Sel Ironfist was a bit startled to see his father, Flynn Ironfist, in his private study. The elder dwarf sometimes popped in to see his youngest son, but usually when he knew Sel would be there. Sel normally wouldn’t have minded the intrusion but there was the small matter of what he had left on his desk.
Flynn was reading the letter with obvious delight.
“F-father!” Sel squeaked in an embarrassingly high register.
“’My dearest Sel,’” Flynn began to read aloud. “’I had hardly thought my heart capable of such joyous bliss it provides when I receive your letters. I tremble at the thought of meeting you in person. I know the distance between us is considerable and your station is far, far above my own, but spare a mercy to this poor woman’s heart and tell me it isn’t impossible.’”
If Sel’s cheeks grew any more red, he feared they’d start bleeding. Flynn didn’t appear to notice.
“My lad! You’ve found yourself a girl! Why didn’t you tell me?!”
“ . . . uhm . . . “
“Is it because she’s a commoner? You really think such a thing matters now?”
Flynn was blessed with five sons. Unmarried women were already becoming rare when he was wed. When his children had gone courting, his eldest son, Reyl, had managed to find a bride but there simply weren’t any more girls for the other four. His second son, Orr, took to fighting and became a mercenary. He only came home every few years with fresh scars and more anger. His third son, Marn, had found another lad that he seemed to have a special relationship with. You heard about that sort of thing before, but it was becoming a lot more common these days. His fourth son, Eng, oscillated between loud feasting and partying and calm, thoughtful silence. During these long silences, he would watch his elder brother Marn and his partner as if trying to make up his mind about something. That left quiet little Sel to bury himself in books and charts and scholarly things. Flynn had thought his youngest had settled into a monk’s life, but here the little rapscallion was courting a lady through the post!
“What’s her name?!” Flynn asked eagerly.
“It’s –um – it’s Amaranth,” Sel stammered.
“Amaranth . . . is that a stone?”
“No, it’s a plant. It’s actually a family of plants. There’s purple amaranth, red amaranth, green amaranth, prince’s feather, waterhemp, love-lies-bleeding—“
“Let’s skip that one, eh?” Flynn laughed. Amaranth; that was an unusual name for a dwarf maid, but ah well. “Why on earth isn’t she wed? I should think even a common lass could pick her suitors these days.”
“She’s – she’s mute,” Sel muttered.
“ . . . is she deaf?”
“No, her parents were deaf and they raised her outside of the village. Everyone assumed she was deaf as well, so no one tried to teach her to speak until she was already grown. She couldn’t learn after so long. But she knows handspeech!”
“ . . . well, who said a woman who can’t speak is a bad thing?! She obviously has a sharp mind!” Flynn waved the letter as proof. “Mytr the jeweler said you had been buying lady’s ornaments. I was coming to ask you about them, but you weren’t in and this letter was here – oh and this box!”
The elder dwarf opened a small wooden box nearly full of delicate, intricate jewelry. Most of the pieces featured stars or moons or both.
“She likes stars, doesn’t she?”
“She loves stars.” For the first time, Sel appeared to relax. “She charts them as studiously as any astronomer. Sometimes she runs along the whale roads at night like some wood nymph. I fear she could be injured or attacked in the darkness, but I would not think to try to tame her.”
Flynn smiled to himself, noting the utterly smitten look on his son’s face. Star gazing was a very odd hobby for a noble dwarf, but he supposed commoners living on the surface would be more at home with it. It sounded as though young Amaranth had been left to run wild, but hadn’t neglected her learning. It still utterly baffled Flynn’s mind how anyone could cast away a dwarf lass in these times – supposed deaf or not!
“Perhaps we could find you apartments near the peak with a passage outside,” Flynn suggested. “So your star gazing lass won’t be parted from her whale roads.”
Sel beamed at the thought. Flynn looked back down into the box of jewels.
“You know, you have forgotten something rather important,” he teased his son. “Broaches! How is she supposed to know you’re being serious without broaches? Maybe Mytr has some black star cabochons . . . she would love those, wouldn’t she?”
“I – I don’t think she wears broaches, Father,” Sel said, looking uncomfortable again.
“Don’t be silly! All dwarf women wear broaches!”
Perhaps it was the wording, perhaps it was the sudden, hunted look on Sel’s face, but Flynn reconsidered the odd name, the odd habits, and the careless discarding of an otherwise healthy female.
“She is a dwarf, isn’t she?”
Now complete and utter panic graced the younger dwarf’s features. Flynn went over the clues again: lived on the surface, well-read, literate, named after a flower . . . He peered down into the jewelry box. The rings inside were tiny – he had taken them for knuckle rings, but he couldn’t see any larger ones. And there were a lot of hair ornaments.
“Is she a halfling?!”