Kate and Dana looked at each other, then the door of the house, then shrugged. They had to do something, soon, or night would fall and who knew what dangers lurked in this place after dark.
Kate leaned closer to Dana, "I'm getting hungry. Do you suppose they will offer us anything to eat?"
"If they do, it will probably not be anything we recognize, but I'm hungry, too."
The door opened a little more as they approached, allowing them to slip inside, then it was closed with a bang behind them. When they turned to face the door, they saw that it was being barred with a large piece of iron by a little man no taller than Dana's waist.
"Ummm...hello?" Kate said. "You signaled?" It sounded trite, but she couldn't think of any other way to say it, even if it did earn her a disgusted look from her companion.
"I did," he said, turning back toward them and crossing his arms across his very broad chest. "Did they send you?"
"They?" Kate was startled, but Dana recovered quickly.
"Yes, or at least she did."
"She," he drew a deep breath and smiled. "If She sent you, then you are the ones we've been waiting for." He hurried over to a door next to the hearth, his short, bowed legs almost wobbing in his haste. "Come this way, hurry."
Kate cast a regretful look at the fragrant stew simmering over the wood fire, but apparently there were issues more pressing than the feeding of guests, and she turned away and followed Dana toward the door.
"Hurry! It's almost dark." The little man's voice sounded far away, as though he had entered a tunnel, and when Kate passed through the door, ducking her head as she encounted the low ceilinged stairway leading down, down, deep into the earth under the house.
"Crap," Dana said. "My claustrophobia is going to act up for sure."
"Take my hand," Kate reached forward through the darkness. "If we don't get separated, maybe you'll feel better."
"Oh yeah, the big bad dragonslayer has to hold hands to keep from freaking out in the scary tunnel. This will look great in my memoirs."
Kate held onto Dana's hand and followed her down the stairs, flight after flight of rickety wooden steps that seemed more made for the little man's size than theirs, until she lost count of how many they had descended. But finally they stood in the dirt, only a little hunched over from the low ceiling.
"You doing okay?" Kate asked Dana, leaning close to her ear to try not to let the little man know what they discussed.
"Fine. So far anyway. You'd better let go of my hand, because I may need them at some point. But thanks."
Kate looked around at the tunnel. It had been carved out of bedrock, and the walls were nearly smooth, except for some marks from the carving tools. They were a grayish white and..."Dana, I can see."
"Of course you can see," Dana said. "Why wouldn't you?
"Dana, do you see any light around here?"
Dana looked around. There were no lights, at least not in terms of light fixture. Yet is was possible to see everything around them clearly. She turned and faced the little man, who stood tapping his foot in front of them.
"Sir...may I aske your name? I am Dana and this is my friend Kate, and we have been very rude not to introduce ourselves."
He looked up and up at them and grimaced. "We don't have time to slow down. I told you, it's almost dark! But if you must, I am Cobwen, one of the village elders, and am charged with setting you off on your quest."
He began to hurry off down the passageway, his legs covering a surprising amount of ground for such a short guy.
"I think we're headed toward the castle," Dana said.
"I think so too, oh, where did he go?"
Cobwen had disappeared around a corner, and when they reached him he stood in a large, by comparison with the tunnel, anyway, open chamber filled with ...