When I wake up, I have no idea how I got in bed. Everything after Faladel wished us good night is foggy. I groan as the light flickers on, the sudden brightness worsening my already terrible headache. Something was supposed to happen today, wasn’t the King going to meet us to tell us his solution? Did he tell us when? I’d never admit it, but I think I might have drunk too much last night. I can’t seem to remember anything important. Hopefully I didn’t make a fool of myself.
I turn over in my bed. My bladder feels uncomfortably full, but I have no idea where the latrines are in this place. Is anyone else up yet? I have no way of telling time in this room, but I heard somewhere that elves get up at dawn. If I go to Briareth’s room now, will he be awake and able to help me find someplace to relieve myself? Well, even a brief look outside will tell me if it’s morning or not. I sit up in bed, and the room wobbles in front of my eyes, only to slowly right itself. On the carpet next to the bed is a stool. “Where did that come from?” I mutter, my voice sounding hoarse.
“Where did what come from?” Briareth asks, appearing next to me from seemingly nowhere.
“Gahh! How did you do that!? Where were you hiding? What are you doing here?” I yelp, falling backwards into my mess of blankets.
“Listening to you snore. Well originally I was going to wake you up, but I stopped to hear some of the birds sing, but then your snoring drowned them out. So I started having fun trying to think of all the amusing ways I could wake you up. Like dripping water down your chest. Or putting a spider on your forehead and then watching it try to make a web on your face. But back to my original question, where did what come from?”
I try to point at the stool, but my vision doesn’t seem to be working right. As soon as I move to sit back up the whole room wobbles gently again. It sets my head pounding, but the pounding must mean it’s working because now I remember my original question. “When do we meet the king?” I ask plaintively, “Where’s the latrines? And why is there a stool here?”
“Breakfast was two hours ago, at least for me. We have a kitchen that serves breakfast till eleven. Really nice. They also serve midnight snacks to all the on duty guards. The stool was to help you climb into the bed last night. I promise, you needed it. Anyways the king is waiting. Actually, everyone has been waiting for you for ages, and then I realized that you probably didn’t remember how to get back to the dinning hall, so I went to get you.”
“How long ago was this?” I ask, groaning and rubbing my eyes, hoping this will help with my vision problems.
“Around thirty minutes.” Briareth says calmly, then yawns.
“Thirty minutes!” I exclaim, suddenly wide awake. “You kept your King waiting for thirty minutes because you wanted to listen to the birds?”
“And because I was thinking of the most amusing ways to wake you up.” Briareth adds on.
“What will you tell your king when he asks why it took so long?” I ask, incredulously .
“That dwarves are heavy sleepers. Especially after they’ve been at the drink.” Briareth smiles innocently
“That is so unfair.” I grumble, climbing down from the bed with the help of the stool and a generous hand from Briareth.
“But it is true. I did try the water thing after a while, and you didn’t stir until there was a puddle on your chest. And then you only turned over.” Briareth claims, apparently greatly disappointed.
“You tried out WHAT?” I exclaim.
“I was just about to try out the spider plan as well, but you woke up too soon. I was really hoping that you would fall back asleep, so I’d get the chance to see if it would work…” Briareth’s voice trails off at the end of his statement as he lapses into thought.
“Let’s go to the dinning hall now please.” I groan.
“Why so eager?” He asks.
“I’m afraid that if I stay here I might fall asleep by accident, and wake up to find spiders crawling all over me.” I say, walking over to the door.
“You don’t like spiders?” Briareth asks. A surprised look on his face, as he follows me out the door.
“Too many legs.” I mutter, slightly embarrassed
He stares at me for a second, as if considering my answer. “Hmm… Whatever! Time for second breakfast!” He trots down the hallway, and I scramble along behind, trying my best to keep up. We turn right and left and then right again. The corridor starts spinning at one point, but after bouncing off the walls a couple of times I get the hang of walking again.
How does Briareth –whose brain is already wandering in all sorts of directions –manage to navigate this maze? Did he memorize it? I can understand why Prince Faladel would be able to navigate it, he was born here after all, he probably knows this place from top to bottom. Depending on how long Briareth has lived here, he might have memorized it as well. Working here for most of his life would mean he’s been here for over forty years after all.
He really doesn’t look anything like I would expect an eighty-four year old to look. No white hair, no bushy beard, no wrinkly skin, no grumpy old frown, no weary eyes that have seen too much. He looks more like a mischievous teenager, always going off on a whim. Slightly muscular, as if he has been working out, large cloak, brown haired, well armed with bows and daggers, and a cheeky grin and sparkling eyes. Definitely not an 84 year old dwarf. Perhaps they were both just pulling my leg on those ages? I mean, the King doesn’t look old enough to be a dad of a 146 year-old, and when he is tired he certainly doesn’t act very old, he acts nearly as bad as Briareth.
“Are we there yet?” I pant, still trying to keep up with the elf in question.
“Nearly.” Briareth smirks at my obviously fatigue. “All tired out after you just woke up, don’t dwarves have any stamina at all?”
“We do have stamina! But we don’t do cross country running like you elves.” I reply heatedly
“Then we’ll have to send your armies packing more often.” Briareth retorts “Give you more practice running.”
“Grrr…” I mutter. I hate that I don’t have a snappy comeback for that jibe, but between the running and the headache I can’t concentrate enough to come up with one.
We arrive in the dining hall shortly after I have finally come up with a retort. Inside three elves are seated at a table. I know the King and Faladel, but I don’t know the Elf they are talking to. His hair is white, but not old-white. He isn’t an albino either, his eyes are light brown and cunning. He listens intently to the King, but glances up interestedly as we enter. Briareth takes one look at him and runs over shouting “Raegel!”
They hug, but over Briareth’s shoulder the Elf still stares at me. I fidget nervously. I don’t like those eyes staring at me. It’s not like how Faladel stared, eyes piercing the soul. This man is clearly assessing me as a threat, and he’s confident that he can beat me, he’s probably just curious how much of a fight I’ll put up.
“Briareth, you forget yourself. You have yet to introduce me to your friend.” He comments, his voice soft, but stern just the same.
Briareth laughs delightedly. “Sorry! Of course, introductions! Balderk, this is my old mentor Raegel Iarmenor. Raegel, meet Balderk Ungart. He’s the dwarf who told us about the Scourger. Did his Majesty already explain it to you?”
“Yes, he was just about to tell us of the solution he had come up with, since you were taking so long bringing the dwarf back.” Raegel’s voice is rather scolding.
“I can explain,” Briareth mumbles, looking rather embarrassed. But instead of throwing me to the wolves or ratting himself out, he changes the subject and asks the king, “So, what is your solution your Majesty? What are we going to do about this oncoming storm?”
“Too waxing poetic for you Briareth,” Says Faladel. “Just say problem, please.”
“Fine, so what are we going to do about this problem your Majesty?”
“If you two quiet down, I might just have a chance to tell you.” The King replies, raising an eyebrow.
“We’re waiting on your words with baited breath your Majesty.” Says Briareth cheekily. Faladel sighs and rolls his eyes.
“Well as you know when I dismissed you last night,” The king begins once both young men are finished. “I thought very long and hard about this problem before coming up with a solution. It will require dedication from all of you, including you, master Balderk.”
“Umm… Why me?” I ask nervously. Briareth had mentioned that this might happen, but I was still hoping that somehow I could go directly home after this. Realistically, that would most likely end up with my death, so I suppose going with them is the better option, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree easily.
“All shall be explained as I continue.” The King says, his eyes gently chiding my interruption. “Now to stop the dwarves from ever using this Scourger, we will need peace. That was easy enough to deduce. The real question is how to make a treaty that will satisfy everyone and will last, so he doesn’t whip it out if there are any altrications after peace is made. I believe the key to creating a treaty that both races can agree on, can be found in our common ground, in the history of how the war started.” Here the King paused for emphasis, as if waiting for someone to ask him something. Faladel takes the bait.
“But no one knows how the war started, it’s been going on for all our history. How are we supposed to learn how it started, when for all we know, it could have been started at the beginning of time itself?”
The King looks very pleased with himself. “That is where you are wrong my son, and this is where you all come in. You’re going to go on a quest! The purpose of it is to find a very old friend of mine.”
At this part Briareth chimes in, “Very Old friend, or very Old friend?” I personally can’t tell the difference.
“Both, he is both an old friend and he is very old. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that he is the oldest Elf alive.” The King explains.
“But father,” Says Faladel, his eyes widening, “didn’t all of the ancient elves die in the battle of Meyan, the former capital? How did he survive? How old is he?”
“He is a hermit, although he calls himself a librarian, up in the northern mountains, his purpose is to record history as it happens. Even I have lost count of his age, but he is over 600 years old at least.”
Briareth whistles appreciatively, “Daaang… That’s old.” he comments. “Don’t we start going mad after 500?”
“I wouldn’t call him mad exactly, but spending all that time alone would make anyone a bit peculiar. When I met him, he was already strange, needless to say time has probably made him worse. My best suggestion is to play to his rules and trust your luck. If you do make it there, ask him about the history of the war. He will be glad to tell you if you pass his tests.”
“Why wouldn’t we be able to get there?” I ask, slightly befuddled.
“Because no one knows exactly what is in those mountains, we might not be able to reach him at all.” States Faladel flatly.
“Well, you aren’t wrong my son, but neither are you entirely right.” The king interjects. “You see, when I was searching for him long ago, we attempted to map out the area, so future generations would be able to navigate it more easily. Upon seeing our map though, the librarian claimed that we shouldn’t make finding him that easy, as he valued his privacy and, as he put it, ‘didn’t want NPC’s to interrupt him’. Eventually we reached a compromise, instead of a map, all we have is this.” The king pulls out a sheet of paper from a pocket in his robe and unfolds it. On it is line after line of handwritten notes. “Written descriptions of the surrounding areas.” He explains handing it to Faladel.
“Wait,” Briareth says, “How long ago did you say you visited this guy?”
“Two-hundred-twenty– no, maybe it was closer to two-fifty…” The king trails off. “I forget exactly how long ago it was, but it was definitely over two-hundred.”
“Won’t most noticeable landmarks have changed since then?” Briareth asks.
“Probably,” the king says solemnly. “I tried to pick things that would last, like rock formations and river flows, but one never really knows. Nevertheless, it’s your best bet for finding his abode.”
Faladel is still frowning though, “Earlier though, Father, you mentioned tests that this librarian will give us? What sort of tests do you mean exactly?”
“I can’t say, they have probably changed since I was last there, but I can tell you that when I was there it included dodging random weapons.”
Briareth cracks up at my horrified expression. “That sounds like my kind of party.” He grins. “Who are the lucky elves who get to go on this quest of yours, my liege?”
“I was thinking that you three might go. Briareth, you would like to go because you’re you. Balderk and Faladel because you will lend credence to my wish for a treaty. Also Faladel you might just enjoy knowing the history of it all. Not to mention it’s a chance to see history being made.”
“I don’t see why I wouldn’t wish to go.” Faladel confirms.
“Balderk?” The King asks, looking directly at me
I fidget. “Oh, fine. I guess I would like to see the oldest creature alive.”
“You’re not leaving without me!”
“My hope is,” the King says grandly “that if you figure out our past, you will also find a path to our safe future. I wish you all luck.”
“Thank you, we’ll need all the luck we can get.” Faladel says grimly, I fidget nervously. Just how bad could this be right? We’re just going on a short trip to the mountains to talk to some old elf. Well some old elf who apparently likes to make others dodge weapons on random tests. So maybe Faladel is right about us needing luck after all. Oh dear. What have I gotten myself into?
“When do we leave?” Asks Briareth eagerly.
“When do you want to leave?” Asks Raegel.
“Hmmm…” Briareth considers this question more carefully than I have ever seen him handle anything before. “How about tomorrow, right after breakfast. That way we can have time to pack, and a going away feast! Am I not brilliant?”
“Yes, you are not” Answers Faladel immediately.
“That hurt Faladel!” Briareth says indignantly, adopting a wounded demeanor.
“You were literally asking for it.” Faladel says smugly.
“But you must agree that that is a brilliant idea?” Briareth tries to convince him.
“Having a brilliant idea doesn’t necessarily mean that the person who came up with it is equally brilliant. I mean how many ideas have you come up with that are actually quite stupid and could get you killed? But then you come up with one brilliant plan and think it makes up for all the stupid ones.” Faladel is quick with the scathing comments when he uses them. I wonder how long he has been planning this one.
“But- But- Faladel…” Briareth looks at Faladel, hopelessly trying to come up with a come-back.
“I think he has you on this one” Raegel comments. “Best to surrender and hope he’ll be merciful.”
“Drat.” Briareth mutters. “Okay Faladel you got me. But can we still leave tomorrow morning?”
Faladel smirks, “Fine with me.”
I’m shocked. I didn’t realize there were people out there who could beat Briareth with words. But Faladel cornered him so easily. However, Faladel is a prince, politicking is in his blood, maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.
“Excellent.” The King says, “Faladel I will leave the planning and packing of this quest to you, you are more than capable of it after all. Any questions?”
My full bladder reminds me of a very urgent question I have.
“Yes?” The King asks, looking my way curiously.
“Where are the nearest lavatories, your Highness?”
The King laughs, a large booming laugh from such a thin man. “Briareth, you never told our guest where he could relieve himself? So much for our hospitality. If you could correct this mistake immediately, I’m sure our friend would greatly appreciate it.”
“Your will is my command, your Majesty!” Briareth salutes, and jumps to his feet immediately. “Come on Balderk!” He exclaims as he exits the room. “You’re falling behind again!”
I quickly jump to my feet and hurry out after him.