The Hammer of Hu'Mod Part 6
by "Splatter" Joe Solmo
The party sat around a large bonfire on stone carved benches the entire village shared. Smaller fires surrounded the desert camp of around three hundred people, lighting up the immediate area while sentries watched diligently into the night. Grian thought it looked less like a village and more like a tent city he had witnessed in the poorer districts of the human lands he had passed through.
Birell sat on the left of him, slowly picking at the food the Desert Folk had offered them on bent tin plates. Grian thought the food tasted decent, especially after a few days of the dried rations but he could see the look of distaste on the elf’s face.
“Come now, lass. It’s not so bad. Reminds me of me mom’s own cooking,” he said elbowing her in the side with a smile.
“Was your mom a victim of a head wound,” Birell asked as she dropped the chunk of lizard meat back onto the tin plate.
“She was a master chef among dwarves,” Grian said.
“That doesn’t say much.” Birell put the plate down and reached into her bag for some dried meat. She snuck a bite when she thought White Light wasn’t looking. It tasted a world better than the lizard that these people regularly supped on.
Grian turned to his right, Zeeg sat there staring into the fire, deep in thought. The dwarf studied the eldest brother. He couldn’t see the family resemblance of any of them but it was obvious that they cared for each other. Even Moose, the simple man that he was, carried a deep love for his three brothers.
“Zeeg, there is something I have been meaning to ask you since the fight with the Tower Guard,” Grian said. The eldest brother didn’t stir, but Grian thought he saw a tear streak down his face in the firelight. “Zeeg?”
The leader turned towards him. “Oh, sorry, thinking too hard I guess,” he said and wiped his face with his hands. “What did you say, Grian?”
“I want to ask you about the Tower,” the young dwarf said.
Zeeg looked over to his youngest brother Skrat sitting with his back to the bonfire so that he could hold a book up and read it in the light. “I guess I owe that. You did risk your life for us,” Zeeg said with a sigh.
“What happened? Really,” Grian asked.
“The truth is,” Zeeg started looking around at Moose sitting next to Skrat like a silent sentinel and then at Sreg trying to make Birell laugh with a funny face. “About a month before we brought Skrat to the tower to learn, we all woke up around a campfire in the mountains above Lake West. None of us could remember who we were. Each of us had a piece of parchment pinned to our chests with our names on it. Skrat had several books laying around him. All the notes were written in Skrat’s handwriting. There was a short note sticking out of one of his books that just said find the way home,” the eldest brother said.
“We travelled for a while and stumbled into the village that surrounded the Tower. We learned young wizards went there for training and they had a ton of magical devices stored away in their basements. We signed Skrat up to go in and try to find something, either a spell or device, to help us get our memories back.”
“He was there only a short time. They realized he was more powerful than all the students, and most of the instructors and wanted to keep an eye on him. I convinced him to explore the basements when they weren’t looking, and when he did he found a device he thought could help us get home. When he activated it, it backfired magically caving in the chamber he was in and the floor of the room above, which housed a small dining area. Skrat instinctively cast some kind of protection spell on himself, which is the only reason he is still alive now because the stone floor from the room above that also broke apart and fell on those dining. They branded Skrat a murderer when they found he had survived and was the one who activated the device. He ran to us, who had found menial jobs in the village to stay close to him, and we fled. They sent the guard after us and I lost a very important shield I carried with me, but we escaped with our lives,” Zeeg finished.
“That’s quite the story, lad,” Grian said nodding. The dwarf looked up as Sreg approached his brother.
“That’s the truth. Now you know all about us dwarf, I hope my brother’s trust isn’t misplaced,” the archer said.
“Not at all, we all have our secrets, I have confided in you as well,” Grian said.
“True, I am just used to being on my guard,” Sreg said and smiled. “No offence.”
“None taken, lad. It’s a shame you don’t know who you are,” Grian said.
“Maybe it’s for the best, we can reinvent ourselves, be the people we want to be instead of who we were,” Zeeg said.
“You don’t need amnesia to do that, just perseverance,” Grian said.
“Spoken like a true scholar,” Skrat said as he handed the dwarf something. He looked down and saw it was a stone with a quartz embedded in it. “Here, it’s an Eyestone. One of the symbols of Hu’Mod. It is supposed to grant wisdom to the person who holds it. It took me some time to research how to make it,” Skrat said.
“You made this?” Grian asked.
“Yes, I tinker with creating magical things. I don’t know if it will work, since I am not a cleric of Hu’Mod, but maybe you can ask him to infuse it with his power. I just used my magic to work the stone and quartz,” Skrat said.
“I thank ye, lad,” Grian said and bowed.
“It’s the least I could do for helping us with the Tower Guard. I wish that to be the end of it, but I am sure when that party doesn’t return they will send another,” the youngest brother said and sighed. “It really was an accident.”
“I know it was,” Grian said and turned the stone over. The quartz made its way through the center of stone, but he couldn’t see a seam in the work. Even the best stone masons among his people couldn’t do that.
Skrat nodded and walked back to his bench and grabbed his book. Moose petted the back of his head like he was a child. Compared to Moose he was, thought Grian. The kid surprised him, there was an intelligence beyond his years behind those eyes.
Grian slid the stone into his pocket and took a deep pull off the clay tankard of ale they had given him at the start of the meal. He had refilled it three times since then, and it made him think of home.
It was no secret that the dwarves enjoyed their drink, but it was so much more than that. A real good batch was an almost religious experience to them. Grian’s uncles were all master brewers for the family business. A business that stretched back for generations. Grian’s father chose a different path and found comfort in more artistic endeavors, and began carving images from both wood and stone when he was still a boy. It nearly came to blows, at least that was what Grian had heard when his father first told his grandfather that he didn’t want to work in the brewery with the rest of family. The scandal spread through the mountainside village fast.
It wasn’t that the dwarves didn’t enjoy good art. Quite to the contrary they loved a good stone carving, but there was two things the dwarves loved more. Drinking and tradition, in that order. Not following in the family business was practically unheard of in the dwarven community. Maybe that’s why father went easy on me, Grian thought. Maybe his father saw a part of him in his son.
There was no way to know now. He could never go home and face his people. By now the dwarves have put him out of mind in their stubbornness, forgetting he even existed. It was better that way for now. At least until he could bring proof back to them of Hu’Mod’s love. It would take some time, but he was confident it would happen.
“What’s on your mind,” Birell asked clasping her hand on his shoulder. “We are not in danger at the moment, and you have plenty to drink, try to relax. We will have plenty of time to be worried about what’s ahead tomorrow,” she said.
“Who would have thought an elf could be wise,” he said with a sly smile and Birell punched him in the arm.
“I’m sure there is a lot of information about the elven people that can’t find its way through that thick dwarven skull,” she replied with a smile.
“You’re right, lass. I should take some time to appreciate these few moments of safety before we head back to the dangerous path ahead of us. Thank you for reminding me to appreciate the little things,” he said.
“Are you calling me little? I’m at least six inches taller than you!” she said and held her mug out.
“Aye but you’re as big around as the haft on me weapon,” he said and crashed his tankard into her mug spilling both her desert wine and his ale onto the sandy earth below.
“I like the way she looks,” Sreg said approaching them.
“I bet you do,” Grian said with a smile. “I’m going to go find a refill.” With that the dwarf rose and stumbled his way towards the ale tent. As he went he wondered why he didn’t just sit near the tent instead of all this walking back and forth.
“He’s an interesting character, isn’t he,” Sreg said watching Grian drunkenly zigzag across the clearing.
“Yes, he is. I believe in him though. He will play an important role in our lives,” the elf said.
“Yeah, I do too,” Sreg said. They clanged their drinks together much gentler and took sips from their wine.
Grian approached the tent that housed the kegs the Desert Folk kept their drinks in. Earlier they explained they didn’t brew it themselves, but traded the Kamock meat for it, among other things. The dwarf liked the earthy flavor of this strain of brew. He put his tankard down on the makeshift counter in front of the tent and it was soon replaced with a full one.
“Enjoying our hospitality?” Spirit Walker said as he approached.
“Yes, thank you,” Grian said and took a sip of his fresh ale.
“I was hoping I would have a chance to talk to you alone, Grian,” the shaman said.
“What about?” the dwarf asked.
“I am interested in how you heal. Do you use any herbs in treatment or is it all from your God?” the shaman asked.
“Everything I do comes straight from Hu’Mod,” Grian explained. “I am merely his vessel used to channel his power.”
“Interesting,” Spirit Walker said. “We have no gods here, but we do have ancestors that watch over us. I can walk among them for advice and sometimes they will answer our prayers, I would assume they play the role of gods.”
Grian studied the shaman over the top of his tankard. The Desert Folk’s spiritual leader seemed nervous. “What has you so jumpy, my friend?” Grian asked.
“My people come to me, to know the ways of the world. When they ask me I tell them our ancestors look out for us, that the gods spoken of in our oral histories do not exist, if they ever did. Then living proof of their existence one days walks into our village. I am just afraid that I will lose the trust of my people,” the shaman explained.
“I don’t wish to cause any harm. We can tell them the power comes from my ancestors, if you want,” Grian said.
“Honestly I want them to know the truth, whatever that may be. I do speak to the ancestors, I walk among them. That is not a lie. They have never mentioned gods to me. Are you sure your power comes from one and not just a magical source?” Spirit Walker asked.
“I am going to assume you didn’t mean to offend me with at question, but yes my power comes from the god Hu’Mod. I have spoken to him in person. All magic is a gift of gods. I do not intend to step on your toes here, if that is ye concern, shaman,” Grian said.
“Of course you wouldn’t. Please don’t be offended,” Spirit Walker said. Then after a moment of thought. “Think no more of it. Have a good time and I wish you success on your journey,” he finished and walked off into the village leaving Grian standing there.
He never thought that his finding Hu’Mod’s favor and quest might negatively affect others. How can something so great do that? He sighed and took another drink. His tankard was now half empty. He turned back to the man standing behind the counter. “Can I get another one of these to go?” he asked.
When Grian returned to his companions with a drink in each hand, White Light was sitting among them explaining how his people got his name. His was from when he got struck by lightning when he was only a child, but survived. On their thirteenth birthday each child can pick his adult name, and he picked a defining moment in his life, showing his strength. A constant reminder of that strength helped him become leader of his village.
The Desert Folk allowed anyone to try to become leader, through a series of tests of both the body and mind, against any and all others every three years. It had served them well so far and White Light had won the last twelve years in a row.
Grian kept his eyes out for the shaman, but Spirit Walker didn’t show back up that night. The dwarf hoped the shaman didn’t hate him. They would be leaving in the morning for the red castle and would be out of his life. The rest of the village treated them well, although they didn’t trust outsiders these came with White Light’s blessing, and a successful return from a hunt was always a reason to celebrate.
The night grew cold in the desert and some of the Folk went to curl up in their tents while others who hadn’t had enough yet stayed close to the fires burning in the center of the village. The wood they had was treated with a substance that made it burn slower because wood was scarce here in the desert.
Sometime in the wee hours of the morning, Grian, the last of his party, finally put his head down to sleep. The tent he slept in he shared with Moose and Skrat. The former never leaving his young brothers side.
When Grian woke the next morning a piercing light from outside blinded him. His head felt like Moose had stomped on it. He winced and covered his brow so that he could see. The tent was empty and sounds of the early morning comings and goings of the village passed by. He hadn’t had a hangover this bad in nearly ten years. He smiled as he thought of that, he wasn’t sure why, dwarven pride maybe? He grabbed his pack and threw it over his shoulder as he looked around hoping for another tankard of ale to take the edge off, but he was out of luck.
He parted the coarse fabric of the tent and stepped out into the new day. The rest of his party were together, near the burned out bonfire that blazed the night before. As he approached he could still feel the heat from what was left of the pile of wood. He nodded to Birell who looked at him with concern and it felt like a dagger went through his head.
“Had a little too much last night?” she asked him when she saw the look on his face.
“I was merely getting a head start on tonight,” he said and tried to smile.
“Here,” the elf said and handed him a clay mug full of a hot brown liquid. “Skrat made it, it worked for me,” she said. Grian turned towards the young wizard. Skrat was pretty useful to have around for one so young, he thought.
“I thank ye, lad,” he said as he downed the concoction afraid of its flavor. Which in hindsight wasn’t all that bad. It had a smoky flavor, it reminded him of the specialty woods his father would use to smoke meats and fish.
White Light approached the group, also looking to Grian like his head ached. He slowly nodded to them, reinforcing that idea. He had three of his warriors behind him, each carrying a burlap bag.
“Good morning, my friends,” the leader of the Desert Folk said. “I have brought you some supplies to help you with the next leg of your journey. I hope you will pass back this way when you head back?” he asked.
“I would think so,” Grian said. “I have to return to the temple in the forest.”
“Might I offer you a guide to the castle? Stone Spear wishes to repay you for saving his life,” White Light said.
“That isn’t necessary,” Grian said. “Really. Tell him I said thank you for the offer, but I don’t know what we are walking into and I don’t want to risk anyone’s life unnecessarily. I appreciate it though,” the dwarf finished.
One of the warriors holding a bag stepped forward and Grian realized it was Stone Spear. “I know the risks. I should be dead right now, if not for you. I owe you a debt. Let me do this,” he said.
Grian sighed. Yet another person that wanted to help him with his quest. He turned back towards the group he had already gained since meeting Birell in the forest weeks ago. How did he amass such a following? It surprised him that anyone not a dwarf would be interested in bringing magic, especially healing magic back to the dwarves. He turned back to Stone Spear. He was the brother of Spirit Walker, the village shaman, maybe he could smooth things over after their awkward exchange the night before with Stone Spear’s help.
“You may come, a guide would be a great help,” he said. Stone Spear nodded.
“I will gather my things and be right back,” the warrior said.
“Here are some dried fruit and meat, also some water,” White Light said pointing at the bags the other warriors set on the ground in front of them. Grian thanked them. Moose picked them up like they were weightless and slung the bags over his massive shoulder. The biggest brother looked like a pack mule, carrying most of the group’s equipment, but he didn’t mind.
Stone Spear appeared a few minutes later with a pack of his own on his back and carrying a few spears. The party left Three Pillars after a quick last morning meal with White Light. Most of the village children watched and waved as they made their way over the large rocks that lead to the countless dunes of sand between them and the castle. Still Grian didn’t spot Spirit Walker anywhere among them.
Soon Three Pillars was out of sight behind the large stone features of the area and Grian turned his attention to the journey ahead. A few more days of desert travel was ahead of them on the way to the castle. The Desert Folk didn’t have anything nice to say about the people that lived there and Grian was wondering what they would want in trade for the Keystone his god requires. In a perfect world they would want to help a god out, but Grian found that most people were selfish.
He didn’t have much to trade the castle people. Maybe Skrat could share some knowledge, he seemed to know a lot about many topics. He sighed as he put one foot in front of the other as the landscape changed from large rocks among a sea of sand, to just reddish sand dunes as far as he could see. Some were so steep he couldn’t make out the distant mountains that were his ultimate destination.
Stone Spear kept the group going in a straight line over the countless mounds of sand whipping around from the winds. Grian wondered if they would have even be able to find their way without him.
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