It was a clear, beautiful day in Boundlake, a walled town in the south of Honingond, if a little hot.
Late afternoon brought the sun into the eyes of anyone facing the gates, but that wasn’t a problem for two young dwarves in full guard uniforms walking further into the village.
Their faces were drenched in sweat and they were breathless, more from jovial laughter than exhaustion.
The younger, though not by much, used his battle axe as a walking stick while the older prefered a one handed axe paired with a shield which bore the seal of the Metalhorn clan.
As they walked, a middle aged dwarf came out to meet them.
“How did training day go, boys?” His tone was warm and familiar.
The older of the pair laughed. “How do you think, Father?”
“Your son may only know one thing, but he knows it well.” The younger, Herron, shot a mischievous look around the group.
The elder examined the shield. marrs were beginning to become visible in spite of the dwarven craftsmanship. “Bruluth, you rely too much on that thing. It’s going to get you in trouble.
” Indeed, years as a spy in Dolumen had taught him how a shield could be bypassed entirely.
Herron nodded vigorously, “See? I keep telling you. You’re a guard, not a wall.”
Bruluth disregarded their criticism with a smirk, “I beat you with it, and I’d like you to name one guard who does more than the wall to protect Boundlake.
Besides, my skill set keeps me posted at the gate instead of dealing with every rogue which gets rowdy.”
“It is also why they passed you over for Captain of the watch.” Herron gestured to the badge of office hanging from his own neck.
“I think it all worked out perfectly.”
Herron almost felt flattered, but remembered it was his best friend speaking. He braced himself for the punchline.
Bruluth grinned. “You get to be Captain, and I get to be the guy who kicks the Captain’s ass. I like my title better.”
They were interrupted by a runner speeding down the street yelling, “Metalhorns! Meet in the square! Metalhorns! Meet in the square!...”
The three dwarves all did as instructed. The square was packed. Most of the town was dwarves, and half of those were of the Metalhorn clan.
Another dwarf, a peer of Bruluth’s father, squinted from atop a box to probe the crowd in spite of the setting sun. Upon seeing him, he ran over and pulled him away.
Batrog Metalhorn, the undisputed leader of the clan, was helped on top of the box.
His incredibly advanced age had finally made him stop challenging everyone who offered to help him around to a duel, but he could still frighten anyone who offered too much help.
Now, though, the scowl on his face had nothing to do with any of that.
“Clan Metalhorn!” His voice boomed across the square. “I have horrible news.”
Bruluth looked to see what had happened to his father. He was standing with his friend in the corner, crying. Bruluth’s heart sank.
“Kaduth’s wife, Fallu, has been taken by the blasted orc lords of that sty across the lake. We all know Thindroulin, and she would never do anything to deserve detainment.
We have spoken as elders, and we have decided that clan Metalhorn will put an end to that infernal settlement once and for all!”
The crowd erupted in indignant rage. It was true that Thindroulin was well known and liked in Boundlake.
It was also the truth that the elders of the clan had the authority to take the whole clan into a conflict. There was, however, a way to stop it.
To the surprise of all, Bruluth himself took that action.
“Wait!” Silence fell.
No noise but the wind as Bruluth made his way through the crowd to the box, which was grudgingly offered up by Batrog.
Standing atop the box, with all eyes on him, Bruluth took a moment to collect his thoughts.
“Clan Metalhorn. I do not doubt that what Batrog has told us is true. However, many in the settlement do not know what their lords have done.
My mother is known for many things, but assigning blame beyond those who have earned it is not one of them.
We have traded and dealt with people who live there, there must be another way to deal with this than slaughter.”
The crowd murmured.
Batrog took back the box. “You embarrass yourself, young Bruluth. It is the way of the world that lords are responsible for those who they rule.
It is not our wrongdoing, but theirs that will bring their destruction. WHO’S WITH ME?!”
The crowd erupted once again.
“Then sharpen your swords and polish your armor! We attack at dawn!”
The crowd dissipated quickly. Every dwarf knew that the matter was settled, and these bakers, smiths, architects, and artists instantly became soldiers.
Barely a word was spoken when all returned to their homes and began preparing, then went to their beds to rest for the battle the next day.
When all had gone to sleep, Bruluth still could not justify this conflict to himself.
He rose from his bed and sneaked to the stables, and rode as quickly as he could with his combat gear to the other side of the lake, where he was met by the guards of Mountain City.
It was named in jest, as there were not enough houses to hold half of the fighting force which would be meeting it tomorrow.
Still, it boasted a wall to rival Boundlake’s own, and a third of the populace were guards.
“Hold! Who is it!” A gruff orc voice greeted Bruluth.
“I’ve come to bargain for a prisoner.”
“The dwarf lady, I guess?”
“Yeah, she rubbed the lord the wrong way. He’ll let’er go sometime soon.”
“If she isn’t let go tonight, I suggest you and everyone but your lord leave now and don’t turn back.”
The guard drew his weapon. “Is that a threat?”
Bruluth shook his head, “A warning. Metalhorn is coming unless she is returned.”
The guard turned and called to a comrade, who took his post as he ran to the only decently sized house in the place.
Minutes later, Bruluth’s mother was not freed, but every guard had been awakened and called to prepare.
The guard returned to Bruluth. “The lord would rather stomp on a herd of dwarves than release one that insulted him. Run back now.”
“Your family will die if this happens.”
“I don’t got a family.”
There was one more chance to stop this slaughter. Bruluth sat outside the gate and waited until the sun came up, and sure enough 300 dwarves marched on Mountain City.
Leading them were the highest ranking Metalhorn militiaman, the patriarch of the Metalhorns, and the slighted party. That is, Bruluth’s best friend, his mentor, and his father.
Bruluth placed himself between the attacking and defending forces, facing his friends.
Herron and Batrog came forward, but his father refused to look at him, and stared straight ahead. They stopped ten yards away, and Batrog looked about to speak when Herron erupted.
“What are you doing, idiot? Get in line, we’ll forget about your stupid screw-up!”
Bruluth didn’t move, and held eye contact with Herron until Batrog spoke. “Boy, this is your clan. You don’t go against your clan.”
“If I don’t, innocent people will die. I want to, but if you are intent on going through with this, I can’t.”
“Boy, this is your last chance. This does not happen.”
Herron spoke up again, “Think about it, Bruluth. Even if we did turn back, there’s no way they would give your mother back now. The battle lines are drawn.”
“You’re absolutely right...and...I’m on this side of them.”
“Batrog’s voice raised so all in the army could hear, “You made your bed, now you’re going to sleep in it! You are stripped of the name Metalhorn! Goodbye, Bruluth Clanhurled! Fire!”
Bruluth could barely raise his shield fast enough for several arrows to hit it. He stood steadfast, waiting for the first wave of assault to break over his shield.
He watched the front of the army. But where had his father gone?
He felt Kaduth’s favorite dagger enter his ribcage.
His father’s voice came from behind him. It whispered and cracked with his father’s tears, “I can’t lose your mother.”
Batrog grimaced. He clearly felt no pleasure in this. When he saw the Metalhorn seal on the shield, he tore it from Bruluth as he sank to the ground.
Bruluth’s ears were ringing and he fought to stay awake when the charge was sounded. He tried to scream, to beg for mercy from any god that would have him, but no sound came out.
He lost consciousness to the sound of screams, ringing steel, and crackling flames.
Bruluth awoke in a covered wagon, next to an elf mixing healing herbs. The elf’s cuts, dirty clothes, and overall unhappiness identified him clearly as a refugee of Mountain City.
Upon seeing Bruluth stirring, he did his best to conjure a smile.
“Good to see you awake. It’s been three days, but I think you’ll be ready to go soon.”
“Where are we going?”
“Away. Out of Honingond. It’s about time: I serve the gods where I am needed, but I must say I’m glad to be rid of this backwards nation. What I wouldn’t give to see Orlien again….”
“Hooray for you, but I don’t want to leave. This is my home.” Bruluth sat up and began to make his way to the door, but the elf stopped him by handing him a piece of parchment.
On it was a picture of him offering a bounty of 2500 gold pieces under the picture was the name Bruluth Clanhurled.
“You won’t be able to go outside until we are clear of this barbaric land.”
“I can’t just sit here and do nothing.”
“Then here, begin to culture yourself.” He shoved a spellbook into Bruluth’s hands. Looking around, there were books on magic scattered throughout the wagon.
Bruluth grudgingly sank back, and began to read.