Authors: M.L. Forman
“It has been my honor,” replied Alex, having been told in advance what to say by Thrang. “I am pleased to have been of service.”
“Then let the payment begin,” commanded Osrik, still smiling.
Umbar nodded and walked to Alex, handing him a leather pouch. Alex took the pouch without opening it, knowing that it held the one hundred true silver pennies that were part of the reward; he bowed to Umbar in thanks.
“The wardens have been up all night sorting and counting the wealth of Umbar,” Osrik said. “Now they will bring one-in-three of all the treasure the bag held.”
Alex bowed to the king and stood with his companions to wait. The wait was not long as several dwarfs soon began
carrying all kinds of treasure into the room. The dwarfs piled the treasure in one corner of the room and continued to go in and out of the room in a seemingly endless stream.
The room filled quickly with gold and silver bars and coins. Several of the dwarfs carried large bags into the room and placed them in separate piles against one wall, the piles growing nearly as high as Alex was tall. Each bag had a tag attached to it, and Alex guessed the tag identified the bag’s contents. There had to be at least three or four times more treasure here than they had taken from the troll. Alex was stunned.
“It appears Umbar was a successful adventurer,” said Thrang, standing beside Alex and watching the room fill around them.
“Indeed he was,” said Osrik with a laugh.
Alex thought he should say something about this being too much treasure, but a look from Thrang told him not to speak. He looked around at the enormous mounds of treasure; the room was almost too crowded to stand in. Alex wondered how long it would take to divide everything eight ways.
Finally the dwarfs brought the last bag into the room, bowing at Osrik before leaving. Osrik and Umbar turned to Alex.
“Do you accept your payment?” asked Osrik.
“I . . . I do,” Alex replied, his voice shaking slightly.
“Then we will leave you to sort your treasure,” said Osrik with a smile. “We will see you this evening at the heir’s feast.”
Osrik and Umbar walked out of the room, leaving Alex and his companions alone. Alex looked around in disbelief at the piles of treasure around him. He didn’t think he and his companions could possibly have it all sorted and divided before the feast began, and not going to the feast was out of the question.
“You’d better make a start then,” Skeld laughed, dropping onto a pile of bags in one corner.
“We all had,” said Alex.
“No,” replied Bregnest softly but firmly. “You had.”
“But we are to share equally,” Alex protested. “I said when I took the lost bags that all rewards would be shared equally between us.”
“But that is not the custom, as you should know from your reading,” replied Bregnest with a smile. “You are the winner of the bags. The reward is yours alone.”
“But I—” Alex began.
“It will do no good arguing the point,” Bregnest interrupted, holding up his hand. “We have decided on this, and I will not be moved.”
“You must take something,” Alex insisted. “I mean, what will I do with all of this?”
“You are kind and generous,” said Bregnest with a slight bow and a smile. “However, you do not know what your future holds, or how much treasure you may need some other day.”
“And you’ve not seen any really large treasures yet,” said Halfdan with a laugh. “What we took from the troll was a fair amount compared to what trolls normally have, but it was hardly a dragon’s hoard.”
Alex continued to object loudly as Skeld and Andy took him by the arms and led him to a pile of treasure.
“Best get started or you’ll miss the feast for sure,” said Skeld laughing.
“It will take days to get all this in my bag,” said Alex, hoping that would force the others to take some of the treasure.
“Nonsense,” Thrang replied. “Just hold your bag next to a pile and say, ‘treasure room.’”
Alex did as he was told, though with some doubts. He had only put single items in his bag before, and he’d never tried anything as large as the pile of treasure in front of him. To his surprise, the command worked and the entire pile of treasure vanished into his bag.
Alex approached one of the tagged bags and saw that the bag contained diamonds. He wondered how many thousands of diamonds were in the pile of labeled bags in front of him. He looked around at his companions once more, trying to talk them into taking something. They simply laughed at him and refused to accept any of his treasure.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, only one pile of bags remained in the room. Alex looked at the tag to see what was inside. There was a single dwarfish letter on the tag.
“What does this mean, Thrang?” Alex asked, carrying one of the bags to his friend.
“Oh, my!” Thrang exclaimed, looking at the tag and then at the large pile of bags on the floor. “It’s . . . it’s true silver.”
lex and his friends remained in the halls of King Osrik for a week, feasting and talking each night with the king. They wandered the dwarf city freely, often getting lost and having to ask directions from one of the passing dwarfs. The dwarfs were always happy to help them find their way, and many of them would take the time to lead the members of the company back to their chambers.
“Now I know what dwarf cities are like,” said Skeld, smiling at Thrang and Halfdan as they ate breakfast on their final day in the city.
“And what do you think about them now?” Halfdan questioned.
“I think they are different than I imagined them to be,” answered Skeld, still smiling. “Though not as green and open as I have been told.”
Alex chuckled to himself, remembering the comment Skeld made in Techen about “dwarf caves.” Alex had been happy in Osrik’s city and was sorry to be leaving.
Alex had another reason to be happy because, in the end, each of his companions had agreed to take a bag of the true silver Alex had received in payment for returning Umbar’s lost bag. They had each thanked him so many times that Skeld started teasing them about it, laughing at himself as well as the others.
“Our last breakfast in the city,” said Halfdan sadly. “I hope we will be able to return here one day.”
As they finished their breakfast and prepared to leave, Thrain appeared in the doorway. Alex and Andy had become good friends with Thrain during their short stay, and they were happy to see him again.
“The king wishes to bid you farewell,” said Thrain. “He awaits you in the great hall.”
“Then we will follow you to the king, Master Thrain,” replied Bregnest.
Thrain led the way, trying hard once again to look official. The company followed him, smiling and nodding to the dwarfs they passed along the way. There seemed to be a lot of dwarfs along their way this morning, smiling and waving good-bye to the company or wishing them good luck on their journey.
“Ah, at last,” said Osrik, walking down the steps from his throne as Alex and his friends approached. “A final meeting before you go—though I hope this will not be the last time we meet.”
“You have shown us great kindness, King Osrik. We will not soon forget you or your people,” said Bregnest as the company bowed to the king.
“Nor will we forget the happiness you and your company have brought to us,” Osrik replied. “You are all free to come and go in this kingdom whenever you may wish. And now my kinsman Umbar asks permission to give you each a gift.”
“A token of thanks from the house of Lanoch,” said Umbar, stepping forward. He handed each of them a small package. When Umbar came to Alex, he handed him a larger package.
“These are but small tokens of thanks for your kindness in returning the lost bag of my father,” said Umbar in a low voice to Alex. “If ever I, or any of my family, may be of service to you, please, feel free to call on us.”
“You are both kind and generous,” replied Alex with a bow.
“And now you must go,” Osrik said sadly. “I wish you a safe journey and a speedy return to my halls.”
“You have our thanks, great king,” said Bregnest. “If ever we can be of service to you or your kingdom, we will do all that we can.”
Alex and the others waited until Osrik was back on his throne before bowing one last time.
As they left the great hall, Thrain fell into step beside Alex and Andy, walking with them out of the main gates and toward the path to the valley below.
“I hope I will see you both again,” Thrain said brightly. “Perhaps we will be able to go on an adventure together.”
“That would be nice,” said Andy. “But you have not been chosen as an adventurer. At least not yet.”
“Perhaps you will return in time to go with me to the White Tower,” said Thrain hopefully.
“Perhaps we will,” said Alex in a cheerful tone. “Then I would have the pleasure of introducing you to my friend, the Oracle.”
Thrain beamed with happiness at Alex’s words.
When they approached the large barn, they saw that their horses were already saddled and waiting for them.
“Farewell, my friends,” Thrain called as they mounted their horses. “May you find your goal and return quickly to our city.”
“Farewell, Master Thrain,” answered Bregnest. “May the best of your hopes come to pass.”
Alex and Andy waved good-bye to Thrain, falling into line behind Skeld and Tayo as they rode off into the east.
“It would be nice to ride with Thrain to the White Tower,” said Andy, taking one last look at the dwarf city behind them.
“I doubt we will return to the tower soon,” said Tayo grimly.
“Always a ray of sunshine, aren’t you?” said Skeld with a laugh and a smile.
They rode quickly across the open lands beyond the city of King Osrik, leaving the Brown Hills behind them. There was little talking as they went along, and it seemed to Alex a shadow had fallen over the company’s mood. The weather was warm and dry, and as the sun began to sink behind them, they stopped to make camp. After they had eaten their evening meal, they took out the packages Umbar had given them. Inside each package was a chain made of true silver with a large white diamond set in the center. In addition to the chain, there was also a true-silver brooch, which bore the emblem of the dwarf realm of Vargland. Alex’s package also contained a long dagger in a silver-and-black scabbard. When he drew the blade, he saw several dwarfish letters engraved on it.
“A blade made of true silver,” said Thrang, looking at the dagger in Alex’s hands. He pointed to the engraving. “And
a charm to keep it sharp and unbroken. It will serve you well.”
“Umbar has been most generous,” Halfdan commented, putting his chain around his neck.
“The return of his father’s bag has made him richer than many dwarf lords,” said Thrang with a wide smile. “He can afford to be generous.”
“Still, it is a kind gift,” said Arconn, pinning his brooch to his tunic. “That he has been generous to us all and not just to the bringer of the bag is strange.”
“I think he heard our young friend trying to share his reward with us,” said Skeld. “Perhaps he is trying to make up for what we would not take.”