The Hammer of Hu'Mod Part 13
by Joe Solmo
Nothing ever looked so good, as the tree line in front of me,” Grian thought, standing on a larger dune. A few more hours and he would be out of the blasted sun and in the cool shade of trees. Not much longer now and he would be back in the presence of his god, Hu’Mod. He couldn’t stand still, the energy grew in him every step closer to the temple.
They had followed signs of another party, smaller the entire way, it had to be Skrat and the dwarven prophet, but they hadn’t been able to gain on them. It seemed no matter how long they marched, the young mage kept a step ahead of them. It was frustrating as hell, he thought, lowering his dusty hand from his forehead.
“It will be so great to take a bath again. This dust gets everywhere,” Birell said as she approached, nearly mimicking his thoughts. He jumped, he hadn’t noticed her approaching. He had forgotten how quiet elves could be.
“Aye lass. I need to beat my beard against the rocks like an old carpet, and it’s starting to smell,” the dwarf paladin replied. His remark brought a smile to the elf’s eyes. He enjoyed her smile, it was full of warmth and life. So different than the grumpy dwarves he was used too. Even among the elves he had met, her smile stood out.
“First stream deeper than my wineskin I am tossing you in,” she said with a wink. Grian missed the banter they had, like when they had first met. It made him feel better, somehow. Like maybe things hadn’t changed as much in the world as he had thought. He turned and looked back into the Akridlands. He could see the dust cloud in the distance of his army on the move. He sighed as the illusion of better times faded.
“Let’s get a move on, Lass. I want to feel the shade of those trees by midafternoon,” he said and half jumped, half slipped down the loose sand of the dune back to the party. “It’s in sight lads. We are almost out of this desert.”
The looks of relief on the brothers’ faces made the dwarf smile, too bad no one could see it under his beard. Skrat had to be heading towards the temple as well. If not why wouldn’t he seek another, more direct route back to civilization? The brothers can finally get answers from the young mage, and Grian can learn from Hu’Mod. Grian quickly tried to think of something negative to offset all the good things he was thinking of before he cursed his good luck.
“I got to say, Grian. Throughout all of this, you have been steady, like a rock for us to lean on. No matter what happens you have been there for us,” Zeeg said clapping the dwarf on the back. “Nothing phases you, does it?”
“I just hide it better than others, lad,” Grian said and laughed. The two of them picked up their heavy leather packs and shouldered them.
“I don’t think he knows how to take a compliment,” Birell said with an amused look on her face.
“Either do you, my little wood nymph,” Sreg said with a wide grin and a wink. Birell smacked him across the face with an open hand. His cheek turned white then red from the impact. The sound of the slap echoed off the large rocks that dotted the landscape. Sreg raised a hand to his cheek as a tear of pain ran down it.
“You just made my point,” he said, with a hint of resentment in his voice. The exchange made everyone laugh, except Moose, who thought the slap was serious. He moved his large frame between the two, to referee the situation. The stern look on his face made Grian laugh even more.
With the renewed vigor of their rest, the small party moved ever closer to the forest of the world they were familiar with. Even though Grian wasn’t particularly fond of forests, he liked them a heck of a lot better than the Akridlands. He liked almost anything better than the dry sand whipping him in the face.
After an hour or so; the party could make out the forest edge in the distance. A plume of smoke rose from the edge of the forest. At first the group didn’t know what to make of it. I couldn’t be more troops from the Tower, Grian thought. Besides, they didn’t have Skrat with them anymore.
“I’ll scout them out,” Sreg volunteered. He gave his pack to Moose and trotted off before anyone could try to stop him.
“Birell, can you keep him out of trouble?” Grian asked. The elf rolled her eyes and sighed.
“Consider it done, Commander,” she said and gave him a wink to let him know she wasn’t serious. She followed the ranger’s footsteps in the sand.
“Only the brains of the operation left,” Zeeg said, hefting his shield to redistribute its weight.
“Taking humor lessons from Sreg?” Grain asked.
“No, Moose,” Zeeg said and started walking. The dwarf jogged to catch up to the oldest of the brothers. Moose took up the rear guard as they made their way closer.
It only took a few minutes for Birell to return to them. She was out of breath when she arrived. The elf was in great shape, she must have been running as fast as she could. “We got a problem,” she said between fast breaths.
“Where is Sreg?” Zeeg asked. Moose nodded and grunted, showing he also wanted the answer to that question.
“That’s the problem. They captured him. I couldn’t get to him in time. They were waiting,” she said.
“Who?” Grian asked.
“Dwarves, Firehammer Clan, at least fifty,” she said as she regained her composure. Grian felt the blood drain from his face. What were his Clansmen doing so far from home? They must be looking for him. This can’t be good. Grian’s head sagged, and then his knees gave out. The next thing he knew he was kneeling in the fine sand.
“Any sign of Skrat?” Zeeg asked.
“Not that I saw, but the prophet is there. I saw him. He was leading Sreg towards a large blue tent just outside the tree line.
“That would be the leader. Burir. My uncle,” Grian said weakly. “They must have come to get me. How did they find out?”
“How are we going to get Sreg back?” Zeeg asked.
“How can we get past them and get the keystone to the temple?” Birell said.
“If only I knew lass,” Grian replied and hung his head low. He began to pray to his god for guidance. If his clansmen were here he was going to need it.
“What’s the plan?” Zeeg asked. “Will they hurt him?”
“No, my clansmen may come down hard on me, but they aren’t a violent bunch. He is safe as long as he keeps his mouth shut,” Grian said. Both Zeeg and the dwarf exchanged glances with each other. “We need to get him out of there,” Grian finished.
“Now that I know they are there I can scout the place. I will circle around back,” Birell said with a nod.
“I don’t want you to get caught too,” Grian said opening his eyes.
“I’m not a clumsy oaf human,” she said. “No offense guys,” she said almost as an afterthought to Moose and Zeeg.
“None taken, your people are well known for stealthy movements, especially in the forests,” Zeeg said. Moose just grunted back. Birell wasn’t sure which way to take it.
“If I am not back in half an hour, find a way around,” the elf said and darted off to the right. They watched her until they lost sight of her and turned to each other.
“Does Sreg get captured a lot?” Grian asked.
“Yes, actually,” Zeeg replied.
“I know my people. They won’t hurt him,” Grian said putting his hand on Zeeg’s arm. The dwarf wished he knew for a fact that was true. To see this many of his clan so far from home, they have to be in a fervor. Dwarves are homebodies by trade. It really didn’t look good for him.
They couldn’t take it anymore and moved forward among the rocks, careful to keep their heads down. It didn’t take long for them to find a good vantage point and cover in the rocks that littered the edge of the Akridlands. Those rocks steadily grew in size until they became the bedrock the distant Grynn Mountains rested upon. Those mountains seemed so far away from where they were. How far those dwarves travelled just to find me, Grian thought.
From their vantage point Grian could make out some of the faces of the dwarves. Memories came rushing back to him as he recognized both family and old friends. He instantly felt the shame that consumed him before he left home, years ago.
The way the camp was set up, it looked like they had been there for a while, but how did they know he was ever here. Was there someone tracking him? He thought of Birell and their chance meeting in the forest. It couldn’t be possible, could it?
Grian pointed to the large tent in the middle of the temporary camp the Firehammer dwarves had set up. “That’s where they be keepin’ your brother,” Grian whispered to Zeeg. Moose, kneeling behind them grunted.
“Not yet, we have to do this right,” Zeeg said in reply. “We don’t want to hurt Grian’s family do we?” Zeeg asked the big man.
“No. Hurt Sreg. I hurt little men,” Moose said, furrowing his brow in concentration.
“Let’s hope it don’t come to that, aye?” Grian said envisioning the impact a raging Moose would have on that camp.
“Any sign of Birell?” Zeeg asked. “Your eyes are better than mine.
“Nothing. She is hidden well. Maybe after this she should train Sreg how to scout,” Grian said.
“After this maybe we can retire. Everything will be great after you return the keystone to the temple right? Hu’Mod comes back to the world and we all live happily ever after?” Zeeg asked.
“He didn’t fill me in on the details. I was to find the keystone and release him,” the paladin said, subconsciously feeling bulge of the stone in his pack with his left hand. “Maybe he will give me another quest after this one is done. I won’t lie, I can’t wait until this one is over, but I feel I have a lot more to give,” Grian explained.
“I’m sure your god will have use for a faithful paladin like you. No need to worry about that,” Zeeg said. Moose put a large hand on the dwarf’s shoulder. The sheer mass of the man’s hand pushed down on the dwarf. Moose gave Grian a reassuring nod, and a rare smile from the giant of a man.
“Thanks, Moose,” the dwarf said. “Don’t worry. We will get your brother back safe and sound. I promise. Birell should be back soon with some answers.” Everyone peeked out over the rocks as if to see Birell approaching. Instead they saw a group of dwarves heading to the edge of the camp.
“GRIAN FIREHAMMER!” came a loud voice from the camp. A dwarf with a waist length red beard came out of the camp and stood just on the edge of the sand, next to him stood the prophet that allegedly traveled with Skrat.
“COME OUT LAD. WE NEED TO TALK. WE KNOW YE ARE HERE,” the red bearded dwarf yelled.
“Oh no,” Grian said.
“IT’S TIME YOU COME HOME. YOU CANNOT RUN ANY LONGER. I HAVE HEARD SOME DISTRUBING THINGS,” the voice said. Grian flinched with every word. He ducked down and put his back to the rocks covering his party from the camp.
“This is not good. Not good at all,” Grian said shaking his head. He put his face into his hands and started to shake his head, mumbling to himself.
“What? They must have known you were here, why is that so surprising?” Zeeg said, crouching behind the rocks.
“That’s me father,” Grian said.
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