An Unlikely Alliance
By Ryan Torbert
Approx. 10,553 E.R.
In a time where demi-humans ruled the continent and humans were no more than barbarians, a dark blight fell upon the land. This evil spilled forth in the name of conquest from the mighty gates of a fortress in the south, a fortress named Stor-gris. Elves and dwarves soon found themselves overwhelmed by an ancient enemy with new tricks and a unified purpose.
The mettle of individual heroes was tested during this time. Even more tested, however, were the ties that could unite the goodly folk of the Hinterlands and beyond against an enemy that sought to subjugate all of Siriand (the continent later known as Farland).
It would remain a question if those strong dwarves, proud elves, curious gnomes, and wild humans could unite in spite of their differences. Those differences, at times, even divided races such s the mighty Dwarves in the stronghold of Wawmar.
Teachings of the military in Wawmar spoke of the wandering dwarves outside of the stronghold's walls. These dwarves called themselves The Clan of Kain, and their understanding of their lot in life differed from those within the volcano home. In fact, their views had led them into more than one difference of opinion with the King of the great stronghold. The youth of the mighty fortress indeed had a different view of the world outside of its rocky walls.
In Wawmar, one such young soldier had come of age. Boggur Tindlesmith had finally worked through enough menial tasks in the brotherhood of soldiers to get his own charge. The young dwarf was proud and filled with the perceived invincibility of youth. His gray eyes shone with real excitement as he bid his family goodbye and gathered up his charge, a group of other young dwarves even more inexperienced than himself.
As one, the group left their powerful and safe fortress home, their packs full with trinkets from young ladies or packages from concerned mothers. Their chests stuck out with pride, and their bearded chins were high as they trekked down the mountain road into the stiff chill of a late autumn wind.
But at the same time and far to the south, across wide forests and dark mountain passes, around freshwater lakes and over wide routes of trade, an enemy stirred in its own fortress, and this one was dark with the power of evil.
Boggur cursed and sputtered as he broke through a dense patch of willow trees. The trees' white spores drifted about, threatening to cling to the dwarf's body and produce fits of coughing and sneezing. Boggur, however, was long gone before the plants could inflict any harm, and the spores were spread about in the light breeze.
The young dwarven soldier ran at a reckless pace, and he knew it. He hoped that there wasn't a sheer drop awaiting him over each and every rise, as it would be hard to stop at such a frantic pace. And, unfortunately for Boggur, he and his men knew precious little about the wilderness this far south of their stronghold.
The dwarf and his soldiers, all loyal troops of Wawmar, had fallen upon a den of orcs that were undoubtedly scouting the area for some much larger force. Though the dwarves had surprise on their side, the orcs held the advantage of numbers, and they recovered enough from the initial assault to hold their own.
As the two sides struggled in an open clearing, Boggur had caught sight of one large orc slipping away from the group. Glancing to the left and right, the orc had taken flight and darted into denser woods. Boggur, not wanting to risk the orc's alerting others, broke through the tree line to follow. The hearty evergreens stood tall and straight and formed a sturdy wall about the clearing, but Boggur broke through with a typical dwarf's aplomb.
Though late in the season, some of the trees still held their leaves due to an abnormal spell of warmth. What leaves had already fallen to the forest floor crunched under Boggur's heavy boots as he plunged into the trees.
Boggur cursed again, this time as a sticker bush drew blood. Silently, he hoped that the orc was having as much trouble as he was. That was doubtful, however, as Boggur had taken an angled route to cut off the orc, running directly through bushes and saplings, while the orc had found a narrow path to run on.
Crashing through the low-lying branches, Boggur ignored any need for silence and instead opted for haste. He ran on for several minutes without gaining on his quarry, but soon enough his tactic paid off.
The orc, now certain that either a drunken troll or a stable of heavy cavalry followed him, glanced over his shoulder as he ran and caught sight of the dwarf just as Boggur crashed into view. Upon seeing the lone dwarf in pursuit, the orc veered off to the right. His strides easily outdistanced the dwarf's in a full-out sprint and, soon enough, Boggur could just barely see the orc through the woods.
Much to Boggur's surprise, he seemed to suddenly begin to catch up as the orc slowed. With his prey in view, Boggur pumped his thick legs even quicker. Only too late did he realize his mistake, as he burst into another small clearing.
Before Boggur stood the orc, who slowly turned to look at his pursuer. Boggur heard movement to the left and right and looked to see two more orcs at each of his sides. All were armed and steadily advancing towards the dwarf.
"Awww...c'mon then, ye' blobber lollies!"
Boggur shouted his challenge in Dark Speech, or at least as close as he could come to the evil language. He used slang that he'd heard around Wawmar; it was supposed to be something that really aggravated the orcs, but Boggur didn't understand how, seeing as the translation was so amusing. With the harsh words, Boggur pulled his square-headed war hammer out of its belt-loop and held the weapon out in front of him.
Though the dwarf had no delusions about his chances against five trained enemies, he stood firm and ready to take a few of the dark bastards with him when he left the world to swing his hammer at Khuldul's side.
The orcs, sneering at the challenge, advanced as one. The orc in front of Boggur, now turned from pursued into pursuer, drew his own scimitar and stalked forward.
Boggur chewed on his lip, thinking of how best to proceed, when a "click" sounded from the woods to his right. Turning slightly, Boggur saw no new enemies, only an orc writhing on the ground with a crossbow bolt lodged firmly in the center of its back. The creature kicked and struggled as he tried to reach around and yank the bolt free. Boggur chuckled at the sight in spite of the tense situation.
Several more "clicks" were soon to follow and, in the blink of an eye, Boggur stood facing only one orc - the one that he had originally pursued.
With a grin at the orc's look of shock, Boggur took a step forward, but turned as he heard a "whistling" sound from his side. The young dwarven soldier looked on in surprise as a solid, square hammer, much like his own, flew end over end to slam into the face of the orc. The creature's tusks cracked and fell out, and blood streamed from a broken nose as the orc fell to its knees. After a second of stunned silence, the orc's eyes rolled back into his head, and he fell forward to lie unmoving at Boggur's feet.
Unsure whether he now faced his saviors or a new threat, Boggur turned and waved his hammer in the direction from which the thrown hammer had come. Boggur let out a sigh of relief as he spotted no less than half a dozen dwarves, all armed to the teeth. Strangely, the dwarves wore patchwork armor and symbols that Boggur had never seen the likes of in Wawmar.
The dwarves stepped out of the woods surrounding the clearing, and Boggur noticed that they moved like they were well in touch with the nature around them. Where Boggur had crashed through saplings and crunched leaves, these dwarves stepped nimbly over or past the vegetation, leaving little trace of their passing.
The dwarves' armor was of ruddy, earthen tones, with hints of green to match the surrounding foliage. Some even had small branches or leaves tied to their person. One dwarf, a tall fellow with bare arms covered with what looked to be mud, stalked forward and bent over to retrieve his hammer from beside its fallen victim.
Boggur's eyebrow raised in surprise at the appearance of the unusual dwarf. He was thickly muscled, but much longer of limb that his typical kinsman. Under the mud and dirt that was caked on his arms were dark tattoos. Most had the appearance of runes or symbols, though Boggur couldn't quite place their nature.
The dwarf's thick chest was covered in worn hide armor with crossing leather bands that held a vast array of items, from pitons to hooks to several small throwing hammers. The head of a massive war hammer jutted out from behind the dwarf's head, its handle extending all of the way down to the dwarf's knees.
The fierce dwarf's face boasted a great, dark beard that streamed down to his chest. In contrast, his massive head was shaved bald and bronzed by the sun.
The imposing figure looked to Boggur with unblinking, dark eyes. His level gaze dropped to Boggur's arm, and the young soldier started as he realized that he still held his war hammer at the ready.
With a slight grin and an apologetic shrug, Boggur slipped the hammer home into its belt loop. The young dwarf held out his hands, now empty, in an effort to show that he was no threat.
"Ha, you sure handled those damned greenies right quick! Name's Boggur Tidlesmith, out of Wawmar."
Boggur extended his hand to the man and shook vigorously as the larger dwarf extended his own. The slightest hint of a grin turned up the chiseled jaw of the peculiar dwarf as he shook Boggur's hand. He looked down on the soldier of Wawmar, as he was nearly a whole head taller.
"Good to meet you, Boggur Tidlesmith, out of Wawmar, and I'm sure that you and your soldiers had those smelly orcs well in hand before we arrived. My boys and I just can't seem to avoid the chance to kill some of the greenies, though."
He grinned even wider, and his massive hand rose to tug idly at his beard.
"I'm Rogan Barrowman, from, well let's just say that I'm not from Wawmar. My boys and I have a camp in these woods, not too far from here. What say we collect your boys, and you can tell us about how you ran into those stinking dark ones?"
The tone in Rogan's voice seemed to brook no argument, and Boggur offered none as he saw the genuine smile in Rogan's eyes. Though Boggur was young, he'd met dwarves of all kind and temper, and Rogan didn't seem to be one that meant him harm.
Boggur chewed on his lip as he nodded, trying to pinpoint the drawl of the enigmatic dwarf's accent. He glanced past Rogan, at his comrades.
"Yeah...I'd say that you guys aren't from Wawmar, indeed."
Rogan smiled at Boggur's obvious confusion and jerked his head towards the direction from which the young soldier from Wawmar had run.
"Come with me; we'll round up your companions, and I'll explain it all to you."
Boggur looked over his shoulder as the tall dwarf led him away and his eyes widened as Rogan's companions drew axes and hammers. With grim expressions, the dwarves ended the squirming of any orcs that remained alive. Their practiced blows led Boggur to believe that they'd done this before.
Boggur gulped as he turned from the macabre scene. This was one side of battle that he wasn't trained for.
Boggur forgot his feeling of uncertainty as he saw his fellow soldiers. Most were alive and in good spirits, though they sported fresh cuts and bruises. The smiles of the dwarves were genuine, though more than one of the grins disappeared quickly as the dwarves looked down to two still bodies: their fellows that hadn't been so lucky.
Boggur choked back his tears as he watched. Grimsly, the group's priest, knelt over the bloody bodies to administer their final rites. The priest shook his head slowly in disbelief as he took two small stones from a pouch at his side and slipped them into each slain dwarf's pouch.
The "Rock of Khuldul" was a ritual used by many clans to prepare their departed souls for the afterlife. It was said that the rock, given of love or respect, would be the first project that the dead dwarf's soul would work on in an afterlife at Khuldul's side.
As such, brilliant gems of exquisite design and cut were sometimes referred to as one's "First Labor of the Rockcarver."
Boggur sniffed as he turned from the scene, and he put on a look of firm resolve for the other dozen or so soldiers that were with him. Most, like him, were young and fresh from their most basic military training. Boggur was quite possibly the only one among them to have seen combat outside of Wawmar, and he tried to instill within his fellows whatever confidence he could.
Even so, Boggur was more than relieved when a strong hand clamped down on his shoulder and squeezed in reassurance. He looked up at the hand and was surprised to see Rogan's calm face. He gave Boggur a slight smile, as if he were an old friend that saw when a dwarf needed comfort.
"They gave their lives in battle, and their souls will stay warmed by the forge of Khuldul for eternity. We'll make certain that they are carried back to our camp for their burial."
Boggur nodded, truly thankful at the dwarf's kindness and understanding, though his matter-of-fact nature drove home the point that his friends were gone. He found it hard to believe that he and the other dwarves had just met. He also silently thanked the big warrior for the implied invitation behind his words. Boggur's fellow dwarves were by no means ready to return to Wawmar straight away, especially to report their reconnaissance mission as a failure.
Rogan's smile encompassed all of Boggur's companions, and the dozen or so dwarves were hard-pressed to ignore that infectious grin. They grinned even wider at the man's invitation.
"Come on then, young soldiers. We'll toast your brave companions this night; we'll toast them in the safety of our camp."
Rogan's dwarves numbered well over two dozen, each dressed in the same patchwork but seemingly effective armor. Many were armed with axes and hammers, but some even wielded spears, swords, and the occasional crossbow.
The group moved with practiced efficiency through the thick forest south of Wawmar, especially in comparison to the soldiers of Boggur's party, who crashed through the thick underbrush like their fathers had taught them to, or perhaps had not taught them not to.
The group's banter grew more and more familiar as they walked. Each side grew increasingly comfortable with the other. After all, Boggur thought, they were all dwarves.
The only dwarves still somber after an hour into the trek were the four who carried their fallen brothers on makeshift stretchers. All they had to do was to look upon the dead bodies to remind themselves of the very real danger that still surrounded them.
As the sun descended from the sky, the air grew cold. Though the day was still light, the evenings this late in the year were cold and dark. Harvest was past, and the dwarves of Wawmar were preparing to ride out the winter in their stronghold. Boggur cursed the coming winter now, as it was the main reason for his force's being out of their home. Every year, the southern pass had to be cleared and inspected before the heavy snows began to fall. Thus, Boggur and his young soldiers had been sent to a seldom used southern pass where typically no foes were ever encountered. That is, until now.
Under the light of a wide and clear sun crossing the sky, the dwarves finally looked upon the end of their trek. As Boggur and the others made their way over the crest of a small, rocky hill, they looked down upon hundreds of tents. Though they looked to be rather elaborately crafted, they were still just tents and looked to be ready to be moved at any time. Smoke from dozens of cooking fires curled into the sky, and a vast multitude of figures stalked about the camp with individual purpose.
Boggur gazed down in wide-eyed wonder at the huge encampment below him and issued forth a low whistle of amazement. He looked about at his fellow Wawmar soldiers, who all gazed at the valley below in much the same way.
Rogan chuckled at their expressions as he stopped and looked back from the head of the line.
"Yes, it has that effect on everyone, I guess. The Clan of Kain has grown quite a bit. We set up this camp only two weeks ago. My boys and I were scouting this ridge for potential opposition when we found you fellows."
Boggur could only shake his head at the sight. He'd heard of the wandering Clan of Kain, as tales of their exploits abounded in Wawmar, but he could never have guessed at the size of the nomadic group. By the look of the tents and the campfires, thousands of dwarves were in the valley below.
Boggur's feeling of trust clashed with the ingrained sense of distrust that Wawmar had regarding the Clan of Kain. The inner struggle was brief, and Boggur nodded as he made up his mind to form his own decisions and not rely on the already formed ideals of this people.
One of Boggur's fellow soldiers, a young dwarf named Formgin, broke the silence with a question.
"What does a force of that size have to fear?"
Rogan's expression grew serious, and his look turned far away, as if he were gazing through his fellows below. He looked at Formgin with hard eyes, and his simple statement spoke volumes.
"You'd be surprised."
The massive dwarf turned from Boggur and his fellow soldiers and stalked away, following the trail about the crest of the small hill as it wound down into the valley below.
Boggur and his fellows followed, the trailing dwarves carrying their fallen brothers on their makeshift litters.
As the group carefully made their way down the rocky hill, Boggur began to notice the simple but effective setup of the campsite. The first line of tents was well out of range of any missile attacks from the ridgeline above. Set up in a perimeter about the camp were stakes set at varying degrees to defeat the onrush of any foes. Several wooden towers, no more than twenty feet high, dotted the perimeter, with crossbow-wielding guards standing at the ready. The sides of the towers looked to have been formed some time ago, and Boggur guessed that the Clan of Kain simply broke down the sides and carried them from camp to camp as they needed them. Rogan returned nods to the guard towers as he led the group of strangers and clansmen alike. They passed the towers and stepped through a wide field dotted with small holes. The holes, Boggur noticed with satisfaction, would serve to break the legs of any charging cavalry or humanoids, should they get past the stakes and the towers.
And, should any one get past those, they would be greeted by what looked to be a few thousand hardy dwarves.
Boggur's attention was drawn from his thoughts by his strongest sense: smell. As the scent of natural wood smoke wafted by, Boggur took a deep sniff. Nodding in satisfaction, he smiled at Rogan.
"Smells like somebody's got a boar a-smoking', my friend. I'm not for bad manners, but is there any chance that's our destination?"
Rogan smiled as he looked down at the younger dwarf. He shook his head, however, as he led the group through the tents.
"Sorry, my friend. Though you'll have ample time to fill your bellies, I'm afraid we must first give word of your arrival."
The dwarf's bald plate glistened in the high sun as he looked back at Boggur and winked.
"It's not every day that we get visitors from the Kibil-Gund, you know."
Boggur was left only to shrug and follow, as his fellows did. The dwarves that accompanied Rogan were invariably left to their own devices, leaving only Rogan leading the small group of Dwarves from Wawmar.
As the group of strangers made their way through the massive, sprawling camp, they witnessed a humbling joy at their arrival. The soldiers about the camp milled about, tending to the chores that kept the wandering Clan going. As they did, though, they grinned at Boggur or winked at the dwarves from Wawmar and even gave one a friendly clap on the shoulder.
Boggur couldn't help but grin in wide wonder at the sense of kinship with the Clan, though he'd never met any of the dwarves. In Wawmar the hearth, or those dwarves that shared one's fire and food, were the closest and most important dwarves that one could know. Out here, however, with several thousand dwarves gathered about hundreds of fires, it was almost as if everyone was of the same hearth.
The greeting made Boggur wonder if the stories of dislike between Wawmar and the Clan of Kain had been exaggerated.
The dwarves of Wawmar were grinning from ear to ear when they arrived at a large, though utilitarian, tent. The stakes that tied it down were massive, and the ropes that tethered to those stakes were thick as a dwarf's forearm. The center of the tent rose over three dwarves high, coming to a point in the center. The opening to the tent, made of a dried animal skin much like the rest of the structure, was tied open with leather thongs. Even so, Boggur could only see bare floor inside.
Boggur realized that he'd been caught staring, as Rogan turned back to spur him on. Looking about, Boggur also realized that none of his companions from Wawmar had proceeded towards the tent, either. They obviously waited for their leader to make the first move. With a brief nod, Boggur swallowed and stepped into line behind Rogan to proceed into the tent.
The tent was wide and sparsely furnished. The desk and chairs inside were of standard dwarven construction, that is they were nearly indestructible. The floor was simply dirt, with a throw of some cured animal skin in its center. A bedroll was thrown against one wall, though it looked to be rarely used.
As Rogan ushered the Wawmar dwarves inside, a short and broad dwarf stood up from the desk. The older dwarf's hair and beard were dark, with stripes of gray to match his eyes. The dwarf's skin was like cured leather, tough and weathered. Boggur noticed that the dwarf was nearly as wide as he was tall and, when the dwarf saw Rogan, his smile was just about as wide.
"Ah, the big fella' has returned; it's about time, my friend!"
Boggur recognized the greeting to be in jest as the older dwarf's eyes lit up with his smile. The broad dwarf and the taller Rogan looked quite different as they stood face to face and shook hands.
Rogan looked down on the older dwarf with a smile, and Boggur recognized the look in his eyes as admiration.
"It's been a long run this time. We tracked some greenies beyond the northern crest and followed them for some time, hoping to get a bead on their larger force. We were just about to wrap it up when we found that Boggur here and his boys had already taken care of the buggers for us."
Boggur flushed at Rogan's stretching of the truth, especially as the older dwarf's eyes fell on him.
"Well, that's not entirely true...or, most of the credit belongs to Rogan here. My behind would be turning on an orc spit right now, if not for him."
The older dwarf nodded at Boggur's honesty and slapped Rogan on the shoulder.
"Don't know how many times I've said that myself, my boy."
He extended a meaty hand.
"Name's Carraig Kain-Dulmet; this here's my camp."
Boggur took the dwarf's hand and shook it. Seconds later, the dwarf's name sank in. Boggur was about to question the man, but was interrupted by one of his soldiers, a young dwarf named Davin.
"Kain-Dulmet? You're of the Clan of Kain, then?"
The aged dwarf smiled as if that was the usual response that he received.
"As the name implies, you're right. There's a lot of us Kains out there...this is the Clan of Kain, you know? Just so happens that I'm the oldest surviving member of the original clan."
Carraig looked about the tent, and then looked to Boggur with a wry smile.
"Lucky me, eh?"
Davin leaned forward again.
"If you're the head of the Clan of Kain, then where are your retainers?"
Carraig broke out with deep, rumbling laughter at the young soldier. Rogan joined in, and Boggur quickly waved Davin back, silencing him with a look. Carraig sighed deeply as he finished his laugh, and he gave the young soldier a reassuring look.
"Retainers, eh boy? Around here, that's what we call the thing that holds up your britches. And, as you can see..."
He patted his ample belly.
"...I don't need one of those."
All of the dwarves, even young Davin, couldn't help but laugh at the dwarf's self-deprecating humor. Feeling fully at ease, the soldiers introduced themselves, one by one. Carraig shook the hand of each in turn.
"Well, I thank you boys for the service; those greenies have had small groups scouting about our lands for some time now. They're trying to find a way to break our hold on this land, and maybe to even come back up to knock on the door of your home. Could be that your king up there's gotten a bit too comfortable, and the orcs sense it."
Boggur's eyes widened in surprise, but he quickly recovered.
"They would risk such a thing with the winters so close? Why, the passes will be terrible for troop movement, supplies. Such a thing could not be possible...could it?"
The old kain clansman nodded and winked.
"That's what they want you to think, my boy. But, these aren't the dark folk that you're accustomed to. No, these dirty, stinky ones are bigger and badder by far. Got trolls, ogres, worg-riders, and a new race of orcs that's about twice the size of their little brothers. And, worse yet, they're lead by a giant she-bitch, the hag that they call Dantha'Sule."
He shook his head and his face turned grim.
"We don't want these greenies coming to dinner, know what I mean?"
Boggur nodded, and his face broke into a smile.
"Well, with the mighty Clan of Kain guarding our doorstep, what'd we have to fear, anyhow?"
Carraig smiled at the compliment and clapped Boggur on the shoulder. Boggur's teeth rattled with the power of the blow.
"Bah! They'll not get past us, you can be sure of that! Now, to the present; boys, I'm not sure if Rogan told you or not, but you can't leave for a little while."
The older dwarf patted his hand in the air in an effort to stem the flow of argument that was sure to, and did, follow.
"Now, now, c'mon here boys. You've got to understand; I'd not be in my right mind if I left you out and about when we don't even know where the greenie's main force is. These little groups we've seen have got to be coming from somewhere. For all I know, all of Stor-gris has poured out of its gates and made the trek north. Now, I won't have any more dead dwarves on my watch, so you'll have to get comfortable."
The older dwarf glanced at the makeshift litters that held the shrouded bodies of the two Wawmar dwarves, and his point struck home. Boggur nodded slowly, and his young brothers in arms gave no further argument.
Carraig nodded as well, and his face broke again into its infectious grin.
"Good. I think that you'll find our camp to have the best mead and fresh game around, boys. And there's plenty to keep you busy; many hands make light work and all that."
With another wink, the leader of the Clan of Kain turned back to his desk and groaned as he sank down into the sturdy chair.
Rogan turned and ushered the Wawmar soldiers out.
"Come on, lets find a decent place to put your brothers to rest, and then we'll get you fellows some food."
Boggur only half listened to the big dwarf as he was led out of the tent. His eyes were drawn to the next visitors in line to meet with Carraig Kain-Dulmet, and he looked on in confusion at the group of small figures: gnomes.
Within only a moment of the gnomes' entrance into the tent, Boggur heard Carraig's deep booming laughter rumbling from the tent.
Rogan smiled at Boggur's confusion.
"Welcome to the Clan of Kain."