A rhyming answer came to Per'dra, soft and hissing, in a reptilian tongue:
"If the Spine of Sazhen' is truly to be found,
Then those who search for it must delve underground.
I don't mean by digging, for Dwarves never knew
Of the secret place that I guard, ever true.
The mountains about which I spoke in your dreams
Are not to be climbed, because it surely seems
They do not stand above your feet, but down below...
Do you know which Snake you must choose? If so, GO!"
Noticing the placid "head" of the Seven Snakes was rapidly approaching in the rushing waters of the Riault River, Per'dra looked at Oleg and cried, "Auris!"
"Are ye sure, lass? The Golden Snake ends in Bor'tharnal, sacred city of the Dwarves. You surely remember that those folk are isolationists? Not exactly hostile to strangers, for sure, but it takes a long while to earn their trust." As a Bard, Per'dra knew this. Dwarves not only isolated themselves from other mortal beings, but bore great hatred toward those races they deemed evil. That meant Ogres and Dark Elves, who either ate them or flayed them alive to make fine garments out of their skin and hair! Involuntarily, she shuddered. Lizardmen were also suspect, though to date, they had never attacked...
"I'm sure," she answered. "Please take us down the Golden Snake's waters."
"As you say," the Northman replied, "although I'll have to use my enchanted ferryman's lantern to make sure that we catch the right current." When the raft slid into the currentless "head" of the Seven Snakes, Oleg raised his lantern, which glowed with an ordinary flame. However, it soon changed: From furthest left to furthest right, as Oleg moved the lantern slowly, the flame turned green, white, blue, red, golden, amber, and finally blue-black. "The fifth eddy," he announced. "Auris it is. I'm glad some of you paid!"
With a mighty "Heave!"
, Oleg splashed his pole into the water and navigated the ferry toward the wide river marked with the golden flame. It burned brightly, the color of a lemon's peel instead of its ordinary hue. When they were safely within the confines of the banks of the Auris, he said:
"Taste the water, miss. Even now, it should have a slightly mineral flavor."
Per'dra took a sip. "It does! Thank you, sir, for steering us on this course."
"'Tis no problem, especially since we're fleeing the gods-forsaken Purge! I myself would have preferred to sail on Belayya,
the White Snake, but that leads home..." Trailing off, in the light of his lantern, he looked wistful.
"Would you tell me more about the Dwarves?" asked Per'dra. "Even though I'm a bard by trade, I haven't met very many in Paryer's taverns. Why is that?"
"As I said, they keep almost entirely to themselves, and for good reason. Dwarves love digging for treasure, and they don't want anybody else to steal it! Beyond that, they're a folk of tradition, and they despise it when anyone else tries to tell them what to do or how to live their lives. We have kings; they have clan elders. We have families; they have clans. Dwarves also have a long-standing rivalry with the Forest Elves, down Esmeralde's
way. Forest Elves revere nature and seek to commune with it; the Dwarves seek to conquer it. They're not poachers, by any means. They're too noble for that."
Suddenly, Oleg turned his head so fast the tendons in his neck snapped:
"By the Frozen Peaks! I almost forgot to tell you! I can't get you all the way to Borthar'nal. The entrance to the city is heavily guarded, and I haven't been able to get past the gates no matter how I hem and haw! The Dwarves have closed off the final section of the Auris River, which nourishes their capital city and provides the Dwarves with drinking water--and power, I hear..."