A Far Hidden Place
The Do’s Series: Segment 14
© Grandpa Jim
TidBit McIntyre leans his back against the wall of the tunnel. Slowly, the tired Mouse sinks to the floor. With one hand, he scoops a shallow pit and props the burning torch in it.
“What’s left of the torch,” he says aloud.
I extinguish the flame when I sleep, he thinks to himself.
“When I try to sleep,” he whispers the clarification into the cold dry air.
The way has been up. He changes the subject and continues the conversation with his thoughts. Up, up, up. TidBit fills his lungs. At least there is water captured in carved cups along the sidewalls.
“Intentionally constructed,” he clarifies.
I won’t die of thirst. The stealthmouse smiles. Starvation takes longer.
“Don’t complain. Think of the bright side.”
Well, there are small piles of straw and twig.
“For the torch.” TidBit shakes his head. “But left by whom and when?”
I don’t know how long I’ve been here walking and talking to myself.
“Just keep going.”
“You’re welcome,” he answers his own compliment.
I guess I’m my own best company.
“There’s no one else.”
TidBit stands and lifts the torch, holding it high.
The hours pass. His legs hurt. The grade steepens. The torch fades and goes out. He reaches into his pocket for the flint and realizes he can see his hand. He lifts his head.
Light shines through an opening in the wall ahead.
He leans forward and staggers to the light.
He feels the smooth edges of the rectangle. About three hands high. As wide as his pointing finger. As deep as his hand to the wrist.
“Sun’s up.” He wiggles his fingers. “It’s windy outside.”
He pulls his hand back, turns and sights another sliver of light about fifteen paces along the tunnel.
He forces himself to the spot.
He hears words.
He put his ear to a circular hole in the floor.
A bell rings. Scuffling sounds. A smack. Another smack. A big SMACK, followed by a THUD.
“You hit him too hard,” a high thin voice echoes up through the hole.
“I knocked him out,” a deep gruff voice answers. “Fair and square.”
“He’s your sparring partner. You do not knock out your sparring partner.”
“Find me another.”
TidBit judges the opening, removes his shoes and holds them over his head. He sits and squeezes his legs into the circular aperture. At the knees, he wiggles, sliding his body to his chest into the hole. Hands high, he takes a deep breath and pushes down.
The Mouse falls about ten feet to a soft resilient floor.
A gigantic man with close-cut orange hair and red padded gloves steps closer and leans down. “Are you my new sparring partner?” he asks. About five paces behind the giant, a body on the mat moans and rolls over. “I need someone to punch,” the giant adds, smacking his gloves together.
“No, sir,” TidBit stands shakily. “I am not a ‘sparring partner’, whatever that is. I am a stealthmouse.” The Mouse bows and holds his right hand out, palm open, fingers spread. “TidBit McIntyre, at your service.”
The giant touches a gloved hand to TidBit’s palm. “You look terrible. Is that dried blood?”
“Sorry, yes. There was a battle.”
“Fisticuffs?” The giant lifts his red gloves and assumes a fighting stance.
“Well, no. To be honest, it was more knives and swords and clubs and spears. That sort of thing.”
“Messy.” A wide grin forms on the giant’s face as he changes the subject. “Are you hungry? I am.”
A smaller man with a white towel wrapped around his waist steps forward. “HammerHands, are you sure you should be talking to this person?”
“What should I do? Stuff him back into the ceiling?” The giant glances at the opening. “I always thought that was for circulation.”
TidBit interrupts. “I am very, very hunger. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble?”
“Doc?” the giant HammerHands asks the smaller man.
“Okay, okay.” Doc makes a face at TidBit. “There’s a basin and a pitcher of fresh water over there near the balcony with soap and towels. Please wash. Scrub. And take off that shirt. I’ll find you something clean.
TidBit stumbles to the small table. The Mouse works to pull off his shirt. With his arms in the air, he glances over the balustrade and freezes. “We’re high.” TidBit stammers. “Very high.”
HammerHands laughs. “You are a strange drop-in. Yes, we are high above the valley. It’s breezy here, warm down there and freezing on the cliffs above. You are looking at a hidden valley lost among the peaks of OverMountain.”
“A hidden valley?”
“And one that does not take visitors.”
TidBit’s eyes widen.
“Don’t worry, small stealthmouse. I am a visitor here, too. And all visitors must be approved by the Abbot of HighHill. This is the Monastery of HighHill where you are standing, not washing and staring out into space.”
“Don’t be. Your timing is perfect. Our lunch is with the Abbott to determine if I can stay or be thrown into the freezing cold outside. In your case, I guess you’d be stuffed into the ceiling. In any event, we get a good meal first. The larder is well stocked and the vegetables fresh. So wash.”
Doc rushes back carrying a clean tunic. “Here’s your shirt. Be quick now.”
TidBit closes his eyes and scrubs his face.
* * *
“What are your casualties, Gil SpiderBack?”
“I am sure we could have turned the BentOnes and won the day, DwarfMaster, but your orders were to preserve the safety of the SandRunners.”
“Of the two hundred SpiderRiders of the First Legion, the lives of fifty-seven spiders and thirty-three dwarves were lost. The injuries of another eighteen spiders and seven dwarves mandate their retirement — with full benefits, of course, from active service to the Legion. All others will be fit for duty after a short rest.”
DeepDelve rubs his beard. “How could so many BentOnes have reached so close to TopHouse and done so much damage to our men and their mounts?”
“It was a surprising force, Master HuffSpot, and well hidden.”
“How many BentOnes were there, Gil?”
“We faced more than ten hundreds on the field. More brownones were entering from the trees when we departed to the east tradeway.”
“Did they follow?”
“They tried. For security, I sent the two SandRunners ahead with a stout guard. My captain, with the rear guard, performed an ambush. After that, no more brownones followed up the steepslide.”
“What were the BentOne losses?”
“On Magdalene Fields, a least four hundred brownones dead and two hundred seriously wounded. During their chase and our ambush, the BentOnes lost another fifty. I have reviewed these estimates with my men. They feel the numbers are reasonably accurate.”
“Your SpiderRiders have performed well, General SpiderBack. Very well. The story of The Battle of Magdalene Fields will be told and retold in the mead halls of our peoples, and the bravery of the SpiderRiders of DropKells will be played long and true by the Drums in the Deep.”
“Thank you, Sir. I will convey your words to the men. And thank you for the promotion, Sir.”
“It is well deserved, Gil.” DeepDelve pauses. “Now, the SandRunners, how are they?”
“Resting. They are exhausted, and two of their company are missing.”
“Prince Lohengrin and the Mouse.” DeepDelve lowers his head in thought.
“A dwarfdoor was activated, Sir. The one above the Lady’s chamber.”
“It could only have been the Prince. His ear device is coded to his handstrike. I programmed it myself.”
“Then, he may have escaped. They both may have.”
“I wonder. If the Prince reached the tunnels with his earpiece, he should find his way to TopHouse. The drum beats will lead him to the hidden doors.”
“What would happen without the earpiece?”
“The tunnels are many, SpiderBack, and they branch often. Where some lead is no longer certain and may be unknown. There may yet be hidden places beyond the knowledge of men and dwarves.”
“So, someone without the Prince, or the Prince without the earpiece, may not reach TopHouse?”
“We do know not where they could reach.” DeepDelve sighs. “Enough. Nothing more can be done tonight, General. Go. See to your men and their spiders. And get some rest for yourself. That’s an order.”
“Thank you, Sir. I will.”
* * *
FawnFizzle stares on the tall blond figure stretched on the camp bed.
“Will he recover, Doctor?”
The BentOne physician wears a white robe. A heartlistener hangs around the doctor’s neck. He pulls off black shiny gloves. “Talk to your SCRUMPs. I cannot tell what damage the darkclouds did to the internal pulse balances. Structure is undamaged. Organs are in place and functioning. That is good. Excellent. Often, I find little more than stains to examine after a SCRUMP attack. I think they meant to preserve this one.”
“What can be done?”
“Only one thing. Send him to the Count.”
“As I understand it, you know the First Count well and by all his many names.”
A scowl crosses the WardBoss’s face. “I do not care for your impudence, Doctor.”
“Then don’t ask a question for which you know the answer.”
“Thank you, now go and prepare a medical skidsled to transport the patient to the East Ridge.”
“My, you are in a hurry. I thought the sleds were reserved for the army.”
“I am the army and this is an army matter.”
“Touchy, touchy. I’ll prepare a whitesled for the patient.”
“Do it at once.”
“I fawn and fizzle at your command.”
“You stretch your luck, Doctor.”
“The little I know of your intended quarry, WardBoss, you may be running short of luck. Let’s hope this damaged prize is of some value to our TopBoss.” The doctor stuffs the listener in his black bag and leaves.
FawnFizzle steps beside the cot and speaks in a low voice. “Whoever you are, you had better be of some help to me. If you are not, I will see to it that the SCRUMPs finish their business with you. Then you will wish you were in a hidden place far from here where no one could ever find you.”