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Wilderness: Book One - The Forest (Chapter Nineteen - New Ally, New Foe)

Colin Frayn
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Doragon felt a great gust of wind sweep right past him, sending the flimsy bridge spinning and bucking like a thread in a gale. Holding on for dear life, he found himself thrown from side to side as the great black form of the storm dragon passed overhead, literally ten feet above. Doragon was in total panic, unable to hear the screams from his friends the other side of the bridge. His hands gripped tightly onto the thick rope, barely able to hold on. The winds slowly subsided, and he found himself dangling precariously from the rope, suspended over a precipitous drop below.

Doragon could feel his heart almost leaping out of his chest. His eyes began to focus once more and the danger of his situation suddenly became apparent. He looked to his right, and watched the ominous form of the dragon disappear into the distance. Then he looked down - this was his first big mistake. "So this is it?" He thought to himself, "this is how young Doragon is going to die; falling to his death." He had rather hoped that he would reach old age, but he knew now that this was growing increasingly unlikely.

Looking over at the group, Doragon saw them desperately trying to turn the bridge the right way up. His arms were beginning to ache and he wondered how long he could hang on. Athena and Carek heaved with all their strength, and eventually spun the bridge back over, hurling Doragon onto the planks underneath and further bruising his arm. He was still grabbing firmly onto the rope and shaking nervously. Athena ran out onto the bridge, rocking it violently. She stopped as Doragon yelled back at her to stay still. She slowed down, and calmly shuffled out towards the shocked halfling, offering out her hand. Doragon refused it, climbing to his feet and turning towards his friends. He closed his eyes and paced swiftly across to the side of the ravine, finally collapsing at the feet of his companions, shaking from head to toe, and white as a sheet.

Tarok approached his shocked companion. "You gave us quite a fright there, my friend." Doragon looked up and nodded. "I think I gave myself quite a fright too. I don't think I'll be worried about heights ever again," he laughed. "That was a pretty narrow escape." Tarok nodded. Indeed it was. He sat down beside his friend and began to smile. "You know, I'm glad that wasn't me out there. I don't think I'd have had the strength to hold on." Doragon shook his head. "Believe me you'd have found it from somewhere. I did."

Doragon climbed slowly to his feet, and brushed off the soil from his legs. "Right then - let's get to this dwarf city before nightfall. I could do with somewhere safe to sleep tonight. Somewhere flat." With Doragon cursing his bad luck for the rest of the walk, they followed the route off along the other side of the valley. The mountain path widened slightly here, with strange runes lining the walls of rock. These runes were unlike anything Tarok had ever seen, and he guessed that they belonged to the dwarfs. The caves could not have been far away now.

Sure enough, it was only another ten minutes before they finally reached the source of the light they had seen earlier. Carved majestically into the side of the mountains was a great doorway, flanked by two great pillars, rising thirty feet up above the path. The walls were lined with all sorts of statues and carvings, which had been hewn from the solid rock. In the middle was one enormous gate, fashioned out of solid iron. It was firmly closed, and standing in front were two stout dwarven sentries, both dressed in fine chain mail and holding sharp halberds. As soon as the adventurers rounded the corner, the guards immediately drew their weapons, brandishing them in the direction of the strangers. Tarok, being the only un-armoured member of the party, stepped forwards. He held out his empty palms, and rolled up his sleeves. "I come in peace," he called out. The dwarfs didn't look like they believed him.

Tarok cleared his throat. "My name is Tarok Gallantin, sorcerer and practitioner of good magic." Carek managed to stifle a giggle. Tarok continued. "These are my friends, Carek, Athena, and Doragon." Doragon bowed politely, and Carek and Athena followed suit.

One of the guards spoke in a gruff voice. "What is your business here? These are dangerous parts, not suitable for travellers." Tarok smiled, and explained about their quest.

"We come bringing scales taken from a dragon which we slew with our very hands." The guards looked unimpressed. "What do you wish of us?" Tarok continued his explanation. "We have heard rumours that the dwarven smiths are the best in the land. We wish to ask you to fashion one shield for us from the scales. You may keep any remainder we do not need ourselves. We can pay you for your generosity." It seemed a convincing speech, and the guards lowered their weapons.

The first guard nodded, and stood to one side to let the four weary travellers pass into the caverns. "Very well then, I will send word to announce your arrival."

A small door within the great gate was opened, barely five feet high. Even Carek had to duck to pass through. Doragon was beginning to like this place already. Fortunately, the dwarfs had built the tunnels inside a good deal larger. This entrance passage was at least ten feet high, and lined with numerous torches on each side, lighting their path with a surprising efficiency. One of the guards accompanied them down through the caverns, and finally out of sight of the outside world, the dim evening twilight disappearing out of sight, round a corner in the weaving passageways. Doragon and the guard exchanged furtive glances. Doragon smiled and nodded politely. The dwarf said nothing, marching regimentally onwards deeper into the mountain below.

After a minute of walking, the sound of music began to fill the cavern from the distance, and grew steadily louder. It seemed to be coming from where they were headed. It sounded like some kind of feast or celebration. Before long, the group reached another unnecessarily large door, and the guard stepped forward, pushing the massive structure open with little effort. The doors were of the finest construction, perfectly balanced and expertly maintained. The dwarf guard stepped forward, and Tarok followed closely behind, together with his three friends a moment later.

Beyond the doors, the passageway opened up into a large feasting hall, no less than a hundred feet in length and probably a similar width. The ceiling stretched up no less than fifteen feet at the very least. This was underground construction on a grand scale. The room was filled with countless dwarfs, many of them sat round their tables gorging themselves on a wide variety of impressive foods, and others wandering around, chattering amongst themselves and laughing loudly, clanking together mugs of what looked like ale.

The dwarf guide led the four friends through the grand hall, past the celebrations, and towards the high table. At one end of the hall, several older looking dwarfs sat, their beards reaching down to the floor and their mugs of ale constantly being refilled by attentive servants.

The guard approached one of the elderly dwarfs and spoke to him, introducing their guests and telling the old dwarf about their quest. He looked rather important, and was almost certainly a greatly respected leader and warrior. He spoke to the four adventurers in a deep voice. "Welcome, brave adventurers. I am Grom Rockbeard, chief of this domain. We can indeed help you in your quest, and I will order four rooms to be set aside for your stay right away. You are welcome to stay for as long as you please. Any foe of the goblins is our ally." He turned to a younger dwarf standing nearby, shaking his empty mug in that general direction. "I will take your dragon scales to the weapon smiths in the morning, but for now get to bed and rest. Unless you wish to join us for some dwarven ale?" The younger dwarf stepped forward with a hefty jug of some foul-smelling brew, which he poured into Grom's ale mug until it was nearly overflowing.

Tarok shook his head, it was too late and they were all too tired for anything other than sleeping. He politely declined the generous offer. Grom ordered one of the younger dwarfs to show them to their rooms. He led the four bewildered friends out of the feast hall, and down a narrower passage to a large lobby area, in which stood a number of metallic doors, built in the same inimitable dwarven fashion. "Here are your rooms," began their guide. "I wish you an enjoyable night's sleep." He wandered quickly away, back up towards the festivities upstairs. Tarok took the first room, and cautiously opened the door.

The chamber, though not excessively large, was nonetheless well furnished and very comfortable. Whomever these rooms were meant for, they were clearly not dwarfs as the beds were of a sufficient size even for Tarok, who stood at least a foot and a half above the dwarven men. Perhaps they were meant for visiting human ambassadors. Presumably, they had seen little use in recent years, with the mountains harbouring so many treacherous dangers. Next to the bed stood a short table complete with an ornately designed candle stand. Other than these meagre decorations, the room was bare and uncluttered. This was just the way the dwarfs liked it.

Tarok's friends took the next three rooms, and they dropped their backpacks with a satisfying thud onto the floor. It was good to get the weight off their backs, they all agreed on that. Tarok wandered back outside to chat for a while with his friends, but they were so tired, they soon returned to their individual rooms for a very comfortable night's sleep, finally safe from the terrors of the mountains which they had left behind them.

That night they all slept extremely well, their minds finally at rest after several days of harsh torment. Despite the party still well underway upstairs, the noise didn't seem to penetrate much to these depths, probably due to clever planning more than anything else. Even so, Carek and Doragon, who had the keenest hearing, lay awake for quite some time, listening to the distant cheering and clanking of beer mugs. Whatever the dwarfs were celebrating, it must have been rather special.

The four friends woke up in the morning, aching tremendously from their long journey. They hadn't managed to get a good night's sleep since they left Lanwyn, so they were in no hurry to get out of bed. Having said that, they were all excited to see around the dwarven caverns and to finally meet the famed smiths who had inspired their journey in the first place.

Amidst the yawns, they all managed to rise and dress, then wander down the hall to find their host. Of course, they had absolutely no idea where he was to be found, but they still knew nothing of any of the other mysterious passageways, which lead from their route. They wisely decided not to risk a blind expedition into the depths and, sure enough, the great dwarven King was there in the hall, waiting for them, chatting merrily to some of his older advisors.

"Ah! I see our visitors have finally risen from their slumber!" he joked. "I was beginning to wonder if you hadn't walled yourselves in down there or something."

Tarok was apologetic. "I'm terribly sorry. I do hope we haven't inconvenienced you at all. Only, we haven't…"

Grom didn't let him explain. "Not at all. As I said, you're our guests. It so happens I've had some important matters to discuss this morning so I've been here for quite some time anyway. Now, let's see if we can't make this shield for you then." Grom sent a servant back with Tarok to their rooms and collected all of the scales, which they placed in a small truck in the passageway outside. The great dwarf began to wander down the passageway, calling back to his guests to follow him. "Come, I will show you the forge you seem so eager to visit."

Another dwarf stepped forward, and began to push the heavy cart downwards along the skilfully cut passages into the depths of the mountain, seemingly going down further and further without end. The passageways continued onwards, the darkness pierced at regular intervals by brightly glowing torches, hanging from the walls on ornamental brackets. The surface-dwellers no longer had any idea how deep they were, or indeed, how far from the entrance they had walked. One thing was for sure, and that was that the air in the tunnels was getting progressively hotter as they all wandered further into the depths, towards the very heart of the dwarven city.

Eventually they arrived at the forge, a great blast of hot air greeting the four astounded adventurers. Beyond them was another great cavern, hundreds of feet in length, full with countless dwarfs hammering away at shields swords and axes, as well as furniture and tools with which to continue the excavation of the mountain. The dwarfs were constantly burrowing into new layers of rock in order to extend their domain, and their mining exploration always required the very best tools available. The noise struck them as soon as the door was opened - the sound of a multitude of hammers striking tempered metal almost without a break. Day and night were much the same in the mountain, and the dwarfs tended to work in shifts all the day round, which helped them to maintain a constant supply of expertly constructed ironwork.

The sight was truly spectacular and the four adventurers had to stand and look for a while to take in the scale of the dwarven forge. The heat was intense, and they wiped the sweat from their foreheads as they walked down the rows of dwarven weapon smiths and craftsmen. Grom walked in front of the group, and the workers bowed politely as he passed them. He had clearly earned a lot of respect from his subjects during his time as King, however long that had been. Once, long ago, he was a very great warrior, but he had given that up mostly now, and thanks to his wisdom, had become the ruler of the dwarven stronghold. His various adventures had taught him a great deal, and he remembered the days when he was once as young as the four strangers before him were. He enormously enjoyed his current power, but also longed for the freedom that he had once possessed.

Eventually, they stopped by the side of one of the weapon smiths, who was just hammering the finishing touches to a truly marvellous shield. He placed it on the rack with the other two or three that he was working on and then turned round, seeing Grom. He bowed and spoke most politely, "Your majesty, how may I be of assistance?" Grom introduced the dwarf to the four adventurers, and introduced them to the dwarf, named Garad. He bowed once more and spoke to them, "I am the King's personal weapon smith. These are my latest creations, designed for the King and his bodyguard, and each one inscribed with magic dwarven runes to ensure the greatest strength in battle against the enemies of the great dwarven realm. I hear that you have some dragon scales for me."

Carek pointed to the cart with the scales in. Garad smiled, and went over to inspect them. "Hmm." He pondered the scales for a minute or two, hitting one or two of them soundly with a hammer. "Not bad at all," he began, "Red dragon scales. Maybe six or seven years old I believe. Yes, I could make you a shield out of these. There's enough there for three. I'll make the other two for the chief's personal elite guard." He examined the scales a little more closely. "Rune of guarding would be nice. I'll see what I can do about that." He pulled out a tiny hammer, and began to tap round the edge of one of the larger shields, listening intently to the deep clanging sound it created. "It'll take me several days, of course. I presume I have permission to start on these right away, your majesty?"

Grom smiled. "Of course."

Tarok looked a little embarrassed. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt your work."

Grom shook his head. "Not at all, as you can see we have plenty of people working here. I'm always eager to forge links with the humans of your land. You will surely be pleased with the outcome." They certainly hoped so.

Garad picked up a few of the scales, weighing them and checking for cracks. Grom suggested that they left him to it and they wandered back to the entrance to the forge. Grom spoke to Tarok; "I must go back to the conference hall now on an urgent matter of the realm. While you humans fight the orcs to the south, we have our own problems to face here in the mountains. It seems that we may soon be at war again." Tarok was slightly taken aback by the dwarf's bluntness. "At war?" he frowned. "With whom? The goblins?"

Grom shook his head. "No, for now the goblins are quiet. They don't seem to be causing us any trouble, I'm glad to say. No, this is a quite different foe, but nonetheless deadly. In fact, I'd say potentially even more threatening than the goblins. The necromancer Rakrath is on the rampage with his undead horde. Up until now, we've managed to beat him quite easily, but now it seems that he has been massing his power and has summoned a great army to face us." It sounded suitably apocalyptic. Tarok was beginning to wonder if perhaps they had chosen the wrong time to visit. "I'll leave you with Tharn now," continued the great dwarven warrior, pointing to the dwarf who had pushed the cart down to the forge, "He'll show you around. Enjoy yourselves!" With this, Grom departed down one of the side passages from the forge, and out of sight.

Carek turned and spoke to Tharn, "What other wonders are there to see in this place." The dwarf laughed politely, replying to the wizard as best he could, "Well, if you want to be shown around all of the caverns it would surely take you days, but I would willingly do it. However, I reckon you probably have more important things to be doing while you're here, so I'll just take you to the important sites. I imagine you'll want to be seeing the brewery first. Everyone wants to go there when they first visit us. Follow me!" That sounded promising.

They set off back the way they came, but turned off after about fifty yards into a slightly thinner passage, which led downwards once more. Soon, the potent smell of dwarven ale began to fill the nostrils of the four friends, and the smell grew stronger with every pace. It reminded them of the previous night in the banquet hall upstairs. That smell was quite overpowering, and they were beginning to regret this particular decision. The passage turned right, carried on, then turned left and left again. Finally, it began to spiral downwards, ending in a small room with two doors in the far wall. One had a sign with 'Private' written on, and the other one was marked 'Brewery'. This was the source of the smell. Tharn didn't seem to have noticed.

They walked towards the brewery and Tharn pulled down on the handle, swinging the heavy door wide open. The pungent smell of beer was amplified ten times upon its opening. They stood in another cavern, with a huge vat of liquid in the middle, and many dwarfs working around the outside of it. All were wearing white overalls, and carried bottles of strange looking liquids around with them, which one would sometimes pour into one of four smaller vats around the edge, at which point the mixture would froth up and then die down again slowly. Tarok raised his eyebrows, fascinated.

Tharn explained, "This is where we brew the famous Dwarven Strong Ale. Care to try some?" Tarok had heard of this. It was famous only for being almost entirely undrinkable. Dwarven beer was notably the strongest in the land. A fact that became all too obvious to the four adventurers after trying a sample of this potent brew, which certainly lived up to its name. Having come this far it would have been impolite to refuse. They later wished they had - it would take a lifetime to build a resistance to that potent liquid.

After a thorough tour of the brewery, Tharn lead them off to explore some more of the remarkable dwarven caverns. This was a tour that they would all remember for quite some time. The dwarfs had lived in this place for several hundred years, and they had been constantly exploring down deeper and deeper into the mountain's very heart. It was a remarkable place, and the four friends soon began to realise, as Tharn had said, that it would indeed take many days to see it all. However, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and none of them dared miss it. This was probably going to be the only time any of them would ever get the chance to see the inside of a dwarven town, and this was notably the greatest in the realms. Tarok began to think about what Grom had said about the necromancer. It would surely take quite an army to attack this place, and the wizard wasn't sure he wanted to be around when that happened!

The next morning the four friends woke up with splitting headaches from the day before, worsened by the undulating tones of dwarven singing emulating from deep down within the caverns. Carek hoped that this would be his last encounter with dwarven ale; he had felt better than this after the fight with the ogre chief at victory day the previous year!

Grom went to greet the four adventurers as they gathered outside their rooms. He appeared saddened for some reason, and began to speak in a more sombre voice. "It seems," he began, "that our enemy Rakrath has indeed decided to attack the caverns. We expect a battle in the next few days. You may assist us if you like, but I do not wish to force anything upon you as you are, after all, my guests. I would of course lend you my finest armour should you decide to fight. I doubt it would fit you, though." He turned to Doragon. "Except perhaps for you, my friend. I imagine it would fit you just fine." Doragon smiled. He wasn't used to heavy armour, and politely declined the offer.

Carek looked around at his friends. The dwarfs had been unbelievably kind to him over the past few days, and he felt bound by his code of honour to help them fight anyone who would deign to attack such a wonderful place. He spoke up. "Well, your highness, I for one will be with you."

Grom smiled. "Good. You are indeed brave my friend."

Athena was swift to join in. "And I too. My sword has not tasted combat for some time. Count me in."

Doragon also felt duty-bound to help his brothers. He joined in, pledging his support. All heads turned to Tarok.

"I am no warrior," he began, "but I will willingly pledge whatever support you require to help defend this remarkable civilisation of yours. You have my support." "Excellent!" Grom's voice bellowed loudly. "I will put you in charge of one of my finest units. Come with me."

Grom put the group in charge of a unit of twenty of the elite dwarven axe-men. These were long-bearded soldiers; old and respected dwarf warriors who were revered in dwarven society due to the length of their beards, which was a sign of age and wisdom. To lose one's beard is humiliation for a dwarf, unless it is in the course of a battle in which case it is seen as a great personal sacrifice.

It was decided that Carek and Athena would lead the unit, Tarok would stand at the back and aid with his magic and Doragon would tend to the casualties. He was no great use with the fighting and could not use magic, so this was the best option. They began to think about it. What a group they would make! Grom lead them through some passageways and down towards a small military chamber, where he introduced them to the champion, a dwarf by the name of Fyarn, who would accompany them into battle. He brought news of the dragon shields that were being made.

"My lord, news from the forge is most promising. The first shield is under way and will be finished ready for rune inscription within three days."

"Excellent, see to it that more men are working on these shields so that they are ready in time for the battle."

"Yes my lord, I will send word immediately." The dwarf marched swiftly ahead towards the forge, allocating another three of the realm's finest craftsmen on to the task.

Grom escorted the group to the military room in the lowest section of the caverns. This was very well guarded, and entry was restricted to only the most wise of the dwarfs. Grom introduced Tarok to the various dwarven champions, each skilled with the use of the crossbow, axe or mighty war hammer. One proclaimed that his hammer had slain ten dozen goblins whilst one gave a tale of a great battle with the mountain ogres of the southern lands, where he single-handedly dispatched a group of four of the ogres with his mighty axe. The group didn't know whether the tales were true, but they were certainly impressive, and inspired courage into their hearts. These dwarfs were well respected for their craftsmanship, but their warrior skills were also legendary.

Next, Grom showed the group to the grand hall where all the brave dwarf warriors were preparing for the battle. They gathered in units to salute their chief as he entered. The hall was quite enormous, twenty feet high they reckoned at least, and at least one hundred yards long, perhaps more. It was lined with carvings, just as the rest of the caves, but this was also clearly a natural cavern as there were long stalactites hanging from the roof, especially where it rose even higher upwards and sparkling crystal formations glistened from deep within the rocks.

All around the hall were dwarven warriors, talking amongst themselves and training with their axes. Some were heavily armoured, and others were more casually dressed. When the word came for battle, they would all don their mighty armour and line up inside that great hall, the finest fighting force in the lands.

Grom showed the four adventurers to their unit, which was stationed in one corner of the hall. The dwarfs were all polishing and sharpening their weapons, and politely lifted their helmets to their new leaders. Judging by the scars and roughness of their complexions, these warriors had been in a great number of battles. The fact that they had survived said a great deal for the courage and prowess of these elite fighters.

Fyarn had returned from the forge, and introduced the dwarfs by name to the four adventurers, who were suitably impressed by the order and obedience that the soldiers displayed. It was completely different to soldiering back at Tarnadon where the soldiers, though orderly, never had this same respect for each other. This was a most impressive display of military excellence and the strength of the dwarven army became more apparent with every passing moment.

Grom then pointed over to one corner of the room where two giant bronze doors stood imbedded in the rock. "Those doors lead to the outside world on the southern side of the mountains," began Fyarn, "That's where we'll go to battle when Rakrath attacks, when the sentry horns sound. The doors will open and the glorious battle will begin. Once more dwarven axes will slay the foul creations of the darkest of magic."

The doors were indeed enormous and they were ornately decorated with runes and pictures depicting great victories over the forces of evil. They wondered how such heavy objects could ever be opened. Grom saw the puzzled look in their eyes so gave an explanation. "There lies a great waterfall outside, whose waters flow by the side of the door. When the lever is pulled to open the doors (This feat alone took all the strength of ten dwarfs) then the water is channelled into a great water wheel which winds up the chain, so opening the doors."

This feat of engineering again impressed the four adventurers who were beginning to realise that the legends about dwarf ingenuity and craftsmanship were indeed true. They returned to their rooms, planning the battle ahead and gathering as much information as they could about their potential foe. They came out again at lunch time for a feast of dwarven food, wisely turning down the offer of ale. After lunch, they went back to their rooms again and discussed the forthcoming battle. All, that is, except for Tarok who spent all day learning some new spells. Grom suggested that Tarok went to see the dwarven magician who lived down in the very deepest limits of the caverns, and went by the name of Carlon. He was apparently a distinguished mage, who had helped the dwarven armies of the northern mountains many times in battle. Tarok readily agreed to Grom's suggestion, as he was eager to learn some new spells.

For the remainder of the day, they all rested, except for another fine meal in the evening. They went to bed early to get plenty of sleep ready for the battle ahead. They knew that they had only known the dwarfs for a short while, but they had already grown rather fond of the dwarven way of life, and knew that any foes of evil were worthy allies of theirs.

The next day, Tarok descended the passages into the depths of the caverns to meet Carlon, as suggested. He was shown the way by one of the dwarven guards, and then began to descend the torch-lined path into the darkness. He passed the furthest point that he had been shown before, and continued deeper and deeper into the very heart of the mountain. The passage became slowly more narrow and crude, and the darkness began to envelop the cautious wizard. Torches still lined the walls here, though they were spaced more widely so that a large dark shadow fell between each pair, concealing the sides of the passageway for a few short steps. Tarok hurried quickly through these patches of darkness, unsure of what might lie out of sight in the unseen cracks and fissures, which burrowed their way into the rock walls either side. However, what most surprised Tarok was the quiet. The clanging of the dwarf weapon smiths and the bright singing in the taverns had faded away into an unusual silence. Clearly Carlon had woven some magic around this tunnel to cut off the noisy and crude upper levels from his own place of study. The flames of the torches were still, though occasionally a short gust of wind sent them writhing and dancing, casting menacing shadows onto the passage walls. Down here it was colder, and drier than the levels above. A deep chill filled the air, and Tarok wrapped his cloak around him more tightly as he progressed further downwards.

As Tarok walked forward, he suddenly became aware of a diffuse light in the passage ahead of him. Walking towards it, the darkness of the tunnel slowly began to dissipate. There before him was a lone torch, burning brightly in the wall. Behind that was an arch, which led into a torch lit cavern, the light gently flickering with the subtle subterranean breeze. Tarok peered within, though saw no one. A voice came from the shadows, quite taking the wizard by surprise. "Who wishes to seek my knowledge?"

Tarok stopped still. The voice echoed through the cavern, reverberating against the walls. From the darkness walked an aged dwarf his long white beard reaching to his waist. He was a rather tall fellow, for a dwarf that was, and wore a cloak adorned with strange glowing runes. In one hand he was carrying some sort of leather bound tome, and in the other was an oil lamp. Tarok approached him slowly,

"My name is Tarok Gallantin. I am a guest of the dwarven realm. I was told to seek you out for a lesson in magic."

Carlon frowned, then wandered back towards his potions and books. "A human, eh?" he began, not really looking at Tarok, but instead placing his book down on a bench and carefully measuring out a quantity of some kind of powdery blue substance.

"Are you a wizard, or a warrior?"

Tarok gave the obvious reply, "A wizard, and I seek your wise teaching."

The dwarf laughed, then turned back to his guest.

"You have been speaking to Grom. The young warrior is headstrong, brave and courageous but lacking in true knowledge. He still reveres me, venerates me, considers me his most powerful ally. It is good he does not underestimate the power of magic over brute strength, but the goblins are weaker now and the dwarfs of the upper caverns have no real need for my feeble sorcery."

Tarok stepped forward. "Perhaps that is where you are wrong. I have news for you of another foe which could well be more than worthy."

Carlon raised one eyebrow, and approached his young visitor, "Please tell me!"

"Another great sorcerer, a necromancer, one who has menaced the dwarfs before and challenges your presence once more."

"I see. Rakrath has new plans for his evil servants. I am afraid I cannot help you there."

Tarok frowned, "Why ever not? I should think your assistance would be most greatly rewarded!"

"Rakrath is far more powerful than I am. I have not fought him for some time, but he is a truly great man. Many take up the mystic arts and train hard to build up their powers. Only a few manage to avoid the temptation to use their powers for evil. It is a very grave problem, and one that you will no doubt have to fight yourself when you are strong enough."

"I will help the armies from a distance, but Rakrath and I are old enemies and I fear that he would seek me out in battle. I will, however, tutor you and help you to improve your powers so that my assistance may not be so necessary in the end."

Tarok agreed. The thought of learning some new spells greatly excited him. This was not at all like learning in college. Carlon didn't have time to go through the complicated and tedious spell training routines. He knew that Tarok didn't have the time. He could also tell that the young wizard had a significant talent, and would be a fast learner.

Carlon had taught dwarfs before, but the dwarven body is not ideally suited to the channelling of magical powers. Humans are far more suitable for the purpose, though not as great as the elves. However, Tarok would be a fine student.

They spent the rest of the day studying together. Carlon proved to be a very skilled mage. He taught Tarok many new spells and techniques to improve his talents. Carlon was impressed, but found that he could often fault Tarok's self-taught methods. It would take quite some time to train the wizard to bring out the best in his powers, but for now he did the best he could and Tarok was learning quickly.

After many hours of hard work, Tarok thanked the old dwarf kindly, and set off back up the passages to his room. He didn't realise just quite how long he had spent down in the laboratory, but was told when he reached his room that it was well into the night. His three friends had grown tired of waiting for him and had gone to bed several hours ago. Tarok yawned and decided to follow their example, falling asleep almost straight away.

The next morning, Grom spoke to the group, informing them that scouts had seen a lot of action around the entrance to Rakrath's caverns, and that the battle would probably take place that very night. Athena went to see how the shields were getting on, and was told that they would be ready by midday, but the runes would take two days longer so would not be ready for the battle. She decided to fight without the runes, and just the shield alone. She was most excited to see the result of her quest finally delivered right into her hands.

Tarok went down to talk to Carlon again, and told him that he had to be up to the grand military hall by sunset ready for the battle. Carlon lit a candle to keep track of the time, and they began work. Sadly, the candle burned down all too soon, and Tarok was left to set off back up to the grand army room and meet his friends there. The dwarf stayed behind, vowing to return for the battle if he felt it was safe to do so.

As Tarok left, he stopped for a moment, thinking that he had heard some voice in the background. He could barely pick it out, but he thought he could hear Carlon talking with someone else. This was a much deeper voice, and didn't sound particularly dwarven. Tarok summoned a little magic to amplify the sound, but as soon as he did, the voice disappeared. The young wizard frowned, and returned up through the tunnels to the caverns above.

Tarok arrived at the great military hall shortly after his friends. The brave dwarf warriors were all assembled and preparing for battle. Grom and his bodyguard were standing at the front with his great axe illuminating the caverns with magical light. What wasn't mentioned in the army room the day before last was that Grom's great axe had killed over a hundred goblins, sixty-eight orcs, eleven trolls, eight ogres, a wyvern and three goblin chieftains. Grom liked to keep count of his military victories, but was careful not to boast of them. The word tended to spread without his intervention. With Grom at the front of the army, the dwarves knew that nothing could touch them.

Grom had faced the hordes of Rakrath only once before. That was a long time ago, when he was much younger, and had just celebrated his fortieth birthday. His father was still in charge of the caves then, and Grom was considered a little too inexperienced to fight. However, he had managed to sneak into one of the infantry units and proved a worthy addition to the army, slaying several of the enemy and returning home almost totally unscathed. Since that day, his legendary strength went before him, and he was one of the most respected rulers that the dwarven army had ever known. This time, however, would be different. Grom had been training for dozens of years. He was a veteran of the goblin wars, and had fought many times on this very field of battle. Rakrath's army would know his might once and for all.

The hall fell ominously silent as the last rays of the sun disappeared from the cracks in the great door, and the torches were lit. The opposing forces had often battled in the moonlight, and the dwarfs had good eyesight in the dark, being accustomed to the dim light in the caverns. Carek looked around and noticed a smaller dwarf running over to Grom, heavily out of breath. He spoke to the great dwarf leader, and all eyes turned to Grom, who signalled to another captain over by the doors. A group of dwarf workers approached the great leaver that operated the door mechanism and Tarok realised that the battle was about to begin. His blood began to pump furiously round his body. Whatever lay the other side of that door was clearly a powerful fighting force. It was a force so strong that even some of the more powerful dwarfs in his unit were visibly trembling. These were veterans of the many goblin wars, and in many cases of the orc wars with the humans to the south. The forces of Rakrath were strong enough, and sinister enough to strike fear into the hearts of these, the most brave of warriors. Grom knew this, and issued a great rallying call. "The time of battle has come. Fight bravely, my brothers, and we shall once again emerge victorious!"

A great horn sounded, and the cheers of dwarven warriors echoed around the cavern. As the lever was pulled, there was a sound of rushing water outside and the great bronze doors slowly swung open onto the battlefield beyond.


WILDERNESS : Book 1 - The Forest Chapter 19 - New Ally, New Foe © Colin Frayn

Migrate Wizard: 
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