Conspiracy - The Fourth Age Shadow Wars
Thick mist blew upon the northeast breeze, winding and curling as dusk arrived upon the sodden grasslands of eastern Eldora. Five horses slowly emerged from the fog. One of them, a roan, bore two figures upon its bare back. The first was a tall Elf, his long, dark hair tied into a single tight queue that fell over his left shoulder. His dark traveling cloak was sodden with rain. Bright eyes in a pale face flickered back and forth through the gathering gloom, searching for the telltale motion of enemies amidst the damp grasses and low shrubs. But there was nothing. Birds, rabbits, even insects were absent. But for the low, mournful sound of the wind over the plains, he and his companion were alone. The Elf's perfect posture revealed no sign of fatigue or discomfort. He might have been riding in a forest glade on the first warm, dry day of spring rather than in a miserable savannah where bits of mud kicked up from his horse steadily spattered him with malodorous fragments.
The Elf's companion, who rode behind him, arms loosely looped about his waist, was nearly as wide as he was tall. Thick, wooly brown hair ran from his head into a large, thick beard that surrounded the dour face of a Dwarf. A big, straight nose jutted from a strong face in which prominent brown eyebrows gave way to a slightly sloped forehead. The Dwarf's stern face, strong in character, was set now in a resigned grimace of discomfort as he steadily sniffed the oncoming breeze, searching for any scents of creatures hiding in the thick blanket of gray vapor. Smelling nothing unusual, the Dwarf shook his head disdainfully. 'Not even an enemy to distract me from this bleak landscape,' he thought. 'This is truly misery curdled.'
It was two days since the Dwarf, whose name was Bruno, had met with Golbur, his lord, in an inn called the Fast Flow on the Isle of Innis Mallow. The inn was a place where traders of all races met freely and spoke with one another. Elves and Dwarves would not draw undue attention here.
Bruno had walked upstairs into a room where Golbur was seated in front of a crude table, pouring over maps. The Dwarf lord gestured for Bruno to sit in another chair in front of the table. Taking a seat, Bruno wondered why he had been summoned here. His questions were soon answered.
'I have a scouting mission for you,' said Golbur, 'one that requires you to go with an Elf and take him into the mines of Nerea. From there, you will have sealed orders as to your next step. If you refuse, you can return home to Edelhohle and no one will think the lesser of you. If you go on the mission, I will extend your time mining in the Fire Opal caves, regardless of your success or failure, by one month. Your time may be extended further depending upon how successful you are in this mission.' Golbur the proceeded to outline the mission briefly, ignoring the growing expression of disbelief on Bruno's face.
Bruno had dreamed of a year at Edelhohle, as all Dwarves did, but only those fortunate enough to rise to the notice of their Lords earned a year working in that small but fabulously wealthy mine. Edelhohle contained the only source of the fabulous Fire Opals: soft, beautiful stones that needed no polishing or cutting, perfect in every way in their luster and color. Bruno certainly wanted more time to mine these stones, but this mission Golbur had thrust upon him seemed doomed to failure from the start.
'Golbur, you can't seriously be asking me to take an Elf to the mines of Nerea, much less into them. He will be shot on sight, as I well might be!'
'No, he will not. There has been an unwritten but nonetheless actual ceasefire for years. Neither race will shoot or harm the other even if they trespass, unless they act in a violent manner. The presence of an Elf in your company will not be liked, but it will be tolerated—provided the Elf doesn't do anything stupid.'
'How difficult will it be for some fanatic adept of Parsifal to concoct a story that this Elf reached for his bow and they acted in self defense?'
'Here is your answer,' Golbur said, handing Bruno a scroll.
Unrolling it, Bruno saw an official request from Golbur to Tillo IV to receive the Elf in Bruno's company as a diplomat and extend him the full courtesy of the Dwarves. Among the Dwarves, official requests from one sovereign lord to another were not lightly countermanded or ignored. While the priests of Parsifal might still slay the Elf, they would risk the displeasure of Tillo and Golbur by doing so. As powerful as they were, they would think twice about incurring the enmity of Dwarf lords.
Retrieving the scroll, Golbur sealed it, imprinting his mark upon the molten wax.
'Fine,' Bruno said meanwhile. 'So I have to take an Elf to Nerea. Can I at least ask why?'
'No, you may not. You will have sealed orders that are not to be opened until after you are a day's ride from the river. This will ensure the secrecy of your mission. Well, do you accept or refuse?'
Thinking for a moment, Bruno asked, 'I accept, but I am afraid that while your scroll will protect me once we are in Nerea, those mad priests might find us and attack us both before we can be admitted to Nerea.'
'This will protect you,' Golbur said, producing a small metal case from his cloak. 'Turn around so that I may fasten this upon your neck.'
'What is it?' asked Bruno.
'A Circlet of Truth.'
Bruno was stunned. Such circlets were incredibly rare, and their use required ancient magical spells known only to a handful of Dwarves. He looked on in awe at the Circlet as Golbur opened the case. It was a close-fitting solid choke-style necklace comprised of two Platina semicircles that pivoted under a central chamber holding ground Fire Opals that glowed softly and permanently. Any Dwarf wearing a Circlet was protected utterly under Dwarven law, and their veracity in all matters held to be beyond reproach.
Lifting the Circlet from the case, Golbur fastened it around Bruno's neck, muttering words in archaic Dwarvish incomprehensible to Bruno. He felt a brief but searing pain as the necklace ends joined together.
'You will leave on the morrow after meeting with your traveling companion,' said Golbur. 'Good night and good travels.'