Anvil Of Discord

Right, back again for another story. Fantasy is the name of the game this time. Though, this is a longer one at about 17,300 words. Also not focused on humans this time. Felt like a change. A dwarf is the focus of this story. Had other background stuff to include that couldn’t make it fit without it feeling tacked on so omitted it. Might do another story in a similar setting. Have to see. I don’t plan for such things. If they come they come. If not then this is the sole story in this setting. Anyway, that’s enough rambling from me. Hope you enjoy, Anvil Of Discord.

Avi Valič is on a quest to find the legendary Eris Hammer. The one hundred and twenty two centimetre tall dwarf with red hair and a full face red beard has been on the road for months following the trail he thinks will lead to the millennia old weapon that was, according to the stories, forged by Dwarven master smiths.

Unfortunately, that is where the uniformity of the stories ends. Each description of the weapon and the reason for its forging differ from one forge family to the next.

Avi is a member of one such forge family, who have worked as weapon smiths and fabricators within the forge caste of Dwarven society for at least the last nine generations. But Avi is not like them. He has no interest in forging. Instead, he is obsessed with history, namely the history of the Eris Hammer. That is why he set out on this journey even though all his kin think he is at best mad and at worst a slacker and freeloader.

Because of his obsession his departure from his home of Marathankar was not a peaceful one. Arguments between his father and he raged for the days before until finally his father, Barasun, told him that if he wishes to follow fiction so closely that he should leave and never return. So Avi did just that.

Since his departure Avi has followed the trail he has managed to piece together from Marathankar’s great historical archives. It is a place that he, as a member of the forge caste, should not have dared to mar with his presence. But he did. Though, if he had been caught he would not only have been banished but could have destroyed his family’s name for all time. Thankfully, that did not happen and after passing through the first three stops on his journey that have indicated the next stop, which line up with the vague clues discovered within the great and ancient tomes, his confidence in his quest has never been stronger.

Now Avi is headed for a place called Harding’s Pilaster. It is far beyond the realms of the continent which are familiar to him and is not a name he has ever heard before finding it scrawled upon a sliver of paper stuffed into the spine of a long forgotten book in the library of a town called Starford.

The town had been a pleasant enough place with a healthy mixture of the races that call the continent home. Though, he would be remiss if he did not admit that Elves are not the easiest bunch to get straight answers from. They reveal nothing as they speak, making it impossible to read them. Unlike humans, who in most ways are the same as Dwarves, except taller and more inclined toward infighting.

That was weeks ago however and since then Avi has been on the road. Most of it has been a pleasant if not lonesome experience. Though, that is not to say that the dwarf has not come across his share of scoundrels, which is why he carries a Dwarven short sword.

Avi is not the best fighter, he is capable. It is a standard to which all Dwarves must reach before they mature to adulthood. Unlike humans, adulthood for a Dwarf is not defined by age but by competency with a blade. Still, Avi would never actively engage in an armed conflict. He knows his skills with a sword are not up to scratch for that. Instead, the sword is simply for defence and there have been times when the redheaded dwarf has been forced to do just that.

Bandits and highwaymen are a common occurrence on the roads after all. They thirst for easy ripe targets and more than a few times they had mistaken Avi for a fool, or perhaps a child. Dwarves, due to their diminutive size, have often been mistaken, from the back, as young humans. It’s not a mistake that can be made if a dwarf is viewed from the front however because of the thick long beards that cover the lower half of their faces.

Avi’s beard like all dwarves is thick but unlike some of his older kin, he is sixty three years old, his is not braided. Sixty three is not old for a dwarf. They tend to live for more than three centuries all told, which means, if put into human terms, Avi is barely an adult. Again, by the definition of what humans use.

A smile splits across his round bearded face as he continues to amble down the dirt road, lost in his thoughts. Memories of some of the dolts who have tried and spectacularly failed to rob him blind tear through his mind causing a quiet giggle to leave his almost hidden pink lips as the sword, in its scabbard, that hangs from his waist clatters against a metal rivet, one of a single line that are evenly spaced around a good two thirds of the belts length.

The dwarfs’ boots kicking up small specks of damp dirt particles with every step that he takes, further staining the already splattered brown leather, while the Dwarven chainmail beneath his doublet offers him all the protection he should need against the type of villains that frequent the roads.

The thieves rarely keep their blades sharp and well conditioned. It is a travesty for a dwarf, even one not fascinated by smithing like Avi, to be confronted with. If they were not crooks attempting to rob him of riches he would be inclined to chastise them for their stupidity. Instead, on the occasions that he has been confronted, Avi has simply beaten them back. Any wounds inflicted by his sword have been superficial, though if left untreated would undoubtedly fester and as a result could cost the blaggard their life. If that transpired the fault would be placed solely on them. Not only for taking to a life of crime but for also believing that somehow a wound, no matter how minor, might be able to magically heal itself. Such fools must think they are witches or warlocks adept in magic instead of the lugheads that they truly are, if that is the case.

Avi continues to mix amongst his thoughts and memories, occasionally retreading over the now memorised passage that lead him on this journey. Without even realising that he has reached civilization.

When he does realise it several minutes later, at a point where he is almost past the first buildings of the town, he casts his brown eyes around at the wooden and stone structures that uniformly line either side of the muddy main road.

Avi quickly looks up to see clouds blanketing the sky above, blotting out what would otherwise be brilliant shiny sunlight. He shrugs unsure as to whether rain will soon be upon him. He hopes not as he shifts the weight of the pack on his back to redistribute it now that it seems to have once again shifted to one side.

But as the dwarf passes the third set of buildings he notes that while the streets are frequented by what he can only assume are citizens of this town, they are not milling about. Instead, they are stationary, fixed in place, staring. There can be no doubt in the dwarfs’ mind that their eyes are upon him. He can feel them and he averts his gaze uncomfortably as he continues onward still without having found a sign to declare where it is exactly that he has wandered into.

What he can say is that the town seems old, well established, blossoming perhaps. Not in a conventional market style as he has often seen during his journey, but in a traditional manner. It is the first instance of a civilized community he has come across that has bucked the trend of needing vast markets to keep itself functional. It makes Avi wonder what the secret to their success has been that they have managed to break from modern convention.

Still, he needs answers and having walked a good forty metres into the town, which is much bigger than he initially suspected, and found no sign, it seems his only option is to attempt communication. That is why he raises his head and turns it toward the closest resident.

“Excuse me good sir.” Avi says with an even and respectful tone of voice.

The man, human, immediately averts his gaze. Though, he does offer sideways glances as if to check that the dwarf is still present.

Avi frowns, scratches his nose, shrugs and then while still walking turns toward another resident of the town he does not have the name of.

“I’m sorry madam but could I have a moment of your time?”

Again Avi is ignored as he is met with an averted gaze and sideways glances. In truth, they would more accurately be categorised as scowls and a locking of the jaw.

The dwarf sighs, quietly to himself, wondering if he has somehow picked deaf, mute or simple souls incapable of answering him. It’s possible, though unlikely. There are many others around watching and any of them could speak up to offer him aid. None have and something tells Avi that such a thing will continue. Still, he needs to get answers, so puffs up his chest having decided to try one last attempt to gain the attention of the general populace before he will resort to the most tried and true method of information gathering, the tavern.

So when an older looking man, Avi realises at this point that everyone is human strangely, passes nearby he begins.

“Good day my friend, may I have just a second of your time?”

The older man, white haired and gruff, snorts and turns his head away. A glint flashes across his eye that catches Avi’s attention but the man has passed. He clearly is not willing, and it definitely is that, to converse with him. The dwarf cannot fathom as to why. They may be good, perhaps even great reason, but Avi does not know what that reason might be. Though, it may explain why this town does not have a large market like most others, especially if this is how they treat visitors politely asking for a moment of their time.

But having failed his third and final attempt to gain attention from a member of the populace, the dwarf once more begins to amble down the middle of the wide street with its array of random mud patches, heading for what must be the tavern ahead of him.

It is an assumption and one made by the dwarf for no other reason than because of the buildings size and the fact that a hanging sign is fastened and jutting out from the wall so that it is hanging over the street. Such a thing is not exclusive to taverns, but seeing as it appears to be the only instance Avi is inclined to believe that it belongs to a tavern. It could be a blacksmiths and he knows it, but time, and not a lot of it, will tell.

If he can get the name of this town he should hopefully then be able to establish where Harding’s Pilaster is. The locals should have heard of it, if it still stands. This trail was left more than a millennia ago and there is a real possibility that it could, at any time, go stone cold leaving Avi without a direction. He refuses to entertain such notions however as he looks up and smiles to find that the hanging sign does indeed reveal that this building is the tavern. So without hesitation the dwarf climbs the two stone steps, the edges of which are thick with dark green moss, and then quickly crosses the wet slippery wooden deck to the solid oak door of the tavern.

Avi can still feel the eyes of the towns’ citizens on his back. It’s uncomfortable and why he feels the need to look over his shoulder only to catch a number of them avert their gazes as they slowly mill about apparently getting on with their day. However, something makes Avi feel as though this is a ruse. An appearance they are keeping up until line of sight no longer exists. Whether that is line of sight for Avi on them or them on him he cannot say, but as he is no longer interested in being the centre of this little unnecessary charade, he pulls open the tavern door and then strides inside.

The interior of the tavern is like any other the dwarf has ever set foot in before in his life. That alone brings him a small amount of comfort as his eyes gloss over the wooden tables and chairs dotted about the open space. The battered bar is ahead of him and a fireplace sits off to his right, the flames of which are roaring and dancing playfully giving the space the sort of warmth most needed on these dull autumn days where rain is a constant unwanted threat.

However, as Avi becomes accustomed to the new scene it rapidly dawns on him that the patrons, huddled around some of the tables with flagons waiting to be drained, glare at him. Even as Avi flicks his own gaze from customer to customer the stares continue. They are harsh, cold and unwelcoming. Avi nods, convinced that this is one of those towns that does not like or want travellers and visitors. Still, he needs to know where he is. It is unlikely this is the town he seeks but he has to be sure. And once he is he will be leaving this place as fast as his Dwarven legs will allow.

So the dwarf strides, purposefully, across the stained and pitted grey stone slab floor to the bar. A forced smile rests on his rounded face. But as soon as he reaches the bar and opens his mouth to talk the bartender cuts him off.

“We’re not open.” Is the sneered statement that leaves the bartenders thin pursed lips as he rubs a grubby looking rag against a well-worn wooden mug apparently attempting to clean it.

Avi blinks three times. The statement has caught him off-guard. But the redheaded dwarf quickly gathers himself and then purposefully turns his head to look around at the patrons frequenting the tavern who prove the bartender is lying. After that Avi slowly blinks, his eyebrows raised to convey his disbelief and doubt in the moments before he utters in reply, “Then why are there patrons present if you’re closed?”

Before the bartender, who has dark hair, piercing blue eyes and a small scar on his left cheek can answer another man appears.

With his sudden appearance Avi feels hopeful. That hope does not last, as the man, blond haired and green eyed, cuts in front of Avi so that he is between the dwarf and the bar. Following that he asks in a cool voice, “What’s the problem here?”

“Well I…” Avi begins but the blond man waves him off demanding he be silent a second before he turns his head to look over his shoulder at the bartender.

“This dwarf is causing problems.” The bartender replies with an accusatory tone as he slams the wooden mug down onto the battered bars heavily dark and stained surface.

“What? I did no such thing!” Avi exclaims in disbelief.

“Silence.” The blond man orders before Avi can continue his protests.

“You are not welcome here dwarf.” The blond man then announces.

“And who are you to tell me where I am and am not welcome?” Avi questions as he returns the blond man’s stare with equal intensity.

“I am Callus Imenalus, Primo of Harringall. And what I say in this town is law.”

Before the redheaded dwarf can react Callus nods and Avi is hauled off his feet up into the air and then hurled out of the tavern and into the street.

Avi flies through the air for a short time before gravity takes over and drags him down, violently, into the wet mud. It splashes everywhere, splattering its thick dark self all over the dwarfs’ deep red and white coloured doublet.

Within seconds Avi is back on his feet to spit, “What sort of treatment is this? You think yourselves civilised? I only wished to query if you know where Harding’s Pilaster resides. Instead, I have been ignored, insulted, unceremoniously assaulted and then thrown into the mud.”

Avi’s arms flail as the words leave his lips. Clods of mud fly everywhere as he gesticulates wildly and angrily. Before he can continue Callus cuts in with a snarl and demands, “Do not speak that name dwarf. For it is forbidden in Harringall.”

The veins on either side of Callus’ temples pulse angrily as his nostrils flare and he keeps his green eyes locked on the dwarf before him, who returns the stare, though without the menace that Callus possesses.

“Now if you know what is good for you, you will depart our fair town because your kind are not welcome here. If, that wasn’t already somehow clear enough to you.” Callus threatens as his hand rests on the hilt of the sword that hangs off the man’s belt.

“And since when did humans take issue with dwarves?” Avi queries unable to put his anger aside, accept the threat issued to him and move on. Though, he knows that it would be best practice if he wishes to keep his head.

“Since dwarves put most of us out of good honest work.” Callus roars in reply.

Avi snorts and then replies, “How can that be if there are no dwarves here?”

Callus no longer willing to continue this chat draws his sword and points its tip toward Avi, who is a good half of the blades length further away. Avi’s right hand meanwhile rests on the hilt of his own short sword.

Callus’ eyes flick down and catch sight of the dwarfs’ weapon a moment before he erupts into raucous laughter and then assures, “You dwarf will be no match against me. So I will give you one final chance. Flee and never return, or stay to be gutted and strung up as a warning to any other who may be foolish enough to tread where they are not wanted.”

Just as Callus, Primo of Harringall, finishes issuing his ultimatum several others draw their swords. They had all been patrons frequenting the tavern before Avi had been manhandled and ejected from the establishment for no other reason than being a dwarf and a traveller.

Then the onlookers begin to jeer and rave, some of their words are insults while others are words of support for the Primo and his equally vile friends.

Avi is outnumbered, he knows it and seeing little point in throwing away his life he slowly releases his grip on the hilt of his sword. He only hopes that Callus and his ‘friends’ will keep to their word. If not the dwarf will be dead before he will get a single swing of his short sword off, of that he is convinced.

None of the humans move in response to his surrender even as the dwarf shrugs and then carefully starts to back away from the assembled crowd. They continue to shout and roar their insults as well as cheers of victory which mix together to create a strange symphony of hatred. Avi does not turn away from the town however; he just continues to back away, making sure to keep the people in his sights until he finally is outside its footprint.

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