Chapter 18: Dwarves
Thorn the Dwarf
Thorn crowded into the kitchen in the Eating Place. “You can’t come in here,” said a dwarf.
“Yes, I can. This axe lets me go almost everywhere I want.”
“That axe looks dwarvish. What’s an uruk doing with a dwarvish axe?”
“I will tell your boss. Bring him, her, or it to me!”
Half a dozen dwarves had gathered around Thorn by this time. They didn’t look exactly hostile, nor did they look friendly. They gave the impression they were ready for trouble. “You’ve got that wrong, stranger. We can take you to see the boss. He doesn’t come out to see any runty uruk who waves an axe in our faces.”
“Whatever! Let’s go.” They took Thorn out through the back of the kitchen, through a hallway, and into an area that looked completely different. “Welcome to the dwarves part of the dungeon,” said one.
Indeed, the quality of the dungeon had changed. No longer was it blank stone hallways with an occasional light. They had entered a place that was all pillars, open space, and walls covered with mosaics in colored stone. Spacious avenues divided rows of palaces. The doors were guarded by mythological beasts: hydralions, scorpynxes, camazotzes, and other creatures that Thorn had no names for her. Two by two and four by four they stood by great bronze doors.
Except that everything was darker than it would have been for the dwarves of Gristlegrim and Trollworld. These pillars were made of what looked like black basalt. The mosaics were made with chips of all dark colors: black, gray, purple, dark viridian, brown, crimson redder than blood. The guardian beasts were polished onyx, jet, and obsidian, all different shades of black. The dwarves themselves all had skins of polished ebony, skins so shiny they were practically mirrors.
“This isn’t right,” Thorn muttered to herself. “This is some twisted reflection of what dwarves should be.”
They escorted her into a palace, and through seven halls before coming to a throne room. The walls of the room were lined with guards, each in dwarven plate mail with bone-embossed helmets and carrying a dwarven halberd. As Thorn’s guards escorted her up to the dais which was seven steps above the rest of the room, the honor guards on the side of the room saluted, each by bringing his right arm across his chest to clang against the left breast. It sounded like the inside of a kettle drum, but Thorn grinned. This was indeed the dwarven pomp and glory that the people of the surface never got to see.
Before they reached their destination Thorn turned to her guide and asked, “Where did you get all this stone? It doesn’t look like anything else I have seen in these pits.”
“You are correct, Thorn. Our halls and palaces came with us when we were taken from our homes long ago. This, at least, is real. We have our doubts about the rest of these pits.”
They walked on for a few more minutes and then came to one of the largest and most ornate of the palaces. “This is where the greatest of our noble ones lives. We have no king, but I have brought you to the most influential of our lords.”
“How shall I behave so as to not give offense?”
“Bow once on each step as you ascend,” said Thorn’s escort. “Otherwise, you die.”
“Ulp.” Thorn hadn’t expected anything like this when she went hunting for the leader of the dwarves.
They entered the palace, made their way through a long antechamber that was lined with curious weapons, implements, and armor such as Thorn had never seen before. Most interesting were the books, codices of stone as flexible as paper, yet glittering with flecks of what looked like mica. The language in the books was totally unlike the runes of Trollworld. They came to the door of the throne room, and Thorn picked up two extra guards while her escort peeked inside to see if the dwarf lord was ready to receive a guest. In a short time, the escort came back and said, “Lord K’glldrr will see you now.”
With a guard on either side, Thorn entered the chamber, walked across it on a carpet of what looked like tanned lizard skins, and climbed the seven steps to stand on the platform in front of a throne.. She bowed just a little on each step—a slight inclination of the body, and a ducking of the head. She would show respect, but not be totally servile. This was not her leader, after all.
“You are not an uruk,” said the dwarf on the throne. It was a throne of massy gold, laced with veins of jet that swirled into a spiral design on the back of the exalted chair..
“You have the sight, Exalted One!” Thorn took off her uruk amulet and stood revealed as a dwarf herself. “I am a dwarf, and proud of it. My friends and I have taken the uruks and made them our army. Now we would like to reach an arrangement with you.”
“You certainly have the daring of a dwarf, but your color is all wrong. Are you some sort of albino freak?”
“Nay, Lord, it is your color that is wrong. I am typical of the dwarves of this world.”
“Is there a world? Or is it just one endless dungeon? I seem to remember a different place, but I have been here so long.”
“There is indeed a world, and it is wide and fair. We call it Trollworld, because the Trolls were here first, but someday it shall be called Gristlegrim’s World.”
“Why will it be called Gristlegrim’s World?”
“Gristlegrim is the god of the dwarves. And he is taking this world, bit by bit.”
“My world was called . . .” He made an irreproducible sound. “And I believe you when you say this is not our world.”
“Did you come here willingly? Do you want to spend your lives serving cooked rat to uruks?’
“We have our battles. We have our palaces.”
“You could have more, Lord. You could have freedom.”
The dwarf lord stroked his golden beard. The hairs were perfectly straight, like fine golden wires. “I must think about this. I must consult the other dwarf lords. I am not the only ruler here.”
“We mean to crack this dungeon open,” Thorn declared. “If you won’t help us, at least don’t get in our way. The evil ones who did this to us all must be punished!”
“Evil is just a point of view!” said the dwarf lord.
“It is not a point of view that I believe in, or am willing to share,” Thorn declared. “It is not a point of view that is good for dwarves, no matter what their skin color may be.”
“You have given me much to think about, stranger. Do you have a name?”
“In the common tongue that we are speaking, I am called Thorn—it means something sharp and prickly. In my own language I am called Thrrnn. In uruk I am called Urthorn. I am not the leader of our group. That would be Rose. She is human, but she is really the most remarkable of us.”
“You bring strange news, Thorn.”
“And do you have a name, Lord?”
“I am the Lord K’glldrr. You are the first being from this world to have ever learned my name. You should feel honored.”
Thorn looked up at the dwarf lord sitting on his golden throne. He was large for a dwarf. He would be almost as tall as Rose, and twice as wide. He wore robes of spun golden thread, and was belted and crowned with links of silver. Black gems glittered in the rings on his fingers and the stones in his crown. He wore a starburst amulet hanging from a golden chain, and the gem was polished black.
Thorn bowed one more time. “I am impressed, Lord, with your obvious power, wealth, and majesty, but I am not honored by your mere presence. Help us fight the evil one. Prove that you are more than a flashy popinjay upon a gilded chair, and then I may feel honored. “
“I could have you slain for such impudence!”
“You could try, Lord, but I still have my axe, and I would surely not go alone. My friends know where I have gone, and if I don’t return, they will come here, and the halls will run red with the blood of your followers, K’glldrr.”
“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!” The dwarf lord rocked with laughter. “Actually, our blood is more golden than red, but I believe you. The uruks and the dwarves have always gotten along in this dungeon, and it would be wrong to become enemies now.”
“I agree, Lord.” Thorn was grinning broadly now.
“I can’t promise our help. I must speak to the other lords, but my followers and I will be on your side, Thrrnn. Return now to your friends, and take these two dwarves with you. They are called L’nrrd and L’rrww. They are wizards. They can help you, and they will be your link to me.
Two of the dwarves who had been standing near the foot of the dais stepped forward. “Lady Thrrnn, I am L’nrrd, at your service.”
“Lady Thrrnn, I am L’rrww. Lead us, and we will serve you well.”
“I must return to being an uruk for a while, and you must keep my secret,” said Thorn..
“Then you are dismissed,” said K’glldrr. “I hope we will meet again, Lady Thorn.”
“I would very much enjoy that, Lord K’glldrr.”
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