Part 2) Flint
Flint listened to the old dwarf tell his story, as he had been doing for some time. He listened very carefully. He did not want to miss a single part of the tale, though he was starting to tire, the dwarf had been telling his story for nearly fifty hours. Nearly two days.
He listened carefully because he needed the knowledge of this venerated old man and it was the respectful thing to do. He listened carefully because he knew that a casual question on his part could lead to a long, many hour, or even day long answer from the old grey bearded dwarf.
The events of the story he had been listening to had started nearly two hundred years ago when the vast orcish tribes of the north had crossed the Barrier Mountain Range and swept down through the eastern FreeHolds and Elquin. Unlike previous migrations of the tribes, where they had raided the northern parts of the human territories then returned to the Wild Realms of the north after a few years, they had been so numerous and well lead that they had crashed upon the realms like a great wave destroying a coastal city. Entire populations had been slaughtered or carried off by the orc and it was nearly a hundred years before the strongest of the tribes had been defeated. In that time most of the eastern FreeHolds had been destroyed.
Not just the realms of humans and dwarves, but also the last enclaves of the elvish folk and, most importantly to Flint, the Halls of the Rovers.
This old dwarf, Grahgruk Korumnda, and his kin had fought those orc tribes along side Flint’s ancestors and many others. The decisive battle that finally shattered the orc had taken place in the southern part of the Kaffern Hills, a place now covered by the sands of the Sudakkar Waste. One hundred and eleven years ago the lowland dwarves, FreeHolders, Elquin, and even the Maldorn with their sky-ships and alchemy had all fought alongside Flint’s ancestors. Together they had defeated the great armies of the orc.
The story ended with the battle between the orcish war leader and Grahgruk, who had seen Flint’s grandfather cut down before he could join the melee. When the story was done, quiet settled across the dwarven hall. Then after many moments of contemplation the old dwarf raised his cup and made a toast to Flint’s grandfather, the family line of Darner and lastly Flint himself. The old dwarf declared Flint a friend of the dwarves, then one of Grahgruk’s granddaughters took needle and ink and placed the knot of friendship around Flint’s left wrist.
Dwarves bestowing a knot of friendship always followed such an event with a feast to celebrate. The feast to honour Flint lasted nearly three days. Short by dwarven standards, the food and drink flowed freely with song and wrestling and the presentation of finely crafted gifts given to Flint by Grahgruk’s family and hall. The feast ended when Grahgruk presented Flint with the hand-and-a-half sword once wielded by his grandfather, saved from the battlefield by Grahgruk himself. The blade was not crafted by human nor dwarf, but was a blade of the ancient Eldra. Those folk who had established the Rover Halls, they who had mixed their blood with humans an age ago and passed on to some lives and abilities greater than others.
To drink and eat and game were all fine things. The honour the dwarves bestowed on him was happily received and the gifts would help him in his travels, some likely to be passed down to his children’s children. Flint’s time in the dwarven hall, built underground and lacking natural light or any other marker of the passing of time, was a test of his endurance unlike any other. Though disassociated from the passage of days he knew he had slept thrice while he had visited. The first time had been after introductions and a greeting feast, before Grahgruk began the tale Flint had asked to hear. The second time he had slept was after the story had been told and many hours into the feast that celebrated the friendship between he and the dwarves. He had awoke in the feasting hall with the party in full swing and finally after another estimated two days of carousing he had been given a private chamber and once bathed, allowed to sleep.
When Flint left the Hall of Grahgruk Korumnda it felt as if an age had passed since he had first ventured below the hill to speak with the leader of Korumnda-Rhiss. Though it had only been less than an eight-day, it was long enough that the dampness of spring had left the air. Summer would soon be here.
The day was clear and from amongst the standing stones on the hill he could see for many yat in all directions. Korumnda-Rhiss was a sizable village half a dozen yat off the main trade road that ran along the East Sister River. Around the hill the human part of the village radiated out in an orderly three quarter circle of well crafted stone buildings. Across the southern expanse of the hill the majority of the dwellings were spaced in an arc from the west road to the eastern trail that ran along the gardens of the commons. The closest dwellings hugged the base of the hill, while the furthest dwellings, within the village walls, were perhaps a yat and a half out. A market and a couple handfuls of shops, craft buildings and a small inn centered around a large smithy off the commons. Stables, barns and a tannery were to the north of the hill. To the northeast was a mill beside a modest brook, not far from the village’s perimeter wall. There were a few outlying homesteads further east and south, beyond that the trees began and the Linklow forest ran as far as the eye could see. The southwest and northwest were dominated by rocky, shrub covered hills and broad ribbons of blue where the river could be seen. Compared to most freehold villages it was orderly, clean and folks were generally friendly.
The village, like his own distant home, followed the old ways. The influence of the dwarves was most pronounced in the architecture. There were no shrines or temples dedicated to the new gods; even the dwarves had adopted the old attitude and outlook on such things.
For some time he stood atop the hill and wondered if he should go down to the village and say his goodbyes to the human folks he had met when he first arrived. He was unsure he could easily shift back to interacting with his fellow humans enough for a short goodbye. Nor did he wish to extend his stay overly much at this point. Now that he had learned what he could of the Rover Hall he was trying to locate, he wanted to be about the task. From what the dwarves had told him, he hoped to be able to find the Rovers that dwelt along the East Sister.
Flint gave one last look around and cinched the straps of the scabbard for the bastard sword so that it rested high enough on his shoulder not to trip himself up, then he headed out towards the trade road at an easy jog, bow in hand.
He kept his pace through most of the day, the trade road made for easy travel and the dwarves of Korumnda-Rhiss had built sturdy bridges over the waterways near their village. He could see that a large caravan had passed northward a few days back, given the estimated numbers he knew it had to be a trade caravan. He did not expect to catch up to them as he would be moving along the cliffs above the river in the next day or so.
Besides, the caravan would likely be a Maldorn venture, likely out of West Port. The folks of the caravan would be intent of business and protecting themselves from the wild. Flint saw no gain for his own quest by spending time, however briefly, with such as they. When it came down to it, he did not really trust the Maldorn, they were part of the problems back home in Darner’s Hold.
Flint needed to find the old Loopee ruins north of his present location. In the north part of those ruins near where the hills begin to recede, Grahgruk had told him that he would find what he was looking for. Though he was warned that powerful magics still protected the place and the dwarf did not know if any of the Rovers still inhabited the hall. It had been over a hundred years since anyone from that hall had any contact with Korumnda-Rhiss.
Though the lack of contact with the dwarves did not bode well for his hopes of finding an active group of Rovers, he was encouraged by the fact that the Hall remained hidden by active magic. At the very least the hall would be intact and the lore and artifacts within would be key to solving some of the problems his people were facing in Darner’s Hold.
Food and water he found on the land as he travelled, the season made such readily available, his upbringing had given him the skills and experience to know what parts of which plants could be eaten when. There was little need to hunt game this time of year. When the sun had set he slept on a light tarp with his cloak draped over him, the night was cool.
When the sun had risen Flint took the time to clean his new tattoo. He climbed to a nearby hilltop to get his bearings. He did not sing the dusk nor the dawn, he knew the sun would rise and set without his salutation. To him, travelling through wild lands, such singing only increased his risk of unwanted encounters.