Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dwarven Madness

Anecdotes from a far-away land, fictionalized at my brother's request.


Urist Othilrigoth had quite a long way to walk between his bedroom and his work-place, the fortress smelter. His bed was in the centre of the fortress, deep within the canyon wall above the seething river below. The smelter was hundreds of yards away, accessible only by a narrow and dimly-lit tunnel. And it was perched a few feet over the top of an active volcano. (Thus its location - for the lava was used for heat, in place of ever-scarce coal fuel.)

By the time Urist arrived for work, he was quite out of breath. He hung his hat on the rack and turned to begin the day's smelting.

Before him stood a fire imp, its teeth gleaming, a fireball forming in its hand.

It must have crawled through the channel to the lava below, Urist realized; but this was far from the first thing on his mind. To the contrary, he was far more worried about the imp itself, which not only possessed (as a characteristic of its race) a conniving, vicious, and murderous mindset, not only teeth and claws as sharp as steel, but the capability to hurl deadly fire, which it evinced even now.

If he ran, Urist reasoned, he would surely die; he would be caught by a fireball and burn to an agonized death. And there was no way to reason with the creature. So, Urist decided, he must logically fight it.

On his person there was no weapon; the smelter provided none ready to hand. So Urist charged the fire imp, dodging the fireball as he crossed the few feet between them and tackled the creature to the ground. They wrestled furiously, Urist pummeling the imp's thin skin, the imp attempting to claw Urist's vitals out.

For a few moments all was in doubt; then Urist landed a solid blow on the imp's throat, crushing something vital. The imp convulsed, and Urist continued at a more leisurely pace, throwing punches until he was quite certain the creature was dead.

This done, he rose, fists covered in imp goo, and went outside to wash himself off.

When he came back, five minutes later, there was an eight-foot-long fire serpent waiting for him inside.

"Not again!" he cried and set to.

Perhaps it is a testament to Urist's bravery and strength, but the fire serpent proved no more a match for him than did the imp; but from that battle, a year and a day passed before any volcano-born creature would set its foot once more in Urist's smelter.


This story is set somewhat later, in the general area.


The elven caravan arrived early that year, traveling along the wide, wood-paved road so painstakingly constructed over the last few months. It was not for their benefit, of course, that the road was built, and the dwarves eyed the elven merchants with no little contempt as they led their goods-laden mules to the trade depot; but life was hard on the frontier, and food and liquor (most especially liquor) too often in short supply for the dwarves to reject any traders who came. The fortress began to hum to life, as dwarves awakened and answered the call to bring goods to the depot.

Besmar Stigazoddom was far from the fortress, near the end of the road, where all dwarven claims ended and uninterrupted wilderness stretched as far as the eye could see. He paused a moment to admire the lush greenery; then he hefted his axe and set to, cutting the lumber that would become dwarven beds, doors, and crossbow bolts.

A larch came crashing down, and Besmar stepped forward, examining his handiwork. The wood seemed intact, no noticeable splits in the trunk - then he paused, and listened. Strange, high-pitched voices came from behind him, speaking in a foreign tongue.

For a moment Besmar thought he was imagining it; but the voices continued, and he abandoned his work to turn and stare. It took him a moment to see them, but they were there, and coming toward him: five goblins, hidden green-on-green in the verdant forest, four of them carrying crossbows.

Besmar swore, a deep Dwarven curse, the sort that curdles milk and ignites wood. Then he hefted his horn and blew a long, deep note. Back at the fortress, dwarves froze or scattered, running for their equipment. The elves continued undisturbed, not knowing the meaning of the noise. And Besmar turned and ran, gambling that the goblin crossbowmen, alerted by the noise, didn't have the range to touch him.

They nearly didn't - but an errant shaft caught him in the calf and sent him tumbling downwards, just as he reached the road. Besmar fell, yelping in pain; then his head hit the hard road, and he fell, mercifully, into unconsciousness before the next volley came and ended his life.

Back at the fortress, Minkot Necikmeng was surrounded by his fellow dwarves, clamoring for orders. "The goblins have come!" they cried. "What shall we do? Do we protect the elves, or lock the doors and wait the world out?"

Minkot held his hand up for calm. "I am not the war leader," he told them, "but our Sheriff is injured, incapacitated from the last attack. So I order this: we will remain here. We will wait. And we will prepare."

"What of Besmar?" asked Dastot Torasmeng, the fortress's official marksdwarf, and unofficial firebrand. Though no expert by the standards of the Mountainhomes, he was the best the fortress could offer, and considered himself invincible, in the manner of all youth.

Minkot shook his head. "We will keep a lookout, and unlock the gates should he approach - but there are less than two dozen of us here, and I shall not risk any others hunting for him."

Dastot looked restive, but made no further complaint - yet.

He made his move an hour later, standing before the gates. "Five goblins stand beyond," he shouted dramatically. "Five! Goblins! We here number fifteen - not counting the others, those asleep, too weak to stay awake for the whole of the siege. It is best - for younger and stronger heads must carry the day. I call for a vote!" he cried. "Let us sally forth - not now, but as the goblins are distracted, firing upon the elves. A dozen dwarves will strike them as one, and they! Will! Perish!"

The motion carried, Minkot's being the lone vote against, and the dwarves readied themselves, standing behind the gates.

Then came the characteristic sound of crossbows firing. "Charge!" cried Dastot, and the dwarves rushed forward, Minkot somehow finding himself in the lead.

All was chaos - the goblins had cut down the defenseless elves faster than expected, and awaited the dwarves in their own trade depot, volleying deadly iron bolts at the unarmored dwarves. Minkot was first to die - and one after another, they fell, blood covering the road. Dastot fired bolt after bolt, shielded from hostile fire by the bodies of his swiftly-falling comrades, but his inexperience showed - he fired slowly, inaccurately, and as he faltered, the dwarves perished. With only two bolts remaining, he fled back within the doors, the remaining goblin crossbowmen following.

At the door, Edem Nirnil, weaver, lay bleeding on the ground. A goblin corpse lay beside her - the leader of the attackers, a hammer-wielding maniac, who'd slain the other dwarf guarding the door before falling to a well-aimed strike. Now, exhausted, Edem saw Dastot rush in, followed by goblin crossbowmen. "I die here," she concluded, and resigned herself.

It was to her surprise that she saw the crossbow-goblins rush by past her, away from the heart of the fortress and through the tunnel to the other side of the river.

"Perhaps they ran out of bolts?" she mused, and passed out.

After the battle, the fortress remained in chaos. Half the dwarves were dead, and a third of the remainder were bedridden with terrible wounds. Their diplomatic relations with the elves were threatened (not that this was a great concern), corpses rotted in their main hall, and the survivors were desperately unhappy, having seen their friends fall for little purpose.

But one thing guaranteed the dwarves' survival - the elven caravan had carried a wealth of food for trade, now spread out all over the trade depot, ready for storage in dwarven stockpiles. And Dastot had a plan for next time:

"Next time the goblins come," he told the fortress miner, who'd appeared (in full plate-mail) just after the goblins left, "We flood the main hall and drown 'em. Drown 'em all."

The miner grinned. This was his kind of thinking!

A few days later, a wall exploded inexplicably and sent the legendarily-skilled woodcutter/mason of the fortress to a painful death in the river half a mile down. No-one minded. That was usual, after all.

(Credit where credit is due!)

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