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"Freedom"

A Tale of Stoneheart the Slayer

A Flintloque Short Story by Jaffa Holland

stoneheart nine advent 09
Artwork from Warhammer Online*

Stoneheart's tale, now in its ninth year, sees Stoneheart find a reason to carry on living at the dawn of the Third Age of Valon...

~

As the maps were drawn and the stories unfolded the scale of the problem we Dwarfs faced was put in stark relief. We seemed to fight for nearly all the various nations often as hired hands. We were used to build siege weapons and to undermine castle and town walls.   

Dwarfs also fought under the Court of Artur who had gained the knowledge of canon and gunpower from the Elves. A group had split from them however, traditionalists that wanted to stick with sword and Warhammer. They called themselves the Confederation of Finklestein.  It was this Confederation that I was interested in.

It was to these Dwarfs that I would turn my attention and force upon them what was to be called the long march to find Ureke, although names had changed the mountains did not and I knew where our ancestral home lay.

I also knew the riches that were held deep inside the mountain and at least some of the secret ways to open the great halls and deep stores where the gold, gems and master crafted weapons were stored.

It was no ideal boast that I have made to Avicii that we could save our race and at the same time disappear. We could rebuild, repopulate, learn to enhance these new weapons of war over time.

Weeks passed as I probed Avicii for more and more information until he grew, I think, to reaffirm his view that I was crazy, although he also learned quickly that others were afraid of me and that he should treat me with caution and respect.

One evening we were talking about how we could get to the mountains I recognised, Avicii had drank his fill and there was the start of growth on his beard. He had grown bold in my company, not that I minded, Sagesmiths were always to be respected as they hold our unwritten law and memories. This night he was pushing to hear my story, one that I was unwilling to share, the past is the past and some memories are to painful, for in truth I missed my home and still longed for a glorious death, or to fly on the back of a Dragon.

Anyway, Avicii was pushing too hard and I ordered him to stop with the questions but he told me I had no authority over him. My blood boiled and before either of us realised I held a knife at his throat and one under his armpit. As clear and cold as ice I said he was mine, and more that he had given his word to follow me. Fear blazed like fire in his eyes, I could smell it on him.

Slowly, I relaxed  but felt that I had been kept still too long and the need for war was on me like a red mist. I picked up Deceit and went to find Hamish.

“How much for mine and Avicii’s freedom? This is not a request.”

Hamish just laughed, “There is no freedom for you, you are ours. I know you make a lot of gold and now you will hand it over for merely asking for your freedom.”

“One last time Hamish how much?”, I replied.

Hamish’s eyes glanced down at Deceit, the world went slow as it always does as I enter battle.

Hamish opened his mouth and nothing but the start of the word “guards” came out as Deceit came up in an arc from the ground smashing into Hamish’s arm. He was lightning fast as with any other Deceit would have smashed into their jaw. The block shattered his arm, but as he went to cry out I rammed the spike of Deceit into his shoulder and as he crumpled I head-butted him with all my strength. He dropped like a stone, maybe 10 seconds had passed.

I walked over to Hamish’s desk and used his wax seal to stamp a bit of paper.  On it I wrote that we were to go to the Southern-most army and help fix their cannon, and that Avicii also had to go. It would not stand up to too much scrutiny but should be enough to get us out of camp. I locked Hamish in his quarters and threw away the key down a privy pit. It would take a while to break down that door.

I grabbed Avicii, my gold, some of the new guns, my armour and weapons and some stores, also a small horse, we were off, Avicii had turned pale when I told him what had happened, if I had to I would leave him and I told him this, the fear of being left behind seemed to wake him up.

We walked to the main gate of the camp, and walked up to the gate guard, I told him we had to go South but he was not convinced. I showed him the letter with Hamish’s seal and I told him to go and get Hamish if he wanted but he better have a damn good reason as Hamish would have him on privy duty rather than this cushy gate duty. Luckily his fear of Hamish was stronger than not letting us go. We strolled out of the Joccian army.

I had no intention of resting and advised Avicii that it would be a long few days as once Hamish was found letters would be sent and we would likely be attacked on sight, as I advised this it started to rain which made me chuckle and Avicii go even more pale. For three days we kept going, only stopping to allow the horse a few hours rest at a time, no fires were lit and Avicii was mostly silent which suited my mood.

Where to head and how to find the Confederation. Did they still exist in any number? And if they did how to get them to follow me weighed heavily on my mind. All the while a plan was growing. I had gold and I had brought Avicii. There must be other dwarfs that were in trouble that wanted their freedom. This thought seemed to grow inside me, I felt that something was pulling me to this cause, going to Ureke could be the ultimate goal but freeing Dwarfs and killing rats was putting a smile on my face. As I say the names may have changed but most places did not, there was a lot of treasure out there I knew about. Clear of mind and with a plan set I called for camp much to Avicii surprise and happiness.

Where do we find prisoner Dwarfs that want freedom, that want to kill rats and get rich, this was not what Avicii had expected to be asked.

“Any number of castles and towns will have jails with Dwarfs in. Some for good reasons, some not so. The closest place that I could reckon would be Montbuy, a fortified town to the South-east.  Maybe a weeks walk. Dwarfs often went there to get recruited.”   

It did take a week to make it to Montbuy and all the time an excitement was growing in me, this was living, a simple plan, march, scout, fight then leave. Nothing better to a solider than a simple plan. In my mind Montbuy was a simple trading post with a cell or two, maybe a street with a shop but in essence a nothing place.

As we walked we increasingly met others on the road. Most looked like ex-soldiers, a few humans looked like they had not yet left their mothers breast and had no sign of growth. All carried in some shape or form a form of weapon, one or two even had a pistol. Without exception all looked half starved. Avicii explained that the war had been going on for so long that most of the humans who were left had no memory of anything but war. This meant that crops were not grown as often as not they were burned by what ever army was passing.

Meat was what you could catch or fish for, don’t expect any cattle, sheep or pigs although the rich still got that type of meat.

As dusk broke there was a glow in the night sky like the sky was on fire, either a town was burning or a large army was camped ahead, both were grim, both to be avoided. As I turned to leave the road Avicii said we would arrive at Montbuy by morning but that it would be better to rest. So much light meant no small trading post then but a large town this would mean a change to my plans and my mood darkened.

We spoke not at all that night, Avicii sensing violence should he disturb me, we slept in our greatcoats and eat cold rations. The only good thing was that as we had headed south the weather had improved so that the night did not bring a frost with it.  While Avicii slept I scouted and found a place not far away and buried much of my gold. It was in riverbank under some reeds, it would do for a while.

Morning came and we broke fast and left. The walk to Montbuy took half a day but we were able to see the town walls from about an hour away. We passed fields that had crops and, as we got closer, the road became made of stone. More and more densely packed houses and shops appeared along the way. Although not a city it was clear that some form of ruling body governed here and kept the peace.

It was also clear that from the flags that flew everywhere, every one of them black apart from a white star in the middle, that one household ruled. We followed, at a distance, a group of soldiers that were heading to town. They looked like the rest had done, in need of food. Most had uniforms from many different armies, I was beginning to think that this might be a deserter’s town that had come into existence due to the length of the war. Avicii assured me that this was not the case, people came to sell themselves to whoever was hiring.

As we walked through the main gate we were not stopped, in fact what was interesting was the lack of inspection as though it did not matter as there were so many armed folks that folk were left to settle their own disputes.

We found a tavern and I paid for the room in small coin, I even tried to barter the price and the tavern keeper lowered his price a little as I agreed to check on his cart and its axel. We were given a room. Avicii sorted our horse and I had some warm food, thick black bread and a bowl of vegetables, I did not want any meat in case it was bad, I did not want to get sick. The barkeep passed over some beer, it was weak but better than I had tasted in a while. I was enjoying the quiet when Acicii came in he had a cut to his head. Two large Orcs held him and they were looking for someone, when they saw me, they marched over.

“Is this yours?”, they asked looking at Avicii.

“Yes,” I replied, “why?”

“He is walking dead.” This they said with evil smiles.

“What do you mean walking dead.”

“He had stolen a horse. It’s clearly marked with Joccian’s army mark. Reckon we get a reward for the horse. Tell us we lie?”

I pushed myself up and stood and in a very clear, yet low tone I said, “You lie.

“The horse is mine, paid for and hard earned.”

The Orcs’ smiles grew even more and one of them shouted, “Walking dead!”

The bar went silent, the owner appeared with two others both with small bats with nails in, “No fighting in here! It’s the pit for any disagreement or you give yourself over the lord for what will be a short and painful life in the war.”

“What pit? What are you talking about?”, I queried.

The owner said, “As they are new they get to hear the rules of Montbuy. If you get charged you can join Lord Falcon for the rest of your life. You are branded and belong to him. Or you can face your accuser in the pit. If you win, you are innocent. If you have the gold you can pay someone to go to the pit for you. All grievances are settled in the pit. It does not matter how many enter; two, ten whatever. Only one or none leaves. The winner gets what you own. If you don’t accept, the town guard will kill you and the others get everything you own.”

Without hesitation I said that I accept the challenge. I fight on behalf of my man, the smiles stopped on the Orcs faces as they looked at me more closely, I had been wearing my greatcoat. I pulled it off revealing my part shaven head, tattoos, burn marks and scars.

“When do we fight?”

“Now.” replied the tavern owner.

Not the start I wanted but maybe if I won I would be able to find out information more easily as I would spend the Orcs wealth in the bar tonight.

The pit was actually about ten pits, most were just a hole in the ground but at the centre of the complex was a raised seating area and a much larger pit, later I learned people paid to see the best pit fighters.

The other thing was that we fought in just our breaches. No weapons in this pit. This was brutal combat. The pit was also only thirty paces across so not much room to move. There was no real crowd but some of the bar had come to see the fight including the tavern owner. His name was Sidqar and he was smiling. He leaned in close and told me that if I lived he would buy us a drink as he hated the Orc on the left, Xcreant, he couldn’t prove it but he killed his brother in law.

To get into the pit four sets of steps had been set into the side, we all stripped off. The Orcs were massively muscled, but I was a trained pit fighter. I descended the steps and sent a silent prayer to my father that I did not dishonour our family name.

As soon as I reached the floor they charged. The one called Xcreant went to grab me, but their height was a disadvantage, as he came in I kicked him straight to the knee. My metal boot smashing it, he screamed in pain. I spun just in time to deflect a massive right that may have knocked me off my feet. As it was the punch hit me in the arm. It felt like it had been hit by a hammer.

I bellowed in rage and time slowed again, I punched Xcreant a sharp left to the face while he was trying to get back up and I lashed out at the others groin, he screamed as my fist connected with his smalls. As he bent over I smashed my head into his nose, the crack was audible to those at the top of the pit. He dropped dead. Xcreant came at me again, in all honesty I had no interest in killing him but the rules were clear though it was either me or him. He was wounded, his knee smashed. He was slow and in pain. I started to punch him moving ever faster front side and back, he had no way to hit me, every one of my hits was designed to inflict the most damage. His ribs popped then and he started to fall. I hit him with everything I had catching his head, he too fell down dead.

As I walked out of the pit the watchers were silent Sidqar came over and asked who I was as he had witnessed many fights but nothing to equal that. He said I was very welcome to stay but wanted to talk to me later.

I had gained maybe an ally and I would need them in this town, for on the way to the pit I had seen a number of dwarfs in chains, this was the place for me and I would free them...

~

Stoneheart's tale will continue in 2020...

~


Webmaster's Notes

The above short story is an Orcs in the Webbe original and was first published on December 7th 2019 as part of the 2019 Advent Calendar.

Jaffa is a long time friend and ex-house mate of mine who has been my opponent in many battles of Flintloque and Darkestorme over the years (although not for some time I am sad to say). At my request a few years ago we transported Stoneheart into the Third Age of Valon, the time of Flintloque, and it;s great to see ho the character is devleoping.

You can see the previous Stoneheart tales, in chronological order by clicking on the maroon  Stoneheart  tag just below.

* Note that the image from Warhammer Online has been used without permission and will be removed if requested by the artist/copyright holder.