Category Archives: Fiction

A Conversation in the Woods

A Conversation in the Woods
Blas Pedro Uberuaga
October 31, 2020

“Can you feel that?”

“Hrm? Huh? Feel what?”

“I… I’m not sure… something is different. Something has changed.”

“Well, it’s getting colder, and I’m starting to turn color, if that’s what you mean.”

“Yeah, you’ll be naked soon! Tee hee!”

Lisa suggested I enter a local writing contest. I didn’t win. But, I thought I’d post my story anyways.

“No, not that. Something bigger. Something… I’ve never felt before. I don’t know what it is…”

“Will you two keep it down? I’m trying to rest over here.”

“You! You’ve been here forever. Do you know what is happening?”

“Do I know what is happening? Of course I do. The weather’s changing. It’s getting colder.”

“Sigh. It’s not that. Something else is going on. It seems more… I don’t know, peaceful, maybe?”

“Oh, that. Yeah, now that you mention it, I feel it too. It reminds me of the good old days.”

“What do you mean, old timer?”

“Well, this is a while back, before you three were even saplings. I wasn’t that old myself. Things were just different back then. The air was cleaner. The water was fresher. These stupid pests weren’t biting me all the time.”

“I don’t think they’ve been biting you, exactly.”

“Whatever the hell they are doing, it sure gets under my skin. They’re always leaving their marks. ‘B loves L.’ ‘Class of 2019.’ Don’t they have anything better to do than leave their mark all over the place? If they want to carve up their own skin, that’s one thing, but to carve up mine…”

“Anyways… you were saying, about how much better it was back then.”

“Yeah, yeah, sorry. There just weren’t so many of these things running around. They’re like a fungus, you know, spreading, finding every last nook and cranny to fill. Killing more of us than I dare remember. But the worst is the air and water. Everything got dirty when they came. Everything they do makes us sick. It used to be that you could take in the air and drink the water without thinking about it. It was always fresh and clean. But, that changed when they came.”

“I think that’s it! That’s what I’m feeling. The air is fresher. The water is cleaner. I feel better than I have since… since as far as I can remember.”

“I haven’t seen as many of those damn pests around here lately. I guess they stopped doing whatever it is they do that makes everything dirty.”

“Maybe it got too dirty even for them?”

“I doubt it. They are almost as bad as cockroaches. They find a way to live with everything. Once, I heard from a passing glider that had traveled a great distance that they live in the coldest places on the planet, on the pinnacle of the highest mountains, and even on the ocean. They are everywhere. You can’t stop them.”

“I don’t mind cockroaches. At least they help clean this place up.”

“Well, something stopped them. They aren’t coming around here anymore.”

“Whatever it was, I’m sure glad they aren’t.”

“I know! I remember a few years ago, I saw a few of them up the hill. I watched in horror as they cut one of my friends up into tiny pieces.”

“Bah! I’ve seen that happen to more of us than you can imagine. They are vicious. They have no regard for anything but themselves. Marching around, destroying everything in their path. Look around. See that stream? See all of the garbage they left behind?”

“At least the water is cleaner.”

“For now. What if they come back?”

“What do you think happened to them?”

“Who knows? Who cares? As long as they are gone.”

“Maybe something else got to them, like they get to us?”

“Like, maybe they were poisoned somehow?”

“What could hurt them? They seem to be immune to everything.”

“But, what if something did get to them? Or something at least scared them, made them stay away, made them stop making everything dirty.”

“I can’t imagine anything that would make them change. When there were just a few of them around here, they would come and go, taking some of us with them or looking for food. But, as more and more of them appeared, things just kept getting worse. None of you are nearly as big and tall as your forebears were. You’re all stunted. And I think it’s the dirty water and dirty air that did it.”

“Who are you calling stunted, you cranky old snag?”

“I don’t mean anything by it, but just look at you. Look at everything around you. It all used to be so lush, so green. We were majestic, reaching for the stars. Now, the few of you that make it past more than a few lustre don’t measure up. You simply aren’t as grand as we once were. I remember my…”

“Give it a rest boomer. We know we aren’t quite as magnificent as you old hardwoods. It’s not like it’s our fault.”

“Yeah! It’s their fault! They dirtied our water and our air.”

“I know, I know. Sorry. I just got carried away.”

“Anyways, whatever made them change, it really made a difference for us. I hope it stays this way.”

“Me too. I’ve never felt better. Just look at my colors. I’m literally glowing red, orange, and yellow. I’ve never been so vibrant!”

“I admit, I feel better too. Those creaks in my joints aren’t as sharp as they used to be. My old snags aren’t quite as brittle as they used to be either.”

“And, have you noticed, there’s a lot more of those small creatures running and flying around? I’ve sure noticed a lot more of the flying ones making their home in my branches.”

“I just love the way they fill the air with music. I think their songs have become richer too.”

“When those pests went away, the rest of the creatures started coming back. It’s almost like they were waiting for them to leave.”

“I agree. Whatever the reason, these little ones are now flourishing.”

“It makes sense. You take away the dirty ones and the rest start coming back. Everything is better with them gone.”

“I’m just scared they’ll come back and make everything dirty again.”

“And they will come back. They always do. I guarantee it.”

“Maybe they’ll change? Maybe they’ll stop making everything dirty?”

“I wish that could happen, but I’m not holding my breath.”

“You don’t actually breathe, you know.”

“Fine, I ‘respire’. It’s a figure of speech. Give me a break.”

“Do you hear that?”

“My hearing ain’t what it used to be. What is it?”

“I think…”

“No! They’re back!”

“So soon? Couldn’t they have given us a longer rest, at least?”

“What are we going to do?”

“What we always do: we endure. We will outlast them, at least some of us will.”

“Easy for you to say. You’ve already been here like forever. There is so much I haven’t seen! I can’t go now!”

“Wait! What is it doing?”

“It’s taking off that thing on its face. What is that?”

“I think it’s some kind of mask…”

“Don’t you dare drop it on my floor!”

“It seems to just be standing there, just breathing.”

“It seems so peaceful.”

“What’s it doing now? No, stay away from me!”

“It’s… it’s…”

“It’s giving you a hug! Ah, isn’t that sweet!”


“Maybe, maybe they can change.”

“I sure hope so, for all of our sakes!”


We should have known better.  But, the profit estimates were staggering and we couldn’t let this opportunity slip through our fingers.  There was no end to the thirst for new forms of entertainment, especially by the rich and powerful.  Already, with enough money, you could visit the deepest parts of the ocean, be king (or queen) for a day on your own private island with all your “subjects” catering to your every whim — and I mean every — or dive into the heart of a volcano.  Hell, with enough money, you could take a rocket to the moon and stay in the Sea of Tranquility Resort, offering what was promised as the best view in the solar system.  But, even with all of these possibilities, people wanted more — more entertainment, more thrills, more escapes from their every day lives.

When we had our “eureka” moment, we knew we were on to something big.  We would offer people the ultimate escape, time travel.  Tours in Time, we called ourselves.  Of course, we couldn’t send you physically back in time.  Clearly, that violates all sorts of laws of physics.  However, we could send your mind back in time, to hitch a ride, so to speak, with someone living in the past.

Mind-spying technology wasn’t new.  It was originally developed by the government to do exactly that: spy on our enemies.  And our friends too, for that matter.  With mind-spying tech, your consciousness essentially left your body and inhabited that of another, any one, without them knowing it.  While you were mind-spying, your thoughts were your own, but you could experience everything that your host experienced.  You would see what they saw, hear what they heard, feel what they felt.  You wouldn’t know what they thought, but you experienced everything else as if it were happening to you.

Very quickly, we learned all of the important secrets of our enemies and trading partners and soon had major advantages over all of them.  We leaked scandals about leaders we wanted ousted.  We knew the weaknesses of competitors that we exploited in trade negotiations.  Soon, we were by far the dominant super-power on the planet, even eclipsing the all-powerful United States of America.

As the technology spread, it invaded other areas of life.  Mind-spying technology expanded beyond the realm of government and became a tool for law enforcement and entertainment.  The police began directly spy on criminal organizations while they plan their crimes.  Fans experienced football games from the perspective of their favorite athletes.  The porn industry was revitalized when they adopted mind-spying technology.  A man experiencing sex from a woman’s perspective?  There were no limits to what could be experienced.

Our team had taken the technology one step further.  We had begun experimenting with using mind-spying technology to send minds back in time.  Our primary clients were scholars, who used this ability to witness historical events first hand, which often led to completely new interpretations and the rewriting of many history books.  Law enforcement soon saw the possibilities and began hiring us to send them back to the scenes of crimes, mind-spying on suspects to determine without a doubt their role in said crime.  But, these were limited cases, funded by the government in very special circumstances.

With time, we perfected our capability to send minds back in time, but were still focused on special contracts with universities and the government.  We knew there would be a huge market for our technology amongst thrill seekers.  Imagine being able to go back in time and experience the World Championship match from the perspective of the MVP Jon Ratcsh or the Battle of Washington from the point of view of General Arthur O’Shea.  The possibilities were endless, and so was the profit potential.

We decided that our first “destination” would be the Wild West of the former United States of America.  Even to us, the West embodied a romanticism and a spirit of individuality that transcended the US, that somehow captured human nature like no other.  Our movies and games continuously featured the West and the characters of that time — Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy, Jesse James.  What better place to send our first tourists than that most infamous of times!

Our first client — our first Westernaut — was a poker fanatic.  He was known to drop more than the GDP of some of the smaller former states of the US in just one night.  His destination was Wild Bill Hickok, who was killed holding what became known as the Dead Man’s Hand — aces and eights.  Yet no one knew what the fifth card that Wild Bill died holding was and our client simply had to know.  He viewed it as the ultimate poker mystery.

Of course, Wild Bill died in the middle of the game, but that didn’t concern us.  Deaths often occurred while someone was mind-spying.  If the host died, your mind immediately returned to your own body.  In fact, there were rumors that some the very rich but very twisted participated in a modern form of snuff films this way.

However, some mysteries, it seems, are meant to remain hidden.  We sent our Westernaut back one hour before Wild Bill’s death.  That should have given him time enough to adjust to his new surroundings and “watch” as Wild Bill was dealt that fateful hand.  And, indeed, about an hour later, our client’s body shuddered just like bodies do when their mind-host dies.  But, unlike normal mind-spying deaths, our client didn’t immediately open his eyes and gasp for air.  Instead, his body functions shut down, his heart stopped and his brain waves ceased.  He died along with Wild Bill Hickock.

Needless to say, the family of our client, armed with a contract that guaranteed no harm, immediately sued us for all we had, all of the company’s assets.  The judges sided with the family and our company was shut down.  That was the end of our brief experiment with Westernauts.

This story was inspired by Rose and her mispronunciation — or my mishearing — of the word “restaurant”.

Operation Queenstrike

Yes, sir, I understand sir.

Yes, I’m aware how much money and time was invested in this operation.

No, sir, I don’t believe I could have done anything differently.

Yes, I understand that the King is very upset.

Sir, if you would only let me explain what happened.

Sir, as you know, I arrived in London about 6 weeks ago.  After about 2 weeks of searching and contacting other agents already in the field, I discovered a way into Buckingham Castle.  Taking the supplies I brought from Madrid, I made my way into the castle undetected.  I found a little-used room where I settled and began my preparations.  As instructed in my training, I mixed the chemicals together to prepare the poison, all the while observing the Queen to discover her routine.  As we had learned from our agents, she held court every Thursday, during which minor nobles from around the kingdom would travel to have their petty disputes heard.  Judging by the Queen’s manner, she certainly did not view this as one of the more pleasant aspects of being a monarch.

In any case, as we had decided during my training, I chose one of these open court sessions to strike, as it would cause the most sensational assassination.  The week before the chosen date, I sneaked into the throne room at night, and began the final preparations.  I scurried under her throne and created a little hole in the cushion, where I could lie in wait.

The morning of the court, before there were any signs of life in the castle, I took the poison and my weapon, a long, sharp needle, into the throne room, under the throne, and into the hole I had created.  I waited until court commenced. The throne room began filling with a number of despicable beings, men who in Spain wouldn’t merit the title of peasant, much less noble.  One particularly brutish fellow caught my eye only because he brought with him a vile creature, one of the rattiest cats I’ve had the misfortune to encounter.

Once the Queen had sat in her throne and began hearing the various cases brought before her, I dipped the needle into the bottle of poison and was about to thrust it through the cushion into the Queen when that ratty, vile monster appeared under the throne, its eyes glowing a hideous yellow color.  As it hissed and swiped at me, I lost my balance and fell to the floor.  The bottle of poison fell with me, smashing on the stone floor, spilling its contents.  The needle, too, fell and bounced from under the throne.

Fortunately, I was able to escape the infernal beast’s claws, but only just.  I scurried out from under the throne just as the cat’s claws caught my tail, severing it, as you’ve seen for yourself.  I raced for the needle, intending to complete my mission or die trying, when one of the Queen’s vassals stepped on the needle and immediately collapsed.  This of course caused a great commotion, due to which I was able to escape from the throne room, having realized that the mission had failed.

I made my way back to Spain, finally reaching Madrid only last week.  I’d lost of bit of blood from my encounter with that damnable cat, and was very weak upon my return.  The last week I’ve been recovering from my wounds.

That is the extent of my report, sir.

Yes, sir, I realize the opportunity that was lost.  But, as I described, there was little to be done.  The cat completely disrupted my plan.  There was little I could do against such a beast.

Possibly, sir, if I had kept my calm when the cat attacked, I may have been able to complete the mission.  Given the circumstances, sir, I don’t think there was much I could have done differently.

Yes, sir, I understand.  I will report immediately for reassignment to Paris (that god-forsaken cat-hole).

Nothing, sir.

Inspired by the children’s rhyme Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat.


A short story I wrote in January, 1999, with some minor editing today.

He pulled his gun-belt tight, clasping the buckle, and reached over to grab his old brown cowboy hat. He walked towards the door. As he turned the handle, he looked over towards the bed and at her. He had known Linda only for a short while, but his feelings for her ran very deep. She was a very adventurous woman, and he felt like the only thing keeping her here, keeping her from fulfilling her potential, was him.

Linda was still asleep, resting peacefully in that large bed, not knowing he had woken up. He envied that peacefulness, a feeling he had never known in his life, but always craved. A tear ran down his cheek as he made his silent goodbye. He quietly opened the door and left.

He made his way towards the center of town. He was definitely nervous and stopped by the small saloon. He knew everyone there, but no one wanted to talk to him. Which was fine with him. He had no desire to talk to anyone right now. He ordered a shot of whiskey and slammed it down before looking at the clock behind the bar. Five ’til nine. It was time.

He pushed his way through the swinging door of the saloon and looked down the street. Roy was already waiting, wearing an outfit not all that different from his own. He also had an old, faded hat. His boots were dusty from the ride into town. And his gun also rested against his hip.

Roy wasn’t a bad man, not in any sense of the word. Hell, if circumstances had been different, he and Roy might have been partners, might have been able to run one of the biggest cattle outfits in the territory. But, a land dispute between their fathers had grown to the point of a feud, and the twisted code of honor of the West obliged these two sons of stubborn men to continue that feud. The feud had led to this.

He walked towards the center of the dusty street and faced Roy. Roy tipped his hat and he did the same. They both held a moment of silence, asking, in some way, for forgiveness from the other and, at the same time, forgiving the other for what might happen.

After a minute or two had passed, and some observers had started to peer through doors and windows, both he and Roy gave a silent signal that they should get things under way.

He dusted himself and checked his gun. He then steeled himself, planting both feet at shoulder width. He steadied his right hand above his gun. He looked over at Roy, who had done the same.

A tense second or two passed. Or was it an hour or two? It felt the same.

He noticed Roy’s hand twitch and time froze. His hand, feeling like a lead weight, found the cold metal of his revolver. His fingers wrapped themselves around the butt of the gun. He felt himself pull the gun out of the holster, aim, and fire. His bullet, right on mark, grazed Roy’s shoulder. He heard a scream of pain just as he heard the explosion of gunpowder from Roy’s gun. He could see the bullet slowly coming towards him. He spread his arms almost as if to embrace it. He heard more than felt the bullet enter his chest and lodge itself somewhere near his heart. For an eternity, he fell, his body making a dull thud when it hit the gound. A cloud of dust settled on him as his vision went black. His only thought as life left him was that maybe, now, he finally will have the peace he had craved.

The Ballad of Halferd

A while ago, a friend of mine and I toyed with the idea of writing a novel based upon our role playing experiences. So far, we haven’t made much progress. However, I wrote a few short stories that are attempts to develop background material for that eventual novel. This is one of those stories, which I also had put up on my personal site, but I thought I’d share it here as well. This was originally written on March 27, 1996.


Tarn peaked from the top bunk down at his cell-mate, Halferd the dwarf. The dwarf’s face was still wet from his evening shave. He was lying on his back, his eyes closed, some ancient dwarven hymn rumbling in his chest.


The dwarf opened his right eye and glanced up at Tarn. “Yes, kid?”

“Why are you here?”

“What do you mean, why am I here? The gods made it so. How am I supposed to know why they do what they do?”

“No, I mean here, in the dungeon. How did you end up here?”

“Oh, I see. Well, it all started a while back. A long time ago as humans count time, but it seems like yesterday to me…”


There was a knock at the large wooden door that served as the enterance to the king’s chambers. The king was sitting behind a large stone desk. His face was thin and creased. His red beard was dull and streaked with grey. He coughed as he talked with his closest advisor, an old dwarf with a long white beard, who sat in the corner.

“Come.” called the king.

The door opened. In stepped Halferd, captain of the king’s personal body guards. He was a powerfully shaped creature with arms as thick as any man’s legs. His bright yellow beard flowed down across his chest, past the belt that carried his warhammer. On his back was strapped his weapon of choice: a Durinian heavy crossbow.

“You asked for me, sire?” asked the body guard.

“Yes, old friend. Please, come in.” The king waved over to his advisor. “Nurid and I want to discuss something with you.”

Halferd entered and sat down opposite the king.

“You don’t look too good, sire. Are you ok?”

“Please, Halferd, call me Relin. We’ve been friends too long to go by this royal protocal bullshit. And no, I’m not doing too well. That’s part of the reason we’ve called you here today.”

“I see, Rel.”

“Nurin, would you explain the situation to Hal?”

“Of course, Relin.” The old dwarf stood up and walked around the room. “Halferd, as you no doubt have noticed, there has been a lot of tension in the air lately. Some of the clans have complained about their economic state and equal representation in the Hall of Warriors.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed. It seems like civil war could break out at any time out there.”

“Precisely. We have reliable sources that tell us that Noruk, the leader of the Diamond clan, and Slan, leader of the Lead clan, are just about to forge an alliance and try to over throw the king.” Nurin nodded to Relin.

“I see.” said Halferd. “If that happens, the kingdom will be, for all intents and purposes, destroyed.”

“Correct, Hal,” replied Relin, his voice a heavy rasp. “However, Nurin and I think we’ve come up with a plan and we need your help.”

“Whatever I can do, Rel. You know I’m behind you.”

“As I had hoped.”

“Being king has taken a heavy toll on Relin,” continued Nurin. “He’s become frail and sick, and will probably die soon.”

“Is this true?” Halferd asked, looking to his friend.

“I’m afraid so, Hal. What’s more, I fear that my wasting away will give Noruk and Slan the perfect opportunity to stage their revolt. Therefore, Nurin and I have decided that I must die in a… let’s say more dramatic way.”

“Yes, Hal. The king and I believe that if he is assassinated, it might be the kind of thing that can unite all of us against a common enemy. And it just might stop any civil war.”

“What? Who is going to assassinate you? You are the only thing that is keeping everyone from revolting. It’s their loyalty and respect of you that is keeping them at bay! Who would do such a thing?”

Relin looked into the eyes of his old friend. “You, Halferd.”


“Yes,” replied Nurin. “We have been relying on your loyalty to the king to help us carry out our plan.”

“You mean to murder the king.” Halferd eyed Nurin suspiciously. “And what do you get out of this, Nurin?”

“Nothing,” replied Relin. “He will die too.”

“I see. Are you sure that this is the best way?”

“It is the only way that we can see,” said the king, sighing as he reclined in his chair.

“I still don’t know.” said Halferd. “I don’t know if one solitary assassin would be target enough for all of the people to turn their hatred towards.”

Nurin sat down on the corner of the desk. “We don’t think so either,” he said. “That’s why the rest of the Royal Body Guard is going to help you.”

“They’ll never do it!”

The king coughed. “We’ve already talked to them, Hal. They don’t know the details, but they are willing to help. They know the consequences. More than likely, they will all be executed when they are caught. It is you, the leader of the traitors, who will receive the harshest sentence.”

Halferd whispered under his breath. “Exile.”

“Exactly. I know I am asking a lot from you, Hal, but I see no other way. We’ve been running over scenarios for almost half a year, and this seems the most plausible. What do you say?”

Halferd looked at the king, a mixture of fear, resignation, and pain in his eyes. “You already know my answer. That’s why you asked me here in the first place.”

“Thanks Hal. Know that, even though the kingdom will never know what you are about to do for your people, I do, and I thank you.”

Nurin walked over to a cabinet and grabbed some scrolls. He handed them to Halferd. “These are the details of the plans for the assassination. Your men don’t know about these, so you will have to fill them in. You need to make sure these are destroyed before anything actually happens. The last thing we need is the revelation that this was all planned by us.”

“Of course,” said Halferd. He took the scrolls and stood up, turning toward the door.


“Yes, Rel?”

The king stood up and walked over to his friend. The weight of his office was obvious as the dwarf’s body hunched over as he walked. He stood infront of Hal.

“I’m really sorry I have to ask you to do this. I hope you understand.”

“I do, Rel.”

The two men hugged each other. Then, quickly, Halferd opened the door and left, a tear running down his cheek.


“Well, Tarn, after that, things went pretty fast. My men and I were supposed to storm the throne room when the general of the army was away. It was his role, unbeknownst to him, to capture us after the assassination. The king has already named his son successor several years before. However, his son wasn’t all that popular, so he was also one of our targets. The king figured that, if his successor was killed, Hagorn, the general, would probably be named king, and everyone felt that the people could rally behind Hagorn, especially if he was a hero for capturing the traitors.

So, during one of Hagorn’s excursions, while the king and some of his advisors were discussing the chances of war with the orks, my men and I went into action. We were, of course, present in the room, being the body guards of the king. There were five of us. I gave the signal and two of them immediately ran to the royal family’s quarters to kill the king’s wife and two daughters. I don’t know if the king had told them about the plan, but he felt that we had to do this in order to make the assassination that much more tragic and rally the people that much more. His son and brother-in-law were in the throne room along with several of their other advisors, including Nurin. As the three ran off, one closed the doors to the throne room and bolted it shut. The two other men, one of which was a good friend of mine named Jugad, and I swiftly went at the advisors. It didn’t take long to kill them all, since none of them were armed, relying on us to protect them. Soon, only Nurin, the king, and his son were left. Jugad smashed the king’s son upside the head with his morning star, splattering his brains all over the king’s bright white robe. The king didn’t even blink. It was my duty to kill Nurin and the king. The two men sent to take care of the royal family returned, their weapons covered with blood. Both the king and Nurin nodded. I took my crossbow and notched two bolts. I aimed and fired one into the middle of Nurin’s head. The poison I had put on the bolt killed him instantly and painlessly. Then I aimed the other at the king. I stared down the bow, right into the eye my friend. I pulled back for a moment, letting the bow hang in my hand on my side. I looked at the king for a moment. I saluted him. My men followed my example and saluted him as well. The king, a tear running down his cheek, looked at us. I raised the bow again as the king returned our salute. The bolt flew across the room, piercing the chest of my friend, puncturing his heart and causing it to explode. The pain was intense but brief.

It wasn’t long before Hagord returned and broke into the throne room. We were vastly outnumbered and two of my men died in the storming. Soon, we were all captured and taken away. As we were pushed along the road running through the main cavern, through the crowd of people who had come to see what was going on, I saw my wife. She looked at me, and turned away, not saying a word. That was the last I ever saw of her.

We were taken to the central market, where we were quickly tried and convicted. They shaved the beards off of everyone of us, a sign of shame for the crime we had committed. As the king had predicted, all of my men were sentenced to death, all except me. I was exiled. They made me watch as my men were bound to gigantic boulder which had an axel running through the middle. Fifty men got on each side and pushed on the axel, making the boulder roll and crush my men. The crunch of their bones, the imploding of the skulls filled the air, but they never cried out.

I received the harshest sentence: exile from the dwarven kingdom. It is hard for you humans to understand this, but our caverns and caves are everything to us. Being forced above ground is the ultimate punishment for us, even worse than death.

After that, I wandered around. At first, I was a body guard to some merchants, then a bouncer at a dive of a bar in the city. Eventually, about fifty years after I had been exiled, I made it here. There was word that miners were wanted, men to excavate tunnels. I relished the chance to dig in the dirt again, to be underground, to be surrounded by solid earth on all sides. I came and was hired. It wasn’t long after that my employer revealed his true colors and imprisoned me down here, to work as his slave. You know the rest.”

There was a silence as Tarn digested what his friend had just told him. After a short while, he finally spoke up.

“Hal, can I ask you another question?”

“What’s that?”

“If having a cleanly shaved face is a sign of shame for your people, why do you still keep it that way?”

“For me, it’s not a sign of shame. For me, it’s a badge, a symbol of the loyalty my men had for me and that we all had for the king and the kingdom. It’s the least I can do for my men, in remembrance of them. Now get to sleep, Tarn. We have a lot of work to do.”

The dwarf rolled over to his side and soon was snoring loudly, loud enough to get yells from some of the other cells. Tarn just stared at the dark ceiling, wondering about the life of his friend, thinking that really, his life hadn’t been so tough.