Chapter 14 of 40 Days in an Elvish Prison
by Anta Baku
They managed to dry off the King while the rest of the dwarves were coming to join them. Unlike Attica and Alcatraz, Folsom wasn’t interested in making speeches. He was only interested in getting dry, and in getting to the escape plan as quickly as possible. The others had barely paid their respects before he was urging them to make their way back to the dam and get out of there. Time for anything else could be made once they were far away from these elves.
They took the control room first, dashing in with surprise on their side again, and fourteen dwarves quickly captured and tied up a half-dozen elven servants in charge of the dam. The shift had changed since the last time Button had been there, and he didn’t recognize any of the elves. The supervisor was no longer there, of course, and neither was Massei. But he couldn’t see any sign of what had happened after their hasty exit, and the captured elves either didn’t know anything about the previous conflict or weren’t willing to talk.
It didn’t matter; what mattered was finding their way out through Massei’s secret exit. Which meant finding Massei’s secret exit in the first place. They left the bound elves in the control room and made their way out to the dam itself.
Though it wasn’t a large dam, it still required a large cavern. Upstream they could see dim sunlight, as here at the top of the elven settlement the river flowed underground for the first time before entering the collection pool of the elves’ dam. It was too far away to see the actual entrance, though, and there wasn’t a path in that direction. Quentin, perhaps, could have swum upstream far enough to escape, but that option wasn’t open to any of the rest of them.
The collection pool reached the sides of the cave and was nearly as high as the top of the dam. Water was flowing outward from tunnels on the opposite side, presumably from the turbine chambers, and on into several structures which were clearly newer construction than the original dam. The water flow here was providing electricity to the caves below, but the elves were doing more with the water after it had passed through the dam. There were intakes large and small which led down in the direction of the settlement, and others that supplied buildings here in the cave below the dam itself. The river, when it flowed out the lower end of the cavern, was much-diminished from the amount of water which was leaving the dam turbines.
None of the maintenance accesses were in obvious places. Attica had only studied large-scale dams, and couldn’t reason from that down to this one. Leavenworth and the twins, who had actually worked on a few dams in the west, found that this eastern design was substantially different. Angola didn’t even want to guess. It fell to Chino to lead a brute-force search, and Button followed along with him.
By elimination they eventually decided that the access to the turbine chambers must be masked by one of the new bits of elven construction, a building which dominated the cavern in smell, if not in size. It had been built right up next to the power plant, and was the first place that took up water after it had gone through the turbines. The citrus-hardwood scent that came from it was the same one that pervaded the Queen’s halls, though it was stronger here. The water flowing out from the building must be the source of the scent dripping down the stalactites in the elven tunnels.
Inside Button expected to find wood and fruit, but the scent itself came from a huge wax block being slowly melted and infused into the water. There were others stacked against the back wall of the room, each of them taller and wider than a dwarf. Behind all of that was the wall where Chino thought the scent-infusion building might have been built over top of the turbine access.
“How do the elves get into the dam to replace parts?” Button asked.
“I don’t think they do,” said Chino. “They probably don’t know how. They would have had a service contract with King York. Once there weren’t dwarves in to do maintenance, they probably stopped doing maintenance entirely. It’s amazing any of this still works.”
“All of this is electrical, though,” said Attica.
“I think it was scavenged from the festival field,” said Dannemora. “See, this is all equipment we’ve seen before. The melter here uses the same parts as the scent heater in the basement there. And the sprayers distributing it into the water are the same as the ones in the catwalks. And I think… yes. There’s even a mover here like the one in the substation, for bringing these huge wax blocks to the melter. That will make it easier to get rid of them.”
“All right,” said Alcatraz. “Some of you stay here and clear this space while we shut down the dam.”
“We can’t shut down the dam yet,” said Dannemora.
“We need the electricity to clear out these blocks. If the door’s really here, we can shut down the dam after we find it.”
“Also, the minute we shut down the electricity, the elves will know where we are,” said Robben. “We want that to be as late as possible.”
“Do what you need to do here, then,” said Alcatraz.
“Yes, sir,” said Dannemora, without a tinge of respect. But Alcatraz didn’t take offense, he just left them to it.
“The first thing is to get this melter going faster,” said Dannemora. “These blocks look like they could last a week, but we need to get them out of here fast.” He and Joliet started messing with the electrical connections to the melter, and as they did the smell in the room got even stronger, and the wax block started visibly shrinking as Button watched. But now there was a growing pool of hot wax and scented oil in the bottom of the melter, threatening to overflow and make the whole room even more inaccessible.
“We’ve got to get the scent moving out faster,” said Joliet, who started looking for another electrical connection.
“It’s not an electrical thing,” said Chino. “These sprayers are powered but only a few of them are operating. Quick, open all the valves.” Leavenworth and Quentin helped him activate all of the sprayers, and scent started moving into the water faster than it was accumulating into the melter.
The first scent block was running out already, and Button thought they might get through the stored ones more quickly than he had anticipated. If they could manage to move them at all. They were huge, and heavier than they looked, and while there was a power-mover they still had to get the stored blocks onto it somehow.
“The elves have to be able to do this,” said Angola. “So we should be able to as well.” He and Chino searched around the blocks, and on a nearby wall found a hole that looked just like the first mechanism Button had found, way back when he let Quentin out of the first cell. They poured water into it and a chunk of the wall popped out, pushing the whole stack of blocks forward so that the one closest to the mover fell on top of it. Dannemora powered the mover, which brought the block to the melter and dumped it right in.
The whole thing was easy enough to do, and to repeat as they got through more blocks, but by the fourth block the room was getting painfully hot, and it was difficult for them to do anything at all. Chino went and got Bastille, who had been guarding the entrance to the cavern with his friends, and the two of them scrounged a fan from one of the other buildings, and a water wheel to power it, and set them up just outside the scent producer. It didn’t solve the heat problem, but it mitigated it enough that they were able to take turns spending a few moments in the room when it was time to change scent blocks again.
Not all of them were hardwood and citrus, and the scents that filled the cavern were soon too jumbled to make out. In such a large room, with the airflow provided by running water, it wasn’t terribly unpleasant for Button or the dwarves. But he wondered if they had accidentally mounted an effective defense against any of the more-scent-sensitive elves wanting to come into the area at all.
Even with all that scent going into the air, there was more of it going into the water, and the wax and the oil wasn’t being carried away fast enough to prevent buildup. This was Quentin’s problem, and he quickly built a siphon, much smaller than his last one, to give the loaded water another outflow from the trough where the sprayers were filling it with scent. The scented water headed down an unmarked intake pipe into the elven settlement, and Button hoped it wasn’t going anywhere it would be dangerous.
When they finally cleared off the whole pile of scented blocks, and reset the mechanism for moving the pile forward, they were pleased to discover that there were two doors behind it, presumably the access to the turbine chambers that they had been looking for. Now it was time to shut down the dam, and get out of there before the elves came looking for what was wrong.
Attica and Alcatraz had identified the spillway for redirecting water away from the turbines, which wasn’t really a show of expertise. Button thought he could have done it just as well. The device for opening this was another familiar one, the alternating waterways they had once used to rescue Dannemora. The twins and Quentin made short work of carrying water to the mechanism, and the spillway opened for them and started carrying water below the dam.
In a few moments the lights went out, and the noise of all the mechanicals around them ceased, except the fan Chino and Bastille had rigged with a waterwheel for power. There was still water flowing down the channels into the elven halls, but there was no more electricity.
The dwarves and Button all hurried through the access doors and into the turbine chambers, which were now dry, or at least merely damp. They were no longer filled with rushing water, and the turbine blades were no longer spinning at a dangerous rate, though they still wobbled back and forth a bit.
The hidden exit was right where Massei had promised it was, a large door without any particularly-puzzling mechanisms. It had latches purely to keep it from popping open unexpectedly, and when Chino had freed them, the dwarves tumbled out onto a forested slope in the sunlight. Finally they were free of the elven prison.
That was the first moment when Folsom acknowledged Button. “Good job,” said the King. “I’ve been told you were the one who started this escape. We wouldn’t be here without you.”
“Thank you, Your Highness,” said Button. Then he was reminded he was carrying something that truly belonged to the King. “That reminds me,” he said, “while we were trying to find all the dwarves, we also found this map and this key. I think they belong to you.”
He handed them over. Folsom stopped just outside the hidden exit to look at them. “How did you get these?” he asked. “This is a map of my family’s dam. If the key goes with it, the key belongs to my family.”
“We took them from the body of a dwarf in the fire caves,” said Button. “Didn’t Chino tell you about it? He thought it was your father.”
“To have this key it must have been,” said Folsom. “But my father was lost at Khatchi-Dami, taken prisoner there by our enemies, and never seen again. We thought he most likely was dead, though we still hoped, and expected we would never know for certain. But to find his body, and to find it here….”
“We built him a cairn and gave him a wake,” said Button. “Chino did everything he could to pay respects.”
“I’m sure he did,” said Folsom. “But I need to see this for myself.” He called all the other dwarves around and formed them up to go back through the door and into the hillside. Somehow none of them argued.
“King Folsom,” said Button. “We have been lost in the grip of the elves for so long. Must you take us back inside?”
“I must,” said the King. “You don’t have to come along. You can wait for us here. We will return again. But I must see the last remains of my father.”
Button appreciated the thought, but he wasn’t about to wait out here while all the dwarves trooped back into the elven tunnels he had worked so hard to get them out of. He took up the rear with Quentin, but he followed nevertheless.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked the young hydrologist. “Waban didn’t mean anything to you.”
“No,” said Quentin. “But Folsom is the King. When he says follow, we follow. Or what are we? Not dwarves.”
“I’m not a dwarf,” said Button. “And I’m worried.”
“Well, of course you’re worried,” said Quentin. “I’m worried. I can’t imagine how worried Chino must be right now. None of us want to be recaptured by the elves. But he is the King.”
There was still sunlight in the cavern with the river and the dam, but once they got back into the main tunnels of the elves it was dark, dark, dark, and Button couldn’t help worrying about the natural advantage any elves they stumbled upon would have from their strong senses of smell. But it didn’t bother the dwarves, and Robben, in the lead, took them quickly to the entrance of the fire caves. The once-harrowing light of the fire caves was almost a relief after the darkness of the elven settlement, but Button still remembered the shadowy figure who had fought off Pendleton and his allies, and fretted over encountering it again.
They made it to Waban’s cairn, where Chino and Robben carefully removed the top layers of stones so that Folsom could view the body. “That is my father,” said the King. “How he came to be here I cannot guess. But he is truly lost to us.”
The King cried, then, quietly, over the body of his father. The others left him to it, awkwardly, shuffling about, thinking to start conversations with each other and then thinking better of it. None of them wanted to watch the King; none of them wanted to attract anyone else’s attention.
Folsom eventually looked up, bereft. “What can we do for him?” he asked. “Can we take him out of here with us?”
“I don’t see how,” said Robben. “I’m sorry.”
“We held a little memorial for him,” said Chino. “After we built the cairn.”
“Was everyone there?” said Folsom.
“Just me and Button,” said Chino. “And Quentin, at the end.”
“Then you and Button and Quentin can stay,” said Folsom. “Everyone else, go away, find something else to do for a while.”
Most of the other dwarves left in a pack to get out of earshot, at least. But Attica and Alcatraz stayed. “Sire,” said Attica. “We were still imprisoned during the previous memorial. May we stay?”
“Neither of you knew my father,” said Folsom.
“We still wish to be present at this historic occasion,” said Alcatraz.
To this point Folsom had just been sad, but his head came up and his eyes sparked at that. “This isn’t a historic occasion for me,” he said. “This is my family.”
“Of course,” said Alcatraz. “But others will see it that way.”
“And you want them to see you as part of it?” said Folsom angrily. “No. You’re only here for your own political advantage. Go with the others.”
“Not for my advantage,” said Alcatraz, “but for the benefit of the Cause.”
“The Cause can perish in dragon-fire,” said Folsom. “Get out. Lie about it later if it suits you to do so. But this moment is not for you.”
“Yes, Sire,” said Attica, and the two of them withdrew, leaving the King alone with Button, Quentin, and Chino.
None of them wanted to speak. Quentin looked distinctly uncomfortable with the whole situation, and Button couldn’t blame him. The two of them hadn’t been there for Prince Waban in the first place, but for Chino. Now they were supposed to be there for Folsom, but neither of them had any idea how. They had to wait for one of the others to give them a clue.
It was Chino who spoke, at last. “What is it you want from us here?”
“I don’t know,” said Folsom. “To make it all right, somehow.”
“It’s not all right,” said Chino.
“Of course not,” said Folsom. “I guess, then, to make it possible to go on even though it’s not all right.”
“You have responsibilities to the living,” said Chino. “You have to go on.”
“I’ve never felt that as strongly as I do now,” said Folsom. “For eighteen years they’ve called me King, but in my own mind I was never the king. I was always waiting for the day when my father would return and take back the title that was rightfully his.”
“And the responsibility that was rightfully his,” said Chino.
“It weighs on me now,” said Folsom. “It never weighed on me before. I could do what I wanted, and it didn’t matter, because someday my father would return, and he would know how to do what was right. I’ve never known how to do what was right, not the way my grandfather did.”
“And because your father was missing, but not dead, you’ve never had to learn,” said Chino.
“Is that where I am now?” asked Folsom plaintively.
“I think it is,” said Chino. “It’s time for you to truly be the king, because there’s no one coming to take it away from you.”
“I shouldn’t have come here,” said Folsom. “We were free. We could have just walked out into the woods and never seen these elves again, at least until it came time to seek revenge. I led everyone back here for my own selfish purposes.”
“If you came here to learn that, perhaps it was worthwhile,” said Chino. “You’ve been our King and we have followed you. All your life you’ve been in charge wherever you went. But what you just said is the first time I’ve even heard you think like someone who wants to be a leader.”
“And it’s that I’ve made a mistake,” said Folsom. “One that may get us all imprisoned again, or killed.”
“We’re free now,” said Chino. “And we may yet find our way out of here again.”
“We should go, then,” said Folsom. “Robben’s right. We can’t take my father’s body with us. We’ll have to leave it here.” His voice was pained at that, but resigned.
“The needs of the living require it,” said Chino.
“Very well,” said the King. “We’ll return to the elven dam and learn just how large my mistake has been.” He stood up.
“I think there’s enough time to put the rocks back,” said Quentin. Folsom gave him a grateful look and took a few deep breaths to control himself. He and Chino and Quentin carefully rebuilt Prince Waban’s cairn, and by the end of it the King was less resigned to his duty and more ready to lead his dwarves into peril again. This time because they needed him to.
They passed through the botanical garden on the way back to the dam, because it was open to the sunlight and they could see there. Plus, the elves were probably avoiding it because it stank. The smell was familiar to Button: it was the huge cacophony of scents they had produced by melting all of the wax blocks at once. How it had ended up here he wasn’t sure.
They passed through the High Elf garden and it had changed dramatically in ways beyond scent. The high wooden paths and rope bridges were still there, but the golden leaves of the trees were turning black, and the formerly-straight branches were beginning to droop. A place that had once been startlingly beautiful was becoming more of a wasteland.
Button didn’t understand it, but Quentin explained. “We did it,” said Quentin. “I suppose I did it, really, when I sent the scented water off into an intake without knowing where it went. The wax, and oil, and whatever’s in the scents themselves, none of that was ever supposed to come here. But we put it into the irrigation system and now it’s killing the trees.”
“Will they be able to recover?” Button asked.
“How should I know?” said Quentin. “I don’t know anything about trees.”
“Don’t you feel bad about it?” said Button.
“I guess?” said Quentin. “Not a lot. These elves are trying to kill us.”
“The trees aren’t.”
“They’re all part of the same thing,” said Quentin. “Anyway we can’t do anything about it now. Except get out of here before we have to break anything else.”
Button couldn’t argue with that, and it heartened him a bit when they plunged back into the dark on their way to the dam. Only a few more minutes of the elves not catching them, and he could stop worrying about this place forever. He’d gotten used to thinking about it all the time, but nevertheless he would be glad to have an opportunity to do something else. If only the cavern of the dam wasn’t full of elves when they got there.
And it wasn’t full of elves. There was only one elf: Branyeso, there presumably to do his part in Massei’s grand escape plan. The dwarves could have stormed right past Branyeso himself, but he was operating the control that closed the spillway gate.
“Why is he doing that?” said Dannemora.
“Massei told him to,” said Button. “She was supposed to switch to auxiliary power, and he was supposed to shut down the dam by opening the spillway.”
“Can’t he tell that it’s already open?” said Joliet.
“Or that Massei didn’t manage to switch to emergency power?” said Angola.
“He was always more interested in following orders than thinking about them,” said Button. “She kept being mad about it.”
“We left the outer door open,” said Leavenworth. “If he closes the gate and water goes through the turbine chambers again, it will wreck everything.”
“What do you mean wreck everything?” said Alcatraz.
“The turbines, the exit,” said Leavenworth. “Maybe the dam itself, I don’t know. They weren’t made for water to go through when the access door is open. The pressure will be all wrong.”
They weren’t close enough to prevent Branyeso from finishing the job. Alcatraz yelled “stop, you idiot!” but it didn’t make any difference. He finished closing the gate before the dwarves could get to him. If anything happened inside the dam because of it, it wasn’t dramatic from the outside. Button had imagined the whole thing cracking, but it just stood there, no more effective than before.
Leavenworth was listening closely and he felt otherwise. “That’s a turbine buckling,” he said with a wince. “Some structural damage with it.” Water started coming out of the power-plant-outlets, but not as strong as it had when the generator was running. It gradually slowed to a trickle. “Definitely structural damage,” said Leavenworth. “We’re not getting out that way.”
“And the elves are never going to be able to use this dam again,” said Dannemora. “We thought they were mad at us before.”
“What’s worse than execution?” said Bastille.
“Being forced to try to repair this thing,” said Leavenworth.
Though they hadn’t been able to reach Branyeso in time to stop him, Alcatraz had kept going even after the dam was compromised. He reached the elf and started screaming at him. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Branyeso was stunned by the unexpected sight of a screaming dwarf in front of him. “Following the plan.”
“A woman’s plan!” said Alcatraz. “And you followed it without a single thought of your own. Couldn’t you see the spillway was open? The dam was already shut down!”
“I just did what Massei told me to,” said Branyeso.
“And a lot of good it did you! And us! The exit was open, now none of us will ever get out that way. You’re a pathetic excuse for a man.”
“I don’t need to hear that from a dwarf,” said Branyeso.
“What are you going to do?” said Alcatraz. “Fight me? Oh, no, your kind don’t fight at all. You just simper your way up to your women and do whatever they tell you to. You’re disgusting.”
“Obedience makes us strong,” said Branyeso.
“Dominance makes us strong,” said Alcatraz. “That’s what strong means.”
“You say that, but you have no leadership. Look at you.”
“You think we have no leadership because we have no women?”
“Of course. I’m not the one who’s pathetic. You’re pathetic.”
“We don’t need women to lead us,” said Alcatraz. “And when we have them, we will dominate them. That is the proper way of things.”
“Not here,” said Branyeso.
“No one in his right mind would be here if he didn’t have to,” said Alcatraz. “We don’t want to be here! You don’t even want to be here! But you’ve ruined our only possible escape.”
“I thought I was helping,” said Branyeso.
“Because you’re a fool,” said Alcatraz. “Because you don’t have the strength of character to decide anything for yourself. Because you’re a toady to a female.”
“I love her,” said Branyeso.
“You don’t even know what love is,” said Alcatraz. “If you loved her you would be the one doing the thinking, like a proper man.”
“I don’t know why I’m listening to a dwarf,” said Branyeso.
“Because you know you’re wrong,” said Alcatraz.
The other dwarves had come up behind the Patriarch by then, and Branyeso seemed to realize what a dangerous physical situation he was in. One dwarf could have beaten him in a fight, but he was so thrown off by the disaster he had caused, to the dam and to his plan, that he was willing to stand up to one dwarf. Thirteen was a different story. He turned and fled back into the darkness of the elven tunnels, which now would stay dark until they could light them with torches.
Newgate moved to follow him, but Alcatraz held him back. “He doesn’t matter,” said Alcatraz. “The best punishment for that elf is continuing to live the life he knows. We need to find a new way out of here.”
“Upstream?” said Folsom. “Downstream?” He looked at Quentin.
“Upstream is too far for any of you to swim,” said the young hydrologist. “And downstream past the intakes it just dives into a dark hole. Who knows where it comes out or if we’d be able to breathe on the way there.”
“Back to the elves, then,” said Folsom. “Maybe we can force our way out their front door in the dark.”
But before they got far into the dark tunnels, they encountered the army of the Queen and had to turn back before they were discovered. They were cut off from escape that way, and the army was slowly marching their way, seeking vengeance against the destroyers of the dam, or perhaps just to learn if it could be repaired and power restored. They retreated into the cavern of the river, where Quentin had more bad news.
“The water level is building up above the dam,” he said. “It won’t be safe here for very long.”
“Can we reopen the spillway?” Dannemora asked.
“I don’t think so,” said Angola. “Whatever that elf did, it doesn’t look like the mechanism will work again.”
“This dam is going to break or be overtopped before long,” said Quentin.
“So we have to face the army?” said Folsom.
“Unless you have any better ideas,” said Dannemora.
“At least we can wait for them and do it in the light,” said the King.
Chapter 15 of 40 Days in an Elvish Prison is the finale.
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