Lord of the Forge

This is chapter 6 of my webnovel, The Elementals: Song of Spirit. If you’re on the wrong chapter, or are just starting to read, click here for the linked table of contents. And happy reading! ~ JR

Chapter 6
Lord of the Forge

When Romin shut the door behind them, the caverns beyond were washed in darkness. No yellow moss grew here to light the way, and though Grimhammer held his lantern up as high as he could, it was still very difficult to see where they were stepping.

Ellen, directly in front of Romin near the back of the group, grabbed Rose up in her arms again. “Grimhammer, you say it’s… slippery?” she asked, her voice trembling. “Are there places to fall into then?”

“Aye, young one,” Grimhammer nodded. “Deep holes in the rock that lead straight to the bowels o’ the very earth itself.” He chuckled. “Course, as it is, we ain’t too far from there anyhow.”

The group was silent for a while, the only sound a faraway dripping of some subterranean water source that echoed back at them through the caverns. Even though the children were very thankful for Grimhammer’s lead, they still walked slowly, each step unsure.

“So, who’s Hayfesto?” Quinn asked after a time. He walked at the lead beside Grimhammer, the dwarf’s lantern lit form rising less than a few inches taller than the boy’s.

“Hephaestus,” Grimhammer corrected. “He be the Lord o’ the Forge, me lad! The greatest blacksmith o’ this age or any!”

Quinn scrunched up his nose in thought. “What’s a blacksmith?” he asked.

Grimhammer’s eyes widened in surprise. “Why, me boy, blacksmithin’s only what we dwarves do best, sides battle o’ course! Hammerin’, chizelin’, and formin’ the mightiest o’ weapons and the toughest o’ armor outta the very bowels o’ the earth itself!”

“Wow!” Quinn breathed. “That’s awesome!”

“Wow indeed me boy!” The dwarf replied with a grin. “An’ Lord Hephaestus’ll be overjoyed ta see ye, too, an’ that be a fact!”

Right then, the group turned a corner and heard a loud crash of water in the gloom to their left. Grimhammer leaned down, holding his lantern close to the dark water that rushed by beside them, lighting it for them to see.

“This here be the Rumble River,” the dwarf explained. “Make no mistake, lad an’ lasses, it be dangerous as a dragon’s breath! Watch yer steppin’, sure!”

With that he stood up, taking the lead again as the group tripped along the thin edge between rushing water and rock wall in forced single file.

They were all silent for a time, concentrating on their precarious footing. Finally, the river dropped with a great echoed crash into a deep chasm in the cavern floor, while their widening path snaked away from the gulf. It wasn’t long after the sounds of the underground waterfall died away behind them that they began to hear a deep clanging sound ahead, reverberating around them through the black depths. A faint, flickering red light appeared in the gloom.

The ringing noise grew in intensity as they approached the source of the light, a small doorway carved into the rock at the end of their path.

Passing through the opening, the group found themselves on a wide ledge high above a gigantic cavern with steps leading down against the wall. The children shielded their dark-accustomed eyes at the bright flickering light of a massive fire pit in the center of the cavern, so deep and wide that their own house back home could have easily fit inside. All around this fire pit in a wide circle there were vast, metal forges and anvils, huge dirty white canvass billows, thick wooden workbenches and a seeming sea of short, stout, bearded dwarves like Grimhammer, bustling about shirtless in the flickering light. Some stood at the anvils, pounding again and again with huge steel hammers. Others blew the billows, keeping the fire alight. Still more worked at the benches, going about detailed tasks that the children couldn’t quite make out.

Running in and out of the great cavern from different directions were smaller dwarves, some with no beard growth at all, pushing wheelbarrows piled high with what looked like black stones of varying sizes and shapes; a very few also held mixes of colorful jewels. These barrow-pushers brought their loads to a giant, rounded hole in the far wall, dumping them onto an already mountainous pile of the stuff.

To the right of this hole there was a large dais of stone, raised above the rest of the cavern by about five feet. Wide steps led up to it, run along the center by a dark green carpet which spread out to cover the entirety of the platforms surface. In the middle of the dais sat a great stone chair, empty except for a large green cushion on its seat. To the right side of this chair was the largest, blackest anvil of them all, and standing at that anvil, a huge man pounded heartily with a hammer the size of a car.

The children gaped at all of it, wide-eyed. Grimhammer smiled proudly. “Welcome, ye ta the Forges o’ Valor, birthplace o’ the most mighty o’ legendary weapons, an’ home ta the great Hephaestus, Lord o’ the Forge!”

Taking careful steps, they followed Grimhammer down the winding staircase and through the throng of laboring dwarves.

“Watch out, ye corrodin’ cur!” a young dwarf, not yet bearded, called out to Mae as he dashed out in front of her pushing a wheelbarrow of jewels.

Mae jumped back with a “Yip!”

Other than this small incident, none of the dwarves seemed to pay them any notice as they crossed the huge room to the green-carpeted dais.

At the foot of the wide stone stairs, Grimhammer and Romin got on one knee, the elf giving the children who stood behind them a look to remind them that they should not follow suit.

“Mi Lord Hephaestus,” Grimhammer called to the huge man at the forge. “I bring wonderful tidings from The Great Queen!”

The god slammed his mighty hammer onto the forge twice more before putting it down and turning to the group.

He had a bushy beard like that of a dwarf, deep burgundy in color. His hair matched overall in color, but not in style, having been cut short along ears, neck and forehead, with a bright white streak from right eyebrow to left ear. His ears were pointed like those of the dwarves, though not nearly as elongated, and his eyes, bright green, had the same alien-slant to them that all sidhe seemed to boast. Like Grimhammer, his scarred face was tattooed in intricate red and green spirals and symbols, and his massive body was stout and burly, matching those of the dwarves in shape if not size.

Quinn, filled with a sudden and intense love of the god, fought the urge to run up to him and wrap himself around a massive leg.

Hephaestus eyed Grimhammer for a moment before limping slightly over to his great chair and sitting down.

“Rag!” the god boomed in a deep, rumbling voice that echoed through the cavern and made all four children jump.

Within a moment, a young towheaded dwarf came with a wet rag, presenting it to Hephaestus on bended knee. Hephaestus took the rag, wiping his brow before returning it to the young one with a pat on the head and a surprisingly warm smile on such a scarred, tattooed face. The child laughed, running off and disappearing once again into the laboring throng.

“Now, then, Grimhammer, what say ye? What’s all this about good tidings?” Hephaestus asked, leaning forward with his massive forearms resting on his lap. His eyes swept over the party assembled at the foot of his dais with a calm curiosity.

The old dwarf stood at the god’s acknowledgement and swept his arm proudly towards the children. “The Elementals, mi Lord. They’ve come back, at the biddin’ o’ The Great Queen Herself!”

Hephaestus sat up straight, surprised. “If that be true, then our own lad …”

“Be right here, mi Lord,” Grimhammer announced with a wide smile as he pulled Quinn forward.

Hephaestus leaned towards them once more, eyeing the boy carefully. Quinn stared back at the god, grinning and fidgeting in his excitement.

Finally, Hephaestus leaned back, looking at Romin with concern. “I see the glow about him, and that’s true. Yet he’s not at all dwarfish. What manner of faerie glamour be this, elf?”

“It’s no glamour, Earth-Lord,” Romin replied respectfully as he stood. “The Elementals have been on the Surface of the Earthen Plane for many generations, and their human blood has now taken over far more than halfway. I assure you, however, that this is your Son of Valor you see before you.”

Hephaestus nodded thoughtfully. “Well, we’ll see about that, won’t we? You are here, then, to deliver our lad ta me?”

Romin nodded. “And to ask that you once again train him, Earth-Lord.”

The god grumbled deep in his chest, a sound that was more akin to an animalistic growl than sentient thought. “Then Adams has risen again after all this time.” It was more a statement than a question.

Romin nodded. “Yes, Earth-Lord. We are not certain of his plans, but it is certain that he has great evil in mind for the humans, and is on the verge of carrying it out. The Great Queen has called The Elementals in to defeat him once more, but they are weak now. Your Son of Valor needs your help to be ready when Adams strikes.”

Hephaestus sat back in his chair. “And all The Elementals are being delivered to their people fer this purpose?”

“Yes, Earth-Lord,” the elf answered. “The Princess has already been delivered to Atlantis.”

“And these?” the god swept his hand towards the children behind the elf and dwarf.

“Are the others,” Romin confirmed.

Hephaestus frowned and shook his head with a sad sigh. “We can’t work together, elf. Not now. Surely The Great Queen knows this.”

“And yet she asks that you try, Earth-Lord,” the elf replied.

“Be it the only way?”

“Was it not the only way the first time? You made a pact long ago, and are bound to it still. That has not changed.”

Hephaestus scowled. “But that’s just it, elf. Everythin’ has changed.”

Romin only stared back at the god in silence. Hephaestus returned his stare, glowering.

The children fidgeted worriedly.

Finally, the god nodded, breaking his gaze from the elf. “Then we’ll try. The Earth-Born be a proud people, but not without understandin’. We’ll train our lad and return him to ya ready to battle at his siblins’ sides. The Great Queen has mi word.”

Romin nodded. “Thank you, Earth-Lord. She will be pleased, I am certain.”

“Hmm. Yes. Good.” The god looked once more at Quinn, a strange expression crossing his alien eyes. He nodded thoughtfully, then looked back at the elf with an open smile. “Will ye and the other Elementals grace us at board before ye head out, Romin?”

Romin grinned. “Now that, Earth-Lord, is the grandest idea I have heard all day!”

Quinn sat on a sturdy stone and straw bed, his feet touching the floor, looking around at the room he had been given and missing his sisters badly. They were boarded below him, two stories down, Romin having taken the god’s offer of an overnight stay along with dinner for the group. Though the girls had been given a luxurious suite of rooms and young female dwarves to serve them, Hephaestus had insisted that Quinn be boarded within his own personal top floor rooms, in a small space that was normally used by the god’s servants in turn.

It was a plain room, cut out of a section of the rock that was chalked cobalt blue. The bed, carved directly out of the stone wall, was the only furniture therein, besides a small dark wood trunk engraved in strange symbols and images of dwarfs and weaponry. Quinn had already opened this trunk and found it empty. The only other features to the room were a small fireplace and a thin rectangular window. The fireplace, also carved out of the rock, had boasted a roaring fire when Quinn had entered, now calmed down to a merry, dancing flame that lit the room in a flickering orange light.

The boy had also been to the window more than once, admiring the view. Before they had followed the god here to his subterranean city, Quinn had never imagined such life could team underground.

Hephaestus’ citadel was carved directly out of the living rock in which the Earth-Born lived; an immense, blocky fortress of stone that fronted an enormous underground city far below. The smaller buildings of the dwarven city whose name Quinn had been told was Granyte, were also carved out of the multicolored rock, though they were only connected to the whole at their bases while the citadel was firmly mired at both its base and its back, seeming to push out of the living stone like a monstrous face pressing against saran wrap. Many of the city buildings were also connected to each-other by way of blocky skywalks between the higher houses and shops, and tunnel-like hallways between the lower ones.

Here and there out of cracks in the rock grew short, thin, treelike plants, and a good-sized stream ran between the steep stairs to the citadel and the rest of the city, from which the boy had seen many young dwarves gather water for their homes. Small fires burned in many places, the vast majority of the dwarf’s cooking pits being on the outside of their buildings within small stone-walled courtyards. The smoke from these fires rose freely into the darkness above. Homes were lit from the inside by the strange glowing yellow moss, which was also used in the citadel to supplement torches and lanterns in areas where smoke had nowhere to go. Beyond the city, the stone disappeared into a great underground darkness.

Quinn had watched, fascinated, as the tiny dwarves far below went about their evening activities of cooking, sweeping, mending, hanging laundry, eating, drinking, singing, dancing and playing strange fiddle-like instruments. He had never imagined dwarves had women or children, and seeing them with their families only served to intensify the strange, homelike feeling he had for the place. Still, stuck on the top floor of Hephaestus’ immense fortress, he could barely make out details and had soon grown bored of straining his eyes.

Quinn sighed. He had been left here by the same young blond dwarf that had given Hephaestus the rag, and though the servant had been very nice, calling him Sir and bowing to him nervously, he had not told the boy what he was supposed to do, if anything.

And so, Quinn sat, bored almost to tears and feeling very alone in his small room.

He was contemplating taking a nap when there was a soft knock on his door. The boy bolted up, throwing it open, hoping to see his sisters on the other side.

Instead, an old dwarf stood in the corridor, much like Grimhammer but thinner in every way. Though his short stance was dwarfish, his features were drawn and gaunt, as if he had been sick for a long time, and no tattoos graced his wrinkled face. Even his gray beard was lean, the few strands of facial hair plaited into a sadly thin braid. But the cunning bright blue eyes that shone out from the wrinkled face gave a far from sickly gaze.

The dwarf smiled, bowing low. “Hello young Sir! Mi name be Illthan Bogearth, and I am at yer service. Mi Lord Hephaestus sent me ta be yer KnowMaster. I have come ta begin yer trainin’.”

“KnowMaster?” Quinn asked, confused.

Illthan nodded, frowning. “Aye, young Sir. ‘Tis far better ta learn the Way o’ the Axe, I know. But a KnowMaster has his worth, too, I promise ye! I’m ta teach ye of our ways.”

Quinn grinned. “How to be a dwarf, you mean?”

“Aye, young Sir,” Illthan replied, smiling at the boy’s excitement. “There be no time ta loose! After all, yer ta be the guest o’ honor at board tonight, so yer first lesson’ll be how ta act at a dwarven feast!”

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3 Responses to “Lord of the Forge”

  1. […] Worlds to Explore « Song of Spirit ~ Chapter 6 […]

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