The small figure at the great wooden desk looked up sharply from the work he had been poring over. The expansive desktop was littered with parchments and scrolls, some exuding small clouds of dust as they tumbled to the floor, knocked carelessly there by his sudden movement. The dwarf-like creature listened intently. There it was again, the ringing of the bell in the aviary. One of the master’s messengers had arrived.
He hopped down from the tall stool he had been perched on and shuffled to the door. He produced a large iron key from a pocket in his patched and faded breeches, fitted it to the lock and turned it. The lock clicked and he pulled the door open with ink-stained dirty hands. He slammed it shut behind him, locked it, and trotted slowly down the stone corridor.
It was bitterly cold here, high on the mountain, yet the dirty and shabby little figure seemed not to notice as he moved through the corridors. The torches in their brackets on the walls cast hugely misshapen shadows as he passed by. The cold, the shadows, these were all things that escaped his notice. He had little interest in his surroundings; in fact, there was very little that interested this particular dweorg.
The dweorgas were a sundered race, split from their kin, the mountain dwarves, long ages ago. They were now a shabby and pale reflection of their once mighty selves but in one respect they still excelled, surpassing even their more noble kin. They were superb alchemists and their magic was much sought after, especially by those with ambitions.
This dweorg’s name was Rigg and he was in the service of an ambitious man. His master was a man of great power and he was on the verge of a momentous achievement, or so Rigg believed. When that moment arrived, Rigg would be on hand and then he would exact his payment for the duties he had performed all these years. Yes, there would be payment. There was always a payment, when a dweorg was involved.
Today, however, he was a mere servant, hurrying to the drafty and frigid aviary, to retrieve another of the messages his master received from distant lands. He produced another key as he approached the iron door that marked the entrance to the aviary. The lock opened soundlessly and the door swung open on well-oiled hinges. Cold air slapped Rigg hard in the face but he ignored it. He entered the large room and scuttled quickly to the great perch. Yes, there it was, a small grey bird waited patiently next to the silver bell, a message canister attached firmly to its left leg. Rigg rolled a ladder over to the perch and climbed to where the bird waited. It chirped gaily when it saw Rigg, recognizing its master. Rigg took it gently in his calloused hands and descended the ladder. Once at the bottom of the ladder, he headed to the far side of the aviary and placed the bird on the workbench there. Carefully he undid the subtle bindings holding the container to the bird’s leg and placed the message holder safely on the workbench. The bird he deposited in its cage, where it quickly burrowed deep into its nest of down and straw, thankful to be free of the cold wind.
Rigg picked up the small container and examined it closely in the dim light of the aviary. No, he would need to take this back to the library, to examine it properly. Pocketing the container, he left the cold chamber to its feathered residents.
The ancient dweorg carefully assembled the tools he would need to open the message and transcribe it for his master. The light was much better here, in the library. He picked up the message holder and studied it under the lens he held in his other hand. It was definitely one of his holders. The seals were intact; no one had tampered with the contents. He carefully placed the lens on the worktable before him and picked up a delicate silver knife. Carefully he applied it to the seals. Instantly the lid loosened. Replacing the knife carefully on the table, Rigg slowly removed the lid and peered inside. Yes, it was there, the standard parchment message. Snagging it carefully with the tips of his grimy fingernails, he eased it carefully from the container, being careful not to tear the delicate parchment. He unrolled the strip before him, pinning the ends to the table to hold it flat for him to study. He examined the delicate script. Yes, standard code, so far everything seemed correct. He hopped down from his stool and went to one of the many shelves lining the walls of the library. He ran a finger across one shelf in particular, stopping on the tome he required. Pulling it from the shelf, he shuffled back to his workbench, all the while rapidly flipping page after page, looking for what he needed. With a smile, he dropped the book on the table, one finger stabbing the entry he needed, the other grabbing his magnifying lens, in order to read the message better.
He worked in this manner for several minutes, his head moving from side to side, as he consulted the text and then translated the message. The missive was brief yet to the point; however, Rigg repeated the translation a second time, there must be no mistake. There wasn’t. He had decoded the message correctly. Grabbing a quill and ink, he hastily scrawled out his translation.
As he scurried through the corridors, the message clutched tightly in his hand, Rigg was thinking furiously. If what he suspected was true, his master really was on the verge of a great achievement. Not necessarily the achievement he had in mind, thought Rigg gleefully. No, there was a payment due the dweorg, a very heavy payment, and soon it would be time to collect what was due. There were preparations to make, thought Rigg. All must be in order when the time came.