|“Ye’ll be wantin’ to know about the stump, then,” King Thorson says.|
Perilous Jack briefly struggles to hide his smile, and then releases it with a nod.
“If you don’t mind, Your Majesty.”
“Thorson, lad. Would ye believe I’ve been King of four realms? I was born to Clan Flumerfelt – Sea Dwarves, we were, sailin’ the Wyvern Sea out of the Storm Pillars, and when my father died, I ruled Flumerfelt for a time. Took us into the clouds, I did, and built us a castle up there, like any Giant would do, and we sailed the winds in our airships. Ye may wonder why a Dwarf would invoke the name of Cloud Giants – well, there’s a good story in it, lad, but suffice to say I lost my kingdom to one of their ilk.”
“By that time, our cloud had sailed the winds all the way around to the Plateau, and sure enough, we found ourselves here on the land. So we found ourselves a rich collection of CacheStones in the forest and built us a castle around it, out of the black stones we found lyin’ around there – called it Blackrock Castle, we did – and we changed our name to Oakstump, in honor of this here stump, which is all that remains of the tree that gave us the axe handles we carry now. And then the Pyrohydra came with his cult of Lizardmen – ever seen seven races of Lizardmen work together, lad? I have.”
“They came howlin’ out of the woods, screechin’ about burnin’ the forest in honor of their god, and destroyed our fine castle, drove us here underground. But you can bet we had time to dig up that old stump as we fled. Of course, we’ve tried a time or three to rout the Pyrohydra, and we do well enough against his minions, but our weapons and magic are no use against that creature’s cursed flames. I don’t suppose ye’ve a mind for a grand adventure, eh, lad?”
Jack, slightly bewildered by the Dwarf King’s rambling tale, is long in replying. At last, he shakes his head decisively. “Another time, I would be delighted to help you reclaim Blackrock Castle, but I have other tasks awaiting me – and I hope you can help me to perform them.”
As concisely as he can, Jack explains the abduction of Princess Vasilisa, the need to find the correct Pyrohydra and his hope that the Dwarves will help with that, the obtaining of the Frost Potion, the breaking of the Nightcrystal, and the coming of eternal Night. The Dwarf King is silent for a moment, digesting all that Jack has said. Finally, he raises his head and looks seriously into the warrior’s eyes.
“And have you slain Giants before, lad?”
Jack hesitates only an instant. The Dwarves value accomplishment and experience above all else; if he admits he has never slain a Giant, they might refuse to help him. He has the Giant’s Knucklebones given him by Red Tom; he could display them and claim to have slain the Giant from which they came, and by the magic of the Knucklebones he would be believed – or so Red Tom says. Is his mission so important that he will compromise his integrity?