THE QUEEN OF HAMMERS
The Kingdom of the Hammer People is a lot like the Kingdom of Stone, only much louder. Hulking men line the streets, their hammer arms beating sheets of metal, fresh from the forges. Production had slowed since golems had been exiled from the Kingdom. The workers were too busy struggling to pass metal from the forges to bar my path to the castle.
Drawing closer to the castle, I saw two men approach one another, clearly friends. As they embraced, the hammers at the end of their arms crashed on each other's backs. The Stone King's story was beginning to make much more sense.
The queen did not appear impressed that I had made it to the castle.
QUEEN OF HAMMERS: We are not prepared to join your army, human. You are far too weak to stand alongside us.
MINDSWEEPER: I have not come to request military aid.
QH: Si vis pacem para bellum.
M: I understand the quote, your Majesty, yet I fail to see the relevance.
QH: "To secure peace is to prepare for war." If you are not against us, you wish as alongside you.
M: I think you misunderstand my intent, your Highness.
QH: Why are you here, worm?
M: I have a delivery for you.
QH: So you're not the human spy I've heard so many reports of?
M: I am seeking understanding, not surveillance.
QH: The delivery, what is it?
M: I do not know. I was told to deliver it to you part of the way through my journey.
QH: Do not deceive me human. Endangering me will see that you do not leave this kingdom alive.
M: With respect, your Highness, I have already risked death to get here.
M: I was ambushed by Hollowheart.
M: What do you mean, your Highness?
QH: Hollowheart is a contract killer. He wouldn't have harmed you unless somebody wanted you dead. You say you're not a spy. Perhaps he knew something I don't.
M: He said, "I think I'm going to let you live. For now."
QH: Perhaps then, he knew something even you yourself do not know.
M: I don't understand, your Highness.
QH: It is possible he knew you were on diplomatic business, and as such, was forbidden from harming you.
M: By the Council...
QH: Yes. Now. To business. The parcel, please.
A guard was summoned to take the parcel. An opener was summoned, and an object lifted toward the queen.
QH: HUMAN! COME HERE! WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THIS?
She held a piece of stone, into which had been etched the words:
M: I don't know what that is, your Highness, or what it means.
QH: It's a segment of his heart.
M: It must be etched with tears. He's eroded the words in. One tear per day.
QH: But that must have taken...
M: Since your exile?
QH: How do you know so much about this, human?
M: I visited the King. I spoke to him. He didn't tell me everything, but before I left the kingdom, he had a courier deliver this to me and tell me I was to give it to you.
QH: Two kingdoms...
Two kingdoms, the last words I heard spoken in the court of the Queen of Hammers, the last words I heard spoken in her kingdom.
I left after dark, when all hammer blows had ceased, and the bellows had fallen silent. The air seemed to whisper a misery echoed by the night's shadows.
The path stretched out ahead where I walked until daylight, when I collapsed among the emerging pebbles. I awoke much later, the taste of metal in my mouth. I began to panic, convinced I had lost a large quantity of blood. All I needed was comfortable sleep.