Haunted Mountain Chapter 7: Valleygate

By order of the Unicorn, a special coat was made for Byron. It had a stiff, square, upright collar and trim shoulders. It fell to his fetlocks and buttoned to the waist with three black clasps. It was black with black edging at the cuffs and hems and collar. On the left breast, embroidered in black silk thread, was a rampant Unicorn. Byron fidgeted with the collar, but he could not deny that the coat was a perfect fit.

A strange quiet settled on Hiding Wood. Woodren spoke in whispers even in the full light of day and nothing was heard from Red Misrule. King Belden remained closeted with his advisors. Rumor spread faster than any of the elders could control. There were tales of dragons and the living dead, a kingdom of ghosts, a book of recipes for stewing dwarves, and something about a wig. Thúmose took it upon himself to sow the truth. He went among the Woodren, visiting homes and steadings.

Word came in from the Fencewood of a wolf attack on a centaur patrol. Palter Thundershod went himself. Two more reports came in from the north concerning an attack by wild centaurs in league with hoblins. Still King Belden did not appear. It was rumored that he spent many hours with Arden the poet, hearing what he could of the old tales.

In the morning on the third day, a crowd gathered at Arbor Hall. Sir Thetmed was there, but they carried no signs. Instead they stood in a quiet bunch, wearing sashes across their chests that read Misrule Now. The satyr scouts were there also. It came out that Darius Thorn had been at the council as their representative. Now they took up their post behind Byron and the Wanderers, poised with their faces painted and javelins at the ready.

The Sons of the Hammer stood by, and Cryolar sat waiting with a group of curious Woodren gathered around him. He beamed down with merry eyes, leaning this way and that so they could touch his feathers and talons and beak. Thúmose was there, standing alone in the middle of the courtyard where his pavilion had stood a short time before.

“Everyone’s going with Thrym to the Griffin Stair,” Raefer said, frowning. “Everyone except me and Nosh.”

Nosh nodded in agreement and shared his frown. “Will you be crossing the mountains?”

“Nobody’s saying,” Quill said. “Something about representing the Unicorn. Thrym promised he’d tell us on the way.”

“Well, why can’t we go?” Nosh asked.

“I’m sure Thúmose has his reasons,” Dindra replied.

“Yeah, whatever.” Raefer said. “All we get from Thúmose is ‘My heart bids me keep you here, in case of hidden need.’ ”

“That’s pretty good, Raef,” Byron said. “You sound just like him.”

But there was no mirth in Byron’s voice. His breakfast was disagreeing with him. Dindra gripped his shoulder.

“You’ll be fine, Byron,” Shilo said. “Just be polite.”

“Whatever you do,” Nosh said, “don’t interrupt when my father is speaking. He hates that worse than anything. And if you can help it, don’t even look at my uncle. You’re gonna want to, because he won’t take his eyes off you, and you can feel it.”

“Anything he should do?” Rufus asked.

“Yeah,” Nosh said. “Look my father dead in the eye when you talk to him.”

“Byron does that anyway,” Quill said. “It’s the first thing I noticed about him.”

Dindra took Byron by the hand and led him away a few steps. She crouched down before him so they were nearly eye to eye.

“Byron,” she said. “Before my father left, he said something I thought you should hear. He said he’s been watching you closely since the day your family was killed—the day he found you hiding behind that rock wall. He said he noticed something about you then, something in your eyes. He said that for a moment, when your eyes met, he was afraid.”

“Afraid?” Byron said. “Your father? I was only three years old.”

“I know,” Dindra said. “And he said something else. He said that until he met the Unicorn, my father considered you the most dangerous person he’d ever known.”

“Dangerous?” Byron said. “Me?”

“He didn’t mean it the way you think. He meant—well, I think he meant you’ve got something that keeps other people from sitting down. He said that when he looked into your eyes that morning, he wondered where this tiny satyr-baby was going to take us, and what we would all do when the time came to follow. Well, after the council, he said he asked himself the very same questions.”

Byron stood there, blinking, dazed. He had taken it hard to learn that Baruwan had departed directly after the council. He had wanted to speak more with the centaur about all that had happened. He had felt a swelling in his chest when Baruwan addressed him in the Hall of Shields. Now, to be considered by one so great as Palter Thundershod himself was an honor Byron could not get used to. All he could do was shake his head. “What’s happening, Dindra?”

“I don’t know, Byron. I just know Mr. Thúmose chose you for a reason. I’ve known you your whole life. Your sister was my best friend. Remember? She and I were together in the next room when you were born. I think my father was right, Byron. And I know we never would have found Silverlance if not for you. It’s almost like you were born for this. It’s as if, all you need to do is whatever feels right to you, and the whole world gets shaken. You’ve been keeping people on their toes since you were born. I’m proud of you, Byron.”

Byron looked up at Dindra and the two friends locked eyes. “You remember my sister?”

Dindra nodded and tears came.

“My brother, too?”

“Yes,” Dindra said in a whisper and she smiled. Then she squared her shoulders and blinked out her tears. “You take Silverlance to that dwarven king, Byron Thorn. You tell him what’s on, okay?”

“Okay, Dindra,” Byron said, but his own eyes filled. “I sure am scared, you know?”

Dindra’s tears came fresh. “I know, Byron. Me, too.”

She reached out her arms and they embraced. “Dindra,” Byron said. “Sometimes I hear it, not just in dreams either.”

Dindra grimaced and shook her head. “Hear what, Byron?”

“The phoenix call.”

An uproar took the crowd and all eyes turned to the porch of Arbor Hall. The doors opened before the Woodland King, who came out into the day, surrounded by his knights. He looked haggard, his face worn and tired. He wore a long tunic of forest green. When he held up a hand, the crowd went silent.

“Lord Thúmose, I will be brief,” the king began. “My borders are embattled, my warriors harried. If war is coming I must look to my people, to see that they are prepared and protected. I will not join you on this journey, nor rally to you at Showd Mazark. I cannot. There is too much at stake here in my own land.”

A loud murmur swept the Woodren. Many nodded their heads, smiling with relief. Many others frowned and shook their heads, throwing up their hands. The satyr scouts glared around at each other. A few centaurs clenched their jaws and looked at the ground. Even some of the knights gathered behind Belden gazed in disappointment over the top of the crowd.

“Knights, warriors, and scouts,” Belden continued. “You are bound to me by blood oath from which I do not release you. But there are many in the population at large who are doughty enough. If any of you wish to follow the Unicorn I will not hinder you. Any are free to go who choose to. I will say no more. I am needed.”

Belden turned and went into his house. His knights followed and the glass doors closed behind them. The crowd began to disperse, breaking up into groups of like-minded Woodren who went their ways to talk of the morning’s events.

“Did you not hear?” Thúmose asked. “If you will, you may follow and aid me in the time to come. Who will join me?”

The Woodren moved away as if they had not heard. They talked amongst themselves as they went, and soon the courtyard was empty of all but the Wanderers, Darius, the Prinders, and those loyal to the Unicorn.

“Well, I’m coming,” Dindra said.

“So am I,” said Rufus.

All the Wanderers declared their fidelity. Thúmose went before them and swished his tail. “Well do I know it, first of the Sworn,” he said to them. “You are dear to me, all of you. But it seems we are alone.”

“Where’s all their talk now?” Raefer said, looking at the last of the departing crowd.

“They draw strength from their king,” Thúmose said. “And they will not leave him, even though they disagree with him. That will be to the good in the end. But we will wait no longer. Darius Thorn?”

“Sire,” Darius said.

“I have been with Lukos among the Western Wolves; it is arranged. Gather Red Misrule and meet the wolfen king as soon as you may. Belden will need you.”

“Yes, sir.”

Everyone stared at Gradda, who once again stood before them, a simple old satyr in a hooded cape and half glasses. No one had a chance to question what they heard.

“Are you ready, Byron?” Thúmose asked.

“Yes, sir,” Byron replied.

“Good. Do not worry about what you will say when the time comes. I am with you, my dear friend.”

Thúmose leaned down and touched the tip of his long, spiraling lance to the silver horn on Byron’s head. There was a crackle and flash so terrific that everyone gasped.

“Be well, Byron,” Gradda said, embracing his grandson.

“You too, Gradda,” Byron said.

Byron turned to his friends. “So long everybody.”

The companions gathered around him and embraced him one by one.

“Good luck, Byron,” they said. “See you soon.”

Byron shared a last glance with Dindra, as Cryolar came up.

“All forgiven, then?” Cryolar asked.

“Yes,” Byron replied. “Just try to take it easy in the air, okay?”

“I will, Silverthorn,” Cryolar said. “I will. Shall we go?”

Byron nodded. “I’m ready.”

“A special basket has been prepared for your protection,” Cryolar said.

The basket was armored below and on the sides. The top was open and inside was a padded compartment where Byron could recline or sit up. A tall handle looped up and over with a crossbar suited and sized for Cryolar’s grip. Byron climbed in and, before he was settled, Cryolar swept open his great wings, took hold of the basket, and was aloft. The world fell away below them. Byron slung an elbow over the side of the basket and looked down at his friends, waving far below. Thúmose stood apart. He bobbed his great head and swished his yellow tail. The silver lance flashed in the sun. Byron rubbed his silver horn with his thumb and sighed.

“A fine day for flying!” Cryolar called. “Eh, Silverthorn?”

“I like the basket!” Byron called back. The wind whipped his hair and he squinted in the bright sunlight.

“So do I,” the griffin shouted. “It’s easier to grip! Be easy, Silverthorn. We have the better part of a day before us.”

Byron pulled his cape tight about him and leaned back on the cushion. The sky was vast and clear. The beat of Cryolar’s wings, the warmth of the sun, and the constant rush of wind lulled Byron into unexpected sleep.

When he woke, the mountain stood close. Cryolar soared low among the peaks. Great shadows fell east of the mountains, cast by the sinking sun. It was deep afternoon. Far below, south of the Old Mountain, the city of the dwarves waited in the lower cliffs. A single road wound among the trunks of the mountains, furrowing deep into the interior of the Crestfalls to the turrets and stairs and porticoes of Valleygate, hall of the dwarven king.

“The Winding Way!” Cryolar said. “The only surface road to or from the bastion of the dwarves. Of course, there are many paths and avenues beneath the mountains into the valley beyond the Gate. And the halls within are a marvel if tales be true.”

Byron did not speak. He squinted in the sunlight and looked down from beneath the shade of his hand.

“Come, Byron,” Cryolar said. “You must retrieve your eagerness. It is no small part of why Thúmose chose you for this errand. Your task is a mighty one and much will be made of it. But we must go without reward for our courage, at least for a while.”

“You’ve been hard at work,” Byron said. “Haven’t you, Cryolar?”

“We all have. The time requires it.”

“But you’re an outlaw.”

“Yes! And an exile besides. And there is a price upon my head, so I am a fugitive as well!”

“Why don’t the griffins hunt you?”

“Those who do not love me, fear me. No griffin craves an encounter with Cryolar!”

“Why doesn’t Mr. Thúmose send you to the dwarves?”

“I am best with the wind in my wings, Byron. My work is to keep watch. And to bear the ambassadors of the king where duty calls them!” Then the griffin laughed. “For that is what you are, Silverthorn!”

Something whistled past the basket. Cryolar banked and pulled the basket up beneath him.

“What was that?” Byron asked.

“An arrow,” Cryolar said. “They’ve been launching them for some time now. We’ve only just come into range.”

“Who?”

“The dwarves of course. They have been ordered to bring me down if they can.”

Byron looked out from the safety of Cryolar’s talons. “Aren’t you afraid?” he asked.

“I have taken arrows before,” Cryolar said. “Still, I have brought you as close as I safely may. I will alight on the Winding Way and you must walk from there alone.”

Byron swallowed the lump in his throat. The mountains drew near as Cryolar began a wide, sweeping spiral. Far below, the road meandered southward among the many narrow valleys. Then there was a clang and a crack and a javelin tore through the basket. It passed between Byron’s arm and chest, and stuck into the other side of the basket.

Cryolar gave a shrieking roar. “Ballista!” he called. “Mind your stomach, Silverthorn, we’ve got to dive!”

The griffin beat his fabulous wings faster and faster into a fall. He folded them away and stretched his body, plummeting toward the trunks of the mountains. Byron held his breath and gripped the basket. His sight went starry. When he came to, the basket was resting on the cobbles of the Winding Way, and Byron was curled up in the basket’s padded compartment, clutching the javelin for safety. He looked up into the merry face of the griffin.

“Forgive me, Byron,” Cryolar said. “The dive was necessary. Crossbows and long bows are one thing. A ballista is another.”

“What’s—what’s a ballista?” Byron asked, lifting his head to peer up the path.

“A contraption used for throwing enormous arrows. I didn’t know the dwarves had them this far north.”

“Enormous arrows,” Byron said, looking at the shaft of the javelin.

Cryolar looked up the road to where it rounded a bend and disappeared. “No doubt the dwarves are on their way. It will go better for you if you are alone when they find you. The sight of me will only rouse their swords. Farewell, Byron. Good luck on your errand. Yes, I hear them now. I must go.”

Cryolar plucked Byron from the basket and set him gently on the ground. He took the basket by the handle and bounded away on his hind legs, south down the slope of the mountain. With a graceful flap, he took flight. Byron closed his eyes and listened to the loud rustle of the griffin’s feathers. As it faded, another sound slowly overpowered and replaced it. It was the sound of urgent voices and heavy, tramping feet.

Byron struggled to his hooves. His heart no longer beat in his throat and the last hints of red disappeared from his sight. As he stood there gaining his balance, a troop of heavily armed dwarves rounded the bend. They had thick short swords at their hips, heavy spears and bows in their hands, and visored helmets on their heads. Their shoulders were disproportionately broad and draped with links of chain. They wore long beards, plaited and bound with lashings of leather. Their war gear jingled and creaked. They levelled spears at Byron. He looked back at where Cryolar had lifted off. Then he looked again at the dwarves and sighed.

The Winding Way climbed into the cliffs. Nothing protected the roadside from the staggering drop-offs. Here and there waterfalls gushed and springs trickled across, conveyed by grated troughs expertly built into the surface of the road. The width of the road never varied, always with enough space for two wagons to pass with ease. Byron had to trot and sometimes run to keep up with the fourteen heavy-handed dwarves who surrounded him, forcing him to push on, up the climbing slope. At last the track levelled off into a wide alley, steep on both sides, that led to a sheer face. A dark tunnel opened in the wall of the cliff, covered by a huge ironclad portcullis.

One of the dwarves lifted a horn from his belt and filled the mountains with a loud, echoing blast. A great many armed dwarves appeared in the cliffs above, looking down through the heavy visors that darkened their grim faces into shadow. Somewhere inside the portcullis a giant wheel began to turn. Byron could hear the creak and hum of stretching chain and the gate opened, disappearing into the mountain above the tunnel.

A long, dark passage followed. The dwarves kept their pace and escorted Byron out through a bright opening, into sunlight in a vast stone courtyard. Dwarf men and women came and went, some armed or in uniform, some dressed for work. Pony carts went to and fro. The courtyard stretched out and disappeared in both directions, carrying the traffic of the day. The escort led Byron toward a towering house tucked into the cliff on the other side of the fountain. Byron noticed a pair of dwarves staring down at him from the house’s largest balcony overlooking the courtyard.

One looked grim, almost angry. He glared at Byron with a heavy brow. The other had an air of serious curiosity about him. He stroked his long beard. A dwarf woman stepped up beside them to look down as well. She was grave, but not threatening like the first. All three were dressed richly, and looked familiar to Byron, as if he had seen them before. “Nosh,” he muttered to himself.

There was a shout. A passage opened on the ground level and a band of dwarf dignitaries stepped out into the courtyard. They wore puffy, feathered caps and bright blue hauberks. Some had small swords tucked into their belts, and each frowned as they approached. They stopped with arms akimbo before Byron’s escort.

“No sign of the griffin,” said the leader of the escort. “Just this —whatever it is.”

The lead dignitary narrowed his eyes at Byron. “What happened to the griffin?” he asked.

“Cryolar?” Byron said. “He flew away.”

“A friend of yours, then?” the dignitary said, raising his eyebrows.

Byron paused. He looked at the dwarf escort and up at the three well-dressed dwarves still watching from the balcony. “I have a message from the king,” he said.

The dignitary pulled back his chin and blinked. A murmur swept through the courtyard. More guards gathered in the cliffs.

“A message for the king, you say?” the dignitary said. “Well, you can just deliver it to me, then. I am the king’s chief counsel.”

“Not for the king,” Byron said. “From the king. And I won’t tell it to anyone but Thrudnelf.”

The murmuring grew louder. The chief counsel frowned. The less grim of the two dwarf men on the balcony leaned forward and put his hands on the rail.

Byron drew a deep breath. “I have a message from Silverlance,” he said.
And silence fell.

Everyone, including the chief counsel, looked up at the balcony. The matron and the less threatening of the two dwarves turned and went in. The remaining dwarf leaned forward with a withering stare, and put his hands on the railing as the other had done.

“Bring ‘im!” he shouted.

The chief counsel turned back to Byron with his eyebrows up. Then he motioned with his chin to the dwarves who escorted Byron. They started forward and one of them shoved Byron from behind.

They went by many turns and up many stairs. Twice they passed through walkways open to the air. All the dwarf folk they met bowed slightly to the chief counsel as he passed. At last they came to a set of tall doors guarded by two hard-looking dwarves. They parted at the sight of the chief counsel and the doors swung open. Inside was an enormous round hall with great pillars and arches in the ceiling. Warm sunlight lit the place.

A long heavy table stood in the very middle of the room and great chairs were set around it. All three of the dwarves Byron had seen on the balcony sat in tall chairs at one end of the table. The least threatening sat at the head. To his right sat the dwarf matron and to his left the grim-faced fellow, who was still staring at Byron with dark eyes. The chief counsel and dignitaries filled the table’s remaining seats. The guards vanished, leaving Byron alone on the the floor beneath the high ceiling.

The dwarf at the head of the table cleared his throat. “Your name,” he said.

Byron stepped forward. “Are you Thrudnelf?” he asked.

The grim dwarf deepened his frown. The matron shifted in her chair. The dignitaries murmured amongst themselves, watching the head of the table. The dwarf who had spoken raised an eyebrow.

“I have a message for you,” Byron said. “If that’s who you are.”

“So I understand,” said the dwarf. “You are a strange little emissary, I must say. It’s clear you are not schooled in protocols and for that I cannot fault you. You are sent by a foreign king, I am told. Might I have your name, sir? You are the visitor here, it is only right you should declare yourself.”

One of the advisors stepped up beside the dwarf and set before him a stack of papers, an ink tub, and a long feather pen. The dwarf licked his fingertips and went through the papers without looking up.

Byron shrugged. “Byron, sir. Byron Thorn.”

“Very well, Byron,” said the dwarf, still sifting through the documents. “Yes, I am Thrudnelf. This is my sister, the Princess Verdandi, and my brother, Prince Dornthelf. We are eager to hear what you have to say.” He paused a moment to sign one paper and set it aside. The advisor leaned in and pointed to a place on the next page and Thrudnelf signed there also. “If I’m not mistaken, you were in company with my son on that errand of madness this past winter.”

“Yes, sir.” Byron said. “That is—I’m a friend of Nosh.”

“A friend of Prince Nosh,” Thrudnelf said. “How nice. And how is it with my son?”

“Fine sir. If you please, sir—”

“Where would I send a message,” Thrudnelf said. He looked Byron straight in the eye, smiled, and tapped the stack of papers edgewise on the table. “If I wanted to get word to him?”

“Well,” Byron said. Then he paused and looked around. Dornthelf and the chief advisor peered at him. Thrudnelf only smiled and Verdandi gave Byron a sober stare. “I’d like to deliver my message now, sir,” Byron said.

Dornthelf’s frown returned. The advisors sat back in their chairs. Thrudnelf’s smile faded to blankness and Verdandi’s face softened. She nodded to Byron and gave a long, slow blink.

“Very well,” Thrudnelf said. He stuck the pen in its tub and pushed the papers aside. The advisor collected them and backed away from the table with a slight bow. Thrudnelf folded his hands before him. “Now,” he said, “what is it you have to say?”

Byron shifted his weight to one hoof, forgetting his message in the moment. Verdandi sat with her chin lifted, casting a firm, friendly gaze Byron’s way. When he met her stare, his horn tingled and words came before he knew he was speaking.

“The high king of Everándon sends you peace,” Byron said. His voice was calm and steady. He looked at Thrudnelf without blinking.

Dornthelf rolled his eyes and sighed. He leaned back and folded his arms.

Thrudnelf shifted in his chair. “Go on,” he said.

Byron continued with the same calm countenance and unflinching voice. “Thúmose, high king, extends his banner over you, King Thrudnelf of the dwarves. He asks that you attend him at his headquarters in Bilérica thirty-one days before autumn’s equinox, for a feast of friendship and oath-taking.

“Thúmose wishes to draw your attention to the lore of your people, that you might remember the oldenhome of the dwarves, the Granite Throne of your ancestors, and the deep forge where the crafts of metal and stone were made great. He offers you renewed possession of Showd Mazark, Dwarvenhearth, at Mountain’s End, where you and your people may return at ancient last, to find rest from your burdensome waiting and liberation from your place of exile.

“What is more, Thúmose offers you your rightful place in the Circle of Kings, to help him forge anew the league of alliance that was broken and lost long ago when darkness fell. But above all Thúmose craves your attendance, that he may call you friend and raise you to the greatness that belongs to you.”

When Byron finished the room was silent. He felt a little dizzy and his heart was racing. The advisors glanced around the room in every direction. Verdandi leaned back a little to catch sight of the side of Thrudnelf’s face. Dornthelf, too, watched his brother.

“Who is this Thúmose?” the dwarven king asked.

“The Unicorn,” Byron replied. “Silverlance.”

“Silverlance?” Dornthelf said, leaning forward. He put his hands on the table. “Sire, need I remind you of the threats issued by the giant king? To say nothing of the hoblins on the northern causeways. May we please discuss something that matters?”

Thrudnelf looked at his brother. “Am I to understand, Dornthelf, that you do not consider the safe return of my son to be a matter of importance?”

Dornthelf blinked and recoiled a little. “I—no, your highness. Of course not.” He sat back, glancing around at the advisors until his look darkened to a glare and came to rest on Byron.

“And this fellow, this Unicorn,” the king continued. “He wishes me to visit him at the home of some herb-witch in order to lay my crown at his feet and declare my loyalty to him?”

“Hixima isn’t a witch,” Byron said. “She’s a Warra priestess.”

“Yes, I have heard of her—a witch then,” Thrudnelf said. “And in addition, he wants me to abandon my home and asks that my people do likewise so that I might lead them on a journey to some forgotten mountain to begin life all over again under the leadership of a complete stranger, who isn’t even a dwarf?”

“Well, you see sir,” Byron said, “Showd Mazark is your real home. At least it was a long time ago. Thúmose says it’s better there.”

“He does, of course,” Thrudnelf said. “Byron, my dear fellow, I believe you know where I might find my son. Will you tell me where that is, right now?”

Byron blinked.

“This instant sir,” the dwarven king said. “Tell me this instant or I shall set you in irons.”

“But—” Byron said. “I’m supposed to carry back your answer. Thúmose will be waiting.”

“Let him wait.”

“He’ll be angry.”

“Angry?” Thrudnelf said. “Do not use that word with me! You have angered me more than is safe already. Thúmose be hanged.”

“But sir—” Byron said.

“Enough,” said the King. At last he put aside his papers and looked at Byron without blinking. “I can only believe, Byron, that you, like my son Nosh, have been taken in by this Silverlance, and that he is using you to achieve some foul purpose beyond your reckoning.”

“No sir,” Byron said. “Thúmose is—”

Thrudnelf struck the table with his open hand. The papers, the pen, the ink tub, and everyone seated around the table, including Prince Dornthelf, jumped several inches at the sound of it. Byron stepped back and nearly lost his balance. The king rose from the table, hands behind his back, searching for words.

“Let me tell you what I think,” King Thrudnelf continued in a calm, level voice. “I think your Thúmose is a kidnapper. Showd Mazark, you say? The oldenhome of the dwarves, you say? Let me tell you what your Unicorn has in store. He means to set my son up as a puppet king in this forgotten realm of yours, and sow division among my people. He has kidnapped my heir and I believe he is behind the disappearance of the giant prince also, for some purpose I cannot divine. So be it. Dornthelf, I want three thousand and a half ready to march on my order. Assemble them at Tartoom.”

Dornthelf looked with a blank stare at his brother the king. “March where, sire?”

“To Dwarvenhearth, of course,” the king said. “Showd Mazark. I will have my son back by force of arms if that is the only recourse left to me. I believe I will find him there, by the Hammers of Jargadda, I will find him.”

“But sire,” Dornthelf said, “we don’t know where Dwarvenhearth is.”

“Then get a map and find it!” the king shouted. “Are you my war duke or aren’t you? As for you, Mr. Ambassador,” the king said to Byron, “I give you one last chance. Perhaps you may yet save your friend the Unicorn from the edge of my sword. Will you tell me where my son is right now?”

Byron did not speak. He only stared, slackjawed, at the dwarven king.

Thrudnelf began leafing through his papers again. “Very well,” he said. “You will wait in prison until you decide to tell me. In the meantime I will present this Unicorn with an answer he is not prepared to deal with.”

“Oh, but sir—” Byron began.

“The matter is closed.”

“But—”

“Enough!” Thrudnelf shouted, his face red and savage. He struck the table again, this time with a great closed fist. Verdandi stiffened, watching Thrudnelf with caution. Thrudnelf’s eyes bulged from his face and his eyebrows furrowed deep into his brow.

Dornthelf smiled. “Take him to the dungeon,” he said.

Byron kicked up his hooves and started to run, but strong hands were already on him. The last thing he heard as the guards carried him from the hall was the laugh of Prince Dornthelf and the echo of the tall doors falling shut.

 

 

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