PART ONE: THE OUTCASTS
By the time Dav and his family had been in Haven for a year, a rift had begun to develop between them and the community at-large. Not only did Dav persist in his isolationist lifestyle, scorning the hospitality of everyone except Jod, but his children established a friendship with the elf girl Lora, whose dubious background had led to her expulsion from the settlement.
For his part, Dav no longer lived the existence of a hermit. Late the previous autumn, he had decided to emerge from the gloomy depths of his late sister's house. He still spent much time indoors, either at his house or that of his compatriot, because he preferred to limit his contact with the citizens of Haven. Dav had worked out a code with Jod and his children and if he didn't hear a specific pattern of knocking, he didn't answer the door.
The winter in Haven was mild that year, even by the community's standards. Dav discovered that the elf Niam had been correct about one thing: fires for warmth were not needed here, although there had been several evenings when a crackling blaze would have been welcome.
Dav continued to pay little attention to his children's development. He didn't keep track of their friends, and, with the exception of a warning to them after Lora's unexpected visit during Eya's sickness, hadn't interfered with their choice of companions. He assumed they were intelligent enough to avoid elves. In that, he was wrong.
With the onset of spring, Dav found the nature of his conversations with Jod changing. Previously, they had spent long hours re-hashing their dislike of elves and Haven, and the reasons for that antipathy. But, as the community came to life again with a huge first-of-the-year celebration, Dav and Jod started to discuss whether there were practical steps that could be taken to effect changes.
They were engaged in one such session on an evening in late spring in Jod's house. Seated across a small wooden table, each with a mugful of Jod's brew, they returned to a recurring subject of speculation: why everyone in Haven was terrified of the night and the reason for the "no light" policy that was rigorously enforced.
"I don't accept that it's the dwarves," stated Jod. "That's just not possible. Those animals know where we are. They've always known. If they were going to attack, they wouldn't need torches and lanterns to guide them here."
"Can dwarves see in the dark?" asked Dav.
Jod shrugged. "Depends who you believe. The elves say no, but I've heard people - reliable people -say they can see better in the dark than any other race."
"Living in tunnels and caves, wouldn't they normally have little or no light to see by?"
"Exactly my point. And if dwarves can see in the dark, that destroys the elves' argument for no light."
"And it becomes hard to explain why they haven't wiped out this settlement before now," noted Dav. The enmity between dwarves and elves, and dwarves and humans, was well-known.
"Apparently they did, a long time ago. There was a raid one night and everyone was killed in their sleep. But that was before they rebuilt Haven, and, more significantly, before the elves came."
"You think there might be a connection?" asked Dav.
"Don't you?" returned Jod. "Possibly some sort of arrangement between the elves and the dwarves - or at least one faction of the dwarves."
"But they hate each other!"
"And you think personal gain wouldn't take precedence over racial hatred? What about you? Would you deal with the elves if they could give you something you wanted?"
"But what? What could either group have that the other would want?"
Jod shrugged. "If I knew that, we'd be a lot closer to getting to the bottom of things. But consider this: look how regularly a hunting or berry-picking expedition gets slaughtered by dwarves. And are there ever any elves among the casualties? No. And they all happen in the middle of the day, when dwarves are supposed to be holed up their underground lairs sleeping."
"So you're suggesting..." began Dav, then paused in confusion when he realized that he didn't have a clear idea what his friend was getting at.
"I'm suggesting that maybe the arrangement with the dwarves has something to do with giving them humans. Human flesh is considered a delicacy. So maybe the elves are breeding us like animals to turn over to their dwarf friends every once-in-a-while in return for this settlement being left unmolested."
Dav was shocked by the monstrosity of Jod's idea. But, the more he considered it, the more reasonable it seemed. During his limited time in Haven, he had come to realize that despite the preponderance of humans, all power lay in the hands of the elf elders. And it was clear that the "superior" creatures valued human life no more highly than that of the rats which frequently scuttled through the streets.
"That's horrifying," breathed Dav.
Jod nodded. His manner was becoming more animated as he continued to expound on his theory. "And look how isolated this place is. No one comes here or leaves. We're self-sufficient. We never trade with the outside world..."
"Perhaps that's because the outside world won't come here. The Green Mountains - even the foothills - don't have a good reputation in the cities. You know that."
Jod waved away the objection as if it was inconsequential. "People don't come because they don't know about us. The elves have kept the settlement a secret. The only reason you came was because your sister lived here. Do you know when the last time a peddler or merchant passed through? Or a mercenary looking for a hire?" He paused, although not long enough to let Dav make a guess. "Never. It's not the danger that keeps them away - people will do almost anything for money. It's because only the people of Haven know of the existence of Haven.
"So, here we are, a bunch of humans who smile and nod in the streets, knock on doors to make sure their neighbors are all right, and with the exception of old Yrr and us two, never have a belligerent thought. The elves run everything, control the city totally at night because they don't allow light, and never go on any of the expeditions when there are dwarf attacks. Too many coincidences to ignore, I think."
"If you're right, what do we do about it?"
"I don't know," admitted Jod. "After all, we're just two people. No one's going to believe us, even if it is the truth. People here listen to what the elves tell them to. It's as if they're incapable of thinking on their own."
The truth of that statement struck Dav. The actions and responses of every human in Haven were predictable. They seemed incapable of doing anything spontaneous.
"Have you ever seen a dwarf?" asked Dav, changing the focus of the conversation.
"Not clearly. There was one time when I was three miles into the mountains and one scampered through an opening in some rocks, but I didn't stay around to watch. Those things are damned dangerous and they never travel alone."
"What did it look like?"
Jod paused, letting his mind drift back to the brief encounter. "I didn't get a good look, but he was short and stooped, and looked very dirty, like he'd been rolling around in the mud."
"And they mostly come out of their lairs at night?"
"They maraud at night," agreed Jod. "According to the elves, who we have no particular reason to believe, they fan out like a swarm after dark. That's supposedly why there are a dozen sentries posted each night - all of them elves, of course."
"But they occasionally show themselves during the day," continued Dav.
"Obviously. The expeditions were butchered between dawn and dusk and it was near noon when I had my near encounter."
"Maybe we should find out a little more about them," suggested Dav.
"And exactly how would you propose doing that? Going up and asking one questions?"
"No. But maybe we could spy a few out. Learn their habits. Watch them."
"Do you realize how dangerous that would be? Dwarves are only too anxious for a little human snack."
"I'm not proposing we let them see us."
"I'm glad to hear that. But these mountains have eyes. We're not just talking about a small band of shrunken, twisted monsters. We're talking about thousands of them, all holed up under our feet. While you're watching one group, another will sneak up behind you and spill your entrails."
"We won't give them the chance," said Dav.
Jod uttered a few choice curses. "You don't understand what you're dealing with!"
"That's precisely why I want to get a look at them. To learn. If they're our enemies - or the elves' allies - don't you think it would be a good idea to find out everything we can about them?"
"No. What you're proposing is suicide. Curiosity, as far as I'm concerned, isn't a good reason to put my life on the line. I can't believe you're suggesting it. I thought you were an intelligent, rational person."
"So you'd prefer doing nothing?" demanded Dav.
"I'd prefer to do something sane."
Jod considered for a moment, but couldn't come up with an answer.
"You've been here for years without succeeding in anything more than coming up with some theories. If we're ever going to change things here, we're going to have to start acting, and that means taking risks. The obvious first move is to find out what the elves are doing at night. If you're right, that could involve dwarves. And I don't want to run into one in the dark without having an idea of what to expect."
Jod gave him a sour look, then grudgingly admitted, "I suppose you're right. If we're going to actually do something, we have to start somewhere. But I don't think you realize how dangerous this idea of yours is. Not many people that go deeper into the mountains come back, and probably no one who's ever gone dwarf-hunting. If they see us, we're dead. It's as simple as that. You don't escape dwarves in their territory."
"But surely we have an advantage during the day," suggested Dav.
"We never have an advantage with them. Maybe we won't have as much of a disadvantage while it's light out."
"So you're with me, then?"
Jod let out a long sigh. "Even though I know I'm going to regret this, I suppose so. But there are limits to how far from Haven I'm willing to travel."
"How about to the place where you saw one that other time. There may be an entrance to the tunnels there."
"It's as good a place as any, and it isn't too far south. But there's not a lot of cover there. We're going to have to be very careful."
"All right. We can start off just after sunrise."
"Tomorrow??" stammered Jod, sounding shocked. "That soon?"
"Why wait?" countered Dav. "I've been here almost a year. I think that's long enough to do nothing."
Jod couldn't argue with that point. "Tomorrow morning, then. Provided this weather holds." He paused, then added, "And while you're considering taking action, maybe you should concern yourself with your children's companions."
"What do you mean by that?" demanded Dav.
"They've been spending a lot of time with that outcast whore Lora. Everyone knows about it. They're starting to consider your children outcasts."
"I don't give a damn what they consider my children."
"But you should give a damn that your children are letting themselves be led by an elf. They're impressionable at that age and she's probably poisoning their minds. You'd better put a stop to it."
"I've already warned them to keep away from her. They don't listen."
"Then you'd better make your point stronger. Or," added Jod, "teach her a lesson. Make sure she stays away from them. I doubt this community is going to care about what happens to someone they've already branded an outcast. After all, she's not allowed to associate with anyone in Haven, has to hunt her own food, and is forced to live in that little wood-and-thatch hut down in the valley to the northeast. It's a wonder the dwarves haven't carved her up ."
"You're right," muttered Dav. "If Reg and Eya won't listen to me, maybe I'll discuss matters with her."
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