Durog’s farm was the logical place to go. Bobmadik only hoped that his friends' farm had not fallen to the same fate as his own. His concerns, although unspoken was definitely shared by his wife, as the party of three lifted their pace, silently praying their friend was alive and well.
The trip to Durog’s farm was a little over an hours walk from their home along a path well worn as the two families often made the trip alone or together, two to three times a week.
Taesha and Aelen to visit with Dalia and Olin, or whole families transiting in either direction for a weekly feast. Joyous times of storytelling, news sharing, eating and festivities. Festivities often resulting in one family or the other sleeping on the floor or sharing beds so as not to travel back in the dark.
Durog and his family had been friends from the outset. Bob and Taesha had gone straight to Durog’s farm when they had left Dalgroth. This was as his father Bombading had directed providing his son with a letter of introduction at their final farewell.
Bob had never known what his father had written; nor how or why he knew of Durog. Bob had respected his father's seal and had never broken it to read the note. He had respected his father's privacy to the point he had never even inquired of Durog what his father had written.
All he knew was that Durog and he had become fast friends and over the last three years they had often toiled together doing work on both their farms.
First Durog helping Bob and Taesha to build their new home. Then the two of them working together tilling their fields, felling trees to build fences, expand homes and stockpile wood for the cold winters that hit the valley.
‘Hi Di Ho!’ Bob’s contemplation was shattered by the loud booming voice of Durog walking up the path towards them. ‘You looking for your ol‘orse?’ Stepping aside to reveal apples the horse walking behind, head hung low.
‘Durog, it’s so good to see you. Is everything ok? Are Dalia and Olin ok? Please tell me they are ok?’
‘Oi, slow down wee lassie, what’s goin on?’
Bob stopped facing his friend as Taesha lifted Aelen onto the horses back.
‘Durog, our farm's gone. A warband of Kobolds burnt it down, they took Taesha and Aelen from me.’
‘Ey! Stop Laddie, the trail’s not the place for this sort of conversation. Does splain why old apples here turned up at my place. Come on, let's get off the track quickly. back to my place. You lead the way, I’ll go cover our passing.’
Bob, without speaking pulled one of his battle axes and passed it towards Durog with the haft out. ‘Nah Laddie, I’ve got my falch. You get going, I’ll catch up in a bit.’
Bob recognised the hook and grip of a falchion rising above Durog’s left shoulder. Bob had never known Durog to carry a weapon.
Silently acknowledging the old Dwarves instincts Bob moved forward taking the horses lead rope from Taesha, turning Apples on the path towards Durog’s farm.
Taesha dropped in walking several feet behind apples so as not to scare the horse. Glancing behind her she watched as the glint of Durog’s falchion disappeared back towards their farm.
A very short time after parting ways with the older dwarf, the trail they had been following dropped into the open field of the lower valley. The vista they walked into was spectacular, although the shadow’s of the valley walls had started to stretch with the lowering sun. Bob could see straight down the valley with the darkening sky changing the horizon into a silhouette of black.
Durog’s farm sat on the far side below the cliffs and steep hills of the valley walls. With a commanding view from the front porch, it watched over the valley that was Durog’s domain, providing some protection and early warning if anyone was to approach Bobmadik’s farm and the Elven child living there.
Olin, Durog’s son was standing just off the opening, resting his hands on the haft of a large logging axe. ‘Hi Di Ho, family.’
‘Hi Di Ho Olin.’ They replied in unison, literally singing the greeting due to an overwhelming sense of relief they all felt at seeing Olin and his home intact.
‘Come, Mother is expecting you.’
‘How so Olin? We are not due for another three days.’ Taesha enquired wondering why Dalia would be expecting them.
‘When Apples turned up without you, all lathered up, prancing and agitated. Dad thought it best we go find out what is going on? There have been a few odd things going on. Dad even killed a Kobold below the western face two days ago.’
‘A Kobold! That is what tried to take Aelen and I.’
‘Come family, we need to get inside. If I don’t have you in front of mum straight away I will be in trouble, and if dad finds you out here, I’ll be in even more trouble.’
Olin took the lead rope for apples letting Bob stand back as he passed and take his wife’s hand to walk across the valley. Aelen had fallen asleep on the horse as his little life had been in turmoil for a day and a half now; exhaustion overwhelming the little elf.
As they approached the cabin the door opened light streaming out as Dalia stood silhouetted in the door frame, skipping down the stairs as the young family and her son approached.
‘Thank god you’re ok’ Dalia embraced Taesha, ‘Quick, inside now.’
She released Taesha from her embrace, gave Bob a quick hug and then turned lifting Aelen asleep from the horse and started turned to go inside. ‘Come, come.’
Climbing the few steps into the house Taesha and Bob entered to see Dalia disappear behind a woven curtain into the back of the cabin with their child. Comfortable in the idea that he would be put to bed in Dalia’s own bed.
‘Sit, Sit.’ Fussing about them as she returned forcing the two to sit and rest, fatigue washing over the two of them, Bob realised that it was pure adrenaline and concern for his family and friends that had been keeping him upright for the last several hours.
The two sat in silence, as Dalia plonked a jar of mead in front of them both, then a cut of meat, chunks of cheese, bread and coated it all in a thick broth ‘Eat.’
‘Dalia, shouldn’t we wait for Durog and Olin? This is rude of us.’
‘Oh look at you, all prim and proper as usual. Taesha my sweet, I do not know what you have been through, but the two of you look a right mess, I’ve never seen you so unkempt in all the years I have known you. Your horse turns up in a lather, we saw smoke rising from your farm, Durog killed a Kobold, he insists we all carry weapons wherever we go now, Olin his axe, Durog his Falch, me this knife.’ As she drew a long dagger from her apron.
‘So you two eat and rest, the menfolk will be back soon enough, then we can talk.’
After they had eaten their fill, Dalia fussing over them the whole time they moved to the chairs in front of the fire sitting close together, both being compliant as they did not have the strength left in them to fight against Dalia’s caring demands.
Sometime later Bob jolted awake as he heard the door open as both Olin and Durog entered the cabin. Olin placed his axe against the wall and went straight to stoke the fire that had died down as Bob and Taesha had been asleep. Durog hugged and spoke to his wife briefly.
Standing Bob walked towards his friend who gestured for him to sit at the main table, Dalia going to the back room again, returning with a blanket to cover the still sleeping Taesha.
Durog poured some mead and sat down, sitting a cup in front of them both. ‘So what happened friend? I ran back to your farm only to find it burnt to the ground.’
Bobmadik told his three friends the story as he knew it, from the work he’d been doing in the top paddock to the discovery of his house, pursuit of the abductors, the rescue and the flight to the safety of Durog’s farm.
The three of them sat quietly, listening, Durog occasionally interrupting asking a question for clarity when he finished they all sat silent for a moment before Durog broke the silence.
‘Well then, that confirms it, we are off to Dalgroth’
‘We, what do you mean we, how did you know I was heading to Dalgroth?’ Bob was flummoxed by his friend's response; his conclusion that Bob and Taesha would have already decided to go back to Dalgroth.
“Pretty easy ‘ol Bobbo, I know you will have deduced that the kobolds were after Aelen by now. Why else would they be keeping them alive, now you need to work out why they are after him, and the logical place to start would be back at Dalgroth where he first entered your life.’
‘But Durog, you can’t leave your farm, all the work you have put into it.’
‘Oh don’t worry about that, Dalia and Olin will be able to deal with this place, plus being away from you lot will by its nature cause them to be in the safest place they could be.’
‘But you do not need to come friend, stay here with your family, we will return when we can.’
‘No Bob, your father would have me drawn and quartered if anything was to happen to you all.’
‘Drawn and Quartered. What are you talking about?’
‘Well your father and I go back a long way, we used to adventure together. When he inherited the throne of Dalgroth I stayed on for a while, then when you boys were born your father wanted someone to find or make a safe haven. As Dalia and I were not long married, and I was yearning for something constructive to do. I volunteered.’
Bobmadik was stunned. He needed to explain this to Taesha, it appears as much as his father exiled him, he had not. He had knowingly sent Bob and his family to a safe haven he had sought years before.
‘How long have you been here?’
‘Well, how old is Olin again?’
With exasperation Dalia burst out with ‘28 Durog, your son is 28 years.’
‘Ok then, so it’s 30 odd years plus or minus some.’
‘You mean you’ve been waiting here all this time, just in case we needed a safe haven?’
‘Yes Bob, we have.’
‘Duty Son. Duty with benefits, I have a loving family and great friends in you all. Now, what are we going to do?’
‘We need to leave tomorrow.’
‘Right, we leave before light.’
Durog, Bob, Olin and Dalia spoke in hushed tones for another hour, detailing what they needed to prepare. Both Olin and Dalia went to bed first, recognising they would have to be the first awake. Olin the ever dutiful son taking Aelen from his mother's bed so his parents could have some time together before he left in the morning.
Bob and Durog sat in silence as they prepared for bed. Once they had gone to bed and all the movement had settled, Bob broke the silence.
‘What aren’t you telling me Durog?’
‘When I went back to your farm earlier, not only did I discover it burnt to the grown, I spotted a Drow. It was snooping around trying to pick-up your trail.’
‘A dark elf?’
‘Not just a dark elf, a Drow Assassin. She wore the black of the of the queen's guard. That will be who put the kobolds on you. I thought it was unnatural for the Kobolds to kidnap without something hiring them or pushing them to do so.’
‘So what do we do?’
‘We keep watch laddie, and seen as you’ve had a sleep you get first watch.’
Bob watched as Durog took a long knife and his Falch into the back room. He knew the Falchion was next to useless in his cabin, hence the long knife.
Bob extinguished the lantern that had been alight, better that he let his night sight develop, there was no way he wanted to be disadvantaged floundering around trying to adjust his eyesight to the dark after he needed it.