Chapter Two Part Two: Deception
The lowly King Greymug looked up from his jewel encrusted throne and growled his discontent. "Why are these pink-skinned filths running wild in my caverns?!" he demanded. "Is this your doing, Picknose?"
"I-...uh..." the troll stammered, struggling to find an explanation for this transgression.
"This has little to do with your guard, King Greymug." Bearclaw supplied. "I was the one who...insisted that we be granted access to the caverns."
"YOU!" the troll king roared. "Get out! All of you!"
"Now now, easy there, your majesty." he drolled, as he approached the throne. "My folk and I have need of your caverns, at least for a little while."
"I said GET OUT!" he hollered, not wanting to hear the wolf chief's explanations for trespassing.
Hospitable creatures, these trolls. Skywise sent to Cutter.
They haven't seemed to change at all. Cutter replied. They care for no one but themselves. He listened to his father negotiating with the troll king for a moment, then glanced over at his mother, nestled in Dewshine's arms. Mother looks like she could use some water. Help me find some?
The two climbed down from their wolves and moved about the room looking for water. Pike and Scouter had already dismounted and were searching for foodstuffs to fill their packs with.
"What are you looking for?" Scouter asked as Cutter and Skywise drew near.
"Water." Cutter said. "Mother looks parched. She could use some, I think."
"Oh..." Scouter said, apologetically. "I think there was water back there. One-Eye and Woodlock went to gather some, too. Here." he said, offering his water skin. "Joyleaf can have my water skin."
"Take mine, too." Pike said. "Who knows how long we'll be in these caves."
"Thanks. Here." he said, offering his side bag to Pike. "If you two find food, you should get as much as you can."
"Take mine, too." Skywise said, handing his bag to Pike along with Cutter's.
"Thanks." the story spinner said, accepting the bags. "You'd better hurry, though. It looks like Bearclaw is going to tear the troll chief apart any minute."
"Right!" they both said, hurrying off, Nightrunner and Starjumper fast on their heels. It didn't take them long before keen elfin noses ferreted out the water they so desperately needed. A small clearing littered with finely polished stones and patches of thick moss sheltered a babbling brook, streaming with fresh, sweet water. Woodlock and One-Eye had just finished filling the many water skins they had carried to the stream to fill.
"This ought to do it." One-Eye said, closing the cap on Moonshade's skin.
"Yeah, that's all of them." Woodlock answered, securing the fastenings on Dewshine's skin. "Who knows how long we will be wandering around down here."
"Or when we'll come across water, again." One-Eye agreed. "Oh, cubs!" he exclaimed, spotting Cutter and Skywise. "What are you doing away from the tribe?"
"Same as you." Skywise said, holding up his deerskin water canteen.
"Well, be quick about it. We may have to get moving soon." One-Eye said, starting back to the others.
"We will." he promised, as he headed to the stream to fill the sacks. He knelt down beside Cutter who had already began working on supplying the water. "What do you think will happen to us, now?"
"I don't know." Cutter admitted. "But, I'm sure Father will figure something out."
The task finished, the two quickly hurried back to the others, just as a commotion was breaking out. Pike was on the ground, nursing an apparent blow he received to his head. Scouter and One-Eye were beside him, helping him get to his feet. Bearclaw had all but tackled the troll king to the ground and was holding a shining New Moon at his throat.
What happened? Cutter sent.
That fat troll hit Pike! Scouter sent, snarling even in sending.
For what? Cutter replied, his anger matching Pike's.
It was that rock. Pike answered, groggily, pointing to a stone that sat at Greymug's feet. Scouter and I were going up to Bearclaw to tell him about some forges we had found, when the cursed thing grabbed Scouter's sword!
GRABBED?! Cutter sent, incredulously.
THE ROCK DID?! Skywise added.
Yeah. Pike supplied. I saw it. The rock sort of, pulled Scouter's sword right out of its sheath...like magic! The troll chief said that the rock had come from the stars and that's why it had magic powers.
From...the stars? Skywise asked.
That's what the troll claimed. Scouter said. At any rate, my sword was stuck to the rock like a fly stuck on sap covered tree. I couldn't pull it off, so Pike used his spear to break off a piece of the rock and set my sword loose. But, that really made the troll chief angry.
Yeah, and I've got the bump to prove it. Pike added. He rubbed his head a bit, then reached beside him and grabbed something on the ground. He tossed the thing to Skywise, who was surprised to see that the object was a simple piece of brown stone. That's the piece of the rock I broke...the one that fell from the stars. You should keep it. Consider it a "gift" from the king.
Skywise was speechless as he fingered the small piece of the heavens. "...the stars..." he breathed, an uncontrollable smile sweeping his features.
Cutter disregarded the rock as nonsense, then turned his attention to his father and the troll king.
"I should gut you like a mudboar!" Bearclaw snarled. "All we asked for was a moment of your time and you attack one of my own! Would anyone miss you if I sliced your shriveled heart out right now?"
"I-...I..." the king sniveled.
"We needed nothing more of you than a safe place to stay and you were too selfish to even allow that! After all my tribe has done for your fat, selfish kin!" he hollered, raising his sword high, preparing to strike the troll down where he lay.
"W-WAIT!" Greymug cried. "The Tunnel of Golden Light! Why didn't I think of it before!"
"The what?" Bearclaw hissed, his sword still poised to strike.
"I simply wasn't thinking." he groveled. "You are right. Your elfin kin has done so much for my folk, that it is only fair that I return the favor. Picknose! Escort Chief Bearclaw and his faithful tribe to the Tunnel of Golden Light."
"Tunnel of...but isn't that the one that leads to-"
"--the land of light and promise! Yes I know!" the king interjected. "No better place for the elves to live and thrive. You see, our people shun the light so. It is a lovely place, but because of our...dislike...of sunlight, we could never survive there. But, you and your people would simply love it, I assure you."
Slowly, Bearclaw lowered his sword but continued to hold onto it. "Golden Light, you say." he said, evenly, as he stepped off of and away from the troll. "What do you think, Treestump?" he asked.
"These are a shifty lot of folk, to be sure. Still, if they really wanted to be rid of us, then it could only serve their favor to tell the truth."
"Perhaps." Bearclaw said, thoughtfully. He glanced over at Dewshine and Joyleaf, his thoughts drifting to his lifemate. Redlance was nearby, offering Joyleaf something to chew on. She took herbal substance into her mouth and began to chew but started to choke on the leafy goods. Redlance patted her back, gently and he could see that Dewshine was speaking to her, softly. He sighed, wearily. "She won't last in this darkness for long, will she?" he breathed.
"...no." Treestump admitted.
Bearclaw nodded and turned to face Greymug, once more. "I don't trust you, troll...but it seems I don't have the luxury of choice, right now. We will go to your Tunnel of Golden Light, but I warn you, if this is some trick I'll be back...for you."
"Oh yes, Chief Bearclaw...I understand. And I promise, once you reach the end of the tunnel..." he said, his icy eyes locking with Picknose's. "...it will be like no home you have ever seen."