We went down to the lower level and found the hidden door that Thunder Jack had triggered right behind the ogre’s skull I had relieved myself in previously. Once the runes had been triggered, the door was obvious. Raucous opened it, practicing her skills, and we climbed a narrow stair out into a tunnel that ran a goodly distance before emerging in a small cave near the very beach we had landed on when we arrived at this island.
The sun was shining brightly as we stepped out of the gloom and I was heartened to see the Tabula Rasa at anchor out beyond the reefs that created the gentle lagoon before us. At the far end of the beach, huddled against a rocky outcropping there was a camp. Seven tents lined the shadows and there were stacks of crates and barrels set amongst them. Raucous gave me a look of bewilderment and we made our way across the edge of the sandy shore toward this camp.
We hadn’t gone long when a cry rang out and a dozen people emerged from the tents, rushing toward us in a mad scramble. At the head of the scrum was Emad, the scout.
“Oh, thank the gods!” he shouted as he realized who we were.
“You’re welcome,” Old One-Eye and Thunder Jack said in unison.
Emad looked at them quizzically and stopped in front of me. He grasped my hand and shook it, his enthusiasm nearly overwhelming.
“She’d have flayed me alive for losing you,” he said, dropping my hand and beaming at me. “You gave us quite a scare. What happened in that cave?”
I told him the tale, as much as I could without mentioning the fact that Thunder Jack and Old One-Eye were gods. I mentioned extraordinary powers brought us together and Emad asked nothing more specific.
As we approached the camp, the others in the scrum relaxed and began babbling with Raucous. Two of the sailors, including the cranky woman who first saw me emerge from Adeline’s cabin upon my return from my planar adventure, pulled Raucous aside and began grilling her for details. They veered off toward one of the further tents and before they disappeared inside they burst out laughing.
I caught a look from Raucous and I could see she was mightily happy. Good on her.
The camp had been set up for three days and search parties had been combing the island looking for us. The last was still out, led by Sven and four others. They had gone to the furthest part of the island, thinking maybe we’d gone off exploring.
“That cave had covered over by the time we returned,” Emad reported. “We knocked and shouted but you never responded. Adeline figured you had wandered off, but we set a crew to trying to break through that door.”
“How’d that work out for ya?” Thunder Jack asked with a grin.
Emad shrugged. “Neither pick nor awl would mar the door, and the rock around it was tougher than dragon hide.” Adeline told us to give it up as a bad job and search the island.”
“If he’s locked in there,” she said to me, “he’ll find his own way out. Make sure he’s not laying in a ravine somewhere with a broken leg or ruptured spleen.”
I introduced Bob and the others around before pulling Old One-Eye to the side for a private conversation. We discussed the night he came to me in my dreams and about the shrunken heads.
“They are tricksy,” he said, by way of explanation. “They told me they could find you while you slept as long as they were allowed to give you their message. They can be single minded when they have a need.”
I nodded. Made perfect sense. Actually, it was lunacy, but when dealing with ancient artifacts and gods, one cannot expect simple logic.
“They were nowhere to be found when I woke up.”
Old One-Eye nodded. “Those feathers in the box were their ride back to where you left them. They were obliged to return to she who has been entrusted with their keeping.”
The logic seemed a bit circular. “So how did you find them?”
He chuckled. “Lad, I wasn’t looking for you, or anybody. They sought me out. They are the ones who alerted me to Bob’s plight. He remains one of my few worshipers, you know.”
I didn’t know, but it was his business. “And yet he’s a paladin for Kithri,” I offered, hoping not to start a fight.
He nodded. “She’s a sweet lass, bakes the most amazing bread.” He got a far-away look in his one good eye. “I wonder if she’d bake me another loaf is I asked sweet enough?”
At that point, I realized he was no longer talking to me. I let him contemplate the finest bread in existence. I tried not to spend too much thought there, as it would start cravings I could not currently sate.
“And you, boy,” Old One-Eye said. “Will you be calling on me from time to time?”
There was a bit of pleading in his gruff voice.
“Of course, grandfather. I will pray to you for wisdom and guidance, especially in the finer points of dwarven lore and the complex making of maps.”
He glanced at Thunder Jack, a scowl on his face. “And that upstart?”
I shrugged. “I will not lie to you. I will call on any I deem can help my cause.”
He harrumphed and crossed his arms. I was beginning to understand that scowl and closed off physical behavior was his way of thinking.
“Make sure you don’t forget me,” he said finally, standing.
I smiled at him. “Thank you for helping us, and for seeing to Bob.”
This brought him around to stare at me. “You love the reckless fool, then? Honest and for true?”
I nodded. “Bob, Liz, and I have bound ourselves to one another by ancient rites and witnessed by celestial forces.”
He leaned in conspiratorially. “And you’ve,” he made a gesture indicating physical relations.
I nodded again. “Then you are doubly blessed, if you get my meaning.”
If you recall Father Mulcahy, I told you in the past that dwarves have no male and female, rather they carry the physical attribution of both. It makes for interesting worship.
After a bit of contemplation, the old god pulled me into a hug and as he squeezed me, he whispered a secret into my ear.
“Six days north, following Caliban’s Fist. Through treacherous waters, you will find your fair Liz waiting for you to come to her.”
“Thank you.” I thought for a moment. “When you first came to me, you asked if I’d pay anything for you to rescue Bob and I agreed.”
He stared at me, blank faced.
“I’m curious about the price I owe and anxious to clear my debts.”
The old dwarf god nodded, his face grave. “All in due time, boy. The balance is mightily in my favor. The price of something so valuable is not to be squandered.”
He shook his head. “It is not yours to decide when the bill is due, lad. You will know when the time comes.”
Then he vanished.
As I turned, I saw that Thunder Jack had been watching us and at the departure of Old One-Eye, he rose to join me.
“About you and Bob,” he prompted.