Arrival in the Felekhuzd
From Westport I headed in a south-westerly direction towards the central peak of the Felekhuzd mountains. Keshjit was of the opinion that this would be the best and safest option, and the route would take me past the edges of the halfling homelands, where I would likely find it easier to procure supplies. Looking at her maps, we judged the distance to be about 150 miles, which ought to have taken me about one or two weeks of solid walking. In the end, I spent the best part of a month on the journey. This was in part due to the hospitality of the halflings I encountered along the way, all of whom insisted I stay “just one more day” to help around the farm and enjoy being guest of honour at another evening feast.
The halflings are a kindly folk, in general, although they greeted me with some suspicion at first. The great War of Life took a toll on all of the land of Atarashia, and humans must take the lion’s share of the blame. However, I was to discover that the mention of Keshjit’s name opened many doors, as did the news I brought with me of the Aerial Ship. It was my experience that the halflings of the northern hills area are as fond of gossip as they are of food.
It was a wise suggestion of Keshjit’s to spend time amongst the halflings, as they are an industrious folk and I found it easy to resupply. I am a fair hunter with my express rifle, but I have a limited stock of ammunition and would rather save it for defensive purposes. I have heard that the Jing Empire in the east has knowledge of guns and black powder, but that is hundreds of miles away, and across the Narwahr Expanse to boot. When my ammunition runs out, I do not know where I will find any more…
In due course, I found myself at the foot of the central massif of the Felekhuzd range, after several days of travelling through terrain that became gradually more mountainous. There was a passable track, with indications that there had once been a more permanent road. I saw no dwarves, nor any other intelligent life, on my upwards journey. Keshjit had already warned me that the dwarves, never a gregarious people at best, had become more reclusive than ever since their last great battle with the armies of the goblins, some 50 years ago.
The track became wider and more obviously artificial as I drew nearer to the base of the mountain. In the distance I could see a large structure, emerging from the rock face. It became apparent that this was an enormous set of stone doors, skilfully carved and fortified. If its purpose was to intimidate those approaching, then I must say that it was entirely successful in my case. I wondered how one might announce one’s arrival, as there appeared to be no knocker or bell-pull. I need not have worried, as before I was closer than a hundred yards, a voice called out, in the common tongue, “Halt! Who approaches the Felekhuzd?”
I looked about me, but could see no sign of the sentry, and his voice echoed around the stone, making it impossible to pinpoint the source.
“My name is Victoria Johnson. I am a traveller from a far-off land. I seek the dwarf known as Kegnar.”
There was a moment’s pause, then the voice responded, “Wait here.”
I waited, using the time to examine the stone doors more closely. They were at least 30 ft. high, and probably the same across. The doors themselves seem to be made from single slabs of stone, and the surrounding frame cut into the living rock. At least, I could discover no sign of mortar, or even joints. A bold geometric pattern was carved into the frame, and the doors had a large shield worked into them. The shield depicted an anvil on its face, with a hammer and pickaxe crossed over the top of it. There were no figures on the door, dwarven or otherwise, but to the left of the door stood a 10-foot-high statue of a dwarven warrior, as if on guard duty. It had a large shield in front of it that reached to the floor, and an imposing hammer was held in its other hand.
Two hours later, it began to rain. I had heard not one more word from the sentry, and I was loath to call out again, having been warned that the dwarves were not always well-disposed towards guests. I looked about me in the vain hope of finding some less exposed location, but there was none in the high-sided passage that lead up to the doors. I had just resigned myself to standing in the downpour, when I heard a grinding noise coming from the statue. Its arm was slowly raising, bringing the shield up with it to act as a shelter. I moved forward to stand under the protection of the stone, thankful for at least some respite from the deluge. As hospitality went, it left something to be desired, but I took it as a positive sign, nonetheless.
The rain stopped a little before nightfall, and I moved out of the way as the stone shield lowered back into position. As the small sliver of sky overhead grew darker, I thought that I might have to prepare myself to sleep on the hard stone in front of the doors. However, before the light completely disappeared I was suddenly aware of a vibration in the floor beneath me. A great rumbling began, and the floor shook as the mighty doors commenced to swing open, seemingly by themselves. In the gap that widened between the doors stood Kegnar, carrying a lantern that barely lit the long, black tunnel behind him.
“Dear lady! What an unexpected pleasure to see you again. I hope your wait wasn’t too uncomfortable?”
“Not at all, I was fascinated by the architecture and your very accommodating statuary.” I responded, as he took my hand and kissed it, as is the custom of this gentleman.
“Ah! Druukor protects those who are friends of the dwarves. You must have impressed Monzadar if he saw fit to raise the shield for you! Did he play his fiddle as well?”
“Not that I heard,” I answered, not fully understanding the flow of this conversation. I knew that Druukor is the dwarven deity, but I had not heard of a dwarf playing the fiddle before.
“Shall we begin walking? It is some distance to the heart of Felekhuzd Central. However, we can talk as we walk, and I will be happy to answer your questions.” He offered me his arm in a very gallant way, and I was happy to accept. We walked off down the long tunnel and were soon engrossed in conversation. I barely noticed the rumble as the doors swung shut behind me, and the solid darkness of the tunnel seemed comforting, rather than unnerving.
“Will you be staying long with us?” asked Kegnar.
“As long as I am welcome, I think.”
“Then you shall be with us some time!”