Title: [whf] Stair of Courage [dwarfs, short]
fergo - March 12, 2010 11:14 PM (GMT)
It is a long, long time since I've written anything, apart from general stuff for various RPGs, which barely count.
I've wanted to write something of this tone for a long time. It's something I've touched on in various works, both completed and (more often) incompleted, but here it is in a tasty bite-sized chunk.
This is also the first story featuring Grungni Ironaxe for... well, probably years. I keep on meaning to write an epic story about him and my Hold, Duraz Kazad, and maybe some day I'll get round to it.
So here it is. Hope you enjoy.
From here, Grungni could imagine that he was on top of the very world. With his legs dangling into empty space and the cold wisps of cloud clinging to the sides of the mountains around him, it felt as if he was almost floating.
It felt as if he was separated from the world around him, a wandering spectre that could observe but never participate. The pain and sorrows of the dwarf race could no longer touch him, not here. The lost holds, the slaughtered innocents, the broken oaths—none of it was really real. Or, if it was real, then he himself was not.
The ground was impossibly far down, a tiny patchwork of faded green and yellow grass. Mighty boulders, large enough to crush a whole dwarf, were nothing but tiny pebbles from up here. The gushing streams, fed by the winter’s melted snow so they thundered down the mountains in shining waterfalls and roaring rapids, were just tiny blue-white threads. There was life down there, somewhere, wild goats or wandering dwarf outcasts, but any movement was impossible to see; only the gentle swaying of trees in the breeze or the odd cascading slide of rocks.
He was a ghost, not a being of flesh and blood, and the rest of the world could no longer hurt him.
It was the height of summer. The blazing sun was an almost oppressive force. The mountains were still, without a breath of wind sighing through their peaks. Karak Whitecap, at all other times of year hidden by thick blankets of snow, was naked and bare, its sides stripped of skree by the spring’s meltwater. On the other side, Karag Fanghorn’s massive spire gleamed in the sunlight, the outlines of clouds as they lazily drifted past the sun perfectly set onto the sheer granite cliff.
Grungni’s thick travelling clothes were heavy with sweat after weeks on the road. His royal cloak lay besides him, the golden dragon-head clasp unfastened. It had begun to tarnish, ever so slightly. It had been many, many long years since he had worn it, decades spent in the treasuries of Duraz Kazad, accumulating dust in the darkness.
His fingers slowly ran over the side of the bridge. In ages past, impossibly long ago, some craftsman had spent hour after hour carving tiny figures, hundreds of feet above the ground, where no-one could ever possibly see them unless they had wings. He could make out a troll, and a figure holding an axe, and a gaggle of goblins. They were impossibly detailed—he could make out cross-hatching on the blade of the axe, depicting the runes of some ancient hero’s legendary weapon; the fangs of the troll; the crooked weapons of the goblins.
Someone, millennia ago, had spent their time doing something that no-one else could ever possibly truly appreciate. Just because he could.
The Stair of Courage.
Back when the world was young, a hundred dwarfs laboured for a hundred years to craft a bridge between the peaks of two of the highest mountains in the World’s Edge.
Just because they could.
In those days, caravans of gold and jewels and silver had travelled this road. Mighty armies of veteran warriors had marched over this bridge. Ancient heroes had sat where had had sat. Legends amongst the dwarfs had been here.
States had been carved, statues of a size that would be unimaginable if the evidence of them had not been before his very eyes. Entire peaks had been knocked away to form the stern visage of some ancient king, mighty warrior or wise rune-lord. These giants stared down upon him, blaming him, asking him why the dawi’s ancient enemies walked their realm, why the shades of a hundred thousand unavenged warriors cried out for vengeance.
Their faces were worn and cracked now. None alive today had the time, or the skill, to repare them. To patch up the work of those ancient artists would be sacrilege. So age was allowed to carry out its inevitable war, wind and rain chipped away at the dwarfs’ legacy.
One day, the very mountains themselves would be brought down. Even if the dwarfs managed to prevail, even if they managed to fight off their attackers, protect their homes, regain what they had lost, it was all for naught—one day, everything would come to an end.
He felt safe here. Safe, at least, from bodily harm. His soul was still tormented by the weight hanging around his neck, the weight of his unfulfilled oaths, the weight of his unsettled grudges.
Karak Varn. Karak Drazh. Karak Ungor. Karuk Kara. Karak Eight Peaks itself. Karak Eight Peaks, the wonder of the world, the jewel in the dwarf crown. He was too young to have seen its glory before its fall, too young to walk through its narrow streets, to appreciate its famous gardens, to talk with its lore-masters and runesmiths. No, he had never been there, but he had heard about it in a hundred stories, a thousand songs.
A hundred stories, a thousand songs, and each of those with a bitter end.
He was a failure. He had fought battles, he had killed grobi and urks, elgi and manlings, skaven and followers of the dark gods—but for all his efforts, he was making no progress. His Book of Grudges became heavier and heavier, the weight on his shoulders more and more oppressive. And with every battle, more dwarfs died, more dwarfs than could be replaced. More dwarfs than could be avenged.
The dwarf race was dying. All knew it, but none dared say it.
They were dying hard, though. Dying hard.
His fist clenched. What did that matter? Soon enough—in the next few millennia, perhaps—the dwarfs would be nothing but a memory. Their homes would be empty, their works crumbled to dust, their songs and sagas forgotten.
He looked up. The sun blazed and blinded his eyes, but he made out the figure of Hjalmir Hjilmirson hurrying across the bridge to meet him. The beardling was still wearing his formal Hammerer armour. The beads of sweat on his shone in the sunlight.
“We’ve managed to get the pack animals up the climb. We’ll have to blindfold them to get them over the bridge, but Skalf says it shouldn’t be too hard.”
“We’re almost there. Only two more days to Karaz-a-Karak, if we travel fast. Goblins around here, but not too many, and we’re too heavily armed for the small tribes to bother.” He shielded his eyes, scanning the pass downwards from the opposite peak. “We should be safe, if we’re careful. And if not…” His face was pale, but determined. “Well…”
Grungni nodded and stood. He swayed slightly, dizzy after spending so long staring at the distant ground, and clasped Hjalmir’s arm.
Then he turned and walked on.
Gaius Marius - March 16, 2010 04:31 PM (GMT)
Nice story Fergo, its got potential to be something longer.
Balhaar - March 22, 2010 10:37 PM (GMT)
I liked this piece, I have not read any fan fiction for so long and when I saw you had a dwarf piece up again I thought I would break my streak of not reading stuff. After all, one of your dwarf pieces was the first ever warhammer fantasy stuff I ever read...and since then BL have had a fair amount of my earnings as I now buy more fantasy than I ever bought 40k....curse you Fergo!
As Gaius said, this could evolve into something longer and be a very nice tale.
I noticed a couple of typos so took the liberty of pointing them out (it's been a long time since I flexed the red fonts you see :P had to be done)
|Ancient heroes had sat where had had sat. Legends amongst the dwarfs had been here.|
I just noticed that and thought I'd point it out. Do you mean where 'he now sat'?
|The beads of sweat on his shone in the sunlight.|
You're missing a word there.
Tyrant - April 1, 2010 01:06 PM (GMT)
This is an excellent piece, really captures the sadness of the decline of the dwarf race. They know it's happening, but they battle on regardless, refusing to go quietly.
The detail about the images on the bridge is very poignant, and symbolic too: back in bygone centuries the dwarves could spend their time doing things like that, but now survival is their main concern and other things have started to fall by the wayside.
Very good work indeed.
the_unchanged - April 1, 2010 03:54 PM (GMT)
I just want to say that this is hauntingly beautiful.
The dwarves were never a race I had a lot of interest in but you paint them wonderfully here.
Good work mate keep it up.
Grenadier the 2nd - April 1, 2010 10:08 PM (GMT)
Beautiful, Fergo, just beautiful. I’ve never read an insight into the Dwarf mindset like this one. It’s intriguing to think that even they, the most stubborn of races, become weighed down with despair. The descriptions of the mountains and the bridge itself struck a very Lord of the Rings – esq note which I loved. This makes me hope that you do indeed one day write about Duraz Kazad.
Pip - April 1, 2010 10:30 PM (GMT)
This is incredibly good, fergo. As has been said, it's hauntingly beautiful, and a very different, realistic, and believable insight into a dwarf's head. It's clear from the outset that you know your dwarf's well, and you managed to keep me riveted for the entire story without a single piece of action or what would be described as an exciting event, which is highly impressive (considering my teenage attention span - Aaargh! Nobody's been shot - turn on the telly!).
The whole piece felt very poetic and well balanced and rounded, with very effective but not too extraneous or complicated description. I very much liked Grungni's down-to-earth attitude and style, it was unmistakably dwarfish, and gave the story a very interesting mood. I also loved the imagery you used to describe the bridge and the peaks, some very pure and beautiful stuff, made me wish I was still on holiday in the lake-district!
Overall, one of the best WFH pieces I've read in a while, and despite its brevity it was a highly submersive read.
Razhbad - April 2, 2010 09:51 AM (GMT)
This is beautofully written Fergo and does a great job of showing what the Dwarves have gone through and that no matter how hard they try sooner or later all their great works will come down.
You have done a good job and i think you could probably get it a lot further then this, i noticed no grammar or spelling mistakes for you clearly do a great job of handling the english language.
I was sllightly confused with the character of the stroy Grugni, is this the dwarf god. If so he seems a little to mortal from your tale.
J D Dunsany - April 5, 2010 09:16 AM (GMT)
Just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of approval.
This is beautiful stuff, hauntingly elegaic in its own way. Your writing is purposeful yet measured and your evocation of the stark beauty of the landscape is impressive.
There are one or two typos here and there, but they in no way detract from what is a sombre, yet beautiful piece of work. Your central character's reflection on the declining majesty of the dwarf race is very well done and entirely in keeping with the official lore and setting.
Like Gaius Marius, I'd say that you could go somewhere with this. That said, on its own, it's a strong, piquant piece of writing.
fergo - April 10, 2010 11:09 AM (GMT)
Thank you everyone's who's taken the time to read and comment, it means a lot :huh:.
Razhbad: This isn't the dwarf god Grungni, but Grungni Ironaxe, the Thane of my Hold. Back when I was first starting to piece together background for my TT army, I created this character, and I've been working on him ever since (in a manner of speaking). Thus, the unorigional (even for a dwarf) name.
When I wrote this, I actually considered making this part of a story. And yes, I would love to write about Duraz Kazad again. We'll see... my recent record of actually getting any writing done is far less than perfect. So many ideas, so bloody lazy... oh, and bleedin' exams as well, while I'm at it.
So, yeah. I'll try and think of something interesting to make a story out of. Again, thank you very much.