“Do you need anything?” the little man asked.
“No, we are set,” Merla said.
We were in a room carved out of living stone. Chairs were carved into the walls, some at the wee-folk height yet some that could fit us full grown humans.
“Good. I am glad to meet you in person at last, Merla the farseeing and Lorunce the abled ear.”
I was about to ask how he knew our names, but Merla began to speak. She was quicker in the brain than I was, so I let her be the leader, though typically our people are more male dominated.
“The pleasure is ours. What should we call you? Perhaps Silriend, Lord of the Small folk?”
Our host smiled. “At your service. I see that my reputation has proceeded me, as yours has you. Good, good. I think we will work well together to overcome our common enemy, no matter what our past may have held.”
Merla smiled and did a short bow in his direction.
“As I said, we have seen the evil ones take your prince into their fortress. We know what it is he has discovered, the sword of our shared ancestors, but we know not where it is. The enemy who cannot be named has hidden the truth from us, though he himself knows not where it is. I believe that your Prince Branfel has discovered the hiding place. He was taken alive so the enemy can try to force the truth out of him.”
“That’s awful,” I blurted out. The other two gave me a withering glance.
“I have heard tale of this sword,” Merla said. “Legend has it that at one time we were one people. We were led by a great king and his magic sword, a sword that could only be used against a foe of the people. This king was the symbol of our people’s unity. But then Zurlfed, the king’s trusted adviser, killed the king while he slept and stole the sword. He thought that possession of the sword would make him the ruler. At first half of the people were fooled and followed Zurlfed. The rest tried to stop him, but they were slaughtered when they showed their heads. These people, to better be out of sight, grew smaller in stature. The became the hidden folk, the small ones or the wee folk. They carved out an underground kingdom. The others soon discovered their mistake, but too late, for Zurlfed had enslaved them.
“But then, as his evil was recognized, the sword turned on him. It would not do his bidding but only killed those that were the most loyal to him. He hid the sword, but it was discovered. A great war occurred and Zurlfed was pushed to the North, never to be heard from again.”
“Only he has been heard from,” Silriend said. “The one who is unnamed is none other than our shared foe, Zurlfed. And to finish your story, the sword was lost long ago, only to be recovered by your King Brinwald. He used it to keep the foe from your lands, but as he pushed into Slore, a dragon came down and snatched the sword away. The dragon did it at the enemy’s bidding, but was not a friend of the enemy and kept the sword for its own purposes. I believe that Prince Branfel has discovered it.”
“Oh great,” I said. “Not only do we have to rescue Prince Branfel from the deepest dungeons of Slore, but then we have to fight a dragon to get the sword back! After that, then there is the war…”
Merla laughed. “Please don’t listen to my doom-saying friend. He has the ear and nose, and along with it, the instincts, of the rabbit. I have the eye and mind, and so the instincts, of the eagle.”
“I know your nature well,” the King of the Hidden said. “Do not underrate your friend Lorunce. He may have some of the rabbit, but he also has the wolf, whose sense of smell and hearing at times surpass the rabbit’s. In a fight, the trusty wolf will be worth more than ten eagles.”
I smiled. Merla and I had grown up together and had always been rivals as much as friends. This was a point scored for me. Merla gave a sour smile, but then winked when she thought Silriend wasn’t looking.
“Perhaps,” Merla said. “I doubt if he’s the alpha leader though.”
Silriend gave a brief, polite smile, but then turn serious. “In ways he is right. This is not an easy venture. I will come with you, for this affects both of our peoples. If you do win the sword and it is wielded by a person of strong heart, valor and honesty, our people may come together, not as we were, but as friends.”
“Do you have a plan?” Merla asked.
“Yes, a bold one. But you have to trust me implicitly. No matter what seems to happen, there must be trust. If you lose it, we lose everything. Trust?” The king stuck his hand out.
“Trust.” Merla put her hand on top of the king’s, covering it like a toy.
“Trust.” I placed my hand on top of Merla’s and then placed my left hand, palm up, under the king’s. I felt something tickle my palm in the small place carved out between my hand and the king’s hand.
Merla placed her left hand underneath mine, palm up, and the king did likewise under Merla’s hand.
“Trust,” the king said. We separated or hands.
As the king and I separated our hand, a butterfly escaped from between them.
“Let us follow this sign of luck and trust,” the king said.
The butterfly flew out of the room and into a passage. We followed it down a tunnel.
“We had tunnels and entire towns all over, or I should say under, the land of Slore,” Silriend said as we walk. “Some were discovered by the enemy and either used for his purposes or destroyed. I know not if there are any that lead into his fortress, but if so, we are headed into the right direction.”
The butterfly continued, taking seemingly random turns and twists. I gave up even attempting to try to keep track in my mind which direction was which. There was a huge maze of tunnels carved into the landscape, and I was sure even the king was soon lost as well.
After a very long time I saw light in front of us. The butterfly went directly toawrds it. Soon there was a shaft leading straight up that lead to daylight. I was able to muscle my way to the surface, then turned to help Merla.
Taking our bearings after exiting, we found that we were next to large outcrouping of rock with a hole in the middle.
“It look’s like a Giant’s …”
“Shhh…” Merla said, but I could see the sparkle in her eye. She had had the same thought.
We were at the bottom of a small depression carved into the landscape. The little bowl was empty. I was about to ask were Silreind had gone when the top of the ridge around us grew many fangs.
They weren’t fangs, but figures. My first thought was people, but I realized they were Snow Demons. There were hundreds of them. The quickly moved in.
I was cursing the little king under my breath when I heard Merla say, very quietly, “Trust.”
I stopped and became calm.
The tide of Demons washed over us and bore us away.
I was perfectly calm and could see that Merla was too.
This was all part of the plan.