Chronicles of the Court Rogue: The Underdark - Part One
Going to the castle had sounded all very adventurous, Wolfers thought, but after the initial flurry of excitement was over, it was pretty dull. There weren't even any kids to play with, since the other kids were older and lived here as pages, and the few others were so young they were in diapers. Wolfers would be one of the pages someday, learning to be a knight and all the cool, fun (and probably awesome) things that went with it, but that wouldn't be for another five or so years. An eternity as far as Wolfers was concerned.
When the young camouflage Zafara first learned that he was going to visit Meridell Castle, he had hoped that Uncle Mourvan would work out a way to get him admitted into the school early. He could have been the youngest knight ever! With that kind of head start, there was every chance in the world that Prince Jeran would choose him, Wolfers ap Llanfabon, to become his champion when the blue Lupe became king.
Prince Jeran, Wolfers had seen much less of the blue Lupe than the camouflage Zafara had hoped. The big ceremony that was the whole reason for Wolfers visit centered around him and Lady Mareian. Uncle Mourvan had promised that Wolfers would see a lot of him as they got closer to the ceremony, but it had been a whole day and he'd only seen the prince once.
But what an encounter that had been! Uncle Mourvan had greeted Wolfers and Grandfather, and then surprised Wolfers with his very first sword. It was wooden, Uncle Mourvan had explained, because only full knights could carry a metal one in the castle. Even better, it was sized for his young Zafara hands. While Grandfather and Uncle Mourvan talked, Wolfers tried out his new sword in the hallway. He was fighting of an army of invisible Meepits (it was really quite an epic battle) when he ran into a giant!
The “giant” was actually Jeran, who grinned when he saw the small camouflage Zafara. The blue Lupe listened intently to Wolfers apology and his explanation of the Meepit invasion.
“Well,” the giant Lupe said with a grin, “if you're going to be battling Meepits, you'll need some more equipment.”
The Lupe had taken his hand and shown Wolfers the armory. There they found a small wooden shield just the right size for a six year old Zafara cub. Then the Prince had taken Wolfers back to his grandfather and Uncle Mourvan.
“If you're going to be sending poor Wolfers against an army of invisible Meepits,” the Lupe scolded with a grin, “then you could have at least sent him against the hordes with the right equipment.”
“I gave him a sword!” Uncle Mourvan protested.
“Incorrigible, the both of you.” Grandfather grumbled, mumbling under his breath something about living vicariously. Turning to Wolfers, he demanded, “Did you thank Prince Jeran?”
It was at that moment that Wolfers decided that he was going to be Jeran's Champion. But other than that glorious short time, the rest of the day had been quite dull. Relief from his boredom showed up that night, in the form of a slightly older Uni named Anya.
“Hello, Wolfers!” the orange Uni greeted with a grin. “Having fun?”
“There's been nothing to do,” the camouflage Zafara admitted.”The grown-ups have all been busy talking about boring adult stuff and there's been no one to play with.”
“Oh.” Anya looked a big disappointed. “Maybe we can get permission to explore the castle?
“Grandfather said I couldn't wander off by myself.”
“But you won't be by yourself,” Anya pointed out. “We'll be together.”
“That's true,” Wolfers realized. Grabbing his new sword and shield, he grinned. “Let's go ask!”
With permission somewhat reluctantly given by Wolfers grandfather and granted much more enthusiastically by Anya's father, the pair set out.
“Which way do you want to go?” Anya asked as they reached a long corridor.
“Down,” Wolfers replied. “My book on the history of the castle says that it's built on the ruins of older castles that were here a long time ago. Maybe we can find some cool old stuff down there.”
“Maybe there's old coins!”
“Do you think we could spend them?” Wolfers asked.
“Money's money, isn't it?” Anya paused. “Look, there's a stairway down, let's see where that goes.”
The stairway did not lead to the underbelly of the castle, much to Wolfers disappointment. He cheered up when he realized where they did end – the castle kitchens.
“I smell sweet rolls.” Wolfers sniffed the air, suddenly starving. “Do you think they'll let us have some?” he asked Anya.
“Hello, you two,” a familiar voice chimed. “Hungry?”
“Hello Lady Mareian,” Anya chirped. 'We were just noticing that there were sweet rolls.”
The pirate colored Lupess laughed. “I bet you were.” Her hazel eyes twinkled. “You guys want one?”
“That sounds wonderful,” Wolfers said, unaware of the wistful tone creeping into his voice.
“I'll see what I can do,” Lady Mareian promised. She disappeared into the bustle of the kitchen with a flick of her black tipped tail, and quickly returned with three large, still warm from the oven, sweet rolls.
“So what are you two doing today?” Lady Mareian asked as they ate.
“'Sploring,” Wolfers mumbled. Hastily swallowing his bite, he explained, “We're trying to find the ruins under the castle.”
“Try the north-east end,” the pirate Lupess suggested, pointing in the proper direction. “I think there are some bits of the old castle there.” Finishing her roll, she continued, “Stay away from the south end, though; there are some areas where the floor will fall out from under you.”
“That's good to know ahead of time,” Anya said. “I'm not sure if I could fly Wolfers out if we fell.” Making a face she continued, “Flying straight up is hard, even if I'm not carrying anyone.”
“Do you want to come?” Wolfers offered.
“I wish I could, but I'm getting the last alterations done with my dress today.” Lady Mareian made a wry face, “Today I have many hours of standing perfectly still, or else I get poked by pins. I'd much rather go with you two.”
After lunch, Wolfers had the bright idea to start looking outside the castle, between the moat and the walls on the north-east end. This proved to be an inspired idea, when they found a window just the right size for a six year old Zafara and a seven year old Uni to wiggle though.
“Wow,”Anya breathed, “look at this place.”
There were still on plain dirt, but the stone walls of the castle arched over them. Sunlight shone in though several small windows like the one Wolfers and Anya had crawled in through. Motes sparkled as they passed though the sunbeams, bouncing the light into the shadows.
“It's pretty!” Anya squealed.
“Hey, look at this!” Wolfers held up his prize, a white chess piece knight with what looked to be ruby eyes. “Do you think the rest of the set is down here?”
The pair hunted until the setting sun made it too dark to see the lumps and bumps in the lose dirt. They were well rewarded for their efforts; they had found all but a handful of the pieces.
“We'll come back tomorrow,” Anya decided. “There has to be more pieces here.”
Wolfers nodded in agreement. The only white piece missing was the king, and the black set was only short by pawns. The pawns would be pretty easy to replace, but the missing king had to match the black king, which was exquisitely covered in silver and jewels.
“How about we meet here tomorrow morning?” Wolfers suggested. “That way we'll have until lunch, and a lot more light.” Anya agreed, and the pair split what chess pieces they had between them – Anya taking the black pieces and Wolfers claiming the white.
That night after dinner, the camouflage Zafara couldn't sleep. He was convinced he'd been just minutes away from finding the white king. If only there had been more light! The Zafara paused, looking at the lamp on the table beside his bed. Light. Light he could take anywhere! It wasn't like he was getting any sleep as it was. He was too worked up over his missing king piece. Slipping on his sturdiest clothes, Wolfers then strapped on his new sword and shield. The camouflage Zafara then grabbed the lamp, and headed out of his room, towards the outside of the castle.
The castle at night was rather disorienting, Wolfers realized. He couldn't remember which was the window he and Anya had crawled though before, and when the Zafara chose one at random, he realized that he had not chosen the right one. Still, it looked very similar, and the small Zafara was pretty sure he could find his way over to where they had found the chess pieces earlier. Feeling though the dirt, Wolfers fingers closed on something hard and smooth. Dusting it off and holding it up to the light, it was revealed to be a small black pawn. Wolfers grinned; he was on the right trail. Wolfers searched for what seemed like an eternity without finding anything else.
He was about to concede defeat and go back to bed, when he found another ebony pawn buried deep in the sand-like dirt. All sleepiness was forgotten in his elation, and the camouflage Zafara frantically dug though the dirt for another one. Out at the very edge of the lamp light, Wolfers saw a glimmer of something small, smooth, and white. The missing white king?
All other thoughts forgotten, Wolfers dashed towards that small white glimmer. His hand closed of the white smoothness. “Yes!” he shouted in jubilation. He went to inspect his prize in the lamplight, but as he took his first step back he realized two very important things:
The first was that he was no longer standing on dirt.
The second was that the white object was far too lightweight to be his missing chess piece.
Opening his hand, he looked at the object. It was roughly the right size and shape, and he wasn't quite sure what it was. Looking closer he realized that it was a bone. A finger bone. Jumping back, he threw it away with a shriek.
His shriek turned into a full fledged scream as the floor crumbled beneath him and he fell, tumbling into the darkness below...
To be continued...