Chapter 3 of 40 Days in an Elvish Prison (read Chapter 1)
by Anta Baku
Chino was bulky, grey-bearded, and bald, a dwarf who had spent his entire life building things and had the body to prove it. Though he might have been near the end of his prime, he was still physically imposing and capable, which is why Quentin immediately volunteered to stay in this cell while Button took Chino back to his. The elves would expect one dwarf in each cell, but they hoped the sensitive noses of the elves weren’t good enough to distinguish one dwarf from another. And whichever dwarf came back to open this cell would need to let Button stand on his shoulders. Quentin preferred not to do that again.
They had to do it right away to shut off the water flow after they destroyed the little dam. Chino’s shoulders made a broader platform, and he didn’t complain. He didn’t have much to say at all until he and Button were closed into the cell that had originally held Quentin. Then he wanted to know everything they had figured out about the elven society and the prison holding the dwarves.
“So you’ve only found two of us so far?”
“Yes. but I believe the others are here as well.”
“Where else would they be? All right. You and me and Quentin, we ought to be able to find them.”
“I’m glad I found you two first,” said Button. “You’re the friendliest.”
“We’re the smartest, too,” said Chino. “Not to complain about the rest of the younger generation. But I’m glad you found Quentin instead of one of the others.”
“Me too,” said Button. “None of them seem to like me very much.”
“You have everything they wish they had.”
It was the way he rejected women that made the dwarves dislike him, according to Chino. And Chino ought to know if anyone did; he had come out of the east, from the devastation of the fallen dam, and lived through the entire history of the formation of this group of dwarves. The one thing they all had in common was lack of success with dwarven women.
Button supposed that made sense. Someone with a family to consider, someone who was building a life within the dwarf community, wouldn’t be likely to participate in a mission whose success could fairly be described as absurdly improbable. Thirteen dwarves with the right set of skills could operate a dam, perhaps. But they expected to have to defeat a monster from the ancient world to even get the opportunity, and for that they had only the barest semblance of a plan.
Only a desperate set of dwarves would undertake such a thing. And Button was many things–including, by his own estimation at this point, foolhardy. But he wasn’t desperate. He had left a prosperous life in Carrollton to come on this mission. If he had wanted a wife, and children, and a quiet life as a pillar of the carroll community, all he would have had to do was pick one of the women who had made it clear they were interested.
According to Chino, the dwarves resented that intensely. They had met several of Button’s admirers, who were always hanging about. They had heard about Button’s efforts to chase the women off, and could not themselves imagine being in a situation where they needed to do the same. Few of them had ever held the attention of even a single dwarven woman, let alone many of them at the same time.
Dwarves, after all, weren’t the same as carrolls. In that cell Button learned for the first time that ten male dwarven children were born for every female. And while mining and warfare took their toll on dwarven men, there were still far more of them in adulthood than there were women. There would inevitably be men who never had much of a chance, and a group of them would inevitably be dismayed by someone like Button, who lived in a society with roughly-equal gender ratios and disdained the opportunities it gave him.
He was even more glad, now, to have found Chino early on in his attempt to free the dwarves. The old, analytical builder could see the motivations of his peers, and explain them to the bewildered carroll. And perhaps as they found more of them, Button could avoid reinforcing what they saw as his privileged position, and begin making actual connections. He just had to meet them within their own context.
For now, he had an opportunity to start with Chino, who downplayed his own difficulties.
“When I was young, before the Muskellunge, I was a companion of the Prince,” said Chino. “We had all the best things, of course. Wealth, status, prospects. Everything a young lady could want, and many of them did. When we became refugees, of course much of that changed, and I had to accept the changes.”
“You didn’t want children?”
“I might have, on my own,” said Chino. “But a son came to Prince Waban first, as is proper, of course.”
“And that meant that you couldn’t have one?”
“Not at all,” said Chino. “But I didn’t. And as the Prince’s builder, I quickly became the builder for the Young Prince as well. He wasn’t my son, but in some ways it was like having a son. At first I built his toys, and then I taught him to build his own toys. I knew his friends, and I guided them as they learned to build things together. We built a wooden creature, once, driven by the wind, that walked along the shorelines of the lake all by itself. The boy who designed it died in the disaster. I can’t even remember his name.”
After the loss of the dam, the surviving young dwarves he had mentored became Chino’s only chance at a family. Prince Waban was busier than ever, working to give them a new home, and was glad of his builder’s dedication to guiding his young adult son and his son’s remaining peers. When they reached the dwarven settlements in the east, it was Chino’s responsibility to show them how to adjust to their new circumstances. To demonstrate that they needed to adapt, and to fit in, so that the Prince and the King could work on recruiting western dwarves to retake the dam without their own people causing conflict in their new home.
Keeping a group of traumatized twenty-year-olds from causing trouble wasn’t any easier for dwarves than it would have been for any other race. But Chino’s steady hand with the plane and the saw showed him a path to steadiness as a leader and a substitute parent. He preached adaptation and acceptance, and the only way to gain respect for that position was to live it outstandingly himself. He had lived a rich and prosperous life in the west, but the most important thing to Chino had always been working with his hands. A life in exile as an exemplar of humility was not so hard for him as long as he could continue to build things, and encourage it in others.
Some of his charges managed to marry, and start a new generation. Their mothers were no more socially powerful than the refugees, and the children had few advantages within the western culture. But they had Chino to watch after them, to teach them, to show them what it meant to be a dwarf.
He thought that might be the path of the rest of his life. The King was making no progress raising an army to kill the Muskellunge and retake the dam. The western dwarves just didn’t care enough. What was left for Chino was responsibility to his people and the joy he still found in working together to create, even if the objects of creation were no longer luxurious but thoroughly practical.
Then Prince Waban had an idea. If the western dwarves could not be convinced to retake their own dam, perhaps a more ambitious, more legendary quest would appeal to them. Khatchi-Gami was the great ancestral achievement of the dwarven race, and it had been lost so thoroughly, and so long ago, that there was no one left of its original rulers. The dwarves of the west had no real enmity with the Muskellunge, but every dwarf in the world felt a powerful hate for the milfoils who had taken Khatchi-Dami, and a desire to slay the pinniped of ancient evil who led them.
Of course the Young Prince wanted to go, and so of course Chino went along with him. The idea was that the younger dwarves needed someone with experience and temper, lest they lose control in their first significant battle. The King’s battalions, and Prince Waban’s battalions, had enough mettle in them. Chino could be spared.
But in the end, it was the veteran dwarves who fell, the King who failed, the Prince who was captured. It was the Young Prince who fought so valiantly he gained a new name that day. Who slew the leader of the milfoils to throw them into disarray and allow the remaining dwarves to retreat in good order. Who rallied them together for the journey back to the east, to safety, though he would rather have gone looking for his captured father.
And yes, Chino had done much of the actual work of making all of that happen. It was Chino who pulled a leg off the ruined surge tank so the Young Prince could have a weapon to replace his lost axe. It was Chino who remembered the locations of the supply caches the army had deposited behind them in case of retreat. It was Chino who argued, night after night, that rescuing Waban was impossible.
Chino didn’t get the credit, and that was all right. That was how it should be. They needed a royal leader, or they might not have held together under a leader at all.
So they straggled back to the west, more disheartened and even poorer than before. The western dwarves who had enlisted in the army, and their families, no longer had any good will for the eastern refugees who had led them to disaster. And nearly everyone in the west had lost family at Khatchi-Dami.
Chino returned to teaching the youngest of the eastern dwarves, and worrying about the Young Prince who slipped father away from activity and leadership as time went on. Tankhammer had started as a heroic name, but quickly became ironic as his interests narrowed to his next drink.
And things went on from there. The children born in the west grew. The refugees did what they could. Chino tried to stay steady for them, tried to accept their decline and guide the survivors to lives that were as good as they could manage under the circumstances.
“Enough of sad stories,” said Chino. “You shouldn’t be sitting here with me all day when you can move about freely.”
“I don’t know what to do,” said Button.
“Start by getting us some food,” said Chino. “Something better than that awful tuna salad. They’re giving us the worst. When we find the other dwarves we should have something better to feed them. It will make them happier to help us.”
“Getting out of prison won’t be enough?”
“These dwarves are my family,” said Chino. “They’re all I have left. But not all of them are as smart as Quentin. Some of them will need to be helped along.”
“All right,” said Button. “But we can’t stash food. The elves can smell food where it doesn’t belong from rooms away.”
“That’s not an impossibility,” said Chino. “It’s just a challenge.”
So the old dwarf made a list of things he wanted Button to search for in the elven caverns. It quickly got too long for the carroll to remember, so Button’s first task was to go out and find something to write with. He brought back a couple of breakfast hand pies along with the writing materials, and Chino wrote everything down, adding some grease stains from his fingers.
There were two sections to the list. “This is for holding food,” said the old dwarf. “And these things are for building a device to open the door to my old cell, so I don’t have to have you standing on my back again.”
It took Button multiple trips, but the only real risk of being caught was opening and closing the cell door. The elves were still ignorant of his presence, and more interested in their own drama than they were in the dwarves.
While he was out, Button stumbled upon a scene that was clearly supposed to be private. But he was too fascinated by the conversation to ignore it, even though one of the servants in the conversation still reeked of garlic and mint. There were two of them, whispering in a corner that was even darker than the rest of the tunnels, and the stinky one was doing most of the talking.
“You love him,” they said. “I can tell.”
The other one was shorter, with a more indrawn posture, and talked more slowly. “Is that what this is?”
“It must be. What else feels that strong?”
“We’re not supposed to be able to fall in love,” said the smaller one.
“Massei,” said the fast one, “you’re always thinking about what you’re not supposed to do. Think about what you can do for once.”
“This is worrisome.”
“It’s amazing! A servant falling in love with a male! I wish I had fallen in love.”
“I wish you had too, Amarac,” said Massei. “You would know what to do.”
“I do know what to do! You have to pursue him!”
“How could I pursue him?”
“I’ve seen him. He loves you back. I know it.”
“It’s not about that,” said Massei.
“Of course it is!” said Amarac. “He was paying so much attention to you at the feast.”
“If he hadn’t been, you wouldn’t have been punished.”
“It doesn’t matter that I was punished.”
“Do all the others feel the same way?”
“It will wear off in a few days,” said Amarac. “Stop worrying about that. You have to think about yourself.”
“And what about myself?” said Massei. “How can a servant love a male?”
“They can’t,” said Amarac.
“That’s what I’ve been saying.”
“But that doesn’t mean you can’t love a male,” said Amarac. “It just means you can’t be a servant anymore.”
“You can’t mean–”
“I do. You have to become female.”
“They say it’s better to ask forgiveness–”
“That’s about things like eating extra food,” said Massei. “You know there would be no forgiveness for this. Servants can’t become female unless they’re asked to by the Queen.”
“Servants can’t fall in love, either.”
“You have something special.” Amarac slowed down their talking, made it quieter, more serious. “Who has ever heard of a servant falling in love? But here you are. You have to pursue it. Not just for yourself, but for all of us.”
Button broke his attention away, then. The smelly elf was convincing, and no doubt Massei would follow their lead. Massei didn’t seem to be very interested in making their own decision, and Amarac’s opinion was powerful. But did all of this matter? He couldn’t be fascinated by elven relationships. He had to get back to Chino.
He couldn’t stop thinking about the idea that the elven females came from the servants, somehow. Apparently just by deciding to? When Massei said servants couldn’t become female without permission, that hadn’t seemed to be a practical prohibition. Only a hierarchical one.
But none of that mattered, and they could all become female if they wanted to, as far as Button was concerned. As long as it happened after he and the dwarves were out of these caverns forever. A little social upheaval might not be the worst thing, to cover their exit. But they still had eleven dwarves to find.
Chino was talkative while he built. “It’s all those years working with children,” he said. “I got used to keeping up a commentary. But you don’t care about how I’m putting this together, do you?”
“Not really,” said Button. “I’m never going to be able to do that.”
“You might be surprised,” said Chino. “Everyone can learn if they decide to make the effort, even if it’s something they never thought of doing before. But this isn’t really the best time.”
“Maybe you could tell me something else,” said Button. “Tell me about losing the dam.”
“Didn’t we tell that story in your little hole?” said Chino. “I mean, well-kept little hole. Nice place. Nothing wrong with it, even if I didn’t like the tea-cakes as much as Quentin did.”
“I wasn’t paying a lot of attention,” said the carroll. “Surprise hospitality for more than a dozen dwarves takes up a lot of your attention.”
“We didn’t mean to do it that way. We thought we were expected. It was Pendleton who set it up. I guess he thought it was funny.”
“Go not to the wizards for organization, for they will play practical jokes on you,” said Button. “Still, I wish he was here.”
“We can do this ourselves,” said Chino.
“Yes,” said Button. “Yes, we can.”
“If you say that enough times you might even believe it,” said Chino.
“I’ve found two dwarves, haven’t I?”
“You did,” said Chino. “And you’re going to find the other eleven, with my help. Even if you won’t believe it until we’re all together again.”
That was closer to home than Button really wanted to be. Metaphorically. “So tell me about losing the dam.”
They were outside when it happened, the Young Prince and his companions, and Chino tagging along as something of a third wheel. That generation was past the need for adult supervision now, but Chino had been doing it for so long that they were all sort of used to being together. He had gone from keeping them from physical danger to mitigating teenage hijinks to being the experienced advisor to ambitious young adults. And he didn’t need to always be around for that part anymore, but it had become his habit. All of their habit. He’d fought off their adolescent desire to be free of him so effectively that once they were past it he had become a permanent fixture. A thirtysomething in a twentysomething’s world.
He didn’t feel out of place as much as he felt proud. This was the next generation of leaders at the largest dam in dwarfdom, the largest one left anyway, and he had been responsible for making them, well, responsible. He wasn’t a leader himself, just someone who liked making things. But he had to admit, one of the things he most enjoyed making was leaders.
It started as a tremor in the earth, what he later learned was the Muskellunge, underwater in the reservoir lake, swimming as fast as it could into the dam. The earthquake was so strong it knocked them all off their feet, but when they looked back toward the dam it didn’t appear to be severely damaged.
Then the giant head of the Elder Fish rose above it, and swept through the dwarves who were gathered on the rim. The long jaw lapped up dwarves like candy, and the beady eyes gleamed with malevolence that Chino could see even from a distance. It was a fish, for a moment, even if it was the largest fish anyone had ever seen. But once it had cleared the dam of dwarves, it showed itself more dangerous than any fish could be. It squirmed its body up onto the top of the dam, which was barely large enough to hold it, and then it grew legs. The limbs were so large Chino could watch them grow, and it took only seconds. Then the Muskellunge was down into the innards of the dam, ravaging as it went.
Chino was stunned, and so were the young dwarves. With the monster inside the dam, there was once again little to distinguish the vista from an ordinary day. Only the black specks that were the bodies of uneaten dwarves made it clear that they had really seen a devastating attack. Some floated in the reservoir. Others lay in horrifying poses where they had fallen to the bottom of the dam. None showed any sign of life.
The Young Prince wanted to fight, though they all had come out of the dam without weapons and armor. If weapons and armor would have done anything against a monster from the ancient deep. They had no way to know what was going on inside the dam, if the dwarves had organized enough to put up a fight, if it was doing any good. Chino wanted to believe in the power of his people, but this wasn’t an enemy they had ever thought to prepare for.
The one emergency plan that seemed to fit the situation was the one Chino had always been responsible for: get the Young Prince to safety. Prince Waban had drilled that into him for twenty years. Waban had always been clear that this might be the last thing Chino ever did for him, and he was to make sure to do it effectively, no matter what. Chino has objected to his fatalism. Now it looked justified.
There were shelters, supplies, escape routes marked in ways only dwarves could interpret. The drills had always involved getting there from the dam, but they were ingrained in Chino’s memory from decades of practice. He would have no trouble finding them.
The trouble was in convincing the young dwarves to follow the plan. They wanted to charge in, weaponless, armorless, to save their kinfolk. They had the highest levels of combat training. They were adults now, and had as much of a responsibility to defend the dam as any other dwarves.
The other youngsters settled down after Chino slugged the Young Prince. In twenty years they’d never seen him commit violence against another dwarf. For it to come as an assault on royalty was almost as much of a shock as the Muskellunge had been.
Besides, it was hard to want to charge into battle when all one’s energy had to go into carrying the unconscious body of one’s leader. Dwarven royalty was notorious for loving gold, and almost as heavy. Chino guided them quickly and carefully to the most secure of the royal emergency redoubts.
He was surprised and gratified to find King York and Prince Waban there ahead of them. More gratified when they approved his assault on their descendant. They had been in the dam when the Muskellunge attacked. Had witnessed the utter devastation it wrought on the dwarves who hastily tried to defend themselves. Had given up hope at the last, though the time from first to last had barely seen the sun move across the sky.
The only thing they didn’t share in heartbreaking detail was how they had escaped. They only said that there were ways only known to royalty.
They stayed there for several days, hoping to find others who had survived the devastating attack. Once it became clear the Muskellunge was more interested in making itself at home in the dam than ravaging the rest of the countryside, the young dwarves were allowed to burn off their energy on scouting parties looking for other survivors. A few who had also been outside the dam when the Elder Fish attacked trickled in.
Then that was all. No plan from here could take back the dam. King York and Prince Waban agreed on that, and younger, hotter personalities were obligated to follow. Chino wasn’t one of them. He knew they had lost. That the thing to do now was seek refuge from other dwarves in other places. To go to where the only secure dwarven settlements remained, in the distant east.
By the time it was safe for dwarves to leave their cells again, Chino had finished the device to let Quentin out of the second cell. So Button didn’t have to climb onto anyone’s shoulders at all. They still had to build the little dam and fill the little pool, though. Chino had only made the control easier to access.
The other device, a more-complicated pack designed to carry food without smells escaping to warn the elves, wasn’t yet complete. But they carried the parts with them anyway, just in case.
Quentin’s idea to explore the space beyond the door the punished servants had exited through on the previous evening was better than any plan the other two could come up with, so they went ahead with it. This door had the same mechanism that Button had now used several times to open the door of the first cell with a waterskin.
Behind it was another section of tunnels, barely distinguishable from the previous one. Perhaps there were servants’ quarters around here somewhere, branching off through doors of a type they hadn’t discovered yet. Or maybe the natural shape of the caves just led to an architecture that featured large open chambers and corridors, and the rooms the elves actually used were elsewhere. Certainly there wasn’t any night traffic in this area.
The two dwarves started closely examining the walls, and Button mostly stood around and watched them. He pretended that a perspective from father away from the walls might offer some advantages, but really he had just become convinced that the dwarves were the sort of people who could find hidden doors, and he himself was not. He was here to talk, not to be mechanically inclined. So he got Chino talking about what life in the dam before the attack was like.
“You know,” said the old dwarf, “one of the things I miss the most about those days was the carroll-built furniture.”
“I knew it had a reputation,” said Button. “But I never thought it had gone that far to the east.”
“Oh yes,” said Chino. “Only for the highest parts of society, of course. It was scarce, and expensive. I could never have owned any myself. But one of the privileges of associating with royalty is that you get to use their furniture.”
“I always thought dwarves built everything themselves.”
“Mostly we do,” said Chino. “We could crank out a hundred chairs in a day, when my workshop was really going. But they’re the sort of chairs that you can build a hundred of in a day. The dwarves who are meticulous, the ones who can spend weeks or months on a single piece of artistry, they always work with metal or gems. Not wood and cloth. If we want the best things, we have to import them. And we always want the best things.”
“So you imported chairs from Merryland?”
“Chairs, tables, beds, all sorts of furniture,” said Chino. “And musical instruments. You people make wonderful musical instruments.”
“Not me, I’m afraid,” said Button. “I have a reputation as the least handy carroll in Carrollton.”
“I always thought carrolls could make just about anything.”
“I can break just about anything,” said Button. “And I always have to have people in to fix them. It’s embarrassing, not to be able to fix anything yourself. But they gave up on trying to teach me when I was still in primary school. One of my teachers told my parents I had negative mechanical aptitude.”
Quentin laughed at that. “You can’t trust teachers,” he said.
“But it really does work that way,” said Button. “Every time I try to do something it always turns out wrong. Carrolls are supposed to have a natural design sense, but mine seems to be wired in reverse.”
“That sort of thing is learned,” said Chino.
“Not for carrolls,” said Button. “I mean, you learn how to use it, like you learn how to read. At least, all of my schoolmates did. But when you learn how to read, it depends on your eyes seeing the same things everyone else’s do. And my design sense just doesn’t do that, somehow.”
“You still have it, though?” said Chino. “It’s not like you’re blind?”
“Blind people can learn to read,” said Button. “And people with no design sense can learn to maintain their homes, probably just like dwarves do. There are enough of them that we have classes and things. But they never worked for me. I have a design sense, it’s just working against me.”
“What’s it like?” said Quentin.
“I learned to repress it most of the time,” said Button. “But when I’m dealing with something built, I have a feeling of rightness or wrongness. Like it’s doing the thing that it should, or it isn’t. That’s the way other carrolls say it works, too, only mine doesn’t line up with theirs. They can move things toward rightness and they get better. I move things toward rightness and they break.”
“And you can’t move them away from rightness?” said Quentin.
“They break then, too.”
Chino had stopped searching the walls and was looking thoughtfully at Button. “You have this sense. It doesn’t work for you, but you have it.”
“So if you look at something and feel a sense of rightness or wrongness, it must be something built. Right?”
“But it’s always the wrong sense.”
“That doesn’t matter to us right now,” said Chino. “We’re looking for a device. Right? If you look at a wall and it feels like a wall, then it’s not hiding a device. If you look at a wall and get a sense of rightness or wrongness, then it’s not just a cave wall.”
“But I won’t be able to make it work,” said Button.
“I can make it work,” said Chino. “You just have to find it for me.”
Button finally got the idea, then. “I’m not sure I can use it on purpose like that,” he said. “I’ve spent my whole adult life trying not to use it. I haven’t used the sense intentionally since I was very small, before we figured out that mine didn’t work like everyone else’s.”
“Can you pretend that you’re very small?” said Chino. “What was it like, when you were just learning to use this sense?”
“We used to hold hands,” said Button. “And touch things together, and tell each other what we felt about them. That’s when I learned I never had the same thing to say as my peers. They hated me for it.”
“Well, we’re not going to hate you. Quentin will do it. Quentin is good at not hating things.”
“I am?” said Quentin.
“You don’t hate real things,” said Chino. “You just hate certain ideas.”
“I hate the idea of prancing around this room holding hands with Button,” he said. “No offense. It’s not personal.”
“Do you hate it more than you hate the idea of never finding the rest of them?”
“Why don’t you do it?” said Quentin. “It’s your plan.”
“You’re going to have to work together at some point,” said Chino. “You can’t just do everything by yourself right now.”
“We worked together to get you out,” said Quentin.
“You did,” said Chino. “And now you want to stop. Go back on your own. I’ve watched you for more than a year, Quentin. Every time you have a chance to start building a working relationship you back away.”
“And you want me to fix that now?”
“I wanted you to fix that months ago. But now I have a reason to make you.”
“You’re not my boss,” said Quentin.
“I’m someone who sees what’s best for you more clearly than you can,” said Chino.
“Look, can we just do this?” said Button, who was getting nervous as the tension grew between the only two dwarves he could locate at the moment. Just grabbing Quentin’s hand was clearly a bad idea, but somehow it was easier to get between the two dwarves and put his hand up on Quentin’s chest to hold him back. Not that it stopped them from glaring at each other over the carroll’s head.
But after a few seconds his presence got Quentin’s attention. “You want me to do this for you?” he said.
“It’s not a bad idea,” said Button. “And it’s better than standing here fighting until the elves catch us.”
So Quentin held Button’s hand and the two of them walked around the tunnels, though he didn’t do it without grumbling. Chino suggested once that he should pretend Button was a five-year-old, and got such a glare from the younger dwarf that he kept his advice to himself from then on. Button was glad he didn’t have to tell Chino to leave them alone because he needed to concentrate, even though it was true.
He finally thought he’d found something, at least he had the feeling that he had found something, when they heard the elves coming. It was awfully early in the morning for such a racket, but they still had no idea what this section of tunnels was used for. Whatever it was, there were two good things about it: the elves were coming from a direction that didn’t cut off their retreat, and they were loud enough to give plenty of warning.
So the dwarves and the carroll slipped back into the dimness from which they had come, abandoning the search for the time being. They put Chino back in his original cell this time, with Quentin and Button returning to the larger one. They hid their devices there, and some of their waterskins. Button was going to hide himself as well, but Quentin didn’t let him.
“It’s bad enough I had to hold hands with you all night,” said the young dwarf, which was unfair. It couldn’t have been more than half an hour. “I’m not going to sleep with you, too.”
So Button was, somewhat bewildered, turned out to find his own sleeping place before the elves truly ramped up for the day. He had plenty of hiding spots, so that wasn’t a problem. But he had felt like he was making progress working together with the dwarves. Though maybe Chino was right; maybe Quentin felt like they were making progress as well, and was reflexively trying to sabotage it. All Button could do was trust in the older dwarf’s insight, and try again later.
Later turned out to be a lot later. After getting some sleep, Button checked in on the elves who had been such early risers in the area they were searching. It turned out they had been setting up for a feast, decking out that section of tunnels with tables, and pavilions, and making a space for dancing. It was still dim, and the elven decorations were more visually dull than Button could have imagined for any sort of party. But by the time he got there the smells were in full swing, and it was overwhelming even for the carroll’s nose. For the elves it must have been raucous.
Button backed away and spent his time wandering the outer parts of the elven settlement, which were mostly empty, except for the kitchens. The outer door was still jammed open, which he supposed was the reason for moving their feast indoors. He occasionally checked back to see if the party was dying down, but it never seemed to. It was late into the night by the time elves started streaming drunkenly back into the rest of the cave complex.
Eventually things quieted and he dared to collect Quentin and their physical resources from the large cell. The young dwarf was perfectly polite this time, despite having been kept waiting long into the night. The elves who had brought him food were clearly going to a party, and he deduced that was what was preventing Button’s return.
Chino was not so lucky, and hadn’t been fed at all. Perhaps the elves responsible had begun their drinking early and forgotten about him. He was cranky about that, and cranky that he hadn’t been able to spend the extra time finishing the food storage device. There was nowhere to hide it in his little cell, but with no elves stopping by, it wouldn’t have mattered.
Their first job, then, was to store some food in Chino, and once that was done he cheered up a bit. The three of them made their way back to the tunnels where the feast had been held, which were still full of decorations and the mess inevitably resulting from a large party. At least the elves were better at trying not to spill smelly things than carrolls were; the dominant smell was still of spilled beer, but it wasn’t overwhelming.
“Someone’s going to be here to clean this up,” said Quentin.
“Not soon,” said Button. “Not with all the hangovers that have to be happening now.”
“I don’t think elves get hangovers,” said Quentin.
“Then we’ll have to move fast,” said Chino. “Show me the place you found last night.”
Fortunately Button remembered it by sight, because even his repressed design sense was having strong reactions to the spent party decorations. Why would he have a sense of rightness about a table that had been flipped over and covered in empty nutshells? What was wrong with the one pavilion that was still standing and seemed to be in good order? Moments like this made him feel like a bad carroll even when he wasn’t thinking about his inability to react properly. He was thankful that he didn’t have to try to turn the thing on again.
Quentin was probably glad there wasn’t any need to hold hands again, too.
They showed Chino the place, and he managed to open the secret compartment without difficulty. Inside was a small wooden wheel, positioned vertically, with little chambers hung along its edge. Knowing that the previous doors had been opened by water, what to do with this one was obvious. They emptied skins into it and made it move, and eventually a hidden door nearby opened; one with another dwarf behind it, one who had finally gotten to sleep after the noise of the elven party next door.
He was glad to see them anyway, once he stumbled into basic awareness. Another white-bearded dwarf, though this one had hair on his head. The second-oldest of the crew, Robben. Their leader in combat, and the one who had been responsible, on the journey, for making sure all the engineers did their daily weapons practice. Perhaps they had a fighting chance against the elves now.
The first thing, however, was to get out of here before the cleanup crew arrived.
Chapter 4 of 40 Days in an Elvish Prison is Robben.
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