“Master! Welcome home!” Said the ever joyous Shea. “How was your hunting trip? I was so worried. I would have liked to go along with you in order to be of service to you.”
“Thank you for your concern Shea, I have some good news, I have selected a servant.” Shea looked curiously at Earnest. “One befitting the service of a Warden besides, I understand that Jasper has been having some difficulty finding sharp quills to write with since his servant has been on loan.”
“Who have you selected? Does he need help? I would so like to help.”
“His name is Chill and a more loyal servant cannot be found. I will let him know of your desire to help and recommend you specifically if he has any questions on service befitting a Warden.”
“Thank you master. It is so good to have you home! And with a servant of your own. So soon! Oh happy day! Oh such a happy day! I hope to meet him soon. A servant befitting that of a Warden is such a rare thing.”
“It is good to be home Shea. You will meet him directly.”
“I hope you will be staying with in the city for a while, too much time away from home is not a good thing.”
“I am afraid not Shea, after some planning I will be leaving again. It’s time to start the expansion there is much to initiate.”
“I am concerned Warden Earnest, too much time away…”
“It won’t be forever, remember I am new to the land nothing is going to feel like home for a while.”
“I will pray for you Warden Earnest”
“Thank you, Shea, I’m likely to need it”
“So it’s settled we will go to Mt Vector to secure the orb of purification while General Snort arranges the armies to prepare for the campaign in Boran.” Said Earnest
“You should have about 3 weeks Warden Franklin” replied general Snoffel “with in which to make an attempt at securing the Orb. If you are unsuccessful in that amount of time you will need to abandon it and get back here. It is imperative that you make the trek across the mountains into Boran with the troops. You will also need to be available as we cross the near wild. The leaders of the Near Wild will be interested to meet you and try to find out how to work their best advantage according to your plans.”
“Thank you, General Snoffel, success or not, I will return to the Central City within 3 weeks.”
“I have already sent word to Jemsing they will be expecting you and making plans for the quest on your behalf.”
“What if we decided to cancel? The orb is important to our plans but not absolutely necessary I would hate to mess things up by trying to do to much but don’t want to be idle either” said Earnest
“Then I would send word of cancellation, your presence here will not be needed until we set off for Boran so you have the freedom. Also, for now, you will have the anonymity as your face will not be likely to be known in the Ward for some time. The orb will be important later so it is worth the effort to make an attempt.”
The ride across the plains of Donsey while swift was pleasant. Strong horses who were well rested before the journey covering the distance in a minimal amount of time. Nearly 200 miles in one day along well maintained roads to the base of theMettaMountains. The next days ride would only be 25 miles but it would be through windy narrow passages with high cliffs on either side. There would be no galloping as the road would need to be taken slowly and in single file while on horseback. The ride would take most of the day with an early start. But for now the travelers settled in for the night.
Those that were chosen to go with the Warden were,
Lt Brush Bear, of the plains riders of pampas a noted hunter/tracker, Hector, also of the plains riders, (it would have been difficult to keep him away considering the Warden had chosen Chill as his servant). There was a contingent of the Honor Guard, the famous Shield twins, Ox and Bull. General Wilson, of the Donsey a fine General and a noted diplomat and Chill. The Wardens newly chosen personal servant. The evening was pleasant although the sky was slightly overcast. Ox and Bull provided entertainment in the way they gathered wood for the fire. Taking take large fallen logs and breaking them to size behind their necks. It was a very competitive endeavor as the brothers have always tried to outdo each other.
“Is that all the thicker log you can handle” challenged Ox to his brother.
Taking the challenge Bull said “Watch this!” and taking a piece that was much thicker than the ones they had been breaking apart before broke it in two with his forehead. Then Bull exclaimed “what you gonna a do? Bull gonna take you and break you in two!”
General Wilson leaned over to Earnest “I’m glad he’s on our side you would be hard pressed to find his equal”
The ride the next day was long as travel was slow on the windy roads though steep cliffs on either side. The winding road, the rock hewn surface of the cliffs became monotonous quickly. The Metta mountains were a vast mountain range 500 miles wide and several thousand miles long. They were odd as far as mountains go. They were comprised of nothing but jagged rocks and peaks rising steeply to hundreds and sometimes thousands of feet above. The winding trail steadily rose as it wound into the mountains. The Mettas were a rock waste land where the only things that grew there were those which could cling to bare rock. Vegetation was sparse and mostly absent in this vast wasteland. There was no open water here. While jagged the rocks themselves were porous and absorbed the infrequent rains. This porosity and the movement of water through them led to rich mineral deposits. It was for this reason the Gnomes were attracted to mine them. It seemed to Earnest that there were no flat surfaces here. Everything rose at sharp angles from the narrow valleys to the peaks high over head. The road they traveled was an engineering feet in and of itself. It was carved directly out of the rock to form a reasonably passable route.
The ride order was set before they had left camp and designed with the protection of the Warden as its first priority. Brush Bear was first. His sharp eyes sure sword and adept skill with the bow on horse back made him the obvious choice to lead. Although no danger was expected his attuned senses would be the best for detecting any potential danger. At this stage the most likely source of danger would come from loose rocks that might at any time randomly break free and fall towards the path.
Next was Hector this was mostly to keep him as far from Chill as possible as he continued to look upon Chill with distrust. Yet he also continued to keep his word to the Warden about Chills identity as a Skree and to not bring any harm to him. Next were Ox, Earnest and Bull. The Shield Twins of the Honor guard would be as close to the Warden as the terrain would allow. Next was General Wilson who spent most of the day explaining Gnomish history and customs and generally enjoying the Warden’s company. And at the rear was Chill. Chill always preferred the rear. General Wilson helped to pass the time by describing Jemsing and its value to the Ward. Jemsing was named for its rich gemstone deposits and the whistling winds that would “sing” through the peaks of the Mettas in the area. While the richest known gemstone mine in the Ward, Jemsing’s real value was its deposits of tinsel. Tinsel when added to iron made it stronger more resilient and a full third lighter than when untreated. Tinsel was extremely rare but very valuable in the making of weapons and armor. It was so rare that only one tenth of available armor and weapons in the Ward were made with the use of tinsel. There had been reports of other tinsel deposits further into the mettas but the problem of getting to them in order to mine them was overwhelming.
Late in the afternoon, as the seemingly endless trail wound on, Ox and Bull suddenly pulled up close to Earnest and pressed their bodies up close to the Warden on either side. Surprising and frightening Earnest because of its suddenness and the treat of imminent danger. At this point Brush Bear could be seen in front pointing to the cliffs above where smiling Gnomes waived and clamored to get a look at the new Warden. Had they held their positions in the rocks above they would not have been noticed. Ox and Bull eased their bodies away from the Warden allowing him to maneuver and breath again. ‘Shield Twins’ thought Earnest ‘I get it. God you seem to have it covered.’
A couple of more turns in the road and the sight of more gnomes clamoring along in their perches to get a better glimpse of the new Warden. A final turn and the road entered into gnomish made widening in the canyon that served as courtyard. It was unevenly chiseled back into the rock away from the trail on the left with a nondescript entrance to a cave in the back. Nondescript except for the fact that some ornately dressed guards stood on either side of it. If it were left unguarded it may have gone relatively unnoticed. In between the ornately dressed guards was an even more ornately dressed dignitary standing in front. He was a prime example of a gnome shorter than the Drull not as stocky but with a very large over sized pear shaped nose that sat almost comically on his face. He was wearing a long ornately decorated robe covered in rubies. They were of a very dark rich red color. Such a robe would have been priceless back on earth thought Earnest. According to General Wilson such things were commonplace among the gnomes.
“The Warden has come to Jemsing!! Welcome! Welcome! we are so honored for your arrival! My name is Snoggel. I will be your escort for your time here in Jemsing if you have any needs or concerns please let me know how I can serve you. Your lodgings await you. I am sure you will want to freshen up after your journey here. Now that you are here the feasting will begin! General Katchoo awaits you in the dining hall where he will go over the plans for the quest with you.”
“General Wilson,” he continued “it is good to see you again. Ox and Bull, your fame is not unknown to us here in Jemsing, our youth will be so excited. I am afraid I have not met the others”
“Thank you for most hospitable welcome Snoggel. I am Warden Franklin and with your permission let me present to you Lt Brush Bear and Hector of the plains riders of pampas”
“Lt. your reputation precedes you, it is said that there is nowhere that you cannot find and track game, it is a pleasure to meet you for the first time, Hector as you are in the company of the Warden you are surly likely to be a man of great importance it will be an honor to get to know you both.”
“And my personal servant Chill”
Addressing Chill he said “I hope that things will be satisfactory for you if you have any needs at all just let me know and we will do all that we are capable of in meeting them, now, if you all will follow me I will show you to your lodgings quarters for your stay here I am certain that you will want to freshen up before you gather in the great dining hall where General Katchoo awaits you.”
Chill leaned over to Earnest and said “My Warden, if it pleases you, I should like to see to the horses as well”
Snoggle, who had heard the request answered, “Why most certainly Bobble and Wilnting will aid you and show you the way, as for the rest of you come! there are many who are excited of your arrival”
Snoggel led the travelers down what turned out to be a rather long passage that gently descended until it reached a side stairway that opened up into a large under ground room. It was extremely large reminding Earnest of the large indoor football arenas back on earth. It was well lit and had many stairs and walkways leading to a large collection of dwellings for the gnomes. In the “field” there were many troops that were on parade. There were several hands of these troops, groups of five wide and five deep marching in orderly fashion in front of the Warden. All decked out in their best and shiniest armor and weapons. After the last of the groups passed by there was a loud trumpet sound followed by Snoggle announcing “The troops are ready for inspection Warden!” at which point he bowed towards Earnest.
Earnest looked to General Wilson who said “they have probably been shining their shoes for days…. try no to be too hard on them.”
Earnest not sure what was expected of him began to walk among the troops like how he’d seen in the movies and began to make some random comments. “Nice shine on them shoes… everything so polished… good … good…. Nice spacing….” After just a few minuet this Earnest turned to Snoggel and said “Excellent! A very fine example of military prowess the Warden is well pleased” and with that there was another blast from the trumpets as Earnest made his way back to the others. The Gnomish troops paraded off the field.
“Come, come… this way to your quarters” said Snoggle.
Earnest entered his assigned quarters and noted that while its trappings were simple in nature and function, they were ornately decorated. A bed, a table, with a wash basin and a writing table complete with paper and quills. Tapestries hung on the walls to help with the dampness of underground dwelling. While simple in function everything was ornately decorated. The wash basin was pure silver inlayed with a variety of colorful gems stones. The weaves of the tapestries were intricate depicting various scenes of gnomish history which was often considered suspect to the scribbles of the house of saints. For all their close attention to details involving logistics and planning the gnomes had a penchant for an oral tradition that was often embellished for the sake of making a better sounding story. The gnomes were very much more interested in gossip and embellishment in these endeavors which made them notorious as storytellers. Gnomes were always favorites at festivals and were often requested to engage in storytelling for the entertainment of all.
This was in addition to a desire of the presence of gnomish ale at these festivals. A favorite amongst the ward but rarely brewed by the gnomes. Their techniques were kept secret and being generally more interested in mining the Gnomes tended not to make batches of the popular brew very often. Gnomish ale was very sweet tasting and had a very peculiar property. No matter how much of the ale you indulged in one never got too intoxicated. It had a property of establishing what was referred to the gnomish glow and never left anyone with any morning after aches and stiffness.
“My Warden…” Earnest had not noticed Chills entrance into the room.
“I have been made aware of some contacts that I would like to investigate while we are here.”
“I need you to be with me at the dinner this evening, once the festivities start you can go about your business with great freedom.”
“Thank you my warden, due to the security around here I may need a safe place to store some things”
“I’ll leave word with the Shield twins that no one is to enter my quarters but you and I will that suffice? You can store what you need to here”
“Yes, my Warden, that will be most adequate I thank you.”
“Try not to get into to much trouble”
Chill tilted his head down as if to say… this is me we are talking about. It was a rare sign of levity and humor that Earnest had not yet seen from Chill.
The great dinning hall was alive with gnomes, music and story telling. Earnest, Chill, Lt Brush Bear, and Hector were seated at General Katchoo’s table. “Warden Franklin! it is indeed a great pleasure to meet you! I am General Katchoo and will be explaining the plan for our expedition. This is Snort. He is the most renown prospector in the area and will be our scout on the way to Mt vector. No one know the area that we will be traveling in better than him. Tonight we feast and go over plans, tomorrow we will teach you how to properly climb and explore the underground. Such skills will be necessary on our journey. We will leave the next day. Snort already knows of the existence of the cave which you seek but has never explored it. The journey there will take 3 days but for now let us feast!”
Chill tugged Earnests arm. “Yes Chill, that would be good now, I will be well attended to for now.” His leaving was unnoticed by the others. Earnest did not see what all the excitement was about Gnomish ale, it reminded him of bitter tasting root beer. Frothy and firm was the toast of others who were so glad for its serving. Where General Wilson was a capable diplomat, General Katchoo was gruff and all but vulgar loud boasts, loud comments directed at the story tellers who entertained them at the head table and loud rumbling belches. Snort was all but silent. Apparently uncomfortable with the dipomacy but drank nearly a dozen mugs of the highly prized ale.
Later that evening, when Earnest returned to his quarters, he was greeted by Chill. “My Warden, I have news for your ears only.”
“Yes Chill, what is the news?”
“There is danger here deep in the mines. What I heard was rumor but there may be some truth to it. Some young prospectors had been digging deep, too deep according to Gnomish regulations, apparently trying to find the “big one” as young adventuresome Gnomes are prone to do. This group narrowly escaped a cave in which apparently released a green gas that had what others Gnomes claim was a hallucinogenic. The prospectors involved tell stories of flying green dragons and large floating yellow lights. Due to the cave in which is said to be massive that area is off limits for further exploration. It is 2 months underground travel for a Gnome, deep, very deep. I will investigate this further but not here. Gnomish information is not the most reliable. I will tell the Warden what he needs to know in that regard.”
“Strange news… thank you Chill, anything else?”
“nothing that worth troubling the Warden with.”
“All right Chill, I’m going to bed. I’ve got training tomorrow.”
“Chill bowed and said “Yes my Warden”
The next day was full of ropes, pitons and instructions about how to negotiate jagged rocks both above and below ground. At the end of the day Earnest was tired and felt a bit guilty as the training was likely solely focused on him. Had he cost the expedition a day? The Gnomes were great planers and strategists so he decided he would just have to trust them. At the end of the day dinner was served in Katchoo’s private lodging and the plans for the next few days were reviewed.
“The journey will be about 150 miles to the cave through some of the most difficult terrain to cross in the mettas. We have some advance teams that have made camps of supplies awaiting us when we get to them so early on we will be able to travel light until we reach the cave. The first day, while the shortest, will be the hardest as there will be 4 major climbs but this route will save us a day in the process of getting to the cave. Climbing ropes have been placed for the journey but it will still be difficult. The next day will be the longest. We will start before daylight crossing the uneven ground while we are still fresh and will make the next camp just before dark. The last day there will be no advanced camp waiting for us. We will be carrying packs that will be waiting for us at camp 2. When we get to the cave we will rest the night and will awaken to full caving supplies which will arrive while we sleep. Snort and Bull will stay at the surface to protect the final camp until we resurface”
Earnest looked at General Wilson who said “fear not Warden, you be fine, besides you’ll have me to look out for you.”