THE MIDNIGHT MORJUAL OR THE BAT OF THE LAST HOUR

A DWARVEN FOLK TALE

 
The Shendar Book of Myths   
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Introduction. This dwarven folktale originates from the Low Fores area but is familiar to dwarflings from many clans; it is a favorite of grannydwarves who see it as a character-building story for their young ones, with a moral having to do with persistence - certainly a valued dwarven virtue! The ill-favoured youth who is the protagonist gains his eventual reward from the minor but important character of the Morjual, the humble cave bat from which the story takes its name. Sparkling with humor and little cultural details that make it so obviously a tale from the Thergerim, this tale can now take its place among other much-loved children's fables...
 

 have a tale to tell you, young ones. Come sit down by the hearth.

(excited chatter as the dwarflings settle themselves around the narrator)

Are your mouths closed and your ears wide?

(every small head nods vigorously, eyes sparkling at the traditional phrase – something of a trick question, because if they answer aloud they obviously do not have their ‘mouths closed’)

Then hear and learn from the story of the Midnight Morjual.

(the narrator allows himself a smile at the children and begins, in the rolling formal style of dwarven tale-telling)

In the Thrumgolz Clan of the Low Fore Mountains, just westerly of the Ancythrian Sea, there lived a dwarf lad whose name was Bruk. Bruk he was named but Ungerthom was he called – ‘Plain-headed’ or ‘Ugly-faced’, that is – for his countenance was not of the most pleasing to look upon.

His brow was broad as a dwarf’s should be, but high and bulbous to boot. His nose was an insignificant half-shroom, not much more prominent than a human’s, and his chin gave promise of only a scraggly beard rather than the bushy glory which defines a male Thergerim’s face. Nor was his stature much better. His shoulders were not thick with muscle as the other youths’, nor his chest the deep breathbox that a dwarf should boast. His build was bony and lanky, with the big dwarven hands at the end of surprisingly long gangling arms...in short, no Thrumgolzim lass had cast her eye upon Ungerthom, nor seemed likely to.

To make it worse, perhaps because of his humanish stature, he had not the coordination which dwarven craftsmanship requires, combined with an uncanny ability to attract bad luck. His clothing invariably was out-of-elbows or torn at the seams, double-sew it though his mother would, and his boots down-at-heel. He would trip over the slightest pebble on the cave floor – but instead of merely scraping his knees, he would land poorly and break a finger. Fine tools such as carving knives and jeweler’s hammers would turn in his hands and bite him, or thump his thumbnails. Other dwarves would not work in close proximity to him at the mineface, for though he could get through quite a few peds in a day, and his pickaxe never actually flew from his grasp, it seemed to spray chips of stone at the strangest, most eye-threatening angles.

Now at this time of which I am telling you, Ungerthom and his fellow youths were a scant eighty or so years and had but just achieved their Baregozar – their time of passage from adolescence into maturity. The girls of their generation, as TrumBaroll oft seems to will it, had gone ahead of them by some few years and were waiting impatiently for the lads to catch up, so that they might all enter into the ceremony of adulthood together.

And, so that they all might, the elders of the clan set the time of the Wirrutharoon, where each dwarven youth would bring his or her masterwork as a showpiece of skill and dedication. They would have a year to prepare themselves, whether their gift be baking or art, forgework or carving, embroidery or singspeaking. Over and over again they measured and cut, delved and hammered, ground and sliced, practicing or making a start on the Wirrurt itself.

The young weaverlass - for whom many of Ungerthom’s friends had an eye – set up her loom and began combing and spinning her finest fibers. Her twin, prenticed to the Foodtenders of the clan, spent her time tending her own underground gardens, making preserves and salting away foodstuffs. The smiths’ lads scattered to the farthest edges of the diggings, seeking ancient tunnels or fresh ones, hoping for a seam of rarer ore or a fine deposit of crystals that they might craft into bright weapons and ornaments. Several others went out Aboveground night after night, honing their tracking and hunting skills, bringing back game for the table but always searching for the most elusive or dangerous quarry they could hope to find in their area.

Ungerthom had never shown any particular gift. Unlike his quiet cousin (his mother’s brother’s son), whose Direction-sense was so strong as to almost palpably radiate from his body, or his own brother, a broadchested warrior with sleek coordination, the gangly young dwarf seemed to lack competence. When he left childhood at about thirty years of age, by default he was given a place at the rock faces, swinging a pick, and while the exercise had given him true dwarven stamina, it never seemed to build up his frame – nor to encourage his interest in the glittering ores and jewels that the clan might find among the deep veins of the Fores.

So as the Wirrutharoon drew closer, the elders of his clan watched with some apprehension. The young dwarf continued to work stolidly in the tunnels, return home to the dark springs each dawn, wash and break bread with his peers as he had done for the last fifty years – but never a sign of effort to a Mining Wirrurt did he make. He laboured at the minefaces, paid his customary visits to the Morjualerons Mews, where his girlcousin (father’s twinbrother’s daughter, in this case) was training as a Singspeaker, did his devoirs faithfully with the Denirim, took whatever classes the Elders directed his agemates to, but put not one iota of extra energy to creating anything on his own.

He was not surprised in a new element, either – not carving delicate lovespoons from eur’oak as another minerlad was, nor was he found in the babes’ moss-pit teaching them HumanTaal (and that particular lass, whom most had thought a shy thing, once set under the Speaker-to-Others’ guidance, blossomed to become a translator and negotiator with the Aboveground Folk, and won her clan much income - but that is another story. Back to Ungerthom we must go…) In short, the boy seemed hopeless.

His folk were not able to understand it either, and many were the meals that were accompanied with acrimonious chiding, rather like this…

His mother, gruffly peering from under her silvered brows:

“Bruk, lad, hast taken any thought to what showing ye might make for the Wirrutharoon?

Bruk, making no answer, chews on his roast kajor. His mother, gruffer still:

“Withouten a Wirrurt, ye know, ye stay a child another ten years. An’ your friends leave ye behind, in working an’ wedding an’ bedding.”

Bruk’s father coughs, shooting his wife a glance which clearly says, ‘Let it alone, yehlithinn…’
His ‘dear one’ ignores her, seeing Bruk continuing his meal in seemingly sullen silence.

“We won’t be feeding a child at this table for ever, ye know! Ye will be making a choice and a try at your Wirrurt or it’s out with the next bachelors ye go – better soon than later!”

Here Bruk’s father attempts to intervene again, but he is overridden by his wife’s raised voice,
“Ye’ll be a Yabarrah and ye know it… masterwork or no, there’s nay a lass in this cavern will take ye for a mate!”

Ungerthom bore this and subsequent suppers in his usual glumness. He had never been vastly articulate, but under the nagging of his mother, the goodnatured contempt of his agemates, and the unvoiced but weighty pressure of the elders’ opinions, he became positively mute. His habits changed not, even to the hours he worked and the bread he broke with his family – despite the constant monologues. And the month of the Wirrutharoon drew nearer...

Still the Plainfaced had nothing to show: no skill practiced, no project begun. His tunnel lines were as crooked as ever, though they ran deep, and he found no more nor less than the other miners each work day, meeting his quotas with sheer doggedness. But bad luck haunted his tread just as persistently; in fact, it became downright dangerous to be anywhere near the lad. And the week before the Wirrutharoon was to begin – well, perhaps we should tell you in detail just how much misfortune befell young Bruk.

On the first day of the workweek - Hunden or Homeday - Ungerthom was helping the mushroom harvesters; the plump Sulcho had sprung up in record quantities over the restday before and would grow woody and tough if not picked quickly. Indeed, although every dwarven youth not otherwise spoken for, down to the children, was gathering, it seemed that the mushrooms were growing back up under their fingers, so thickly did they cluster. Dawn came, and the weary miners returned for their suppers, but the harvesters picked on - late into the day they worked, until the Timeclock’s lightspot glowed full noon. The Foodtenders finally shook their heads, looking at the overflowing baskets.

“Come on, lads and lasses, there be more but we’ve no room for them! The cold cellar is already full and the drying caves will be up to the top of the racks as is. Bring the baskets along to the main cavern and we’ll process them on the morrow – but then to bed with ye all!”

The procession of young dwarves, each bearing their bounty of Sulcho, came wearily down the wide stone steps into the main cave, where the great fire on the communal hearth had long since been banked for the day. Ungerthom, unfortunately, was near the front. As he set his foot down on the last step, a shroom rolled from his laden basket and dropped under his boot. It squashed most dramatically, and the youth’s foot slid on the pulpy mess, sending him skidding backwards. His basket soared upwards, spraying more mushrooms over the staircase, and in three ticks of a hobbit watch, the entire line had lost their footing, toppled over each other, and sent Sulcho rolling throughout the cavern.

Mashii Sahyeh, the Chief Foodtender, widened her already-huge eyes, sighed, and set her hands on ample hips. “All right, younglings, no use whining about it. Get the reed mats from the babes’ play area and scoop up all the shrooms quickly. They’ll take no harm if we leave this batch to dry by the hearth as is – and tomorrow you’ll be up at the break of dusk to pick the fresh ones we need! Except YOU, Bruk!”

Tahunden – Forgeday – did not go much better. Ungerthom trudged off to his default task of clearing rubble from his current tunnel assignment, and the support timbers – checked only three days ago – cracked through. Normally this would have made no difference as the wood was considered to be a secondary safety precaution: the Low Fore clan, like most Thergerim, prided themselves on the way in which they could remove rock to create useful and sturdy spaces. But the rock pillars which were supposed to have been actually supporting the tunnel roof simply crumbled like limestone, nearly filling the tunnel and trapping Ungerthom for about four hours. I say ‘trapping’, younglings, but of course he kept his head and began digging himself out from his side just as soon as the dust settled and the anxious tapcode from the other miners in his section died down. It took nearly another four hours to get the new rubble clear, so that was that for the day.

Heorden (Storage-day) Nothing appeared to happen during the work-night, but as the tired and dusty dwarves discovered at the end of their shift, the bathing pools had drained dry, every one of them. By this point even the most patient elder was looking askance at “Bruk the Bane”, as the other youths were calling him, and it didn’t take long to discover that in the process of doing a simple errand for his mother – enlarging a bookniche in the side of the Scrolls and Tablets cave – he had managed to crack through into a water channel and divert the hot spring’s source. The water hadn’t reached even the lowest niches, and of course the tablets were unhurt, but a basket of imported elven scrolls (on forestry management) that had been awaiting shelving were completely washed out and would have to be replaced at some point. The masons took their time before dinner to repair the wall, but even so the pools would have to refill overday, and people had to sponge themselves down from cauldrons with much grumbling.

Kagozden (Generous-day)

“Oi, Bruk-Bane! Plainface! What’re y’ doing today?”

Ungerthom swung his head to look suspiciously at the young dwarves who were hailing him.
“Reshelvin’ some tablets for the Denirim,” he answered briefly. He kept walking towards the old priest’s cavern, carefully skirting the clusters of decorative glow-shrooms and the Nose-whacker, as the heavy stalactite outside the Denirim’s archway was nicknamed.

“Just asking, y’ know, so we can work the other end of the clan,” the same voice continued, “cos we’d be safer with the pitdamp!”

“Or the Drell infestation they found yestereve!”

“I’d take the Drells and the pitdamp, so long’s I could have a hot bath after…”

“Don’t bash your face now, laddie…” one of his year-mates called after him, snickering, ‘y’ might bring the Deni’s cave down atop him!” Ungerthom twisted his mouth sourly, making no response, and plunged past the threshold into the warm sand floor of the priest’s cave, with the guffaws of the other dwarves ringing in his ears.

Alas, while he had successfully avoided the Nose-whacker, the Denirim was immediately and unexpectedly in his way, and Ungerthom’s rising leg caught the old priest across the shins. Both dwarves crashed to the floor in a tangle of limbs, ripping cloth, and spraying sand.

The Denirim sat up ruefully, looking at the rent from hem to knee in his rockmoss robe.
“This cloth is tougher than I, young one. However did ye manage to tear it without a knife, hum?”

Muttering apologies through the sand in his teeth, Ungerthom rose and offered his arm to the elder. The Denirim began to pull himself up, but as he let his weight shift to his legs, suddenly gasped and sank back down.

“I am feared that my ankle has twisted, Bruk lad. Would ye fetch a healer, I pray?”

Ungerthom allowed himself one silent groan of dismay before wheeling to sprint for help. Further investigation proved that the ankle was indeed twisted, and the healer (yet another cousin of Bruk’s, this one a generation older) thought that a bone-thong might even have torn inside as well. She gave the downcast young dwarf a tongue-lashing for his carelessness, not failing to point out that the Denirim’s services would be much in demand over the next month of Wirrutharoon celebrations, while his, Ungerthom’s, were not only generally unhelpful but positively hazardous.

The Denirim, assisted by some healing magery, a tight bandage, and a stout stave, was hobbling about before bedtime, and courteously but cautiously accepted Bruk’s further apologies and assistance in sorting the tablets he had originally planned to have moved.

Enduring Day: As luck, or at least Bruk-luck, would have it, this fifth-day of Mearkden was the once-a-month celebration of YehHutden, as the Low Fore clan practiced it. Ungerthom, having no especial dwarvenmaid to court, usually performed his Hutden service for his father’s-sisters and mother’s-sisters, or assorted female cousins. He successfully brought a fresh bucket of clay in for his potter aunt, replenished his mother’s stock of Moorgul sauce by bartering with one of the grannies, and without incident stirred the ash-water for a dubious Mashii, who was making soap and needed an extra pair of strong arms.

The trouble started when he attempted to clean out a Morjual midden for his Singspeaker cousin and somehow set every bat in the cavern chitting with frenzy before they swarmed out of the concealed exit crevice. Communications were interrupted for the next half-night as the upset Morjualerons flitted back one by one, and several important messages from the Mitharim clan were garbled or lost altogether.

On Rearden (Waited-for-day) Ungerthom did not even make it out of his sleepniche before ill luck tracked him down . He awoke to the scent of hot Kao‘shroom, sat up eager to break his fast, and cracked his skull against the rock above him. His father measured him with a wary look and assured him that no, he hadn’t grown two thumbspans overday, but Bruk swore it was either that or the ceiling had crept down while he was sleeping. He ate his breakfast and then announced that he was going back to bed until Lithdem and the start of the Wirrutharoon.

“Unless the roof does smother me in m’ bed, Huttol mine mother, and then at least nothing worse can happen to the rest of the clan…”

And the dusk came without further mischance, ushering in Lithdem (Love-of-family-day) and the celebrations. The hapless young dwarf swung carefully out of bed, pulled on his rocktrews and simple tunic, and was about to leave the cavelet when his mother caught his shoulder with a disapproving grunt.

“It IS the Wirrutharoon, my lad, and ye will wear the new yellow shirt I ‘broided for you with the Human wool. It looks as well as anythin’ can on ye, so put it on. And the umber boots t’ match, if ye please.”

“Mother,” Ungerthom groaned, “it will make no difference t’ no one whether I wear broidered wool or horsehide t’day. A Yabarrah with sharded luck and a face like a gerrezt’n above-grounder… no dwarf will prentice me, let alone wed me.”

It was only what she had been saying all along, but a mother’s privilege is to be the only one to criticize her child, and so she was quick to change her strike-facet.

“No, no, my Bruk, don’t ye be thinkin’ that way now. Put on the yellow tunic, then, and the belt and boots, do, lad. Ye may as well make a good showin’ for the family, and if ye must go Above-ground with the rest of the bachelors, well, every Wirru there are two or three. Tis the way we are born, with more men than maids to go round. An’ at least the Humans will see a dwarf with some brains in his head, heh?”

Ungerthom donned his finery in silence, letting her soothe on. Breakfast was ready, and the family ate together and did a few simple household tasks before leaving the homecavelet together for the gathering hall.

The cavern of the hall was the Low Fore dwarves’ showpiece of stonework – perhaps not the most spectacular compared to the masonry of other clans, but beautifully crafted nonetheless. All around the exterior circle, unique columns of living rock sprang from the inlaid stone floor, widening at base and top in organic shapes as if they had flowed rather than been cut. Giant stalagmites rose between them, in frozen waves and drips of rock polished to a high shine, like a long-burning candle. In the very centre of the hall was a raised circular dais, also still attached to the motherrock and surrounded by one encircling step, so that it could be reached from any direction. In the very centre of that dais was the clan’s Timeclock, on a still-further raised pedestal, a shaft of moonlight striking through from the tiny hole pierced in the ceiling far above. Its pale silvery beam was a contrast with the other lights in the cavern; warm orange torches and oil-lamps set in niches around the space, and watery blue and green glows from the various phosphorescent mosses and mushrooms planted here and there.

Row after row of simple rockmoss cushions had been placed on the lines of the inlaid floor pattern, radiating outwards from the centre with thin aisles between them. More than two-thirds of the seats were already filled, dwarves sitting cross-legged with their wide backs upright and their beards flowing into their laps. Everyone, children and granthers alike, would be here for the starting ceremonies, which would last the 'day' and officially begin the month of the Wirrutharoon, so there was plenty of noise in the cavern. Twins were nursing at their mothers’ freely-offered bosoms, younglings were chasing each other in the aisles, and the young dwarves ready to become adults were nearly panting in their eagerness to get to the dais when their names should be called. It was nearly full midnight, and their time would come.

Walking just behind his parents, Ungerthom’s mournful gaze took in the space – for the last time, no doubt, he mentally noted – and the many excited faces. He felt a deep sickness in his belly, and as he seated himself inconspicuously beside a stalagmite pillar near the back, the whole cavern seemed to move and shudder before his eyes. No one else seemed distressed, though, and he surreptitiously wiped away the beads of sweat on his bulbous brow with the sleeve of his new tunic.

He had no gift to present. He had no skill to display. He had nothing to show for his years of life among the clan. Had this ever happened before in dwarven history? Had even the most clumsy dwarf stood before his Elders and his Denirim, his Gornegron and the other chiefs, the whole of the clan… emptyhanded at the Wirru trials? He was sure that he would not merely be allowed to leave quietly with the other bachelors. Doubtless he would be expelled from the cavern, branded as truly undwarven, outcast from the Thergerim forever. The Humans and other Above-grounders would know his shame. He would have to go and live with the ….what were they called again? M-something, swamp-dwellers. Mewlips, Muddogs….Mullogs, yes, and eat frogs and frent for the rest of his miserable days.

In his brooding he did not hear the Denirim take the dais and begin with prayer, nor the Gornegron affably welcome the whole clan and begin the announcements. It was only when his father squeezed his forearm and nodded grimly forwards that Ungerthom’s daze cleared and he realized that his yearmates were all rising and ascending the dais. He rose, managing to rip the edging off his cushion with his too-stiff new boots, and stumbled forwards up the now-endless aisle to join them.

His face flushing behind its scanty beard, his hands hanging limply by his sides, he found a place in the circle of youth, facing outwards to the clan with the elders behind them in the centre. He stared out into the dim light, seeing the dwarven faces as mere pale blurs. Somehow he had come up at an angle, so his family were no longer in the segment of the circle in front of him, but that was of no moment now. The Denirim – still hobbling, Bruk’s ears told him guiltily – was coming around the circle to stand with a hand on the shoulder of each youth in turn, presenting him or her formally to the clan and announcing their chosen calling or ability. He did not know what the old priest would say when he got to Bruk. Perhaps, he agonized, only the nicknames he had accumulated: Plainface, Tanglefoot, Bruk-bane… The sneering titles drummed hotly in his head, drowning out the various introductions and the cheerful tongue-clacking of dwarven applause.

Then the clacking stopped, and the Denirim’s limping step as well. The old hand fell gently on his shoulder and paused there. The priest was silent for long moments – long enough for a mutter to begin in the cavern. Ungerthom was certain that he could hear the nicknames moving around, mouth to ear to mouth again, hissed through beards and echoing from stone.

“This is Bruk of the Low Fore Thrumgolz,” the Denirim began, and his deep tones instantly hushed the whispers. “This is Bruk, he who always has a hand ready to lend when a dwarf needs help. He comes to the Wirru with his generosity, with his time…”

The young dwarf felt his ears flame up, and a darkening in his vision. He knew immediately, sickeningly, what the Denirim was trying to do; soften the hurt of rejection with the simple platitudes he was voicing.

Oh, not that the old priest wasn’t sincere, but his attempt to soothe the announcement he must make sooner or later only scraped Ungerthom more bitterly. The truth was that he had brought nothing, had no talent to give to the good of the clan. He could not listen to this longer and retain any self-respect that he had left. He would leave on his own terms, and tell them all they could burn in Trum-Barol’s orefires.

Ungerthom shook off the Denirim and turned in one swift movement. His back was to the audience now, and he was facing the elders in the central circle. Beside him, his agemates’ eyes flickered, widened, some even going so far as to turn their heads for a better look at the unexpected movement.

The gangling dwarven youth opened his mouth to speak, and what he had to say would doubtless have had him banished in reality as in fantasy, but for a timely interruption. The shaft of moonlight passed across the exact second of midnight, triggering a mage-sounded ripple of bells, and at the same time a Morjual darted across the cavern’s dome, skimming above the circle of gaping youngsters and falling spent into one of the elders’ hands, the Master Singspeaker and Bat-Tender to whom Bruk’s girlcousin was apprenticed.

Its velvety wings fluttered and its tiny breast beat rapidly. Ungerthom winced, thinking this one more of the scattered victims of his well-meant Hutden service, and by the glare the elders fixed him with, they agreed. The bat should never have come anywhere except back to its perch in the Morjualeron Mews…But nonetheless it seemed a minor distraction, and the Gornegron gathered himself to shoo the lad back into the youth circle, still with his usual benevolent ‘chieftain’s smile’. He was halted by the upraised hand of the Singspeaker, whose fixed stare and flared ears showed the intensity of his concentration upon the small morsel still panting in his hand.

The ‘chits’ of batcode are almost inaudible, as you know, younglings, but some of you talented ones can already hear them even without the marvelous Singspeaker tools, and the Master certainly knew the codes by heart. The message must of necessity have been short, but to everyone there in the hush of the gathering cavern it seemed endless, all eyes fixed on that central circle with its odd break and its strange small guest...

Bruk himself could only hear the hammering of his strong dwarven heart, leaping against his ribs like the Morjual’s wings, it seemed. He, like everyone else, was frozen in place by the sudden solemnity of the moment, his choler roiling his belly but unable to rise and spew its angry words into the quiet.

The bat trembled, its throat throbbing with the message it was conveying; it paused for a moment, panting, and began again, as the Master’s head bent closer to it and his brow furrowed with effort.

Then the soft wings fluttered once more and went limp, the small dark body looking like a clot of dirt in the strong pale palm of the Singspeaker. A soft sigh went round the circle of youths, by now all unabashedly turned to face inward, but before the stir could spread to the cavern of watchers, the Bat-Master raised his head. His eyes glittered weirdly in the cold blue beam of moonlight surrounding him, and he spoke.

“This Morjual came, if my ears be not in error, from the mountain caves of Zaramon itself. It bears a message from the Archmage LuuKa Groundwoven, the high master of the Earth Tower in the great Academy of Ximax, and,” he paused, his glance meeting the Gornegron’s briefly before flashing around the cavern, “it summons one of our own to the Tower.”

The unified gasp and rising rumble of voices went round the cave walls like a distant rockfall, not easily hushed by the Singspeaker’s moonlit glare. He stood stone-still, his broad hand still immobile before his chest cradling the tiny bat-body, but his brows and lids spoke for him, and slowly the noise dwindled.

“It calls,” he went on - deliberate and rumbling, his deep voice building in power to almost a chant - “ it calls one of our own to train and learn the ways of earth-magery, to raise and control the stones of the earth, to master his own hidden gifts and show them forth with strength, for the praise of the clan, the will of the Thergerim, and the glory of TrumBarol! Bruk, called Ungerthom, stand forth!”

Bruk came back to himself with a frantic heart-thud that felt more like a mallet strike to his chest, gulping the sour dryness away from his mouth. His gangling legs seemed asleep, his knees locked and feet tingling with a shooting pain. The gentle touch of the Denirim, still patiently standing by the youth’s shoulder, was a jolt that broke the paralysis and allowed him to lurch forwards, nearly falling to his knees in front of the elders. In complete disbelief he stared at the long-bearded, deep-eyed faces in front of him, each one seeming to glow with a weirdly-wrinkled map of their character as the Timelight’s blue glow fell over them. But each face held nothing but pride and wonderment in different proportions – no judgement, no scorn or dismissal – one of their sons was named and known to the Earth Mage of all earth mages, a dwarf of great wisdom and loved by TrumBarol – one of their sons was called to honour and power among the rulers of magic – Bruk of the Low Fores – Bruk called Ungerthom…he, Bruk…

The cavern whirled around him, the elders blurring and the light seeming to recede. He felt dizzy, sick as with pit-damp, his head pulsing with an energy that did not match his heartbeat. He seemed to feel an line of stone, axe-sharp, rising under his feet, so that he balanced on a cutting edge that radiated outward, through the new rumble of the dwarven spectators, out through the walls of the cavern themselves and into the clean darkness of the night air. He felt a wild elation, a sickening terror, a surge of passion, a desire to howl, a song and a scream, all lifting and churning in himself so that it seemed he could not contain it.

Yet of all the emotions and thoughts boiling up in Bruk’s heart, one tiny bubble of feeling rose and broke over him, light and jagged, and one picture held his eye; that small clot of dark fur motionless on the stone-still palm. It was not right, should not be so, a wrongness in the pulsing lines that surrounded him, a fault in the oreveins, a knot in a taut rope. His mind picked at it, raced over the image of its faltering wings shuddering to a stop, again and again in a mere candle’sdrip. He saw the pulse of its heart snuff out as if it had fallen to his hand, heard the tiny chitterings fade, felt the delicate wing-leather cooling on his skin. And then, equally clearly, he sensed the opposite, as if the bat rose leaping within his body and would break out of his mouth, and overcome, Bruk threw his head back and arms wide, and let it break free.

Energy – raw earthmagic denied its proper or skilled use until now – ardour hot as forge-melt and strong as granite came flooding out of the tall youth in an earth-rippling wave of power. The dais of living rock quite meekly rolled like water, dropping his peers on their faces or rumps, toppling the elders and warping the pedestal of the Timeclock. The power slapped outward, so that the rings of seated dwarves were likewise tossed up and dropped, stone meeting bone only slightly less solid, and scattering moss cushions like plump cuuloos. Children wailed in fright as the stalagmites around them shook like trees in a heavy wind, yet somehow failed to break. And at the centre of it all, in the swirling ring of blue light shot with sparks that flowed from Bruk, one small Morjual shook its damp wings free and flung itself restored into the air, darting round the maelstrom as merrily as if it were but chasing dalor-bugs of a summer’s eve.

(the narrator stops, and smiles down at the little dwarflings, all wide-eyed with wonder, the bat seeming to flit through their bright eyes still as the story-mist fades from their minds…)

You have listened well, and learned. Now there is but one short part more to tell you, my younglings.

Bruk did indeed leave his cavern with the other Yabarrah bachelors at the end of the Wirutharoon, but he went in honour, and they as his bodyguard on the long road to Zaramon. Clad in ringmail and bearing mithril-shod staves they went, and bore Bruk to the Earth Tower at Ximax. There he swore his oaths and served his apprenticeship in magery, and learned the mastery of his powers over the elemental Earth, and in time came to rule the Tower in his turn. And there, while not yet the great successor to the Archmage LuuKa, he met, was wooed by, and won the clever hu’ling (her mother a hobbit earthcaster, her father a human herbalist) lass Sallanni Hedgerow, herself strong in the ways of earth car ’all, and bonny as a snowy deer. Long they lived, and merrily, in the halls of the Zirghurim, under the roots of Mount Watcher, until their bones became stone and they joined Lord TrumBarol. And so may we all do when our time comes!
 


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Folk tale written by Bard Judith View Profile