gicel sighed. “You’re better off down here.” Agicel stopped packing his pipe and looked up through his bushy brows to watch for Gladsyl’s reaction. She paled, her lips quivered and her fingers wouldn’t stop pulling at her cloak. “Hmm,” he said. He put his tobacco pouch back into his jacket, brushed off the stray leaves from his pants. “This was Umbrand’s idea. It’s a good one. He doesn’t know what you’re going through down here. But even then, this is better.”
That got her. He brows knotted, her mouth got small and stern. “How doesn’t he know?” She struggled to keep her voice low with so much ire behind it.
Agicel reached for the torch with a stretch and slight groan, grabbed it and used it to light his pipe.
The sweet smell of tobacco fell on her like a startling revelation. Her anger faded and her fear returned. “They won’t be happy you’re lighting tobacco,” Gladsyl said in a soft, trembling whisper.
“I’m sure they won’t,” said Agicel with a deep, chesty laugh. After two long puffs of his pipe he continued. “Bowl Dwarves live by our customs. And they’re right. For us. Umbrand thinks other dwarves are the same. He’s wrong. That’s how he doesn’t know. He thinks these little rat-dwarves are the same as us … well him, really.” Agicel watched her closely as he spoke, intently. He kept her eyes fixed on her. He searched for a hint that she understood her true peril and accepted what he said. He would have been happy with resignation, anything that would let him know she’s not gonna try to escape. He didn’t see it in her. “Let me tell you the story about my grandfather, ole Banikel. You see, my family comes from one of the most honored lines of Bowl Dwarves, the Dorns. We’re all the sons of the greatest warrior Endleland has ever witnessed, Mithain Dorn. And for generations after his passing, my family commanded respect. Until my grandfather bucked custom.
“Banikel was a decent warrior, not half as fearsome as Umbrand, but better than me. He had a wife, two boys and the esteem of the entire nain1. Word arrived of a Dragon brood in the Numul Peaks. They got one of our caravans which angered a few of us. You ever heard of the Numul Peaks? No. Not surprising. In those days, humans used to have villages along it’s foothills. They mined the mountains and their successes attracted the dragon, a big fierce red dragon by the name of Rasnul. She had a few pups with her. They scoured those mountains with flame. Whole forests became torches that light up the sky. The people there, mostly Nibu, attempted to flee. It’s said a few got away. Mind you, thousands had been there. The pups chased down those that fled.
“Ole Banikel put together a raiding party of dozen or so warriors and went out looking for the dragon. He didn’t know which dragon it was. Maybe if he had known it was Rasnul, he would have thought better of it. But he was a Dorn, so hard to say. Consequence always favored the Dorns and that helped us out-brave the rest.
“Rasnul caught sight of them as they made their up the mountain and came down from the heavens like the sun herself had a child of fire. It’s an old trick of the red dragons, descend with the sun directly behind them. You can’t see ‘em until it’s too late.
“Banikel survived the strike, but no one else did. He had found a small crevice to take cover in. Consequence once again saved a Dorn.
"So, ole Banikel Dorn hid in that crevice for nearly a full twelve-day. He hunkered down, ate plants and other crap. Then after a full quylar2 of not hearing the dragon or seeing him, he decided to venture out. Now, Banikel, curse his honor, was still a Dorn, and that means he's smart enough to think shit through. Not all shit, mind you, but at least we know shit pertaining to survival. If he had done what a typical fellow would have done in his situation, and that's waiting it out and then head straight down the mountain when things looked clear, he would have been killed for sure. There's no cover going down that face of the mountain. And while the dragon hadn't been seen, the pups were always in the skies above the slopes. So, he did the opposite. He headed up the mountain, towards the lair like a brave fool when he was actually a calculating self-preserver. Up to this point, ole Banikel was treated well by Consequence. He was known for it. And Consequence wasn't about to let him down that day. While climbing up the mountain, he lost his footing, slid down into another crevice that opened up into the treasure chamber of the dragon. He hit the gold with a thud, I'd imagine. And his grin must have filled the damn chamber because there he was, in a pile of gold and no dragon around to contend for it. He spent a day or so figuring out how to get the best pieces of loot out, then another day finding a way out. Priorities. During his exploration, he found a suitable exit. Rasnul had repurposed the Nibu mine for his lair, this meant that there were tunnels small enough for a dwarf to make his escape. This is where he strayed. While peering out his exit hole, he noticed another dwarf down there in the rubble of the mountain. The pups were aplenty in the sky. That guy had no way of surviving if he kept up his current route. Banikel decided to spit in the face of Consequence.
"It's a rule, if as a Dwarf you find treasure, you keep it. You share it with no one. And if you have to share it, it better be with someone from your nain2. This Talin, another of these here rat-dwarves, one Nanoveen Unkeet, called the east home. He just happened to be traveling through the west when the dragon hit and the counter attack started. He didn't want anything to do with it, he just wanted to live. Consequence hated this guy. It's the only way to explain how he could have ended up in the one town in a century that gets raided by not just a dragon, but an very old and large dragon. And when the call to arms came, he didn't volunteer, no this guy was dragged out to fight. It's the cost of being a visitor at the wrong time. Consequence was spitting in his face.
"Banikel saw this dwarf, knew that he wasn't nain, and still called to him and invited him to hide with him. Basically, he looked Consequence in the eye and said, "Thanks for all you've helped me with, but I think I know better what needs to happen to this guy." Consequence stared back, coldly.
"As the story goes, Nanoveen slew Banikel in his sleep and took all the treasure back with him to the east. And I mean he took all of it. He even took the pieces that the dragon had looted from our nain. Consequence flexed her muscle. Banikel, who along with all his forefathers had been in the good graces his whole life, acted against the values of a Bowl Dwarf and Consequence didn't appreciate it. So, Consequence decided to give the Dorn family a taste of what it's like to go it on our own, and with a sour wind in our faces.
"And for that, for that one stupid decision, my life has been one disaster after another. And that’s why Umbrand is like he is. He doesn’t want to tempt Consequence. He wants to do things the right way. And it’s why I’m the way I am: there are those Consequence favors and those that Consequence rewards. Consequence only favors the few. I’m not one of them. And neither are the rest of these fools around here. So, I don’t trust them."
“I’m not either,” said Gladsyl, the defeat clear in the slump of her shoulders and the quiver of a sob she weakly tried to suppress.
“No, dear. That’s why I came back. Consquence hasn’t made her mind up with you. On the one hand, you’re down here, amongst these savages thanks to nothing but luck. On the other, you’re not up there, where the living are dying by the scores. I think Consequence is undecided on you. Maybe you can do enough that she doesn’t smile on you, but she smiles on that one,” Agicel said pointing to baby Spelkin, sleeping quietly next to her.
1 - Nain - Dwarven for tribe
2 - Quylar - Dwarven for week