She was not surprised to find the Priest of Yesh, along with three of the tower guards, coming up the street as soon as she left the Muddy Boot. Brother Darv held in his hand a letter bearing Pinel’s merchant seal and she simply nodded as the four men approached.
"Good, I didn’t want to explain everything to you." She said to the Priest.
"Aurei, I am very, very sorry to have to do this. I think it is horribly shameful for him to do such a thing."
"I’m not surprised, Brother Darv. He has never liked me. I remember when he was a baby – he’d scream every time he’d see me."
Brother Darv smiled slightly, "It is hard to believe that you are that old."
"Well, I feel that old today, I’m afraid. He’s going to really ruin this town, you know."
The kindly cleric patted her shoulder, "Have faith, child, perhaps Pinel is not who Yesh desires to lord over this town."
"He’ll have to send down a lightning bolt to flush Pinel out of that tower. He’s wanted this title for years."
The group made for the Keep. Aurei turned to the guards as they walked, "You do have sentries posted on the wall, don’t you?"
Pectros Nommic, the captain of the ducal guard, smiled, "Don’t worry, Aurei, we won’t leave the walls unguarded."
"I’m sorry, Pectros, that was pretty stupid of me to even ask. I’m not having the best of days." Aurei was ashamed of herself for even thinking such a thing. Pectros had been annoyed at her often a few years ago when he tried to enforce curfew in the town and she had regularly defied it, counting on Gamel to keep her out of trouble, which of course just annoyed the captain even more.
"We understand, Aurei. We don’t like it either. I know you and I used to butt heads when you were younger, but I want you to know that I personally think you would be a far better choice as Duke Gamel’s replacement. You have shown great grace and maturity during the Duke’s illness. The whole town admires your devotion to him."
"Thank you Pectros. He was a very good man and I owed it to him a hundred times over for his many years of putting up with me."
The group reached the Keep and Aurei paused, looking to the others who looked back at her, puzzled at why she didn’t simply just go inside. Pectros suddenly realized what she was doing – following Pinel’s directions.
"Go on in, Aurei, he’s not duke yet and I trust you more than any of his bunch."
With the captain’s permission, she opened the heavy reinforced wood door and they went into the Keep to move her out.
Fortunately for the guards and Brother Darv, Aurei had not spent much time in the old ducal tower and after only a few minutes had scooped up what few effects she kept in the room that Gamel had given her there. She had always preferred the Muddy Boot and she had a large, comfortable room in the Inn’s cellar that had always upset Mother Bugley. But Aurei loved the seclusion of the place and now the thought of having to eventually vacate it bothered her far more than her removal from the Ducal Keep.
Pinel had ‘ordered’ Brother Darv and the guards to go through every room and closet to make certain Aurei had not taken anything that would soon belong to him, so after she had finished gathering up her stuff, she sat quietly in the main hall while Brother Darv and the guards took a visual inventory of the tower’s contents. She found herself crying again, thinking of the Duke’s final moments for the hundredth time since his death, only days before. Somehow it had been much more difficult for her then when Mother Bugley had died. Not that she hadn’t grieved and ached then. This time though there was the finality of the last of her protectors passing away which left her to stand on her own merits as a person, which made his death seem so tough.
She wondered if he had known that she loved him? He had certainly been kind and loving to her --and Drow childhood was nearly as long as a human life span-- so he had certainly had a tough job raising her. Yet she knew he was in paradise now, reunited with Mother Bugley and the two stillborn babies that had grieved them for their entire lives. Wiping away the tears, Aurei sincerely wished she could join them at that moment, instead of facing the ordeal that was about to come.
"Aurei?" her thoughts were broken by Brother Darv calling down to her from the top of the second story landing.
"Could you come up here – we’ve found something interesting."
She hurried up the stairs to find Brother Darv waiting for her and he led her down the hallway to what had been her room.
"Did I miss something?" she asked as they went into the room.
"Possibly; we were looking around when Neal leaned against the wall sconce by the fireplace. It made a clicking sound and it released a panel against the wall next to the fireplace. Did you know the room had a secret door?"
"No. Of course I didn’t stay here very much. Did you go in?"
"We looked in, and we found a small room, probably designed to hide valuables. Come see what was inside."
Aurei went into the little room, to find Neal and Brolen straining to slowly drag a very heavy metal chest across the room and through the secret door into her vacated bedroom.
"Don’t scratch the floor if you can help it." Pectros ordered as he supervised their work, "I don’t want to have Pinel mad at us on his first day here."
"This was inside the secret room within my room?" Aurei asked as she knelt to look at the large, heavy chest.
"Yes. You have no idea what it could be?" Brother Darv knelt and wiped a heavy layer of dust from the lid, "Hey! Look at this."
They all leaned in to where the Cleric’s rag had removed enough dust to reveal Dwarven runes engraved into the lid of the chest.
"Dwarven" Brother Darv informed them as he squinted at the script, "I know a bit of Dwarven, give me a moment and I’ll see if I can read what it says."
As he worked on the runes, Pectros glanced at the front of the chest, "It doesn’t seem to have a lock. I don’t see any latch to open it. How odd."
"Not really." Brother Darv glanced over at the captain, "They sometimes make chests like this with magic locks – I’ll bet this is a spoken enchantment – the correct words spoken near the chest opens the lock and it will pop open. I’ve never seen one before, but I’ve heard about them. The Dwarven Kings use them to store their treasure."
They all looked at each other when the Priest said the word ‘treasure’ and waited anxiously for him to decipher the runes.
He studied the runes for several minutes, mumbling bits of words, until finally he turned to Aurei and the others and announced, "I think it reads: ‘My Son, to open, speak my name.’
Pectros looked over at Aurei, "The Duke didn’t have a son, did he?"
"He had one that was stillborn many, many years ago."
"Did they name the baby?"
"I don’t think so, no. Not that they told me. Their other stillborn baby was a daughter and she wasn’t named either."
"Could ‘my son’ refer to Duke Gamel’s father?" Neal asked, "Perhaps his father commissioned the chest to be done for Duke Gamel."
"Do you know the name of Gamel’s father?" Brolen asked Aurei.
Aurei thought for a moment, "Ah, let’s see…it was Melango."
Brother Darv leaned in close to the front of the chest and said loudly, "Melango".
The priest turned to Aurei, "You try it."
Aurei came around to the front and repeated the name, "Melango."
Still there was no response. Aurei leaned in closer, "Melango. Melango Bugley."
Pectros sighed, "Maybe ‘my son’ refers to Pinel."
With a frown, Aurei leaned in close again to the chest, "Pinel. Pinel Sheldos. Pinel Bugley Sheldos. Duke Pinel Sheldos."
The chest remained unchanged.
"Gamel Bugley" Aurei continued speaking names to the chest, "Duke Gamel Bugley. Gamel. Duke Bugley. "
There was no change to be seen. Aurei stood back up, "Are you sure this is an enchanted chest?"
Brother Darv nodded, "I’m fairly certain. But perhaps we should go ask Thorm to confirm our suspicions."
"I’ll go get him." Neal volunteered and he hurried down the stairs to go wake the Dwarf and get his opinion.
* * *
A quarter of an hour later Neal returned with a somewhat grumpy Thorm following him up the stairs. That changed when he saw the chest from across the room.
"By my beard!" he exclaimed, his sleepy eyes brightening, "Why ‘tis the Duke’s magic chest! Ho ho!"
"You know about this?" Aurei asked as the Dwarf merchant raced up to it.
"Aye, I do indeed. He had it ordered privately from my clan’s best metalworkers. He spent a fortune on it – made solid as a rock and weighs nearly as much as if it were. Had it enchanted by our top enchanter. I delivered it myself, probably 3 score years ago. Ye were but a wee lass then, Duchess. He wouldn’t let anyone read the rune clue on the lid, only the enchanter and Gamel knew what it read, I’ll guess. Had hot wax poured over it to cover the runes during the trip to deliver it here. It took about 10 men to drag it to the top of the stairs and into this room. It looks like he had a secret room built here too, from what I see behind ye. ‘Twas in there, I suppose?"
"Yes" Aurei responded, "I didn’t even know the room was there."
"I don’t know how he had it moved from this room into the secret one without anyone knowing about it. But I guess we’ll never know now."
"Is it a voice activated enchanted chest?" Brother Darv asked the Dwarf.
"Aye, ‘tis one of the best made. Ye don’t see this type except in palaces and temples. It is sealed so only one, or maybe two but never more than three people can open it. With their voices."
"And it knows how their voices sound?" Aurei asked, amazed.
"I don’t know how it works, Duchess, ‘tis magic and all. But aye, it seems to know. But not just speaking anything works to open it. Only certain words spoken by the right people will open one. And ye’ll spend many weeks trying to smash your way into one, I can tell ye."
"We can’t seem to open it." Aurei sighed, "I guess we’ll have to see what Pinel does with it to find out what is inside."
The Dwarf snorted, "I doubt the Duke would have wanted Pinel Sheldos to have it. What do the runes read?"
"Well, I am rather unsure, but I think it reads ‘My Son, to open, speak my name.’. Come and see." Brother Darv stood aside and the Dwarf knelt and looked at the runes for only a moment then laughed.
"What is so funny?" the Cleric asked.
"Ye had better stick to your human languages, Brother Darv, as your translation is a bit off. Common mistake of humans – the word ye gave as ‘son’ can mean any child, male or female. One of them should not be ‘my’ either, it should be ‘your’. The usage is determined by the wee mark over the rune. Changes it from ‘my’ to ‘your’. And ye are confused on the order of the words, too."
"I’m not surprised, Thorm. What then is the correct reading?"
"It reads, "Speak your name, my child, to open."
"You were reasonably close." Pectros said to Darv, then to Aurei, "Still, that is no help, as he had no living children."
"Hah!" The Dwarf snorted, and he motioned to Aurei to come closer, "Say your name aloud, Duchess."
"Thorm, quit calling me that! Pinel is going to be the next Duke."
"Girl, say your name out loud." The Dwarf demanded.
"Just do as I say, lass!" He snapped impatiently.
With a sigh, Aurei leaned in and said, "Aurei"
"Satisfied?" Aurei said, rolling her eyes.
"Say your whole name, not just your first name."
"For goodness sake, Thorm!"
"Just humor me, girl."
"Aurei Bugley!" she said annoyed and she was turning to speak to Brother Darv when there came a loud click and the lid of the chest swung open, causing Aurei to jump backwards with a startled shout.
"See!" The Dwarf grinned, "He meant ye, lass. He considered ye his daughter."
"No he didn’t" she responded automatically, but she began to tear up, wondering if it could be true.
The Dwarf leaned over the chest and pulled out a leather envelope sealed with the seldom used seal of the Duke of Westmark. He looked at it for an instant, "’Tis has writing on it. It says, "To my daughter, Aurei Bugley".
Aurei held her hands up to her mouth, unable to speak at the epiphany of what Gamel thought of her. Thorm reverently held the sealed envelope out to her and with trembling hands she took it.
"Read it later, in private, lass. First come see what lies inside this chest!" The Dwarf beckoned for her to peer over into the chest and she did so, with the others looking over her shoulders to see what was inside.
The chest was full of Armor and weapons – at least that is what it seemed to her at first as she peered into the old metal chest. Yet the armor seemed different somehow – not the usual suits of chainmail or plate mail that she had seen many times before. It was all very dark in color and seemed extremely fine in construction. She pulled a piece from the chest and found it amazingly light as if she was holding leather armor rather then metal. Turning it over she could see it was a breast plate, but more amazing then that was the curves of the piece.
"This looks like it was made for a woman" she said amazed, mainly to Thorm, "See how it curves out here as if to make room for breasts."
"Aye" Thorm smiled as he nodded, "Ye are right on that, lass. This be something very few surface folk ever see – ye are holding Drow plate armor."
Aurei nearly dropped the breastplate in surprise, "Drow armor?! Why would he have Drow armor--- wait a minute! Is this from the Elven carriage that they found me in?! Mother Bugley told me that all the Drow armor and weapons quickly deteriorated after it contacted sunlight and there was nothing left."
"Well, not exactly, lass." Thorm picked out what looked like a folded cloak made of some strange material. He unfolded it and held it close to Aurei who was surprised to find the material was the same lightweight metal as the breastplate. It was a suit of chainmail with the smallest, most finely crafted links she had ever seen. It looked like it had been woven rather then built.
"That" Thorm explained as Aurei examined the suit of mail, "Is the finest work of armor-making known in this world. It be Drow Elven chainmail – not the type of the common soldiers of the Drow, no 'tis the suits worn by the nobles, made by Dwarven and Elven slaves in the Underdark, crafted of the very finest Adamantium and Mithril known, stolen most often from the Dwarves during Dark Elf raids. Can ye feel how it seems to almost be made of cloth? It stretches some, flexes with the wearer to some degree, which regular chainmail will not. Much like cloth, ‘tis lightweight but the strongest suit ye could find. Even without enchantment, ‘twill stop an axe or arrow. They make them for their nobles, and they be adjustable. That one ye are looking at is exceptionally fine. 'Tis just the under suit of chain and ‘tis enchanted as well. Aurei, what ye are holding is – by itself— worth a wagon full of gold. The metal plates that attach to it are worth ten times that amount and they be enchanted too."
Aurei was awestruck at the news of something so valuable remaining hidden apparently for many years, in the old Keep without a word being said about it.
"Thorm, where did it come from?" She asked the Dwarf as he rummaged through the chest.
"Well, ‘tis been a secret I’ve been keeping for many years, but now is the time to tell it. When your father – Duke Bugley—found ye, there were indeed some pieces of armor, cloaks and swords in the waterlogged carriage with ye. The cloaks were nothing special, just typical Drow cloaks that unravel in the sun after a few days topside. I’ve seen many of them over the years. The armor ye see here was not in the carriage with ye, Aurei. It was an odd lot, made for a pregnant Drow matron – some armor that I’d never seen before. The people of the town were terrified that there were Drow lurking around and that they’d come to rescue ye. The Duke had a devil of a time trying to calm them down. So he sent the armor from the carriage off to the King, in hopes that by notifying the King of the situation, it would restore calm in town. Many wanted to set ye off outside of town and leave ye, so the Drow would not come looking for ye. But Dame Bugley held stubborn to her determination to protect ye, and the Duke soon was as determined as she. Nearly a week later, Duke Bugley was scouting up stream from the millpond – just to see if there were any more signs of Drow, when, about 3 miles up river, he found a campsite, about 6 days old and near it a pile of armor – this armor— hidden under a pile of rocks. He began looking around and not far away he found a grave with a small black broach laid atop it."
"Well, he was afraid there still may be Drow around, so he sacked up the armor and took the broach and got out of there. He wasn’t keen on letting others in town know about what he found, as to not cause a panic, and it just so happened that I was still in town then, so he finds me and confides in me, knowing he could trust me. I knew what the armor was and that the broach was a noble Drow house broach. He never told anyone – I reckon not even Dame Bugley— about what he found, and I guess that was why he had this chest made. I told him I would advise sending word to one of the Rangers in King’s Reach and pay him to discretely track the Drow that had buried the stash and the body."
"He did just that and when the Ranger arrived, the three of us went back to the old camp site. We dug up that grave – horrid as it is to admit that—and found a Drow woman with what seemed to us to be injuries to her eyes from arrows. She hadn’t been pregnant, so we assume the armor found in the carriage was not hers’, but that this suit here was her set. We reburied her back and the Ranger set off tracking whoever buried her. About a month later, the Duke told me the next time I came to town, the Ranger came back and reported to him that he had tracked the Drow – for the Ranger was sure it was a Drow female, probably a noble by the size and depth of her footprints— anyway, he had tracked her for many miles. She’d headed south following the highway, but staying on the very edge of the Elven forest and travelling at night. He tracked her up to the Coldburn River just north of Westrun and lost trace of her, but he thought she probably was trying to get back home to the Underdark. At any rate, there was no more seen of her, and the Duke never told me what he did with that Drow armor, but now I see that he kept it for ye, Aurei."
"It be a link to your Drow heritage. Or maybe he just wanted to leave ye something valuable to help ye when Pinel takes over as Duke. If that happens, I mean."
"Oh, I know that will happen" Aurei responded, pulling other pieces of armor out of the chest. She held up an odd metal boot that had a long spiked heel, "Look at this thing – they actually walk like that?"
"Aye" Thorm laughed, "That is fashionable among the Noble ladies – they elevate their heels and walk on their toes. Seems crazy to me, but they move amazingly fast in their boots and shoes like that."
"Whoever she was, she was about my size" Aurei said as she held out the chainmail suit against her.
"You should try it on." Pectros suggested, and she just gave him an incredulous look.
"You have to be joking."
"No, I’m not – it is the finest armor there is – according to master Thorm there, and I know he knows armor. Aren’t you curious to see if it fits?"
"But it came off of a corpse!"
"Duchess, we boiled that armor after your father shown it to me. It was completely scrubbed clean. When we finished it was just like new."
"I don’t know, Thorm." Aurei hesitated, but deep within she had a wild desire to see how she looked in it.
"We won’t tell anyone." Thorm looked to the others and they all agreed, "In fact, we won’t even let anyone know we found it unless ye want to tell. I be curious myself how it will fit ye. Go ahead and try on the chainmail – it goes on like clothing, ye don’t need any undergarments with that kind of chain."
"Well…" she paused for a moment, but knew that if she didn’t find out, she’d always wonder, so with a slight smile she turned and went into the newly found secret room and pulled the false wall door behind her, "Give me a few minutes to try it on, and none of you better peek!"
"Don’t worry, no one will bother you." Brother Darv assured her, surveying the three guards to silently convey his meaning.