Continuing the conversation on April 17.
"Are they shipping also from Port Annwn?" asked the King.
"Not so far as we know. Port Annwn is a small town grown large," said Shahann. "Everyone knows everyone else's business. Merchants and ship owners who would be secretive and highly competive in Silverwind, drink together. They talk.
"I'm not saying I'm sure it's not happening: only that we haven't seen it, and the culture seems not to lend itself so easily to it."
"And you've settled in ... " Dwarven intelligence concerning anything beyond sight of shore was all secondhand.
"Arachan Island. Not many folk living there: mostly fishermen and hunters who camp on the shore. We bought them out, for the greater part, if they had any dwellings. Most of them have ties to Port Annwn, it being closer; but some sailed to Silverwind."
"And the lesser part?"
"A monastery. They don't want to move." Shahann shrugged. "I'm not seeing how it'll trouble us if they stay."
The King stroked his beard and looked nonplussed. Finally he said: "I'm still not understanding why -- how -- you could pack up and leave your homeland." That last word had a resonance only a Dwarf would give it.
Tverahai leaned back in her chair. "We haven't your deep ties to earth, King under the Earth." She spoke slowly, choosing her words with care: for here lay a deep difference between their peoples. "If we have elemental affinities they are more to air and water. The enemy succeeded in slaying but few of our clan: but between their attack and our defense, there is little in the harbor left standing. If we must rebuild practically everything -- Earthfolk would insist on holding their ground. But we are the Sea-Wanderers."
"I might account a victory like that nigh enough a defeat," said the King.
"Nor would you err," said Shahann.
Afterward, when the drow had departed, the King said: "That wasn't what I was expecting."
"Well," said Vestri. "They are merchants, and fairly well-known ones. I don't think they've called at Port Annwn that I know of, lately. But they do send ships into Silverwind."
"The sea has its own customs, its own rules," said the Chief of Subtlety. "And Silverwind's a big port. Sailors getting off those ships routinely hail from places we've barely heard of: from several lands on the same ship, often enough.
"Sailing's a lonely business, when it's far between ports. When ships meet, they often heave to and visit -- including competitors. Anybody who's not a wartime enemy or pirate.
"Someone who would be a startlingly exotic visitor a few miles inland is quite unremarkable on the waterfront."
"She as good as told us she has spies in both places."
"And told us other things I did not know," said Vestri. "Clearly: they want to do business. More samples."
They looked at each other.
"The enemy of my enemy," said the King.
Halvor Hakonsson, King of the Dwarves.
Vestri Ketilsdottir, dwarven Chief of Subtlety.
Shahann Sei-Varun, Sei-Varun Chief of Intelligence.
Tverahai Sei-Varun, a naval designer working on exotic craft.
On April 17, 301.
Three days later, at a table in a chamber under the mountain, Shahann was conferring with the Low King and the Chief of Subtlety. Beside her sat her cousin Tverahai, the clan's foremost experimenter with wind and wave, who usually oversaw most of their experimental boatbuilding.
They had not come emptyhanded. First, they had brought large baskets of fish and shellfish, preserved with a spell so that they were perfectly fresh. Second, they had samples from their many ports of call in lands far from Lisianthus.
Lastly, Tverahai had brought two items of particular interest to those who sought to build air-craft.
"... and from looking at the wreckage, it seems that the cloth blew out: simply tore from the force of the winds."
"It did," said Vestri Ketilsdottir. "And it's possible the wing broke before it hit the water: we can make it much stronger only at the cost of making it overheavy."
"We can solve the strength of materials problems -- both of them." Tverahai opened the huge leather case she'd hauled in, and lifted out two things: a bolt of heavy silk. and rods of bamboo of various sizes, from the slender to the thick. She pushed both over to the Chief of Subtlety. "We have experimental gliders made of these -- I brought one, it's outside. The wood is from a plant with a curious lifecycle that grows in abundance in the east.
"The cloth, which is spun and woven of the strongest of fibers, was till recently a monopoly of a far eastern kingdom. We have managed, through various stratagems, to acquire the means of producing it."
Vestri was balancing bamboo on her fingers. "It's got to be hollow."
"That it is."
Then she unwound the bolt of silk by one turn, and raised the edge. It was unbleached and pale and shone in the lamplight. She made an 'oh' with her lips, and moved the bolt closer to the King. He eyed it skeptically first; then he raised it to the light and studied it; -- wonder shone on his face as he touched it.
"In lighter weight it makes luxury garments," said Tverahai. "But I brought wing-silk."
"Can we go see the glider?" asked Vestri. Her eyes were alight.
"Assuredly. I'm not satisfied with the fasteners."
"We can make fasteners," said Vestri. "Is that somehow woven of spider silk?"
Tverahai shook her head. "It is a very similar substance, but it is made by a different creature. One of us once wove a scarf of fine thread spun from spider-silk, as an experiment, but that is all. It is scarcely economic: the spiders would happily eat other and had to be kept in individual containers. And the great spiders that some misguidedly refuse to disturb in the Vhaerun forests are a menace. -- Our clan are not worshippers of the Spider-Daughter."
"How does that go over?" asked the King.
Shahann answered: "With the Temple of Lloth, not at all well. But the typical drow mother is no happier sacrificing her sons to the Spider-Demoness than anyone else would be: and we are successful merchants and warriors. We have long been refusing and making it stick."
"And you are come in the Northern Isles because you're afraid you won't successfully refuse -- something."
"A power in Blackmoor invaded. The Chieftess and the Warlord, and others in Vhaerun, and certain tieflings, prevailed in the conflict. Nevertheless, if we had not sailed, we should have lost many children. The harbor and our dwellings therein were effectively destroyed.
"It isn't over. You probably know that Blackmoor -- whatever its natural resources might be -- has long been occupied by people who destroy the prosperity, even the very will to live, of their underlings and peasants. It is consequently desolate.
"They must deal extensively with the shortsighted and the treasonous from other lands to feed them. There are many such in Vhaerun, which will not surprise you. But they are not enough to supply Blackmoor in time of war.
"This battle in Vhaerun was not the end. There are still numerous cargoes passing through Silverwind, whose bills of lading say they are heading for Port Annwn, or the isles, or farther away. But many of those ships never make landfall at their supposed destinations."
Vestri and the King both sat up straighter.
Halvor Hakonsson, King under the Mountain of the dwarves in Heimdall Donnar.
Shahann Sei-Varun, second daughter of Amerakhte, Spymaster of the Sei-Varun drow clan.
Vestri Ketilsdottir -- Chief of Subtlety of the dwarves.
Tverahai Sei-Varun -- daughter of Iroa son of Julaikha sister of Amerahte, a naval designer of the Sei-Varun clan.
This happened on April 14, 301. The storm mentioned is a later storm, not the one that happened during the Battle of Vhaerun Bay.
"I fear Arvid is lost, Lord of Earth," said Vestri Ketilsdottir, the Chief of Subtlety.
Such was the literal title of the dwarf in charge of secret works in the Deep Kingdom. It was unusual for a female dwarf to hold such a post. But the typical dwarf is blunt, obvious, undevious, straight-speaking and straight-thinking: that is, utterly unsuited to dealing with intelligence of the surrounding kingdoms. Contrariwise Vestri was a mistress of all things slantwise, skewed, and strange, and the Low King* was not one to waste her peculiar talent.
"What happened?" asked the King.
"A storm, Lord of Earth."
Probably Arvid had blown out over the sea, and crashed there, somewhere in the frigid water. Conceivably the wreckage of the air-craft might wash up on shore. Arvid's body certainly would not. Dwarves were much denser than other folk. With the greatest effort they could scarcely swim. They did not float.
The King grimaced and nodded slowly.
They couldn't do much with air, spell-wise. The skill of the dwarves was everything made with hands, everything that was predictable, everything whose laws they could uncover: and they did not except the air from the Maker's works they attempted to study. But the magic of the dwarves was earth-magic -- earth-magic and sometimes fire-magic; and to the magic of air and water they were specially unsuited. The recent experiments with air-machines were outside their usual ken (which was why Vestri's folk were undertaking them).
The air, unlike the earth, was a source of great unpredictability. Losses, mischances, were unavoidable.
"I will pay the weregeld to his kinf--"
But at that moment, there were footsteps and voices in the entrance to the hall. A messenger entered and bowed.
"What is it?" asked the King.
"Arvid Birgersson, King under the Earth, Subtle Chief," said the young dwarf. He betrayed no sign of weariness, though he had probably walked through a day and a night and a day and a night to bring the message: dwarves had endurance other peoples could hardly believe.
Vestri's head lifted, tilted sideways, eagerly, hopefully, full of misgiving all at once. "He's landed?"
"Well, yes. No," said the messenger overprecisely, and then blurted, "He crashed into the sea, and some drow fished him out, and they're coming here."
"... DROW? ... "
* 'Low' has no disparaging overtones in the Dwarven tongue: indeed, the King of the Dwarves is frequently referred to as 'the Low King', though perhaps 'the Deep King' might be a better translation for the Common Tongue of Men. Lowness or depth indicates skill, daring, and persistence, it being difficult and dangerous to delve far below the surface.
The King of the Dwarves -- Halvor Hakonsson.
Vestri Ketilsdottir -- the Chief of Subtlety of Heimdall Donnar.
Arvid Birgersson -- a dwarf who was flying an experimental air-craft when the storm showed up.
An unnamed dwarven messenger.
The drow are of course Khimele, Shahann, & co.
Last edited by Valiska Sei-Varun on Mon Apr 24, 2017 9:29 am; edited 1 time in total