Prophecies are beloved only until they come true.
– The Proverbs of Shedey’uwr
Ralt cradled his staff in one hand as he stared over the parapet down at the valley floor where the caravan from Krista was making its way toward the entrance to the mine. Missy stood next to him, their arms around each other’s waists.
“I wonder why Storm and Lorelei haven’t called us?” he wondered quietly, striving to keep his voice calm. Storm’s military background had left its mark, making him the most punctual man Ralt had ever known. If he missed an appointment it was because something was wrong.
Missy wasn’t as familiar with Storm as Ralt so she didn’t share his unease even though she felt it in him. “They probably just forgot,” she tried to reassure him. “A husband and wife finally alone together for the first time since they got married – it don’t take much imagination to figger what they got up to.” She giggled suggestively.
He snorted, but couldn’t keep an answering grin off his own face. Missy was constantly coming up with new ways to show him the delights of married life. It kept things interesting.
“Is dat dem?”
Durin’s voice from behind them prompted them to turn around.
Missy bobbed a courtesy. “Yer majesty.”
He fixed Ralt with an evil eye. “Don’t even tink it, lad. I’ll spank ye wit Fenris Fang if ye even try.”
Ralt chuckled. “Wouldn’t dream of it – your maj,” he added sarcastically.
Durin sighed as one much put upon.
Ralt grinned then went back to Durin’s original question. “That’s them.” He gestured at the caravan below. “According to Thomas, she sent everything but the kitchen sink.” It was a saying he’d picked up from Storm and one of the few he actually liked. Besides, it seemed appropriate. The manifest Thomas had shown him demonstrated Krista had sent everything she could lay her hands on. There was enough food and weaponry to sustain an army in the field for up to a year.
“We can’t make a habit of it,” Thomas semi-apologized when he showed him the manifest, “or we’ll go broke, but this time we could afford it, so we did.”
“Good!” Durin was satisfied. “I’ll be able ta outfit our new allies den.”
Two tribes of dwarves had arrived the day before, the Gorest and the Norlode.
All the dwarves here in the Third Age were descended from one of three brothers in the First Age; Shokri, the eldest and wisest, from which came the Shokirin who built Thangadrim; Tolfri, the adventurer, who took his people to the west where they become the Äkh, the Brethren of Tolfri, more commonly known as the sunset dwarves for their eyes were ever fixed on the setting sun; and Achor, the youngest and brashest of the three brothers, who took his people, the Achorini to the east.
Like the Shamir of Shadow Mount Mines, the Gorest and Norlode were descended from the remnants of the Shokirin who intermarried with the Achorini after the destruction of the Chaos Wars, making them kindred cousins to the Shamir.
Like the Shamir, the Gorest were a small tribe, numbering just under four hundred, but the Norlode had sent over a thousand, yet that was only a fourth their total number.
The Captain of the Norlode legion, Ragrak, had been sent by his older brother, Norgar, who was the chief of the Norlode, to see if Durin’s story was true or not before committing all his people to him. Among their number was an elderly woman, Beldria, who claimed to be descended from someone Durin would have known personally in Thangadrim. If he could identify the woman’s ancestor, Norgar would be satisfied of his identity and would join them with the rest of his people.
Ragrak and the chief of the Gorest, Grunrim, along with some of their closest advisors, were given rooms in the mines but the rest of their people were too numerous to be housed in the tight confines of the mines so they were encamped in the valley below the entrance to the mine.
The head of Krista’s caravan was beginning to wind its way through their tents.
Durin pulled himself up straighter. “We’re ‘aving a formal greeting fer our arrivals in da mess hall. I need me chief adviser wit me.”
Ralt sketched a formal bow. “My Lord.” In a more normal voice, he added, “But only if I can bring my beautiful wife with me.”
Durin snorted in a very unkingly manner. “Tellin’ ye ta leave her behind would be like tellin’ ye to leave yer arm behind.”
“She advises me and I advise you,” Ralt shrugged.
“Hmp. Den wot do I need ye fer? I’ll just make her me chief advisor,” Durin needled him. “It’d be de same ting.”
They all laughed then headed down to the mess hall. The truth was, Missy rarely advised Ralt on anything. If she spoke up it was on her own. Mainly though, her presence helped calm his nerves at being named Chief Advisor to the King. At least Gerald and Thomas would be with them for this meeting before heading back to Zered.
The mess hall, converted to an audience hall, was overflowing when they arrived. The door guards announced the arrival of Durin the Stone Skinned, King of the Shokirin, and everyone stood as he swept into the room. Ralt and Missy trailed behind him.
On the dais, Gerald and Thomas stood to the left of the king’s chair, with Thrgin at the end. On the opposite side, Grior occupied the last chair. Durin’s chair and the two immediately to his right were the only ones vacant.
They took their places and Munur, acting as the herald, thumped the butt of his spear on the floor. “King Durin,” he announced shortly.
Durin nodded at him then sat. Everyone followed his lead, accompanied by the shuffling sounds of a large audience taking their seats.
Durin waved at Munur. “Who’s first?”
“Grunrim, Chief of the Gorest, arise and approach,” Munur called.
A dwarf in the first row, heavy and elderly, rose and approached the dais. His long white beard reached nearly to his waist. He hitched up his pants. “We’ve heard ye lit da purple fire and forged mithril in it.” His eyes flickered over Ralt’s glimmering staff. “We also heard ye took a kingdom stone in yer hand and it came ta life, pointing da way ta Thangadrim.” Durin nodded. “We also heard ye carried da Wolf Axe, da axe of power dat was forged for the Stone Skin before he was lost to da Chaos Wars.” He paused expectantly, eyeing Durin’s axe.
Durin knew what he wanted. He gripped the axe and held it up. “Whelp of Fenris arise!” he commanded in a loud voice. Smoke billowed out of the axe, like a striking snake. Faster than thought it coalesced into a giant wolf the size of a horse.
The first few rows of dwarves stumbled to their feet, backing up in fear. The room erupted in exclamations and shouts of surprise.
Fenris Fang seemed completely unfazed by the furor his appearance caused. He sat down, wrapping his tail around his forefeet. “Good morning, descendants of Shokri.” His calm, unhurried urban voice was such a contrast to his fierce appearance it took many of them off guard.
Munur thumped his spear on the floor over and over again, shouting for quiet. Finally, everyone settled down. The dwarves in the front rows straightened out their chair and sat back down. Order was restored.
Durin eyed Grunrim with an amused grin. “Convinced?”
Grunrim’s eyes were wide with surprise. It wasn’t every day a legend walked out of the storybooks and spoke with you face to face. His hands shook as he bowed deeply. “Forgive me, my Lord.”
Durin was gentle with him. “It’s a bit of a surprise, ain’t it?” His faced hardened. “And now dat ye’re convinced . . .” He trailed off, waiting.
Grunrim went down on one knee. “Hail, King Durin!” he cried. His advisors in the front row slid out of their chairs onto a knee and echoed him in loud voices.
Durin stood up and clapped a hand on his shoulder. “Rise and be kindred,” he proclaimed. Grunrim’s dwarves leapt to their feet along with him and crowded around Durin to receive his benediction. When they were done, they all went back to their seats.
Durin nodded at Munur. “Next.”
Munur thumped his spear on the floor again. “Ragrak, Captain of the First Legion of the Norlode, arise and approach!”
Ragrak was younger than the elderly Grunrim, but no less stout. He had snapping black eyes and hair. Gnarled fingers that were more comfortable gripping a war hammer than extending a helping hand, assisted an old dwarf woman to struggle to her feet. He slowed his pace to a crawl to match her uncertain steps as they approached Durin’s makeshift throne.
He stopped in front of him. “My lord, allow me to introduce me grandmother, Beldria.” She bobbed in a small courtesy, leaning heavily on his arm.
Durin nodded at her. “Hail and well met, Beldria.”
Ragrak voice was strong and clear. “Like our cousins,” he nodded Grunrim, “we ‘ave heard of ye and wot ye’ve done. Seein’ dat,” he pointed at Fenris, “is yet more proof ye are who ye say ye are but me eldest brother, Norgar, asks ye ta take one more test before we pledge ourselves to ye.”
Durin’s knuckles whitened on the armrest of his chair. He was getting tired of having to prove his identity to every dwarf he met. “Easy there,” Ralt muttered out of the side of his mouth.
Durin relaxed slightly. “Name yer test,” he rumbled shortly.
Beldria raised her head, her snow white hair falling behind her in a long braid. “Me family is descended from a young dwarf who escaped from da destruction of Thangadrim,” she wheezed slowly. “His mother was loved by two, including Durin the Stone Skinned, but she married another. Only our family knows dis and der names. If ye’re who ye say ye are, ye should know ‘em too.”
Durin’s face sagged with old memories. “Sheerah dinna make it out of Thangadrim?” he asked sadly. Beldria was clearly surprised. “Nay, my lord, she did not.”
Ragrak was also surprised but determined to fulfill his brother’s orders. “Now name the rest, if ye please.”
Durin fixed him with a stern eye. “Ye need ta learn better than ta dig up painful memories. Da one who stole her from me was Mamlakah and their son was Jeshurun. He’d be da one who made it out, I’m guessin’?” He nodded at Beldria and she inclined her head in return. “They named him well. A more upright dwarf ye never saw.” His eyes drifted away to a scene only he could see. “Before da Chaos War started I gave ‘im his first hammer when he was just ten.” His eyes shifted and he came back to the here and now. He focused on Ragrak with more than a hint of anger. “Are ye done testing me or do ye still doubt?”
Ragrak dropped to one knee. “Forgive me, my Lord. I but obey my Chieftain. Hail, King Durin!” His men echoed him as they took a knee as well. Beldria attempted a deep courtesy but her strength wasn’t up to and Ragrak had to catch her to keep from falling.
Durin sprang out of his chair to help her. “Easy der, old mother” he muttered. “We don’t need all dat much ceremony from ye.”
She smiled gratefully. “Thank ye, yer Majesty. I see now dat ye be the true king of our people.”
Her remark was meant only for him but Thrgin, sitting at the end, overheard her. “True king?”
Ralt and Missy traded glances at his sneering tone. “Watch your tongue toward the king,” he snapped, thumping the ground with Shadow Flame. Thunder shook the room and brought dust drifting down from the ceiling.
Durin held out a restraining hand toward Ralt. As Ralt subsided he turned his attention to Thrgin. “Wot’s yer problem dis time?”
Thrgin rose to confront him. “Tis easy fer ye ta act kingly toward an old woman.” Ragrak bristled at the insult to his grandmother. “But ye’ve yet ta demonstrate true leadership by takin’ us ta defeat da giants up der.” He hitched a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of Mount Wainsford. “Yer own friends advised ye ta kill ‘em but ye ain’t done nothin’ yet.”
The watching dwarves stirred and muttered among themselves.
Durin’s eyes narrowed in anger. “I’ve fought enough giants ta know ye don’t go after ‘em on der own lands witout careful plannin’.”
Heads nodded around the room.
Thrgin was dismissive. “Din make yer plans. If ye dinna like bein’ tested by every tribe dat joins us, then lead da ones dat are already here ta capture da mountain. Dat will prove to ‘em who ye are.”
“That’s a strange reason to start a fight,” Gerald interposed gently, speaking for the first time. “A wise king would think it through more carefully.”
“Enough wit da wisdom of wizards,” Thrgin sneered. “Our people have been the lowest of the low on Gaia since the loss of Thangadrim!” He waved his arms angrily. “Tis time ta reclaim our rightful place! An’ it starts by killin’ da giants up der!”
A rumble of agreement rolled around the room. Shouts of “Aye!” and “Tell ‘im!” floated through the room accompanied by weapons being waved in the air.
Ralt glanced around the room in dismay. Were they so easily swayed, he wondered? Thrgin’s words were those of a headstrong youth, not a sober minded chieftain. He glanced at Gerald but his former teacher was shaking his head sadly.
Thrgin stomped his foot. “Thang-a-drim! Thang-a-drim! Thang-a-drim!”
Dwarves around the room quickly took up the chant, stomping their feet in time with his. The room rocked with the sound.
Durin clenched his fists around the handle of Fenris Fang so hard his knuckles were turning white as he surveyed the dwarves, all of them on their feet now. Even Ragrak and Grunrim were up and chanting, swept along by the wave of anger and wounded pride.
From the corner of his eye, Ralt saw that Grior was on his feet as well. Missy was still sitting but her hand was clenching his so hard it hurt.
Durin said something to Fenris Fang, unheard in the overpowering tumult, but the great wolf heard him plainly. He sprang to his feet and let loose an unearthly howl, so loud and penetrating everyone gasped and clamped their hands over their ears. They stumbled back from the mighty wolf in painful shock.
Durin nodded at the great wolf and it dissolved into smoke that shot back into the mighty axe. The king surveyed the suddenly silent room.
“Ye want a war wit da giants?” His voice dripped with contempt. “Fine. I’ll give ye what ye want, and when da bodies start comin’ back, dinna expect any sympathy from me.” He turned to Thrgin. “Sound the war drums, snake tongue! We march at first light!”