Birthrights: A Delving Tale
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.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...."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?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.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.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.
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