When we last left our heroes, Rorik, Sarah-Maria, and Strohm had finally reached Mor Dankil after a grueling trek though the Isundrus Mountains from Cador.
The reception at Mor Dankil is a cool one. The three heroes are granted guest quarters inside the main gate, but Sarah and Strohm are politely denied entrance any further into the delve.
Rorik immediately searches for survivors from Mor Dunehaim. He trembles to see what remains of his home--only the bent grandmother everyone called Old Maola, and young Gilias, still only a boy. The hearty warrior Tholond also escaped, and aided these two across the mountains, only to succumb to his wounds a few short miles from the shelter of Mor Dankil. The dwarves share their experiences of the attack, but shed no light on how it was achieved--one moment, it was a normal evening; and the next, orcs waged war amongst them, slaughtering all in their path.
Rorik spends time in the Dunehaim clanhold. Though these dwarves are members of his clan, they are not from his delve. A few he knows: married or moved years before from Mor Dunehaim. But most have always lived in Mor Dankil. All are deeply saddened by the loss of their clan-delve, but it has not greatly affected their daily lives. They are distant family, almost strangers: they share a name, but not a hearth or a history.
However, word has come from Mor Golen, further to the south, that more Dunehaim survivors have made it there. Scouts and runners also claim that Mor Dunehaim itself still seems to be overrun with orcs.
Rorik attempts to gather fighters to retake Mor Dunehaim, but the clan elders quickly urge him to patience. They too would not see Mor Dunehaim occupied for long. But it is the dead of winter, and dwarf arms are already spread thin fighting the Grihm to the south. When things have settled, they will call members of the Dunehaim clan from all the surrounding delves and mount an attack. But only once they can ensure a victory with minimal losses. Rorik chafes to hear this news.
Frustrated with life in Mor Dankil and aware of the tensions caused by hosting a human and a hobgoblin within the delve, Rorik bids goodbye to his distant clan brethren, as well as to Old Maola and Gilias. The three heroes head south, to seek news from Mor Golen.
The party reaches the northern border of Celidor, the mountain redoubt of the elves. The elves are polite, but firmly refuse passage through Celidor. They do offer the use of their guest-house tree-lodges, complete with exotic foods and warm water for bathing. Though some of the trees are bare, Celidor remains unseasonably warm, green, and verdant, even in the depths of mountain winter.
Denied a southeast shortcut through Celidor, the party heads east, back into the mountains. Rorik pleads with the others to accompany him northeast, so he may see his home delve once more, to confirm the rumors that it is still held by orcs. Strohm and Sarah agree, though it is a dangerous path to tread.
The second night out, they encounter an Alvorin patrol. Of a different tribe than Strohm's, there are a few tense moments as they question the heroes and their possession of black onyx weapons--an Alvorin secret. Strohm explains, but fails to garner support or a mount to aid their journey. The Alvorin patrol slips back into the night.
Nearing Mor Dunehaim, the heroes encounter a Black Froth scouting party of five orcs. The orcs rush them as the party tries to hide in the underbrush. In a matter of moments, the scarred black orcs lay dead, white foam drying on their lips. Their pouches and sacks prove to be heavy with looted coins and semi-precious gems.
The party spends the next week cautiously spying on Mor Dunehaim from a distance. Orc traffic is heavy, with skirmishes between Black Froth scouting parties and Gore Tongue renegades on the road. During quiet periods, the Blood Ear orcs sneak out from Mor Dunehaim to ambush smaller parties or loot the fallen.
Rorik wants to move in closer, in the hopes of picking up a Blood Ear orc to interrogate, or perhaps even slipping into Mor Dunehaim while the great stone doors are open. But Strohm and Sarah are quick to point out the folly of such a plan.
Finally, the heroes get a lucky break. Near dusk, a lone, brightly-dressed orc approaches Mor Dunehaim and seeks entrance.
In the morning, he leaves again, alone. The party decide to track this lone orc to see if they can learn more. Moving along, high on the surrounding ridge, they watch the orc leave the road as a band of Gore Tongues moves through the area. Slipping down, they attempt to surround the orc, but he suddenly shimmers and vanishes! Strohm hears a body moving through the woods, and he and Rorik work together to find tracks to follow.
Two hours of tracking later, they come upon the brightly-dressed orc again. This time, he tries to cast something on Rorik, but the dwarf shakes off the spell. The party rushes the orc, calling for his surrender. The orc holds up his empty hands, palms out, as Rorik bears him to the ground.
The orc turns out to be, in fact, a half-orc entertainer and minor conjuror by the name of Im Sheleen. When he finds that the heroes seek information on Mor Dunehaim, he is quick to open negotiations.
Im Sheleen reveals that Mor Dunehaim is held by about 60 orcs, lead by an experienced orc warrior named Old Yarrack. The orcs also defer to Burdug, an imposing orc priestess of the dark arts, as well as a large ogre. He says that the orcs are proud of sacking Mor Dunehaim, though they were reticent to discuss the details of how they managed it. Apparently there was also a recent failed mutiny within the clan, which reduced their numbers since they took the delve.
The orcs only hold the upper level of the delve. The passage to the Great Hall is sealed off, and, according to Im Sheleen, frosted in grave rime. Some great quantity of undead must lay beyond. Indeed, some of the orcs whispered to him that the souls of slain dwarves, including their king, as well as those of the orcs who attempted to overthrow Old Yarrack, writhe in eternal torment beyond those doors, imprisoned by Burdug's dark magic. Im Sheleen decided to cut short his visit, rather than risk upsetting Burdug in any way.
After testing Im Sheleen on various Mor Dunehaim minutia, Rorik sighs--it seems the half-orc speaks the truth. The heroes pay their promised fee, and let the bard go. He slips away into the growing dusk, off to find some other band of orcs to sing praises to while he drinks their ale and lightens their purses.
Rorik's questions about Mor Dunehaim now answered, the party decides to continue south again to Mor Golen. They move slowly, avoiding the valley road in favor of the higher cliffs. They succeed in avoiding any further orc encounters.
The welcome at Mor Golen is little warmer for Sarah and Strohm than at Mor Dankil. Rorik, however, is overjoyed to find familiar faces from home: the warriors Delor and Glanlond, old Garbir the miner, young Werthen the jeweler's apprentice, as well as pretty young Falora and the girl-child Valya. But most dear of all, Rorik's friend and fellow, Boren, son of Glanauk.
Boren is a broken dwarf now, his leg crippled and his arm scarred. He now wears the robes of a Moradin cleric. He tells of his escape from Mor Dunehaim--battling the orcs, retreating once more to the forge, and his stumbling, leg-breaking fall down the waterfall shaft from the forge. Boren tells of the two days he spent lying hidden in a sepulcher in the Tomb of Kings, as his wounds began to fester and the dead began to rise; and how he finally managed the agonizing climb up the secret escape chimney from the lower Glitterhame cavern.
Now, like the other Dunehaim survivors, he has tried to start a new life. He has sworn allegiance to King Tordan here at Mor Golen, and he has taken up the robes of faith.
Rorik addresses the Dunehaim clanhold at its dinner meeting, introducing his companions and then entreating support to retake Mor Dunehaim. Orovil the Thane--leading clan elder and Speaker for Dunehaim clan within the Golen delve--gracefully denies Rorik's call-to-arms, reiterating Mor Dankil's response: that they must wait until such time as they have the strength to reclaim their home delve and also to hold it against future attack. "This is the will of your Clan-Lord," he concludes.
Rorik, no great public speaker, realizes this is not the forum to press his position. He returns to his seat next to Boren at one of the great dining tables. But as the other dwarves turn to their dessert ales or rise to leave, he questions Boren: "Our King Durgeddin was both Clan-Lord and Delve-King of Dunehaim. Sadly, no Delve-King rules Dunehaim now. And his named Tanist--his eldest son Falthic--is likely gone as well. In the absence of a Tanist, we must fall back to the rules of succession. But, even so, how can Orovil claim himself Clan-Lord?"
"He is of the line of Kilrin, younger brother of Durgeddin," replies Boren. "If Durgeddin has no heirs, succession passes to Kilrin, and so to Orovil."
Rorik thinks for a moment, and then cries, "But Durgeddin has an heir! You, Boren. Durgeddin's lordship passes through his second son, Nalrin, your grandfather. In the absence Nalrin's two sons, through his eldest daughter, your mother. You, Boren, are Dunehaim Clan-Lord!"
Boren shrugs. "I am of my father's line--Glanauk. I would be Clan-Lord only if succession passes through the daughter, my mother, rather than reverting to Durgeddin's brother."
"The Dunehaim clan has never claimed the Laws of Salic. Durgeddin's title should pass through your mother, and so to you, Boren Durgeddin Dunehaim!"
Boren looks glum. "Mor Golen does follow the Salic laws. Besides, a Clan Meet can provide a Tanist heir by acclamation, so we need not necessarily follow the succession line." Boren drains his ale mug. "Most importantly, I don't wish to be either King or Clan-Lord."
Rorik refills their mugs from a nearby cask, and the two argue the point into the night.
Rorik spends the next few days attempting to gather support for his cause, dwarf-by-dwarf. However, though all are sympathetic, none are willing to join him. The Dunehaim survivors Delor and Glanlond have sworn allegiance to King Tordan, and young Werthen has even married into clan Golen. Clan-Lord Orovil finally corners him and asks him to cease his calls-to-arms, passing on an order from the Delve-King himself. "Once the threat of the Grihm is past, I promise we will liberate Mor Dunehaim," Orovil says.
Rorik glares at him coldly. "You are not of my delve. You do not know what it is like to know that orcs now defile your very bed. You do not hear the screams of your dying love echo nightly in your head. You do not dream of the bloody halls of your home, now as empty as your own heart. And you are not my Clan-Lord. I will retake Mor Dunehaim!" Rorik storms off.
Reports that the Grihm is on the move prevents further political tension over the next few days. Rorik, Sarah, and Strohm join dwarf patrols of the surrounding area. Some of the patrols see action, but our heroes do not.
As they camp on the forested slopes overlooking the valley, Sarah talks long with Rorik about burning his bridges and alienating what little clan he has left. Rorik sinks into an ever-deeper depression, knowing that only the three of them would not be enough to attempt any attack on Mor Dunehaim. It also pains him deeply that his strongest support comes from a human and a hobgoblin! Yet he cannot ask them to sacrifice themselves for his fool's errand.
Upon returning to Mor Golen, Rorik falls into a sullen silence. He sleeps poorly, haunted by dark dreams. Sarah and Strohm suggest they leave and return to the Alvorin camps in the Tarn hills, or even to Cador. They could perhaps be of use there, and perhaps Luceo and Invellios will return earlier than Spring Day. Rorik pleads with them to give him some time. He waits for some solution to present itself, but none does.
A dwarf watchman tells Rorik he has strange visitors at the gate. Puzzled, he hurries up to the main entrance hall to find a black-haired elf missing half an ear, and a tired young human in dark grey robes. "Invellios! Luceo!", Rorik cries. The pair nods somberly to him, and then their faces break into wide grins.
Reunited, our heroes trade tales of their adventures. Luceo and Invellios reveal that they had just recently heard news from the northern Celidor border of an odd party--a human woman, a dwarf, and a lone Alvorin--traveling together towards Mor Golen. Recognizing the description of their friends, they hastened to Golen, in the hopes of catching up with them.
Rorik gathers his adventuring friends and Boren about a hearty dwarven breakfast in the guest hall near the main gate, and puts forth his proposal. He would like the six of them to attempt a covert attack on Mor Dunehaim, entering through the secret escape chimney and working their way up to the main hall through the lower passages. Based on the information of the half-orc Im Sheleen, there may be a number of undead. But the orcs would not know they were coming, and then the party would have the advantage--both surprise and the narrow corridors of the dwarven delve. Realizing this is much to ask of his friends, he proposes to compensate them handsomely from the mithril mines and any other treasures that still remain in his sacked home.
Each one--for their own reasons, as well as for their friendship to the dwarf--agree to help. Rorik's eyes glisten as he embraces each in turn. Boren explains, "I cannot let you go without offering my help. But as the other dwarves here, I have sworn allegiance to King Tordan now, and I must ask his leave--for whether we are successful or not, it is unlikely I will return."
Rorik accompanies Boren to the King's chambers. He waits outside. After a few minutes, a messenger comes out, and then returns, followed by two dwarves in robes carrying a pitcher of water and a large empty platter. They have entered the king's suite before Rorik recognizes the platter: a ceremonial shaving bowl. Fifteen minutes later, Boren slowly opens the doors and walks out, struggling to stand tall. Already crippled by his escape from Mor Dunehaim, he looks much worse now--his scalp and cheeks have been shaved to skin, with many nicks and slashes still dripping blood. It is his dark eyes, however, that truly show the anguish of his soul.
Rorik grabs Boren's shoulder to steady him as he explains: "King Tordan would not grant me leave for such 'a fool's errand.' I had no choice; I could not let you go alone. I renounced him as my king. In doing so, I have lost all claim to dwarven clanship. I am shaved; I am beardless; I am clanless. I have forsaken the staples of dwarven life, and, for my sin, Moradin has now forsaken me." He collapses into Rorik's arms.
With a subdued Boren riding on the back of Gretel, the six adventures leave Mor Golen just before dawn, in hopes of avoiding any orc patrols. As they travel cautiously north along the Haran Pass, Rorik explains in whispers to his friends: "Every delve has its clanless, usually in holds down near the mines. They work odd and menial jobs. They have been stripped of clan because of some dire misdeed punishable by less than death. They are shaved as a sign; nothing is more disgraceful to a dwarf then to be beardless in this way. A dwarf is nothing without his clan--no chance for marriage, no support in his old age, no sense of place in the world. Many turn to drink or seem to waste away. Some leave, but no other delve will take them in. So, at best, they band together and dig shallow caverns near the surface. In time--perhaps when they have formed a true delve--the sins of the parents may be forgotten and the children may be recognized as a new clan of their own.
"In Boren's case, it is twice as hard. As a cleric of Moradin, he upholds the dwarven law and way of life. In denying his oath to his king, and, as an inevitable consequence thereof, losing his clanship, he has denigrated the two most important pillars of dwarven society. And so Moradin has also abandoned him."
"But he did it in order to honor bonds to friends and departed family, to reclaim a dwarven hold!" whispers Sarah.
Rorik shrugs. "Yes, his respect for Clan Dunehaim. 'Woe to the dwarf who must choose between clan and king.' Boren chose clan, and now he has neither."
The party continues on in silence.
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Last Edited: 11 Mar 2007|
©2007 by Z. Tomaszewski