Also by Feldspar Chilox:
Tears of Tyrra Book 2: Memoirs of the Azure Elf
The Tears of Tyrra
Memoirs of the Crimson Dwarf
by Feldspar Forgehammer Chilox
Black Axe Press
Copyright All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
Dedication: To Zenda
As much as the next dwarf, I love to tell a tale over a mug of ale. I’ve been through so much in my one hundred twenty-three winters. I’ve often thought about telling my own tale, start to finish, as much as I can remember. I have left out little, though at times my boastfulness has gotten the better of me and my yarn has become more fiction than fact.
I owe an inestimable amount of gratitude to many people, including my thane, Taestiv Chilox, my cousin, Hiddukel Chilox, my friends and my fellow adventurers. I would also like to thank Bertold Fairoak, Rakella Leafdancer, Guildmistress Blindor Silverlode and Viscountess Willissa Entemoor Arkeel, who have given to me untold amounts of information about my heritage and my people’s history, including a version of the story of King Ringold and Queen Nephtali which I have retold herein.
If I mentioned everyone to whom I owe gratitude for the publishing of these memoirs, this book would quickly turn into a copy of my Book of Debts. I’ve no wish to bore the non-dwarven people who might read this, but I would like to mention a few of those to whom I owe so much: Leafton “Decoy” Adirondak, your antics have saved my life more than once; the Asgards, may your courage never fail; Zenda, I still care for you, even though the poison’s spell has faded.
Feldspar Chilox - 14 August 607
I hummed a tune to myself as I worked. No, not at the forge. I wasn’t yet old enough to work the forge. My father had told me so. I was just going on my twenty-fifth summer. That was young for my people. The oldest dwarf I ever heard of was almost five hundred years old, and it was common for a person to live past three hundred, if he did not die by battle or accident.
“You need tae look after yer mum an’ sis,” my dad had said, “Yer brothers an’ I’ll work the metal. When you grow a beard longer than yer thumb, then you can learn the art.” I checked the fuzz on my chin. The beard-growth stones that my brother sold to me weren’t working. The wretch, he’d played the gypsy. I rubbed them against my face each day, but the hair was still barely as long as my thumb was wide.
It seemed as though it would be forever before I would see the glow of the steel that my father shaped into horseshoes, plows, and axes. I looked down at the small hatchet in my hands, a birthday gift from my father. I traced my fingers along the smooth, seamless head that betrayed no hammer marks. My father was a master at his art. He could make his work look like he hadn’t spent hours slamming it around with a hammer, melting and remelting its surface until the metal blended like soft clay and ended up as smooth as silk and almost as hard as the stonewood.
No, not as hard as stone, as hard as stonewood. Stonewood is much harder than any rock I’ve ever felt. That was where most of Father’s blades went; he sold them to the Woodcutter’s Guild. They constantly needed new axe-heads because even blades as hard in temper as my father’s could not last long when they were used to harvest the rock-like trees which gave our town its name, and its fortune. Like every young dwarf in the town, I dreamed of becoming a ‘Cutter, wielding one of my father’s axes, felling the tall stonewood trees, bringing in gold for my family.
“Then my da would respect me,” I said to myself, “then he’d beg me to come to his forge. But I’d say, ‘No, da, I must be gettin’ back to work. The scouts’ve marked ten more trees for me.’ Nay, an hundred, a thousand more trees. An’ I’ll fell ‘em all.” I swung the small hatchet, pretending that I was chopping down an army of the tallest of those living pillars.
I burst into tears. That would never happen. I’d never be a ‘Cutter, and Dad would never let me work with him. He’d just keep on telling me, “Yer too young, Crimson Let the men do the man’s work.” I could be a thousand years old and still he’d tell me, “Yer brothers are more suited to the art; they’re stronger and more skilled. Look after yer mum an’ sis.”
I threw the hatchet at the ground, burying its head halfway into the soft soil. Then, I ran. My feet carried me through brambles and thickets, my mind unseeing and unaware of my surroundings. I wanted to get out of there. Where could I go? I’d never been out of Stonewood. Maybe I could go live with the elves or something, or maybe I could go to the mountains and find my highland kin. They’d teach me to work the forge. They wouldn’t think me too young or too weak.
A root caught my foot and the world spun around me. Everything was a blur until I landed with a thud, my head just missing a low branch.
I heard laughter behind me, giggling. I spun around. I couldn’t see anything there except the trees. Gaining a hold on my fears, I turned my frightened look into a mask of strength, trying to imitate my father’s meanest look.
“Who goes there? F-friend or foe?” I asked in my most fearsome voice, which cracked only slightly. “If ye be foe, I’ll tear you apart, limb by limb.” I squared my shoulders, trying to look mean and tough.
The gentlest of touches on my back startled me so much that I nearly leapt out of my boots. Once again, I found myself on the ground. Images of rampaging orcs filled my head as I huddled in the dirt, trying now to look even smaller than I was.
My fear was broken by a giggle. Orcs didn’t giggle. They growled and belched and cursed and gnashed their teeth, but they didn’t giggle. It was just some dumb girl playing a trick on me. I didn’t know how she managed to sneak up on me so quietly, but I’d get her back somehow. The burning rush told me that my face was turning red, first from embarrassment, then from anger. I pulled myself slowly back to my feet before turning to face my molester.
My mouth opened of its own accord. The tall, slender, pale-skinned woman who stood in front of me was no dwarf-girl. Her skin had a slight greenish tint, like fresh buds in spring. She wore no clothing, but strategically placed vegetation prevented my young eyes from popping out of my head. Her hair was as red as autumn leaves and she wore a white flower behind one ear.
She must be a dryad. My father told stories about them. He and the woodcutters used to joke about them. Mother always yelled at Dad about it, but I was too young at the time to understand why. The dryads were said to be all through these woods, but you only saw one if she wanted you to see her. They were creatures of the forest, spirits of the trees, and the trees hid and protected them. In return, they nurtured all the plants and animals in the wood.
I looked into the dryad’s deep green eyes and I felt encircled, caught in a silken web. It was not like the cold steel of a trap. It felt like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a winter’s night. In that instant, the whole forest opened up to me. I could hear the rustling of the leaves in the wind and the songs of the birds in the canopy. For that moment, I wasn’t in the forest; I was the forest, reaching upwards with my branches, trying to touch the sun, and, at the same time, stretching my roots into the earth, holding onto Tyrra.
She spoke, and the music of her voice washed over me, calming me, swallowing me in green eternity. Her laughter, like the bright chirping of finches, jingled in my heart and tickled it. Soon, I was laughing along with her.
There is a legend among the Stonewood folk that dryad blood flows through all of us. In fact, the legend claims that the stonewood trees were created by a king of my people, a mighty wizard who cast a powerful spell on the trees to preserve them and preserve the dryads who lived among them, so that he might spend the ages with the queen of the nymphs, whom he loved. In that moment, I truly believed that legend. I could feel the blood pumping through my veins, my heart beating with every word that floated from her strawberry lips.
“You must stay with me, young one.” In her speech was the whispering of the wind. “I will protect you.”
I did not think at the time to question her about why I would need protection. I only did what my spirit willed me to do: I grasped her delicately firm hand and followed, abandoning any outside thoughts.
Her name was Lillie, she explained to me. Her grip was surprisingly strong, despite her figure, so thin I could almost see through it, and so tall as to be ungainly. Her fingers were long, nearly twice the length of my own, but only half the width. Her skin appeared smooth and youthful, but it was rough to the touch.
Listening to the entire forest around me, I noticed that my feet barely made a sound. Dry leaves and twigs seemed to leap out of the way. My heavy leather boots, normally thumping loudly as I ran, seemed to float just above the ground. Or maybe the dirt softened beneath my tread, making my passage almost silent.
She led me to a patch of raspberries, not yet ripe. With a whispered word and a wave of her hand, the berries turned from green to red to a deep purple. They fleshed out and grew plump. Lillie picked one and held it out for me.
Giggling at my hesitation, she ate the first berry and picked another. She held this one out for me, too. I took it and looked at it carefully before I placed it in my mouth. It wasn't the right season for raspberries, but here was a whole bush of fruit that was perfectly plump, juicy, and ripe. It tingled in my stomach and that tingle spread outward, filling my whole body with a warm snugness.
It seemed like hours that I spent with Lillie, staring at the sky through the canopy. I felt a heavy weight when she told me I must leave.
“It is time for you to return,” she said. “Your father needs you.”
“Why would he need me?” I asked. “He’s still at the forge, and he has my brothers to help him.”
“Trust me.” She gave me a reassuring smile as she reached up to her ear and removed the flower, placing it in my hands and closing my small fist around the stem. “He needs you.”
I looked down at her hand, holding mine shut, and at the snowy blossom. With her urging, I turned towards home. When I looked back, she was gone; the empty forest took her place. No birds sang; no squirrels chattered. The wood was suddenly dark and quiet. I plodded down the path, hearing only the slap of my soles on the packed dirt.
It was not long before I reached the spot where I had left my hatchet. I pulled its muddy head out of the ground and carried it with me, my arm dangling lifelessly from my side.
The air was heavy, oppressive. My eyes were glued to my feet as they slowly took me home, one step at a time. I did not look up until I reached the town, clutching my hatchet in one hand and the flower in the other.
I smelled the smoke first. I scrunched up my nose against its acrid sting. My eyes began to water and every breath was thick and labored. When I finally forced myself to look up, tears streamed down my face and I was choking on the lump in my throat.
The flames licked up from my childhood. The bright orange azaleas my sister had grown from finger-sized clippings blazed yellow and red. The wire hutch my brother had built for his rabbits was ripped in two, crimson blood and silver fur clinging to the blackened steel. One half of the wooden facade still stood, torn by razor claws. My mother’s stew pot lay overturned, dented by some massive club. The straw from the mattresses flared up on top of a shattered loom. The unfinished fabric, once white, was now stained with black, brown, and red. Only one thing was capable of such carnage: orcs.
In the center of the wreckage, on top of a section of the collapsed porch, his callused hands white with exertion, my father held on to his last sliver of hope, the pale, delicate hand of his dead wife. In my hand, I grasped a small piece of infinity: a lily.
After that, my father took me to live with my grandparents in the Dwarfhaven Mountains. The journey was long and rough, riding in the back of the wagon that doubled as my father’s traveling workshop. The road was filled with potholes and large stones, and I had only a wood plank to serve as a seat and a bed.
Even though we traveled in a caravan with the stonewood merchants, father wouldn’t let me visit with any of them. I had to stay in the back and “mind the wares, boy.” My two brothers rode up front with him, making my little heart burn with jealousy. I vowed to find some way to gain my father’s favor, and knock down my brothers a couple notches while I was at it.
With sudden inspiration I peeled back the canvas that covered the floor of the wagon. Hidden under the floorboards of the wagon, my father kept a secret stash of orc bait. My father bought some of the most potent ingredients to make his orc bait, so he kept the final two parts of the chemical in separate containers. I pulled two bottles from the hiding place, covering my actions with the noise of the wheels hitting rocks. My dad and brothers would not hear much on this rough country road.
The bottles were old looking. They were slightly misshapen, not like the fine containers bartered from the elves these days. The glass was ruddy and dark, one bottle green, the other brown. The corks were sealed in with grey wax, so dark it was almost black.
It was hard to peel back the wax. I dug my fingernails under it and pried away, but it was fifteen minutes before I’d managed to uncover the cork of the first bottle. Using the small knife I carried for carving my meat, I pushed the cork down into the bottle.
The smell wasn’t as bad as I had expected. I was sure that orc bait would smell horribly, like the orcs it was meant to attract, but it wasn’t unpleasant. In fact, it smelled quite good. I dabbed a bit on my finger. It wasn’t mixed with the chemical in the other bottle, so it wouldn’t attract the orcs yet. I just wanted a closer inspection. It was a brownish yellow, and smelled kind of like those orange fruits the gypsies brought with them from the South, with a hint of cinnamon. My stomach rumbled. Those fruits were tasty, sweet and succulent. I wished I had one to eat, just a little bite.
The cart jolted over a big rock, awakening me from my daydream. I had been about to drink the substance. I shook my head. What had I been thinking?
“Pull y’self together, Crimson. This stuff’s fer the orcs, not you, beardless fool.” I started work on the second bottle.
Soon enough, both were open. I had only to mix them together, just a small amount. I pulled a small ring from my pocket. It was one of the mystical rings of dreaming that get passed around the town of Stonewood. The old women of the village know how to craft these tokens from the mud and moss taken from the base of stonewood trees. When worn, the rings hold fast to your finger for days or weeks, until you are granted a dream. They say the dreams have special significance, but I’ve never been any good at interpreting them.
Anyway, this ring had given me a dream: memories of my mother mixed with memories of the dryad, Lillie. The next morning, it had slipped from my finger. I was supposed to pass it on to another dwarf so that he could receive his dream, but this time it was going to bring more than a dream.
I spilled a couple drops from the first bottle onto the ring and grabbed the second bottle. This was the point of no return. Should I do it? Would it work? I envisioned myself coming to my brother’s rescue as the orc charged after him with slavering jaws. A few drops from the second bottle finished the mixture and sealed my fate.
I put new corks in the bottles and hastily returned them to their hiding spot as the wagon came up upon our campsite for the night. I quickly grabbed a third bottle, which I knew contained the antidote, orc repellent. Returning the boards to their original position, I waited impatiently.
As soon as we unloaded the cooking gear and my father started a fire, I approached my brother, Periclase.
“Hey, my dream ring is loose! That means you can have it now.”
“Give that to me, peck.” He ripped the ring from my outstretched hand and inspected it. I was glad, at the time, that he didn’t inspect it too carefully. He didn’t smell it, or he might have discovered my plan. I was about shaking out of my boots as he placed the small token on his finger. It seemed to shrink, sticking to the finger, holding tight.
“What’re you grinnin’ about, gobbo?” He brought his fist up and held it right in front of my nose. “It’s mine now, meat-head.”
I stayed awake almost all night, waiting with the orc repellent, ready to burst out of my blanket at any moment and throw it on my brother, reversing the effects of the potion that covered the ring.
I heard Periclase snore loudly. Looking over, I saw a smile form beneath his heavy mustache.
“Yes, smile,” I whispered, “I’ll show you who’s a meat-head, Mr. Orcbait.” I eventually fell asleep, the smile on my lips matching that on my brother’s.
The next morning, I awoke to the smell of frying bacon, not the smell of orcs as I had expected. I opened my eyes to see my dad preparing breakfast. My eldest brother came up with a load of wood to add to the fire. I crawled to my feet and rubbed my eyes.
“Morning, Red,” my dad greeted me. He always called me “Red” when he was happy. That meant he’d had a couple swigs of his “Mornin’ Juice.” He reserved my given name, Crimson, for when he was angry. That was most of the time. When he was really mad, he just called me “Boy.”
“Mornin’, Sir,” I replied. I had to show the utmost respect to my dad, especially when he was in a good mood. It helped keep him there.
He offered me a cup of his strong root and mushroom tea. “It puts hair on your chest,” he always said about the dark, bitter drink. So far, I hadn’t noticed any hair on my chest, and certainly not enough on my chin.
Looking down at the mug as I accepted his offer, I noticed something glittery on his finger. Peering closer, I realized it was the ring of dreams that I had given to Periclase the night before.
“Wh–Where did you get tha–that ring?” I asked, trying to act as casual as I could, trying not to show the terror in my eyes.
“Peri gave it ta me. It’s a dream-ring. He said it gave him a dream o’ yer mum las’ night.” He stared past me at the far away mountains. “By my beard, I’d like ta see her again.”
My hand was shaking as I took and drank the mug of tea. When my dad asked about it, I just said I was cold.
By noontime, I had almost forgotten about the orcbait. It must not be working, I convinced myself, feeling relieved. That relief was short-lived. Just before lunch, we heard thrashing in the underbrush.
“Into the wagon, Boy!” my dad shouted at me as he pulled me away from the campfire and threw me towards the caravan.
“Da! No! Don’t go!” I feebly tried to stop him as he vaulted over the rocks, his axe already in his hand. He grabbed a flaming log from the fire to aid him in the fight.
The air was filled with shouting and growls. I ran back to the wagon to get my hatchet so I could help in the fray. I scrambled into the cart and started throwing open cases, forgetting where I had put it. I found it when I decided to search the first case a second time. It was buried beneath a sack of cornmeal.
I ripped off the blade protector and leapt from the cart, prepared, I thought, to kill anything that threatened my family. In my haste, I forgot the orc repellent.
When I returned to my father, the battle was almost over. Two orcs lay dead and my father and the merchants had surrounded the third. They taunted the beast, even though it towered over them. I could see that its dark green hide was ripped open in several places and its blood fell to the ground. I couldn’t understand why the dwarves didn’t just kill the monster outright, until I saw that one of the merchants was incanting spells, and his hands glowed with magical power. His magic had pinned the orc’s right foot to the ground and weakened him so that he could do little harm to the dwarves. Still, the creature continued trying to attack my father, ignoring the others. Only I knew why.
A sharp pain in my back stole my breath and knocked me to the ground. Blinking the mud from my eyes, I struggled to get up. Something heavy held my chest to the ground and a thousand knives of pain stabbed into my back. I could not breathe and I could not pull myself even an inch off the ground. Shouts surrounded me, overpowered by the rumbling of the earth and the pounding of my heart. My life played before my eyes; then, the life of my family. Finally, the history of the world came to me, as told to me by my mother’s father years ago.