As Miklos returned to find Saeth and Feldard still guarding the cavern, he caught low conversation from down the tunnel. Who’s that? he thought. Curiosity overcame caution snd he drew closer to the tunnel mouth and covered the lantern. Maruc passed into the cavern followed by a young armed newcomer. Miklos held back, Maruc didn’t seemed concerned so perhaps he knew him.
Miklos backed of a couple of paces and pulled his knife out. “Who is this Maruc?”
“I know not friend Miklos. He has not chosen to inform me, but I do not think he is one of the slavers.” Maruc replied.
“I was rather hoping he might tell us more about himself.” Maruc leant casually against a wall and glanced over the Seath and Feldard who where eyeing the stranger with as much surprise and suspicion as Miklos. “Still in his favour he had me at swordpoint and didn’t kill me out of hand so I guess he isn’t malicous.”
“A nameless brigand, it would seem?” That seemed, to Saeth, to be the height of arrogance, to assume that onlookers would recognize you merely by sight. And ultimately pointless, since they would call you something anyway. “You may call me Nansaidh.” She knew he wouldn’t catch the allusion as she quietly hummed a bar, but she wondered if Miklos would–the youth had mentioned speaking elvish, hadn’t he? “What is your business here, and why should we trust you?” Trust, as Miklos had pointed out earlier, was a valuable commodity… valuable, because of the price of guessing wrong. Saeth was glad her daggers were still close at hand, and that knew, whatever happened, that she’d keep a good distance between them for the time being.
“I am Nicolai. And you are Saeth. I have been watching the four of you since you fell over each other in front of that procession yesterday. I was merely observing you, watching your intentions here. Nothing untoward I can assure you. I’m surprised you didn’t notice.”
“No matter, I wanted to speak with you all, but wished to be sure of your intentions first. But you kill slavers, and then set the slaves free. That’s a good start by me. Now, if we are to argue about this, I suggest we do so after we have dealt with any other slavers down here. And hopefully over a large bowl of stew.”
“Well met Nicolai, I am Miklos, a student.” he said. “Two left feet I may have, but do not make the mistake of underestimating me, or any of us. We are here to discover the truth of the tunnels and what their delving means to the city. We are few as you can plainly see and we face many foes. To side with us may not seem logical but it is the side of honour. We place high value in this and loyalty.”
“If you wish to ally yourself with us you will be made welcome and you will share our reward… and our fate. Do you wish to join you fate with ours as Maruc so aptly put – By the shaking of a strangers hand?” Miklos returned his knife to its sheath and offered his hand.
Maruc found himself reappraising the young mage. Could he really see into this mans eyes and recognise hidden honour in their depths? A strange power was thrusting this group together. There must be a reason for this man, undoubtably a wayward soul, to be guided here. Even if he does not know it himself. The Immortals must have a hand in this, Maruc was convinced. But what was surprising was that even without ‘faith’ Miklos had seen it too. Which was what really shocked Maruc. Either that or he was a fool, but in his heart Maruc knew he wasn’t. ‘A strangers hand’ Maruc smiled to himself then he thought about the sword wound again and started to tend it at last. Whist doing so he beckoned Feldard over.
The Dwarf, not taking his eyes off the swordman joined the Cleric. “Whats Miklos doing?” he quietly grated at the Halavist. “Has he taken leave of his senses? We don’t know who he is or where his loyalties lie. For all we know he could be in the employ of the Slavers and is just pretending to be benevolent.”
“Look Feldard,” Maruc replied, “he could have taken my head off. Chained up the diggers and you’d be none the wiser.”
“Then he’s really clever and playing into our hands to find out why we are doing this.” Feldard retorted.
“I think you are over cautious my dwarven friend, the Immortals have lead him here for a good reason, even Miklos can see that, and he has as much faith as you have.” Maruc grinned at the dwarf. “Now lets look at that scratch.”
“Its nothing, let me be.”
“Don’t annoy me Master dwarf. Sit and be still a moment and let me do my job. Or I’ll treat you to a sermon when you are truely injured and believe me you don’t want that.”
The dwarf sat with bad grace while Maruc tended his scratch. Then got up and not saying a word to the stranger stalked back over to the tunnel mouth.
“Nicolai, I am pleased to make your aquance properly. Master Feldard,” Maruc indicated the dwarf, “does not hand his loyalty out lightly so you must forgive him. Doubtless he will start giving you grudging respect after a battle or two. As you can see he hardly lets me near enough to bandage his lacerations!”
“Now I am known for many things, long speaches being one! Allow me to bring you up to speed. We have slain three slavers and free’d three miners. We discovered them when Miklos heard them. In our haste to secure the room we passed a tunnel on the right, which Miklos I understand has looked into. What have you discovered Miklos?”
“Friend Maruc, the tunnel to the right splits and splits again a little further on, this gives us four possible avenues for investigation. However, I’d be tempted to see what that noise we heard earlier was all about. I’d offered to go and have a look as I was the least encumbered…”
Miklos looked a Nicolai, “Unencumbered I may be, the most qualified for this I am not.”
Saeth scowled. How could she have not seen someone stalking them for the better part of a week? Could it be something about the southern cities? Or was she just losing her touch after so long away from real danger? But clearly he had, at least long enough to learn their names, which suggested he wasn’t with the slavers. She’d have to redouble her focus. And keep an eye on him–what kind of man skulked for days without hazarding an introduction?
“Perhaps, Miklos, you could take our new friend and explore that passage further? Feldard and I are both comfortable in the dark, and will do fine continuing past this cavern on our own.” Dwarves might not be pleasant to be around, but this one could hold his own in a scuffle. And that would put some distance between herself and the newcomer, should he prove other than what he seemed. “We can meet back here in, say, half a turn of the glass?”
“I see that I seem to have offended you Mistress Saeth. No matter, it is part of my nature to hide and listen in shadows. With a face such as mine it is often best.
“Now, I think that I should probably go and see what this noise was that you heard before. Miklos, would you show me, to a point, and then it may be better that I continue alone.”
Miklos climbed up the ladder in the cavern and gestures Nicolai to join him and invites him silently to advance further down the tunnel to the bend.
The dwarf was still tense after the battle and the appearance of the newcomer hadn’t helped any, especially to have his concerns of this Nicolai cast aside like rubbish. So he readily accepts Saeth suggestion of splitting up only to have Milkos and Nicolai ignore the suggestion altogether and brush past him and Saeth. He grips his battle-axe tightly while grumbling in dwarven. “It seems the humans would rather we still together. Come on, lets’ not keep them waiting.” He trudged after the Miklos and Nicolia solidly. He doesn’t trust this Nicolai, not one bit.
Realising that Feldard wished to enter the tunnel Miklos felt that he was in the way. The Dwarf was shaking his head and grumbling something to himself and Miklos took this for a sign to give him a wide berth. He pressed himself to the wall and allowed him to pass.
“Far-be-it for me to choose your friends for you Master Feldard but I’d emplore you to give this man a chance to prove himself.” Watching Nicolai’s reteating back.”He is prepared to scout ahead for us.” Miklos whispered to the Dwarf as he passed.
Feldard eyed the tunnel as he moved along it’s length – judging it for slope, and stability. The sound of movement ahead grew louder. As the volume increased, it was clear that it is the sound of digging. A dim light comes from ahead.
Creeping forward slowly, the group is able to see a dimly lit cellar. The air is dry and smells of meats. Cured hams and sausages hang from the beams. In the center of the cellar, two hooded men busily dig up the floor. A large bundle lies nearby.
“Come on,” says one man. “I think this is deep enough. Let’s get it buried and go.”
“No,” says the second man. “I want to make it deeper. Nobody can ever find this but us.”