Chapter IX:
Interloper in the Keep of the King

Gerf felt a heavy weight on his shoulders.

Perhaps it was just the dwarven wool cloak he wore. Or perhaps it was his responsibility as a sergeant in the King’s Guard, about to lead troops into the Wilds. Gerf gently fingered the scars on his face, earned in the Seventh Elven War. Soon there would be an Eighth.

Gerf surveyed his spare room. His soldier’s kit lay against the wall, next to the dœr: a covering for the wall’s dœr-hole, made of about ten wooden slabs bound with metal bands. Such objects were common, and not just a king’s luxury. They were well-known, even to a Ranger like Gerf.

Opposite was a window facing the desolate canals where the low-born farmed shrimp and marsh grasses. The window was similar to the exit hole he had just examined, but it wasn’t for leaving out of, like a dœr: it was for looking out of.

Suddenly, a dragon fire message slid into his room from under those wood slabs, which stopped a bit before they reached the floor, covering almost all of the hole. That wall’s hole could be made bigger if the wooden piece were to be moved sideways, or more precisely, swivel-sideways.

“That’s a dœr,” Gerf thought, about the wooden-slabbed hole covering.

But before he could open the message, the rectangle in the wall, which was about as tall as he was, started moving in its unique pivoting way, and moving fast. Someone on the other side had pushed hard on the rectangular dœr, and it hit the stone wall but did not fall down.

A grenade skittered over Gerf’s feet and exploded, temporarily blinding him and filling his nose with the odious stench of… evening-tide mushroom?

As if reading his thoughts, a voice cut through the smoke like a Pandrossian iron cutlass slices through sea dragon flesh, which is to say, it cut very easily.

“If I might offer some advice, Sergeant Gerf of the King’s Guard: don’t breathe too deeply.”

The voice was high-pitched and seemed to come from every part of the room at once: in front of him, behind him, from the room beyond, unobstructed because that wooden plate-like object known as a dœr had been moved. Now, the wall was like a bag that had been opened on both sides, essentially a tube, so there was a temporary but intentional hole, and the sound was coming through that hole/tube.

“Who goes there,” hissed Gerf, drawing his Ranger’s blade.

“Don’t play coy, Sergeant Gerf, son of Gorf. From your time on our prison ships, you should know an elven voice when you hear one.”

Through the smoke emerged a trim and proud figure: A wood elf, wearing a Minotaur-skin hat cocked at a jaunty angle.

Gerf clenched the hilt of his blade, like someone might grip the round metal protrusion often found attached to the wall openers he was just thinking about.

“Surprised to see me south of the wall, I see,” said the elf. “There are more ways to bypass a wall, my friend, than just through dœrs, like bigger windows but where the middle part of the window rests almost on the ground, and you can move that part out of the way so your whole body and also other objects can go through.”

“Yes, I know them,” spat Gerf, “one of the many common luxuries of our land, but not one that I expect an outsider like you would truly appreciate.”

Gerf rapped his blade against the floor and lunged at the elf. But his body refused—it moved as if stuck in thickened Cyclops milk, that is, very slowly.

The elf grinned fiendishly.

“Evening-tide mushroom can swivel-sideways-pivot a wooden hole rectangle in the mind, like a dœr, that thing we were talking about just now. Now sleepiness can get into your consciousness, similar to how I came into this room.”

Gerf collapsed, his sword clattering uselessly against the stone. The elf’s trick had opened a dœr in the metaphorical wall dividing sleep and awake, sending Gerf tumbling through a walking-through spot in his mind.

Gerf’s last, pleading thought was the hope that tomorrow he would have his revenge on this elf, and that he could once more taste that new delicacy he’d come to love: baked dough of flour and water, known simply as bræd.