From: The Dwarfs of the Wif of Kingdom
To: The Lady Under Glass – for her eyes only!
Report On: The destruction of three of our lady’s stepmother’s cursed items.
Our dearest friend,
My brother Dear does not do justice to our encounter with Mount Voyle, and I think ye ought to know the full story. He would not like me writing this letter to ye, but ye need to understand what happened, and I take quill in hand to finish our adventure.
As Dear wrote to ye before, we had found and collected three of the cursed artifacts ye asked us to recover. After consulting with the dwarven mystic Magella, we had everything we needed to dispose of the dark objects and a destination, whereupon we sought Mount Voyle with three malevolent items and a powerful magical glass. We traveled through the mountain range of Grok’s Teeth for days, but with the help of the magic looking glass, we were able to find our destination. We were relieved the day we spied it on the horizon and ran at full speed with me in the lead, of course.
I have never set eyes upon a mountain like Voyle. It filled an immense pass in the range of mountains—a mystical cynosure with a call more puissant than any siren. Craggy and ragged, rectangular instead of triangular, impenetrable yet misty, the unique landmark before us radiated a silence across the Teeth-no bird called for its mate, no leaf whispered as it fell, no partinle buzzed along. A smoky scent not unlike a campfire rolled off of its sides with no sign of a fire within view. We stood before it awestruck like one stands before a cathedral.
As ye know, the mountain does not stay in one place for long. We didn’t speak but advanced before it disappeared. My brother Bull strode forward first, and Squirrel guarded the end of our procession, looking behind as if he wanted to run away. As we neared our destination, a fissure opened in the side of the mountain. We were expected.
We entered, and the cavern closed as mysteriously as it had opened. Darkness enclosed us but the lack of sunshine means nothing to dwarfs. Shadow-strewn tunnels are our second home, yet the moisture running up the walls and the pools of water collecting on the ceiling unnerved us.
Our eyes adjusted to the darkness, and we called “hi” and “ho” yet no one answered our summons. We marched ahead when a melody broke the silence. Someone sang to us in a foreign tongue. Lilting, rhythmic, mesmerizing, it drew us forward into a large cavern filled with stalagmites. The immense room stood empty save two remarkable features. Gems were embedded into the rocks and stalagmites, and a rill of brackish gray water emerged from a hole in one wall, pouring into a naturally formed basin which overflowed then drained into a crack in the ground.
The singing ceased without a farewell echo as we entered the chamber. We trudged over to the gems, scrutinizing them with a miner’s eye. Alas, we are but dwarfs! My brothers and I have viewed many precious stones in the rocks throughout our lifetimes, but Mount Voyle taught us a new lesson. The gems, embedded within the granite, shone and faded as the rocks’ surface folded and unfolded over them—like eyes opening and closing, slower than a blink.
Six of us examined the precious stones. Enormous and perfectly-formed, any one of the gems would gain us a small fortune. We would never have to work again. Hedgehog, the best brother for sniffing out the most precious veins of metal or stones of value, stopped before a remarkable ruby. We all stood transfixed except Dear who had wandered to the pool. He selected a pebble and dropped it into the aqueous substance. When the tiny rock met the liquid, it hissed and melted away. Dear turned to us.
“Brothers. I may have found—”
“Never mind that,” interrupted Hedgehog. “’Tis the Ruby of Resolve.” He lifted his hand. “Within our grasp, brothers.”
As ye know, the Ruby of Resolve is one of the legendary wishing stones of Kingdom. Legendary no more, I suppose, since we beheld it. Holding the ruby alone automatically ensures no enemy may ambush ye, and a wish on the ruby for prowess guarantees the target will never be bested in battle. Imagine what we could have done with it? In your hands, my princess, defeating the king’s army would have been as trivial a task as drawing water from a well.
Neither the water nor the stone held our attention for long as a shadow passed overhead. Like smoke under ice, it moved inside the walls. The silhouette had three heads and it settled in places where the gems were in the center of one of its faces, making the precious stones look like its eyes. We gathered ourselves into a circle as it landed on the stalagmite with the ruby. Water formed on the cone-shaped rock formation, and it unnaturally ascended the surface in small streams. The condensation reached the point of the stalagmite where it formed one drop. The drops fell upward to the roof above, and as each one struck the ceiling, a word formed.
Hedgehog stepped forward, but Turtle set a wrinkled hand on his shoulder, preventing him from proceeding. Our slow-moving brother spoke for us.
“And what do ye want in its place?”
Hedgehog turned to Dear and reached for the pouch containing the cursed artifacts. His hand landed on it, but Dear fell back. The two of them grabbed the bag and tugged on it back and forth. Hedgehog’s eyes, round with fervor, pulled Dear off his feet, forcing him to stumble forward. Hedgehog cried with anguish.
“Give it to me!”
Turtle’s voice cut across the room. “Hedgehog!”
Rabbit and Bull grabbed Hedgehog and restrained him as Dear pulled the bag away. Our obsessed brother, eyes wild and spittle dripping down his chin, licked his lips.
“What will we do with the artifacts? We came to leave the items here. Let us get a pretty for our troubles.”
Dear stepped back, shielding the bag with his body.
“Do not ye understand, Hedgehog? The water dissolved the pebble.”
Hedgehog shook off his captors.
“But why? Why destroy it? This creature cannot make use of the items in here!”
Turtle cleared his throat.
“How do ye know, Hedgehog?”
Hedgehog regarded his brothers. “We know ’tis the Ruby of Resolve. We shall give it to her, and she will put it to good use. Mark me!”
Dear spoke in a slow, even tone.
“I share the same thoughts ye have, but we promised her. She is our lady. Do we honor her with a failed quest and a bauble she does not care about? Or do we stay the course?”
“She will not think it a bauble. She shall be grateful. It will change Kingdom’s history!”
“She will change Kingdom’s history—not an item.”
Ye are a fool, Dear. Your feelings blind ye.”
Dear shrunk back from Hedgehog’s insult.
“Maybe blind, but a keeper of promises nonetheless. What would she have us do?”
Make no mistake, my lady. We ached for the gem, including Dear. The Ruby of Resolve! The seven us, instead of outcasts, would become the seven most celebrated dwarfs in Kingdom’s history. The ruby would ensure the success of your endeavors. A magical and powerful stone it is, not cursed. But we know how much pain the items have caused ye, and to be so close to destroying the artifacts and to have left them with this strange creature…
Dear was right, and we knew it.
Hedgehog slumped and Dear turned. The water dripped rapidly to the ceiling and the words splashed around us.
“No…do…not..destroy…them! Give them…to me! I will…keep them safe…in Mount Voyle.”
Dear stood before the stream of indeterminate liquid. He lifted the bag and overturned it.
A drop of water the size of a pineapple raced up the stalagmite. It splashed against the ceiling. “No!”
I knew with its cry we had made the right decision. The items fell from the bag and unceremoniously dropped into the fluid. They floated for a moment, sizzled, and dissolved. At the same moment, the stone flowed over the celebrated ruby, absorbed into the mountain.
Dear turned around with a serene expression on his face. “Brothers. Let us go to Grok’s Gullet tavern and order Freudian Ale until sunrise.”
We made our way from the mountain, but the ale will have to wait. The bird delivered your last message, changing our destination to the Inn of Five where I shall deliver this letter. Whatever may come, my princess, we have upheld our promise. Please forgive us our faults as ye read this. We all love ye and will follow ye, and I hope these letters let ye know how much.
Fare thee well! I am off to call on my sweetmate, Glissa!
In Your Service,