People in Cradle really love their dramatic entrances. I mean, far be it from me to tell anyone else they can’t be dramatic, but I think Esmerelda might start charging if people keep kicking in her doors. There was even fog swirling behind Garoka when the door opened. Does he pay someone to provide that sort of effect? I would. I should.
Anyway. Garoka wanted Runt to go to Belchamp and then to the Congregation of Clans Keep, and he asked Esme, Kawli, and me to accompany him. Having recently met Sir Milton de Paon, I thought a brief trip to Belchamp could be educational (let’s be honest, I had to go to find out if the puffy sleeves thing was really an upcoming trend: spoiler alert, yes, if anything, he’s a sensible Belchampi), and we’d all just been discussing getting out of town for a bit. We readily agreed to leave in the morning, and spent much of the rest of the evening watching Runt attempt to flirt with Isbeil, a cute lady dwarf who would be accompanying Garoka on the mission. He’s adorably awkward, but she seems to be enjoying it.
In the morning, Kawli and I said goodbye to Yera and Imildrak at the library, and headed over to the inn to meet the rest of the travelling party. Esmerelda handed the keys over to Amastasia, and we set out on a <s>weekend getaway</s> adventure.
The trip to Belchamp was uneventful, but Garoka let slip why we were going on this expedition: the dwarves are trying to decide what to do about Eastward expansion, now that the snows have cleared. They wanted Runt to speak because he’s the only dwarf who’s really been involved in the last year’s progress (but I saw Brightmine’s expression when Runt showed him that banner. An unexpected element. And useful).
Belchamp is delightful, and I’d like to come back on a longer holiday one of these days. Did you know they sell tiny cakes in the inns there? Fresh-baked. And their fabric selection! The best I’ve seen since I left the capital, silks and velvet and linen, any color you’d like (and the Belchampi like all of them).
I had only the afternoon to work, but I like to think I managed to create three new masterworks for the rest of the party- a green silk dress (and fascinator hat, she shows excellent taste in millinery) for Esmerelda, a purple feathered number for Kawli, and a set of dwarven noble clothing for Runt, in the colors of his house. I shall simply have to wear Anna-Henrietta’s mithril gown. And all of us will wear our medals- dwarves like shiny things.
First impressions are important. Especially if you have intentions.
We were some of the last to arrive; the keep was full to bursting with dwarves. Apparently this is the event of the dwarven social season, and everyone who’s anyone was there, along with all the people who just wish they were. It’s easy to tell which is which, with enough practice.
Dwarves, it appears, make decisions by making grand speeches at each other. Each of the potential leaders is to have a day to impress people with their words and deeds. The rest of us are primarily here to corroborate Runt’s stories, and, presumably, to stand about and look pretty, at least as far as we’re letting the dwarves know.
It’s remarkable how much you can learn, if you pretend to be ornamental. People just love to talk about themselves.
After the first evening, we’ve sussed out the major players and where they all stand, and we’ve got a better idea who among this lot recognizes Runt, and he’s spoken to all of them directly. I don’t know if it’s something in the air of this keep, but he’s really come into his own. He held his ground with only minor blessings from Kawli and me.
And the next morning, he gave a speech I fully intend to record and give to Yera for the library in Cradle. The spider-dwarf is a master orator. Who knew?
(I wonder if he realizes how easy it would be to sway this crowd. Does Runt want a crown?)
This remarkable speech was followed by a rather less successful one by Tearlach Rockforge, the leader of the anti-expansionist dwarves, accompanied by some odd confidence from his main opponent, Angaidh Stormfall of Clan Stormgranite.
Being a usefully and expertly suspicious sort of person, I decided this might be a good time for me to find out exactly what Mr. Stormfall was thinking. As it turned out, what he was thinking included prior knowledge that Rockforge’s magic hammer wasn’t magic at all. Well, well, well.
People are people, no matter what shape they take.
After this scandalous discovery, the dwarves broke away for the day to drink the excellent beer Runt had shipped from Belchamp and to discuss what should be done about Rockforge’s fraud.
Esmerelda and I waited for Angaidh to enjoy several tankards, smug in his victory, before approaching him to express our deep dismay at the actions of Rockforge, and encouraging him to tell us all about his own plans. He summoned a minion to go and bring his own magical item, an overly ornate battle axe (compensation? Probably).
We admired it to the extent required, then made our excuses and promptly followed the minion back to Angaidh’s quarters. They were guarded, but we retreated briefly to disguise ourselves thoroughly and approached to near touching distance before we were challenged, which just goes to show what you can do if you’re confident about it.
Esme hit one guard with charm person and became his best friend, and I suggested the other should go ahead and join the party before all of the best beer was gone. Esme and her new friend went for a quick walk while I “guarded” the room, by which I mean I found the secret compartment all such men have, stole all the documents I could find from it (I don’t speak dwarven. But my friend does!), and promptly left.
Angaidh is apparently the sort to keep notes on a criminal conspiracy. Really, I almost feel bad for him, he’s terrible at this.
The letter told us where the real hammer was being kept, beneath the Keep, so we went ahead and retrieved that- there were several minotaurs guarding it, but they were no match for us, especially Esmerelda, who took out two at once with rays of flame- and then returned in time to get a good night’s sleep before Angaidh’s speech the next day.
He never saw it coming, poor fool.
Following Runt’s recommendation, the dwarves seem to have settled on the moderate candidate, Gillesbalg Irontoe. But only, I suspect, because Runt himself hasn’t fulfilled the dwarves’ strange leadership requirements and crafted a magic item of sufficient sparkle.
All in all, an entertaining excursion, and a welcome distraction from more serious matters. I’ll have to meddle in dwarven politics more often. A girl needs hobbies.