Chapter 6 of 40 Days in an Elvish Prison (read Chapter 1)
by Anta Baku
The dwarves had thought three days of lying low would be enough to make sure elven attention wasn’t drawn to them over Vendiku’s death. But that left Button rather at loose ends. He couldn’t release Dannemora from his translucent cell, and the dwarf got frustrated with communicating in hand signals before Button was sure he had even communicated the timeline correctly. He wanted to tell Joliet that he had found his brother, but he couldn’t open that cell by himself, either, even though he knew how. In fact the only cell he could open was Quentin’s, and Quentin chased him out the first time he tried, claiming that if the elves found a carroll in there with him it would ruin everything.
If the elves found a carroll at all it would ruin everything. So Button made sure to take as few risks as he possibly could over the next three days. Apart from feeding himself he mostly stuck to the botanical garden, which naturally contained many hiding places for small animals. There were even a few other, smaller animals hiding in there, which he encountered during the nights. By the third day he began to feel like he fit in better with the squirrels and the rabbits than he did with the dwarves.
There were more sections of the garden beyond the two he had been in so far, and he took the opportunity to explore them, thinking he might find more imprisoned dwarves and set up a queue for them to rescue when the others were willing to come out again. There weren’t any, at least any that were obvious to him, but the garden itself was fascinating. Each section had its own style, and Button wasn’t sure how to categorize them until he stumbled upon a small nook that might have been designed to make him homesick. It was done in the carroll style, a few fields surrounding a small grassy hillock with a single oak tree at the top, a stream with a small waterfall, tessellated stone pathways, and a lawn bowling green. He had a hard time imagining an elven lawn bowling club, but there must have been one. Fortunately they weren’t active during those few days.
Sadly there weren’t any comfortable homes dug into the small hill where Button could move in and set up housekeeping. It was still a botanical garden and not an imitation carroll town. But having identified this as the carroll section of the garden, the styles of the other sections became more clear to him. The area with the treehouses and elevated paths where Dannemora was imprisoned must be in the style of the high elves. The one with the small lake surrounded by well-defined fields of flowers would be humans. He didn’t know what race was represented by the dark, dense section with more trees than Button thought could fit into such a space, but he supposed the elves must know more about the world than he did.
There was a dwarf garden, as well, though Button missed it for a while because it was the only part of that complex which wasn’t open to the sunlight. It had mushrooms, and algaes, and water plants that would only grow underground. Even compared to the regular elven caves it was damp and unpleasant; next to the rest of the botanical garden Button found it repulsive. He didn’t stay there long.
During the days, while Button was hidden, elves liked to come into the gardens for private conversations, and their private conversations at that time were all focused on the social upheaval among the servants and the question of Vendiku’s murder. So he was able to gather that the punished servants had been arrested, as he had intended when he anointed the corpse with mint and garlic. The prisoners seemed to know nothing, but one had escaped: Amarac, supposedly the most revolutionary of them all. The general feeling among the elves he overheard was that Amarac’s flight was as good as a confession. None of them were even thinking about the dwarves, apart from lamenting that the arrested servants had to be confined in their own quarters because the prison cells were completely full.
On the fourth night, Button entered Quentin’s cell again, and was relieved to find that the dwarf had had enough alone time to be happy to see him again. And more than ready to release the other dwarves and prowl about the complex once more. The others were pleased to learn that he had already located the next dwarf to be released, particularly Joliet when he found that Button had already identified his twin.
But none of them could immediately see how to release Dannemora from his translucent cage. Joliet was better at matching hand signals with him than Button was, but he reported that Dannemora didn’t have any ideas on how to get himself out either. There were two holes here which weren’t terribly different from the ones used to open Quentin’s cell, but neither of them seemed to do anything when water was poured in. They tried both at once but that didn’t work either.
Quentin was the most capable with water-based mechanicals, but Quentin had wandered off again. Joliet and Robben stayed to talk to Dannemora as best they could with hand signals while Chino and Button set out to find him.
“I don’t know what he thinks he’s doing,” said Chino.
“I think he’s just interested in how the garden works,” said Button. “The water flows, or something? I don’t really understand hydrology.”
“I understand that he needs to stay with the group,” said Chino. “He almost got caught before, and it’s even more dangerous now.”
“He does like to solve problems on his own,” said Button.
“It’s because he thinks he’s the only one smart enough,” said Chino. “But he needs to learn to cooperate.”
“I’ve known people before who think more creatively when they’re doing their own thing and nobody’s keeping track of them,” said Button.
“I don’t like losing track of anybody,” said Chino.
They found Quentin by following the water, of course. The elves had built a system here for keeping the tops of the trees in a perpetual mist, and Quentin was busy trying to figure out how it worked. He wasn’t pleased that Chino was interrupting him.
“This garden is amazing,” he said. “If we learn how they grow trees so effectively underground we could revolutionize food production. Imagine not having to import from humans anymore.”
“Imagine getting Dannemora out of his cell,” said Chino.
“You haven’t managed that already?” said Quentin.
“No, we haven’t,” said Chino. “We need your help. And you need to think about helping us and not whatever else you’ve got going on in your head right now.”
“They have whole new ways of managing water in this place,” said Quentin. “I can’t just not be curious about it.”
“You can’t resist another excuse to go off by yourself and not work together with us.”
“That’s not what this is about,” said Quentin. “And even if it was, it wouldn’t be any of your business.”
“I’m just trying to help you,” said Chino.
“It seems like a strange way of helping to me,” said Quentin. “Maybe you could let me say when I need help.”
“You never will,” said Chino.
“Or maybe I’ll ask somebody else,” said Quentin. “And that would really bother you, wouldn’t it?” He turned back to the water pipe he had been examining.
Chino took a deep breath and Button seized the opportunity to step in. “We really are having trouble getting Dannemora out of his cell,” he said.
“I suppose that really is important,” said Quentin. “Even if he’s just using it as an excuse to criticize me.” He grabbed Button’s arm and started walking back to the platform with the other dwarves, faster than the old carpenter could follow. “We’ll meet you back there,” he called over his shoulder.
Once they’d put enough distance between themselves and Chino that there could no longer be any conversation with him, Quentin allowed Button to slow down. “What was that all about?” asked the carroll.
“Just Chino,” said Quentin. “He’s trying to be some sort of father figure to me. He does that to everyone, you’ll notice. And you’ll also notice that none of the people he’s become a father figure to are better off for it.”
“I heard some of that from Joliet,” said Button. “But I don’t know that it’s all Chino’s fault. And I would feel safer if we all stayed together. I hope that doesn’t make you angry at me.”
“It doesn’t bother me when you say it,” said Quentin. “Because you don’t try to make it about what’s best for me.”
“You didn’t seem to mind as much before when Robben went to find you,” said Button. But he had misjudged how private their conversation was at that point; they had arrived back at the platform with Dannemora’s cell, and Robben was able to overhear.
“That’s because keeping the troops organized is actually my job,” said the master-at-arms. “Come help us figure this thing out, would you?”
Quentin didn’t immediately see how to solve the puzzle, but he had an idea. He’d seen other systems in the garden that used alternating flows of water, and with two holes available to them, he wanted to try filling them in sequence. There wasn’t any way to tell between them so he just picked the one on the left first, filled it with water, and then when it drained he filled the one on the right. That didn’t do anything immediately, but Quentin, with his ear to the ground, thought he heard something move. So he went back to the left one, and back to the right one. Dannemora was also listening inside his cell, and banged on the wall.
“He thinks we’re making progress,” said Joliet. “Keep going.”
So Quentin kept alternating holes and the grinding sound gradually became audible to everyone. By the time Chino came puffing up to join the rest of the group, they had exhausted their water skins but a small vertical gap had opened at one corner of Dannemora’s cell, and he was talking excitedly to Joliet now that they could hear each other.
Fortunately there was plenty of water in the garden, and while refilling the skins and bringing them back to the platform was tedious, three dwarves and a carroll made swift work of it. Quentin kept handling the pouring.
“It must be turning some sort of drive shaft underneath,” said Chino. “Like a pump, only in reverse.”
Button was mostly worried about how they were going to do this more than once. This night was already getting old, and even if they wanted to risk leaving one of the cells empty during the day at some point, it couldn’t be this one. There had to be a dwarf in there, or something that looked like a dwarf, anytime an elf passed by this part of the garden close enough to see through the walls of the cell.
He pointed this out to Joliet, and as much as Joliet wanted to spend time with his twin, he also realized that he was the logical choice to take his place. He was the same height and the same age, and the elves were good at not noticing superficial visual differences like the black mark on his face. Once they had the gap wide enough for Dannemora to get out, the brothers embraced briefly, but then Joliet took Dannemora’s place in the cell and they shoved the door shut. Elves would be awakening soon and they had to get everyone back into their cells.
Button ended up back in Quentin’s original cell with Dannemora to fill him in on what he had missed. “I hope you’re better at talking than you are at hand gestures,” said the dwarf.
“I think it’s easier with your twin,” said Button.
“It’s easier when you have experience,” said Dannemora. “There was a time when I talked like that a lot.”
It took a while for Button to catch Dannemora up on the story since the dwarves had been taken prisoner. Button hadn’t really processed just how much had happened so far until he had to tell it all as a single narrative, and keep track of what he was saying about dwarves, and elven politics, and the revolutionary romance, and finding Pendleton.
Dannemora thought Pendleton warning them off from exploring the fire caves was significant. And not in a way that he wanted to cooperate. “If the wizard wants us out of there, that’s all the more reason to go in,” he said.
“You haven’t seen them,” said Button. “Nobody wanted to go in there.”
“All the more reason to do so,” said Dannemora. “If someone made them look frightening, they must have reason to keep people out.”
“I think you’ll have a hard time convincing the others,” said Button.
“Joliet will go along with me,” said Dannemora. “He always does, in the end. Even… well.”
“Is that how he got the mark on his face?” asked Button. “He didn’t want to talk about it.”
“Well, I really don’t want to talk about it,” said Dannemora. “Ask me something else.”
So Button asked him about his experience with hand gestures, and got a story from Dannemora’s early days as a refugee in the west. At that time the eastern dwarves still thought that persistence would eventually get them careers, and wives, and easy living in the new society to match what they had grown up with, or at least approach it. Dannemora had touted his prospects to the most eligible dwarven women, and found himself rejected in favor of more familiar dwarves from established families. So he started looking more widely.
There was one woman particularly who caught his eye. She was attractive, if not stunningly so. More importantly, she had a rich father with connections in electrical engineering, a field the recently-graduated Dannemora was seeking a high-quality entry into. But most importantly, she had a lack of other suitors due to having been born without the ability to hear. Deafness from the forges or the mines was a well-regarded risk for male dwarves, but a young woman who could not hear was seen as fundamentally diminished. Dannemora shared that sentiment, but by that time he wasn’t above taking advantage of it. A deaf rich wife was better than no rich wife at all.
He learned to speak to her, and courted her. With time, and the lack of other male attention, she grew to accept the limitations of being connected to a refugee. Her father was more suspicious, and put Dannemora through a series of temporary jobs, testing him, refusing to set the young dwarf up with a permanent place until he was sure of his loyalty. He was always disappointed when Dannemora failed to excel in any of the positions he was put in, only showing a workmanlike competence.
And then, somehow, a conversation between Dannemora and his twin was overheard. They talked strategy between themselves when they were alone, and somehow they were not as alone as they thought. Was the girl’s father having Dannemora followed? He was never quite certain of that. What he knew was that the father learned the content of that conversation, and the direction of his strategy, and forbade Dannemora from seeing his daughter again. He called the young dwarf a user, and a manipulator, and quite a few names which were more vulgar and less specific.
“She wasn’t willing to defy her father?” asked Button.
“No,” said Dannemora. “Well, I never asked her to. What good would it have done me to marry her and have her disinherited? Then I would have used up my one opportunity for marriage and gotten nothing from it.”
“Except a wife.”
“What good is a wife with no prospects?” said Dannemora. “At the time I thought I could just move on to the next chance. A middle-class father, maybe. Better that than a rich one who hates you.”
“But that didn’t work out either,” said Button.
“No. Not for me, and not for Joliet. Women in the west just didn’t like us very much, and their families liked us even less.”
It was some years later when Dannemora and Joliet finally had a chance to work together in their marital quest. Neither one had seen romantic success, and neither one had found career success. They had worked their way through the good graces of western society, and then the tolerant graces, and were on the edge of the better families of the west looking for a sufficiently polite method for getting rid of them.
But then a pair of twin girls came of age, and surely twins would resonate with other twins. Joliet and Dannemora were nearly twice their age, approaching the middle of their working lives without any notable successes, and the subject of nasty rumors within the community, but they were twins. They were also desperate for any last-chance narrative that could lead them to small victories, and determined not to waste this one.
Dannemora and Joliet had drifted away from their other refugee contacts by that time. Camaraderie with the Young Prince offered no advantage, and western society seemed to prefer it if they didn’t keep such company. Their attempts at building up the idea of their prospects were frayed and tottering, but not quite totally destroyed. And maybe twins combined with twins would be more powerful than anyone expected.
That was how they pitched it, anyway, and they pitched it hard and well. Convincing the girls themselves wasn’t very hard; they were young and romantic and ready to believe that being twins was a secret power that only needed twin husbands to unlock. Their elders were more experienced and more cynical and tried to watch out for the girls. By then Dannemora and Joliet had learned to make absolutely certain their strategy sessions were private.
Though the girls were amenable, no couple was ever allowed to be alone together. Nor were the four of them ever allowed to do anything as an exclusive group. Dannemora’s schemes to make something like that happen got more and more complex as time went on and their patience waned. Before long the girls even wanted to participate in planning the schemes to find some time alone, something that worried the male twins. After all, a girl who schemed with them now might become a woman who schemed against them later, something that was already a significant risk in an age-divided marriage.
But it wasn’t one of the girls’ plans that got them in trouble, it was one of Joliet’s. At first it looked very good, as the four of them managed to get away from their chaperones and lose themselves down an abandoned mine. Then it turned out they had actually lost themselves in a maze of dark, twisted shafts driven centuries beforehand. What was supposed to be a spicily-transgressive outing to seal their romantic attachments quickly turned into a life-threatening emergency. And the rescue parties they had provoked, expending so much humor at the expense of the worried searchers, were suddenly their best hope of survival.
All four of the dwarves survived, but their romance didn’t. By the time they made it out of the depths of the abandoned mine, one of the girls was critically injured, and none of the four liked each other. The girls didn’t claim that Dannemora and Joliet had taken advantage of them, but they also refused to deny it, letting the assumptions of their families run free. A few days later three young male relatives tried to take their anger out on Dannemora physically; they stopped themselves before doing any permanent damage, but Dannemora spent a month in a medical ward. Joliet made sure to take him to a different one from the hospital where his recently-hoped-for-bride was recovering.
After that, there was no going back. They had already worn out their welcome in high society in the west, and those dwarves were just as happy to have an excuse to never see the twins again. There were never quite enough electrical engineers there, so Joliet and Dannemora were able to keep getting jobs, if never promising ones. But with no one to talk to, and disillusioned with the western way of life, they gradually faded back into the company of the other eastern refugees.
“And they took you back?” said Button.
“They weren’t any better off than we were,” said Dannemora. “It was Prince Waban and the King who despised us most for what they saw as social-climbing among the western dwarves who looked down on them. By the time we came back they had lost at Khatchi-Dami, the King was dead, the Prince was missing, and we weren’t the only ones who were shadows of our former selves. And I think Chino regretted the advice he had given us, by then.”
The next night Dannemora insisted on releasing Joliet first. Button wasn’t sure how they were going to manage that, but Dannemora ruthlessly tore apart some of the watering pipes in the garden and built a slapdash machine for pumping water through the puzzle and opening the door.
“The elves are going to notice that,” said Button.
“Don’t worry,” said Dannemora. “We’ll get Quentin to put it back together.”
By the time they were ready to open Robben’s cell, Dannemora had browbeaten Joliet into accepting his plan to explore the fire caves. With the help of his twin they convinced each of the other dwarves individually while they were releasing the next. They had no compunctions about overriding Button’s protests, and either none of the dwarves remembered the look of the fire caves as well as he did, or they weren’t willing to look weak in front of Dannemora.
So Button found himself worriedly pacing the room where Vendiku had died as the dwarves pulled the chains to once again open the door into the caverns Pendleton had warned him explicitly to stay out of. The elven forensics team was long gone but remnants of their investigation remained on the edges of the room, and Button found that ominous. The last time they had been here someone had been killed, and he was just lucky it wasn’t one of his friends. Would this time be different?
He found himself hoping that Pendleton would be waiting on the other side of the door to chastise them and send them scrambling back to their proper task of finding the other members of their party. But the fire caves were empty, at least this section of them, and there was nothing stopping the dwarves from proceeding inside.
Button still found the place intimidating, but the dwarves were resolute and he was determined to follow them. He stuck close to Chino, who seemed like the most-responsible of the current set of dwarves, and the most likely to help him get out if something went terribly wrong.
The place seemed to have been engineered to make him think something was about to go terribly wrong. They didn’t go far before they started seeing fire on the floors, the walls, and even the ceiling. But it didn’t fully explain the red lighting, and they couldn’t make out what it was using as fuel. Passages constricted and opened out again in ways that maximized how little they could see in front of them as they explored. Robben kept trying to find ways to defend their rear, and complaining about how difficult it was. Dannemora and Joliet went in front, unbothered, or at least affecting to be unbothered.
At least they didn’t encounter any people. Button gradually relaxed enough to talk to Chino as they went along. “Are you all right with following Dannemora like this?”
“I’m not sure I like his decision-making,” said Chino. “But at least we don’t have to worry about elves catching us in here. I was getting tired of that.”
“I’m just not sure how I feel about him taking charge so quickly,” said Button.
“The twins have always worked together,” said Chino. “And they’re the most-junior engineers, even though they’re also the oldest engineers. They’ve always felt they deserved more power than they could get.”
“So they’re seizing an opportunity?” said Button.
“Eight dwarves left to find, and three of them are their direct bosses,” said Chino. “I can see why they might not want to go looking just yet.”
“And what about the rest of us?”
“They’ll get less convincing as they go along,” said Chino. “They always have before.”
“Dannemora told me something about that,” said Button. “And Joliet said that you told them to be persistent and things would turn out all right. Neither of them seemed very happy about it.”
“I might have made a mistake,” said Chino. “But I’m not sure if it was telling them to be persistent or not telling them to lower their expectations. They kept looking for a way back to their lives before the Muskellunge, when maybe they should have been imagining new ones.”
“It doesn’t sound like they did any better when they were on their own,” said Button.
“No,” said Chino. “But they should have done better when they had me to guide them. I’m not sure I did them any good at all.”
They had made it a decent way into the fire caves by then, and finally came across something interesting: a deep chasm that split the floor in two and prevented them from going any further. There was an old steel bridge crossing it, and the twins called Chino up to evaluate it. Button went with him.
The old carpenter’s evaluation wasn’t optimistic, and given what the bridge looked like, not surprising either. Even Button could tell it was a mess. If Chino had told him it was safe to walk across, and demonstrated, Button might have been willing to give it a try. But his own impression was that even a carroll’s weight would send the structure crashing down into the ravine, along with anyone foolish enough to be on top of it at the time.
“Can you repair it?” asked Dannemora.
“I’m not a structural engineer,” said Chino. “I could fabricate some parts. But I’m not sure I would trust that I picked the right ones or put them in the right places. If I had to rely on my own skills I’d let this bridge go and build a new one.”
“How long would that take?” said Joliet.
“Weeks. Plus however long it took Button to steal the materials.”
“We’re stuck here, then,” said Dannemora.
“It looks like it,” said Chino. “It’s getting on toward morning, anyway. If we don’t want the elves to know we’re gone, we need to be back in our cells soon.”
So the five dwarves and Button trooped back to the tunnels of the elven settlement and called an end to their night of exploration. Quentin begrudgingly agreed to help Joliet rig up the pipes to open the translucent cell in a way that wouldn’t be obvious to any passing elf. While the rest of them worked on that, Button ended up back in the large cell with Dannemora. He still didn’t want to talk about what had happened to his brother’s face, but he was willing to tell the story of what they had done afterward.
The twins had thought that traveling around to smaller dwarven communities might still give them the chances they had failed to take advantage of in the main settlement of the west. They had no reputation there, no history to live down. They split up, with the idea of periodically meeting when one or the other found an opportunity that would suit his twin.
But that strategy, too, had ended in disaster, and one that did permanent damage this time. Joliet’s disfigurement, and years of failed attempts at advancement, finally led them to return to the main western population center with little hope and less ambition. There would still be engineering jobs there. There were always engineering jobs there. And while the ones available to the twins would be the least appealing, and the least open to advancement, at least they would allow the two dwarves to get by. By that point getting by was all they had left to strive for.
When they met up with their old comrades from the east, things had changed for them as well. Just before the twins had left, the Patriarch’s revolutionary army had expanded, and with expansion came not the power he was seeking but weakening of his philosophy. To attract new dwarves they had to make the organization seem friendlier, and then the new dwarves wanted to make it friendlier still. Popularity came at the cost of doctrinal commitment, and within a few years what had started as a radical movement had turned into something more like a social club. Along with that came an end to any talk of returning to the west and retaking the dam, which was what prompted Dannemora and Joliet to leave.
The growth continued as restrictions loosened, and eventually members started wanting to do previously-unimaginable things, like get married. There was even talk of letting women join the movement as equal members. At that point the Patriarch saw that he had allowed his revolution to get out of his control, to the point where it was hardly a revolution at all anymore. He demanded a return to the core values he had begun it with, and few of the people were willing to follow him, even after the King Under the Watershed endorsed his plan. One group became two, and those who remained with the Patriarch and his dogma were mostly the refugees from the west and the Patriarch’s original disciples.
The King and the Patriarch saw this as a disappointing reversal, but the newly-returned twins saw it as an opportunity. The movement might be smaller, but now that it was again made up primarily of their kinsmen, Dannemora and Joliet set out to convince them to refocus on recapturing their lost homeland. A mission to retake the dam might be ridiculous for such a small organization, but all avenues to power left to them were in some way ridiculous. This one had resonance, and they still retained most of the core expertise they needed.
But when the King Under the Watershed convinced the Patriarch of the plan, the cost had been allowing him to be its chief engineer, though he had no qualifications. In turn he made one of his cronies chief of the electrical engineering department, a dwarf who at least had some engineering training, if no experience. Dannemora and Joliet, who had completed school and worked as engineers for years, were relegated to junior status yet again.
“No wonder you don’t want to find them,” said Button.
“What?” said Dannemora.
“That’s why you led us into the caves instead of looking for more dwarves, isn’t it?” asked Button. “Because you don’t want to find your bosses.”
“They shouldn’t be our bosses,” said Dannemora. “We know more than they do. And have more experience. And were born in the east.”
“And for that you would leave them to the elves?” said Button. “I don’t think the six of us can fight the Muskellunge. The five of us without you could barely fight one elf.”
“You think fourteen of us would be different?” said Dannemora. “Defeating the Muskellunge always depended on the wizard. And now he has abandoned us, is somewhere in those fire caves, and demanded that we keep out. We have to find him and make him help us, as he agreed to in the beginning.”
“So it’s about Pendleton,” said Button.
“Of course it is,” said Dannemora. “He can make the elves let the others out, as well. If we can find him somewhere in those caves.”
“But we can’t get past the bridge,” said Button.
“Not with who we are now,” said Dannemora.
So the next night he allowed them to go back to searching for more dwarves. None of them were willing to take Button’s word that there weren’t any more hidden in the botanical garden, especially when he himself was only certain that he hadn’t found any. Maybe their expertise in built things would find more places a captive dwarf could be concealed.
Quentin was certainly interested in exploring the other sections anyway, and Chino and Button made sure to follow him when he took off on his own again. They didn’t make any attempt to hide their surveillance from him, and he occasionally cast dirty looks over his shoulder. But he was more interested in learning the hydrodynamics of the garden, as long as they didn’t interfere.
He kept being drawn to the pond in the human garden. “There’s something wrong here,” he said. “It looks like a normal terminal pond, but there are three streams feeding into it, and evaporation over this surface area wouldn’t account for that much water. But I’m not seeing any outflows along the shore.”
“So what does that mean?” said Button.
“It means there’s a drain somewhere below the waterline,” said Quentin. “And I want to know why. That isn’t a natural way to build a landscape feature like this. It’s engineering, not gardening.”
“What are you going to do?” said Button.
“I’m going to have to dive,” said Quentin.
“You can’t be serious,” said Chino. “You don’t have any equipment.”
“I used to free dive in ponds like this for turtles,” said Quentin.
“What, when you were six?” said Chino.
“Look, old man,” said Quentin. “You don’t have to stick around for this if you don’t want to. I didn’t ask you to follow me here.” And then he turned around and dove smoothly into the pond. Button moved closer to the shore to watch him as he disappeared into the murk. Chino stayed where he was.
“Did you want to go do something else?” said Button.
“I’m not going to leave him underwater by himself,” said Chino. “Even if that’s what he wants. It’s not safe.”
Button didn’t see what they could do if anything went wrong, especially now that Quentin was out of sight in the dark water. If it had been daylight maybe they could have followed his dive. But right now they were just standing waiting on the bank.
There was a splash and a ripple, and Button thought he saw Quentin’s head surface briefly about a third of the way around the shoreline before diving again. If he was just going around the edges of the pond at least they could guess his probable location. But he was faster in the water than they were out of it, and there was no point in following.
There was another splash, farther away, out of Button’s sight. And then a third one with much less time in between, followed by more. Either more people were jumping into the lake, or Quentin was repeatedly diving on the same location. Button hoped he had found the drain he was looking for, and not some sort of unexpected opposition.
The splashes eventually ceased, and Button waited and waited to hear another one. When the silent space was clearly longer than Quentin’s first dive had been, he looked worriedly at Chino.
“He might be walking back,” said the old dwarf.
“What do we do if he isn’t?” said Button.
“I don’t know,” said Chino. “I don’t dive. I’m not even a very good swimmer.”
“Neither am I,” said Button. “Carrolls don’t swim much, at least not in Carrollton.”
So with nothing else to do, they waited. Button was deeply relieved when another splash finally came, right in front of them, and Quentin clambered out of the pond. He thought he saw Chino relax as well, but it was Button’s obvious worry that Quentin reacted to. “What’s wrong with you?” said the young dwarf. “I just swam across from the other side.”
“Did you find what you were looking for?” said Chino, sparing Button from having to explain his expression.
“More than that,” said Quentin. “There’s an underwater drain over there all right. But on my way back I found something else on the bottom: a hidden room.”
“What would elves keep at the bottom of the lake?” said Button.
“From what we’ve seen so far, I think there’s a good chance it’s another dwarf,” said Quentin. “We just need to figure out how to get him out.”
They collected the other dwarves, and Quentin set out organizing them to drain the pond. First he set Chino up at the place where he had found the existing drain, with a straight board on a pole and instructions to block the drain when the signal was given. Then he hauled off the other dwarves and Button to the other side of the pond. Button thought he saw a certain amount of pleasure on Quentin’s face at leaving Chino by himself.
The other banks of the pond bordered on fields, but on this side the land fell off dramatically just beyond the edge, the slope leading down to a larger lake. The bank rose dwarf-height or so above the top of the pond, and Quentin asked Robben and Joliet to dig a trench into it toward the greater downslope, with Button as notional supervisor, though Robben clearly knew what he was doing at trench-digging. Quentin and Dannemora went off to find some pipes.
By the time the trench was close to the waterline, Quentin and Dannemora had found some wide pipes to lay into it. They started with the pipe through the trench, and once it was laid Robben and Joliet started to cover it up again, taking care to make the bank look as undisturbed as possible. That wasn’t very much like the original bank, but Button supposed it wouldn’t take much to fool elf-eyes from a distance. Quentin, with Dannemora’s assistance on land, dove into the pond again to attach more sections of the pipe under the surface.
“Can’t we just set it up at the edge?” said Button.
“Do you have an industrial-strength pump in your pocket?” said Dannemora. “Unless you do, we have to get this as far down as we want to drain.”
Lowering sections of pipe into the pond was a tedious process with only one diver, but eventually it was completed. Then all four dwarves started working on extending the other side. Button didn’t understand why that was necessary.
“This end has to be lower than the other end,” Quentin told him. “Or else the water doesn’t know where to go.” That didn’t make any more sense to Button, but Quentin told him it would all be more clear once he saw the results. Even though one end was deep in the pond there wasn’t any water coming out of the other end of the pipe yet, and Button didn’t understand why there ever would be.
After completing the pipeline to Quentin’s satisfaction, the dwarves climbed back up to the bank of the pond and Quentin gave a loud whistle to signal Chino to block up the existing exit. Button hoped there weren’t any elves around, although they’d been making plenty of noise so far and this one additional whistle probably wasn’t going to make much difference.
“Now what?” said Button.
“Now we wait,” said Quentin. “If he blocked the drain correctly, the inflow from those streams will start to raise the water level of the pond. We want it to get over the top of our pipe.”
It didn’t take very long for the rise in water level to be apparent, and then it was just a matter of time until it got high enough. It was enough time for the dwarves to get into an argument about whether it was going to be possible to hide all this before morning. Quentin maintained that elves wouldn’t be able to see the difference. Robben thought an empty pond would be pretty obvious. Dannemora and Joliet merely set out camouflaging the part of the pipe that led downhill, just in case.
The water crept up to the top of the pipeline through the bank, and then the result was more dramatic than Button expected. Water suddenly started pouring out the other end of the pipe and downhill toward the large lake. And it didn’t stop when the water level in the pond fell below the top of the pipe, or even below its former bank. It just kept gushing downhill until the entire pipe was exposed, and so was most of the bottom of the pond. The whole thing drained in less than a minute, and on its way to the lake the water dug a channel into the hillside below the end of the pipe that Button wasn’t sure even elven eyesight could miss.
The bottom of the pond was full of puddles, and they started joining up to each other as the three streams kept emptying into the basin. They didn’t have much time, so the dwarves scrambled down to the square room sticking out of the bottom in the center of the former pond. This one didn’t have a puzzling device to open it, just a regular doorknob. Presumably being on the bottom of a pond was enough security.
Quentin’s presumption had been right; there was another dwarf inside, with dark hair in a receding hairline, a beard that had recently gone grey, and an appreciation of seeing people for the first time in weeks. This was Angola, the oldest dwarf of those who were born in the west. Button was glad for the twins that it wasn’t one of their bosses, at least.
They scrambled out of the basin as it began to refill, fast enough that it might well be a pond again by morning. They weren’t going to get another dwarf into that cell, but it seemed unlikely the elves were checking this one regularly anyway. Button tried to remember what Angola’s job on the team was, but couldn’t quite grasp it.
Dannemora remembered. “Now,” he said, “we have a structural engineer.”
Chapter 7 of 40 Days in an Elvish Prison is Angola.
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