THE COPPER DWARF
BY BARD JUDITH


It is said that there exists a dwarf who haunts the road from Tyr Ethran in the Mithral Mountains, northwest of Marcogg in the Santharian province of Manthria. People say he is sweeping his ghostly axe through the ferns at the path’s edge to maim sceptical travellers with joint-cramp... Would you like to know more about the Copper Dwarf? Read on, but only if you're not afraid...


n the province of Manthria, the great Mithral Mountains dominate the landscape, sweeping along the eastern coast with their grey heads in the clouds. There, in the depths of the mountains, the dwarven clans live, far below the rocks of the surface, the mists of the open air, the sea breezes and the rays of the Injèrá… There dwell the huge families of the Mitharim in their underground capital, Kor Mithrid, and the dwarven towns Tyr Donion of the Trading Caves and Tyr Ethran of the Copper Caverns. And this tale is of the last, the secret darknesses of Tyr Ethran.

Once in the long-ago and very-near… there dwelt a curious fisheryouth along the coast. In Kolbruk they claim he lived in the village of Nepris, but in Nepris they say Kolbruk… At that time men and dwarves did not trade freely at Tyr Donion as they do now, and Nepris – or Kolbruk - saw no Thergerim at its docks seeking fish for forged iron. Yet this young man, scarcely more than a boy, had heard stories of the dark-eyed, pale-skinned, great-bearded creatures that lived in the windy mountains, and he yearned to see them for himself. So one day he packed a loaf of semm, three dried fish, and a pouch of ale into his rucksack, and set his face to the southwest, along the edge of the Mithrals.
 

He traveled from Scrubday through Ploughday, Washday through Bakeday, stopping only to eat his bread, drink his ale, and munch his fish. At night he rested on the soft ferns under the sahnrix pines, listening to the kuatu chatter into sleep and the crows flock home to roost. And ever he left the trails, prying into stony ravines and moss-lined canyons, seeking for some trace of the secretive Thergerim.

At the end of a week he was thinner but no wiser, and he began to look less for the prints of dwarven boots and more for the succulent sulcho mushrooms, the pine nuts, and the other fare which the mountains would offer if he had the wit to find it. At the end of two weeks, he was near dizzy with hunger, for he was good with his nets but had no feel for the earth and its gifts. But in the early dusk of Fastday, he came upon a patch of the Sulchos, richly-fleshed and ringed with moss, and it was there that a Thergerim came upon him.

“What do ye with my mushrooms, lad?” the dwarf’s gruff voice enquired. The fisheryouth scrambled to his feet, and stood, swaying. Before him was one of the fabled Mitharim, his coppery beard braided neatly, dressed in tan leathers and bearing a shovel over one shoulder. Eyes the colour of pine amber watched him sternly, and one hand rested on the small axe thrust through his wide leather belt.

“Master Dwarf!” he gasped. “I sought food… but more, I sought you!” And then the dark of hunger closed in around the youth, and he knew no more.

When he opened his eyes again, the flicker of firelight off rough-hewn stone met his dizzy gaze, and the scent of hot meat and frying weeproot. A hairy head was thrust into sight, and the copper-bearded dwarf grinned through his beard. A golden bowl was in one large hand, and a golden candlestick in the other.

“Be feeling better, lad? Weak things ye humans be. If it’s food ye want, put some of this away. We’ll feed ye up and rest ye, and then ye’d best be on your way back to your mother, for ye ought not to be from her breast yet by the look of ye.”

The boy took the proffered bowl – a meaty stew with plenty of fat, as the dwarves like it – and ate without speaking till he was done.

The dwarf took the bowl from him and let him sleep, and when he woke, there was more. The youth could not tell how much time had passed, tucked away in a sleeping niche in the side of the low-ceilinged cavern that he learned was named Tyr Ethran in the dwarvish tongue, but he slept and ate four times before he felt strong enough to rise again. Then the Copper Dwarf solemnly bound a clout of linen round the boy’s eyes, saying, “We of the Thergerim allow no humans to learn where our deep caves are, our mines and our children, our priests and our forges… so ye must go blind to the surface, and blind for a day after, so that ye lead no gold-hungry humans to our city here below.”

He took the boy’s hand and led him for hours, stumbling over cavern floors, then rough rocks and rolling scree, then the pine-needle scented soft dirt of the foothills. Finally the sandy danknesses of the forests near the shore met the boy’s weary feet, and the dwarf bade him stop.

“Here we will rest the day, for ye are still weak. Or perhaps all humans are as frail as ye are? Ye may take the cloth off now an ye would, for ye’ll see little of where ye are... “ He built a fire swiftly as he spoke. “In the evening we will go on again, and then ye may seek your home on your own, for I would come within sight of no more surface-dwellers.” He slung his dark cloak between four small birch trees to give them shade and set out a coarse pallet for the fisheryouth. And so they spent the day in slumber, lulled by the birds and the sound of the sea.

But what the Copper Dwarf knew not was that the boy had secretly loosened the band so that he could peer out from under it, watching the turns of the paths they had taken, and listening with all his might. Nor could he know that the crash of the waves on the rocks nearby was as clear a sign to the fisherlad of his whereabouts as a map might be. So when they rose in the evening and the linen blindfold was replaced, the boy did not even bother to loosen it again, for he was confident of his path.

The dwarf led him all night, and as the first light of dawn showed over the Adanian Sea, the cloth came from his eyes and he found himself on a packed dirt road by the edge of the water. The dwarf leaned on his axe, watching the youth with his coppery eyes.

“This road leads south to your human town of ParThanUl, boy, and north to OnVed through NehPriz.” The boy heard the Tharian syllables rolling strangely from the Thergerim tongue, but in the gruffness there was yet kindness. “May ye find your home, where ever it be, lad. And do not seek out the Thergerim again, lest no one find your bones ere they still have flesh on them!”

It was scarcely a candledrip later when the boy, running north, met with a band of merchants traveling the coastal road, and bade them follow him. Skeptical, yet tempted by his description of golden cooking vessels and richly gemmed lanterns, and curious about the fabled Mitharim, they split their party in half; half to remain with the wagons pulled off the road and guard them for a day, half to take the horses and travel up into the hills with the boy.

So it came about that eight armed merchants ahorse, one boy riding pillion, and a bow-bearing guard, encountered one copper-bearded dwarf trudging home to his cavern. And so it was that the nine men and the one boy all fell before the dwarf’s whirling axe, when he realized his betrayal, yet not before he himself was wounded unto death. He scribed some dwarven runes upon a rock near the path that told his account briefly ere he died, and thus the bards came to know of the tale.

And still they say, in Nepris, or perhaps in Kolbruk, that those who stray too far west from the Nepris/Parthanul Coastal Road will find themselves confronted by the spirit of the Copper Dwarf, his ruddy beard glistening, his white-gleaming axe sweeping through the ferns and pine trunks alike. And where that ghostly weapon strikes, it shall cripple the unwary traveller with joint-cramp, to the end of his days...

 

Story written by Bard Judith View Profile