Gilrim Spearstabber, commander of Hightop Fortress, found it difficult to believe that he’d thought, only nine months ago, the graduating Knights of the Axe would be one knight fewer. When Kathra Ironshard, the last initiate of the year, had arrived, a letter of introduction from the High King himself made Gilrim wonder she’d make it.
Gilrim made a point of telling all new recruits who wanted to become Knights of the Axe that things at Hightop wouldn’t be simple or easy and invited them to leave with their honor still intact before training began if they wished. Gilrim had done everything he could to try to make Kathra leave.
“Gilrim,” Kathra’s letter read, “I’m sending you another initiate, an ex-convict of Deepstone Prison. As you may have heard, she nearly beat my son to death six months ago. Try to train her. If she becomes a problem, just send her back. In the meantime, keep an eye on her and let me know if she shows any signs of further violence.” It bore the High King’s personal seal.
Gilrim knew Deepstone as the place the Dwarven Kingdoms sent criminals who were so bad the kings didn’t feel comfortable inflicting them on the other races. So, for the first three months of Kathra’s training, the ones that usually weeded out lesser dwarves and brought the better ones into fighting trim, Gilrim rode the girl like a recalcitrant mule. When she broke rules he pounded on her like a blacksmith on a piece of heated steel. Kathra simply pursed her lips and did what she was told. Gilrim rarely, if ever, saw the least sign of violence from her.
Then, one rest day, Gilrim was in the tavern when a recruit entered leading Kathra.
“I can’t, Vonbir,” she was protesting.
“Nonsense,” Vonbir laughed. “Whoever heard of a dwarf that doesn’t drink?”
“Please, listen,” Kathra protested as the other dwarf ordered three pints of dwarven stout.
“You sound like an elf, Kathra,” Vonbir responded, “We’ll be insulted if you don’t drink with us.”
The barkeep set three mugs of dark-brown brew before them and Vonbir slid one into Kathra’s hands. “Bottoms up!” he roared, guzzling his.
“Well,” Kathra hesitated, grasping her own mug with all the eagerness of a child taking his first trip out into the sun. “I suppose… just this once.” She lifted the mug and took a quick sip, wincing as the alcohol burned her throat.
“Aw!” Vonbir bawled. “Drink it all!”
Obediently, Kathra lifted the tankard again and Vonbir slipped a hand underneath the mug, tipping it gently up and forcing Kathra to drink it all at once. As the mug came away, Kathra’s eyes grew wide and she screamed, falling backward over the legs of another drinker. She continued scuttling backwards and, as she went to get up, struck her head against the underside of the bar and collapsed, unconscious.
Gilrim quickly discovered what had started this. Kathra had helped Vonbir study for a particular test and, when he passed it, he had decided to celebrate with a drink.
“What happened?” Kathra groaned when she finally awoke.
“You hit your head, lass,” Gilrim responded idly from a chair beside her.
Kathra’s head turned, recognizing his voice, wincing as her head throbbed. “Oh, gods,” she moaned, “I didn’t.”
“Didn’t what?” Gilrim answered, “Drink a pint of stout, scream like a goblin, trip over someone’s legs and hit your head against the underside of the bar? How long have you had battle visions?”
Kathra blinked, confused.
Gilrim grunted. “War veterans often have them if a battle’s been particularly gruesome. For some, alcohol makes them go. For most it just makes things worse. How long?”
“I-I’m not sure,” Kathra stammered, levering herself up. “A-about a year, I think?”
Gilrim pushed her back onto her pillow. “Stay put,” he told her. “Healers want you to stay in bed ’til morning.”
Unable to apologize for misjudging her, Gilrim did the next best thing. He made Kathra his personal student and kept her busy all day, especially on rest days. He also told her stories of some of his battles and adventures from when he was younger, something he wouldn’t do for the others.
Kathra showed her gratitude by working harder than before. She seemed willing to learn just about anything he cared to teach her; badgering him for details about everything he told her. In return, Gilrim learned that Kathra had lost her clan to a group of angry goblins, tried to drink away her guilt and beat up the prince in a drunken rage. In time, Gilrim came to think of her as his own child. Now, kneeling in the great hall was the result of their hard work.
“I name thee, Kathra Ironshard, a Knight of the Axe,” declaimed the High King, touching his battleaxe to her helmet. “Congratulations.”
The entire hall erupted with applause. Gilrim, feeling like an artist displaying his masterpiece, clapped along.
Original Word Count: 1651
New Word Count: 825
You might recognize this story as a shortened version of “Exercise 51: Daughter of Stone.” If you’d like to read the original and see the difference between this and the other story, be sure to follow the above link.