Echoes of the North

The last Journal of Hvaldi: 16

2953: Winter descends

It’s been quite a span of time since I last picked up this journal. I’ve seen it looming over my life these past few years with a strange sense of fear. Logically, it makes no sense that a simple book can cast a shadow over an otherwise idyllic life. My young Son spent the better part of this day chasing around the pup, and my daughter seems to do little more than inflate my heart to the point of bursting with love. I have been hand-fasted to Dumora for nearly three years (note to self, our anniversary is in 5 days, do NOT forget!) and she still stokes the flames of my love with every single look and smile.

And yet, like a heavy cloak, this journal has hung upon my shoulders and my mind. At first, I was content to let my updates wait as I was caught up in the dynamism of life. I had met Dumora and rather abruptly asked for her hand. We courted for three months before I made up my mind. After talking to Dumora, she was preparing to knock some sense into me if I did not ask, so I consider that mutual. I still remember the day I laid eyes on her. Winter was clinging on with icy fingernails as spring attempted to drag it off of the land. I had traveled to the Iron Hills seeking to speak with the makers of the fine water clock I had repaired for Juniper. I stopped off at the first decent looking Inn I could find intending to warm myself and hopefully clean up from my journey before trying to introduce myself to these expert craftdwarfs.

She was perched upon a tiny stage near the hearth and surrounded by instruments. She was quietly but expertly plucking at a harp when I entered. I’m not ashamed to admit I was first struck immobile by her beauty. Long, fiery red hair shaded most of her face, cascading in a great curtain of curls as she bent to her playing. I woodenly walked over to a table and apparently ordered food and a beer for when I next noticed my surroundings, they were in front of me. Dumora proceeded from the harp, to the lute, to a hand drum and many other instruments. Sometimes she sang and other times she would dance. I was not her only admirer, as the Inn was strangely silent for a Dwarven tavern. Her voice was a soothing balm upon all that ailed me and when she danced, my pulse kept time with her movements. I have never felt less in control of my own body and emotions than I did at that moment.

Later that evening I introduced myself during one of her breaks. Calling the next two weeks “courtship” would be like calling an Olephant “graceful.” Even when I was making an absolute fool of myself, I cherished every laugh I would get from her. My time to return home came all too quickly and I had completely forgotten my original intent to speak with the watch-makers. I had not but placed two feet on the path home before I was already concocting a reason to return to the Iron Hills. I promised Dumora I would write and I left her my address, or what passed for it at that point. Ravenhill was little more than a ruin with a moderately functional hovel carved out of it, but it was my home and it was coming along nicely.

Fortune favored me though. Almost as soon as I had returned home, a caravan was forming, ready to brave the roads now that Spring was finally asserting itself. I happily signed on to provide it protection. I almost forgot to collect my pay as we arrived at the trade village near the Iron Hills. My flight was rather undignified but I was of a singular purpose. I had to see Dumora again. I made my way through the utilitarian halls of the Iron Hills to the address she had given me. I must have looked quite the fool, nearly out of breath, bouncing from one foot to the other as I eagerly knocked upon the stout door.

The Dwarf that answered was verging on ancient. His gaze was steel and he apparently did not approve of me. I stood there, the very picture of stupid and confused as he looked me up and down. When he spoke, there was command and confidence alloyed into every word. “You must be the beardling that my fool-headed daughter can’t stop babbling about, Holfi, Hardi, Helfi or some such” he inquired. I thought I could detect the slightest hint of a smile in the creasing of his eyes and the movement beneath his beard but I wasn’t sure. “Hvaldi, sir, at your service” I stuttered out. My bow was not graceful but it seemed to suffice. He moved aside and there she was, beaming at me. The fact that she had been talking about me was not lost either, it just took FAR too long to penetrate my love-addled brain.

For the next month and a half I found every reason i could think of to stay in the Iron Hills. I took odd jobs, pretended to consider buying a large shipment of metals, and even tried to wash dishes at the Tavern where Dumora worked. While I can handle a shield and hammer with no small amount of skill, I dropped FAR too many dishes for the Innkeeper to ever consider me anything other than a threat to his profits. The second time I knocked on Dumora’s door, I was slightly more composed and yet ten times more terrified. Her father once again played the role of untrusting door warden but let me in. I did not invite Dumora to leave with me though and I stepped across the threshold. In the presence of her family, I asked for her hand in marriage. I was shaking like a leaf but I knew this was my future, my dearest want and my greatest need and I would not give into fear.

Both of Dumora’s parents proved to be shrewd negotiators and even Dumora herself placed a few demands upon me. I was completely unable to say no though. I have to chuckle these few years on. She even underlined the “Husband shall be responsible for doing the dishes and NOT dropping them” on our marriage contract, which is framed and carefully hung above our hearth, and I have held to my word as best as I am able. Her Father had requested two tasks of me besides the matter of dowry and such. His only son had recently gone missing and was feared captured by slavers to the south and east. Secondly, a precious gem, a family heirloom of sorts had gone missing with his son. I was to rescue his son and track down and find this gem and return it. Upon completion of these tasks, I could spirit my giddy bride away with me to Ravenhill and commence domestic bliss.

At this point, I could have sat down and penned out my journal entries. For some reason, the weight of past deeds, friends lost and memories left dormant seemed to drive me further into living in the moment. I sent out the call for my friends, telling them I had promised to rescue a young lad from a bad situation and recover a gem. I failed to tell them the full story. For some reason I felt shy, protective even of my status as a soon to be married Dwarf. I wanted to do nothing to upset fate so I held this fact close. Ever faithful, my friends were soon arriving at the Leaky Dinghy Inn in Laketown. I laid out my plan to rescue Nori Ravenheart and retrieve the Raven’s Heart gem.

Dumora’s clan was an ancient line. They were few in number but their lineage and history stood in testament to their import. The Raven’s Heart was a white gem that seemed to pulse a sort of black light. It had been gifted to their forefathers in the first age and was of great importance. Nori, the first born of Olvi their current Clanfather and Dumora’s father had been out on an expedition. He was supposed to do some trading with the nomadic bands to the south east and then convey the gem to Erebor for a showing. As an artifact of the first age, it was an heirloom to all Dwarfs and the Ravenhearts were always happy to display it. Somewhere during the first part of Nori’s trip, his party was ambushed and the survivors were taken as slaves to the fortress known as the Wolf’s Jaw.

Summer’s heat was seeping into everything when we set off to the east. That memory brings me a smile. The candle I write by is flickering in the stubborn draft as the storm outside settles in for a good, long grumble. The snow is whipping past the tiny window making me ever more thankful that Dumora helped me turn Ravenhill from a hovel into a home. I digress though, we set out on that fine Summer’s day on our way to the Iron Hills. From there, we would make our way southeast to find son and gem. An easy task I hoped.

Over road and down river we traveled and then into the vast expanse of plains. One thing I can never quite express well enough and something that constantly amazed me when I was traveling is just how vast our world is. We would spend an entire day traveling in the same direction across seas of waving grass and by the end it would seem as if we had not moved. Nothing changed, everything looked the same as the place we had left in the morning. I don’t recall what day it was when we heard and smelled the signs of battle up ahead but we rushed to gain sight of it. A party of Easterlings were engaged with some rather runty looking Orcs and Worgs. Our discussion was brief and we decided to rush to aid the Easterlings.

Hate the deed, not the doer is the best I can say of that party. We helped them drive off the Orcs and then awkwardly looked at each other bereft of all but the most basic of communications. It was easy to see that they were slavers though. I deeply, fundamentally and wholly disapprove of slavery in any form and yet to attack these folk for no reason struck me as wrong as well. We managed to deduce that they were also headed for the Wolf’s Jaw so we walked with them and their paltry group of sad looking slave stock. I imagine the taste of ashes in my mouth to this day over the foul bargains I had to strike during that trip. Traveling, in company of Slavers, to a fortress full of more of their kind.

We managed to pick up some of their language over the next few days and it was apparent the next day we would arrive at Wolf’s Jaw. I was wracking my brain on how we were going to gain entry and free Nori without becoming fodder for the slave pits ourselves when it happened. The odd Easterling, a Shaman of sorts, had been keeping his distance from us for the trip. He seemed the downright unfriendly type as well so we were all content to leave him be. The slaves were all chained to a rock that night and seemed to be quite miserable. I took some of our food and water and walked over to offer some to the slaves. It seems the Shaman took offense to this and slapped the bowl out of my hand while rapidly saying something that did not sound complimentary to me in his language.

I was right on the cusp of my temper getting the best of me when he turned around and slapped one of the slaves that had begun to complain about the lack of food. Out came my hammer and thankfully, my friends were not far behind me in action. Two of the Easterlings were left wounded but alive at the end of the fight. We bandaged them as best we could and left them in a small hut at the campsite, believing that they would be found and cared for by the roving bands of Easterlings that inhabited the area around the Fortress. Serendipity is not always an accident, it seems sometimes your deeds come back to help you, and this would be one of those times.

During any of this traveling, again, I could have written in my journal, but I had found my mood to be foul and getting darker as we journeyed through these alien lands and dealt with these strange customs. We managed to free the slaves though. Most of them gratefully made their way back in the direction of their homelands but Rustam and Chanda decided to help us on our quest. Chanda was a massive Woman of northern stock. Quick with her sword and with her temper she would prove her worth when things got violent. Rustam, on the other hand, seemed to be completely physically incapable of all but the most basic tasks. He LOVED the sound of his own voice though and seemed to know a fair bit about the local culture and language so as long as we could keep him quiet until we needed him to talk, he would prove his worth as well. Sadly, that “keeping him quiet” part never did quite work.

We gained entry into the Wolf’s Jaw fortress and my spirit sank. It was literally a giant market of shackled flesh. All manner of persons were being sold like livestock with little to no care being paid to their situation. I saw slaves, wasting away in the pits given no food or water as they were beyond any hope of a “decent price.” I even saw more than a few dwarfs in the pit and took a letter from one Bori, a Dourhand, for his mother. It seems he did not anticipate leaving that place alive. Even though he is a Dourhand, I would not wish slavery upon the foulest of his kind. I’m pretty sure he made it out alive later on, but true to my word, I took his letter to his Mother north of Othrikar. That was an interesting journey and I got more than a few glares of hatred traveling among the Dourhands but a word given is a word kept.

We eventually discovered that Nori was being held in the prison portion of the fortress. That’s where the Easterling Chieftain known as “The Butcher” kept his most dangerous and valuable “merchandise.” I tried everything I could think of to free Nori, from offering to buy his freedom to challenging the Chieftain to humiliating myself in more ways than one. Nothing worked and we were reduced to a plan that seemed to have little chance of succeeding. Then again, few expect crazy, near suicidal attacks to happen on their watch, in their fortress. I guess no one expects my friends and I.

It seems the two Easterlings that we spared were among those in the Fortress and felt that they owed us a debt for sparing them. I hated using their culture against them but needs must. We co-opted them into our plan. One of them got us Horses while the other helped us break into the fortress Armory. One slave-riot and prison break later found us running and riding for our lives as the Easterlings attempted to muster a response. I don’t know how many slaves escaped or if many of the foul slavers died but I know I managed to defeat the “Butcher” on our way out of the fortress. A world without that creature is a better world in my opinion.

We took Nori back to Iron Hills. He was mostly healthy but could do with a great deal of food, water and rest. We also learned during our preparation in the Fortress that the Gem had been sold to a Ms. Chay of Rhuadar. I was half way done and I was chomping at the bit to complete these adventures. It seems I had developed a taste for peace, and a strong desire for hearth and home. Even telling this tale wearies me and makes me restless. A task begun is worth completing though so I shall persevere.

We booked passage on a ship to head back down the Celduin river to the Sea of Rhun and onward to Rhubar. The men crewing this ship were a tight-lipped bunch and much about it was strange but they seemed willing to carry us so I did not ask many questions. It seems the ship was carrying more than a few extra passengers, some of which exited, with what sounded like horses late one night as we pulled close to shore. It could have been an Orcish caravan laded with poorly protected gold and I would not have cared less. I had a new focus on getting the gem and getting home. Nothing else seemed to matter to me.

This would quickly come to haunt me, the interminable delays and obstacles in our path seemed only to multiply the more I wanted to just get it over with. The next night, I was awoken by a loud crunch and the sounds of shouting. It seemed some of the local nomadic Sagath had set a trap for ships traveling the river. We were holed beneath the waterline but could make it to shore, specifically where there were a group of howling and whooping Sagath raiders heading for us. We were rather unkind to them and gave them quite the surprise. Many of them fled back the way they came and I was just about to return to the boat grumbling when Reg fired an arrow at the last one of them fleeing.

The poor lass looked all of maybe 12 winters old and had been carrying their banner. Mind you, they had been using this same banner to coordinate their assault but she was by no means a threat. I assume Reg fired the arrow as a joke but even joking, he is deadly. He hit the poor lass in the posterior and she went down screaming. This land is full of predators both beast and sentient. I felt my heart sink as my conscience howled. I insisted that we treat the girl and bring her with us as her own folk would not return to this place for a good while considering their losses and their ways. She was quite the sulker and it seems she was slightly older than I had assumed, a teenager. Just my luck.

So now with a young Sagath girl, not quite a prisoner or a slave or anything of the sort tagging along, our ship sailed across the Sea of Rhun only to stop just out of sight of land. When I questioned the Captain he gave me a half sheepish, half annoyed look and said “We sail for Tol Sulareb, a fortress under siege.” It seems the forces of Rhubar had taken offense that a Gondorian outpost existed on their proverbial doorstep and had sent nine ships full of troops to cleanse the rock of said Gondorians. This was not Rhubar, this was not my fight and this was keeping me from my end goal but I could not just stand by. I loathe my own mind at times.

Later, in the dead of night, we crept into the harbor of the Fortress. Muffled oars, darkened lights and a moonless night and a King’s share of luck saw us safely moored. The men of the fortress looked ragged but stern. They welcomed the arms and supplies the ship brought and gave us an apology for the lack of hospitality on their part. It didn’t take us long to realize that there was no easy or peaceful way for us to make our way on to Rhubar through the blockade. At this point, those nine ships full of troops became my obstacle.

Starlight shone dimly off the near placid sea. I could see the ships at anchor holding their blockade. In the courtyard of the fortress stood a great Gondorian trebuchet. I may not be the smartest Dwarf around but I am clever, especially when it comes to solving problems. I asked for some parchment and borrowed a few of their instruments and set to measuring and calculating. It took the better part of two hours to set it all up and convince the Trebuchet crew I knew what I was on about, but I gained a fair amount of satisfaction from seeing the large chunk of masonry split the Easterling ship in two. I could just barely hear the screams of alarm and panic which served to cut my savage joy short rather quickly. The Gondorian Captain thanked me and then promptly informed me that the Easterlings were likely to attack in the morning. We were “invited” to help defend the harbor Tower…what choice did we have?

We set about trying to repair as much as we could and set up a plan for defense. One of the other passengers on the ship, a Dwarf by the name of Arafal came up with a rather clever plan. We set out the fishing nets on the piers and tied them off to a pair of small trebuchets. The plan was to yank a load of the landed Easterlings off their feet and hopefully injure them. It was later to work FAR beyond our expectations. The Sun rose, sparkling across the calm surface of the Sea and showed a mass of landing boats headed our way loaded with armed and armored Easterlings. I had no quarrel with these people and yet very shortly I would be killing them and they would be attempting to kill me. I really had grown to loathe the casual violence and murder that adventuring brings by this point but I ground my teeth and saw it through.

The Easterlings landed on both piers and began to marshal their forces. Our plan involved a few of us at the head of each pier to try and hold off the Easterlings and bunch them up while our archers in the tower tried to pick them off. This was working beautifully as they seemed hesitant to approach us. A motley group of Dwarfs and Humans doesn’t seem all that frightening but it did seem to set them aback. They had gathered in great enough numbers that I gave the signal and Joller and a Gondorian hit the firing plates on the Trebuchets. I actually feel guilty for my participation in this. The Easterlings were not just tripped or injured by the nets being whipped out from under them by the force of the Trebuchets. Legs were torn off and a few of them were flung into the battlements by the force of the war machines. My stomach still turns from the memory.

I had to take a moment and stretch after writing that. Seeing Dumora cradling Geerta, both of them asleep filled me with peace and love. I know what I did, I did for them and was necessary. I still don’t have to like it though. As an aside, Dumora has become fast friends with my sister Geerta, to the point that she INSISTED we name our daughter after her. Like her namesake, my daughter is quite fierce already having done battle with a number of hanging toys and come through victorious. She also gives the best hugs, much like my sister. I do cherish these moments of family and they seem to give purpose to all of the terror and uncertainty of my adventuring life.

Where was I, ahh yes, the piers. So after the grand mess the trebuchets made, the commander of the Easterlings was having no more of our tricks. He came ashore on my pier and began to push his remaining and landing troops towards us. A line of pikes and shields presented towards me and I did my best to wade into them and create havoc. The Easterlings are passable warriors but they have NO idea how to fight a fully armed and armored Dwarf. A number of Gondorians were guarding my back so I was free to strike out and whittle my way through all that were in front of me. it was not long before I had made my way almost to where the last of their boats were landing.

The Easterling commander, whom I later learned was called Rahm Khalsa, pointed at me and said something in his language that I’m fairly sure was unflattering. Some kind of…beast drew itself up from the last boat. The rest of the Easterlings gave it a wide berth and there seemed to be one trying to calm it and direct it towards me. It looked like some foul amalgamation of man and troll. It was clad in a patchwork of armor and was carrying a steel shod club. The press was still too thick around us though so it could not reach me without disrupting many of their own men. This gave me an idea.

I’ve been told, usually by those I love, that I can be rather infuriating when I want to be. I set about taunting and needling this creature. My hope was that it would barrel through the forces between us knocking many of them into the water. Men in full armor do not do well when submerged and this would help ease the press on our scant lines. It worked, much to my surprise and detriment. The beast seemed to grow less and less controllable as I made faces at it and patted my bum when I could turn around without getting stabbed. It launched itself forward, yanking the leash from its controllers hand and knocking aside many of the men between us. It even did us the favor of clubbing one of them down to get me.

I set my shield and dug in as best as I could. I’ve faced much bigger and fiercer enemies but my situation was rather precarious. Much like the men, I would not do well if I fell in the water so I set myself to prevent that. It was a close run thing. The beast hammered on my shield and drove me back near the edge of the pier. I could feel the heels of my boots clipping the precipice. I drove forward a step or two and tried to set up a hammer blow. I had just deflected a foul claw from the creature with my shield which left me open. I was turning my body to strike with my hammer when the club of the beast connected with my chest. Pain blossomed and I staggered back wheezing, almost dropping to a knee.

The battle around me seemed to go silent as eyes fell upon my struggle. The beast stepped forward, bent low to get it’s face at my level and let out a roar that shook the very molars in my jaw. I was deafened but I was struck by inspiration in that moment. I dropped my hammer, grabbed the lower lip of the creature and pulled as hard as I could while turning. Where the lip goes, the beast must follow and over the side he went howling in surprise. I could not let go fast enough so I stood there in the restored silence holding the creatures bloody lower lip. I must have been quite the sight as I turned around and wearily took up my hammer again. Rham Khalsa stood there for a moment looking at me in stunned surprise before he slowly raised his arms in the air, calling for his remaining men to do the same.

When things had calmed, I was able to talk to Rham Khalsa. He was quite agreeable and honorable all things considered. I’m saddened that these Easterlings and the Gondorians are always at each others throats. They could just as easily be solid friends to each other.
As soon as I knew that the fighting was over and my pride was sated, I excused myself for a moment and walked away, fell to a knee and finally let myself feel the pain. I’m pretty sure one of my ribs was out of place and a gentle touch let me know that my entire chest was most likely every shade in the bruise rainbow. Reg was going around tending to the wounded. There was little he could go for a bruise though so he just handed me a mug of ale.

We saw to Rahm’s wounded and extracted a promise that he would no longer attack the Gondorians. He seemed quite defeated in both action and spirit. Once he found out we were headed for Rhubar though he brightened up a tiny bit and offered to sail us the last stretch of the way. I was suspicious but I could see no guile left in the man so we all eventually agreed. We said our goodbyes and sailed with the remaining Easterlings back to Rhubar. Rahm was the very picture of a polite host and I was shocked later on to find that his own people executed him for his failure. What a waste! A good commander, a proud and skilled fighter and an honorable man, killed for one failed attack! I still feel my temper rise at such behavior, but their ways are not ours. I’ve seen first hand that there is good in the Easterlings even if they have strange and sometimes barbaric customs.

By the time we reached Rhubar I was nearly at my wits end. I wanted, needed to find this gem and get home as quickly as possible. Rahm did not know of Ms. Chay but recommended we check the Grand Bazaar and we rashly set off into the city not realizing just how massive or confusing it was. I’m ashamed to admit that I never learned the young Sagath girl’s name but she proved her worth again being able to haltingly talk in a few of the local dialects. She eventually pointed us towards the northern districts, the “foreign quarter” as a good point to get information. We set off going vaguely north, having a vague idea of our vague destination. Human cities seem to be allergic to good, solid grid patterns and this one was an excellent example of such. No street seemed to go where we expected and we must have doubled back almost as often as we were going forward, or so it seemed.

We barely reached the northern quarter before exhaustion overtook us. The Cinnabar Anvil caught my attention for the Dwarfen ruins on it’s sign next to some local script. The proprietor was indeed a Dwarf but one of Thulin’s folk, not of Durin’s great family. Harnfel welcomed us and the young Sagath lass showed us the local custom of picking and cooking your own food in communal ceramic ovens. Harnfel took my story as payment for information. He recommended that we try Wulfric’s guest house and ask him about Ms. Chay’s whereabouts. Again, the compulsion to keep going quickly overtook my fading exhaustion and we were on the roads again. It was not long before we came to the guesthouse and a small, peaceful island in the city’s otherwise chaotic character.

Wulfric was a seemingly ancient man of Northern stock but friendly and jovial. He told us how he had come to these lands raiding and reaving and instead found himself in love with a local girl and married. She had passed 15 summers ago though and Wulfric had stayed on, having been there in Rhubar for close to 40 years. He did know Indira Chay and told us that her Manor was north, outside the city gates in the Taur Romen forest. He gave us an approximate location but the Sun was already in full retreat that evening and it was time for us to rest. We did the social rounds, meeting a few more of Thulin’s folk, eight brothers on an expedition to reclaim some artifacts from old Dwarfen ruins far to the north. They were all much older than me but seemed rather jovial and quarrelsome with each other at the same time. They were kind enough to gift us a map of the northern areas which, rather humorously, only detailed the Taur Romen forest as “dangerous, stay out.”

We traded stories with Wulfric into the evening and I promised to send him a copy of Juniper’s book detailing our exploits when I returned to Erebor. I’m happy to say I kept that promise and even got a note back from him saying that it was a minor hit within the foreign quarter being copied five times and traded among the bibliophiles there. I won’t say that our fellowship is famous but at least our names and deeds are known to a few and that brings a small, quiet smile to me.

The next day saw us all up bright and early and ready to head into the woods to Indira’s manor. We avoided the more treacherous paths and Reg was able to guide us true. We arrived at a manor that seemed both familiar and yet exotic. It had hints of both western and eastern stylings. Its grandeur was somewhat tarnished by age and neglect though. A single man stood outside the front door, seemingly a guard and doorman. As we got closer he resolved into rather more than “just” a doorman though. He was massive. He was a Sothran of some sort and seemed to have a disposition similar to rather angry boar. A gruff “What you want” was his only greeting to us.

I managed to get across that I wished to speak with Lady Chay and he grunted and somehow looked even more suspicious. He eventually commanded us to wait and went inside. She didn’t keep us waiting for too long, only long enough that most of us were kind of kicking at the dust and looking around impatiently. She invited us to the garden around back of the Manor. It seemed this was where any and all of the maintenance efforts were focused as it was magnificent. This seemed to be Indira’s true home as she looked at peace and happy in a tired and defeated sort of way.

We talked for quite some time. I told her my story and those of my friends. We all collaborated to tell our tale over the next few hours as Hasaat, the large Sothran man and bodyguard looked on. She was kind enough to tell us a bit of her own story detailing how a local faction called the “Cult of Silence” had reduced her family to only her. She even seemed to welcome the thought that they would finish the job and kill her eventually. This horrified me and I did my best to offer every brand of assistance I could think of but she would only sadly shake her head and say no. She gave her necklace, with the Raveh’s Heart gem to me for the price of our stories and nothing more.

Indira wished us well and watched us as we departed. I could not help but feel defeated as we left. I dearly wanted to save this woman, to protect her but there was nothing I could do, nothing she would let me do. It was too late in the evening for us to begin our journey home that night so we made our way back to Wulfric’s guest house. He met us as we arrived and handed me a letter that had been delivered for us that day. Creamy white parchment unfolded to reveal the hateful symbol of a lidless eye. It seemed the Cult of Silence had taken notice of our presence and disapproved. After the defeat of Indira’s calm acceptance and the seeming inevitability of the Cult’s actions, I relished the chance to take out my frustrations on them if they were brave enough to face us.

I told both Wulfric and the eight brothers of the Cult’s intentions and they quietly began to pack up in order to be elsewhere for the evening. I then did something I’m good at. I did something to anger, annoy and otherwise infuriate my enemies. I took their creamy white parchment with the hateful symbol and used it to clean myself after some of the local food that had been upsetting my stomach decided to leave. I made sure to wave it around a few times and speak loudly of my intentions before retiring to the privy. I don’t know if that was the final straw that provoked them or if they even noticed, but it did make me feel just a tiny bit better.

We all sat up that night, waiting. We had come up with a plan and were standing on the two bridges just inside the city gate where we believed they would come for us… and they did not disappoint. Just after midnight, they began to arrive, in complete silence. Their numbers continued to grow but they halted their advance when they saw us awake and standing on the bridges ready to face them. I paced back and forth willing them to come just a little closer. Reg was atop the guest house with his great bow and ready to rain death upon them, if they would just get within his range. With some silent command they seemed to all turn and begin to advance on the two bridges. It was then I noticed that not all of the “men” we faced were truly alive. Some of them moved in jerky motions, their eyes back-lit by unhallowed flames. The dead were walking among the Cult of Silence.

Arrows rained down, Arafal threw his two cobbled-together fire-bombs full of lamp oil and battle was joined. These cultists and their dead minions were expecting easy, sleeping prey and instead they got a raging party of very competent and very angry adventurers. I do not feel one shred of pity for them after hearing of some of their deeds. We had been stuck in for a few moments when I had an idea. Many of the cultists and their shambling creatures were crowding near the edges of the bridge trying to get around Arafal and I. Laera and the Sagath girl were holding the other bridge and Laera in particular seemed to be terrifying the cultist and the Undead.

I looked over at Arafal and grinned. “Get behind me and give me a push.” Arafal seemed to read my mind and groaned but he got behind me and he pushed with all of his might. I held up my shield, braced it against my shoulder and began to run as fast as I could. I think I may have briefly lost my mind as I found myself gently singing “Hobnailed boots, Hobnailed boots” over and over again as we slammed, trampled and otherwise barreled our way through our foes. Some went over the side into the river, never to be seen again, and some fell victims to the subject of my little song.

The rest was mostly mopping up and in a moment of pure crass, I found myself saying “I would say leave one alive but being that they’re the Cult of Silence, it’s not like he would take a message back to his master.” I even got a chuckle out of Laera as she finished the last foul cultist off leaving the neighborhood in silence. Arafal and I pitched the bodies over the side and in one last moment of spite, I wrote out a letter and left it with Wulfric in the morning. I basically challenged whatever or whomever was leading the cult to come and find me in either the Iron Hills or Erebor. I included a few poorly chosen insults as well but I was operating more on rage than any sort of intelligence at that point.

With that done, we left that benighted place. I hate to say we ran away but I could not think of anything we could do to save an entire city from it’s own darkness, one that more than enough of them seemed willing to accept. As we headed back towards the Iron Hills and then towards lake town we began to split up and break off. Each headed back to their own lands and homes, all of us seemingly afflicted with the same homesickness that I was feeling.

Reg and his family had finally settled in Lake Town where he has been running a successful business as a Boyer. No great surprise there considering his love of all things stringed, ranged and deadly. Joller made many a great noise about rebuilding his inn bigger and better and happily skipped off on his long journey home to the Shire. The young Sagath girl decided to stay with Wulfric and help him around the guest house. I asked him to do his best to educate her and civilize her. Her tribe left her for dead so I am hoping she looked upon this as a chance to be reborn into some kind of better life. Arafal left us when we returned to the Iron Hills. He was rather tight-lipped about his future plans but I am guessing they involved fire and drinking. He seems to love both. Laera was rather mum as well but she seems to have gotten a bit of a smithing business back in Mirkwood going so I’m hoping she keeps going on that. I’ll never openly admit it, but her work is impressive, almost, ALMOST up to the level of Dwarven craftsmanship.

And finally there is me. The great adventuring, never happy in one place, ever curious and traveling Hvaldi. I’ve turned into a positive homebody. I was married to Dumora deep inside the Mountain. I am told there were many guests, many speeches, a lot of fine food and drink but I remember none of it. I remember seeing Dumora dressed in her bridal gown and being completely unable and better yet, unwilling to look anywhere else that evening.

We have made quite the home here in Ravenhill. It’s gone from a hovel and a smithing shop to a genuine home complete with most of the comforts of a true Dwarven hearth. I’ve still got a chore list longer than my arm but I’ve found that I take comfort and no small amount of pride in slowly checking them off. Both my son Khat and my daughter Geerta are growing like weeds and are the very pictures of ruddy health. My wife is truly my better half and helps me to grow into a better Dwarf and most importantly into a good Father. My friends visit from time to time and I visit them when I am able. I can truly say that I am happy. I even got a wonderful letter from Khattab’s family with a tiny toy scimitar for Khat when I told them I had named my son in Khattab’s honor.

I truly feel connected to a larger, accepting family. My father’s absence in my life and at my wedding does not trouble me. My mother and my Sisters and Brothers were there, all with defiant and proud, looks upon their faces. I realize that this is what I was seeking, this is what I was fighting for, and I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. A hearth full of family and a crowd of true and noble friends are worth more than any amount of gold one could plunder throughout a life of adventure.

The winter storm rages outside my window but I can see a few other windows with lights lit. Our neighbors, hearty folk unwilling to be “confined” in the Mountain just like Dumora and I. The trinkets and mementos of my previous life hang from the rafters and spill across shelves and the mantle. And all I can do is grin, for I do not have to venture into this storm. I only have to venture into my children’s room and kiss them on the brow and ensure they are tucked in. And then I can happily walk to my room and climb into a warm bed, under thick covers next to the woman I adore….dammit. After I do the dishes that is.

Oh, and I think I’ve realized why this journal has filled me with dread for so long. These are the tales of the Hvaldi that was. The Dwarf I used to be. Some of these tales bring me pride, some of these tales bring me sadness. But they are all things I do not wish to be any more. I am a Dwarf of home and hearth, a Husband and Father and a connoisseur of the quiet life. To whomever may read this in the future. May you find such peace as I have found and may the world shed it’s shadow and bring you light and life.

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matthewpomeroy74 Drakolus

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