The Hammer of Hu'Mod Part 12
by Joe Solmo
It took nearly two days for Grian to get everything organized at the Red Rock Castle. The Desert Folk brought more and more people to the place. It would be their new home, fortified from the dangers of the desert, both man and beast.
They hailed Grian a hero, and a liberator, but he didn’t feel like either. The way they won left a bad taste in his mouth. He wished Skrat would have listened, stayed, explained his actions better. All of the brothers were upset about what had transpired. The horror their littlest brother brought down on the armies was unspeakable. Zeeg and Sreg both tried to apologize for the mage’s actions to Grian, saying they didn’t know he was capable of such atrocity. Grian nodded, mostly to make the brothers feel better, than an acceptance of the apology. Only Skrat could apologize for his actions, and even that wouldn’t fix what he had done.
By far Moose took it the worst. He sat on top of the gate house every day looking out over the desert, waiting for Skrat to come home. The big man’s body shook with sobs between frustrated bouts of anger and most of the desert Folk avoided him after two incidents that left concerned desert folk asking if he was ok having to see Grian’s healing abilities first hand.
During those two days Grian would study the Keystone when he had a chance. It called to him in his dreams, telling him to carry it back to the temple, but the dwarf felt a stronger obligation to end the chaos of what happened in the desert.
The guards watching the mysterious dwarven profit were found burned to death the day after the battle. No one said so, but Skrat was on all their minds. What the young mage would want with such a scoundrel, Grian wondered.
Birell dove right into planning and organizing though, and Grian was very grateful for that. The elf seemed to have a knack for it. In all honesty the dwarf just wanted to head back to the temple and finish his quest, and every day that passed, that became a bigger and bigger priority.
One the morning of the third day Grian decided it was time to move on. Wind Dancer had taken over the responsibility of the castle until the now combined forces could find a chieftain to rule over all. Grian didn’t want to stick around for the politics. He never was interested in such a thing.
The remaining brothers and Birell took it well. The Desert Folk were busy trying to organize their new home. Word was spreading about the castle and the people of the desert were coming in droves. None of them had seen any sign of Skrat.
Even though his actions shamed the brothers, they still were eager to track him down and get an explanation. The young mage was last seen heading back towards the Wood of the Damned when he left the castle, so the brothers decided to tag along with Grian at least back to the temple, unless another sign of Skrat was found.
Just after the morning meal the companions tried to leave, but Wind Dancer had a surprise for them. The original warriors that accompanied Grian to the castle wished to remain in his service. It took almost an hour to convince them that time was of the essence and a smaller group could travel faster.
A compromise was created when Grian told the army commanders where his destination was to be and they agreed to follow the party and meet them there. Grian had to promise to wait there for them to give out new orders. The dwarf hoped he could get a nice head start. The army would take time to get ready to depart.
Birell, Grian and the brothers snuck out before lunch, leaving on the horses the castle had in abundance. The grumpy dwarf rode a smaller pony, a sensation he didn’t like, and one in which he was very vocal about, but the ride would help him get to his destination faster.
The first day no one really talked. Grian thought everyone was still dealing with the betrayal of Skrat almost a week ago. He looked at Moose with pity as the large man walked next to the horses. He would rather walk and his long strides could keep up. The sadness on his face was nothing compared to his eyes.
Grian noticed the large brother’s eyes had changed. His gaze was hard to look at. It nearly brought Grian to tears himself. Sreg would joke with Birell here and there, but it was easy to see he really wasn’t into it. In a sense he was grieving for a lost loved one as much so as a widow or widower does.
Zeeg had a brave face as he took point on the trip, magical shield strapped to his left arm, he hid his emotion the best, but when he thought no one was looking he let his guard down and Grian could see the pain as well.
The first night they camped out, Grian moved away from the group to commune with Hu’Mod. He asked for a way to take his friend’s pain. Grian waited a few hours but no solution came to him. The pain was a necessity, he thought.
He returned to the campfire, determined to get at least one person to smile before they turned in for the night. He contemplated cutting his beard to make them laugh, but even the dwarven exile couldn’t shave his beard.
“Birell. Do you know why the elves have pointy ears?” he asked. The elf turned towards him as she bit into the dried meat they had packed for the journey. Once they got to the forest Sreg would try to hunt for game.
All eyes turned to the dwarf in anticipation. He made sure to make eye contact with each and every one of them before he spoke. “It’s to counter their dull personalities,” he said. Dead silence fell in the cool desert night. A few awkward seconds passed then Grian couldn’t hold the grin in any longer. His teeth shone through the burly beard adorning his face and then he burst out with laughter.
Grian was the only one to laugh at first, but slowly the others came around. First Sreg, then Zeeg, and finally the elf. The relief of stress felt good and they could be companions once again.
Skrat looked at the prophet across from his fire. HE had to suffer the company of the dwarf a little longer. The incessant prattling on about Lod’rum was driving the young mage crazy. A lot of things had changed over the last few days. Some were absolutely necessary but regrettable. Even though he had gained his memories back, he still had to admit he cared, at least a little, about those he called brothers.
As his magic power grew, and he started to use more powerful spells, snippets of his memory had returned. That was how he had learned the invisibility spell in the first place. He just knew it. He kept it secret from the others because he began to suspect he was so much more than just a young mage.
In a way he had to thank that dwarf, Grian. If they hadn’t joined forces, Skrat never would have needed to cast such powerful spells. He thought about the dwarf and his quest. It was inevitable that his memory would have returned even if he hadn’t cast a spell. The keystone, when activated, unlocked all locks, be them magical, mental or physical. Sooner or later the dwarf would have activated it in his presence and all of them would have remembered.
That could have been a bad thing, a very bad thing. In a sense they were brothers, but not in the traditional sense. But if they remembered what he was, who he was before they awoke with amnesia he doubted they would still think of him as family.
His eyes turned back towards the prophet. He was still going on about the glory of Lod’rum, and spitting his food as he talked with a mouthful. Skrat wished he could end the dwarf’s life right now, but he needed him.
Lod’rum played into Skrat’s plans, and therefore so did his prophet. He needed to keep the dwarf safe for the time being. If he had to listen to the prattle of a madman for a few days until they reached the temple, then so be it, the reward will be worth it.
Skrat put down his plate, having lost his appetite after watching the dwarf spit bits of hare as he ranted. The young mage stood, and walked towards his blankets, with a small ball of light circling him. He grabbed a spell book from his pack and pulled it out to read. As he flipped through the pages he realized that the book no longer held anything new for him. He knew everything in it.
He walked back to the fire and tossed the ancient tome in. Its old dry pages, went up in green flame as the magic was released. It was worth it so see the alarm on the prophet’s face. With a smile, Skrat returned to his blanket, and in the stunned silence left, he drifted off to sleep.
The next morning Grian woke with a refreshing vigor he hadn’t felt in some time. Gone, or at least distant was the distractions and responsibilities of running an army and he could concentrate on the mission Hu’Mod had sent him on. He appreciated everyone that had helped him get the Keystone for his god, but all the politics and maneuvering was too much for the simple tastes of the dwarf.
He was surprised that Birell greeted him with a smile when he left his blankets, and even the brothers were conversing as they gathered up the camp supplies. He felt a hundred times better now that they were somewhat back to the way they were. Except for Moose.
Moose never really let go of the pain. The big man couldn’t hide it, but he did at least make an effort to be congenial. If things grew too quiet for a while though, the biggest brother was staring off in the direction Skrat had gone. There was no doubt the mage was on his mind.
Conversing with Moose was hard enough, but Zeeg and Sreg seemed to be able to get more from the conversation than the quick monosyllable words that escaped his lips. Grian wondered if a bigger intelligence rested inside his massive head. What a torture that would be, to be so intelligent, but unable to articulate it.
Grian ate a quick meal of dried meat and helped the rest of them finish packing. He remembered an old dwarven marching song, and started to whistle the tune, to get everyone in a good mood. It was a catchy song, just as many dwarven boots as mugs of ale moved to that song over the ages. Birell even joined in although she said the melody sounded like an elven child’s first attempt at music. He assumed that was a joke and laughed, but Birell didn’t smile. He patted her on the back and marched ahead, oblivious to her comment.
“How long until we reach the Woods?” he asked Sreg a little later.
“Another two days I think,” the ranger replied. He was crouched down looking at foot prints in the sand. “Two sets. This one is definitely his, the others are deeper and wider, possibly the prophet.”
“What would cause those two too travel together?” Zeeg asked. Moose nodded letting everyone know that question was on his mind as well.
“I don’t know. But now we do know how the prophet escaped. Skrat must have let him go,” Grian said.
“How do you think he gained his memory back?” Grian asked.
“The bigger question is why he wouldn’t share that information with the rest of us,” Zeeg said. Moose nodded his agreement.
“When I find him, I’m going to wring his little neck,” Sreg said punching the palm of his left hand. Even though the gesture looked tough, everyone knew he didn’t mean it.
“Where do you think he is headed?” the dwarf asked.
“The same way we are, at least for now, maybe we can catch him. He have been making good time,” Sreg said standing and stretching. Birell also examined the sand.
“They traveled by night, and not that long ago. The sand they stirred up is cold and moist,” she said.
“Ok keep your eyes peeled maybe we can overtake them during the day,” the dwarf said and hefted his backpack.
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