At first PDQ couldn't understand why Mychael was attempting to comfort him. Certainly he was nervous, even fearing for his life a littledwarves were not known for hospitality or for tolerating the very tallbut he wasn't having a fit or anything. He nearly whispered as much, but an itch distracted him. For a moment he thought it was in his wrists, but then he realized it was the metal. It yearned, for a different shape, a sharper form.
That of an axe.
He clenched his fists and tried to ignore it. There were many axes all around them, being carried by each of the dwarves, with Griselda as the only exception. The others appeared to defer to her, almost subconsciously, even though some seemed almost embarrassed. She hid it from him, from all of them, but it reflected off of the others. She was a leader, and a leader of dwarves with no axe seemed half a dwarf. PDQ slid the brace off of his right arm and reached to hand it to Griselda, transforming the metal into the shape it longed to take.
The ease of it frightened him so that he nearly dropped it. Either he was getting used to changing the metal, or there was something else, some other factor he was unaware of or insensitive to. Whatever the case, Griselda accepted the axe with an edge of reverence he hadn't seen in her before.
An older dwarf, small even by their own standards, hobbled forward, leaning on a staff. "You've come to us," he wheezed, the dust of ages swirling in his voice.
PDQ stood aside so that the man could approach Griselda, but she moved aside as well. He tried to follow her lead, wondering if perhaps bringing Mychael along had not been an accident, but a carefully concealed design. The crowd followed him, some with their eyes, others fairly stumbling a step or two in his direction.
After a moment he realized that he was laughing, a breathless disbelieving release of air. "Not me," he said quietly, looking to Mychael for help. "You can't mean me."
The old man smiled, his beard shifting like cobwebs on bending wood. "He has a human's modesty," he said, his voice even more like wood than his smile.
Griselda smirked a bit, as if rolling her eyes would have been a little too rude. "That's not modesty, y'greatness, that is insecurity. Edric there has had a few more kicks than he has hot meals."
This was probably true, but PDQ was embarrassed to hear it coming from another person. He cleared his throat, hoping to stave off anything worse that might be said, then made an attempt to explain himself. "That's as may be, but I don't believe I was ever told
" He hadn't a clue what he was saying, but he knew there was something that he was supposed to say. Finally, he settled on a Dundergrownd greeting that he was certain was not offensive or strange.
The dwarves merely nodded, as though nothing less or more could have been expected. No one seemed surprised to see any of them. Just interested. He turned to Mychael again, but she didn't share the dwarves apparent understanding and comfort in the situation. As a matter of fact, she looked quite ill.
He reached out to steady her, or provide any kind of comfort that might be extracted from a casual tap. She flinched away from him. His first thought was that he disgusted her, but then he gave himself a mental thump on the head and looked for Griselda to explain the real reason.
Griselda strapped the axe to her back and ambled over. "Rooms have, of course been prepared, Old Sir?" It was only almost a question. Even the dusty-voiced dwarf deferred to her
He bowed and nodded, then summoned a child, beardless and scrubbed so clean dirt seemed afraid to settle in the nearby air.
He introduced himself as Appleberry, then began to walk through the wide tunnel, cutting a smaller tunnel through the crowd. A few people reached out to touch PDQ, as though reaching into an oven to poke a cake and see if it's cook all the way through. He wondered if he should have shied away, but something about the rough fingers felt more natural than his own. Much more solid, in any case. Nothing like his long bony fingers; ghost fingers.
Ba Ki fingers.
Perhaps to save him the task, Griselda took Mychael by the arm and steered her away from the more curious members of the crowd. He fell back to cluster with them. "Are you ill?" Mychael grunted something like a 'no'. He turned to Griselda. "Is she ill?"
"Human affliction," Griselda said with a dismissive grunt. "It's what keeps them out of Dundergrownd cities."
"Cave sickness, we call it." Appleberry opened a door and swept them inside. PDQ couldn't help feeling that the air felt wide open and empty with no one else around. "Some humans are
uncomfortable under the ground. They need the sky and such."
Mychael sat on the edge of a bed, back straight and proud. "Please do not talk about me as though I'm not present. I'll have you know that I am neither ill nor deaf."
He couldn't help answering with a wry smile. "Sorry. Just
you didn't really answer, and I didn't think you wanted to tell me."
"So you asked"
"O'course he did, girly. He's got ahe's got curiosity." Griselda sniffed, looking annoyed.
PDQ sat on a hard chair hewn from the rock in the wall, replaying the conversation in his head a few times. "
Uncomfortable underground?" It seemed like such an odd idea, surely the ground was the same above and below. "We are underground, aren't we? I hadn't really thought about it."
"You wouldn't, Edric."
The remaining bracer clanked on the chairback as he leaned on it. "What d'you mean?"
But she'd left. Mychael was still in the room, sitting on the edge of a bed and looking irritated with something. Perhaps the cave sickness brought headaches with it. He'd have to go about finding her some tea or mead.