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Excerpt for Tales of Lentari Box Set, Vol. 1. by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



The Epic Fantasy Box Set, Vol. 1


Includes:

Lost City

Something Wyverian This Way Comes

A Portal for Your Thoughts



By


Jeffrey M. Poole





Contents



Lost City (Tales of Lentari #1)

Something Wyverian This Way Comes (Tales of Lentari #2)

A Portal for Your Thoughts (Tales of Lentari #3)







Lost City



By


Jeffrey M. Poole




www.AuthorJMPoole.com


Smashwords Edition License Notes


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author's work.



This book is a work of fiction. All characters and locations appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, or real locations (even if you find it on a map!), is purely coincidental.


Published by: Hungry Griffin Publishing

www.HungryGriffin.com


Published in the United States of America

Copyright 2013 © Jeffrey M. Poole

www.AuthorJMPoole.com




THE UNDENIABLE, UNARGUABLE, IRREFUTABLE RULER OF SSX TRICKY!

HOW’S THAT SNOW TASTE, CHICKLET?





Hammers are never adorned with jewels. Repeated blows will loosen any adornments… You saw something that shows otherwise?

A famous keymaker. For a dwarf.






ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I have a long list of people to thank for helping me with this book. First and foremost, I have to thank my wife. Not only does she suggest ideas for stories, she also proofreads my work, points out problems, and then helps me fix the problems! Nothing makes me smile more when she asks me if I have my notebook handy as she has a couple of ideas.


Second, I’d like to thank all my beta readers. You guys rock! Taking the time out of your busy schedules just to help an indie author with his book says volumes to me. Giliane, Jamie (Lia), my mom, Scott Poe, Raymond & Kristen Baker, Caroline Roberts, Caroline Craven, and Derek Pritchard. Thank you all so much!


I’d also like to thank my illustrators. Yep, you read that right. Plural. There were three people this time. The multi-talented Rachel Marks for her awesome cover, her husband Richard for the fantastic title graphics, and Mr. Brett Gable, a fan of the series who volunteered when I asked for help. He’s responsible for the illustrations of the hammer and the QM. Don’t know what the QM is yet? You will! You can find more of their work by checking out their websites, listed below.


Once more I also have to thank the loyal fans of the series. Without you guys this book would never have seen the light of day. Your kind words of encouragement, also known as a friendly nudge to get off my keester and write more, means everything to me! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!


J.



Rachel Marks: falynevarger.deviantart.com

Richard Marks: ubervestigum.deviantart.com

Brett Gable Illustrations: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Brett-David-Gable-Illustrations/151382885064996



For Giliane –


This story wouldn’t be here without you. I absolutely LOVE it when you say, “I’ve got a great idea for a book!”

What else you got lined up in there??




Prologue



Sticking close to his father’s side, the young dwarf peered with undisguised wonder at the workshop before them. Row after row of sledge hammers, swages, fullers, chisels, punches, drifts, and tongs hung from hundreds of pegs. Work tables, shelves of tools, and stacks of molds were everywhere. Lined up against the far wall were four gigantic anvils.

The boy swallowed nervously. This was nothing like his father’s foundry. Whoever heard of a workshop having more than one anvil, let alone four? His father’s anvil was tiny compared to these. Then again, his father made axe handles. His area of expertise didn’t require that large of an anvil. In fact, it didn’t really require an anvil at all, and that was the reason why they were here.

Intent on inspecting the huge anvils up close, the dwarf child broke away from the group and moved towards the back wall. A heavy callused hand suddenly dropped on his shoulder and spun him about until he was facing the rest of the group. Two black eyes peered suspiciously at him from behind a worn leather helmet.

“Master Maelnar will be teaching us the nuances of working with silver, gold, and other precious metals,” his father quietly told him. “If I can see for myself what techniques he uses when working with silver, and what tools he uses, then I might one day be able to sell something besides axe handles. Do not even think about wandering off. If you cause me to miss the part on smithing silver you won't be able to sit for a month. Do you catch my meaning?”

“But you told me you know his son,” the boy accused. “You and Uncle fought side by side together with Breslin. Does that not mean they owe you a favor?”

His father sighed heavily. “I want no special recognition. This is a skill I will learn on my own.”

“If you say so, father.”

“Roll your eyes at me again and I’ll smack them right out of your head.”

The boy cringed. His defiant expression quickly vanished.

After what felt like hours, the boy watched as the famous keymaker finally reached under one of his tables and plunked down two metal bars; one was gold, the other silver. Maelnar then retrieved several sets of tongs, both large and small, from one of the shelves nearest to him and then unfurled a long strip of dark blue fabric across the table. Lined up in a row of pockets was a set of small hammers with heads of various shapes and sizes. He slowly walked the length of the table and pointed at various hammers, explaining that the plethora of sizes was for shaping the malleable and ductile metals into different contortions.

Disinterested, the boy again decided to inspect the far recesses of the workshop. As he slowly edged away from his father, he once again headed toward the row of anvils when a commotion drew everyone’s attention. Two of the smaller underlings, evidently brothers from the way they were laying into one another, had started brawling. Over and over they rolled around the floor, arms wrapped around the other, as each tried to pin his opponent to the ground.

The boy watched as his father and several adults tried to separate the two brothers. The distraction was all he needed to slip quietly away to admire the workshop’s many features at his own leisure. While everyone focused on separating the two fighters, the child walked around the closest anvil and silently noted its dimensions.

He was aware of the quarrel behind him but he continued to ignore it. The workshop and all its fascinating treasures were what demanded his attention. Someday he hoped to have a workshop as impressive as the one he was now in. As such, he decided to try and mentally tabulate everything he could see. Lukas tried to catalog the various tools on the walls, but there were just too many tongs and hammers. Wouldn’t it be great if someday his own workshop had so many tools that even he didn’t know how many...

Something slammed into him and threw him off balance. It was one of the brawlers, having been shoved across the room by his brother. Off balance, eyes open wide with fright, the young dwarf flailed his arms in an attempt to avoid tipping over backwards. Directly behind him was the red hot furnace and there was nothing to arrest his fall.




Chapter 1 – A Burn or Not a Burn



Metallic clangs echoed noisily off the stone walls as an adult dwarf hammered mercilessly on a long thin strip of metal. Rotating the metal rod so that the flattened side was now facing up, the hammering began anew. On and on the dwarf pounded away on the anvil. Hefting the heavy black hammer easily, the dwarf paused to wipe his forearm along his sweaty brow. Giving the strip of metal an angry scowl, and a rather fierce shake, the hammering began again.

A young dwarf child appeared in the shopkeeper’s doorway, arms laden with scrolls and books. Depositing the load on a table already covered with metal shavings, small hammers, and several tiny files, the child quietly watched as his father continued to pound the same piece of metal over and over. After waiting a few moments, the child cleared his throat. The relentless clanging finally ceased.

“Is it finished?”

Silence.

“How does it look?”

“Terrible.”

“May I see it?”

“No. There’s nothing worth looking at. I’ve already melted it back down.”

“Didn’t you say you’d get a second opinion before any drastic action was taken?”

“Trust me, it was terrible.”

“Still having trouble with the hammers?”

“Really? What gave you that idea?”

The child stooped to pick up several small hammers that were on the floor.

“I doubt these fell off the table of their own accord,” the boy thoughtfully observed, ignoring his father’s sarcasm. “Only the hammers found their way to the floor. No tongs, no files, and no scraps. Therefore I would deduce that you might be having difficulty with the –”

“I already know what I’m having difficulty with,” Venk snapped. Twisting around to grab one of the diminutive hammers, he gestured angrily at his son. “Look at this thing! My hand is too big to wield this properly.”

“What type of hammer is that?”

“Lukas, I know you know what type it is,” Venk said in exasperation. “I do not need you to test me to see whether or not I know their nature.”

“Father, is this hammer for planishing, embossing, raising, or riveting?”

Sighing, Venk took the tool and felt the hammer’s head. The hammer was two-sided; one head was flat and the other was domed.

“Raising.”

Lukas looked down at the hammers he was holding and selected one with two flat surfaces, one smaller than the other. He held it out to his father.

This one is a raising hammer. That one is an embossing hammer.”

Venk studied the two hammers. “The one with the rounded end is for embossing?”

“Aye. The raising hammer should be used first, to get the silver into the shape you want it to be. The embossing hammer is used to smooth the surface.”

“That explains all the blemishes. Wizards be damned. When did you become an expert on silversmithing?”

“When I read the books that Master Maelnar recommended. All of them.”

“Books are for scholars. You learn by getting your hands dirty.”

Lukas smiled. “After six months one would think your hands would be dirty enough.”

“Do not start sounding like Athos,” his father ordered.

Changing the subject, Lukas gestured towards the table.

“I have the information you requested from the Archives. Master Argon agreed to loan us everything you wanted provided you show him how the axe turns out.”

Venk turned towards the table and started rifling through the documents. “I cannot fathom who in their right mind would want a troll skull on an axe. Wait, what is all this? Lukas, what have you brought? I asked for pictures! There’s nothing but writing here! How am I supposed to fashion a troll skull unless I have a picture?”

“Read the descriptions, father. Everything you need to know is there.”

“What I need to know is what a troll skull looks like.”

Lukas raised his eyes up off the document he was reading and settled them on his father.

“You said you fought dozens of trolls. With Uncle. How is it you do not know what their skulls look like?”

“A troll is not a creature that had to be cleaned like a fish,” Venk argued, tucking a stray wisp of his beard back into his belt. “Those cursed fiends ambushed us while we were looking for the human prince. I had no time to inspect them up close when another troll was preparing to bite my face off.”

“So you must have noticed how many teeth they had, how big their fangs were, how wide their mouths could –”

“Lukas.” Venk sighed heavily. “I was too preoccupied to notice and even if I did, I certainly would not remember. Help me. Find a suitable description in that mess which tells me how to make this accursed skull.”

“Yes, father.”


Five hours later Venk was painstakingly smoothing out the blemishes on an elongated object the size of his son’s clenched fist. It was a silver troll skull, ready to be attached to the axe handle he had completed last month. Venk beamed. This was one of his better attempts. His customer should be pleased. The original order called for a dragon skull to be on the other side of the axe, but Venk had flatly refused. Due to recent events, his attitude towards dragons had completely changed. He had told the customer that he wouldn’t dare dishonor a dragon by putting it and a troll on the same weapon. The client had finally relented, agreeing the axe would be just fine with only the troll skull on one side.

The dome of the skull shone with a mirrored finish. Two eye sockets gleamed evilly back at him. Four fangs, two upper and two lower, protruded from the closed jaws.

Grabbing the cloth he had been using to buff the silver, he applied another coat of rubbing compound to the skull and admired how the many blows from the tiny embossing hammer had practically disappeared. Perhaps Lukas was right and he should reconsider his decision to not read the books that Master Maelnar had suggested to him.

“What’s that?”

His son’s voice snapped him out of his reverie.

“Hmm?”

His son pointed at the silver object he was holding.

“What is that?” Lukas repeated, frowning at the object.

Venk proudly offered the silver skull to his son for his approval.

“That, m’boy, is a silver troll skull just like the customer wanted.”

Confused, Lukas looked up at his father.

“What were you reading?”

“Eh? What do you mean?”

“Father, what were you reading?”

“What’s the problem?” Venk gruffly asked, annoyed that his son wasn’t beaming with pride.

“The troll skull is inaccurate, father.”

“Next you’ll tell me dragons don’t spit fire!”

Lukas ran his finger along the top of the troll’s cranium.

“An adult troll has a bony ridge running the length of the skull, starting at the base of the neck and ending half-way down the forehead. This skull doesn’t have that ridge. Unless the customer wants an infant troll skull, I would fix this.”

“How do you know that?”

Lukas sighed and rolled his eyes. “I read it. From the same book I gave to you.”

The child walked deliberately over to the table and reached for the open book.

“Now wait just a moment.” Venk hurried over to the small work table and yanked the book out of his son’s grasp. He gestured angrily at the page on the right. “Nowhere does it state that the skull has a ridge.”

Lukas pulled the book down lower so that he could see the descriptions for himself. With his father still holding the book, Lukas glanced down at the aforementioned paragraph.

“There is no mention of a cranial ridge in that passage,” Lukas admitted. “The problem is –”

Venk smiled. “Ha. Thought as much.”

“The problem is,” Lukas continued, ignoring his father’s outburst, “this passage refers to an infant troll. The description of the adult skull is on the opposite page.”

Venk’s angry eyes jumped from the right page to the left.

“Well I’ll be a son of a...”

Sure enough, the description of the adult’s skull was there, along with mention of the infernal cranial ridge his son had reminded him about.

Lukas noticed his father’s darkening mood and hastily pointed back at the small furnace.

“It shouldn’t be too difficult to fashion a cranial ridge out of more silver if you have some left in the smelter.”

With a scowl, Venk donned his thick leather gloves and pulled out the tiny pot of molten silver. His son was right, of course. It shouldn’t be too difficult to add a line of silver to...

Turning too quickly, Venk stubbed his toe on the closest table leg and lurched forward, smashing his knee into a stool. Since working with molten metal would undoubtedly set any wood furniture ablaze, all of his shop’s furniture was solid metal. His knee throbbed mercilessly. Venk hurriedly set the iron pot down on his workbench before any of the molten silver could spill out. Unfortunately, a tiny drop splashed out of the pot and arced gracefully through the air. It landed high on his son’s right shoulder, causing him to cry out in pain.


****


One week later Venk and his son were standing patiently in the home of the clan’s healer. Lukas’ burn had refused to heal despite having numerous salves and bits of herbs applied to it. In fact, the wound had become infected in only a matter of days, thus forcing the desperate parents to seek out the services of the healer. The last thing either of the parents wanted was their son’s secret “deformity” becoming known.

Hands jammed deep in his pockets, Venk softly scowled. If Lukas had not accompanied him that fateful day almost seven months ago, he wouldn’t be in this dilemma. Venk sighed. Lukas was a very bright child and was naturally inquisitive about a great many things. So when his son had learned Maelnar was not only offering tours of his famous workshop in Borahgg but also lessons in rudimentary metal smithing, he convinced his father to not only sign up, but to also allow him to tag along.

The seminar had been going well. That is, until those two misbehaving kelpah knocked his son into the forge. Lukas claimed he hadn’t been burned, yet the large disfiguring mark covering most of his back said otherwise. Venk had hoped that his son’s back would heal and the mark would fade away, but alas, it had not. As a result, he had to instruct his son to keep his shirt on at all times. Not that he had too much to worry about; dwarf children, and adults for that matter, rarely took their shirts off in public.

Now, however, his son had been burned by his carelessness. The healer was going to want to inspect the wound up close and in order to do that Lukas would have to remove his shirt. How was he going to explain the existence of the large mark covering his son’s back?

Venk twisted his beard so much that it began to resemble a knotted rope.

“Venk. Young master Lukas. What seems to be the problem today?”

Venk’s head snapped up. Master Peridal had finally appeared. Tiny and withered, the gray bearded healer approached the two of them and eyed them speculatively, no doubt trying to determine why they required his services.

“He’s got a burn on his shoulder.”

“Does he now? Very well. Come with me.”

Master Peridal turned to walk into his study. Father and son followed silently.

“Sit there,” Peridal instructed Lukas. “Remove your shirt and we will have a look.”

Lukas hopped up on the bare wood stool and pulled his tunic over his head. Peridal peeled back the bandage on the boy’s right shoulder and gently prodded the wound, noting that the burn had indeed become infected. Catching sight of what appeared to be gray blobs on the underling’s back, Peridal slowly walked around the stool. The healer’s eyes widened with surprise as he observed a large disfiguration on the boy’s skin that looked as though a mass of tiny fluffy clouds had descended from Topside and taken up residence on Lukas’ back.. The large gray mark stretched from the base of Lukas’ neck to just above his waist. Questioningly, Peridal turned to the boy’s father.

“It’s a burn he received months ago,” Venk explained. “It never festered and from what my son tells me he was never in any pain.”

“Yet it failed to heal properly,” Peridal observed.

“Aye.”

The healer poked the boy’s back in several random spots. “Do you feel any pain?”

Lukas shook his head. “No.”

Peridal looked at the boy’s father, surprise evident on his face. “It’s a tattoo.”

“My son does not have a tattoo. He was pushed into a furnace and the mark appeared as a result. End of story.”

A corner of the boy’s back caught the healer’s eye. Peridal dropped down on one knee to inspect the lower left corner of the ‘tattoo’. A section the size of a large pebble had caught his eye. It was darker than the rest of the mark and stood out like a sore thumb.

“This looks like a hammer.”

Venk nodded. “I’ve seen it. It’s not any style of hammer I’m familiar with. My son got the burn on Master Maelnar’s forge. I



figure the surface of the furnace must have had that hammer on it somewhere.”

“I would still argue that the mark has been tattooed on young Lukas’ back,” Peridal told Venk, running his finger tips along the surface of the ‘hammer’. Only the boy’s unbroken skin could be felt. No scars, no damaged tissue, not even so much as a wrinkle could be detected. Very peculiar.

“Well, if we were to believe this is a burn, and not a tattoo, and since he is in no pain, there is not much I can do. Give it some time. I am certain it will fade away on its own.”

Satisfied, Venk nodded. It was what he wanted to hear.

Peridal indicated the boy’s infected shoulder.

“Now that is a burn. I have just the thing for it.”

****


Several months later the neighboring city of Borahgg sent out a call for every available healer to help battle a pox that had rapidly spread throughout the population. Peridal and his apprentice were immediately dispatched to their southern neighbors. Together, they worked long hours treating case after case of sick people with symptoms ranging from simple blisters to dangerously high fevers and pustules covering their bodies. It was close to a full week before Borahgg’s chief healer, Kovabel, was certain the pandemic had been neutralized. Finally able to relax, they all agreed to share a communal meal at the council chambers and compare notes before they all parted ways.

“It is without a doubt the fastest infection rate I have ever witnessed,” one Chanusian healer noted, eliciting nods of approval from the others. “Treat a family member in the morning and the rest of the family will become infected by midday. Simply incredible.”

“At least there were no fatalities,” Kovabel noted, taking a healthy swig of ale.

“There shouldn’t be, not after we inoculated the entire populace,” another scoffed.

Finished with his meal, Peridal pushed his plate away and pulled out his pipe. “I still find it alarming how quickly this virus spread amongst the people. I treated a young boy two days ago and within an hour the boy’s sister was standing before me.”

“Stranger things have happened,” one of the apprentices piped up, eager to add something to the conversation.

Packing tobacco into his pipe, Peridal’s brow furrowed as he tried to remember the name of master Jocastin’s apprentice.

“Indeed, young Creedyn,” Kovabel said. “Just last week I treated an underling who had a small contusion on his upper arm which I thought was a tattoo of a guur. I accused the poor lad of falling in with the wrong crowds.”

“I’ll bet the boy’s father loved that,” one healer quipped, eliciting several chuckles from his colleagues.

“I think we can all agree,” Peridal began, slowly, “that we have all witnessed something during our careers that simply defied logic. I am no different. Earlier this year I treated a boy for a burn on his shoulder.”

“What’s so remarkable about that?” Jocastin dryly asked.

“His shoulder wasn’t what had drawn my attention, but his back. It was covered with what the father called a burn, but it wasn’t a burn. I maintain it was a tattoo. It looked as though he had rolled in soot. He was –”

“Children often play in the dirt,” Jocastin haughtily interrupted. “Soiled skin should not arouse suspicion.”

Peridal rolled his eyes. “Care to let me finish before you interrupt?”

Jocastin impatiently waved him on.

“In the lower left corner of the mark there was a hammer. Not a style that is in use today, but still undeniably a hammer.”

Curiosity piqued, Jocastin and several others leaned forward. “A hammer, eh?”

Peridal nodded. “Aye.”

“Can you describe it?”

“It was upside-down and resting on its head. I remember seeing a jewel on the head, and a –”

A new voice interrupted their conversation.

“Unlikely. No one puts gems on axe heads.”

Peridal, Jocastin, and several others turned to see an on-duty guard standing nearby.

“Too easy to be dislodged,” the guard said impassively.

“How would you know?” Jocastin dryly asked. “Are you an expert in the creation of hammers? Have you made many?”

The guard shook his head. “I have not. But he has.”

The group turned to see who the guard was pointing at. All conversation died off and it became eerily quiet.

A dozen feet away, enjoying a meal, was perhaps the single most recognizable dwarf in Borahgg. Maelnar, the famous portal keymaker, was staring pointedly at the group of healers.

“I have made a few hammers in my time,” Maelnar began, rising from his table where he was having lunch with one of his many granddaughters. “He is quite right. Hammers are never adorned with jewels. Repeated blows will loosen any adornments on a hammer’s head. That’s why decorations are typically carved into the surface. You saw something that shows otherwise?”

Peridal nodded. “Aye. The hammer was resting upside down on its head. A jewel was visible on the large part of the head, while the other side of the hammer –”

“Tapered to a point.” Maelnar finished for him. “An atypically small point.”

Peridal nodded, unsurprised that a master blacksmith would know more about hammers than he would.

“Are you familiar with that type of hammer, Master Maelnar? I have not seen the like before.”

Maelnar sighed. “The description reminds me of a type of hammer I know I have seen, but I cannot remember where.” One of his young granddaughters suddenly appeared and tugged on his sleeve, trying to pull him back towards their table.

“Come on, grandfather! You told me I could pick whatever dessert I wanted!”

Maelnar smiled at the young girl. “Aye, I did. I will be right there.”

With a pout on her face, the girl returned to her table and crossed her thin arms over her chest.

Maelnar returned his attention to the healer. “Please forgive the intrusion. As I was saying, I remember seeing a hammer that fits the description you gave, but damned if I can remember where I saw it.”

“A journal of metallurgy perhaps?” Peridal suggested.

Maelnar nodded. “Perhaps. It will come to me. Good day, sir.”

Nodding politely, Peridal returned to the group of healers as though there had been no interruptions.

“As I was saying, the hammer on the –”

“Forget the hammer!” Jocastin remarked as he turned to watch Maelnar and his family disappear through the building’s exit. “You spoke with Maelnar! That’s remarkable!”

“So I spoke with an affluent blacksmith,” Peridal huffed out with annoyance. “Just because he is well known does not mean we should all act like fools. Are we done here? I am looking forward to returning home.”

A chorus of agreement met his ears. The healers finished their meal and headed to their respective cities.


****


“What’s the matter, grandfather?” a small voice suddenly asked him. “Are you well?”

Surprised, Maelnar glanced down at his granddaughter, the same one who celebrated her birthday earlier today. He smiled and knelt down besides the girl.

“All is well, Trindolyn. I was presented a puzzle earlier today and I am keen to solve it before it drives me insane.”

The child’s face lit up with wonder. “I love puzzles, grandfather! May I help?”

“I wish you could, lass.”

“Maybe I can! Tell me about the puzzle. Oftentimes if you describe a problem to someone else then enlightenment is just around the corner. Do try, grandfather.”

Maelnar stared at Trindolyn with a look of bemusement on his face. Since when had his seven year old granddaughter become so wise?

“Very well, princess. Do you remember at lunchtime when you interrupted me talking with the strangers?”

The child’s face turned red. She had been thoroughly admonished by her parents for interrupting her grandfather when he had been discussing grownup matters.

“I am sorry, grandfather.”

“Bah. Think nothing of it. Anyway, one of those healers mentioned seeing a strange mark on a boy’s back. A boy close to your own age from the sounds of it. This mark is what intrigues me, Trindolyn. A hammer was visible.”

“What is so important about a hammer?” Trindolyn asked thoughtfully.

“The hammer is a unique design. A jewel was on one side of the head and the other side tapered to a point. I have seen a hammer with a jewel on it before but I cannot remember where.”

Trindolyn swelled with excitement. “I have seen it before, too, grandfather! It’s a hammer from one of my storybooks.”

Maelnar eyed his youngest granddaughter. “You think you recognize this hammer from one of your stories?”

Trindolyn again adopted her trademark stance by crossing her thin arms over her chest. “I don’t think. I know.”

“Enlighten me, lass.”

“Grandfather, how is it you don’t remember?”

Maelnar swallowed his impatience and pulled the girl up onto his lap.

“Help your grandfather out, will you? What story are you referring to?”

“The one you have read me many times.”

Maelnar took several deep, calming breaths.

“Which one, princess?”

“The story of Nar, silly!”

Maelnar hesitated. He did remember that one of Trindolyn’s favorite bedtime stories was about the fabled lost city of Nar.

“You think that hammer is Narian? Have you seen a picture of such a hammer?”

The child nodded. “Aye! It’s in my book. The king carried one, and –”

“Where is this book now?” Maelnar wanted to know.

“My room, with all my other books.”

“Would you kindly fetch it for me?”

“Of course, grandfather.”

Eager to please, Trindolyn leapt off her grandfather’s lap and darted away.

Maelnar leaned back in his chair behind his desk and stroked his beard. The hammer was Narian? Incredible. There had been no known hints or clues from Nar in many centuries. No supposed sightings and no new rumors had recently surfaced that he knew of. There were only a few known Narian documents in existence and all were accounted for. There was the military dispatch inquiring as to the combat readiness of the one of the two Narian armies. There was a sheet of parchment with a list of provisions. And finally, there was a map of the northwestern section of the Bohani Mountains. Thanks to that map, that particular area of the Bohanis had been searched incredibly well.

Maelnar glanced at the framed document next to a portrait of his father. That small map was perhaps the most valuable possession he owned. Everyone knew he had it, and practically everyone had at one time studied it. In the lower left corner of that document was another hammer. It, too, was upside-down.

So what was the image of a Narian hammer doing on an unknown boy’s back? He had never been a believer of coincidences. The mark had to mean something!

Maelnar tapped his fingers on his desk. First things first. Before he would let himself get excited he had to inspect Trindolyn’s book and see for himself what her hammer looked like. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to discover another authentic reference to Nar and have it be under his roof all this time?

His granddaughter zipped back into his study several minutes later and proudly plopped her book down on his desk. A tattered, illustrated children’s book he was very familiar with met his eyes. Trindolyn was right. He had seen this book many times, having read it to his own children and countless grandchildren over and over. He picked up the thin dilapidated book entitled The Legend of Nar and began to flip through the crinkled pages.


In the annals of history,

Long has it been told:

Lying deep beneath the mountains,

Was a fabled city of old.


Located within its walls,

A dwarf clan held reign.

Unchallenged masters of metal,

Apprentices they did train.


Secrets of their armor,

Were sought year after year.

Impervious from attack,

From sword, bow, and spear.


As word of their skill,

Spread rapidly throughout the land,

Commissioned suits of armor,

Kings and warriors did demand.


At the height of their fame,

A catastrophe they did befall.

The city was abandoned,

By one and all.


Many have searched,

Explored realms afar.

Searching, always searching,

For the lost city of Nar.


Maelnar harrumphed to himself and closed the book. He gently turned it back over to study the cover. Nowhere could he see any hammers, just an artist’s rendering of a generic city with hundreds of tiny figures outfitted in suits of armor. The city had been drawn from an aerial point of view and encompassed dozens of buildings. Also, the artist must have believed that every building in Nar had been made of solid gold as the city sparkled with radiance. Even the streets were paved with gold.

Maelnar flipped to the page with the passage about kings and warriors. The illustration depicted a king at the head of an army, presumably leading them into battle. Sure enough, the tiny king was clutching a hammer, but it was too small to show much detail.

He sighed. His granddaughter, not having much experience with hammers, understandably associated the description of the hammer he was looking for with the only picture of a hammer she had probably seen. The picture was way too small to show any –

Maelnar turned the page and hesitated. The catastrophe. This time the artist had drawn a close up of the king. The tiny figure was gesturing for his people to follow as the structure they were in went up in flames. Ignoring everything else in the busy scene, Maelnar singled out the king and stared at the tool in his right hand. It was a hammer, and damned if it didn’t have a red gem on the head of it. His eye then caught sight of the king’s shield.

Maelnar swept aside piles of papers and various small instruments on his desk as he searched for his reading glass. The tear-shaped paperweight served double duty as a magnifying lens as his eyes had trouble focusing on anything that tiny. Setting the glass down on the illustration, Maelnar leaned over his desk and stared intently at what he saw. The Narian crest was proudly displayed on the king’s shield and was a match for the crest on his prized map. The shield contained a picture of a hammer, and it was upside-down. A large rectangular striking head, displaying a bright red jewel on its side, also met his eye. Didn’t the healer say that the hammer on the boy’s back was also upside down?

Maelnar tapped his fingers on the open page and thought about what he knew of Nar. Surprisingly, it wasn’t very much. Everyone knew that Nar once existed but it had been abandoned by its people many centuries ago. Its location, however, was the mystery. It was said that the city lay somewhere beneath the heart of the Bohanis, but to this day no traces had ever been found. The general consensus was that the city had been constructed deep beneath a small valley nestled between three barren crags; unfortunately no such valley could be found. The problem was the northern mountains practically stretched from coast to coast and remained largely unexplored. Besides, his people were known for burrowing through the hardest stone, so unfortunately that meant the city could be anywhere. Many a dwarf had willingly spent decades of their lives searching for, but never finding, Nar.

So what was a Narian hammer doing tattooed on a young boy’s back? There was only one way to find out.

Thanking Trindolyn, Maelnar set off to find Kovabel.


****


“What’s this all about?” Athos demanded as soon as his brother opened the workshop door. “What’s gotten you worked up so?”

“Maelnar has summoned me! He asked for me by name, dolt! Should that not be cause for concern?”

“We fought side by side with his son,” Athos proudly reminded him. “Do you think it that improbable Breslin didn’t mention us to his father?”

“He wants to see it.”

“What? Your ax? Have you finished it?”

Venk turned and hit his brother on the arm hard enough to push him back a step or two. “Why would he give a ruddy hell about my ax? He wants to see Lukas’ mark.”

Athos cringed. He knew the mark on his nephew’s back was something Venk was desperately trying to keep hidden. “How would he even know about that?”

“Peridal. The old fool must have told him. How or when he met Master Maelnar I cannot fathom.”

Athos was silent as he considered the ramifications of his nephew’s deformity becoming known.

“Do we know what was said?”

“No.”

“Then there is nothing you can do. If you have been summoned to Borahgg then you must go. I wish I could go, too.”

“Then this is your lucky day.”

“Eh? What’s that?”

We have been summoned, dear brother.”

Turning away from Athos’ thunderstruck expression, Venk called for his son.


****


“It’s a burn, nothing more,” Athos insisted. He was sitting with his brother and nephew in Maelnar’s study while they all waited for the healer to arrive.

“If the boy did have a burn, do you not think it would have healed by now, lad?” Maelnar gently asked. “Did you ever wonder why the mark remained?”

“Father, I was never burned,” Lukas insisted again. “I have been burned before and it hurts. Believe me, it hurts. This did not.”

“Lukas, you are not helping the situation.”

“If you are worried about what is discovered here,” Maelnar told them, in a hushed tone, “then be assured nothing leaves this room.”

A surprisingly young dwarf, for a healer, entered the room followed closely by two underlings.

“What seems to be the pro-”

“Master Kovabel,” Maelnar interrupted. “There will be no need for apprentices today.”

Kovabel shrugged and dismissed his assistants.

“You remember hearing about the boy with the mark on his back?” Maelnar asked the healer.

Kovabel nodded. “The boy from Master Peridal’s story, I presume. Aye, I do remember.”

“Here he is. I would like you to inspect his back and ascertain, if you can, the origin of the mark.”

“Certainly.” Kovabel turned to Lukas and patted the stool in front of him. “Young master, please have a seat and remove your tunic.”

Lukas hopped up on the stool and pulled his shirt over his head. Maelnar got out of his seat for a better look. Both he and Kovabel crowded close to Lukas’ back.

“That’s no burn,” Maelnar observed, gently touching the pebble-sized hammer on the boy’s back. He pulled out Trindolyn’s storybook and flipped to the page with the close up of the king’s hammer. They were a match.

Maelnar turned to Athos and pointed back at his desk.

“I have a stack of blank parchment on my desk right over there. Could you hand me one? And the quill and ink next to it?”

Once Athos had handed the items over, Maelnar knelt down next to Lukas and tried to sketch out what he saw. His hand refused to cooperate. Confused, Maelnar stared at his motionless hand and again tried to recreate what he was looking at on the boy’s back. Again his hand refused to move. Alarmed he had forgotten how to sketch, Maelnar thought back to the golden dragon sword his human friend Sir Steve possessed and tried to sketch the hilt. His hand instantly began to draw.

Certain there was nothing wrong with his hand, he flipped the sheet over and tried again to sketch the shape and design of the large mark. Again his hand refused to comply. His eyes widened. This was no burn and this was certainly no tattoo.

“The mark is Narian. I’m certain of it.”

Holding the open storybook close to Lukas’ skin as he inspected the hammer, the book slipped out of his grasp and started to fall. Belying his age, Maelnar deftly caught the book before it could hit the ground, but not before it bounced off of Lukas’ back. As soon as the book came into contact with the boy’s skin, the outer edges of the mark suddenly sharpened, as if coming into focus. Once contact was broken, the mark lost focus and reverted back to its previous state.

Maelnar gasped with shock. He stretched out his arm towards the boy and gently touched the book to Lukas’ back and held it in place. The outer edges focused again and became a braided decorative border. The elegant frame elongated as it approached the tiny upside-down hammer and flowed around it without breaking its pattern. Within moments the mark was contained within a delicate border that stretched completely around it. There, in the top center of the border, was a prominent sign that they were on the right track. A shield had also been incorporated into the woven border. It was the Narian crest: a larger upside-down hammer sitting on a field of purple velvet with silver scrollwork.

Having witnessed the appearance of the border, Venk and Athos stared at each other in shock. Maelnar clapped a hand on Venk’s shoulder.

“There’s no doubt about it, lad. The hammer is Narian and has been placed on your son’s back for a purpose!”





Chapter 2 – More Than Meets the Eye



Venk stared at Lukas’ back and motioned for Athos to join him. The two brothers stared a few moments at the newly revealed border encircling Lukas’ mark.

“So what does it mean?” Venk demanded, turning to Maelnar as if he believed the famous blacksmith was withholding information.

Maelnar held up a hand. “I hope to find out. A moment, if you please. Lukas, I need you to recall the day you received the mark.”

“Burn,” Venk hastily corrected.

“Mark,” Maelnar insisted, fixing Venk with a steely glare.

Venk made several grumbling noises but otherwise didn’t say anything else.

“It happened the day we attended the training seminar,” Lukas began.

“When was that?”

“About six or seven months ago.”

Maelnar stroked his beard thoughtfully. “I hold seminars frequently, lad. I’m not sure that I –”

“There were two squalling brats,” Venk reminded him.

Maelnar nodded. “Ah, yes. The only seminar I gave where I decided to include underlings. I remember thinking then that I probably wouldn’t include underlings again seeing how of the three underlings that did attend, two got into a fight. So, young Master Lukas, can you tell me what happened the day you got that mark?”

“I keep telling my father I wasn’t burned,” Lukas began. “I lost my balance and almost fell onto the forge. I was able to catch myself in time.”

“Do you remember feeling anything?” Kovabel asked him. “Were you warm? Cold? Did you feel anything on your back?”

Lukas was silent as he thought about that fateful day. Had he felt anything out of the ordinary?

“Nothing unusual,” Lukas reported, shaking his head. “It was warm. I had wished I had brought lighter clothes.”

“And your back?” Kovabel insisted. “Any prickling sensations, or pain, or perhaps just a sense that something was about to happen?”

Lukas shook his head. “No, nothing like that.”

“Did you witness anything that you found peculiar?” Maelnar prompted.

Lukas hesitated. “Like what?”

“Strange smells, or noises that sounded out of place, or... what is it, lad?”

Lukas’ brow had furrowed. “I did hear something when I went to inspect the anvils, but I paid it no mind.”

Maelnar, Kovabel, Athos, and Venk all crowded close.

“I heard someone singing.”

Venk appeared as though he wanted to say something derogatory, but a stern look from Kovabel quelled any thoughts of sarcasm.

“Male or female?” Maelnar wanted to know.

“Male. It wasn’t very loud. I remember thinking somebody must have really been bored if they were singing out loud.”

Maelnar’s face broke out into a grin after he caught sight of Venk’s horrified expression. Lukas, however, had been staring straight at his father when he had spoken aloud. The boy’s eyes opened wide as he realized his folly.

“No! That’s not what I mean! The seminar wasn’t boring! I thought it was very interesting!”

“So interesting that I caught you sneaking off,” Venk reminded him.

Lukas’ cheeks reddened.

“What about the singing?” Maelnar gently asked, hoping to steer the conversation back on track. “Could you identify who the singer was?’

Lukas shook his head. “The singing was soft enough that it had to be coming from right beside me, but when I turned to look, I was by myself.”

“We must find out if anyone else heard this singing,” Maelnar told Kovabel. “If so, we’ll dismiss it. But if not, then it must be related.”

An assistant was summoned and instructions were relayed.

“As soon as you have anything, report back here at once.”

His assistant, an underling barely older than Lukas, bowed. “I understand.”

Venk raised a hand.

Kovabel noticed instantly. “Aye, what is it?”

“Excuse me,” Maelnar interrupted, scowling at the healer at the same time, “but in my study all questions are directed to me.”

Kovabel bowed low. “My apologies. Your study is similar to mine and I momentarily forgot where I was. Do go on.”

“I intend to. Master Venk, do you have a question?”

“Just for my own piece of mind, could I inspect your forge?”

“Whatever for?”

“I just want to see for myself whether or not there is a symbol of a hammer somewhere on the surface.”

Maelnar shrugged. “I can save you the time and say there isn’t, but feel free to examine it in person. In fact, while we are waiting, let’s all head to my workshop. Master Venk, lead the way. It’s through that door on the left.”

“If there will be nothing else,” Kovabel interjected, “I will be on my way. This is clearly no burn, and as such there isn’t anything I can do for the boy.”

Maelnar bowed. “Agreed. Thanks for coming, my friend.”


Thirty minutes later, after running his hands over every square inch of the unlit forge’s surface, Venk was convinced. He couldn’t find as much as a slight blemish anywhere on the furnace. The forge clearly hadn’t been responsible for placing the mark on his son’s back. So what had caused it? Who was responsible?

A different underling poked his head into the room and caught Maelnar’s attention. After handing the keymaker a note, he departed just as quickly as he had arrived.

“This is interesting,” Maelnar reported, after he had skimmed the contents of the paper. “No one heard any singing besides young Master Lukas. However, four trainees did report seeing a brief flash of light. All four believed it was what had set off the two brothers.”

“I had been staring straight at the underlings,” Venk recalled. “I could tell from the way they were glaring at one another that a brawl was about to happen. However, I didn’t see any flash of light.”

“Nor did I,” Maelnar added.

“I think jhorun is at play here.”

Everyone turned to stare at Athos.

“There is no other explanation for it,” Athos insisted. “My nephew didn’t get burned but he has a mark on his back. Part of the mark revealed itself when it came into contact with that Narian book. This is clearly an enchantment of some sort. We must consult a wizard. Do we know any that would be willing to help out?”

Maelnar sighed heavily and rolled his eyes. Of all the infernal luck.

“Aye, I know one.”

“Do you think he’ll help us?” Athos asked.

“Of course he will,” Maelnar grumbled. “It’d give him something to hold over me. Very well. I’ll send word to Shardwyn. Come with me back to my study.”

Venk nodded. He and the others fell into step behind him. “The human wizard in R’Tal. Excellent choice. I hear he is very knowledgeable.”

Maelnar continued to mutter under his breath all the way back to his office. Grumbling softly, he reached for a sheet of parchment on his desk. He handed the message to an underling with instructions to deliver it to his son, Breslin. His son was the owner of Mythryd, one of the famous Mythra weapons. Each weapon allowed mental contact with the other two holders provided they were in contact with their weapons. Rhenyon, Commander of the Royal Guards in Castle R’Tal, was another holder. Hopefully he would facilitate the delivery of Shardwyn’s message.

Thirty minutes passed before the wizard’s response arrived. From the way Maelnar scowled when he read the reply, Shardwyn must have been delighted to lend his expertise in the matter and did not hesitate to rub it in.

The air suddenly crackled with power. Those that didn’t have their hair woven into braids, or else tied in place, suddenly discovered their hair standing straight up. A tiny globe of light appeared ten feet away and rapidly expanded in size. A bright white light lit the entire room for a few seconds, causing everyone to either cover their eyes or else turn away. The light faded to reveal a tall figure wearing extravagant white robes decorated with mystical runes woven in gold thread and held together by a blue velvet belt. Maelnar was glad to see that the wizard had elected to shave off the beard he had been attempting to grow. Maelnar grunted. No one could grow a beard better than a dwarf.

The tall thin man swaggered over to the group of dwarves and bowed low.

Maelnar shook his head. “Really? Do you think you could have planned a more extravagant entrance?”

A huge grin split Shardwyn’s face. “Whatever do you mean?”

“In all the years I have known you,” Maelnar stepped close to Shardwyn and pointed at one of the golden runes on his right sleeve, “never have you worn such a garish outfit as that. Do you even know what that symbol means?”

Shardwyn looked down at the rune woven on his sleeve and nodded. “It’s an ancient symbol of power. That one is for courage, I believe. I can understand if you didn’t know that.”

Maelnar stifled a laugh. “That symbol is not as old as you might think. It’s one of a special set of symbols dreamt up by a group of laborers. That one means ‘wash with care’.”

Venk and Athos snorted as they tried to contain their laughter. Enjoying this exchange between dwarf and human, both brothers looked at the wizard to see what his response would be. Would he be angry? Embarrassed?

Shardwyn threw his head back and howled with laughter.

“That explains so much! No wonder my tailor had such a twinkle in his eye!”

Shaking his head, Maelnar pointed at Lukas. “Would you be so kind as to tell us what you see on the boy’s back?”

The wizard wiped the corners of his eyes with his sleeve and approached Lukas. Still chuckling over the thought of his tailor pulling one over on him, Shardwyn knelt down to inspect the boy’s exposed back. What he saw silenced him instantly.

Immediately recognizable was the large hammer on the crest at the top of the mark. If not for the fact that he had devoted several months late last year tutoring young prince Mikal about Nar then the importance of the upside-down hammer would have been lost to him. Now, however, having read everything in the castle’s library that had anything to do with the fabled lost dwarf city, he fancied himself an expert on the subject.

Maelnar tapped him on the shoulder. “No doubt you have noticed the Narian hammer. See the scrollwork surrounding the rest of the mark? That appeared not long ago when another reference to Nar came into contact with it.”

Forgetting he had shaved off his beard, Shardwyn stroked his chin thoughtfully.

“A symbiotic charm. Very peculiar. May I ask which document you were referring to? I believe I have read everything there is which references Nar.”

Maelnar retrieved Trindolyn’s storybook from his desk and presented it to the wizard.

“This.”

Shardwyn took the shabby little book and made a tssk tssk noise.

“Really, dwarf, this is the best you can do? Perhaps you might be interested in touring a proper library, stocked with thousands of real books and scrolls.”

Maelnar pressed his fingertips together and kept his expression neutral.

“That is my granddaughter’s storybook. Ever see it before?”

“Of course. R’Tal’s library has an extensive selection of children’s literature. Our copy is in much better condition, I might add.”

“Mm-hmm. I held the book to that mark and the border appeared.”

“Have you tried holding a different Narian artifact to it to see if anything else happens?”

That brought the dwarf up short. “I haven’t.”

“Everyone knows you own the only Narian map in existence. In fact, I see it hanging right over there. Why don’t you hold it up to the mark and see what happens?”

Maelnar bit his lip as he turned and walked to the wall behind his desk. He gingerly lifted the framed map down from its holder and reverently laid it on his desk. He carefully pried open the frame and gently pulled the small map out.

“Do be careful with that,” Shardwyn scolded. “There aren’t many genuine Narian documents left in existence. It’d be a shame if –”

“Would you kindly hold your tongue, wizard? I know what I’m doing.”

Maelnar motioned for Lukas to join him. Stepping next to the large wooden desk, Lukas rose up on his toes to get a better look at the map. It wasn’t anything spectacular. The map just showed a simple topographical view of an area east of Lake Raehón.

“Would you kindly turn around so that we may see your back?”

Lukas obediently spun and faced the wall.

Shardwyn cackled triumphantly. “See? See? I told you so!!”

“What is it? What’s going on?” Lukas inquired.

Venk instantly appeared at his son’s side and motioned for Athos to join him. A new section of Lukas’ back, the lower left portion, had started to come into focus, but only marginally so.

Shardwyn began emptying his pockets. Spells, parchment, quills, two bottles of ink, no fewer than a dozen bottles filled with various powders and liquids, and several tiny mechanical devices were deposited on Maelnar’s desk.

“Can I offer you a trash receptacle?” the dwarf wryly asked.

Shardwyn pushed aside several of the diminutive machines and selected one that had a tiny pendulum and several complicated knobs and dials.

“What is that?” Maelnar asked, standing up on his tiptoes to peer at the tiny golden device.

“I call it my FJT. Foolproof jhorun tester. It’ll check to see if there is any jhorun present.”

Shardwyn held the device next to Lukas. The pendulum instantly started swinging back and forth, chiming every time it did so.

“There you have it. Jhorun.”

“I could have told you jhorun was present, you egotistical ninny,” Maelnar muttered.

“But now we know for certain, don’t we?”

“Does that thing say what type of enchantment it is?” Venk anxiously asked. “And what we have to do to break it?”

“It does not,” Shardwyn sadly told him. “It only tells me that there is a high level of jhorun here. And it’s Narian in nature. All kidding aside, may I make a recommendation?”

Surprised by the serious tone the wizard had adopted, Maelnar nodded.

“Last year when I was researching Nar, I –”

“Why were you performing research on Nar?” Maelnar interrupted, curious.

“Kre’Mikal’s school lessons. He was asked to do a report on the subject and he enlisted my help. Anyway, we discovered there was a dwarf living amongst the Kla Rehn clan in the Selekai Mountains that claimed he was one of the last descendants of the Narian people. He claims he is the best Narian scholar in existence. Self-proclaimed, I might add. I would ask him.”

Maelnar was silent as he considered the wizard’s proposal.

“Bet you didn’t think I would find a descendent of Nar, eh?” Shardwyn gloated. “He is a learned dwarf with a very keen mind.”

“I’ll tell Tristofer you said so.”

This time it was the wizard who was shocked.

“I never said his name!”

“You didn’t need to say his name.”

“You know him?”

“He is the only Narian scholar, wizard. Of course I know him. As to whether or not he’s a genuine Narian descendant, I wouldn’t get too cocky.”

“Eh? What’s that?”

Ignoring Shardwyn, Maelnar continued. “When he arrived in person to request access to the Archives, who was I to deny a scholar? I’ll summon him to see what he thinks.”

“It’ll take a long time to get from the Selekais to here,” Shardwyn observed.

“Perhaps. In this case, however, I’ll give him about ten minutes.”

“Unless you have Lady Sarah tucked away here somewhere, I’d say not, dwarf.”

“That’s how long it takes me to get here from the Archives,” Maelnar explained.

“He’s here? Now?

“Aye. He never left.”

“What has he been doing all this time?”

“Research.”

“For three years?”

Maelnar gave the wizard a smug smile. “We dwarves are very –”

“Stubborn?” Shardwyn guessed.

“No. We are very –”

“Obstinate?”

“I was going to say methodical.”

“What are you standing there for? Send for him, dwarf! I’m just as keen as everyone else to see what this mark means!”

Giving Shardwyn a speculative glare, Maelnar sent word for the visiting scholar to join them. He had said it would take around ten minutes to for someone to come all the way from the Archives. Once the scholar learned about the nature of the request, he made it there in five.

A middle-aged dwarf wearing a dark brown tunic with matching trousers, complete with a floor length khaki jacket lined with numerous pockets bursting with papers and scrolls, burst into the room. As soon as he skidded to a stop his spectacles slid down the tip of his nose and became tangled in his gray-streaked beard. As to be expected, he was completely out of breath. There were at least five bags slung over his shoulders into which more scrolls and books had been jammed. Every one of the bags was threatening to spill its contents out onto the floor. More than likely a paper trail had been left all the way from the Archives.


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