The Mountain Diva of Thebos- Instalment 5

The Theban Trilogy Cover
The Theban Trilogy Cover

The Mountain Diva of Thebos- Instalment 5

By Tony DeLorger© 2011


CHAPTER FIVE

‘THE DIVA AND THE SECRET

OF THE CRYSTALS’

Arlin suddenly felt the presence of other creatures and slowly turned to find more than a dozen sylphs behind him. They were both male and female, standing silently, looking down at the old one. The concern and sadness in their eyes began to explain who he was. There were tears in Pen’s eyes and he hung his head. He was seemingly wasting away. Arlin looked worriedly to the sylphs for confirmation, then reached over and placed his hand on Pens’.

‘You are the Diva?’ There was no reply. Arlin dejectedly lowered himself to the stone bench next to Pen, still trying to accept this unexpected outcome.

‘It is true, my son. I am the great and powerful Diva of the mountain.’

The sylphs not able to take any more silently left the chamber. Arlin sat there in confusion.

‘I don’t understand. You are as we are, in flesh.’

The Diva looked up. ‘I will explain,’ he began. ‘In all of life there is balance. The flow of life in nature is an unstoppable process. Everything transforms and changes. Where there is life, there is death and then life again; this cycle is without end. If a part of this cycle is removed, then the true cycle ceases to be.’ The Diva paused and took a deep breath.

‘The sacred crystals are a part of the cycle of the mountain. It is not so much their power, but the power of their intent, when first placed here by the ancients many centuries ago. I have, with their help, administered the flow of life to the various realms and only peace and prosperity has prevailed.’ He paused again, the sadness of his predicament telling in his voice.

‘But how could a creature like Mangarna have taken them?’ Arlin enquired, still confused. The Diva thoughtfully stroked his long grey beard. ‘Mangarna is an evil creature. Never have I seen a creature with such a disregard for life. The power of the crystals comes through life itself, its propagation and abundance. My power has little hold on a creature that does not live as others. He is a dark vehicle whose purpose is to gain power through hatred and greed. We could not have ever expected such a foe.’

‘But Diva how can Mangarna use these sacred crystals to aid his cause?’

‘After centuries the crystals have gained immense power. They themselves know not how they are used they simply radiate the life-force. Mangarna must have learned to manipulate that force for his purpose.’

The Diva looked Arlin directly in the eye, his own iridescent blue eyes seemingly fading.

‘Listen Arlin, the sacred crystals true power can never be utilised unless they are held by one of true heart, one who lives in the cycle of life; then their power is immeasurable.’

‘Mangarna thinks he can control it, but he will never hold their true power. What he wants can never be, because of why he wants it,’ he followed with a smile.

‘The form you see before you only exists because the cycle is broken. I have waited for you Arlin. You alone can bring back the crystals; bring life back to the mountain.’ The Diva rose weakly to his feet, and spoke in a stronger voice.

‘One last thing Arlin, when you place life itself before your own, the crystals themselves will show you the way. Remember these words.’

Arlin thought hard about what he had said but wasn’t exactly sure what it meant. His mind as you would expect was spinning and all he could do was remember the words, and perhaps understanding would come later.

‘Oh Arlin? Perhaps it will be best that I remain Pen for now. Our little secret,’ he added with a wink. Pen shuffled off toward the cave entrance, then turned.

‘Come, don’t keep your friends waiting,’ he said with an infectious grin.

As the two walked out of the cave, the Terras and Kaelin stood up.

‘What’s he doing here?’ asked Orla in a surprised voice.

‘Welcome, welcome!’ said Pen excitedly shuffling forward to greet them. ‘I am here to serve you...ah, on your quest,’ he followed in his shaky, aged voice.

Arlin stepped forward. ‘I have spoken to the Diva. He has told me what we need to know. Pen will help us make ready for the journey.’

He then placed his hand on Pen’s bony shoulder as the Terras looked on, suspiciously.

‘Please follow me?’ asked Pen politely, as he shuffled down a narrow track to the left of the cave entrance. The others with seemingly little choice, shrugged, then followed one by one.

Kaelin quickly made his way to the front to see Arlin. ’What did he say, the great one?’ Arlin smiled with a knowing expression.

‘It will be all right, I am told. I know about the crystals now. We will get them back,’ he said confidently. But in the back of Arlin’s mind there were many unanswered questions and the pressure of responsibility he’d yet to deal with. He could only trust the old one and believe in his own purpose and the quest.

The trail wound its way around to the upper cliff face and to the cave that they had seen from below. At the trail’s end, a narrow ledge only two feet wide led to the opening. A solid cliff stood on one side and a sheer drop of about one hundred feet on the other. It would be no mean task. However, Pen whistled as he shuffled across, unaware of any danger. Without thinking he completed the crossing and entered the cave unperturbed. The others weren’t so confident.

One by one they crossed the cliff, belly to the stone, inch by inch, until with a sigh of relief, they leapt into the opening. Orla was last with sweat beading over his brow. He could not get as close to the cliff as the others, his rather rotund girth making his crossing a little more nerve racking. Eventually, wringing with sweat, Orla happily fell into the cave.

Once inside, the cave opened out into a medium-sized chamber with many adjoining tunnels and chambers leading elsewhere. The mountain was like a huge catacomb of passages and cavities, inviting the uninitiated to find disaster at every turn.

Several torches lit the chamber and revealed only the barest of necessities. A table and chair, a large cooking pot, a few utensils and of course a cover and some clothing were all that Pen owned. Arlin scoured the cold and poverty-stricken environment thinking only what a sad circumstance the old one was in. It was no court for a Diva. Mangarna had done this, reduced this great benevolent being to a frail old creature living in a hovel.

Pen turned to all of them with a pleasant smile. ‘It’s not much, but you can rest here safely,’ he said as he busily cleared the table.

Arlin, with a look of concern on his face, approached Pen.

‘Shouldn’t we be on our way? We are wasting time.’

Pen stopped what he was doing and faced Arlin, placing both hands on his shoulders consolingly. ‘You cannot waste time Arlin. But often time can waste us,’ he quipped, with a mischievous grin. Arlin frowned, more than a little perplexed with his observation.

‘Don’t worry, I have a plan to get you to the gully. Today you rest. The sylphs say I am not a bad cook, you will see,’ he whispered, giggling.

Arlin gave up, removed his pack and found a place to settle down. The Terras huddled together chattering to one another and Arlin suddenly felt uneasy, thinking that he was the subject of conversation. Orla suddenly turned to Arlin with a definite look of dissent on his face. He then stepped forward.

‘Why are we here? We are growing impatient,’ he said with a sharp edge to his voice.

‘You must trust me Orla,’ replied Arlin. ‘There is a plan.’

‘And when are you going to tell us of this great plan? I suppose the old one is leading us into battle!’

Arlin, feeling the brunt of his attack, calmly took a breath. ‘You were right Orla, you do need my help. I am the one who can bring back the sacred crystals; it is my destiny,’ Arlin followed, a little full of himself.

He looked Orla straight in the eye. ‘The Diva is helping us, we leave on the morrow. You must trust me.’

Orla looked suspiciously back at Arlin for a long moment, then nodded in half agreement and returned to the others.

Pen was busily gathering and chopping ingredients, his narrow back hunched meekly over the table. They all watched him with interest and a little trepidation, about what exactly he was preparing. All but Arlin felt uneasy. The old one was pleasant enough, but most of them felt his sanity was undoubtedly in question.

Nolt couldn’t bear the wait and wandered over to take a closer look at what he was doing.

‘Is there any meat in this brew?’ he asked rudely.

‘Ah...No. But I’m sure you’ll find it filling.’

‘Hmm!’ spat Nolt, and walked away grumpily.

They all rested silently for some time then finally Pen announced the meal was ready.

‘About time!’ Nolt scoffed.

One by one they took their food bowls to the pot. Pen ladled the stew into each bowl, happily giggling, pleased with his effort. Nolt held the bowl to his nose; it smelt all right. He shrugged, then resignedly took his first mouthful.

‘Mm,’ he uttered in complete amazement.

‘This is good!’ shouted Orla, the others agreeing.

The Terras demolished their portions in mere seconds, then lined up for second helpings. Pen, Arlin and Kaelin were amused by their reaction, especially Pen who was enjoying the response. As he refilled Nolt’s bowl, Nolt looked suspiciously down at the stew.

‘I thought you said there was no meat in it?’

‘There is none,’ Pen replied, frowning.

‘What’s this then?’ Nolt held up a large piece of the stew.

‘Ah…The magic ingredient,’ said Pen, pointing over to the cave wall. Nolt turned to the wall, his mouth gaping. Row after row of grey, half round protrusions grew abundantly from the moist stone.

‘This is mould?’ he shrieked, spitting out what was in his mouth. The others burst into uncontrollable laughter. Then amid all the joviality, the other Terras, realising why they were laughing, stopped and looked down at their bowls. They then looked at one another for guidance, but what could they say? It tasted fine. They all shrugged and continued to eat. Nolt, still trying to accept the news, peered blankly at the others.

‘Good mould!’ Toran quipped, still rather amused. The others laughed heartily as they finished what food remained. Nolt, in the end, followed suit.

The mood was finally broken and everyone felt a little more at ease. Even the Terras were satisfied with their vegetarian meal. They in fact found it difficult to believe that food could taste so good.

It had been a long and strained day and each of them was secretly glad that it was at an end. They all happily retired early; there was peace in the cave and they had succumbed to it.

All the travellers rested well in the safety of the cave. After the twilight Pen was up early, shuffling around and fussing over his meagre belongings. After all had woken, they shared a loaf of ‘vita’, an Artec unleavened bread that Arlin had prepared and cooked in the coals of the fire. In addition they consumed what remained of the fruits and their meal was complete.

Pen cleared the table while the others doused the fire and collected their packs ready to leave.

‘Everybody ready?’ asked Pen, in his usual pleasant manner.

‘Let’s go then!’ sported Arlin.

Pen led them to an adjoining tunnel.

‘Won’t we need torches?’ asked Kaelin.

‘Not where we’re going,’ replied Pen, with a twinkle in his eye.

The tunnel soon opened out into another chamber and Pen was right. The entire surface of the chamber glowed, producing a soft even light. They had all seen this before but the soft luminescence transformed the caves into a dreamlike landscape and they all wandered through it in awe. Pen then made another turn to the right.

‘This way!’ he directed, waving his long bony arm in the air.

They entered another smaller chamber and at its end, at the base of the wall were three holes. Arlin peered down one of them; it seemed bottomless. Water was dripping into the holes from the wall above and he could hear it gathering force as it collected and shot through them.

‘What’s this Pen?’

Pen smiled broadly.

‘This tunnel leads to the gully,’ he explained, pointing to the right hole.

‘The gully?’ snapped Orla, exasperated. ‘The gully is four twilight’s hike from here!’

Pen patiently waited for Orla’s shock to subside then continued. ‘This tunnel is an old watercourse. It cuts straight through the mountain, under the foothills and comes out over the creek in the gully.’

‘It is smooth from the water flow and as long as you remain straight, it will take you safely to your destination. The water in the creek will break your fall.’

Pen looked up pensively for a moment, trying to remember if there was still water in the creek.

The Terras looked up at one another unnerved, not believing the proposition. Kaelin stepped forward. ‘I’ll do it!’

Arlin turned to Orla. ‘Are you going to trust me?’ He looked to the other Terras, all of them more than uneasy about the plan, but with little choice.

Pen placed his frail hand on Arlin’s shoulder. ‘Remember what I have told you,’ he whispered in a kind voice. ‘You can do this, for all of us.’

Pen gave them all simple instructions on their positioning. The Terras decided to go down on their backs, feet first. They were to hold their packs and weapons on their bellies, being careful to keep their elbows in. Arlin had to go down on his belly, face first, with his belongings secured firmly over his folded wings. Kaelin helped him prepare.

‘Remember, keep your hands by your side,’ said Pen with concern. ’You do the same Kaelin.’

Kaelin was to go first, followed by the Terras with Arlin last. Pen lined them up in order and would count to ten to make sure there would be no collisions.

Kaelin knelt down in front of the small opening and looked up nervously.

‘Let gravity do the work, and keep your arms in,’ said Pen with a cheeky grin. Kaelin looked down into the opening, took a deep breath, and then lunged forward into it.

‘Ah!’ he cried, his voice echoing up through the hole but fading quickly with the increasing distance.

Pen was counting, while Toran sat with his legs dangling in the opening. He adjusted his pack and spear and tightly wrapped his arms around himself, ready for this complete leap of faith. His eyes glazed over and adrenaline was pumping hard through his veins.

‘Go!’ said Pen, excitedly.

Toran straightened himself and slid quickly down the luminous hole.

One by one they exited the chamber, with fear in their eyes and extreme hope in their hearts. Eventually it became Arlin’s turn.

‘Good luck Arlin. I know you can do this,’ said Pen confidently. Arlin knelt before the opening, and then looked up.

‘I will return soon, with the crystals,’ he said, never more determined.

As he slipped away, Pen’s expression changed. ‘I hope you’re right.’

Arlin raced through the tunnel at great speed and as the water joined the flow he slid even faster in its rush. The tunnel twisted and turned, rose then dipped needing constant work and concentration to hold straight and to keep his arms by his sides.

At first the ridges in the tunnel ceiling and walls flew by like rings of light and dark, but soon his speed was so great they became a blur. Each dip and rise contorted his body. The pressure was enormous, often sending him in midair only to once again hit the ground and bounce like a rag doll until stable again. His mind was spinning and fear began to consume his every thought. If he lost control at this speed he would surely die.

After what seemed like only a moment, Arlin saw a spot of bright light up ahead in the distance. When he registered what it was, he was launched out into the daylight, leaving the tunnel far behind him.

His first instinct was to spread his wings to take control of his descent, but of course he was bound by his tightly strapped pouch and struggled desperately to get free. All too quickly and without any success, he plummeted into the algae covered creek, inelegantly landing in the putrid water with a plop. His entry was unlike his usual orchestrated flight and he stood up in the filthy water wearing a headdress of bright green slime.

Orla and the others, now seated on the bank in similar condition, burst out laughing at the sight of him. Overwhelmed with their ‘hero of destiny’ Orla rolled backwards, hardly believing Arlin’s delicate landing. For a moment all were swept away with the frivolity, while Arlin ran his fingers through his slimy cover, squinting with disdain and still spitting pieces of slime from his mouth. Then Arlin’s expression changed.

‘What has happened here?’

Kaelin stood on the bank some feet away. ‘The undines are all slaves. Without them, this place is dying. Without water, clean water, everything will eventually die.’

‘That’s why we are here,’ he added.

The reality of Mangarna’s work suddenly struck them. A welling anger rose in each one, and a further resolution to stop this insanity at any cost.

They slowly removed the smelly algae and mud from their clothing. Thankfully it was not as cold in the gully and there was so far, no sign of the white. Sharing the experience of their descent from within the mountain, they rested for some time on the bank and apart from a few bruises and aching backs; they all survived the ordeal unscathed.

The encampment they were looking for was, as they were told, some distance away at the cliff face on the southern side of the gully. They needed to get closer, but making camp too close could be risky. Morlon hunting parties were still out there searching for recruits. They decided to wait until the cover of twilight and then push on to find a closer and more suitable camp site. Fires could not be lit for reasons of safety, and food was scarce. So they would have to make do with what they had on them.

Mangarna sat white-knuckled on his throne. As the twilight’s passed, the quotas remained unchanged. The situation was becoming intolerable.

Norbit’s meeting with Karn had not gone to plan with most of the Morlons outright rejecting the notion of them working the mines. Karn had tried desperately to reason with their childish pride, but to no benefit and in the end Norbit addressed the gathering himself. With a disregard for good judgement, he had offered the creatures land, power and privilege that he knew Mangarna would never honour. Norbit was now a desperate being and simply had to do something. If this problem were not corrected, his life would be worthless anyway. He had nothing to lose.

Norbit had just returned from the Morlon gathering, his heart pounding. ‘What have I done?’ he mumbled, feeling a building panic. He leant back against his chamber door, trying to overcome his welling apprehension, and then took several deep breaths.

‘Calm down. Everything will be all right.’

He stumbled to the table and slumped into his chair, staring vacantly into the candle at its centre. His eyes were soon wandering the chamber, soulfully scanning his meagre belongings and his beautiful mirror, wondering if he would ever see them again after he explained everything to Mangarna.

After much confusion and the further contemplation of all of his choices, Norbit eventually decided that coming clean with Mangarna was the only way. He centred himself and with a deep sigh, left his chamber and headed down the passage to make his confession.

As he entered Mangarna’s chamber, the dark and brooding eyes of his master immediately fixed on him like a winter’s chill.

‘What do you want?’ he spat, making it obvious he was in no mood to chat. Norbit hesitated a little, then nervously moved forward.

‘Master...I have news. I have found a way to complete the weapon,’ he said, his eyes wide, realising how he’d put it. Mangarna turned abruptly, the furrow in his brow immediately deepening. Norbit swallowed with fear, then continued.

‘I have... I...I…’

‘Speak up you fool, I have no time for this!’

‘Master I have talked the Morlons into completing the task in the mines.’ Norbit paused, waiting nervously for a reaction.

Mangarna simply continued to frown, his long nails tapping impatiently on the arm of his throne. ‘Just how did you achieve this, oh cockeyed one?’

Norbit weakened at the knees. ‘Here it comes!’ he thought. ‘I...I....’

‘What have you done?’ screeched Mangarna.

Norbit’s hunched over body was now trembling uncontrollably. ‘I offered land, wealth and power,’ he said quietly, his head lowered, waiting for the impact.

There was a pregnant silence and with eyes closed, Norbit shook in his boots. Mangarna carefully considered what Norbit had said and to Norbit’s complete surprise, he began to laugh. In fact he laughed so heartily, Norbit thought his master had gone mad. He stepped back, not knowing how he should react, and then Mangarna, as his laughter subsided, leaned forward and addressed his puny assistant.

‘My little fool, you have done well. When the weapon is completed, I will no longer need the services of Morlons. Once the weapon is in my hands, no-one, especially those brainless oafs, will ever contest my power,’ he said in an evil, menacing tone.

Norbit was shocked and relieved with his master’s reaction and moved forward, a little less afraid. Then, on a roll, he ventured even further.

‘Sire, if the nymph slaves are released, the waters will return to normal and the gully will again flourish,’ he humbly suggested. ‘With your permission of course, Sire.’

Norbit finished, stepping back and bowing, realising he’d survived the ordeal.

Mangarna, now thinking only of completing his weapon, waved his hand. ‘You may give the order. Oh, and bring me the Artec, I may yet have a use for her.’

‘Yes Sire,’ replied Norbit, slowly and humbly backing out of the chamber. Once in the corridor he breathed a sigh of relief and a self-satisfied grin slowly crept across his face.

Norbit with his foot dragging behind him made his way to the Morlon camp. As he shuffled through the compound all creatures stepped aside and glared at this strange little Ellok. Norbit thought as always, that they were admiring him and he smiled with pride as they ogled the right hand of the powerful wizard. The people’s fear was warranted- Mangarna more inclined to slit throats rather than look at them twice.

As Norbit entered the camp Karn caught sight of him immediately and rose to his feet to await his arrival.

‘It is done. The master is pleased and will remain indebted to your people.’

Karn smiled with the news, as Norbit looked up nervously at the Morlons huge threatening frame.

‘We are to release the other creatures, all except the Artec,’ Norbit followed. ‘The nymphs will return to the waters and begin to repair the damage. The master has other plans for the little Artec.’

Norbit went to leave but Karn stopped him, his large callus hand placed firmly on Norbit’s right shoulder, sending an anxious shudder through his puny body.

‘Tell Mangarna there will be a celebration feast in his honour, this twilight.’

Norbit just looked at him, wondering how his master would react to such an invitation.

‘Go and tell him, I have much to do!’ snapped Karn, more insistent and quickly losing patience.

Norbit scurried back to his chambers exhausted, but pleased it had gone so smoothly. When the guards went to release the slaves, they had just settled down after a hard and gruelling day in the mines. The twilights were getting noticeably colder and the poor creatures were suffering from that, their hunger and of course sheer exhaustion.

Sinnor sat with Desta, gently wiping her brow; she was all but unconscious. Suddenly the holding cell door flung open. Those who could react jumped and edged back, wondering what was happening, but many were too sick to respond. The guards began moving through the cell and unlocking the shackles, their half-conscious prisoners staring blankly up at them. Some began to sob thinking it was time to return to the mines.

Sinnor watched with interest and was more than a little perplexed by what was happening. She nudged Ellor who was almost asleep and gently shook Desta to wake her. Soon the guard approached their line and removed their shackles. Sinnor rubbed her red and swollen ankles her eyes still fixed on the guard. The clinking of the metal chains echoed ominously in the cell, but it was different somehow. After the guard’s finished their task, they gathered at the cell entrance and one of them stepped forward.

‘The master has seen fit to release you. Your services are no longer needed. You will be grateful for his lenience. Now go!’ The cell door was left wide open with only one guard remaining. The captives couldn’t believe their ears. Was this a trick, some ghastly trap perhaps? For a moment they remained motionless, not wanting to test this unexpected outcome. Then, with nothing left to lose, they scrambled to their feet and began to hobble out of the cell into the twilight. They leaned on one another for support and struggled to make their escape. Those too ill to walk, were carried by their companions and dragged helplessly out of the cells.

The long, sad procession of broken souls began streaming out and winding their way back toward their homes. The guard that remained pushed his way through the lines and over to where Desta lay. He reached down and grabbed her roughly by her delicate arm.

‘Not for you, little one,’ he said, lifting her up.

‘What are you doing?’ screamed Sinnor, trying to hold on to her friend.

‘This is not your concern!’ bellowed the Morlon, backhanding Sinnor and sending her flying into Ellor who then tried to contain her panic. The Morlon tucked Desta under his arm and pushed his way out of the cell and on toward Mangarna’s chambers.

‘No!’ cried Sinnor devastated at Desta’s abduction.

‘Not now,’ she sobbed, falling to pieces in Ellor’s arms. He held her for a moment then whispered.

‘Come, we must leave.’ He then pulled her to her feet.

Sinnor and Ellor limped slowly out of the camp and headed for their precious home by the creek. Meanwhile Desta, still unconscious, lay in a tiny dank cell, oblivious to her own fate.

Mangarna peered out from his upper chamber window, watching the stream of creatures leaving the encampment. To him they looked like a trail of insects that with one mere step of his mighty foot would be no more. He looked down at them with contempt, then turned coldly and retired inside.

The Morlon camp was alive with movement. Karn had organised a huge feast to honour their contract with Mangarna. In the centre were many tables placed end to end. Maidens were placing bowls and utensils and organising huge platters of fruit and jugs of ale for the celebration. The Morlons were particularly fond of the brew they called ‘gup’. It was the result of fermented fruit and was dangerously strong.

There was no finesse in its manufacture. Open barrels were filled with crushed fruits and a large quantity of ji, the sweet river cane. It was fermented over heat during one moon cycle and then sealed and kept longer in storage. When these barrels were opened, the finished brew was strong enough to kill a small animal. The Morlon constitution and their sheer size saved them. However occasionally, being so mindless and greedy, the drinkers would take too much and never wake up.

Several large spits sat suspended over fires around the tables, carcasses of meat sizzling over red-hot coals, their smell filling the entire camp. Karn paced up and down awaiting Mangarna’s arrival. The Morlons were already gathering, drinking gup and becoming unruly.

Karn looked at them with disapproval, becoming impatient and hoping that his people would at least behave with some dignity in front of Mangarna. Then, from the darkness, a figure stepped into the light of the encampment. Mangarna’s slim, tall frame gracefully approached the feasting tables. His long dark cape was encrusted with precious stones and detailed embroidery, and it fell from him like the darkness. The gathering silenced as he stood before them. Karn excitedly approached.

‘Ah, welcome Mangarna. We are honoured by your presence. This way,’ he followed, showing him to the head of the table.

Mangarna said nothing and slowly made his way to his seat, scouring the camp and thinking how uncivilised these creatures were. After he sat down, the Morlons rushed to the tables to gain position. Norbit, who was behind his master, took the seat to Mangarna’s left. One of the Morlons, in his enthusiasm to sit close to the guest of honour, collected poor Norbit, sending him flying off the bench seat. Karn, who was standing opposite, gave the oaf a dark look and the Morlon realising his mistake, gently lifted Norbit up and placed him back on to his seat. He then retreated backwards, in shame and away from Karn’s cold glare.

Karn remained standing and when the last of them sat down, raised his cup and toasted their guest.

‘To the new ruler of Thebos, the great and powerful, Mangarna!’

The table erupted into a rabble of cheering and clashing of cups. The feast had begun. Plates of steaming roasted meats were placed on the tables and the Morlons quickly fought over the most succulent pieces, devouring them quickly in a frightful display. The tables soon became a battlefield, with pieces of greasy meat, half eaten fruit and spilt ale scattered everywhere. The more gup that they drank the louder and more unruly the feast became. The Morlon maidens, who tended the tables, soon became the focus of attention as the drinkers became more and more drunk. The females were much smaller than the males and although their facial features could never be described as attractive, they did have curvaceous bodies.

The drunken males were continually groping and propositioning the poor maidens who were trying to clear and restock the tables.

Mangarna quietly ate only a small portion of meat and a few berries. The display had more than taken away his appetite and he wished to spend no more time than was necessary with these crude beings. He turned to Karn and in a controlled voice, spoke.

‘I have work to do Karn. I trust your people will work the mines tomorrow?’

Karn, still with his mouth full, rose to his feet. ‘It is early, Sire.’

Mangarna stood and adjusted his robes, ‘We have a weapon to build. When it is completed there will be time enough to celebrate,’ he said in a superior tone. He then left the table.

Norbit quickly snatched another piece of meat and shuffled off to follow his master. Karn, a little disappointed, watched them disappear into the darkness then sat down and resumed feasting.

The Morlons drank long into the twilight. They were a gluttonous race and never knew when to stop anything. Apart from their own needs, they considered nothing else and they overindulged in whatever gave them pleasure, many times to their own detriment.

Now these crude Morlons were to work the mines and give Mangarna his tool of destruction.

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