Chapter 9 of 40 Days in an Elvish Prison (read Chapter 1)
by Anta Baku
Button was surprised to find three dwarves when he returned to the fire caves. There were still five cells they needed to keep filled during the day to prevent the elves from noticing anything was going on, and only seven dwarves. But here were Leavenworth, Angola, and Newgate, none of whom were showing any sign they were preparing to leave.
“You can climb into a cell if you want to,” said Newgate when Button brought it up. “Pretend to be a dwarf. I’m not doing it again.”
“I don’t think I would make a very convincing dwarf,” said Button.
“We could find you a fake beard,” said Leavenworth.
“It will be fine,” said Newgate. “Don’t worry so much.”
Button wasn’t going to stop worrying, but he could see that argument wasn’t going to get him anywhere. If Newgate was determined not to go back into a cell, Button certainly wasn’t capable of forcing him. And it was getting well into the morning, too late for dwarves to be sneaking about the elven tunnels. They would just have to risk it.
“And why are you here?” he asked Angola.
“I asked him to be,” said Leavenworth. “I needed somebody to talk to. And the others are always obsessing about women and why they don’t have any.”
“Nothing wrong with that,” said Newgate.
“You’re the worst,” said Leavenworth. “No one asked you to come along.”
“You can’t tell me this moment wouldn’t be better if we had some sexy ladies,” said Newgate.
“See what I mean?” said Leavenworth to Button. “All these fantasies are obnoxious.” Newgate gave him a rude gesture.
“And you find Angola more comfortable?” asked Button.
“We can talk to each other,” said Leavenworth.
“I’ve been filling him in on what’s been happening,” said Angola.
“In the moments when Newgate will shut up,” said Leavenworth. “I was hoping it would just be the two of us. Not that I mind you, really,” he said to Button. “But I don’t know, I guess I feel something of a kinship with Angola. It’s a relief not having to hear about how much he wants a wife.”
“I don’t want a wife,” said Newgate. “I just want a bunch of girlfriends.”
“Have you considered letting the adults talk?” said Leavenworth.
“You’re no older than I am,” said Newgate.
“Just smarter,” said Leavenworth. “You’re going to end up like all the others, single and bitter about it.”
“And you’ll be lonely and depressed like your idol Angola,” said Newgate.
“At least I’ll be able to talk about real things,” said Leavenworth.
“You don’t want to be like me,” said Angola. “That’s a real thing. Nobody should want to be like me. Just because I’ve given up on having a wife doesn’t mean you should. You deserve to have a wife. You all deserve to have wives. That’s why we’re doing this. So you young ones can have wives.”
“The other old dwarves are doing it for themselves,” said Leavenworth.
“All right, that’s why I’m doing this,” said Angola. “It’s supposed to be so you don’t end up like me. You don’t want to end up like me.”
“What if I don’t want a wife?” said Leavenworth. “Or a bunch of girlfriends like this muttonhead? What if I just want women to leave me alone? I’ve had enough of them trying to run my life. I don’t need to go looking for more.”
Angola didn’t seem to have an answer for that, and Newgate was clearly just looking for another rude response. Button snuck in a question before he could get to it. “How did they try to run your life?” he asked. Maybe if he could keep Leavenworth talking the other two would relax.
It wasn’t just one way. Leavenworth’s whole life had been run by women. His father and his uncles were western dwarves who got caught up in the idea of retaking Khatchi-Dami and signed on to follow King York on the mission to retake it. None of them returned. From the time he was five years old it was his mother and his aunts, and they had plans for young Leavenworth whether he liked them or not. He was going to be a doctor, and he was going to be a doctor just as soon as it was possible for a dwarf to learn medicine.
As a teenager that meant training to be an emergency medic. Leavenworth didn’t particularly want to, but he went along anyway. His aunts had been effective at preventing him from developing any other interests. And being a young medic turned out to give him a certain amount of social prestige, not to mention an excuse for regularly spending time away from his female relatives.
The more time Leavenworth spent with other dwarves, the more he resented the power his aunts had over him. His medical studies required intellectual development, and his job as an emergency medic put him into contact with a wide variety of people. Between the two he got a sense of just how much of the world his relatives were trying to keep him from. One day he complained about it to a patient, which was unprofessional, but Leavenworth no longer cared.
The old dwarf he was treating was more sympathetic than Leavenworth had expected. He told the young medic about a group of dwarves who wanted to prevent women from having that sort of power over anyone. It was appealing. Leavenworth agreed to meet them. When he learned the group was led by the heir of the eastern king his relatives hated for leading their men to Khatchi-Dami, that was extra spice. What better way to infuriate his aunts than rebelling against them with the help of their greatest enemy?
These new dwarves were happy to have a medic, but also sympathetic to his desire not to become a doctor. They helped him get away from the control of his aunts, and helped him change his educational path to something which suited him better.
“And so he ended up here,” said Newgate. “Good story, can we be done with it now? Let’s go do something.”
“What is there to do?” said Leavenworth.
“We could go look at this corpse that the old men found,” said Newgate. “I didn’t get a chance to see it yesterday. You studied medicine, maybe you can do something about it.”
“I’m a medic, not a necromancer,” said Leavenworth.
“Come on,” said Newgate. “Angola can lead us there. And anything is better than sitting around telling sad-sack stories.”
Leavenworth let himself be persuaded, and eventually so did Angola. Button tagged along with them. He didn’t particularly want to investigate the dead dwarf, but he didn’t want to be left alone in the fire caves, either, even in the part that had become familiar. Angola warned them that they wouldn’t be able to get access to the body, but Newgate thought otherwise.
“Just because the old men couldn’t get there doesn’t mean we can’t,” he said. “They didn’t even take Quentin. A bunch of creaky old dwarves are no match for you and me, Lev.”
“Don’t call me Lev,” said Leavenworth.
“Sure, Lev,” said Newgate. “Whatever you say, Lev.”
“We should leave two corpses in the fire caves,” said Leavenworth. “It would improve the place.”
“Empty threats,” said Newgate. “You know you can’t fight me.”
They crossed the bridge, which occupied the minds of the two young dwarves enough to pause their sniping at each other. Button pointed out the site of the wizards’ battle as they passed, and Newgate crassly brought up the subject of female elves again, but found that nobody wanted to hear it.
The dwarf’s body was on a ledge across a small fissure, and Button could see why the older dwarves had concluded there was no access to it. Even someone athletic enough to jump the chasm would have to end up higher on the other side to stay on the ledge. They were close enough to see that it had been a dwarf, but not much else.
“His helmet is a style that went out of fashion not long after the Khatchi-Dami expedition,” said Angola. “I think people didn’t want to be reminded of it. So he’s been here a long time, or else he was separated from dwarven society for a long time before he came here.”
“I think I can make it over there,” said Newgate.
“It’s too far,” said Angola. “Besides, what’s the point?”
“The point is, I can do it,” said Newgate. “I want to see him up close. Maybe we can figure out who he is.”
“If you get lost in the chasm there’s not much we can do about it,” said Button.
“I’m not going to get lost in the chasm,” said Newgate. “I can make that jump. It’s not even that far.”
And he was right, somewhat to Button’s surprise. He made it with room to spare, and the first thing he did from the other side was tease Leavenworth into trying the jump himself. Leavenworth couldn’t jump quite as far, and Newgate had to help him up onto the ledge, but in the end both young dwarves were safely on the other side.
Angola sensibly refused to attempt it himself, and Button certainly wasn’t going to. Newgate offered to come back and pitch the carroll over the chasm, but fortunately wasn’t so attached to the idea he wouldn’t let Button demur. He was more interested in investigating the corpse.
“He’s been dead for a long time,” said Leavenworth. “Too long for me to know what killed him. The skeleton is still intact, though; there must not be any large scavengers down here.”
“There’s still some flesh on him even,” said Newgate. “But it’s as dry as Leavenworth’s girlfriend.”
“I don’t have a girlfriend,” said Leavenworth.
“Even worse, then,” said Newgate.
“I don’t want a girlfriend,” Leavenworth said. “Can’t you think about anything else? We’ve got a dead dwarf in front of us.”
“We should get him over to the other side,” said Newgate.
“If he’s an old dwarf, maybe the other old dwarves will be able to tell us something about him,” said Newgate. “If we get him where they can see.”
“So, what, you just want to pitch him over the chasm?”
“You got a better idea? It’s down from here. If we work together we can do it.”
“He’s going to fall apart on the way over,” said Leavenworth.
“Nah, there’s enough clothes and skin here to hold him together,” said Newgate. “Take the helmet off, though, it’s heavy.” He took it off himself, and tossed it over the chasm straight at Button, who had to dodge. “That had plenty of distance,” said Newgate. “See?”
“Oh, all right,” said Leavenworth. “Pick him up and count it off.”
So they each took a side of the body, swung it back and forth, and on the count of five heaved it over the chasm. It crashed down on the other side in remarkably-good order. Button and Angola had hastily moved away when the young dwarves started their throw, but it turned out they didn’t need as much distance as they had taken. Newgate and Leavenworth jumped back easily with the downward angle to help them, and asked Angola what he could tell from the corpse, but the old dwarf didn’t have much to offer.
“We could look in his pockets,” said Newgate.
“Now you want to rob him?” said Leavenworth.
“Just to find out who he is,” said Newgate. “Unless you’d like to go back to whining about your life some more.” He searched the clothes on the corpse, and came up with an ornate metal key and a piece of parchment.
“What is it?” said Leavenworth.
“It’s a key,” said Newgate.
“I can see it’s a key,” said Leavenworth. “I mean what’s on the parchment?”
Newgate unfolded it. “Looks like some sort of map,” he said. “I’m not sure to what.” The others all peered at it but they couldn’t make any sense of it either. There was writing, but it was in runes none of them recognized. There was something Button thought might have been a lake, but the others disagreed. Newgate stuffed it into his own pocket with the key.
“Can we go back now?” asked Button. “I’m worried that something awful is going to catch us here.”
“Like what?” said Leavenworth. “There aren’t any scavengers.”
“There might be worse things,” said Button. “You didn’t see the thing the wizards were fighting. I don’t want to meet that or anything like it.”
“All right,” said Leavenworth. “We can go back to the entrance.”
“And you can go back to telling boring stories, I suppose,” said Newgate.
Leavenworth hadn’t intended to tell Button any more about his past life, but annoying Newgate was an extra benefit he couldn’t resist. He couldn’t resist saying so, either, which got him another obscene gesture.
In his first year of medical school, before he met the eastern dwarves, Leavenworth had started to expand his horizons into things he actually enjoyed. Between his studies and his job as an emergency medic, he didn’t have very much free time. But it was still more than he had had when living with his aunts. He had to maintain his standing in school and at work in order to keep them satisfied, but for the first time in his life he was able to steal an hour here and there for himself.
What drew his attention was scents. Chemistry and compounding were large parts of his medical studies, but he went beyond the basics and started thinking about what could be done to make the smells pleasant. Not much had been pleasant in Leavenworth’s life, and the smells associated with medical chemistry were no exception. But he saw that there was more to the science than simple function, and wanted to explore that aspect of things. He studied on his own when he could steal the time, found moments when he could use the school’s labs for his own purposes, and hunted down books which clearly hadn’t been checked out of the medical-school library in decades.
He made good progress, but eventually ran into the limitations of self-study and found himself needing to seek guidance from those with existing knowledge of perfumery. He had produced a few solid demonstration scents, and he carefully wrote up a summary of the state of his knowledge. It should have been enough to secure him a position. How he would explain to his mother and his aunts a change from medical student to perfumery student he didn’t know. But he applied anyway.
And he was turned down. “Not appropriate for the intense group dynamic of the program” was the reasoning, an excuse he didn’t understand at first. They hadn’t even given him an interview; how could they draw such a conclusion? The administrators refused his requests for further explanation, but Leavenworth needed to understand, so he investigated on his own. He sought out dwarves who had been accepted, and found several young women who were preparing for the beginnings of perfumery careers. Some were more qualified than Leavenworth, and some obviously less.
One finally took pity on him and explained. Perfumery wasn’t considered a proper profession for a male dwarf. Of course there could be exceptions. This wasn’t the east. They were a modern dwarven society. No one was going to prevent a male dwarf from learning perfumery if he really wanted to. But this program, well, this program naturally couldn’t accept any men for study. It was designed to create a cohesive group of women, and having any men there would make that impossible. They had to be free of male attention in order to concentrate on the work.
Leavenworth didn’t want to date them, he just wanted to learn how to make perfume. But no one was interested in believing him. The administrators wouldn’t meet him in person, and returned his pleading letters unread. Eventually he gave up and went back to his medical classes, where his grades had begun to slip while his attention was elsewhere. He had to bring them back up or his aunts would be furious. With no other options, he slipped back into needing their approval. And stayed there, frustrated, for two more years before he met the eastern dwarves and finally had an opportunity to escape.
“They didn’t help you become a perfumer, though,” said Button.
“They didn’t need a perfumer,” said Leavenworth. “And by that time I was willing to take any escape. They had a list of jobs they needed, and turbine engineer looked like it might be all right. They put me through a high-speed training program. I don’t love turbines like I loved scents, but I do like it a lot better than being a doctor.”
“And you like not being dependent on your aunts,” said Button.
“They disowned me when I joined the eastern dwarves,” said Leavenworth. “That was the best day of my life.”
“Do you think you’ll ever be able to get back to learning perfumery?” asked Button.
“Not a chance,” said Angola. “The Patriarch would never let a male dwarf make perfume. He’ll say that’s a practice of the decadent west.”
“Maybe I can do it as a hobby,” said Leavenworth. “Turbine engineers can have hobbies. Or maybe I’ll find something else, though it seems a waste not to do something with this sensitive nose.”
“That must be difficult,” said Button. “I can’t imagine what we all must smell like to you by now.”
“You don’t smell like anything,” said Leavenworth.
“What?” said Button.
“Didn’t you know? I noticed when you came here to meet us. We all smell like direly-unwashed dwarf, but you don’t smell like anything at all. It’s like you’re not even there.”
“Huh,” said Button. “It must be a carroll thing.”
“You definitely smelled like something when we met you at your home,” said Leavenworth. “No offense,” he added after a moment.
Button supposed that explained why he had such an easy time hiding from the scent-sensitive elves, but why it was happening was a mystery. Still, trying to figure it out might inadvertently break the effect. He just had to hope it held up until they were out of here.
They slept, then, and when they awoke, Button, Leavenworth, and Angola set out to release the four dwarves who had spent the day in cells. Newgate refused to go along, saying he would rather stay in the fire caves. Button still worried that the absence of a fifth dwarf would lead to discovery, and he only breathed easier once they had all four of the older dwarves with them again.
Dannemora wanted to investigate the carroll garden for another prison cell, reasoning that every other section of the gardens had contained one. He was even willing to do it without Newgate, if the recalcitrant young dwarf wasn’t interested in helping. But the other dwarves insisted on bringing them all together, so they ended up trekking back to the fire caves to reunite with Newgate. Once they were there, he distracted them by showing them the map and key he had acquired from the mysterious corpse.
Chino and Robben both recognized it, and Chino’s reaction was particularly strong. “We couldn’t figure out what the map is for,” said Newgate. “Or how to read any of the runes.”
Robben took it from him. “It would help if you weren’t trying to read it upside-down,” he said. “It’s a map of our dam, see? And there’s the lake above it.”
“I thought it was a lake,” said Button.
“It looks like it’s a map to a hidden entrance,” said Dannemora. “But I don’t remember ever seeing a map like this before.”
“I have,” said Chino, but didn’t go on.
“I have, too,” said Robben. “These were secret maps held by the royal family, in case of emergency. The dam was full of hidden doors, known only to few, and every door had a different set of people who knew where it was and how to open it. I don’t think anyone but the King and the Prince knew about all of them.”
“So is this one you knew about?” asked Angola.
“I don’t think so,” said Robben. “We reviewed everything we remembered before leaving on this mission, and this looks new to me. What do you think, Chino?”
He handed the map to the carpenter, who folded it up. “It’s not what’s on the map that’s important right now,” he said. His voice was oddly weak. “It’s who might have been carrying it.”
“I was wondering how a map of our dam might have come to this place,” said Dannemora.
“We need to get a look at that body,” said Robben.
“What are you expecting to find?” asked Angola.
“Wait until we’ve seen it,” said Robben. Chino was silent, but his breathing was ragged and he had a tendency to keep his eyes closed for seconds at a time.
The whole group trekked back to where Newgate and Leavenworth had left the body. It was still there, to Button’s relief. On the way he had convinced himself that it would most likely have disappeared. That just seemed to be the way things were happening. But there was still a dead dwarf lying face-down next to the small ravine, with his helmet nearby where Newgate had tossed it.
Chino knelt next to it with his eyes closed, and said nothing. Robben gently turned the body over to be sure, but he already knew what he would find. “It’s Prince Waban,” he said. “How he came here from Khatchi-Dami I cannot guess.”
The other eastern dwarves bowed for a moment of silence, even Newgate. Quentin, Angola and Leavenworth just looked around at each other, and at Button, none of them knowing what to do or say.
“We have to do something with the body,” said Chino with weakness in his voice.
“We don’t have time for a royal burial,” said Dannemora.
“He’s right,” said Robben. “This is another reason we need to find the others and get out of here.”
“Whatever killed him might be waiting for us,” said Angola.
“Maybe we can send someone back,” said Joliet. “After we’ve retaken the dam.” In their current situation that was a preposterous suggestion, but maybe he found the idea comforting nevertheless.
It didn’t seem to mollify Chino, but he reluctantly let himself be pulled away from the body of the Prince. The whole company was silent on the way back to the elven settlement, even Newgate suppressing his normal jocularity. No one wanted to talk about it. They just wanted to get back to searching the carroll garden for another imprisoned dwarf.
It was lucky Quentin and Newgate were suppressed, and not roaming incautiously at the front of the group as they had been on the previous night. Rather than dashing heedlessly into the human garden on their way, the mournful dwarves were slower and more attentive, and noticed the activity ahead of them in time to avoid being seen. They sent Button to investigate.
There were elves there, surprisingly-many elves for this late at night, and they were draining the pond. They had a different method than Quentin’s, one Button couldn’t make out, though some of the elves had discovered the new pipeline the dwarves had built and were digging it out. Others were at the bottom of the pond checking the cell that had originally held Angola. Button assumed they were finding it empty.
He snuck back to the dwarves to report. “This is a disaster,” said Robben. “They know we’re missing now.”
“At least they know Angola is missing,” said Joliet.
“Do you think they would be here in the middle of the night if this was the first cell they noticed?” said Robben. “They’re probably checking them all.”
“And they’ve seen the work we did to drain the pond,” said Button. “They have to know Angola didn’t escape by himself.”
“We need to get away from here,” said Robben. “They’ll be searching for us. We’re lucky to have gotten this far without being caught.”
“Back to the fire caves?” said Joliet.
“If we get trapped in the fire caves we might never get out,” said Robben. “And we still need to find the others.”
“While the elves are chasing us?” said Angola.
“If we have to,” said Robben. “I’m not leaving the King a prisoner here. Especially after we found out what happened to his father.” He organized them into a more-ordered group meant to move quickly, avoid detection, and respond to it with force if it became necessary. Quentin and Newgate stayed in the front, but Robben insisted they be more serious than before. He himself took up the rear-guard, complaining under his breath that they still had no weapons.
They had to abandon the idea of the carroll gardens, at least for the moment. Instead they went where elves weren’t, reacting to the presence of search parties and losing themselves ever deeper in the tunnels. They let the elves tell them to go, where they weren’t interested in searching. As they went the tunnels became noticeably less maintained, but strangely, more technically sophisticated. The electricity was off down here more often than it was on, but it had originally been built to do more things than in the main tunnels. They had to force open doors with broken-down electrical openers, not the water-based devices they had used before. Perhaps a quarter of the lights down here still worked, but even so they provided more illumination than the dimly-lit halls the elves still lived in.
They finally entered a large chamber and the deterioration became even stranger. This was clearly a place for elves to hold luxurious feasts, or at least it had been designed so. But it seemed to have been abandoned for decades.
“I don’t understand,” said Button. “Where are we?”
“The work it must have taken to build this place,” marveled Angola. “Why would they abandon it?”
“You could throw an axe for miles in here,” said Newgate.
“Even you can’t throw an axe for miles,” said Leavenworth.
“On this field I would be willing to try,” said Newgate.
The central field in the chamber didn’t really extend for miles, but Button could see why Newgate felt that way. Even the largest bowling lawns in Merryland weren’t as large as this one. A feast here could have held thousands of elves, and that was only on the central field. Surrounding it were tiers of seating and open boxes that could be used for all sorts of activities. And behind those were service corridors, kitchens, and bathrooms.
All of this had been electrified, once. Little of it was now. A few lights still functioned, but the kitchen devices had been shut off, and many of them removed entirely. Doors had to be shoved open and shut. Fancy light fixtures that might once have conveyed information to the elves in attendance now were shattered and silent.
“Why would they let this place go to waste?” Button asked.
“Chino can explain it,” said Robben.
“I don’t want to,” said the old carpenter.
“You need to talk about something else,” said Robben. “Think about something else. Tell them about the electricity.”
“All right,” said Chino reluctantly.
The dwarves and the wood-elves had once been friends, or at least friendly. No sorts of elves liked to work with electricity, but once upon a time they were willing to pay dwarves to do it for them. About the time Chino had been born, some eastern dwarves had come to the elven-halls to build a small hydroelectric dam and provide the wood-elves with the ability to light their homes.
Once they got a taste of power, the elves grew greedy for it. There were always more things they wanted, more devices they found a use for. Soon their electrical demand grew beyond the capacity of the little dam the dwarves had built for them, and they wanted more. They approached the King Under the Watershed. “Send us more dwarves,” they said. “Build us more generators.”
But King York’s policy had changed in the intervening years. His subjects had discovered new, more powerful means of transmitting electricity across great distances. And the King wanted to expand his own dam and his own domains. So he made a new and different deal with the wood elves: rather than paying one large construction fee for a new dam of their own, pay a smaller fee every year for electricity itself, generated by the dwarves at their megadam at the bottom of the new long lake and transmitted by wire to the elven halls.
This brought new riches to the King and more power to the elves, power that was easier to use than ever before. They found new ways to integrate electricity into their society, and expanded into new tunnels where everything they built relied upon it. If they ran out of capacity, they sent a messenger to the King, and soon dwarves would lay a new, larger transmission wire to get the new, larger annual payments from the wood-elves.
It worked well for everyone, until the Muskellunge came and the dam stopped producing electricity altogether. The surviving dwarves fled into the wilderness, and the elves were left without any recourse. They had kept their original small power plant running, which was enough to keep the older tunnels dimly lit and maintain limited power to the kitchens. But none of the new construction was functional without electricity from the dwarves, and there were no elves with the skills to do anything about it. So they moved back into their old quarters, returned to their old ways, and hated the dwarves for it forevermore.
“Is that why they just put us in prison without talking to us?” said Leavenworth.
“Probably,” said Robben, after Chino took too long to answer. “They’ve always blamed us for losing their electricity, even though we were far more harmed than they ever were. Either they want to punish us, or they think they can use us to get their power back.”
“Or both,” said Angola.
“We could build them a new generator if we had to,” said Leavenworth. “If all of us were together.”
“And then what?” said Dannemora. “Do you think we could build them a generator and they would thank us and let us go? We’d end up being permanent slave labor to maintain the thing.”
“All of us live underground,” said Joliet. “But I don’t think any of us want to spend the rest of our lives in this underground.” Button agreed with him on that.
“So what do we do now?” asked Leavenworth.
“I think we’ve gotten away from the search parties for now,” said Robben. “We can take some time to think about our next move.”
“At least there’s no more hiding in cells,” said Newgate.
“No,” said Robben. “But there are still six missing dwarves.”
“There won’t be any finding them now,” said Angola. “Not now that the elves are on alert.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” said Joliet. “They weren’t attentive captors before. They weren’t feeding us regularly, and I don’t think they were feeding Newgate at all.”
“Damn right,” said Newgate.
“So they might look for us, but I don’t think we can assume they will do what we would do,” said Joliet. “If any of us knew half a platoon of dwarves was running around, we’d guard the other ones while we still knew where they were.”
“We’re more of a squad,” said Robben.
“Whatever,” said Joliet. “Either way, we’d make sure the dwarves we still had captive stayed that way. And if we were lucky they’d serve as bait for the ones who were loose.”
“But the elves don’t think like that,” said Dannemora. “They might check on everyone but afterward I think it’s a good bet they’ll go right back to neglecting them the way they neglected all of us.”
“So we still have a chance,” said Robben. “We just need to figure out how to take it.”
“We should wait at least a day to let them calm down,” said Angola to general agreement. “If we’re safe here, we can stay here for a while.”
“All right,” said Robben. “Settle in as best you can, but be prepared to leave quickly if we have to.”
“There has to be something here we can use,” said Dannemora. “I want to try to get power back to this place.”
“That would take a sizable power plant,” said Angola.
“Only if we wanted to do it all at once,” said Dannemora. “I wasn’t planning to invite the whole elven population to a feast.”
The twins wandered off to try to cobble together a generator from the remains of the feast field, while the others got comfortable in one of the boxes where they could see anyone coming from the inhabited tunnels, but the elves wouldn’t be able to see them. Robben set a watch. Button talked to Chino.
“We just left him lying there,” said the old dwarf sadly.
“What else could we have done?” asked Button.
“I don’t know,” said Chino. “Dannemora was right. We don’t have time for a royal burial.”
“Is there something else we could do?” asked Button. “What happens when a dwarf dies by the side of the road?” Perhaps that was a question he should have asked months ago, before setting out with these companions. But he had only thought of it now.
“We build a cairn,” said Chino. “But we can’t put a Prince in a cairn.”
“I think if it’s the best we can do, he would have to be satisfied,” said Button, who had never sworn allegiance to any sort of royalty. But even if it was wishful thinking, it had some appeal to Chino.
“Can we even get back there?” he asked.
“The elves won’t search all night every night,” said Button. “By next evening, all the elves who are looking for us tonight will be desperate for sleep. We’ll be able to move about again, at least a little bit.”
“You will, anyway,” said Chino.
“I can guide us back to the fire caves without being caught,” said Button. “And we can build a cairn for Prince Waban. And you will feel better.”
“Will I?” said Chino.
“I think so,” said Button.
So he spent the morning trying to convince the other dwarves to come along and help build a cairn for their Prince. He was surprised that none of them were interested. The western dwarves didn’t care, and the eastern dwarves had other things on their mind. Even Robben, who had worked for Prince Waban in the days before the loss of the dam, who had helped him lead the assault on Khatchi-Dami, thought it was too dangerous.
“We’ve known the Prince was dead for years,” he said. “Finding his body doesn’t change anything.”
“It does for Chino,” said Button.
“Then he needs to deal with it,” said Robben. “Take him back with you, if you need to. But the two of you should go alone. You’ll be less likely to get caught that way.”
He approached the twins last, because they were still occupied trying to repower pieces of the feast complex. They’d built a hand-cranked generator, and Joliet was furiously turning the crank while Dannemora decided what to do with it.
“What are you trying to accomplish?” Button asked them.
“We don’t know,” said Dannemora. “But there’s so much here, there has to be some opportunity. Something that can be made into a weapon, maybe. Or opening up a better hiding place.”
“So you’re just powering things at random, hoping for something good to happen?”
“Yeah,” panted Joliet. “And it’s exhausting.”
Button watched them for a while, trying to figure out how best to bring up the question of helping build Prince Waban’s cairn. The two had been friends with the Prince’s son in the old days, and close with Chino as well. But they didn’t seem to be very sympathetic people. Probably it was best to wait until they needed to take a rest. Joliet didn’t look very far from that point.
But while he was waiting, they found something. An access point connected, a brief, passionate cranking from Joliet, a door sliding open, and then a young dwarf stumbling out into the light. It was Bastille, the assistant carpenter, who the elves had for some reason imprisoned in this long-neglected place. Button reflected that they must really have been short on space.
After the dwarves welcomed him into their group, Button took Bastille aside to ask him about joining him to build the cairn. But though Bastille was Chino’s deputy, he had no interest in supporting the old dwarf. He had only been five years old when Prince Waban left them to lead the raid on Khatchi-Dami.
“No one showed up to mourn my father when we learned he would never return,” said Bastille. “I don’t see why I should be any different.”
So in the end Robben had his way, and Button and Chino had to sneak through the elven halls alone. Button had been right about the exhausted elves. They didn’t encounter any reason to worry about being caught. When they made it back to the fire caves, Button helped Chino gather stones and pile them around the body of the Prince. It was so hot here that a cairn in the fire caves might as well be a kiln, but he didn’t think Prince Waban would mind.
They were almost done with the cairn when Button heard the sound of someone approaching, and encouraged Chino to take cover. But instead of being surprised by an enemy, the approaching person turned out to be an even-more-surprising ally: Quentin.
“Did something happen?” asked Button. “Do they need us?”
“No,” said Quentin. “I just thought I should be here for this.”
“You never knew the Prince,” said Chino.
“But I know you,” said Quentin.
“This doesn’t make up for what you said,” said Chino.
“I know,” said Quentin. “This isn’t about that. Button told me it was important for me to be present.”
“So?” asked Chino.
“So I’m present.” Quentin helped them with a few of the last stones, then stood quietly and respectfully as Chino laid the final one on top of the cairn.
Chapter 10 of 40 Days in an Elvish Prison is Bastille.
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