Through a Cat’s Eyes: 15.3

Spring Planting, Planter’s Day 19, Year of the Lion number 428; March 27, 1739 Agathon; Linne 182

Shrinehall is an immensely beautiful city. Despite being entirely underground. I just wish the people of Shrinehall, at least most of them, were as beautiful in their hearts.

There are a few, at least.

I arrived at the gates of the city just before mid-day. The giant doors were open and only guarded by two men (dwarves) wearing bright, polished armor trimmed with gold. They stood perfectly still as I approached. I thought they were statues, but as I started into the entry, their long-shafted axes came down and blocked my way.

“State your name and your business,” ordered the one on my left. I told them the same thing I say to everyone. The one on the right said, “May your heart only know peace, traveler.” They lifted their halberds.

It took me an hour to walk the main entry hall. A few men and women passed me going the other way, but none deigned to speak with me. There were no side tunnels or doorways. It was just a long corridor uniformly lined with wall sconces every twenty feet. The stone walls were smooth to the point where they felt slippery to the touch, and I could see no evidence of cracks, masonry, or anything else. It seemed the entire tunnel was carved out of a single piece of solid rock.

When I came to the end of the entry corridor, my eyes were filled with the most amazing sight. I don’t know what to call it. An atrium? A cathedral? A great hall greater than any great hall in the greatest castle in all of Neuith? The inside of a giant geode? I don’t know. The entryway came to an end at a precipice. To my left and right were wide ledges overlooking the bulk of the city below. Imagine living on the inside of a giant, hollow egg where the outer shell is shelved. Twenty or more levels circled the open center. Each level leads to homes and businesses, temples and meeting areas. Some were larger than others, spanning three or four levels. Stairwells interconnected everything along the inner walls of the shell.

One thing that struck me, is that the wall sconces holding the candles continued throughout the entire city. Every twenty feet on every level, these candles provided enough light that I could see clearly across the city.

“First time, huh?” I almost lost my footing. The voice behind me startled me! I turned to see a dwarf whose beard nearly brushed the floor. He was wearing a golden robe with the symbol of a falcon on his left breast.

“Yeah. It’s beautiful.”

He laughed. “I’ve been here so long I’ve forgotten the splendor and beauty of our great city. A newcomer like you reminds me of what our ancestors accomplished. It humbles me.”

“It humbles me just seeing it. It’s hard to believe this was built by… people.”

“The origins of this city go back before the Fall of the Gods. Some believe that the gods crafted this city inside this mountain, and our ancestors were led here, fulfilling a promise.”

“Do you not believe this?”

“I prefer to not discuss what I do and don’t believe, my child. I’d like to officially welcome you to Shrinehall, even though I do so in no official capacity. Yes, this is a great city, and at one time, we were a great and noble people. But over the generations, things have changed.”

I thought about the treatment I received outside and at Clover’s Brewhouse. “I am a wanderer from a distant land. I came here because I was told this was a beautiful place to visit.”

“Of that, you were not lied to. My name is Father Dain Honorheart. I am a priest of Freya. Our temple is two levels above us and a bit to your right.” He pointed, but the floor above blocked any possible view.

“What brings you here? Do you always greet strangers that come to the city?”

He laughed. “Were that my duty, I would relish the task. No, my child. I sent one of my students on an errand, and she hasn’t yet returned. She should be along any minute, though.”

“Your student?”

“Yes. A promising young woman named Allessia. Unlike most of my students, she has a real knack for channeling Freya’s energy. And her heart is as pure as spring water. Ah… Here she comes now.”

I turned to see a young dwarf woman approaching us. Young enough that she didn’t have a beard. She carried a basket in each hand. One was filled with crocus flowers and the other with roots of some kind. She smiled at me. Father Honorheart introduce her, then said, “I’m sorry, I never asked for your name.” I curtseyed and gave them my full name. He said to Allessia, “Now, run those up to the classroom. I’ll be along in a few moments.” As she ran off, he said, “If you’re unable to find suitable accommodations during your stay, you’re welcome to stay at our temple. We have some unused dorm rooms. The food may not be as good as the marketplace, but you’ll be among friends.”

I wanted to ask him some questions, but I knew he needed to go. I picked a direction and started walking. The first stairwell led downward two levels. Most of the… I don’t want to say buildings or structures, but I don’t know what else to call them… the cut-outs? Dwellings? Chambers? I suppose that will work. Chambers. Most of them were private family homes. Some were shops providing all the normal goods and services you’d find in a city. Leather workers, gem cutters, weavers, waggoners, tailors, and so on. Many shops were busy with business from other dwarves. None seemed to pay attention to me as I wandered past, though.

On every level, it seemed, there was a temple. Fifty or more different gods were represented. Some temples were actively in service, with people gathered around listening to a preacher. Others were quietly conducting daily business.

It took me a couple hours before I reached the lowest level, which was home to the open market. As I walked among the vendors trading goods imported from all around, it felt as though there was something horribly wrong. I get that I was being ignored. I’m an outsider. If given the choice, they’ll do business with their own kind first. But the pathways were not crowded. A small amphitheater where a puppet show was taking place only had ten children watching, though there was enough seating for fifty. There were no lines at the vendors. If you wanted something, you walked up and you were attended to immediately. Many of the shop keepers stood vigil over their wares in silence while waiting for customers. Unlike the human cities I’d been through on my travels, this city was eerily quiet. Sound didn’t travel far, especially when everyone spoke in whisper.

The few vendors I did visit treated me fairly but without compassion or warmth. I was told the price and there was no haggling or negotiation. The bread was good and fresh. The fruit was overripe. The meat was undercooked for my taste.

I looked for a place that was making noise. A tavern or bar or something. There was a bed-and-breakfast, but it seemed wrong. All the dwarves I’ve known were hearty drinkers, regalers of great tales, and loved boisterous gatherings and parties. Not here. Not Shrinehall.

I finally found a place with the sign, Ashen Barrelking’s Meadroom, so I walked in. Except for one table, the place was empty. At the one table, I saw something I hadn’t seen so far in Shrinehall: Humans. Three men and a dwarf were sitting at the table nearest the bar. The dwarf and the man across from him were talking about business while the other two just sat quietly. The one facing toward me watched me, and it felt as though he were evaluating me – judging my ability to fight. His stare made me uncomfortable so I found a table where his view of me was blocked.

I waited for several minutes, being careful to not listen to the conversation, even though I could hear it clearly. The dwarf was the owner of this establishment, and he was looking to partner with the human, who promised to bring in exotic brews from distant lands. The dwarf was skeptical, but the human made assurances. The entire deal hinged upon the dwarf investing a lot of gold to get things started. Having not been served, I was almost ready to get up and leave when a girl came out of the kitchen and walked up to me. “Hi. I’m Maple. Can I bring you something?” It was the same abrupt attitude I’d been getting all along.

“Yeah… something mild to drink. Maybe something to snack on. Whatever you think is good.”

She walked over to the bar and filled a mug from a barrel on the shelf. At the door to the kitchen, she yelled, “Oaken! Make an order of the roasted cheese.”

Whoever was in the kitchen yelled back, “The name’s Beardoc! Get it right, Maple!”

She shook her head, “Whatever.” She brought the mug and set it down. “Oaken is my brother. I swear. He thinks he’s going to go on an adventure someday. I’ll be surprised if he ever leaves this place.”

While waiting for the roasted cheese, the dwarven man got up and went behind the bar. He opened a metal chest and took out a couple bags. Back at the table, he spilled them out. From my vantage, I could see some gold coins along with several sparkling gems. “This is worth at least a thousand. I’m trusting you with this.”

The three men stood up, “We won’t let you down,” said the boss as they left. The dwarf looked over at me and nodded politely then head into the kitchen. Finally, Maple came out with a dish. The roasted cheese was very tasty, and I told her this. I also left a generous tip. Since this place wasn’t an inn, I returned to the market. At the bed-and-breakfast I was told there were no available rooms. Two other establishments said the same thing.

Since I couldn’t see the sun, I had no idea how much time had passed. However, most of the shops were closed. I gave up on finding a place so I made the long walk back up to the Temple of Freya. Father Honorheart welcomed me and showed me to a small room. I offered to pay but he vehemently declined. “This city may lack charm and grace, but we don’t lack wealth. Our coffers are sufficient, and if I didn’t follow our god’s teaching about charity, I’d be setting a bad example for my students.”

I thanked him and set about writing up today’s experiences. Perhaps tomorrow will be different, but somehow, I don’t think it will. I guess I won’t be spending much time here.

Previous: Through a Cat’s Eyes – 15.2

Next: Through a Cat’s Eyes: 16.1


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