Two weeks into mining and I had made the tunnel high enough for me to stand straight and swing the pickax over my shoulder. It had taken me all that time plus standing in several uncomfortable positions to get it that way. I was pleased with my work, but Valtrak, who was still carving away, was as apathetic as ever. I sometimes caught him watching me with those strange violet eyes. When I did he did not avert his gaze, but kept staring at me, as if he was trying to understand me. He did not talk much, but his company was pleasant enough.
We were heading back to the house we were staying in when we were intercepted by the king. I bowed to him immediately and Elthinor and Nolan grudgingly followed; they were still upset that they were basically slaves. Elthinor had asked me a couple times already how I had withstood his own family’s constant demands on me and I had just smiled at him and told him I did not know.
“Hello Korvict,” I said, using a familiar tone. He smiled at me.
“Greetings Filynora. Are you enjoying your time in the mines?” he asked pleasantly.
“It is bearable,” I replied truthfully.
Elthinor and Nolan both mumbled under their breath about how that was half lying, but the truth was that I did not mind the manual labor as much as they did. Elthinor had been a hunter in Ellavendir, not a farmer or woodcutter or carpenter, which was probably one reason he had not been strong enough to fight off the other Elf boys. He was definitely strong enough, and skilled enough now, I thought happily, to easily defeat any of them. Nolan…was an orphan. The most physical labor he had done was probably running away from men who were screaming that he was a thief; I knew he had most likely stolen to survive in Bushacre.
“Are you ready to put your energy into more feminine tasks?” Korvict asked, though I could tell he already knew my answer by his tone.
“No,” I answered with a smile.
He nodded. “I am not surprised by your reply. You are quite a unique female.”
“What are you doing here?” I asked. “Making rounds or something?”
“I have come to give you a personal tour of the city,” Korvict said with a kind smile.
“Really?” I asked, sounding excited; we had only seen the city between the mines and our residence.
“Yes. Young Valtrak can come with us if he wishes,” the Dwarf king said, addressing the sullen looking Dwarf lad.
“If the king wishes,” Valtrak said in a flat voice.
“I do. Let’s go, shall we?” Korvict said, gesturing for us to walk.
“What are we going to look at?” I queried as we began walking, the king’s guards trailing us.
“Well, you seemed interested in crystals being turned into cut gems, so I thought we might go and see the process.”
Valtrak jerked and his eyes lit up. I glanced at him, and he sank back into his stoic attitude, except for his eyes. His eyes continued to gleam with interest. I smiled, relieved to know that the young Dwarf actually did have emotions. Sometimes I really wondered, but this refuted that idea completely.
I looked around the city as we walked, marveling at the amount of detail that was put into the carved buildings, especially in the richer parts of the city. I recalled the details in Ellavendir that the Elves had painted on the wood of their own buildings. While they had been pictures of plants and animals, the Dwarves had increasingly complex gemstone-looking carvings decorating the walls of their buildings. Unlike the Elves, there was no color to them. No paint had touched the stone of the houses. They were all grey or variations of brown. I found it odd that the Dwarves were so like the Humans in Paxtonvale and Bushacre, at least in their color schemes. In fact, the gems seemed to be the only color in the dull world of Dwarves. I suddenly understood why they were so desperate to find them. I turned and was about to share this sentiment with Elthinor and Nolan when our group suddenly stopped, Korvict looking at me expectantly.
“What?” I asked, feeling a bit stupid.
“We are here, my dear. I asked if you would like to go first.”
“Oh…sure,” I replied and walked into the room. There were stone tables set up in rows of five. The air was just as stuffy down here, smelling of earth, but there was no stench of sweat like there was in the mines. Instead of pickaxes, they wielded strange tools. They were using them to chip and cut the various crystals, forming them into the angled gems that sparkled from the Dwarven houses and statues. The ones being cut—carved was too harsh a word—were dull, though, not clear and sparkling.
“Why are they not clear like the ones I see in the house?” I asked.
To my surprise, it was Valtrak, not the king, who answered. “Because they have not been polished.”
I looked at the violet-eyed Dwarf. “And how do they do that?” I asked, genuinely curious.
“Diamond dust,” he answered with a nod. “Look, they are polishing over there.”
I watched, but more importantly, I listened as Valtrak explained the process of cutting and polishing diamonds with a passion that I respected. It sounded like my passion for God and Jesiah—sometimes muted, but always there just under the surface, waiting for the right words to be spoken to stir it into a fiery blaze. He seemed so eager about it, which contrasted so much with the apathetic view he took on his work down in the mines. I wondered briefly if working in the mines was his choice, or his uncle’s. All too soon, it seemed, the king interrupted us.
“Not to be rude, but I must leave now. Royal duties and whatnot. So, I am afraid you must head back to your lodgings,” Korvict said, a smile nearly hidden by his long beard.
Valtrak’s face went back into apathy as we left and I felt sorry for him. He seemed so withdrawn, and it hurt me. What had made him like this? Mayhap it was him losing his family so abruptly. Maybe it was his being ostracized by the Dwarves down in the mines; Elthinor and Nolan had told me some of what the others said about Valtrak, but refused to tell me the rest because it was, as they said, “Much too vulgar for a lady to hear.” I did not really think that I was a lady, but I respected their refusal and let the subject drop.
Elthinor, Nolan, and I got to our room and Valtrak bade us good night. I watched him turn to go and could not stand it.
“Please, stay for a while. We could use the company,” I blurted out.
Nolan and Elthinor both jabbed me in the ribs at the same time and I shot them both dirty looks, one after the other. Valtrak slowly turned back to look at us, wearing a guarded expression. He gauged our reactions and finally nodded slowly.
“Maybe for a little while,” he said.
I smiled and opened the door, gesturing for him to enter. He did so and looked around at the room. There were not that many personal touches, just an interesting crystal that Elthinor had dug up that he had been allowed to keep. Other than that, the room was just how we had found it that first night.
My thoughts turned to Firbrawn. His attitude toward us had lightened only slightly since he had been ordered to keep us in his home. He still was not happy about the special treatment we received from the king. On a whim, I decided to ask Valtrak about him.
“Why does your uncle despise us?”
Valtrak was avoided looking at us as he answered. “He is jealous. He has been trying to get into the king’s favor for years, then you come in and win it within a few minutes of being in his presence. I can see why, though. You are easy to get along with and there’s just something about you that…”
Valtrak trailed off. He seemed to be embarrassed if the way he was playing with his short beard was any indication. He did not seem to know what to do next so he just stood there awkwardly, shifting his weight from foot to foot. Elthinor broke first.
“So, you seemed to know quite a bit about the cutting process of gems. Have you studied it for very long?”
Valtrak’s eyes lit up again. “Yes. In fact, I have spent many hours perusing the shelves of the small library we have here in the city for information on it. It interests me greatly.”
Elthinor, Nolan, and Valtrak easily got into a deep conversation about the differences between gemstones and crystals and everything else related to them. The young Dwarf seemed to love them, as long as he was not mining them, that is.
My mind began to drift as the conversation turned into what gems were used for, what the colors symbolized, and even how to propose marriage with them. I focused my thoughts on what we were going to do. We had been in Crystalmoor for two weeks. Our mission had been put on hold for two weeks. How would that affect it? I knew that on the surface, winter was fast approaching. What were we to do if we managed to get away and we had to run over ice and through snow? We would not last long, that I knew. I sent up a quick prayer, affirming that I trusted God to take care of us as He had been throughout our journey so far and that He knew what He was doing.
As soon as I thought of God, it made me think of Jesiah. Why had I not been getting dreams from him? Was he done with me? Or was it something else? The last two dreams had been accidentally interrupted by Nolan, who had just been concerned because of my tendency to verbalize my dreams. But since that last dream…nothing. It concerned me, and scared me a little. Was he abandoning me? No, certainly not. He seemed to care for me deeply and I do not think he would hurt me purposefully for the world, even in spite of the death of my mother.
“Filynora, have you been listening?” Elthinor asked, an amused note in his voice.
I looked at him, my train of thought broken. “No,” I answered honestly. Valtrak looked a little disappointed so I added quickly, “But it is probably because I am a little tired. Please, repeat what you said and I shall try to listen this time.”
As I listened, I learned more and more about the importance Dwarves put on gems and gold. They were not just for splashes of color. I did not understand it all, but I did not have to. It was just a different culture. We talked and exchanged our different cultures for a few hours before exhaustion caught up with us all. We said good night and Valtrak left. I swear as he walked away, there was a slight skip in his step. I smiled and closed the door.