|Ashes of the Ivory Forge
Author: The Author PM
A vision of past glories regained brings a trio of friends to the sleepy town of Landstead. Little do they know that some things should remain hidden, and in finding these ancient secrets they may pay the final price for their knowledge.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Fantasy - Chapters: 4 - Words: 13,746 - Updated: 07-24-12 - Published: 04-04-12 - id: 3010655
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
I was informed that some people felt that the transition between point of views between the chapters was a bit confusing in how it was laid out. So, I've changed the chapter titles to the name of the character who's POV it's written from, as well as providing a chapter title in the text body. Hopefully this helps you out!
That had been my name for as long as I could remember, and I have a pretty good memory. I come from Amberway, a small village through the middle of a pine stand known for, well, amber. Among other things. I'm a hobgoblin, some would call me a monster, my Pop always just called me special, different, an answer to his prayers to Mithyos. My Pop's old, real old... He was born and raised in a place called the Eskalon Mountains, and saw more fighting than most people I've ever met elsewise. Won't talk about it though, not past telling me that he's seen monsters plain as day, cut 'em down, killed 'em dead he says, and I ain't no monster. Well, my Pop's never lied to me, and I don't see why I shouldn't believe him about that.
Whether he was showing me how to tell when the metal was hot enough to shape, having me chop wood among other chores, or drilling me in proper form with my axe and hammer, my Pop never ever made me feel like I wasn't loved. The man's blind in one eye, nearsighted in the other, and one of his stumpy legs went to club from an old battle wound when I was just chin fuzz, as Pop'd put it. A taste for ol' Mary's best brews left him a bit saggy around the middle, even if his arms are as thick as a half grown pine, and twice as strong. Old greybeard like him was best suited to barroom brawls and pickin' up his neighbours after the fact. Still, he worked the very best steel in the whole village, and did everything from sharpen kitchen knives to shoe horses, whatever was needed, and for a fair price. Pop always did have strong morals.
He just wasn't up for the trip when the vision came to him. In his sleep, he said it was, sights as wild as any he'd ever seen drunk, but that night he'd been sober as new hearthstone. Pop shouted for me, and told me with his gnarled fingers in my nightshirt that his king yet lived, and the citadel could be restored, but he couldn't do it. It was the first time I'd ever seen Pop cry, and let me tell you, it sure wrung my heart to see him so crushed, like someone put an arrow through his dog or something. I told Pop that night that I'd do it for him, it must have been why he found me, why ol' Mithyos had put me in his path that day in that old hobgoblin lady's arms, not even cut my first tooth. Pop just cried more, but these weren't the sad kinda tears. I could tell. Pop was happy, Pop was proud of me, and even though it'd hurt him to see the back of me, maybe for the last time, he couldn't help but look like that was a big relief for him.
It didn't take me long to get packed. I strapped on my gear, loaded up my stuff and settled it all so I could walk with it. We didn't have a horse, and I wouldn't have taken it anyway; without me around to help with the forge and chores, Pop was gonna have to hire one of the village boys on and I wasn't gonna cost him anything more than what he was giving me. In the morning Pop wrote me a list of names and descriptions of people, friends of his from a long time back he said, who'd help me find the citadel and maybe have a few insights as to what was goin' on. There weren't any other dwarves from the Eskalon Mountains within leagues of Forked Rivers, that'd be the province I lived in, so it was on me. Yeah, no pressure, but this was Pop, and there wasn't anything I wouldn't do for him. That's a son's place.
"Hey Metas! Get your head outta that book and come get your breakfast before we have to break camp!" The girl's voice carried like music over the din of people working around the camp. Weren't really that many of 'em either. Three of us guards, along with old Rocco the caravan driver, a guy who didn't really sit well with me, but I figure it's just 'cause of who his daddy was.
I looked over at the young woman who'd called out to me, pulling the pen away from the journal and wiping the nib against the thick black fabric of my pants. I capped the tiny inkwell and stowed the journal along with the small collection of pens and inks I'd been using to keep the log of my travels. Emilia Dovesong, she'd said her name was. She was interesting for a half elven woman, and never too far from her lap harp. I dropped my right hand onto my dog's head, scratching Maxim's red and brown speckled scalp gently while I smiled at the feel of his tail thumping on the small of my back.
"Yeah, yeah, keep yer pants on Emmy, I ain't about to miss breakfast."
It was a nice day so far, but then again every day was pretty nice this time of year in Applewalk Valley. The place had been named by farmers, which explained such stunning examples of naming moxie as Olddale and Landstead. The former was the oldest city in Forked Rivers, though by no means was it the biggest or most prosperous, even if it was the central trading hub in Applewalk Valley. Landstead was pretty much frontier town that had once enjoyed a great relationship with the Anviliron Clan up in the Eskalon Mountains as well as open trade with the elves of Applewalk Vale. Both groups had been mysteriously absent from life in Applewalk Valley for generations, however. A logging company had moved in and bought up most of the town ages ago, and had clear cut most of the elves' forest, for the good of Forked Rivers, they'd said. Gods above, they even had the nerve to call themselves the Forked Rivers Lumber Consortium, of all things. Like that weren't a mouthful and a half even for a gnome on a namin' binge!
Still, the sun was shinin' and the birdsong was as nice as anything I'd heard, except maybe some of the songs I'd heard Emmy sing from time to time. It was warm but not hot, and not too dry either, just that side of humid. A great day for another twelve boring hours of guard duty. Still like Pop always told me, the best time to be on guard duty was when nothing was happening. Men got killed when things got hairy, and with a dwarf, a situation had to be pretty bad to be called hairy! I'd been drilled in tactics and combat since I was a boy though, both to protect myself from bullies who wouldn't like the colour of my skin or the shape of my nose, and to keep some control over what Pop called the 'beast within'.
See, dwarves don't much like my kind and I can't say I blame 'em from the stories Pop's told me.
Hobgoblins are about the smartest of the teeming millions, they're militaristic, ordered warmongers who brought even mighty orc clans under their yoke. Then came the bugbears, sadistic murderers who delighted in causing fear. Then there were the goblins, who were by far the most prolific and chaotic of our kind, writhing in their warrens too distracted by rutting or fighting, or both in some cases, to accomplish much of anything. Goblinoids had been a problem for dwarves since both of the races were young, and there was no love lost between 'em. You might ask why Pop even took me, knowin' what I was, and so would I if I were some kinda ingrate. But I ain't never asked Pop to explain himself, his reasons are his reasons, and if Pop wanted me to know 'em, he'd tell me when he was good and ready.
With a grunt I heaved myself to my feet, a bit chafed beneath my half plate, but finding that the armour had long since settled comfortably on my broad frame. Dwarven-made and every bit as protective as a tortoise's shell my Pop liked to brag, and would slam his gnarled fist into my stomach as if to make his point. Spikes on the right shoulder and down my heavily armoured axe arm accentuated the seemingly light steel plating covering the left, where linked chain could be seen in the joints and covering my forearm. Of course in a real fight I'd have a shield on that arm, and needed it light so I could work the slab of steel like a living wall against any foes. I fought like a dwarf, Pop always said, ferocious in the heart and quick in the feet, quicker in the mind and with a solid head to match.
That always got me grinning.
Emmy looked a bit uncomfortable when I approached with a wide mouth full of fangs leading the way, but she'd known me for almost a month now, and we'd fought together on more than one occasion. I figured it was just that I wasn't your typical armsman, and she wasn't your typical minstrel. I tried not to ask her too many questions, she paid me the same courtesy, and we got along just fine. I'd watch her back, and could trust Emmy to have mine. Of course, Maxim was right there sniffing at her legs and the cook pot, "Heh, you always spoil us with the extra bacon."
"Well if you weren't so keen on eating like a dog, Metas, I wouldn't have to feed you like one. Meat and tarts, that's all you eat!" she threw up her hands as if fed up, but by now I knew it was an act. Emmy liked to call herself an 'actress', but I just figured she was a spirited lass, and left it as it was.
I put on my best wounded expression, looking sincerely hurt, though it was more a grimace of pain than emotional turmoil, I suppose, "Hey now. I eat vegetables! Potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes... uh... yams?"
"Tubers! Roots! Starchy starch starch! You don't eat apples or lettuce, I've never ever seen you take a salad!" she seemed to be just a bit annoyed with me.
"Rabbit food! C'mon Emmy..." I trailed off as she puffed her cheeks out, face flushing.
"I don't even know how you don't have scurvy, by now!" Emilia replied crossly, huffing.
Oh, she was in fine form. I could tell. Itching for a fight that wasn't really a fight. Girl must have slept on a rock, or had words with Krazy Akbar, or maybe Rocco hadn't kept his mitts to himself the other night. I'd had to have a stern 'talk' with the man before about that. Emilia wasn't anyone's, was the gist of it, and his ribs were still singin' that tune, to the best've my knowledge. "I'm a hobgob-"
"That's no excuse! You put on airs like you're some kind of dwarf, the most vegetable-like thing I've seen go into you is beer! And that's just for the hops!" her words came at me like crossbow bolts, rapid fire at that!
I sighed and hung my head, shaking it lightly, "Yeah yeah, you're right. I'm mean and nasty, making you cook me bacon instead of sloppy oats and sour apples." never mind that it had been my gold that had gone into the budget to make sure there had been a few sides of the salted and smoked meat handy.
She grinned suddenly, and I knew I'd fallen into the trap, a sinking feeling of dread filling my gut as fully as stale ale, and just as sourly, "Aha! So! You know the apples are sour! You do snack on them!"
Damn her for her whiskerless cheeks, but she had me!
"Oh aye, from time to time when I ain't got anything better to do than brave the trots and the gut rot for a snack, I do." It was technically the truth. I had my honour, I was raised better than to just lie on a whim, and I wasn't gonna shame my Pop like that. Not when he'd taken the time to make a man of me.
She put on a little pout, "And here I thought you might just be trying to make me feel better."
Emmy had scouted ahead and found the little crab apple tree, and though the tart fruits made good pie and tarts, I didn't really like them. Sometimes a guy ran out of jerky for the day though!
An arm looped around my neck, and a spry halfling man swung around me, planting his feet on my chest and flipping over the cook pot to land neatly beside Emilia. Flint Cobbleshade, of course he would be close by. Breakfast was cooking, and the little man was pretty much a bulette dressed up as a halfling. Ever hungry, never turning down a meal, and ferociously demolishing anything edible that crossed his path. I heaved a sigh and rolled my eyes hard enough to nearly pull a muscle.
"Thanks for the lift there, Metas!" he chirped up at me in the trade tongue.
The language was an invention of the halflings that had come long, long ago. Once upon a time it had even had a real name, but these days everyone just called it 'common' and even the meanest street urchin spoke a smattering. Halflings were a nomadic people who by ancient divine edict had no lands of their own. Instead they made their way living on the fringes of other societies, trading for what they wanted and taking what they couldn't trade for.
He was a likeable sort, never talked down to me or looked at me funny for being what I was, and if anyone was a friend it was Flint. The little man had grown up travelling between Amberway and Olddale with his family caravan, but had struck out with me to see about getting rich off of ancient dwarven treasure when I'd passed his way.
I took a calming breath, even when Maxim licked at Flint's face enough to knock the little man over, "Yeah yeah, you're welcome. You can always just make a normal entrance, you know."
Emmy was giggling behind her hands, and she dished up a few rashers of bacon stuffed into a buttered crusty roll for me, and a bowl of boiled oats with apples for Flint. Maxim's food would come later when the horses were fed, I knew, but that wouldn't stop him begging off a bit of bacon from me, or getting a lick from the bottom of Flint's bowl. Maxim was a big dog, standing taller at the shoulder than Flint as well as being broader across the chest than Emilia was, but that didn't stop the trained canine from being lovable to his friends. Maxim's friends were my friends... or was it the other way around?
I took my breakfast, winking at Emmy and turning to go and check on the last member of the caravan. Krazy Akbar, an eccentric gnome with a bright purple plume of hair rising as if to defy gravity from the middle of his otherwise bald pate. In contrast, most of his face was consumed by the most well kept and well oiled beard I'd ever seen, something that earned him some respect in my eyes even though it was as ridiculously purple as his hair. If I had to describe Krazy Akbar to someone who'd never seen him before, I'd say he looked like some rainbows had crashed into a man and knocked a shipment of cologne out of his hands and onto him. He always smelled of some weird combination of herbs and other reagents and I guessed he was some kind of arcanist, though I'd never personally seen him work any magic.
Ain't never seen any real magic in all my life to be honest. Sure, Emmy knew a bit of bardic lore from what I could tell, the way of the True Voice or something Pop's books had referred to it as. I'd seen Flint whip up chemicals that could melt metal or set fire to stone, but those weren't magic. That wasn't what an arcanist could do, oh no. The runesmiths in Pop's stories could pull down fire from the heavens and blast their enemies with sigils thrown into the air by skilled hands and a few words. I'd never met one in my life, but maybe I'd find something about them in the Eskalon Mountains. If ever there was a place, that'd be it.
A few bites into my sandwich, I stopped and looked around, chewing slowly as my pointed ears twitched and shifted their angle a bit. I'd heard something, it was as simple as a rustle in the bushes, but it could have been anything. A squirrel, maybe a boar rooting around for mushrooms. On instinct I jumped back a step, feeling the hairs at the back of my neck stand up as a javelin buried itself in the dirt at my feet. I stared at it for a moment before a loud, whooping cry filled my ears and a pair of leaf and twig covered men leaped out of the bushes and rushed at me!
Immediately I threw the first thing that came to mind, and immediately regretted it as my half eaten bacon sandwich flew through the air to land in the dirt between us, some fifteen or twenty feet out. It was trampled, but I loosened the axe at my belt and cocked my arm, heaving with a sudden snap of muscle.
Now, I was a blacksmith's son, and I'd spent many a morning pumping bellows and hammering out iron. What was more, someone had to chop the wood for those fires and who else got the job once Pop's leg hadn't allowed him to move around all that well?
That'd be me.
The heavy steel axe whistled through the air, blurring in its speed as it flew end over end before crunching into the man's shoulder and whipping him around with a surprised yelp and a spray of blood and dirt. As he fell, his companion was already jerking a weathered-looking short sword with a notched blade from a sheath at his hip and rushing at me from the side. I could tell that he was aiming to take me down before I could do anything else to hurt him and his buddy.
My ears picked up the sound of my dog barking on the other side of the little camp and a scuffle going on nearby. It seemed these two weren't the only attackers we were facing! The man's friend hadn't moved from his spot on the ground from what I'd seen, but I had more pressing issues. I dropped my hand low as I turned, slapping the bandit's clumsy thrust aside with my gauntlet-clad fingers, glad for my father's old adage when I didn't lose a single one of them.
A man without armour is just a hog waiting for the butcher.
Even stiff leather was better than bare flesh, I knew, and through long hours drilling while wearing the heavy plate I was able to more easily rest in it and wear it through the day without too much discomfort. It wasn't any warmer or more stifling than the forge had been, after all.
I brought my other hand up, balling a fist and punching out at the bandit, catching him full in the chest and staggering him for a moment. A moment was all I needed. I grabbed his wrist and turned it out, pressing my thumb hard into the ligaments until his blade slipped free to drop to the dusty path, then leaned in, snapping my head forward and down. My forehead slammed hard into the man's nose, which seemed to simply explode under the sudden pressure, splattering my brow with his blood and knocking him backward with a sharp cry which soon faded to a gurgle. I ended that with a solid stomp down onto his chest before I snatched up his fallen blade and rushed toward the other side of the camp.
What greeted me was a welcome sight; three men on the ground, one still writhing though his wrist was hanging in Maxim's firmly clamped jaws. My boy's hackles were up, and I muttered a bit before sighing out my relief when I saw Krazy Akbar to one side, tending a gash in Emmy's shoulder and daubing something that I could smell from there onto the wound. Flint was calmly pulling knives out of the other two men, thrown expertly and accurately by the little man who was no stranger to bandits.
This wasn't the first time Rocco's caravan had been attacked, and though the half-orc was no greenhorn, he wasn't being paid to protect the shipment, so he'd simply hidden when the trouble started. I couldn't blame him, but the cowardice of such an act bothered me. What if someone had been hurt more than a scrape?
"We're all okay, right?" The question needed to be asked, sometimes people dismissed wounds as trivial.
The bandit groaned in response, but I ignored him, looking to my companions. Flint nodded, and even though she put on a brave face and didn't wince, Emmy seemed a bit shaken. Unlike Flint and I, she hadn't seen much in the way of actual fighting, and still got all green around the gills at blood. Maxim wagged his tail at my approach, earning a head pat from me as I squatted beside the man and idly pressed the tip of the notched blade I carried into the ground near him.
"Yeah, I got scraped by one of the javelins, but Flint and Maxim got them before anyone else got hurt." Emmy's voice quivered a bit as Krazy Akbar pressed something into the torn flesh, wrapping some spongy sort of cloth around her upper arm and shoulder.
"That should patch you up right quick, Emmy." the little purple-haired man spoke quickly, like he was in a hurry, though his movements were sure and swift from what I could see. His voice sometimes grated on me, high and buzzing like a hummingbird out for nectar.
Flit flit buzz buzz chirp. It was enough to drive a man up the wall!
Still, it was good. It wouldn't do if a quarter of my group was disabled by a stupid bandit's lucky shot. I leaned down with a bit of a grunt, gathering the man's collar in my hand and jerking him up off the ground, letting him get a good look at me and the way my tusk-like canines gleamed when I let my lips curl in an open snarl.
"So," I shook him a bit, shooing Maxim to one side, where he stood at the ready with his hackles up, licking blood from his muzzle, "just who are you lot? Simple bandits out for our gold and goods? Someone tailin' us from Olddale? Well?"
I'd already interrupted the man as he opened his mouth to babble an answer, not nearly as angry as I seemed to be. It was more intimidating the way I did it, and that'd been what I wanted.
"I-I-I don't know! We was told to capture caravans we was! That's all th'Boss said! Get 'em, and git home!" his wrist still bled, but that wasn't my problem.
My problem was that his other hand was inching toward the blade I'd left in the dirt.
I solved that easily enough by standing and hauling the man to his feet. Leading him with my fist in his shirt, I walked quickly to the edge of our camp, and shoved him past what I considered to be the outskirts. A swift kick planted my boot on his backside, and sent him careening into the bushes, his yelp quite satisfying.
"And tell yer 'Boss', the next time he crosses blades with Metas, I ain't gonna be so merciful as to let one've his boys crawl on back to him! And get something on that wrist before you bleed to death, idgit!"
I grumbled on the way back, suddenly more annoyed about losing my breakfast than the attack itself, stomping over to the first man I'd killed and grabbing the well-worn haft of my war axe before jerking it free of the man's shoulder. His body lifted a bit, not of his own accord mind you, and my axe came out with a bit of resistance and a sucking sound. Shaking my head at how this had gone down, I knelt again and wiped the curved blade clean on the man's dirty shirt before setting it aside and getting down to the gritty part.
I pulled my belt knife and cut the man's coin purse, slitting his pockets while I was at it and tugging off his boots, shaking them out for good measure. I gathered coins, bits and baubles and the like into the bandit's purse, hefting it before shrugging, closing my eyes and murmuring a prayer.
"You don't need it anyway, pal. Thanks be to Mithyos, the Hammer. He found despair in the end, but give him hope beyond."
That was one of the many prayers to the Illuminated that Pop had taught me. He wasn't a very religious man, compared to some of the people in Amberway, but he taught me what he knew of the pantheon.
We honoured Mithyos together for the most part, but all of the Illuminated held sway in our house, and when the time was right, they were all invoked for one thing or another. I could go into detail about them, but I had other things on my mind. I grabbed up my axe and settled it back on my hip again, sighing and heading back to our little group.
It was just me, Flint and Emmy from Landstead on, I knew. I'd be lying if I didn't admit to being a bit nervous about it. Sure, Flint was a well travelled guy, but Emmy hadn't ever been away from home before we'd met her. She'd come with us after some fast talking by Flint and had been having the time of her life, from the smiles she'd been showing. Neither one of them knew what it was like when you had a living mountain surrounding you, when you were so far down in the caves that one misstep and you'd be dead, and no-one but the stones would know you were there.
I barely knew.
My kind grew up in caves, Pop had once told me. Living and dying our short and brutal lives warring against anything unfortunate enough to cross our path. Dwarves lived in caves too, I knew, but their lives were much more focused on home and hearth; wars that they fought were often less about conquest and more about defending themselves from the menaces posed by orcs and goblinoids, as well as nameless things from the depths of the earth. I figured that at some point my kind had to come into the same kind of conflicts that the dwarves did, if only because we lived in the same places. Pop was always quick to remind me that hobgoblins didn't do any mining, they were more the raiding and slave taking sorts.
Still I had my goal in mind, always driving me and pushing me on. I had to get it done, I had to make Pop proud and settle things with myself. I'd never told him and I felt bad for keeping the secret, but I always wondered if things would have been better if I'd been born a dwarf. Now, Pop would have smacked me upside the head if I'd ever said anything like that, because even for all of his prejudice and hate for my kind, I was still his son.
'Ya can't help it if'n ya can't never grow a decent beard, an' yer taller'n any of the prettiest gals'll like. Yer whatcha are, boy, and if ya dunno how to handle that, then I oughtta put ya back on wood detail until yer the man I raised ya to be. Ain't nothin' wrong with bein' something, it's how you act that shows who you are, not whatcha look like.'
The memory of Pop's brash voice and thick accent made me grin a bit. He only ever got that bad when he was barking things out in the Dwarven language, which was interesting in that it almost always sounded angry. Syllables as harsh as the sound of hammers on steel even when whispering sweet nothings to a lover, one tutor had mentioned while teaching me my numbers. The man's advice was always gonna stick with me, I knew, but that didn't make it any less valuable to me. There wasn't anyone in the world who had more of my respect and I figured that no matter how widely travelled I got, how much I saw out there, I'd always look up to Pop... Even if I was half again as tall as him!
I forced a smile for Emmy and Flint when I got back, trying not to look as troubled as I felt. I knew that Emmy had some magic, that much was certain, but I didn't know a darned thing about spellcraft so I knew I wasn't going to be any help to the girl. Flint's only real magic was in talking women into his bedroll, though he was a veritable wizard when it came to locks and traps. Most skilled fingers this side of the Clearwater river, he'd always said and always followed with a lecherous wink.
"Everything's in order now, I take it?" I looked between them, Emmy rolling her wounded shoulder a bit, and Flint still cleaning his daggers.
"Sure is mate!" Flint grinned up at me like the cat that got the cream, "Ain't ever a spot of trouble that slitting a bandit's pocket's not going to solve."
Flint had come up with not only a couple of belt purses, but had also seemed to have taken a pair of leather gloves off of one man, and the boots from another. Shaking my head and rolling my eyes, I knew that he'd find a use for the things or someone willing to pay for the items. If it wasn't nailed down or on fire, chances were that the little entrepreneur would find a use for it.
"And yer shoulder, Emmy?"
I must have sounded more concerned than I meant to, because she looked at me for a long time. It was just a scrape after all, she was wondering what I meant I bet. Or maybe she still wasn't used to the supposed leader of the little group being what was normally considered a monster or bedtime story to scare kids straight.
Then she smiled like a breaking dawn, and I knew it was fine, "It's great, Metas. That little man, Krazy Akbar, really knows his stuff! We should stop by his shop in Landstead before we carry on, some of those poultices might be really useful to us if we get hurt!" and oh, I knew that we were going to get hurt. That was what happened on these sorts of treks.
We all got our things together and loaded up on the caravan, Emmy sitting up with Rocco and strumming her lap harp, singing some song I'd never heard before while she played. Maxim and I walked along up and down the sides of the caravan, while Flint nested on top of the covered wagon with a wide-brimmed hat on his head and his sling loosely draped on his lap. Standard travelling setup. It'd give Emilia and Rocco a chance to duck for cover while Maxim, Flint and I handled any threats.
Still, things went pretty well for the rest of the trip, and in only a couple of days we were just about two weeks' travel north of Olddale, and on to the little town of Landstead.