Contact: Book 1: Chapter 1

 

Chapter 1

 

On the planet’s surface, MacDrakin Gemfinder knelt in mine shaft number one.  The tunnel was cramped even for a dwarf. 

On aching knees, he swung a small pickax one more time, sending a handful of dirt and rock tumbling to the ground.  The heat in the tunnel was almost unbearable and sweat poured down his face in rivulets.  He wore only leather breeches and a thick layer of dirt.  MacDrakin dropped the ax, picked up a shovel and loaded the material into two leather sacks.  In a muscle-straining crouch, he hauled them to the surface.  He dropped the sacks and stretched to loosen up his back and shoulders.  He lifted his arms to allow the slight breeze and the midday summer sun to play over his compact, muscular body.  It felt wonderful to be out of the gloomy mine shaft and in the sunlight.

Once his muscles relaxed, MacDrakin hefted the sacks and carried them tothe sluice on the side of the mountain.  He poured the sacks into a trough constructed out of wood and stiff netting and then opened a sluice gate.  Water from an underground spring cascaded over the dirt and washed it through the netting.  When only rocks and pebbles remained, MacDrakin shut off the water.  He picked through the debris and tossed most over the side of the mountain leaving a dozen stones behind.  He took each remaining one and rubbed it between his fingers.  All but two he threw away.  The last two showed a bit of green under a patina of stubborn dirt.  After some more cleaning, he held two fine emeralds in his palm.  Not a bad haul for a half-day’s work.

He carried the gems to the small hut he called home.  Along the way, he passed mine shafts two and three.  Two wasn’t as deep as number one, but had already disgorged a few emeralds.  Number three wasn’t deep at all and showed no promise of gems.  All he had found so far in the shaft was a thick seam of coal.

MacDrakin’s land, in the family for years, sat on a level patch and covered an acre or so of rocky ground in front of the face of the mountain that soared a thousand feet above his head.  In the opposite direction, a path led to the base of the mountain five hundred feet below.

The hut, ten foot by ten foot, was furnished in typical bachelor fashion.  Two chairs huddled under a wobbly table and an unmade cot lay opposite the fireplace used for cooking and heating.  Clothes hung from hooks on one wall.  A battle ax hung over the fireplace and several storage chests were piled haphazardly in a corner.  Shelves held a few food items including a bag of coffee and an almost empty sack of flour.  A single window, without shades or curtains, overlooked the road leading down the mountain.  The view from the window showed smoke from cooking fires rising into the sky.  The smoke came from Skensfirth, the closest town, three miles away.

MacDrakin pulled back a small rug to expose a trap door and removed a metal strongbox.  He pawed through the loose dirt at the bottom of the hole and uncovered a leather pouch.  He took it to the table and spilled the contents.  The dozens of emeralds that rolled around the table made him smile.  It would soon be time to take a trip to the capital city, Dun Hythe, to sell the gems.  This time, he would take the train from Ashton.  On a newly opened extension of the main line, it reached Dun Hythe in a day.  On his last trip to the capital, his pony took a week each way.

Meanwhile, he was out of supplies as well as cash.  He selected a small and inferior green stone and set it aside.  He reburied the pouch and covered it with the strongbox.  To satisfy any thieves, the box contained four badly flawed emeralds.

After scribbling a list of needed supplies on a scrap of paper, MacDrakin took a towel and a bar of soap and walked back to the sluice.  In a few minutes he had rerouted the spring from the sluice to an overhead spray he used as a shower.

Back in the hut, he sat at the table and trimmed his beard using a hand mirror and a knife, then worked it into the traditional three braids beloved by dwarfdom.  Each braid ended in a bit of ribbon.  He dressed in a clean wool kilt, a leather vest and ankle-high boots.  The kilt and beard braid ribbons displayed his clan colors: red, green and black.

He paused for a moment to gaze in reverence at the gleaming battle ax over the fireplace.  It was ancient and originally belonged to the legendary dwarf hero, Drakin, who had founded the clan and after whom he was named.  Family tradition called for the first-born son in each generation to carry the hero’s name.  He was the thirteenth MacDrakin in a line that went back hundreds of years.  Another tradition concerned the coming of age of a new MacDrakin; he was given the hero’s weapon by the older MacDrakin.  So far, none of his relatives had spawned a new MacDrakin so the ax would remain his for many years.

He had inherited the land and the mines from his father and he carried on the gem mining tradition that gave the family the name ‘Gemfinder.’  He found mining more than a bit boring, but he had nothing else to do.  What he yearned to do was to take the battle ax and go on an adventure.  He sighed.  His days of adventuring were long gone, a thing of the past.

MacDrakin took down the ax, strapped it into a harness and settled the harness on his back.  The weapon’s handle extended over his shoulder where he could readily grab it.  Not that he expected to use the ax, not on the ride to Skensfirth.  The weapon was simply too valuable to leave in the hut unattended.  After he saddled and mounted his pony, he smiled in anticipation.  He hadn’t gone to town in ten days.  Living on the side of a mountain was lonely and he looked forward to companionship, a few ales and the latest gossip.

# # #

Leslie Higginbottom walked down the main street in Skensfirth.  It was dirt and called High Street even though it was no higher than the other dirt streets in the town.  She had a short sword on her left hip and a baton on her right.  The weapons were badges of office; she was the town’s entire constabulary staff.  She wore a blue denim shirt, tan wool breeches and a blue, hard-billed constabulary cap.  The proudest day in her life was the one when she took over as constable in Skensfirth.  That was a month ago, two weeks after the previous constable, her father, died suddenly.  She had worked the last three years in Ashton, the regional center, as assistant constable and had been promoted to replace her father.

Higginbottom stared to the south with a worried look on her face.  The Yukland border was only ten miles away and she knew that someday she would be called on to protect the town from yuk marauders.  She couldn’t do that by herself, so to prepare for the raid, she planned to recruit some help.  Her original idea to use the Skensfirth militia hadn’t worked out.  The militia was next to useless; a group of out-of-shape, old fogies who spent their drill-time drinking ale and swapping lies.  She needed a few good fighters to stand in a battle line with her.

The town’s business district ran the length of High Street and contained shops, a church, the town hall and a combination boarding house and tavern.  At the north end of High Street, she walked around the market square where the farmers from the surrounding area came to sell their fresh produce.  She smiled and joked with the folks in the square.

An hour later, she saw MacDrakin ride into town and decided to talk with him.  Since he wasn’t in town very often, they had exchanged only a few words since she had taken over the constabulary.  This could be an opportunity to change that.  Getting him to help defend the town would be an excellent way to start on her plan.  What with the gleaming battle ax strapped to his back, he’d scare away yuks without doing anything other than waving it over his head.  MacDrakin was handsome in a rugged, dwarfish way.  His three-foot tall frame carried a great deal of muscle and his dark brown eyes, hair and beard curls exuded a certain sexiness.  Sitting astride his pony, he radiated confidence unlike the other dwarfs in town.  He owned land with gem mines, was rich and descended from a legendary hero.  Everything considered, MacDrakin was the most impressive dwarf in the region.  He was also unmarried, like herself.

MacDrakin pulled up his pony and greeted her with a smile and a nod.  “Constable.  How are you?”

“I’m fine.”  She returned the smile and patted the pony on the neck.  “It’s nice to see you in town again.  How are things on the mountain?”

“Lonely.”

Higginbottom’s attention perked up at the word, ‘lonely,’ and her heart skipped a beat.  “Listen.  I want to ask you something.  You know yuks have raided Skensfirth in the past.  I’m sure they’ll do it again someday.  Can I count on you to help defend the town if that happens?”

MacDrakin pulled a face and didn’t answer for a few seconds while he pondered the question.  Finally, he asked, “You want me to join the militia?”

“No.”  Higginbottom shook her head causing her beard braids to bounce around.  “The militia is an old-boys club and pretty useless.  Will you stand with me to defend the town?  I want to recruit a few other doughty warriors besides yourself just in case of a raid.”

“Are the yuks getting feisty?”  MacDrakin scratched his chin, puzzled by the request.  “Is that why you’re asking?”

“No.  I haven’t heard of any yuks crossing the border and everyone tells me not to worry.  But I don’t want to wait until Skensfirth is in trouble before I do something.  It’s my job to protect the town and that’s what I intend to do.”

“I don’t know about any yuk troubles,” MacDrakin said.  “They’ve minded their manners recently.  If you go looking for trouble, you’ll end up finding trouble.”

“Hogswaddle!”  Higginbottom frowned at MacDrakin and spun on her heel.  “Thanks for your time,” she called over her shoulder as she stomped off.


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