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 Post subject: The Story
 Post Posted: Fri Nov 09, 2012 7:11 pm 
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For many generations before the first humans descended from the Windwall Mountains, dragons ruled the land. They soared freely through the sky above Fiara, their power and wildness unmatched and their freedom unbroken. It was during this time that a white dragon was born; a dragon more powerful than all that had come before him. From an eyrie high over Godmark he took to the skies, and beneath his wings, the land froze. His scales were of the purest white, his eyes as cold and clear as the winter skies and his breath carried the chill of eternal frost. No other dragon could match his size or power, for he was the essence of winter. His brothers and sisters fled from him, and his mere presence covered the land near him in a thick layer of ice. Soon, he became known throughout Fiara as Aryn, the Frostweaver.

But as powerful as his magic was, so great was the loneliness that tore at his soul. No living creature could survive in his presence, cold and death were his only companions. Longing for company, he searched the lands, yet all fled from him, and the more he searched, the more suffering he brought. Were he to continue his quest, Fiara would be soon covered in ice, frozen in an endless winter, but unwilling he was to end his search.

With each passing year and each beat of his white wings, more and more of Fiara was lost. Eventually, his search brought him to the edge of a gigantic forest in the south of Fiara, known by its Elven name of Finon Mir. As frost, the sign of his coming, began to cover the treetops, the Elves, then a very young race, began to search for a way to stop the Frostweaver from destroying their home. Unaware of Aryn’s quest and certain that none amongst them could hope to match his power, they called to their gods and prayed for advice. The gods, however, remained silent, leaving the Elves no choice but to prepare to flee. Soon after the first snowflakes began to fall through the branches, the Elves began to flee to the South. Only Cenwen, one of the five Elven leaders, started out fearlessly across the barren, icy plains to face to the dragon alone.

The cold chilled her to the bone, ice and death surrounded her as far as the eye could see. The closer she came to the dragon, the more the cold bit into her flesh, and soon, Cenwen felt her consciousness slipping away. To keep from falling into deadly sleep, she raised her voice and began to sing. She sang of hope, of warmth and kindness, as many generations before her had sung at the campfires in Finon Mir.

Aryn heard her voice from afar and glided down from the sky to find the origin of the song. There, kneeling in the snow, he saw the Elf queen, and though she was helpless and close to death, her song remained strong and clear, her pure and beautiful voice her only defense against the cold. The dragon touched the ground and lowered his mighty head – never before had he beheld such beauty. As soon as she saw him, the Elf queen called to the dragon. “Hear me, O mightiest of dragons! Here me, O envoy of frost and bringer of death! Your presence ends all life and brings perpetual winter to the land. Soon the ancient forest that is our home will turn to ice beneath your wings, and my people will perish. What do you ask? What can change the Frostweaver’s path and save my people?” Aryn lifted his head, his icy stare piercing Cenwen’s heart like a dagger.
“Know, child of the forest, that I have been searching, searching since the beginning of my time, for an equal, for a companion. I have seen the pain and suffering my journey brings to this world, but your courage has opened my eyes – the destruction of others will not end my plight. I will return to my homeland and wait there, wait in the lonely mountains, wait for the end of time.
Your people shall live, but there is one thing I ask. You are the first, the only to have come this close to me, and your song has touched my heart. Accompany me and sing your beautiful song for us – and your brethren will be spared!”

Cenwen stood tall, and after a brief pause, spoke to the Frostweaver.

“I am yours, Frostweaver! Take me with you to the North and I will warm our hearts with hope for as long as I am. But spare my people!”

No sooner had she spoken than the dragon swept her up and took to the air.

“So be it then! If all your people are as a brave as you, then they are indeed worthy of life. Should your folk ever be in trouble, they can call on me and my power will be at their disposal. This will be part of our pact, I give as I take. The frost will never harm them and the power of the ice shall be theirs as long as they live in remembrance of you.”

Thus spoke the Winterdragon and turned to the North, back to the barren mountains beyond the Grimwarg Peaks. There they settled, and while Cenwen sang, he wove a shield of ice over them, to protect them from the world and the world from him for all eternity.

Only the glacier they call Frostweaver reminds us of this pact between the Elves and the most powerful of all dragons. To this day, Humans and Dwarves tell tales that the songs of Cenwen can still be heard there sometimes, in the icy wilderness of the Northeast.

Only the the children of Cenwen and Aryn know, however, that the Winterdragon still lives and gives them his power, while listening to the Elven song deep beneath the ice.

Eleyna Songweaver „The Beginning of Time“

Tempus et vita, tempus et mortis

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 Post subject: Re: The Story
 Post Posted: Sat Nov 10, 2012 11:36 am 
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Distant Thunder

He appeared from a group of trees right in front of us and stopped, scenting the air.

Up until this moment, the day had been bleak and uneventful. After setting out in darkness before dawn, we had been trudging across the seemingly endless hills and frozen marshland for hours, the journey passing as slowly as a bad dream. Now, almost instantly, I was wide awake and sharpened my senses, ashamed at almost having been caught off-guard.

A layer of frost covered the brown grass of the frozen marsh, reflecting the red rays of the dawning sun and bathing the flatlands in an eerie light. Bushes of reeds huddled together at the banks of icy ponds, while gnarly trees stretched their barren branches to the sky. A sharp wind blew from the east, over the jagged edge of the Frostweaver, chilling us with the icy touch of the gigantic glacier and whirling clouds of powdered snow off the steep walls and across the marshlands. The abrupt end of the massive glacier ascended like impregnable wall of ice to the east, blocking our view into the land of our enemies. Grey clouds passed over the frozen cliff, driven relentlessly by the wind, forming a celestial fortress beyond the glittering rampart.

The scout moved again and squatted, eyeing his surroundings, breathing heavily, his breath rising like steam in the cold air.

Soon, he would disappear into the bushes again, I thought. My clammy fingers sought the wood of my bow, which lay on the stones in front of me. No sooner had I reached its shaft than I felt Galad’s hand on my shoulder, a silent warning to hold back. The Utran archer was older, wiser and more experienced than I, and his instincts rarely failed him. A few seconds later, three more scouts slid silently out of the bushes in front of us. One careless move, and I would have doomed us both. Trying to remain as still as possible, I mustered the four figures who appeared to be communicating silently with hand signs.

The orcs were tall and burly, with dull and dark hide. Their movements were quick and fluid, and they had little in common with their clumsy, green-skinned cousins, the Grarg, that I knew from my homelands. Known to the people of house Utran simply as mountain orcs, they call themselves the Sharok.

The scouts arranged themselves in a half-circle around a group of trees, and thankfully remained unaware of our presence. Again, there was movement behind the trees and more orcs appeared, obviously less concerned with stealth. Like a pack of wolfes they emerged from the undergrowth one by one and spread out. I counted no fewer than twelve, their bodies colored with paint and smeared with animal blood, spears and clubs gripped tightly in gnarly fists. They made a smaller semi-circle around the group of trees and squatted on their heels, their watchful red eyes glowing like embers. With quick breaths they drew the cold air in greedily, scenting for prey. I felt Galad stiffen next to me and shortly, the leaders of this small band came out of the trees. The first was a tall warrior bearing the black iron armor of a veteran. He stopped amidst his men and muttered a few commands in the growling speech of the servants of darkness. Like dogs they followed his orders, creeping further apart to make room of the second new arrival.

The shaman seemed small next the armored giant, but he was surrounded by an aura of malice and evil as only the true minions of Zarach possess. None of the other orcs so much as looked at him, the wind blowing the scent of their fear in our direction. As they cowered in the grass, even the armored orc turned away from this fearsome creature, avoiding eye contact. Then the shaman dragged something out of the bushes. At first, I could only make out a tuft of blond hair before I recognized the shape of a human. It was Dunhil, part of the first group, bound by rope and gagged with a thick strand of leather. His group had left an hour before Galad and I to scout the area north of the Icegate. Luck had obviously not been on their side.

The shaman gazed around suspiciously, then looked to the group of trees and nodded his head, seemingly satisfied with the choice of location. He threw his prisoner to the ground and knelt down beside him. With a growling singsong, he began to draw iron spikes from his belt and ram them into the earth. The other orcs mouthed the words of his song silently, like an often-heard prayer. Suddenly, the shaman grabbed poor Dunhil and thrust him down onto the spikes. Weakened, but still conscious, the scout still managed to break his fall slightly with his knees, yet the spikes penetrated his flesh an inch deep. At that instant, I nigh on charged the group, but again Galad’s hand held me back. The Utran began to retreat slowly, inching away from the orcs and their captive.

As Dunhil’s blood slowly began to cover the earth, the shaman raised his voice, his eyes glowing with power and madness. My comprehension of the dark tongue was still limited at that time, but I understood enough to know he was calling the ancient spirits of this place, asking for their power and protection in the upcoming battle in exchange for this human sacrifice.

As the orc ritual progressed, the air seemed to thicken and a cold wind began to blow, shaking the branches of the trees and sending a shiver down my spine. The shaman reached down and grabbed the dying scout’s hair, holding his head up as the orc raised his voice once again. Calling to the Blood God, he reached for his belt and grabbed the Claw of Zarach, a ritual weapon with five blades, bent and twisted like the roots of a tree. He held the claw high above his head, praying for the blessing of the Blood-drinker. His followers growled and hissed, in a frenzy of anticipation for the bloody deed they knew would follow. Their breath steamed from mouths distorted by rage and hate, their horrible stench wafting over to our hiding place. Galad crawled faster, but I was spellbound by this bizarre ritual.

A thunder rose from the heavens and the earth shook as if the Blood God Zarach himself had shaken in anticipation. The black clouds gathered quicker and quicker, streaming over the edge of the glacier and blocking out the light of the new day. The slobbering shaman gripped his weapon tighter and struck out to slit Dunhil’s throat and thus complete the ritual.

Where I had been frozen by fear, something else took hold of me now. Even today I am shamed by the foolishness of my actions that dismal morning. Despite Galad’s warning grip, I rose as if in a dream and drew my bow. With frostbitten fingers I pulled back the bowstring and in the blink of an eye unleashed an arrow straight into the shaman’s forehead. The orcs froze, their chant interrupted, but it was only an instant before their surprise turned to rage. The armored veteran was on his feet in a flash, lept over his comrades and thundered toward me like a raging bull. Paralysed by fear, I could only stare at the charging warrior, the jagged edge of his sword ready to split my skull, when a arrow from Galad’s bow shot into his throat just above the cuirass. He fell and skidded to a halt mere inches from my feet, his eyes glaring at me with hatred and bloodthirst as he drew a final breath.
With a blood-curdling scream, the other orcs arose and took their weapons.
“Run, you fool!”
Galad’s voice broke my paralysis and I turned and ran. Another arrow from the Utran’s bow zipped past me and I heard a thud close behind me, followed by a gurgling scream.
“Run! Run! Hurry back the camp! Tell them they’re coming!“
Again, the bow sang and another orc dropped to the ground. I ran to the west, stumbling over the rough terrain, heading for the safer ground on the slopes of the mountain. The orcs’ screams became louder and louder, and I saw them coming from every direction. From north and south the fearful screams of an entire army sounded, rising from the marshes. Like a wave they rose, a sea of fearful creatures, throwing off all secrecy and joining their comrades, smelling blood and prey. Growling and slobbering, the orcs started to chase me. Now the first of their war drums started to beat, louder and more threatening than the rolling thunder of a coming storm. The thundering that washed over the marshes was overwhelming, driving me forward like a leaf on the wind. And then the heavens opened and rain began to pour down from the grey clouds that had followed the army from the east. I stumbled on through icy winds and hail, and as much as the sleet and rain hindered my progress, so they also hid me from the horde of orcs that followed me. I ran and cried, cried not just because of the bone-chilling cold and pain in my limbs, but also for Galad, who had sacrificed himself to spare me.

Only when I felt rocks under my boots did the rain begin to slow and the clouds lighten, and I made out the familiar silhouette of the mountain peaks. In the distance, at the foot of the cliffs, I could see the banners of the Utran camp. The guards had already seen me approach, and had signalled the main camp. Only now, close to the relative safety of the camp, did I dare to slow and turn around. My message was no longer needed. Through the clouds and fog, the fires and torches that the approaching army had ignited after the storm appeared as a glowing red line along the eastern horizon. The Sharok had come through the Icegate, were invading our lands, and tomorrow the Blood God would hold a feast.
And the powerful, pulsing beat of the orc drums rolled like distant thunder, a thunder that bode ill from the east.

Angar Arandir „Thirty Days on the Border“

Tempus et vita, tempus et mortis

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 Post subject: Re: The Story
 Post Posted: Sat Nov 10, 2012 11:41 am 
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The Lance of Kings

A stormy wind blew that day. It toyed with the fallen leaves of the old forest and whipped the trees into a swaying sea of autumn foliage. Through the rustling boughs, the golden light of the setting sun danced across the armor of the attackers, as if to court the dark figures. The forest itself seemed to welcome this triumphant procession with the red and gold leaves that swirled around them, beckoning them further. We waited.
They came out of the forest and stopped. I viewed their ranks as they stood at the edge of the wooded area and looked across the tournament grounds to our city, which they hoped to take by the end of the day. From North to South their ranks extended, shoulder to shoulder, a wave of iron and steel that would soon crash over us. Their banners fluttered in the wind and the long bands flew the colors of the rebels over the heads of this massive army. The grey wolf of the House Wulfgar, the Feather of Iskander, the white axe banner of Hallit and, at the center of the army, the purple banner with the black shield of the House of Utran, with whose men I had once fought side by side. Only a few remained here to protect the Queen, and her banner of blue and gold flew above our heads in the evening sun. Only one house remained true to the Queen and the realm of Nortander. The Leonidar had marched so far with their armies and would follow the line of kings, either to death or into exile. It seemed the Queen had decided upon death. We waited.

The sound of horns signalled their ranks to advance. With a thundering of boots, the army began to stream out of the woods and out onto the meadows of the tournament grounds. A signal rang out from the first wall and resounded up over the three large ramparts on the slopes of the Allen Gor, that would protect the fortress and the city of kings. Around me, the archers raised their crossbows. Soon, the waiting would end.

Like the drumbeat of an execution, the sound of thousands of boots washed up to us. With each step, our death came closer and closer, only our pride on the executioner’s block would be left for us. Then, finally, came the long-awaited signal and from our ranks a black cloud of crossbow bolts was unleashed that climbed into the evening sky and then descended like a swarm of insects onto our foes. Even on the windy heights of the third wall could I hear the sound of the bolts crashing through armor, shields and flesh of our enemies. They would have no lesser price to pay. As the command to reload was issued, a voice sounded over the battlefield, surreal and unimaginably loud.

Following the thundering command, everything stopped. A silence descended upon us, the insistent flapping of the banners in the stormy wind the only reminder of the imminent battle.

A figure emerged from the ranks of the rebels. “Wife of a dead king, men of Leonidar. Listen to me!”

Isamo Tahar, Mage of the School of Westbrandt, once aide to the King and the torch that had set this kingdom on fire, opened his arms as if to embrace us as brothers. Only now, so close to victory, did he dare to show his real face and his smile was sour to those of us that knew his real intentions.

„Today, on this battlefield, men of a kingdom divided face each other! It is up to you, woman, to end this slaughter and heal the wounds of your land!”
Only the wind seemed willing to reply to his taunts.
“You husband is dead, and with the demise of your son, the bloodline of the Imperials has ended! Release the throne, your family is no more!”
Many of us looked up to the royal castle and the stony balcony from which the King had spoken to his people, and where the Queen had spent many a long night waiting for her son to return. But it was and remained empty.
Again, the Mage’s voice rang out.
“Do you want a woman as your leader, Northmen? A woman without imperial blood, old, weak, and broken?”
In silence we stared down at him.
“Then I shall show you the power that is worthy of reigning this realm. No dragon slayer will be your leader. Dragon masters will rule!”

Even before he had finished speaking, we saw a shadow pass the sun and dread of what was to come sank down on us. With great wings, the gigantic lizard swooped down out of the golden red sky, as big as a castle, its black body scuffed and scarred. It was an ancient dragon, and in the beating of its wings echoed eternity. It hovered over the rebel army and each beat of his leathery wings sent a sulphuric blast of wind across our fortress. We could all sense the age of this creature, and its very presence threatened to defeat us as we stood paralysed with awe and fear. A murmur made me look up.

The Queen had stepped into the light. Alone, she stood on the stony outlook in the wall of the King’s Keep and her tall, slender figure shone in a white gown like the light of the moon. In her hand she held the Lance of Kings, that great weapon from the time of Dragon Slayers that many a warrior could not even lift. Yet her slender, white hand held the weapon steadily as if it weighed not more than a stem. Her eyes were clear and burned hard and bright as stars.
Her long, thin hair and gown blew in the stormy wind like a banner as she lowered the tip of the great lance, kneeling before the ancient dragon. Not loud, but clear and light her voice sounded down from the castle.
“Will you forgive me, o master of the skies? Will you forgive what must happen?“

Every ounce of stone, every inch of steel and every man’s heart shook with the mighty voice of the dragon, a voice that carried the weight of the ages and the pain of endless loneliness like a distant thunder.
“And will you forgive me, Queen of Mortals, for what I will bring upon you under the ban of this curse?”

No answer came, only an instant of silence. Then the dragon swung his head down and a stream of flame burst forth from his throat. A storm of fire rained down upon the castle walls, devouring wood and flesh in an instant. Screaming, our ranks broke and the flames continued, destroying everything in their path, higher and higher to the woman kneeled there. With her slender arms, she held up the mighty lance that divided the flames, protecting her from a fiery death. No matter how long the dragon rained fire down on the Queen, and though the very stones around her began to melt, he would not be able to break its ancient magic.

Finally, the fire stopped and the dragon let out a roar. His claws ground into the walls, pulverizing stone, armor and flesh like rotten wood. Great gusts of wind from his wings blew us down and the castle began to buckle under his weight. The lizard clawed into the wall and its great mouth shot out toward the Queen, capturing her. Back and forth the dragon threw the slender figure until he finally tossed her into the air, her body crashing into the stone of the wall. If the dragon’s teeth had not crushed her body, that blow surely must have, yet still her hands held tightly the shaft of the lance. In falling, just before she plummeted down to the stony pedestal, her body arched and with all her might she launched the massive lance into the dragon’s throat.

With a gargling sound the dragon let go of the wall. Gasping, he showered us with deep red blood, and two beats of his massive wings took him backwards out of the city. In the eyes of the beast, it seemed that humility and pain had been taken from him and with a murmur that almost sounded like relief, the dying dragon fell from the sky and buried his former master and the leaders of the rebel army under him. Like waves on a pond the army of attackers broke apart, leaderless and confused.
We all looked in dismay up to the stone upon which the broken body of the queen lay. Then, in a seemingly impossible act, she stirred and an outcry rang out amongst both armies. Slowly, she got up, willing her body to rise inch by inch, until she stood before us, her white hair billowing in the wind. No words did she have for us, nor for our enemies, yet her clear eyes gazed down upon us.

Like a great thunder, swords, lances, banners and shields were dropped to the ground as both her followers and the rebels sank to their knees, like a wave of humility crashing over the ranks of men. And so, on this day, ten thousands of soldiers of the Northern Realm kneeled before their rightful leader. The line of Dragon Slayers had been restored, and even without the traditions, no leader would ever dare to rebel against the will of this first Queen of Nortander.
Even the dwarf guards of Hallit and our elven allies kneeled down before this mortal, whose willpower had defeated the dragon, the pain and even death itself.

Angar Arandir „Dove and Sparrow“

Tempus et vita, tempus et mortis

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 Post subject: Re: The Story
 Post Posted: Sat Nov 10, 2012 11:47 am 
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Autumn Light

The light wind took hold of the withered rose leaves and drove them over the calloused palm of my hand. From there, they rose on the warm evening wind, flying out over the white balustrade, joining the thousands of dark red petals dancing across the roofs of Talindar.
A sliver of the evening sunlight shone down the shaft and bathed one side of this strangest of cities in a pale red light. For the emperors, the dwarven master builders had built the pure white palaces, temples and balustrades into the sides of the massive shaft, elaborate structures connected by stairs and bridges. A gigantic work of art, made of rock so white it was almost blinding. Almost a mile deep the buildings stretched into the depths, carved into the very walls of the abyss. From the edge of the shaft, streams of water from the mighty Lake Vajar were channeled through an intricate system of pipes, canals and waterfalls down to the city, creating a fine mist over the abyss that glowed warm in the dusk. And everywhere, there were gardens full of red roses, dark and strong in colour, their smell the constant breath of this place.
The roses were all that remained of the splendour of this city. For generations now, it was only a grave, a lonely, mysterious place, where on a quiet night the ages whispered. My gaze wandered back to the trembling leaves on my hand.
“They are dying.”

Urgrim, king and priest, passed me with the steadfast marching so typical of a dwarf as he descended down the white stars.
“That’s why we’re here, human. Come on!”
The other dwarves marched passed me without saying a word, their heavy armour and axes only seemingly out of place in this lovely city that would prove to be so deadly. Only Skarvig, a Hallite from Windholme, who was closer to me than any of his less talkative brethren, knelt next to me and grasped an armoured fist full of red petals.
“Poured with dragon blood. Their red is the darkest and purest, they blossom for many generations. Only evil can taint them.”
I looked into the dwarf’s grey-bearded face.
“Evil awaits us down below?”
The dwarf stood and shouldered his axe.
“Evil will come to us. Tonight.”
As we reached the great stairs at the foot of one of the halls, Urgrim stopped. The eyes of the dwarf king gazed testingly over the steps. From here, one could see all the way down the labyrinth of stairs and bridges until they disappeared into the misty depths which lay in darkness. The king put down the head of his heavy axe and nodded.
“We will wait for them here. Bring the baggage into the hall.”

We did as we were told. Without speaking, the dwarves went about their work, stowing their packs and tying up anything that was not needed for battle. No unnecessary word was uttered in the dusty hall. These warriors had fought in wars many human lives ago, they all knew of the approaching battle and death that crept up towards us. He who had no explicit task was busy checking his weapons or knelt in prayer. Skarvig came towards me.
“You have led us well, human. But now go, Urgrim will understand.”

I looked at the silent dwaves and Urgrim, who was praying with the others further back. Right knee and fist on the ground to honour Bjarne, his head lowered, the old king was like a statue. The last light of the evening came in through the entrance of the hall and glanced off the fine decorations of his armour and the silver of his beard, so that his dark shape was speckled with fine points of light, a sea of stars. He seemed as ancient and solid as the mountain itself, and even in this humble pose, the power of the centuries that lay in his shoulders and arms made me feel weak and unworthy.
“I will stay.”
The Hallite’s gaze measured me long and hard from under his grey eyebrows.
“You do not know what awaits you. But as you wish. Get ready, they will be here soon.”

Brok nodded. The guard had come in from the steps in front of the hall and looked silently around the group. The dwarves rose and sought their axes and shields, and I followed them through the old doorway. Only the last rays of glowing light shone from the roofs at the top of the shaft. From deep below us, something was crawling up to the city, a swirling cloud of grey that streamed up over the bridges and stairs toward us. Without a word, the dwarves closed rank and stood in battle formation, Urgrim at their lead.
The grey continued to crawl and under the rain of red petals I saw the mass of creatures that surged toward us. With bared fangs and razor-sharp claws, hundreds of wolflings climbed the stairs, crawling over each other, clubs, daggers and short spears in their claws. I slipped an arrow from my quiver and drew my bow.

With a booming voice, Urgrim began to sing. His mighty bass sounded like a bell, and soon, the other dwarves joined in. In their thundering tongue, they honoured their god and forefathers. The wall of sound was enough to slow the advance of the wolflings, with many shying from the iron wall of dwarves. But the others pressed forward, and soon the growling horde washed over the last of the stairs. I shot once, twice, saw my targets fall, and they were upon us.

With the sound of a thousand hammers the grey horde crashed into the wall of dwarves like a ship against the cliffs of Ironmark. Their attack smashed into the shields, was split by the axes, the force of the following rows throwing the wolflings up and over the dwarves like a breaking wave. Axes and hammers plowed easily through the midst of them, broken weapons and crushed bodies tossed aside like toys.

Unprotected by the wall of dwarves I fled into the entrance of the hall, trying to protect my back and defend myself as best I could with my bow and dagger. But for every wolfling slain, three more came toward me and soon, all I could see was the gleaming of fangs and claws.

Three times they retreated, and three times again they began to attack. Only as the morning sun began to colour the roofs of Talindar red did they retreat, but not into the depths. A stone’s throw away, they stopped at the foot of the stairs and stared up at us, as if waiting for something. I cowered against a wall, my dagger arm covered in blood to the shoulder, my quiver empty, my bow shattered. Next to me leaned Brok, as if only resting for a moment, but he was as dead as Gundar, Durin and Graurung who lay in their blood on the white stairs.
Urgrim still stood at the lead, he had not moved so much as an inch, but his armour had been pierced in many places by the wolfling’s spears and blades. His breathing was even, but with each breath, the sounds of death could be heard, a red foam dripping into his white beard. The other dwarves had closed rank and waited for the next attack. And finally, the creature the dwarves had been awaiting appeared, the source of all this slaughter. In the morning light, it strode over the white steps, greeted by the perpetual rain of petals, and stopped at the bottom of the great stairs.

A hideous creature it was, covered with red fur, with a skull like a great wolf, huge claws and fangs glittering like swords, eyes of black fire. Evil wafted towards us, for this creature was a mark of shame on the light of the world, a creature of hate and anger that had no place in the order of life.
I tried to get up, forcing my weak knees to work, when I saw that Urgrim was already marching toward the creature alone. Over the bloody steps he strode, casting aside his shield and taking his mighty axe in both hands. Whispering and growling, the wolflings parted and moved away as the dwarf stepped in front of the monster. Immediately, the mighty claws of the red wolf struck out to grip the dwarf in their deadly embrace, but Urgrim’s axe flashed, quicker than the eye could follow, arcing up into the monster’s chest. The claws froze in mid-strike and the creature stood silent.

The king tore free his axe and a black sickle of blood rose into the morning sky. The red one wavered, the weight of his body crushing a white railing before he plummeted, past the palaces and bridges, down into the mist at the foot of the city.

Urgrim staggered, coughing out a last cloud of blood. One last time, he held up his axe and shouted the name of his god with his dying breath. Back and forth the cry echoed from the pale walls of the city around us, resonating from windows and gates, as if a thousand fallen kings were joining his cry. It was then that the wolflings turned and fled, falling over each other, wanting only to get away from the dwarf and his voice, down into the depths. With the last echo of his cry the dwarf king fell dead on the bloodied stone.

Skarvig was the only one to break the ensuing silence. “It is done, the roses will blossom again and she can rest. Collect the dead, we are leaving.”
Silently, I followed the warriors, not understanding what had happened, but too weak to ask.
Weighed down by the dead, we finally reached the top of the shaft as evening broke and were able to see the open country once again. Outside of this strange place, I found the courage to ask Skarvig.
“She? Who is she?“
The old blacksmith smiled his grey smile.
“The king loved his daughter very much.”
Seeing my blank look, he continued.
“Know, human, that very few women are born to the dwarves. And those few are beings of such beauty, such frailty, that a thousand warriors would sacrifice themselves for them. The people of Bjarne are a dying race.”
He looked wistfully to the horizon, as if an old friend awaited him there.
“The king’s daughter loved this place, she would dream of the roses every night. Urgrim could not stand to see her unhappy.”

I stopped in my tracks. No treasure, no ancient feud.
“All this, for the dreams of a woman?”
Skarvig stopped and looked at me. The disdain in his eyes was not directed at me alone, but to all humans, with our greed and follies.
I looked down to my hand and saw the dark red petals the armoured fist of the dwarf had put there. Then he turned away, following his brothers, marching steadily under the weight of his axe and armour over the small ridge to the west.

The evening wind took the rose petals from my hand and whirled them up and away, towards the golden light of the dying sun.

Angar Arandir “Wintertime”

Tempus et vita, tempus et mortis

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