THE ONLY FRIEND

A SANTHARIAN FAIRY TALE

 
Master Tribell's Miraculous Narrations   
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Introduction. This is the story of Gaernurmer, a Thrumgolz dwarf who is quite a celebrity: earth-guide, tunneler, lady's dwarf, even sought-after by the Helcrahn Duke. It's a story about someone with many friends, which he also desperately needs when fate knocks on his door...
 

eep, deep down beneath the earth, in the bowels of the imposing High Fores Rotrumerons, there dwell the Thrumgolz, the "Pickhands" clan, as they call themselves. The Thrumgolz are dwarves, and as dwarves they are smaller than men, barrel-chested, full-stomached and heavily-boned. Instead of enjoying the daylight they rather stick to their caverns; instead of ploughing fields they grow mushrooms and mosses in damp recesses; and they worship the Forgelord Trum-Baroll and not the Twelvern as we humans do. Dwarves also live a good hundred and fifty years longer than the likes of us – oh, and their women don't mind a beard – well, growing one themselves, that is. So there are those differences between man and dwarf. But aside from that we're quite alike, really, and a good dwarven tale is not only meant for dwarves. Like the one about Gaernurmer and his friends, which we're about to hear. So listen:
 

A Dwarven Tunneler

View picture in full size Image description. Gaernurmer, the Thrumgolz earth-guide, with the typically stubby, sturdy shovel the dwarves call the "chingu". Illustration drawn by Faugar.

Gaernurmer was a Thrumgolz earth-guide and tunneler, distinguished, one might even say famed, on both accounts. As an earth-guide he had an unerring sense of direction: Wherever in the depths he found himself, he always knew which way was "up" and which one was "down", no matter what twisted, tangled, labyrinthine tunnels he was traveling; if one wanted to get back to the home cavern, you only had to ask him, and he’d point out the swiftest way, the same with detecting the nearest open space – and on top of that he was one of the few naturals who could "sniff out" veins worth mining, simply through his infallible intuition. Earth-guiding is a crucial skill for dwarves, and the fact that even the Helcrahn Duke had personally requested his valued services on occasions, certainly contributed to Gaernurmer’s ever growing popularity. But not only that: He was also a tunneler, a miner specializing in digging tunnels with his "chingu" as the dwarves call it – a stubby, sturdy tool, which is shovel, chisel and pick at the same time –, and he tunneled with it like nobody else could. The dwarf had the strength and the agility to work with his chingu like three other professional diggers combined, aye, his upper arm was as thick and stout as an elephant's foot! It was a sight to behold when you saw him arriving at a cave-in and single-handedly rescue a fellow-dwarf all by himself and get that rubble out of the way in a jiffy as if there was nothing to it. Yes, the mighty Gaernurmer was quite something! Gaernurmer "Strongarm" the others called him – after the even more famous Brok –, or Gaernurmer the "Wallbreaker" and at other times the "Tunneldevil". He was a dwarf who knew what he wanted, and when he thought he needed to speak up he spoke up indeed, and because he was Gaernurmer everybody listened – the chieftain, the elders, the miners, even the denirim, who handled all the holy affairs, sometimes asked for his advice. Oh, and did we mention already that the dwarven maidens had quite a thing for him as well? There, we've said it. But with everything we've heard about Gaernurmer by now it should come as no surprise that trimming their beards according to the latest fashion became a favorite Thrumgolz pastime for anyone female under the age of a century.

Gaernurmer, as the celebrity he was, was never alone. Always was he seen in the company of other dwarves, who followed him around, went wherever he went, did whatever he did, dressed, ate and talked the way he did, for maybe they hoped that someday they might miraculously become just like him. There was Drorm for example, and Khardrum, and Mournoum and Thurgatrem, and Goldruph of course, who made up his primary entourage. Rarely would you chance upon Gaernurmer without seeing any of them. Gaernurmer liked them, sure, he liked them to be around whenever he required assistance for any job two hands couldn't deal with alone, but – truth be told – he was too much of a dwarf himself to actually ask them for advice. He didn't really need them. Well, he needed someone to help him alright, but not necessarily them. It just happened that these fellows were always around, and if you had asked him what friendship was to him he would have said: To have someone around whenever you need them. Well, that's one way of putting it. However, one could easily get the impression that he ordered the ones closest to him around, while Drorm, Khardrum, Mournoum, Thurgatrem and Goldruph didn't seem to notice any of that at all, quite to the contrary: They gladly did whatever their master demanded, and even more so, they tried anticipating his every wish, and that was their strange relationship.

Now there were also those who had befriended Gaernurmer’s friends, for they thought that if they'd be friends with Gaernurmer’s friends, chances were that they'd be closer to the noted dwarf himself. Among them were Khalmid, Tharming, Zhorgan and Mhort, and Maldren and Khild. And then there were others who thought along the same line and wanted to first become friends of the friends of Gaernurmer's friends, so that he may be sort of "friendly" to them as well. There was Zhogg and Throth, and Proth and Ghorz and Hurghom and Zhorugan and Loumolff and Whart, and, well, you get the idea. Isn't it odd how friendship – or whatever people like to call a "friendship" – sometimes works?

Well, and then there was Little Mook. Little Mook, as the name already says, was little, well, let's say short, or small, even for a dwarf, and he wasn't particularly liked by the others. That was because he was also thin and a bit dim and weak and awkward to be around with. But regardless of his shortcomings, whatever Gaernurmer did, or one of his friends, or a friend of a friend, or anyone associated with a friend of a friend of the dwarf himself, Little Mook wanted to do as well. From time to time he popped up in midst of Gaernurmer's admirers, set to have a chat with them, or he just tagged along wherever they went, followed the workers into the tunnels where they toiled and tried to make himself useful. Now nobody really listened to Mook’s queer ideas and uninformed ramblings, but as long as he was capable of holding a shovel or a pickaxe and did no serious harm with it, the "Mook spook" – as he had been labeled by now – was, let’s say, endured. So it came that Little Mook spent his time mostly in the same tunnel as Gaernurmer's friends, or friends of friends, which was the one next to Gaernurmer's shaft. Though usually he found himself at the far end of it, if it could be helped by the others. There was always work that needed to be done “over there”, or so he was told.

And then tragedy struck.

You see, we humans have a saying that goes like this: "If the Twelve find fault in your ways, the time will come when they'll let you know," and thus the Gods give you opportunity to correct whatever you’ve done wrong. To which the dwarven equivalent – inspired by a pickaxe probing a stone – is: "Trum-Baroll knocks once, and He knocks twice, don't give him reason to come a-knocking trice." And thus fate knocked on Gaernurmer's door, and it happened like this:

The earth-guide and his chingu were busy in an already mined shaft, finishing off a still rather roughly hewn side wall, when his blade struck something in the earth: Lo and behold, there erupted a sudden magical charge from the crack and out shot bilious green dust as if from an opened valve. Never before had the dwarf seen anything like it, or any of the dwarves that stood nearby for that matter. Before he could even react, Gaernurmer was shrouded in what appeared to be a poisonous, sparkling substance. The dust swirled so agitatedly around him, that one was tempted to say it had a life on its on, for it grabbed and shook the dwarf and threw him to the ground. Then, after a while the strange dust settled in the shaft like a kind of fog, leisurely wafting from one end to the other, not moving any further into the adjacent tunnel system though. While everyone else had fled in panic, Gaernurmer now was lying in midst of the shaft, the magic dust engulfing his body, chingu at his side – and he didn’t move anymore.

Now there was big commotion among the dwarves. Feverish discussions broke out on what had happened and – even more importantly – what to do, now that their hero lay there before them, felled like a tree as if ready to return to the earth. For that’s what the dwarves believe: that when their time on Caelereth is over, their ‘forgespark’ leaves them and they turn to stone and thus are about to meet their Creator again in the great underground realm of Toll Disporbaroll. – However, the dwarves’ great idol might have departed on the journey that very hour, but he was not dead yet...

“Where am I?” The revered earth-guide finally managed to utter his first words. It was three and a half days after the incident, and while Gaernurmer remembered hitting the wall with his chingu and the sparkling dust spilling out from the crack, everything else after that was a hazy, indistinct blur.

“You’re safe, Gaernurmer,” Goldruph assured him. He was a broad-shouldered, particularly stocky fellow with a braided blond beard and counted himself among the earth-guide’s closest friends. “You’re safe, for you’re in the healer’s cavern. Been here for quite some time actually...”

“What happened, Goldruph?” Gaernurmer’s dry mouth produced. His voice sounded hoarse and flat, so that the earth-guide had to help himself to a glass of water from the nightstand.

“You’ve hit an AkotUozil,” Goldruph answered while he motioned towards the door, so that more of his friends could enter and hear the great dwarf finally speak again.

“An... AkotUozil?” The great dwarf was still weak and so was his mind that gave him difficulties understanding. He waved at the other entering dwarves though. “What.. – How... Is it... –” he mumbled incoherently.

“It’s a magical residue the mountain had in himself,” another dwarf explained, who had stepped in to see the master, by the name of Khardrum. “Trum-Baroll must have picked you to discover it,” he added, for there is a strong belief among the Thrumgolz mountain dwellers that everything happens for a reason, even the bad things – maybe especially the bad things. Furthermore dwarves also have a natural distrust of all things magical and overly spiritual, for they like it solid and real instead, and thus what had happened to the earth-guide clearly posed a challenge to be interpret in a positive light.

“Ah... I see... An AkotUozil!” Gaernurmer muttered under his breath, slowly regaining his wit. A whole array of thoughts chased through his mind. “Indeed, the Forgelord must have wanted to tell me something, If I only knew what…”

“Quite certainly,” a third miner named Drorm chipped in. He wore a long beard beneath a round, upturned nose. “It was the Forgelord’s will. But don’t put strain on yourself right now considering it, rather take your time to recuperate, Gaernurmer!”

“What happened then? I... I... only remember dropping to the ground...“

“Well, we got you out. You should have figured that out by now,” Goldruph chuckled cheerfully, the braids of his blond beard jiggling gaily. “The dust, the magical essence, the green mist that filled the shaft: it was very ancient, for it must have been full of evil spirits, the mage-elder found out. It was... bad, really bad. It would have killed you for sure if you had lain there for some more.”

“But if that is so, then the mist was dangerous for you too!” the earth-guide pointed out raising a brow.

“You’re right,” Drorm nodded. “Nevertheless, we did it. Goldruph, Khardrum, Mournoum, Thurgatrem and me, and the whole lot. But that’s just what friends do, Gaernurmer!”

“So how did you manage to get me out?” Gaernurmer wanted to know.

“Tried it with a pole with a noose attached to its end first, but we couldn’t reach you. Got ourselves a rope then, and as it was one of us had to enter the shaft, no way around it,” Drorm told the ailing earth-guide. “You see, the mist didn’t reach from wall to wall, rather it kept wafting in the center of the tunnel. So there was still space for someone to go in. We tied you up and pulled you out.”

Though he kept quiet about the lively discussions that had preceded the rescue effort for some precious time while the struck dwarf was still lying there, motionless, on the brink of death. Until Little Mook had grabbed the rope, carefully had felt his way along the tunnel wall, advancing step by step, and on arrival at the body had tied the dwarf’s legs together tightly, so that the others could pull him out.

“Who went into the tunnel?” the earth-guide inquired.

“That’s not important,” Drorm replied. “As long as we got you out, right?”

“Hmmm... I guess I am in your debt then,” Gaernurmer said, convinced that Drorm didn’t answer out of pure modesty, because he had stepped into the tunnel himself, risking his own life. Something had changed in the earth-guide on how he looked at his ‘friends’. Suddenly he was glad to have them. “Thank you,” he added sincerely.

“Don’t mention it.” Drorm smiled the smile of a rescuer.

“And since then I’ve been sleeping, you say?”

“Well yes, Gaernurmer,” a small red-haired dwarf by the name of Thurgatrem, who stood at the other end of the bed, answered. “Though you wouldn’t have wakened if it hadn’t been for the potion that actually saved you. You must know, you had already turned stiff like a log when the healer arrived to look at you. Bad magic dust, he said, almost the moment he saw you, very bad! Had to mix a special potion, lest you’d be likely to enter Toll Disporbaroll in a couple of hours. Had to have some rare ingredients as well to concoct that remedy of his! Very rare ones, didn’t have them around either, and the herbs had to be fresh ones too!”

“A potion?” The earth-guide stroked his beard thoughtfully. “So how did you get hold of these ingredients so quickly then?”

“From aboveground, up in the Fores,” Thurgatrem went on. “Way, way up. Got them ourselves. Yellow thistlethorn was the thing...”

“You ventured out there in those unsafe lands rarely a dwarf has ever trodden on?” For it is true that dwarves are very reluctant to see the light of day.

“Sure did! Goldruph, Khardrum, Thurgatrem, Drorm and me,” the last of the five dwarves standing next to the sickbed said, whose name was Mournoum. “Snow, ice, chilly winds and all, wild beasts everywhere... But the Thrumgolz clan is strong and proud, as you well know, my friend, and we overcame the hazards of the forbidding mountain in spite of all the adversities and got you that thistlethorn you so badly needed!”

Though Mournoum failed to mention some details there as well. Escpecially that they had ascended for a bit when they had come across a pack of wargs at a nearby ridge. Or so they had thought. Even the possibility that there might be such beasts roaming the mountainside had driven the whole dwarven lot to seek refuge in a cavern, where they had stayed for a whole hour quivering with fear. Except for Little Mook, who had plodded on all alone intrepidly – maybe because he hadn’t been listening, or the others hadn’t paid enough attention to even notice him. Luckily the wargs had been only in the anxious dwarves’ minds, and so Little Mook had climbed up the mountain all by himself and finally up a steep ledge – from which he eventually had returned safe and sound with the thistlethorn in hands.

“And once again I have to thank you all,” Gaernurmer said.

“Don’t mention it.” Mournoum smiled the smile of a hero.

“And I guess I have to thank the healer too, for brewing me that concoction in the first place. Toll Disporbaroll sure is worth the journey, but as I’ll be taking it anyway at some point, there’s no need to rush.”

The other dwarves in the room nodded in agreement. “Trum-Baroll was with you this time,” Goldruph assured him. “What better proof than to see the potion work like a charm!”

“Indeed!” the red-haired Thurgatrem said. “After all, the healer himself wasn’t too sure whether it might work at all – but as it was the only chance to save you, there was little we could do. But with Trum-Baroll and a bunch of friends, everything’s possible, I guess.”

Though the dwarves forgot to mention one more thing: that when they had returned from their excursion to get the thistlethorn, the healer had noticed Little Mook’s facial features turning more and more pallid and waxen. Clearly, the dwarf must have breathed in some of the noxious dust as well! ‘How convenient that the potion can now be tested on another subject first!’ the dwarves had thought. And so it had happened that Little Mook first had drunk the potion before it was given to the grand dying earth-guide.

“I’m very grateful to all of you,” Gaernurmer thanked his friends again. Then he bid them farewell for now to get some more sleep, as he was still shaky and needed a lot of rest. And so he slept through the whole afternoon and then most of the night.

Came morn, the healer arrived to check on him. Everything was progressing to his satisfaction, he said, and even the prospects of getting the patient back to mining within a fortnight or so were remarkably good. If he felt strong enough, he might even try to get up already, the healer suggested, and that of course improved the earth-guide’s mood quite a bit.

“But excuse me now, Gaernurmer, I need to look at that other patient now,” the healer said. “The other one who breathed the dust like you did, and because he’s so much smaller and weaker than you are, I’m not that sure whether he’ll make it.”

“Which other one?” Gaernurmer inquired, because it was news to him.

The healer adjusted his spectacles and looked up from his notes. “Well, that little guy who went in after you to tie you up, didn’t they tell you? The one who climbed all the way up the Fores to get you some thistlethorn. Though little did we know that he had dust in himself all along! So he was the first to test your potion, and I’m glad we did, for I noticed a couple of things that weren’t quite right with it. I’ve fixed all of that when I brewed it anew for you of course, and I’m glad that I did. However, as far as the little one is concerned, it’s up to Trum-Baroll to decide one way or another.”

Gaernurmer suddenly felt invigorated and got up: “May I see him?”

And so it came that the famous Gaernurmer met Little Mook. For the very first time, actually. Because, to be totally honest, Gaernurmer didn’t remember having seen the other dwarf before at all. Not at work in the mine, nor elsewhere. Little Mook had always been one of many, and as the earth-guide was surrounded by many, one single dwarf among all the other dwarves easily went unnoticed. Even as he saw Little Mook lying in his sickbed, he looked nondescript to him: His face was plain and he was so small that even a dwarven bed appeared way too large for him. He was almost like a hobbit who had wandered into a dwarven infirmary and seemed out of place here.

“Hello there,” the famous earth-guide simply said to Little Mook, for he didn’t even know his name.

“Hello Gaernurmer,“ Little Mook replied, for he of course did.

“I’ve heard you got into quite a bit of trouble, all because of me,” Gaernurmer probed. He still wasn’t sure what to believe.

“I’m sorry, but I didn’t mean to,” Little Mook replied, his voice as hoarse as the other dwarf’s. “Too bad that the dratted dust also got into my own lungs. Didn’t know it would, didn’t tell it to. But I’m so glad you’re all well now!” The little dwarf smiled with tears in his eyes. “After all, you’re my friend, and I wouldn’t have wanted to lose you.”

The earth-guide looked at him quizzically, still wondering how someone he hadn’t even properly noticed until then would call him a friend. “Speaking about friends,” he then began, trying to clear something up. “I guess I’ve got quite a few, haven’t I?”

“I suppose so... After all you’re Gaernurmer, the Strongarmed, the Tunneldevil and Wallbreaker! What a strange question!” Little Mook exclaimed excitedly and laughed out loud, well as excitedly as he could exclaim and laugh with the hoarse voice of his.

“Why is it then that it was you who went into the shaft to tie me up? That it was you who got the thistlethorn for me? That it was you who drank that potion first, thus helping the healer to find the right dose to apply for me? And that it is you who now lies here in front of me, fighting for his life? Why is it that it is always you and not one, not a single one of my many other friends, did any of this what you did? Sure there must be enough friends!”

“But Gaernurmer!” Little Mook shook his head. “That’s easy. Don’t you know? That’s because you have so many friends.”

“I don’t understand...” Gaernurmer said, puzzlement written all over his face.

“Well, you see, you have so many friends, and so do the others. You wouldn’t want to lose a friend, now would you? And so it is with all the others. There’s Drorm and Khardrum and Mournoum and Thurgatrem and Goldruph. And then there are their friends, like Khalmid and Tharming and Zhorgan and Mhort. And Maldren and Khild. And these have friends as well, like Zhogg and Throth, and Proth and Ghorz and Hurghom and Zhorugan and Loumolff and Whart and...”

“I know, I know,” Gaernurmer said impatiently, for he didn’t quite see his point. “We’ve all got our friends. But you still haven’t answered my question. Why did you do it?”

“Because...” Little Mook breathed weakly. “Because you, Gaernurmer, you’re my only friend.”

So that’s our story on how Trum-Baroll came a-knocking on Gaernurmer’s door, just like that dwarven proverb tells us. For indeed there was something the Forgelord wanted him to know, and Trum-Baroll knocked once when Gaernurmer was felled, and he knocked twice when Little Mook got sick, but he didn’t need to knock trice, for the conceited earth-guide had learned his lesson.

Gaernurmer would recover soon thereafter, and eventually Little Mook pulled through too. Though the earth-guide sat many an hour on the little one’s bedside listening to Mook’s visions about Toll Disporbaroll, the dwarves’ final resting place, the realm he might see sooner than the others. Secretly however Gaernurmer prayed to the Rock-Father to spare Little Mook’s life, and the way things turned out, he must have been heard.

From then on you would see the famed, strong-armed, alluring earth-guide always in the rather unlikely company of a skinny, unsightly, a somewhat queer and naive little dwarf, who was a bit dim and weak and awkward to be around with. The only thing Gaernurmer regretted was that the Forgelord himself had to open his eyes to make him see true friendship. But there he was now with Little Mook, with whom he had something in common he had never thought of before, and that was that he didn’t have many friends. Maybe he just had one, his only friend.
 


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 Date of last edit 11th Singing Bird 1676 a.S.

Fairy tale written by by Artimidor Federkiel View Profile