TFC The Final Challenge   New to TFC?   News & Info
Community   The World
Races & Classes   RP & PK

Birthrights: A Delving Tale
by Cordir

Mira gently blew upon the dusty cover of the leather-bound book, its silver hinges and clasp blackish gray with deep layers of tarnish. Velvety cloth fibers, their color faded to a dull brown, veiled the tome like a mourning shroud. She wondered how it could have come to be hidden here, under the pedestal of the amphitheater. She gently lifted it out of the shattered remains of the ironwood box that once stored it, feeling the weight of this long lost thing, and her hands tingled, as if touching magic or history itself.

Glancing over at where Berengor was overseeing the renovations, she pondered her course of action. Berengor wasn't known for his patience with anything that might cause a delay in the flow of work. Slipping the small book under her cloak and securely behind her broad leather belt, she returned to removing the broken stones and bits of wood with hands that shook with excitement.

The hours remaining on her shift passed like decades as Mira impatiently awaited the end of her workday. Finally the bell rang, and she leapt up as speedy as a bolt from a readied crossbow and hurried home.

Discarding Granner's well-patched, ancient brown woolen cloak over the back of one of the wooden chairs by the worn but scrupulously clean table, she carefully withdrew the ancient book and laid it down. It was not large; perhaps the span of her fingers when extended widely, and only a small amount taller than the length of her rough, callused hand. Though father had always teased her for her mannish limbs, ill sized compared to her mother's delicacy, her hands were strong and capable. It had been an easy choice to pick a work team with Berengor's building crew, rather than labor in the mushroom caves or sew with the chatty wives of the miners. Besides, women weren't allowed to work in the mines, else she would have labored next to her Pa.

Scurrying to the brass bound chest in which she stored her few treasures, she grabbed and deftly lit one of the two expensive tallow candles she had kept for special occasions. Its pure, radiant light provided much clearer illumination than the smoky, brass lanterns filled with fish oil that were made within the Delving. Any import from the elven cities was expensive; each moment of light was a day's pay.

Mira sat down and carefully, cautiously, lifted the ornate latch that held the book closed. It was tight and rigid with age, but with a whispered prayer, she pried it open without causing any damage. The workmanship of the latch was beautiful, even to her jaded dwarven eyes. Hints of tiny traceries and patterns in the metal could be seen here and there as well as small protrusions that appeared to be gems crusted over with soil. Her heart warmed as she thought of bringing the book back to its original beauty.

Opening the cover, she noted the weight of its construction. A light tap upon its surface revealed the presence of wood beneath the leather cover. The hide itself was still quite fine, even as ancient as it was, and a deep pattern within the leather was still clear. She traced its surface with one cautious fingertip. The texture was not one she was familiar with. It seemed almost serpentine, but was far larger in scale than any snake she'd ever seen. Papered in dark vellum, the title page bore a strange, slanting script, penned in a almost glowing green ink.

"Memories of the Crossing and Beyond."
Mira's heart leapt in her chest and with trembling hands and held breath, she turned the page and began to read.
"I watched as the prince lifted agonized eyes to meet the gaze of his Liege. Mutely, he shook his head in disbelieving, unconscious refusal.

King Mourngrum's voice was as cold as the stones of the royal chamber. "For your crime of betrayal, I can no longer permit you the graces of this Hall. But for your royal blood, brother, I would have your head roll upon these marbled floors. Instead, I deny you all aspects of the life our home has given you. On the morrow, you and yours will depart, never to return."

There were only stifled sobs from Princess Wynna, her face blotched and red from weeping. A handkerchief died a wracking death, torn to shreds in her nervous fingers.

Poor Thurnhelm tried to meet her eyes, as if a single glimpse would suffice to balm his soul until they might meet again in Tynian's hallowed halls in the afterlife. But she would not grant him that mercy; forbidden it by her father.

He shuffled forward a half step, but was halted by the instant bristling of the royal guards and the weapons they leveled to block his progress. I reached out to him, as he pled, trying to stay any further conversation that would simply anger the king, but Thurnhelm would not be silenced.

"Brother... I beg you....." His voice was like that of a lost, shattered soul, not the battle hardened warrior I knew him to be.

The king's face was like the stones of the mountain itself. "Speak not. I will hear no more words from your lips. This family has no son named Thurnhelm. Get ye gone."

Mira blinked, astounded. This was nothing like the history books told! She had always been taught that the great migration was based solely on trade matters and growth of Dwarvenhold, not the casting out of a brother for the forbidden love he held for a niece!

She scanned the next several pages quickly, skipping over the less interesting details of bandit attacks and the unfriendly humans of Ofcol.

"A ragged cry rose up from the head of the pack train. As one, we lifted our heads wearily to search out the messenger. There. The youngster trotted up, breathless. "Milord.... j' 'head...few ... miles...."

Thurnhelm was impatient. "Catch your breath. I can't understand a word you say."

The lad gulped down a few breaths, calming his voice. "Milord... we have breached the forest - the plains lie beyond just as we were told... we found traces of halfling folk on the far east edge of the wood, as well, sir. And sir.... Mountains! We could just see them at the edge of the plains!"

The prince nodded, accepting this news quietly. I could not keep silent, and, like many of the others, cast my helm into the sky with a great cry of rejoicing.

We were almost home..."

Mira smiled as she imagined the joy the first sight of the beauty of the mountain must have brought. As one of the few Delvers who had traveled back to Dwarvenhold on a recent Crafthall trading caravan, she personally felt that Kharad-Delving was the more beautiful of the two. Eager for more excitement, she flipped forward a few more pages…
"It was near midnight when the knock came. Standing guard inside his door, I peered through the barred window. Wynna's huge blue-green eyes stared back at me, shrouded slightly by the cowl of her cloak. I will admit I was dumbfounded to see her there. What risks she must have faced, not to mention the wrath of her father, to come all this way! And what might have happened to her in the intervening span of years?

Hurriedly, I opened the portal and ushered the princess inside. The poor thing trembled, whether from fear, weariness, or nervousness, I could not tell. The richly embroidered gowns I had seen her wearing last had been exchanged for plain and sturdy brown wool, heavily stained and torn around the hems. It appeared her journey had been nearly as eventful as our own that decade ago.

"Thurnhelm…" His name escaped her lips in a tone that was half prayer, half plea. The expression on my face silenced anything further she might have said. It had been years since Thurnhelm had finally succumbed to the pressure of his ministers and taken a wife. Though it was not a love match, an heir had been secured.

I directed Wynna towards the king's study, glancing nervously over one shoulder at the royal bedchamber where the Lady Hlafa lay deeply asleep, snoring as loudly as usual. Thurnhelm was deeply engrossed in the latest dispatches, and did not look up as we entered. Yet, he must have sensed something, for he suddenly took in a sharp breath, his eyes closing, his head tilting back to more fully experience the perfume he had detected.

"Wyn…." He closed his eyes, wrapped in grief, thinking the scent simply a trick of memory.

"My Lord…" I cleared my throat slightly.

His eyes opened with a near-audible snap and his face… I cannot describe it. It came aglow, like the emergence of molten gold from within a forge. He leapt from his chair, crossing the study in two strides, and caught her up. They were weeping, shaking, trembling, and covering one another with kisses. I examined the bookshelves to give them some slight sense of privacy for such a moment."

Sighing happily, Mira dabbed away a tear that threatened to spill out and onto the ancient vellum. It was beautiful to read of such a romantic love. It was like something out of a fae tale. Eagerly, she turned the next gilt-edged page with a near reverence.
"A lump the size of the sapphire in Thurnhelm's royal signet stuck in my throat as I watched them reunite. It was a joyful yet terrible moment; there were undeniable matters of state to be considered. Hlafa could not be set aside; she had supported her loveless husband and done all the duties that could be asked of a wife or Queen, and done them to the best of her simple heart.

As if my thoughts had summoned her, I watched in horror as she emerged from the royal bedchamber, a shawl wrapped around her slumped shoulders, her feet bare upon the flagstones. Her mouth formed a perfect O of shock, and her eyes trembled with tears as bright as diamonds. Yet she was a Queen even in this moment. By the time she crossed the corridor, she had straightened, dashed the tears from her eyes, and gathered her dignity and courage.

"You would be Wynna, then?" It was more statement than question.

The two lovers nodded as one, as if conjoined. Hlafa's eyes closed in a slow blink, and I could almost see the wheels of her mind turning. When they opened, there was no trace of moisture. Dropping into a low, deep curtsey, she spoke once more in a voice of icy calm.

"My Lord. I am your queen. I am your wife. The mother of your Heir. But I am not, nor have I ever been, your love. Find what joy you can, and grant me the mercy of the same. All I ask is discretion."

Thurnhelm looked like a minotaur struck between the horns, poleaxed, stunned. "Hlafa…"

She curtseyed again, and exited the study, her back ramrod straight. The doors of the bedchamber closed softly, and I think only my ears caught the soft sob from behind their thickness."

Mira flipped forward a few pages, anxious to learn of the resolution to this situation, remembering something terrible from her school lessons…
"The babe was healthy and beautiful, and Wynna was as radiant a mother as can be imagined. I knelt beside her, and taking her sweat-dampened hand in my own, swore my oath to her. In Thurnhelm's absence, I would ward and guard the mother and child as I had warded and guarded the King. His death only a week before in a mining accident had nearly broken three hearts: Wynna's, Hlafa's, and my own. I had served him for nearly all his life, and held the protection of his family as my own last sacred duty. I had failed Thurnhelm, but would not fail his daughter.

I froze as one flailing wee little hand came in contact with my own where it clasped Wynna's. The tiny fingers curled around mine with surprising strength. She had her father's broad hands, the hands of a warrior or a smith.

Wynna glanced over at me where I sat imprisoned by the babe's grasp. Her smile was both wonderful and terrible, touched with joy and deep sorrow. The babe was all she could ever have of him. They had enjoyed but a year of reunion before his death; their tomorrows together would never come, and the love they had shared would have to last a lifetime for she and the child."

The next page was blank, but the one that followed after continued the tale in someone else's unsteady, unskilled handwriting.
"The fallen King's Shadow, Gilad, and the Lady Wynna, were found dead in her home, victims of the fever that has decimated the Delving this winter. The child was not expected to survive, but has clung to life for the last tenday. Queen Hlafa has ordered the girl placed in fosterage among the miners, suspecting but having no proof of its true parentage. I cannot destroy this book as I have been bid, but instead, will conceal it for future generations to know the truth. With the King's firstborn taken by the fever, this child, and not Hlafa, is the true heir. May Tynian forgive me, that I did not try and take the throne and hold it for her."
Mira sat blinking, stunned. A princess raised among the miners! Who could have imagined such a thing? She gently caressed the vellum pages, overwhelmed to have shared such events, even through just the reading of them. Wistfully, she closed the book, stroking it with her rough, callused hand. Such things were far beyond her station, but even the slight brush of such greatness was almost dizzying.

Resolving to give the book into the priest's hands the next day, she wrapped it up in one of her few extra shirts, and sought her troubled rest, filled with dreams of lost princesses, lost birthrights, and the tragic love of kings.

Return to the Stories Page

Credits | Support Fund | Sitemap | Home

Page last modified: Monday, 06-Apr-2015 20:43:59 MST. Copyright 1997-2011 The Final Challenge MUD. All rights reserved.
Webmaster: Marisa the Enchanted (Post a note to Marisa on the MUD for updates/changes to this site; she will get it.)
TFC Implementor: Tynian (Reachable in game or on forums.)
The Final Challenge is grateful to FastQ for providing a site for TFC.