Chronicles of the Court Rogue: The Underdark - Part Three
“For someplace that's supposed to be abandoned and haunted, this place sure seems set up for people to visit,” Anya observed, eying the table stocked with lamps, wicks, flint, and oil.
“There are people down here all the time,” Jeran explained, collecting and lighting a lamp. “Architects have to come down here and check the castle's foundations often, and there are the weekly trips from the kitchens.”
“Why the kitchens?” Anya asked.
“For the prisoners,” Mareian explained. “People convicted of treason are kept down here. You want ghosts? This place is haunted by the dreams and schemes of madmen.”
“Somehow,” Anya observed in a not-quite-steady voice, “that's even scarier than the stories.”
“Everyone all set?” Mareian asked, picking up her own lit lamp. Turning to Anya, she suggested, “You might want to stick close to Jeran, sweets. I'm going to be the one doing most of the talking.”
Anya had probably assumed that the much larger Lupe with the sword was the best person to go first, which Marian had to agree would seem more logical from the point of view of someone who had never been down here before.
Jeran, however, had different ideas. “Are you kidding?” he asked. “It's creepy down here. She goes first.”
Mareian giggled. “Fools boldly go where Faeries fear to tread?”
“Something like that,” Jeran agreed.
“Alright,” Mareian said. “Here we go.”
When you first entered the Underdark, it seemed like a maze-like warren. However, Mareian had found that if you could remember that it was parts of several different castles, it wasn't all that difficult to navigate. You just had to pay attention to the architecture. There was a tunnel that had once been the foundation to the castle walls about three castles ago that ran in a nice perimeter around the whole of the Underdark. Mareian planned on using it to circle back to about where Wolfers would have fallen down into the maze below.
The only downside was that since it was such an easy to navigate tunnel, there were bound to be some prisoners locked up nearby. Mareian hoped none of them scared Anya. No one was really sure how many prisoners there even were down in this maze. The guard moved the prisoners around often to keep them disoriented to help keep them from escaping – it could be that they wouldn't see anyone.
Farther down the tunnel, Mareian thought she saw a small scurry of movement. She was about to pass it off as a figment or her imagination, or a trick of the lamplight, when Anya cried out, “Wolfers?”
As the figure drew closer, it was rapidly apparent that it was not the small Zafara they were searching for. Mareian had to admit that she was quite proud of Anya for not screaming when the lamplight illuminated the ivory white bones of the skeletal Draik. Out of the corner of her eye, Mareian saw Anya slip a little farther behind Jeran as the Draik drew closer.
There was the sound of bone scraping against bone as the Draik cocked his head to the side and regarded them, his white skull managing to convey a surprised expression. After a long moment, vocal chords that were long gone said, “Greetings, my Lady. What brings you down here, so deep into the Underdark?”
“A small Zafara cub named Wolfers.” Mareian replied. The pirate Lupess always tried to be polite to the skeletal Draiks who ran the Underdark. This was the only thing that prevented her from asking how they kept from falling apart. This time, concern for Wolfers also helped keep her on track. “We think he fell though a wood floor under the castle into down here some time last night.”
“There is one down here who does not belong to us,” the Draik acknowledged with a nod. “We have taken him to the garden, where he is content to battle things we can not see.” The Draik paused, and then asked in a curious tone, “Is he mad?”
“He's six,” Mareian said, by way of explanation. “If six year olds have nothing to keep them busy, they'll invent stuff to do. Usually stuff that doesn't make sense to older people.”
“I will take you to him,” the Draik said. “When he is returned to the upper world, there will be things for a child to do – something this one clearly has a deep seated psychological need for.” The Draik's tone said that while he was willing to take Mareian's word for the odd behavior of the six year old, he still didn't entirely approve.
“Is that an insult?” Anya whispered to Jeran as they walked, the orange Uni cautiously creeping behind the safety of the blue Lupe.
Jeran shook his head. “I don't think so, I think it's just been a very long time since anyone down here has seen anyone younger than the prisoners. They forget what being a kid is like.” The blue Lupe looked down at the Uni with a grin. “Do you remember what it's like to be two? It's been even longer for him since he was six.”
“How long has he been down here?” the Uni asked, eyeing the skeleton ahead.
“I have no idea,” Jeran confessed. “A very long time. I would guess centuries at least.”
Mareian half listened to their conversation, while the rest of her attention was on their surroundings. She'd never been to this part of the Underdark before. It had apparently been built when Meridell was quite prosperous and peaceful, judging from the detailed carved decorations on the stonework. This had not been a castle for war. She wondered which of her ancestors had ruled in it.
Turning a sharp corner, they stumbled into the garden. It had probably been centuries since any plant grew there, but it was clearly still set up for rows of flowers and neatly trimmed pathways. Right in the middle, curled up on a fallen pillar, was a small camouflage Zafara.
“Wolfers!” Anya cried, rushing past the pair of Lupes and the Draik, nearly tackling the sleeping Zafara in a hug. Jeran and Mareian shared an amused expression at the newly woken cub's reaction to being tackled awake (a muffled scream and scurry off the pillar, followed by a whoop of joy and tackling Anya in return), while the Draik looked somewhat perplexed by the cub's antics.
After Prince Jeran and Lady Mareian had gone to so much effort to rescue him out of the Underdark, Wolfers promised to be as good as gold for the whole rest of the visit. Especially since they had figured out how to smoothly work it out with Uncle Mourvan so Grandfather wouldn't learn of his misadventure. Even though he hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, he was careful to be perfectly on cue every time for the practice run-through of the ceremony that afternoon. It wasn't until that evening that his lack of sleep began to catch up with him.
He had hoped that dinner tonight would be nice and quiet like dinner last night had been; just him, Grandfather, and Uncle Mourvan. That way he could escape from dinner early and go to bed while the adults talked about boring stuff. Instead, however, dinner was a grand feast, with King Skarl himself in attendance. Before any food was even served, King Skarl stood and raised his goblet. Wolfers suppressed a groan.
“While I believe that every feast in and of itself is a cause for celebration,” the King rumbled in a satisfied tone, “the dawn of tomorrow for Jeran and Mareian fills me with joy. I'll be the first to admit that Mareian and I had a bit of a rough start.” The king paused to give Lady Mareian a sly grin while several people laughed. Wolfers sleepily wondered how King Skarl and Lady Mareian hadn't gotten along. King Skarl didn't give any examples, only going on to say, “But over time I've come to regard her as if not quite a daughter, than as a very dear niece...”
Wolfers didn't hear the rest of the speech; his eyelids felt heavier and heaver, and the young Zafara's head began dropping down into his chest. After a brief struggle to keep his eyes open and to wait for King Skarl to finish his long speech, Wolfers fell asleep. After all, it had been a very long day, with only a precious few hours of sleep on a hard pillar the night before. Wolfers's last thought was that when one considered all of the events of the past twenty four hours, he was perfectly justified in falling asleep right then and there.
As he was carried to bed by an amused Uncle Mourvan, the camouflage Zafara's small hand opened and dropped a hard won bejeweled white king – where it had been clutched all afternoon as a good luck charm. The brown Zafara chuckled and placed it next to the others on the nightstand, and then returned to the feast, leaving his nephew and the now complete set of sixteen ivory pieces to dream of exciting adventures against fantastical foes made of shadow and bone.