The sun is a disk of silver in the slate colored sky. The air is cold and filled with the beating drum of ceremony. The drum is beat by a small female with a calf by her feet. She wears the ornaments of a tribe shaman.
A small band of twenty Red Minotaur circle a ceremonial fighting pit. More minotaur would have enjoyed this pit fight, but this is all that remains of their clan. Only a mile or so away is a smoking village not more than two years old with the bodies of seventy fallen minotaur warriors piled on a brightly burning pyre.
The bodies of ten dead dwarfs are piled a bit down the slope. Their blood leaks into a small creek staining the water red before taking it away down stream. They were the captured remnants of a command of young dwarfs that sought to rid their mountain of the minotaur infestation.
In the deep pit chiseled out of the bedrock is a giant beast named Trakken. He faces off against a Dwarf captured during his own raid into the village.
He did not come to rid the mountain of the minotaur. He came to rescue his son.
This dwarf is old. He wears full dwarven armor made of beaten adamantine. The armor is freshly scarred from battle. No dwarf would let his armor get to this condition unless he wasn’t able to find a forge to repair it and this dwarf is far from hearth and home. He has a lean and hungry look to the face under his long braided grey beard. His eyes are tired. He whispers a prayer and readies his mind for death.
He is ready to fight till the last breath leaves his body.
He imagines his brethren died one by one over the night and days since their raid on the Minotaur clan that took up home on the mountain.
He was captured later. His intent failed. His son is among the dead.
The Mountain Dwarves had much debate at the discovery on the minotaur clan on their mountain.
Finally, “Let them be,’ was the consensus. ‘They will build their labyrinth and worship their violent God and we shall stay hidden in our mountain.”
But of course a few young warriors took no heed of such level headed thinking. Instead a small group decided to make war.
Trakken snorts and raises his axe above his head calling loud to his God, “Baphomet I fight for you, bless me with savage rage.”
Then with a battle scream the heavily muscled Minotaur attacks.
His axe high ready for a killing blow.
The distance between him and the old dwarf disappears quickly, but the dwarf holds his ground.
His name is Rom the Grim, first of his name and his line and in the second the minotaur is about to cleave him in two he moves just so out of the way.
The minotaur’s strike pulls him to the ground with its ferocity.
And Rom slides free a small hidden dagger from the depths of his ancient armor. He shoves it into the base of the Minotaurs skull.
After a few small twitches the monster stills.
Rom pulls his three inch blade clear and wipes the blood off on Trakken’s dirty loincloth.
A cry of blood lust stirs the air as the shock of seeing their leader die settles in on the remaining Red Minotaurs.
Rom grabs the battle axe from the loosened fists of his foe and readies for the onslaught.
One minotaur slips into the twenty foot hole then another. Rom faces off with them. The oversized weapon held expertly in his battle hardened fists.
He has no doubt he got lucky with killing Trakken.
The minotaurs took his weapons, but did not find his dagger, the piece he molded a special place for in his armor. But his luck was about to wear out. This was not suppose to be fair combat. Combat he had a chance to win and maybe these heathens had a right to kill the young dwarfs that came looking for trouble, but Rom the Grimson was among their number and he could not just walk away from his own kin being slaughtered. He was owed a revenge and he planned to take out as many of the minotaur as he could before that happened. He left his home in the mountain knowing he might never see the forges again, but he will die happy knowing his little one man war will put a lot of regret on this particular minotaur clan for killing his kin.
If he hadn’t fallen into a rope trap he wouldn’t be facing pit combat and they all would be dead.
One stupid mistake of an old warrior.
With a downward crushing blow he dispatches the first minotaur to reach him and pivoting he takes the second’s head. Recovering from his second attack he is confused. There are no more minotaurs pressing him.
The blood quiets in his ears and the sounds of combat above drift down.
A horned bull head flies into the pit.
“For the Hammer of Light.” a female dwarf cleric screams as she briefly appears above the crest of the pit, hammer in mid swing.
Soon things quiet.
A rope ladder is lowered and Rom stiffly climbs out. Around him are a platoon of soldiers from his order the Hammer of Moradin. They mill around stabbing any surviving minotaur. Two old warriors pull the young dwarves off the pile of dead preparing their bodies for transport back to the Mountain. The families of the fallen will be happy to have a death ceremony and be able to say their goodbyes properly.
Rom sees the face of his child. “Leave him. I will burden myself with his remains.”
Two warriors lift his son’s body and place it at his feet.
His eyes blur. He cannot yet look upon his son yet. After his wife died in battle a few decades back he was his only family.
He finds himself lost debating what comes next.
Before enduring the trek back home his brothers and sisters in arms take turns to stop and give him their condolences before heading off back down the mountain. Maybe they know he could never join them there again. Maybe they know his time at the home hearth was at an end.
The adrenaline of battle pours out of Rom’s muscles. Exhaustion replaces it. It has been many days on this trek to rescue his child. And he failed. The failure stings his pride
A broken arrow shaft found the spot of vulnerability in the arm groove of his armor. His face was twisted in battle rage. Rom is certain he fought on until the wound made it impossible.
The Grimson was only fifty, so much life was before him.
Rom strikes the ground with an armored fist, his son was stupid even if brave. He should have listen to the clan and not come here to do the work of older warriors.
Studying the boy, Rom takes pride the arrow is his only wound. He trained his son well, only luck failed him in the end.
He spends time chopping wood and building a platform to lay his son’s body on. After a small effort a fire catches and quickly engulfs the remains.
Rom whispers prayers to Moradin to take his son spirit so that one day he can be with his family again.
The fire burns through the night and into part of the next day.
As it dies the quiet howl of mountain air whips about him. If he wasn’t a crusty old dwarf and capable of crying he would have no tears left at this point.
His soul feels spent.
As the wind takes the ash that is all that’s left of his son he find himself wondering what will his life be now?
He debates whether it’s time to hang up his armor and find other pursuits.
Maybe it’s time to explore the world outside the clan. Dwarves do that occasionally, sell their swords and hammers to foreign armies for coin. Maybe Rom can make a life as a mercenary, or blacksmith, or even a lowly brewer. With so much mystery surrounding his future he knows one thing, there is no way he can go back to his clan now though having failed so badly to save his son.
Deep in thought he mistakes the soft mewing sound as just the wind whistling through the rocks and crags around him.
After awhile it begins to distract him from his thoughts and he gets up to search for its source.
The female shaman was in the middle of casting a spell when the dwarven throwing axe caught her in the middle of her horned forehead. She collapsed straight down her rough wool gown billowing around her.
Within its folds he finds the calf.
He has bright red fluffy fur and small patches of white dotted here and there. His small black horns are still sheathed in velvet. His large brown eyes are reddened by tears and sorrow.
Rom guesses the child is only three years old. He briefly thinks maybe bashing it against a boulder is the most honorable thing to do and even touches briefly at its cloven foot to do just that, but then another thought strikes him.
“Let me tell you about Moradin little one,” and he lifts the lad up wrapping him in his cloak and begins the long walk to Riverdon, the nearest human city.
Art by gabahadatta