This is the first part of a story I’m writing. It tells the background of Kathra Ironshard, the main character in two writing exercises published previously. This excerpt is provided by request and is still more or less in its draft stage, so any suggestions will be accepted, though many of them may not be implemented. Enjoy.
Nearly everyone has a subject they’d rather not think about. For most dwarves, that subject was Deepstone Prison and Fargrim Blackhammer, its warden, was no exception. Long ago, Deepstone had actually been a deep mine dedicated to producing some of the rarer ores and, because the mine itself was at least a full day’s travel below Thunderhall Fortress, the capital of the Dwarven Kingdoms, the prison’s main facility had been temporary quarters for the miners. Now, of course, any ore to be found in the mine had long since disappeared. Nowadays, the occasional tiny gemstone would still be found but most of what came from the mine these days was just grit and gravel, both of which were shipped back to Thunderhall, the grit to be used for polishing precious and semi-precious stones, the gravel for providing strength in concrete structures.
As for the laws that filled Deepstone, they were fairly simple. For one thing, most dwarves were law-abiding citizens, content to follow whatever trade to which family or talent had brought them. For the few trouble-makers that caused problems for dwarven society, the solution was usually banishment; plain and simple. However, there were some criminals dangerous enough that dwarves agreed on general principles that they shouldn’t be inflicted on the remaining races. It was this select group that were generally sent to Deepstone.
Of these few, there was only one that Fargrim spared any lingering thought for and, after twenty years’ dedicated service, he felt he could safely say this particular convict was probably the least dangerous of the lot. In fact, this was the reason why the prison’s warden was pacing back and forth in front of the great stone gates waiting for…
“Fargrim!” a familiar voice called, jolting the warden from his thoughts.
“Thoir?” Fargrim replied, hastily adding, “I mean, your eminence,” and bowing as deeply as his armor would allow.
“Still like the first one,” the elderly dwarf grunted, smiling. “Have you met my wife?” he said, gesturing to the female next to him whose long, grey hair had been elaborately braided and wrapped around her head in a kind of coronet.
“No sir,” said Fargrim.
“This is Deldeth,” Thoir smiled, placing a hand on his wife’s back, “When we received your message, she insisted upon coming. Said it looked like I’d need her help.”
“It is an honor and a privilege,” the warden intoned, bowing again.
“Enough of that,” said Deldeth gently, stepping forward to place a firm hand on Fargrim’s shoulder. “We’re priests, not kings. Besides, we’ve been traveling all day in that rickety, old, goat cart and Thoir promised there’d be accommodations when we got here.”
“Of course,” said Fargrim, turning quickly to one of the gate guards. “Norten, go down to the mine and bring her up.”
Norten simply nodded, then took off at a run.
“’Her’ would be the inmate you wrote about,” Thoir said, “the special case?”
“That’s correct, sir,” said Fargrim, leading the priest and his wife from the gate and down a wide corridor toward his office.
“Then I only have one question,” Thoir grinned, “How many more times must I remind you to call me by my name.”
“At least one more time,” Fargrim smiled back, adding, “sir,” at the end with a kind of gentle firmness.
Thoir sighed, “Do you still have that fine ale you treated me to the last time I visited?”
“Yes, sir,” Fargrim replied, opening a door and holding it so that his guests could pass through.
The three dwarves sat drinking Fargrim’s excellent ale and making polite conversation for about an hour before a banging noise interrupted things.
“Enter!” Fargrim called.
The door opened to reveal two more dwarves. The first was Norten, the dwarf guard Fargrim had sent. As for the second, she was filthy, her clothing ragged and her wrists bound. Her tangled, unkempt hair hung in a disheveled mass around her face and shoulders like a filthy curtain and her body was far too thin.
Deldeth gave a decided sniff of disapproval, but said nothing.
“Norten,” Fargrim said, “remove the irons, please.” The guard nodded and, producing a key, quickly removed them, tucking them into a pouch on his belt, then stepping out into the corridor and closing the door after him.
“Have a seat,” the warden added then, gesturing to a nearby chair. The dirty prisoner obediently sat. “Give your name and clan for our visitors, please.”
“Kathra Ironshard,” the female answered dully, “Copperminer clan.”
Thoir’s eyebrows raised in surprise.
“And why are you here at Deepstone?” Fargrim pressed.
“Attempted murder,” Kathra responded, managing to sound, if anything, even more distant than before.
“I’d prefer more detail,” the warden said, his eyebrows drawing down ever so slightly, “in deference to our guests.”
“I’d rather not,” the inmate sighed, staring down at her clasped hands.
“You remember the last time we spoke,” Fargrim replied, his voice growing menacingly quiet, “You no longer have the right to refuse the direct request of a superior. Detail. Now.”
Kathra took a deep breath. “I was working with Ferg Craghelm when it happened. A large deposit of mulgrum* was discovered down in the Azkrak mine, so almost all of Copperminer clan were sent there to dig it out. I’d have gone, too, but I already had an important project that I was suppose to be finishing for Ferg. Anyway, while my clan were down there, they accidentally opened a shaft into a goblin warren. The goblins were upset and attacked, killing nearly half the clan before they could begin to fight back. Then just when it looked like my clan were going to defeat the goblins, the scum triggered a cave-in and brought the roof of the whole shaft down, killing almost all the rest. Only one dwarf escaped to bear the tale, but he was so badly wounded that he died the very next day.”
“Pardon the interruption,” Thoir broke in, “but what has this to do with anything?”
“The dwarf who returned with the tale,” Kathra continued stonily, “was my father, Ururt Ironshard. When he died, my mother stopped speaking and I felt so… lonely. So, after work one night, I stopped off at the Iron Axe Public House to eat a decent meal and have a beer or two. That night, I went home and slept like the dead. So, after that, I became an Iron Axe regular and each night, I would have a beer or two with my food so that I could sleep during the night. After awhile, it got so that one or two beers weren’t enough. Then, after a while, just beer wasn’t enough. Before long, I was drinking the strongest drink the Iron Axe had and, some nights, waking up at home in my bed with no idea how I got there.”
Kathra took a deep, steadying breath before continuing, “Then, one evening, when I’d been drinking for a while and was starting to feel about the way I usually did right before I would pass out, someone bumped me from behind. In a second, I’d lost my temper. I turned and punched the dwarf right in the face. It didn’t end there, either. I bent over him and continued pummeling him. I would have continued punching him until he died beneath my fists, if it wasn’t for the fact that the city guard arrived to pull me off. The dwarf turned out to be Prince Haigan Silversmith, the king’s son. Is that detailed enough for you, warden?”
“For me, yes,” Fargrim nodded. “My guests, however, may have a few questions.”
“Very well,” Kathra sighed, shaking her head in dismay.
“I only have one question,” Thoir said, leaning forward, “Why have you forsaken the Gods?”
“What?” the convict blinked.
“The Gods,” Thoir explained, “who deserve your respect; why have you forsaken them?”
“I haven’t forsaken anyone,” Kathra frowned, her voice becoming gradually louder with every word. “If anything, they’ve forsaken me! I’m almost clanless, now. My brother, my father, all my aunts, uncles and cousins are dead and my mother and I are the only Copperminers left. If the gods were real people and truly cared about us, they’d never have let that happen!” By this time, Kathra had risen to her feet and was shouting, angry tears streaming down her dirty face. “May I go, sir?” she added turning in fury on Fargrim. Fargrim turned his gaze to Thoir who nodded almost imperceptibly.
“Norten!” Fargrim called, bringing the guard stumping back into the room. “Please, return Kathra to…”
“Her quarters,” Deldeth interrupted firmly, “I want to speak with her alone.”
“What about her detail?” Norten asked, disbelieving.
“She’s excused until further notice,” the grey-haired female decided. “Now then, what about those sleeping quarters. I’m tired and I’d like to at least rest a little bit before dinner.
*mulgrum- the dwarven term for mithril, an elven term meaning “bright steel.” The dwarven term means “true steel,” which indicates how inferior they find steel made from iron ore.