Chapter 10 of 40 Days in an Elvish Prison (read Chapter 1)
by Anta Baku
Button was glad Quentin had come for the building of Waban’s cairn, but the young hydrologist still wasn’t ready to talk to Chino, and that made it awkward as the three of them were heading back to rejoin the other dwarves. Instead he asked the old carpenter about the newest dwarf to be rescued.
“Bastille is your deputy, right?” he asked. “What’s he like?”
“He’s a good kid,” said Chino. “He takes orders well, at least he does from me. He’s not too literal about them, if you know what I mean.”
“I don’t,” said Button.
“Well, I’ve worked with some people who might as well be machines,” said Chino. “You tell them what to do and they go and do it whether what you said made total sense or not. That sort of thing has its place, I suppose, but it means I have to be extremely precise. It’s more comfortable to work with someone like Bastille, who will actually think about what he’s doing.”
“So he has his own priorities?” asked Button.
“Yes and no,” said Chino. “He doesn’t just wander off on his own.” He looked like he had more to say on that subject, but he looked at Quentin and changed his mind. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him come up with his own project. Once I asked him if he wanted to and he just looked baffled. But I give him a design, and he comes back having built something that fulfills its purpose. Sometimes it’s exactly what I’ve asked for, sometimes it’s what I should have asked for if I’d been thinking better. Sometimes it’s a little bit different. His changes are never brilliant and revolutionary, but they’re rarely counterproductive, either. He thinks about it and he makes it a little bit better.”
“That sounds like a good assistant to have,” said Button.
“I’m not sure he’ll ever be more than an assistant, though,” said Chino. “Maybe that will come when he gets older. Or maybe it won’t and that will be all right. He was in the same situation as Newgate: refugee father, outcast mother. But Bastille’s father died at Khatchi-Dami. Maybe a steady job as a carpenter’s assistant is as much as he can hope for.”
“Is that why he’s here?” asked Button. “Looking for more opportunity than he could have in the west?”
“That’s more direction than I’d expect of the young ones,” said Chino. “They came along because we asked them to.” Quentin gave him a dirty look, and he clarified. “Not all the young ones, just the ones who were children of the east. Born to refugees, raised as outsiders. They’ve never had a chance for much in the way of ambition.”
“I noticed that they always stuck together on the journey,” said Button.
“No one else really values their conversation,” said Chino. “Not even the twins, who were very much like that when they were twenty-five.”
They had made it back to the elven tunnels by then, and cut off the conversation to make it less likely they were discovered. Button and Chino wanted to go directly back to the other dwarves, but Quentin insisted on returning to the botanical garden along the way. He was completely willing to go by himself, even ready to insist that Chino not go with him, but Button agreed with the older dwarf that splitting up even more than they already had was a terrible idea. And Quentin had to admit that was reasonable. So they all went to investigate just what the elves had been doing the previous night, and see if they could learn something.
They expected the human garden to be something of a shambles, with the pipeline they had built to drain the pond and rescue Angola torn apart, and the pond itself drained. Quentin particularly wanted to see what the proper, elf-designed method for draining the pond and getting access to Angola’s cell had been. None of them thought the elves would have had time and energy to restore the garden to its intended state. But what they found was far more chaotic than any of them had imagined.
More had happened here than just a draining of the pond and an investigation of a missing dwarf. The pond was still empty, but the fields around it had been torn up, the elevated banks had unexpected gaps in them, and there were brown stains everywhere that Chino identified as dried blood. Neither Button nor Quentin had even been on a battlefield after the fighting was over, but it was familiar to the older dwarf.
“Did elves die here?” asked Quentin. “I don’t see any bodies.”
“They must have hauled them away,” said Chino. “There’s too much blood here for there not to have been deaths.”
“I just expected there to be corpses everywhere,” said Quentin.
“Nobody leaves bodies on the battlefield if they can help it,” said Chino. “Well, sometimes humans do. There’s no accounting for humans. But elves wouldn’t, and particularly wouldn’t leave bodies lying about in the middle of their settlement.”
“But why was there a battle at all?” said Button. “Our people wouldn’t have come back here to fight, would they?”
“Of course not,” said Chino. “We still don’t have weapons. You don’t get this sort of mess unless both sides have weapons.”
“So who were the elves fighting?” said Button.
“I don’t know,” said Chino. “Other elves, I suppose. We haven’t seen anyone else.”
“The last thing we need now is an invasion of milfoils,” said Quentin.
“That’s not it,” said Chino. “Milfoil blood dries yellow-green. Elf, dwarf, human blood dries this color. Maybe carroll blood too?”
“Yes,” said Button. “Though I’ve never seen it in this volume.”
“There’s nowhere for dwarves to come from,” said Chino. “A carroll army is completely unbelievable. It could be humans, but I think we would know if there were a battalion of humans down here. They’re neither quiet nor good at cleaning up after themselves. So my best guess is the elves are fighting each other.”
“Is that good for us?” asked Button.
“I’m not sure,” said Chino. “We should tell Robben about this. He’ll have a better idea.”
“He can wait a few minutes,” said Quentin. “Battlefield or no, there are some things I want to figure out about this pond.” He dropped down into the basin, and the other two watched him from the banks. There were bloodstains down there as well, on the bottom of the pond, and on the building which had once imprisoned Angola. But that wasn’t what Quentin was interested in. With the bed of the pond dry, he easily located the elves’ drainage system. He examined it for only a few moments before he climbed back up onto the shore.
“That’s disappointing,” he said. “It’s just a basic drain. I was hoping for something more complicated.”
“Can we go, then?” said Chino.
“There’s one more thing I’m wondering about,” said Quentin. At the old dwarf’s disappointed look he added “it should only take a minute. When we drained the pond the three streams kept trying to refill it. Now they’re not, and I want to see why. It will probably turn out to be as uninteresting as the drain, but as long as we’re here I want to check.”
Button and Chino followed him to the uphill edge of the pond, where the streams entered. The device for stopping them was as simple as he had expected, just an uncovered pit with a drain which took the flow of each stream before it got to the edge of the pond. “It probably goes to the same outlet as the drain at the bottom,” said Quentin. “They do so many strange things with water here I thought this would be more interesting.” They turned to go, but as they did Quentin spotted something unexpected in one of the streams. He waded in to investigate, and Button was surprised when he came out with a large sword, longer than a dwarf was tall.
“Hold this,” he said, and handed it to Chino. “There are more.” He came out again with a second large sword, and then waded in one more time for a third, smaller one, although it was still taller than Button. “That’s all,” he said.
“Trade,” said Chino, who was holding the two large swords. Quentin took one of the large ones back in exchange for the smaller, lighter one. Even that one looked heavy, but no one asked Button to carry anything. Chino and Quentin just started off under their new loads, and the carroll followed along.
“They must have missed cleaning up that stream,” said Chino.
“Lucky for us,” said Quentin. “If anybody can handle these huge things.”
“Newgate will be delighted, I promise you,” said Chino. “He used to practice with old human swords that were almost this big. Bastille would spar with him. They’ll be able to use them. And the rest of us will all feel better for being armed.”
When they got back to the abandoned feast grounds, Robben was organizing for defense, and he was particularly glad to have some sort of weaponry. He agreed with Chino that the large swords ought to go to the young fighters, and attempted to take the smaller one for himself. But Dannemora objected, and he had established enough of a leadership role that Robben had to give in and let him have the sword. Dannemora pretended that it was Robben’s hand-to-hand fighting skill which justified leaving him unarmed, but Button knew it was really about getting the sword for himself, and he thought the other dwarves knew it as well.
Bastille and Newgate wanted to practice with the swords immediately, but Robben seized the opportunity of Chino’s return to set the carpenter to building booby traps for any elves who might find them, and Chino expected his assistant to help him. Newgate followed along and Chino put him to work as well. Button also followed, but wasn’t asked to contribute anything, maybe because they all knew how hopeless he was at construction.
With no extra weapons, the traps they were constructing were primarily intended to alert the dwarves to any elves who might be approaching and slow those elves down. The mechanisms were complex, and even Button could see that Bastille was good at constructing them, especially when compared to Newgate’s haphazard efforts. As they went on, Newgate got more frustrated and more cranky about it.
“You should have taken the smaller sword,” he said to Bastille. “You’re not as good with the big ones as I am.”
“We used to use the same sized swords in practice,” said Bastille.
“And I would always beat you with them,” said Newgate.
“That’s not how I remember it.”
“Of course I did,” said Newgate. “Look at me.” He flexed his biceps.
“There’s more to swordfighting than having the biggest muscles,” said Bastille.
“Yeah, there’s also having a great big sword,” said Newgate. “And I’ve got the biggest sword around, if you know what I mean.”
“Everybody always knows what you mean,” said Chino.
“It doesn’t matter how big you are if you’re not very sharp,” said Bastille.
“That’s not what the girls say,” said Newgate.
“What girls?” Bastille looked around him ostentatiously. “You hiding a bunch of girls around here?”
“Not yet,” said Newgate.
“Not ever,” said Bastille.
“You’ll see,” said Newgate. “When we find some girls again I’m the one who will know what to do with them.”
“I know what I want to do with them,” said Bastille.
“Maybe I’ll let you watch me to learn how,” said Newgate.
“I can figure it out without your help.”
“You’ll never even get a girl without my help,” said Newgate. “But I’ll let you tag along. Hot girls always have ugly friends getting in the way. You can keep them occupied.”
“Cause you’re always the one who will get the hot girl?” said Bastille.
“Of course I am,” said Newgate. “I’m the best.”
Bastille left it at that and went back to work, but he found a minute to talk to Button later when Newgate couldn’t overhear. “He doesn’t always win at sparring,” he said. “We’re about even, really. He’s stronger but he’s uncreative. It evens out.”
“He seems very convinced that he’s better,” said Button.
“That’s just Newgate,” said Bastille. “He’s unaffected by reality.”
“So he really thinks that he wins all the time?”
“I think so,” said Bastille. “Or at least that every time I beat him it’s some sort of fluke. And it doesn’t matter how often that happens, because he doesn’t keep track.”
“Why do you let him feel superior, then?”
“You try to stop him,” said Bastille. “Stop water flowing downhill while you’re at it.”
They went back to work until Robben thought it was close enough to daytime they could be facing an elven attack at any time. He pulled all the dwarves back behind his fortifications, and Newgate and Bastille got their swords ready. And they waited.
But no attack came, and as the day wore on the dwarves grew restless. Surely the elves’ search must find them eventually, and surely they would be required to defend themselves. Robben had built barricades, and found high vantage points, and everything else he could think of to hold a position when they only had three swords, and random detritus to throw at their attackers. No one was looking forward to this fight, except perhaps Newgate. But they were all expecting it.
When nothing had happened by the early afternoon, Robben and Dannemora sought out Button, who had been catching up on his sleep. He wasn’t any less nervous about the battle than the dwarves, but he knew he was useless in it, and had found an out-of-the-way hiding spot where he might have slept through the whole thing without the elves ever noticing him. When Robben and Dannemora told him how long he had been out, he was surprised. He didn’t feel as rested as he would have liked after sleeping away most of the midday.
Robben and Dannemora considered him rested enough to give him a mission. Button might not be useful as a fighter, but he was the obvious choice for someone to sneak out into the inhabited tunnels and find out what was going on. Were the elves simply slow in preparing an attack, or had the fighting in the botanical garden distracted them from the dwarves completely? If the carroll could find out, the dwarves might be able to do something other than wait. And none of them liked waiting.
Leavenworth approached Button as he was getting ready to leave. “I wish I could go with you,” he said.
“I can hide from the elves better on my own,” said Button.
“Of course you can,” said Leavenworth. “And I don’t mean to diminish your natural ability to hide and to move quietly. But have you thought about how much your spying depends on the fact that you don’t smell like anything?”
“I still don’t understand that,” said Button.
“I don’t either,” said Leavenworth. “But you’ve told us the elves are scent-focused, and it must be meaningful.”
“But I’m not scent-focused,” said Button. “So I can’t figure it out.”
“That’s why I wish I could go with you,” said Leavenworth. “A whole community of people for whom scent is the most-important sense! They must have completely-different ways of doing things, ways that none of the rest of you can even notice if you’re not trying.”
“You mean I’m missing things about the elves because I can’t smell them.”
“I think you must be. And I know I can’t go, that the risk of being caught is too high. But I thought if I told you about it, maybe you could find a way to pay more attention to smells and how the elves are using them. You might not have my nose, but even yours could be enough if you’re thinking about it.”
“So you want me to find out if we’re going to be attacked and also learn about how elf-society uses smells?”
“Those things might not be as separate as you think,” said Leavenworth. “I’m just asking you to pay attention and tell me if you notice anything interesting.”
“All right,” said Button. “I’ll try to think about smells. Maybe that will be useful when I’m trying to find someone who knows what’s happening.”
“I would think the most-powerful elves would be the best-smelling,” said Leavenworth. “And have the best smells around them.”
“Yeah, but what does an elf think is a good smell?” said Button.
“That would be a good thing to know, too.”
“I’ve seen no sign that they even have the concept of chocolate-chip cookies.”
Button regretted mentioning that, because his stomach took over his priorities, declaring itself more important than either his primary mission or what Leavenworth wanted. So he snuck into the kitchens first and scrounged some food for himself. He supposed that, now the elves were aware some dwarves had escaped, there was no reason for them to avoid stockpiling food anymore. But that wasn’t his mission at this time, so he just fed himself and didn’t take any more risks than he had to.
Whatever the conflict between the elves, it wasn’t apparent in the kitchens, at least not in a way that was so obvious Button could see it. Maybe there were subsurface tensions between the kitchen staff, but he wasn’t equipped to learn anything from that without spending a week learning their personalities, and he thought there must be a faster way. If he could find the leadership of one of the factions, eavesdropping on them could tell him everything he needed to know. And while one faction was unknown, he thought the other one must have the same leadership group as the society as a whole.
Finding the Elvenqueen wasn’t as easy as it could have been. None of the tunnels Button had explored to that point led obviously to an administrative center of any kind. And the only place luxurious enough to make him think of royalty was the quarters of the elven males. He ended up back there without any better ideas, but surely the males themselves would know very little. They seemed to not be fighters at all. Presumably the male quarters would have easy access for the Elvenqueen and the other females who made up the leadership class, but Button didn’t know how to figure out where that might be.
So he thought of Leavenworth’s advice and smelled. There was a pleasant hardwood scent here that wasn’t just coming from the doors to the males’ rooms, and underneath it subtle tones of citrus and vanilla. What that meant was completely opaque to Button, and he wished Leavenworth had been able to come along, almost as much as the dwarf had. But if there wasn’t information for Button in the scent itself, perhaps he could learn something by figuring out where it was coming from. There weren’t obvious incense braziers on the walls in the hallway, and it didn’t smell like it came from burning in any case. Elven devices were more inclined to water than fire, and Button imagined this might be no exception.
Like in most of the other tunnels, there were natural cave formations here which the elves had built around. They’d removed stalactites from the ceiling where they might drip down onto people’s heads, but had left the ones near the walls, had even integrated them into the walls in some places. Button had just thought them to be stalactites before, but when he paid attention to his nose, he found that the smell was stronger on the damp mineral formations than it was elsewhere in the hall. He ran his hand along one of them, collecting the small amount of liquid coating its surface, and held his fingers to his nose. The scent was extremely strong, and the citrus came through particularly at that distance.
He didn’t think stalactites came naturally perfumed, and when he sampled several others in the hall, they all had the exact same scent dripping slowly down them. This must have been engineered by the elves somehow. And while he was sure Quentin and Leavenworth would have a grand time trying to figure out the distribution system, Button was more interested in whether his discovery could help him find the location of the Elvenqueen.
If scent was a privilege of power–and what he knew of elven society made that almost certain–then the more scent-stalactites there were in any given location, the more political power would be concentrated there as well. He just needed to follow the smell-distribution system to the place it was most effective.
There was one way out of the males’ quarters which had more stalactites than the others, and Button followed it, stopping to sniff periodically along the way. The scent gradually changed to something more floral, though it wasn’t a flower he recognized. But the process seemed to be the same: scented water flowing down the mineral formations in the walls of the tunnels. The scent of this flower must have meant something to these elves, for it grew stronger as he went, until even Button’s nose had no trouble detecting it in the air and he didn’t have to sniff the stalactites any more.
Just before it became overwhelming, he found the elven leaders. They were having a meeting, and Button quickly located a hiding place where he could overhear, and even see a little bit. Fourteen elf-women were seated around a long table, where the topic of discussion wasn’t dwarves, but elf-servants. There were multiple conversations going on at once, but Button was able to make out that there had been a servants’ rebellion. Not all the servants had rebelled, but a large enough number to occupy the whole attention of the elven leadership. The battle in the botanical garden hadn’t been the only one. Forces loyal to the Queen had been ambushed in multiple places, and the casualty count had been high. But they had withstood the initial attack, and the women in the room believed that in doing so they had spoiled the rebels’ plans. Now they had the chance for an organized response, and they were debating amongst themselves several different plans for how to take control of the conflict. Button listened closely, but no one there was mentioning dwarves.
Then all their conversations stopped and their eyes turned toward Button’s hiding place. He thought for a moment he had been spotted, but then a tall, blonde elf stepped through the same door he had entered. They were looking at her, not at him, and he could understand why they were looking at her. She was taller than any elf he had yet seen, and strikingly beautiful. Button was hidden so close that he could smell her, though he felt he might have smelled this elf from across the room, or across the forest, or even from his home in Carrollton. She smelled like dew on the grass before dawn, like bacon in the morning, like the energized air after the passing of a thunderstorm. She smelled like clean babies, like the world’s most venerated library, like ice-skating on a moonlit night. She smelled like roasted pecans in the winter, like a fresh baguette from the favored bakery of the gods, like fog spreading over a pine forest in the mountains.
None of those should have been possible at the same time, but such things are possible for the Elvenqueen, and the Elvenqueen she was. She could hardly have been anyone else. Button was sure now that the elves didn’t know about chocolate-chip cookies, for if they had, the Queen not smelling like them would have been a travesty.
She did not let the other women share their plans for fighting the rebellion. Across the room, at the head of the long table, her scent was still compelling to Button but not so overwhelming he couldn’t concentrate on her words.
“We need to find a way to bring the servants back to order,” she began. “Trying to arrest hundreds of them for conspiring in Vendiku’s murder was a mistake. I overreacted. But of course I can’t tell them that. Nor will they ever understand what Vendiku meant to me.” The other women at the table bowed their heads briefly at that.
“Amarac alone must bear the guilt of their actions,” the Queen continued. “But Amarac has fled beyond our control, and though their flight proves their guilt, we need another solution. Something that will bring our entire community together in outrage for this heinous murder and give the rebels a reason to return to their lives and their jobs.”
“An amnesty?” said one of the other women.
“An amnesty will be necessary,” said the Queen. “We cannot prosecute nearly half of our population, even if they have attacked our people from behind, and killed elves who did not deserve it, in their attempt to seize control of my government. We can only survive by addressing their grievances.”
“They want you to resign,” said another woman.
“Of course I’m not going to resign,” said the Queen. “But the servants need to be shown that this conflict springs not from me, or even from them. That there is a darker force in our midst who is to blame for this chaos.”
“That’s a lot to blame on one servant, even if it is Amarac,” said the first woman. “Especially if we can’t find them for trial.”
“We’re not going to blame it on Amarac,” said the Queen. “We’ve got these escaped dwarves, and they’re much better for taking the blame. All elves will be happy to hate them, on both sides.”
“But the dwarves were still in their cells when Vendiku was killed,” said a woman who hadn’t spoken before. “They only escaped two days ago.”
“Are you very sure about that?” said the Queen. “I think they had already escaped when Vendiku was killed.”
“Yes, I’m sure,” said the woman. “We’ve been doing spot checks. They were still in their cells.”
“Let’s try this again,” said the Queen. “I think they had already escaped when Vendiku was killed.”
“Oh,” said the other woman. “Yes, of course. The dwarves had already escaped when Vendiku was killed.”
“And unlike Amarac, they haven’t fled from the kingdom,” said the Queen. “We still hold their leader, and they won’t leave without him. We will capture them, we will try them, and we will execute them. And all the elves of the woodland realm will see that it was the dwarves who were responsible for this chaos, not themselves.”
“We have reports that they’re hiding in the old abandoned feast hall,” said another woman.
“How appropriate,” said the Queen. “It was dwarves who forced us to let it go to ruin. Force them out. Capture them.”
“The army is much-reduced after the surprise attacks.”
“Surely you can manage to defeat a handful of unarmed dwarves,” said the Queen.
“We have to guard against the rebels as well.”
“So guard your flanks,” said the Queen. “Guard your rear. But bring the dwarves to me.”
Button snuck out of the room before the meeting could break up completely. He had to get back to the dwarves and warn them that an attack was coming after all. And it wasn’t just to return them to their cells, but to frame them for a murder and scapegoat them for all the troubles of the elves.
“They’re framing us for a murder we actually committed?” said Dannemora.
“Funny, isn’t it,” said Robben, but he wasn’t laughing. “We’ll need to defend ourselves soon. Get everyone together.”
While Button was gone, Robben had directed the others in preparing a location in their rear to withdraw to if the elves overwhelmed their defenses. Now he set Chino, Bastille, and Newgate to building more traps along their route of retreat.
Newgate was interested in the elf-queen, but unsatisfied with Button’s description. “I don’t care what she smelled like,” said the young dwarf. “Tell me about her tits.”
“I wasn’t paying attention to that,” said Button.
“You’re never paying attention to that,” said Newgate. “You said she was very beautiful but you won’t tell me what that means.”
“She was just very beautiful,” said Button. “I don’t know, it was an effect, not a collection of high-scoring attributes. I thought she was beautiful. Tall, I guess. She was definitely tall.”
“You’re very disappointing,” said Newgate. “You got to be in a room with a dozen beautiful elf-women and you can’t even give me enough information to let me visualize them.”
“Visualize them naked, you mean,” said Bastille.
“Something wrong with that?” said Newgate.
“It’s perverted, is all,” said Bastille. “Dwarf women ought to be good enough for anybody.”
“You got any?” said Newgate. “There will be plenty of dwarf-women for everyone eventually. I don’t see why I shouldn’t land an elf while I’ve got the opportunity.”
“What opportunity?” said Bastille. “We’ll be lucky if we even get to stab a few.”
“You never know,” said Newgate. “Maybe I can get us all out of this by seducing the Elvenqueen. Maybe she’ll find me irresistible.”
“Enough with the fantasy scenarios,” said Chino. “If nine dwarves are going to hold off an elven army long enough for us to find our king and escape this underground city so we can retake our homeland from an ancient monster of evil, we need to concentrate on our work.”
“It’s disgusting anyway,” said Bastille.
“Come on,” said Newgate. “You’ve never thought so before.”
“We were always talking about dwarves before,” said Bastille.
“They’re all the same in the end,” said Newgate. “At least the end I’m interested in.”
“Work,” said Chino. “Or go away and let us work.”
“Am I starting to get to you?” Newgate asked him. “Do you want an elf-girl of your own?”
“Right now I’d settle for not being executed,” said the old dwarf.
“No, I can see it,” said Newgate. “This talk is waking you up, old man. Giving you feelings you haven’t had in decades. You want them just as much as I do, I can see it. You’re just afraid to say so.”
“Get out of here,” said Chino. “Go. Go work off that energy sparring with Rabban or something. We can finish this ourselves.” Newgate clearly wanted to continue badgering him, but Chino chased him off, and the young dwarf chose to leave, laughing, rather than have a physical confrontation.
“I know you’re not like that, boss,” said Bastille. “A good dwarf woman has everything you need, and you know it.”
“Can we please just concentrate on our work?” said Chino.
Bastille let him exit the conversation with that, but the young assistant still wanted to talk quietly to Button. “Could you really not see their bodies, or were you just keeping it from Newgate?”
“I could see them,” said Button. “But I didn’t really remember them. It didn’t seem important.”
“That’s too bad,” said Bastille. He said it with a real regret that seemed inconsistent with his position while Newgate had still been present, but Button decided not to challenge him about it.
“Are you looking forward to there being enough dwarf women for everyone?” he asked instead.
“Everyone is,” said Bastille. “Well, maybe not Leavenworth. But even Chino here wants the nice young dwarf-wife who was stolen from him by the Muskellunge.” Chino just grunted at that and went on working. “We all used to sit around and drink, and talk about the wives we would have. The lives we would have. After we’ve retaken the dam, of course.”
“Newgate seems to think women will flock to him when that happens.”
“Newgate always thinks women will flock to him,” said Bastille. “One day it might even happen.”
“But you don’t think so?” asked Button.
“I don’t know,” said Bastille. “My entire life, it’s been these guys drinking and talking about how they’re going to be big shots eventually. Maybe it was better before Khatchi-Dami, I don’t know. I don’t remember much of that. I remember my father, and I remember when I found out he wasn’t coming home. But I wasn’t old enough to hang around the boys shooting the shit until a few years later.”
“You were always underfoot,” said Chino.
“But I wasn’t paying attention to the conversation,” said Bastille. “It got more interesting when I was old enough to be interested in girls. And beer. It was a good story then, right? Just hang out with us and you can have all the women, and the power, and the beer that you want. It wasn’t until later that I figured out only the beer was real. Newgate still believes in it, but after a while I noticed that it was always just a bunch of men drinking together. If they really knew how to get women, shouldn’t some women have shown up eventually?”
“So why did you come along?” asked Button.
“They’re still my friends,” said Bastille. “And it’s still my job. My job and all my friends were packing up on a mission to the east, so what was I going to do? It’s not like I had managed to acquire a girlfriend either. I’m not any better at this than the rest of them. And you know, maybe they’re right. Maybe things will change if we retake the dam. It’s worth finding out.”
Newgate reappeared at that point, and Chino prepared to chase him off again, but the young fighter had news for them. The elven army was on its way, and they needed to prepare themselves for battle.
Button didn’t understand much of what happened after that. Newgate and Bastille got their swords, and the dwarves prepared to defend the position Robben had prepared, in one of the boxes to the side of the main festival field. The elves came, fifty or sixty of them, through the traps Chino had built in the morning. They slowed the elves down, but didn’t seem to do much damage to their formation. Then Newgate and Bastille and Dannemora were engaged with the front line of the elves. There was blood, and shouting, and chaos. Robben directed the dwarves frantically, seeming to know what he was doing, but Button couldn’t make it out at all. He had no role himself.
The elves fell back, giving them room to breathe. There were two elven bodies on the battlefield, but the dwarves so far were uninjured. They came again, and again the defenses held, but Dannemora fell, bleeding from his sword-arm. Joliet pulled him away from the front line. Robben dove into the fray and recovered his sword, but when he came back out again he called for the retreat.
Chino led the way on a complicated path through the traps they had set most recently, to a stairwell leading up. Newgate and Bastille defended the bottom of the stairs while Button and the other dwarves climbed, but the elves had difficulty with the second set of traps, and the young fighters were able to follow the others upward without further conflict.
The redoubt Robben had chosen for their retreat was a set of catwalks high above the festival field. There were powerful electric lights here, though they were disconnected, and other bits of infrastructure Button couldn’t identify. Once Newgate and Bastille had made their way to the top, Robben and Angola toppled a huge pile of debris down the stairwell. None of it fell on the elves, who hadn’t yet made it that far. Button and the others could watch the progress of the elf-army through their obstacles on the floor far below. They were clearly slowed by the necessity of covering their flanks and their rear, presumably against the possibility of a surprise-attack by the revolutionaries. Others worked methodically to disarm the traps without taking any permanent damage.
Robben was cranky with Bastille for reasons Button hadn’t even been able to see. “If you’d held formation properly they wouldn’t have been able to get to Dannemora,” said the master-at-arms.
“I saw an opportunity–”
“You can’t just see opportunities,” said Robben. “That’s my job.”
“We have to do what we’re told,” said Newgate.
“He’ll be all right,” said Bastille. “Won’t he?”
Leavenworth was bandaging Dannemora’s arm, but he wasn’t looking panicked about it. “I don’t know if he’ll be able to fight again today.”
“It’s going to take those elves a while to get up here,” said Chino.
“You’re lucky that wound wasn’t serious,” said Robben to Bastille. “You need to stay in formation.”
“Structure makes us stronger,” said Newgate.
“I’ll do better next time,” said Bastille.
“See that you do,” said Robben.
“What do we do now?” asked Dannemora.
“If the elves come at us up here we can hold them off,” said Robben. “They can’t come at us in a large group.”
“And what if they don’t?” said Joliet. “What if they just trap us up here?”
“Maybe we should provoke them some more,” said Angola. “How do you feel about dropping some of these lights on them?” He set out with Chino and the young fighters to try to figure out how to do that. Leavenworth pulled Button aside before he could follow them.
“Did you find out anything about the smells?” he asked. So Button told him about the scented stalactites, and about the fantastic smell of the Elvenqueen. Leavenworth was more interested in the stalactites. “There’s nothing like that up here,” he observed. Button looked around, and indeed the whole roof of the festival field was smooth, with no cave formations to be found.
“Maybe they didn’t want water dripping on them while they feasted, even if it smelled good,” said Button. A crash from below emphasized his point, the first light Chino’s team had been able to dislodge. Button couldn’t tell from his vantage point whether it had hit anyone when it landed, but the elves were seeking cover. One was even caught up in a trap that hadn’t yet been disarmed, the first elf they had actually managed to injure that way.
“They wouldn’t have built it without smells, though,” said Leavenworth. “Everything else here is the best they could build.”
“They might have put in a new system,” said Button. “Something with electricity. There’s a lot of mysterious equipment up here.” Another crash came from below. “A little less of it all the time, though.”
“We could just power some things and see what happens,” said Leavenworth. “Joliet should still have his generator.” He called the twins over and they started looking for places to add electricity to the inactive systems. Dannemora could still direct the power output with his injury, and Joliet continued doing the hard work of operating the hand crank.
They powered one of the lights first just for the practice, and it shone down brightly on the cowering elves, who were still looking up trying to spot whether Chino’s team was about to drop something else on them. The second spot they tried adding power didn’t seem to do anything, but when they disconnected the generator from it Quentin called out to them. “There was the sound of flowing liquid over here when you did that,” he said. “It must have opened something up.”
With Quentin’s help they followed the sound of running water through pipes to six big boxes spread out across the catwalks. Each one had a wheel-driven valve attached to it. Leavenworth guessed it was bound to be be more aggravating to the elves if they opened all of them at once, whatever the system was meant to do, so he had the twins cut off the electricity while they went around opening all of the valves.
When Dannemora and Joliet connected the generator again, water flowed into the boxes and was shot out downwards in all directions, covering the field below. There wasn’t quite enough of it to soak the sheltering elves, but it must have made them uncomfortably damp. Button couldn’t smell anything coming from them, but Leavenworth’s more-sensitive nose could.
“It’s a neutral scent,” he said. “I don’t think this is the whole system, and it wouldn’t be good to run it while the party was going anyway. I think this is for afterward. When you’ve disposed of all the waste from a festival, turn this system on and it makes the whole place smell clean again.”
“That’s great,” said Dannemora. “I’m more interested in why only five of them are functioning.” He was right; one of the six wasn’t spraying water at all.
“Did Button turn that valve?” asked Joliet. “You know he always turns them the wrong way.”
“I opened that one myself,” said Leavenworth. “Maybe Chino’s team broke it with their fooling around.”
“They haven’t even been over there,” said Dannemora. “I think we should check it out.”
“I want to see how these work anyway,” said Leavenworth.
They shut off the electricity and closed the wheel valve just to be sure before prying open the box. Inside they didn’t find a broken version of the scent-distribution system; instead they found another dwarf. The twins were particularly disappointed to find that it was their immediate boss: Attica, a dwarf in early middle age. His beard had been the shortest of the group, and was still less than long although also less than well-kept.
“About time you blockheads managed to let me out,” he said. Dannemora and Joliet just winced. “I suppose I had better take over getting us all out of here.”
Chapter 11 of 40 Days in an Elvish Prison is Attica.
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