(Ed. Note: This story is related to events seen from the elves’ point of view in ”Brightmetal”, and takes place just before the troll-related story ”Leftovers”.)
Brightmetal held her halberd high and proud as she marched. It was a ceremonial pose though, not an aggressive one. She was moving among her fellow trolls, neither presenting a threat towards them nor expecting one from them. Unless, of course, someone with more nerve than sense made a move to get too close a look at Redpike's burden. The path trod by her superior's heavy footsteps led through the main avenue of Underhaven's major marketplace, within the vast cavern that held many public places in its womb. The local reproduction of the Obelisk Clock loomed high in the background. Along both sides stood shuttered stands and lines of trolls gawking at the spectacle, muttering about the darker meaning of events, or trying to make themselves believe what they were seeing.
Word had spread like falling gravel of what was hidden in that bag. The young guard thus believed it was a tactical error to take the body through one of the main thoroughfares like this. The limited-access tunnels which the border guards were privy to would have been a more secure means of delivering the ominous cargo. But she was still a very junior guard, in no position to question the decisions of her superior in such a critical time as this. They had orders to deliver the corpse for examination as quickly as possible, and her watch-partner had been left to his own devices as to how to get that done.
Redpike certainly felt he had reason to track the corpse through the public sphere. "Never fear, citizens! The right honorable House of Tactics and Arms has neutralized the threat! A point-ear has tested our defenses, and a point-ear has died!" Patriotic fever resonated against the stones with every word he bellowed. He carried on making bold pronouncements, with the proof of his assertions in plain view. The veteran guard supported the burlap-wrapped corpse atop his right shoulder. His left hand was steadily holding the hilt of his still-belted mace in a display of readiness and strength.
Marching as she was behind and to the right of him, young Brightmetal had a clear view of the body-wrap, slack ends trembling with every hard drop of its bearer's feet. All at once, a section of fabric pulled away, revealing a bald head and one slender, sickly pale arm of the point-ear female. A pool of blood that had collected in that bluish hand splashed onto the ground. The noise among the crowd stopped cold. Someone screamed. Even Brightmetal grimaced; she could only imagine how red and pulped the material must have become from the front. The lethal damage was to the legs. Redpike, for his part, didn’t break stride, in pace or pronouncement.
Out of the cold silence arose a youthful, pipe-like voice. "Is that blood? Yuck! Is it dead? Does it smell funny? Can I see it closer? Are they all hairless like that? Where are they taking it? Is there more than one? It looks so small. Is it a mump? It is a boy or girl?" The voice's owner was angling for a better view against the frantic attempts of the clearly distraught female trying to shield his eyes. She could only be Morel, based on the tiny charge in her arms. Everyone in the Security division knew of little Forge, Bludgeon's grandson and heir to his bloodline's tradition of military service.
Brightmetal walked right on past. The boy’s curiosity was ill-placed, but nothing to get involved with. He was just a mump, after all. Her eyes were drawn instead by a flashing wave of color: an adolescent girl swinging a garish number of bracelets about on her arms.
"Shut it! Shut it!” the adolescent female hissed in the boy's direction. “That's not a slab of whale meat they're dragging to a spit! Point-ears are dangerous! Evil! They'll come for that one! For us! You won’t be asking any stupid questions when they do!"
The guard knew that voice too. She had met Quartz before, and not socially. Her voice was high and taut; there was more than irritation in it. There was fear. When the girl's outburst failed to cease Forge’s rapid-fire queries for any longer than it took to give her a view of his tongue, she tore into his caretaker. "Why don’t you make him stop! Some nanny you are! Do your job!"
The tantrum opened a sluicegate among the formerly silent onlookers. Apprehension poured out. "She's right!" someone called. "They'll take us!" another replied. "We'll fight!" “They have magic!” “We have stone!” ”See what he caused?” “So disruptive!” “Teach him some manners!”
Forge went silent then, for sure. Poor Morel was barely keeping her composure. "But... I don't... He... He's just a child!" Morel blurted out, blushing heavily and looking desperately for a way out through the packed line of bodies.
"That much is true, Quartz," Brightmetal said, no longer willing to walk by and listen to a crowd team up on a mump. She stopped, turned back to face the girl, and planted the halberd’s pommel into the floor. Keeping a proper and respectful tone to her voice, she said, "He has much to learn that you should already know." Moving her gaze across the lines to make sure they knew she was talking to everyone there, she continued, "You're old enough to know better. You should know you have no reason to be afraid of that one point-ear or any of its kin. For we are all protected by one another. Everyone around you does their part to make it so!”
She reached into her own schooling, the lessons that bound Underhaven together. “Seventeen hundred years ago, our forebears spotted the first signs of the point-ear's return. They cleared aside the old grievances, and came together for the greater good. They formed the four Houses, each of which has had a role to play in today’s victory.” Yes, it was a victory, not a portent to future loss. “The Scholars who tell us what to watch for. The Tinkers who made the trap with those details in mind. The Provisioners who supplied the raw materials. And we members of Tactics and Arms who keep the vigil.” The crowd, no longer a pair of lines, was a semicircle focused on the speaker. Before her eyes she saw its mood change -- appreciative, steadier, even pleased. Swept up in the momentum of her own words, Brightmetal cast a defiant finger towards the shrinking sack. "It wasn’t just a rock slide that came down on that body today. It was the weight of history!"
More than half the crowd burst into applause, much to Brightmetal's surprise. Quartz was not among them, but she gave the guard an embarrassed but accepting 'yes' nod. Without further trouble, she scooted off to be the first in line at one of the stands. As the rest of the trolls dispersed, Morel’s face grew notably more relaxed.
"Thank you," the caretaker said softly. She looked down. "Say thank you to the nice guard."
"Thank you, soldier.” The boy wriggled out from the grasp of his nanny, moving to her side to take up just one of her hands. He was smiling brightly.
Brightmetal smiled back at him. “You’re welcome, lad.”
"If you're done?" shouted Redpike from too far a distance.
“As you were.” With a polite nod to those who remained, the guard hefted her weapon then double-timed back into support-and-defend position.