavy thump. “Sit down and eat. Or sit down and wait ‘til I’m done, but either way, sit.” He picked up his chair and sat down himself. He picked up a turkey leg and began tearing at it.

Ralt lifted one eyebrow then sat down as well. Around the room, others began sitting down as well until Thrgin was the only one left standing. He clenched his jaws then righted his own chair and sat down with poor grace.

That was interesting,” Missy muttered as she resumed eating.

“Hmm.” Ralt wasn’t sure what else to say.

“Attention.” Durin raised his voice. Everyone stopped and turned watchful eyes on him. “Any who is satisfied he’s got enough fer ‘is family, is free ta forge mithril anytime he likes.”

A resounding cheer went up from the assembled dwarves.

As the noise was dying down, a young dwarf came running into the room. He paused in front of Durin and bobbed his head respectfully. “Yer Majesty?”


“Thomas Keener of the Fairhand and ‘is wizard, Gerald Blackthorn, ‘ave arrived ‘ere from Zered ta see ye.” While he was still speaking, the two men entered the room, ducking their heads to get through the dwarf-sized door.

Durin and Ralt bounced to their feet to greet their old friends, and for a moment they were able to forget all their problems in the midst of their reunion. Gerald demanded to be properly introduced to the “young woman who stole my apprentice” and Thomas gave him some gentle ribbing about the pleasures of married life.

Durin shoved Thrgin down to the far end of the table and seated Thomas, then Gerald in his and Grior’s places. Grior, he sent to the other end to sit next to Missy. Thrgin was visibly upset at his sudden demotion and didn’t bother hiding it. Grior, however, took it in good humor and struck up a conversation with Missy.

Eventually, Durin called for quiet and asked Thomas for the news.

The lanky bowman shrugged. “The Merks is doing pretty good. Krista and I have put all the changes we talked about into place but it’s still too soon to know what the results will be.” He shrugged a second time. “Ask me again in a year or so. But, we also calculated your wages for all the years you worked for Sodan – it came to quite a bit – then spent it all on weapons and armor and supplies. There’s a caravan bringing it here.”

Durin furrowed his brow. “Wages?” He saw Thomas’ expression and nodded as realization dawned. “Ah. Yes. That was good of ye. Me thanks.”

Gerald leaned around Thomas’s taller bulk. “And I have something that might come in handy for fighting those giants Storm told me about.” He held out a long, heavy bundle of black cloth. It was tied with several loops of rope and clanked with a metallic sound.

Durin took it with a puzzled expression. “Wot is it?” Dwarves around the room were leaning forward to see. Some in the back were standing to see past their fellows.

“Open it.”

Durin untied the ropes and pulled them away. He laid the cloth back to reveal gleaming crossbow bolts. “Uh . . .”

“They have magic on their tips,” Gerald informed him smugly. There was a mischievous glint in his eyes.


Gerald nodded rapidly. “When they hit their target, they create an area of total darkness about 7 cubits across.”

Durin frowned. “So?”

“So, if you hit a giant anywhere in his chest, shoulders, or head, he’ll be completely blinded by it,” Gerald said proudly. “Then . . .” he trailed off suggestively.

The light dawned in Durin’s eyes. “We’ll be able ta cut ‘em down ta size wit’out dem ever bein’ able ta see us!”

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