Maester Gröenwald sighed.
"Maester," Sully repeated again, "The duergar have embargoed us again."
"Yes, yes, I heard you the first time..."
The duergar, workers stunted over generations of living and working within the walking, harvesting legs of the mobile city, scuttled along its undercarriages and refined the resources gathered by each ponderous step of Ambulurbis: sand turned to glass, ores refined to metals, soils and plants ripped up to feed the harvest-tanks, lakes and rivers sucked dry. Constrained to the maintaining the workings of the legs, they were both a shunned caste, but one that held a critical chokehold on the resources required by the Above-city as it made its way across the plains and mountains of Gamana.
"Shall I send for the Peacemakers?"
"No, they have no tact."
"I didn't think this called for tact."
"Are you willing to work the legs if the duergar choose to abscond?"
"Thought not. Fetch my sigil of office. And my trousers."
The Maester made his way from his skylit office to the elevators that would take him to the oily, dark scaffolding of the Under-city. The structure of the City grew less airy and became more brutal and workmanlike as he descended. Glass made way for steel and he reminded himself to breathe as the elevator opened into the claustrophobic workings of the Under-city.
He came face-to-face with a pair of pale workers, suspiciously glowering from behind a barricade.
"I am Maester Gröenwald. Who speaks for you?"
Mumbling between the two, followed by one departing. Gröenwald and the remaining guard stared uncomfortably at one another, the only sound the pistons of the closest of the City's legs as it began its next glacial step. Several minutes later, a duergar wearing a chain of alternating steel and gold links arose from a service tunnel. "That would be me, Maester Peremo of the Under-city."
Gröenwald inwardly cringed at the stout duergar's co-opting of the title and parody of his sigil, but suppressed his disgust. "Greetings, Maester Peremo. I understand that you've embargoed the City."
"Any purpose to this?"
"Of course there be a purpose. We labor in the dark, or suspended below the guts of this walking hive. The Above-city lives in the sun and light. We make the City move, yet we don't share in the light."
"Your fore-bearers chose to be among the workings, and if you were to abandon this place and roam the City, it would become static and vulnerable, like the Ancestor-cities were."
"We don't ask to leave our post," said Peremo, "and besides, the sky makes us uncomfortable after all this time. we don't care to be among you in the light, but the Above-city makes much that we do not share in the bounty of."
"You are the heart of the City - you bring it resources, you are its life-blood. And, I understand, that you take first pick of the harvestings. I hear tell that you come upon much gold and gems that do not make it to the sorting-level. Surely this is a reasonable state of affairs."
"Do not patronize us. We aren't children. And we can't consume gold."
"You mean the crops of the harvest-tanks? I understand that the duerger receive a grand allotment of the crops for their labors."
"You have been in your crow's nest, staring at the sky for too long, Gröenwald. You need to look down, just for a bit. Our 'grand allotment' is wilted and pale. We may be small, but we, and our children need strength. And the sweetness of the sun."
"Is this true? My accounts-men affirm that all get their appointed shares." Gröenwald scratched his chin. "How long has it been like this?"
"Since the last Maester." Murmurs of assent from the two guards.
"If this is true, your labors may have been shorted. I'll investigate myself, and confirm that you share all the products of the Above-city."
"We would be grateful of that, and could arrange to reestablish the upward flow again."
Gröenwald stepped back into the elevator, riding it back up into the light, and a visit to his accounts-men.
And thus the duergars had their first strawberries in a generation.