I felt like I’d entered a toy village. All the houses were four to five feet tall. I would have to get on my knees to go through the doors. As we walked by, the tiny people working in their gardens stopped what they were doing and stared. One old man dropped his garden hoe, and a couple of women put their small hands to their mouths and gasped. The children, who were so tiny they’d only come to my kneecap, pointed and shouted. Some looked excited to see us, like we were a circus, and some grabbed their mothers’ skirts in fear.
“It’s been three years since any human, except me, has come here,” said the girl with large blue eyes. Her long hair swished at her waist as she walked in front of us.
After I showed her the gemstone around my neck, she’d excitedly whisked us away to this dwarf village, saying how glad she was that we’d made it. We tried to ask her questions on the way, but all she’d say is that it wasn’t her place to explain. The only information she did give us was her name, Rachael.
Ethan nudged my elbow from where he walked beside me and nodded his head behind us. I turned to find a small crowd of little people walking behind us. They were walking slowly, keeping their distance, but they were definitely following us.
“They either don’t trust us, or we’re celebrities,” Ethan said.
“Let’s hope it’s the latter,” I said.
Racheal heard us whispering and turned her head. Spotting the gathering of dwarves behind us, she laughed. “Don’t mind them. Nothing much ever happens here, and they’re a bit nosey.” She said it in an enduring way, like a mother would say her darling child was spoiled.
A dwarf with tight chestnut colored curls came running over to Rachael and fell instep beside her.
“What’s this? You finally found some friends your own size,” he teased.
“They’re the ones we’ve been waiting for,” she said. She tried to say it in a low voice so everyone behind us wouldn’t hear, but someone did. There was a gasp followed by a few whispers, followed by a lot of whispers.
The curly headed dwarf looked from me to Ethan. “Which one of you found it?”
His eyes grew wide. “Are you wearing it? What’s it like? To wear something so kingly?”
“What?” I asked. Was it the king’s? I didn’t know the dwarves had a king.
“Not now Samel,” Rachael hissed. She moved her eyes to the dwarves behind us who’d moved in a little closer than they were earlier.
“Oh! Right. Won’t say another word.” The young curly-haired dwarf saluted. “But you can’t keep me from walking with you.”
“You and everyone else,” Faiza muttered.
“Actually, could you run ahead and tell Jocov that we’re coming?” Rachael asked.
Wearing a cheeky grin, he saluted again and ran ahead of us.
As we walked, the houses got closer and closer together, and with each house we passed, more dwarves added to the line behind us. The dirt road turned to a stone one and instead of tiny houses, there were tiny shops.
“And what are they doing here?” asked a balding dwarf with a paunchy middle as he stepped in front of Rachael. “I thought the humans wanted nothing to do with us.”
“They’ve brought us something important,” Rachael said. “Do you know where Jocov is?”
“They have it?” The balding dwarf said. “They may be tall, but they’re just children. Dirty children at that.”
“Gilmmold! They’re our guests and they’ve done us a favor by coming here,” Racheal scolded.
I thought it was strange that she said “us” like she was one of them. Why did this girl live with them anyway? She couldn’t really be the ambassador.
“Still doesn’t mean they should be trusted,” he said giving us a hard look before walking away.
“Don’t mind him,” Rachael whispered to us. “He’s still not over the King’s sudden termination of the alliance. Come on.”
She took us to a building in the center of the little town. It was the only building tall enough for us.
“This is where the council meets,” Rachael explained as she led the way in, “and where the King of Minaria meets with the council when he comes. It was built to accommodate taller people.” She smiled back at us.
It looked so large compared to the small shops and houses around it, but now that we were inside, I realized it was no bigger than the eating hall at the orphanage. Still, after living in a tiny hut in the woods, the room seemed spacious.
“Take a seat,” Rachael said, gesturing to the long wooden table that sat in the center of the room. The table was a little low and the chairs small, but not so small that we couldn’t sit in them.
We hadn’t finished sitting down when the door opened and a dark-haired dwarf came in followed by the curly-haired Samel.
“Welcome to Hashna,” said the first dwarf as he came to the table, “I am Jocov, leader of the council.”
His black hair was pulled into a short ponytail, and though I couldn’t remember the details of the dwarf’s face from my dream earlier, seeing Jacov made the dream come back to my memory.
“You sent the dream,” I blurted. Then I felt a bit foolish for being so undignified to this dwarf who’d held meetings with the king. I should probably introduce myself formally.
He nodded at me, not seeming to mind. “You don’t know how relieved I am that you’ve come.”
“It would have been nice to have some escorts or something,” said Faiza, “This place is hard to find.”
“We like it that way.” Jocov smiled, and took the seat at the head of the table. “We aren’t very large people. One of our best defenses is being hard to find.”
“Why did you send me that dream?” I asked, partly to keep Faiza from saying something that would anger the dwarf, and partly because I was impatient to know what was going on. “Who is after the gemstone? And how did it end up in the middle of the woods?”
“Let’s wait until the other members of the council get here before we hear each other’s stories.”
“Why do we need to wait for them?” asked Faiza. “We are the ones with the gemstone.”
“Because we need to decide what to do with the stone.”
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