A Tale of Stoneheart the Slayer
A Flintloque Short Story by Jaffa Holland
Artwork from Warhammer Online*
Stoneheart's tale, now in its tenth year, sees Stoneheart take on a vicious slave trading Lord as he continues his search for the ancestral home of the Dwarves,,,
Sidqar brought over beer. A much better beer than what I had bought when I first entered his tavern. He asked permission to sit and talk, the fight in the pit had been some six hours ago. I had felt elation, followed by…nothing. That had put me in a bad mood.
I had stripped and washed and slept but had awoken hungry and eager for more fights. A Dwarf could get lost in pit fighting. The experience had reminded me of a simpler time, but if I was to help save my people I had to find the Confederation of Finklestein, and ultimately Ureke our ancestral home.
If the Confederation of Finklestein were not interested in my way, then I would still gather any Dwarf I could and set of in search of Ureke. First however there was the matter of freeing the Dwarves that were in life debt to the lord of Montbuy and for that I needed information.
Sidqar called on one of the serving staff and ordered that food be brought to the table as well, mainly as he had chosen to eat with me I guess. I would eat the food provided including any meat. I was reasonably sure it would not be poisoned. However, just in case I readied a knife from my boot which I would use to gut Sidqar if I started feeling ill in any way.
A broad smile spread on Sidqar’s face.
“A job well done and I keep my promise and more – you killed the Orc that killed my brother Jokhan who may now rest with the spirits. Word will spread of what you did, no mean feat to kill an Orc let alone two as nasty as today. The lord of these lands will not be pleased as he used them to get easy ransom or to kill newcomers and take their possessions. Easy gold for the lord.”
“You don’t seem upset that the lord will be angered,” I replied, “and you are providing food and beer where others will be watching. What have you to gain from this?”
“That depends on what you want, but to sit here in my tavern and eat and drink with who I please is one of the few rights I still have. The lord will invite you to meet with him either by force or not, your response will be interesting as I feel force may not be the lords best course of action.”
“Speak plan Sidqar or I will eat and drink but talk no more.” This conversation was going nowhere but the stew was good and I was enjoying the tavern – it was well kept, with a long bar, a room at the back for the kitchen, a big fire in the centre for those that could only afford to rent the floor for the night and wide drinking benches with large tables - some able to hold twenty or so a side - while others like the one I sat were against the walls more suited for two or three. Everywhere people were eating, the roof had windows set into it that were open allowing the smoke from the tobacco to vent, this pleased me no end as the room was clear and easy to breath while also easy to see possible threats.
“No offence is meant!”, Sidqar explained, “trust is hard earned here, and I don’t know if you are just passing or staying for the long haul.”
“I am here for one purpose and if that aligns with you then fine, my goal is to free my people and lead them to a different land – one where they will be not be forced to serve anyone.”
“The lord has many Dwarves and a good many are forced labour but some will be taking his gold and in turn forcing those that are slaves into hard labour. The lord has gold mine you see. Which is why he has Dwarves. Many have died as he does not care for your race or any race. The slave market is where he sells the old ones or those that he thinks he can gain a profit from.”
“What is the lords name?” I whispered, deciding that I would be making a visit to the gold mine and this slave market.
“Quarn, Lord of Montbuy is his title, but he only arrived here ten years ago. Before that we were a trading village, mostly left alone by the ravages of war. Quarn arrived with forty armed soldiers and took over, forced the building of the wall around the village. Then he built the pits and imposed his rule. Word spread that deserters were welcome here, and more races came to his banner. The nations don’t trouble him as he pays the generals. All the while he grabs land and villages and towns. Everything within thirty or so miles of here is his. His soldiers are free to do what they want and if you speak out then your family is taken away. Females and children are sold, and males branded and forced into his army. He rents out both deserters and the branded to any army as long as they pay. He does not care which nation. I never married but my brother’s family were taken and sold, he spoke out and was put in the pit, my brother was the leader of his village and a harsh message was sent to the others. I am always under watch, but I do what I need to. I buy the women and children when I can and put them to work here or get them away.” Sidqar went quiet and did not speak a word for nearly an hour. This suited me for his story was not as shocking as he likely thought for war often led to small fiefdoms but this one put had both Dwarves as slaves and slave masters, dividing my people, and that I could not allow.
“It seems Sidqar, that in this our paths are aligned. I will help but know that my goal is to free my kind not your town. Montbuy is no village these days. Don’t ask how I will support for my way is to fight and this Lord Quarn has too many soldiers for a head on fight. Even from one as good as me.”
I already had a plan and it involved the gold mine first. That night Sidqar and myself spoke of the town, where Quarn’s home sat, the mine, where the solders were barracked and I quickly realised that each was very separate that none could easily support the other. It was as though nothing was that well organised, this would suit me later. I rested the next few days, spending time following the directions of Sidqar. I spoke to Avicii and asked him to buy supplies, he did not understand what I was asking him to buy, they made no sense to him. I suspected that we were being watched so the list I had given him would not raise questions. However, within the list were items that would be very useful at the mine.
The mine itself was a couple of miles outside of Montbuy and the entrance was guarded by a fence and two towers, set against the side of a tall mountain. On the fourth day I left Montbuy with the supplies and took a very long walk, ensuring I was not followed, ending up at the top of the mountain. No-one had followed me. I spent the night watching the entrance. I had a spyglass and had hidden myself under blanket and covered myself with scrub. Unless I was stepped upon, I would not be seen. I wanted to see if the solders were alert to danger. As I suspected they never looked up and even rarely looked out. Some even slept while on duty. I spent time working out how to climb down the cliff edge without rope and although it would be hard, it would be possible to get down and back up. Overall, I counted only six soldiers on guard. Over the next week I went back three times and always saw the same set up.
The slave market was just that, although with an extra feature that I did not expect, any people that were not sold were beheaded or sent to the pit to fight. All races were sold and some fetched high prices. It was clear that outsider’s gold was welcome despite slavery having mostly gone from all the lands it was clear that there was still a market for slaves. I had always hated slavery. The very idea that you had no freedom. I also hated those that allowed themselves to be slaves. Why did they not fight? I could not say what may make me not fight? It was an alien thought. I know this place was not my true time but surely people had not changed that much. Then I realised, many were families doing what they had to. Would I allow myself to be a slave to protect my own kin. My mood darkened, maybe they do fight in their own ways. Maybe as I wanted to die in battle, I already had nothing to lose. I struggled with these new thoughts and my mood continued to darken further, I needed action.
I was growing to despise this town, a month had gone by and doing nothing was driving me crazy.
The mine was the first thing to attack – I hoped that if I could free some of the slaves that we could overpower the guards, the issue was what happened then, I could not leave the slaves on their own. The only option was to hit and run, and keep hitting Quarn until he had no troops left. Make them travel in greater and greater numbers then burn down Quarn’s house and barracks. Now was the time…
I woke up in chains. Naked apart from my smalls. I had no recollection of how I had ended up in this situation. Everything hurt. I could hardly move so tight were the chains that held me to the stone floor. It was bitterly cold and time seemed to drag out. I could not say how long it was before anyone came as there was no light in the cell as there were no windows. I had no idea how big the cell was. The only thing that was certain was that I was in a bad situation and that I was deeply troubled by my lack of memory.
I heard people coming, not that I could do much. A blinding light hit me as the door was opened. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the new light. Before this could happen, I was kicked a few times, not in any great way to cause more damage. More to make the point that I could be kicked.
A very broad Dwarf stood over me and started to speak, “So this is the prisoner that tried to steal my goldmine and set my slaves free. I am Quarn, Lord of Montbuy. By what right do you dare to steal from me? I shall see you live out the rest of your life in the pits. You have cost me a great deal and I demand to know who you are?”
My mind raced, “I have no idea what you are talking about. The last thing I remember is eating at the tavern.” Which was true enough. What had gone wrong? I could not remember. I recalled having a meal with Sidqar and getting ready to head out. I had planned to go out light as I had to contend with the climb. I had decided to leave my weapon, Deceit, and my armour in my rooms. I was going to take a small battle hammer and leather armour. I had found an abandoned barn about ten miles away and had built up some supplies.
“I will say this,” Quarn continued, “you did well to gain access to the mine and kill all six of my guards, I am still at a loss of how you managed that. What you had not counted on was that my slaves would not leave with you and for them to turn on you. From what I have been told a few would have left with you but the others who knew it would be hopeless and attacked you when you turned your back. Now you will pay the price for your audacity.”
I was dragged via the chains to a room where I was dropped into a what can only be described as a well. It stank of piss. Then I was pulled out again. My skin was on fire, the guards were laughing as I was pulled out. Again, I was dragged into another bare inhospitable room but at least it was warmer and there was food and water. Over the next few days my strength grew but still I had no idea as to what Quarn meant about pay for my crimes. It was clear that he had gone mad with power and his lust for gold to impression and slave his own. Should I get free, he would die by my hand.
A week passed, maybe more. I was still provided with no clothes and still bound in chains, but I was warm, and my strength was growing. My wounds were healing fast, as they always do. I heard the guards making comments that I should be dead or crippled with the damage I had suffered. Some of my memory was returning but I still struggled with the idea that Dwarves, that were in effect freed slaves, would turn on me.
The door opened and Quarn came into the cell, flanked by a number of guards. “Good, you are healed enough. Today you will die. We have arranged a festival for the pits. Today you will kill all the slaves that tried to help you or you die by their hands. Either way, bets have been taken and I grow ever richer.”
My mind calmed as thoughts started crashing through my mind. So today was the day. Today was the day I had longed for. Death. n my heart I did not really feel anything, I had no intention of killing any slaves but I also had no intention of dying. “In your dreams do I die, Quarn. Today you die!”
Quarn took a step back, I had screamed that loudly. I was dragged out of the cell. It was obvious that much preparation had taken place for today. A great many people were gathered, and music was playing. Today Quarn was holding court and going to ensure that the people knew it. His guards were everywhere dressed in black and purple livery. Flags were hanging from every building. I was still naked apart for the small cloth. Abuse and food were thrown at me, some stones as well. As I was dragged to the pits, I could see others in cages that were also naked. It looked like nearly fifty slaves were going to be sacrificed to the pits today. All six pits were open, and fights were already taking place.
The main pit had been changed, and a platform had been created so it was not a pit the stands still stood however and were packed.
Quarn was already seated and called for quiet “Today we celebrate, today each resident will eat from my table, drink from my cellar, and my generosity does not stop there. You will each will get two pieces of gold!” The crowds roared in pleasure. “On top of this I have arranged for you all to see the spectacle of the pits. A Dwarf that attempted to rob my mine! Had he succeeded you would not be getting gold toady. His plot failed and today he dies for your pleasure.”
Again the crowds screamed in support and started to hurl abuse at me. Quarn seemed well pleased with this.
All around I could hear and see the fights taking place. The pits were covered and the fights were staged on raised platforms so that everyone could see tand not just those in the stands. My blood began to boil. It was then, out of the corner of my eye I saw Sidqar and Avicii. Avicii was holding what looked for all the world like my hammer, Deceit. He was close to the main pit, it seemed to me that Sidqar also was armed. Well, maybe I could live through today after all.
I was dragged to the centre of the platform and unchained, I stood still as the guards retreated, Four lost looking Dwarves were also dragged to the platform, each given a sword and shield. At my feet was a small hammer, no armour for me.
I spoke as quickly as I could, “Do you want to die here today or do you want your freedom? We are armed. Together we can rush the cages and free the others, and turn on Quarn. He is expecting us to kill each other not to attack. What say thee?”
This seemed to startle the Dwarves. Maybe, just maybe, death could be cheated today.
”I will run at you, towards the cages. You can either try and stop me or follow your heart. Once the slaves are free we attack Quarn. Most of the citizens are drunk and a good many of his troops too.”
Meanwhile Quarn was still talking to the crowd this was the time for action and I charged, either the Dwarves would follow or not, I did not care.
As I ran I felt more than heard my battle call, it came from deep inside and was filled with the wars from ages ago, from flying on dragons, to leading armies. It grew and grew and filled the air, time slowed and I hit the first guard square in the mouth with the small hammer. The Dwarves had parted. They saw the first guard’s head explode, then that of the second guard. Then they followed me. Each screaming their own cries, each feeling alive for the first time in years. Avicii ran at me and threw Deceit to me. As Deceit landed in my hands it was as if a new energy empowered me. Screams rose from the crowd as it dawned on them that the slaves were not attacking each other Chaos erupted and I lashed out at any enemies that came close. The cages were right next to the pits and it took but a moment to reach them. I swung Deceit at the lock and smashed it with one hit. The slaves needed no encouragement to get out. The armed Dwarves were at the other cages and freeing the others. Soon we were thirty strong, the guards with bows could not fire for fear of hitting the crowds.
Quarn was calling on his guards to form up and attack. I realized that we could not hope to win if this happened. I screamed to turn our attention to the crowd and force them towards Quarn. The guards could not hope to hold them back if they charged. We hit the crowd’s edge and they broke, running towards Quarn. As the naked slaves grabbed anything that could be used as a weapon. Quarn still could not understand what had happened and could not understand why the crowds were heading towards his troops.
His soldier’s shield wall held for about ten seconds before the weight of the crowd broke it. We were amongst the crowd and hit the guards hard. It was not an easy battle. Many slaves died or were severely wounded, but in a matter of minutes over forty of Quarn’s troop lay dead. I headed straight for Quarn who was still screaming for us to stop. I did not bother to engage in conversation and brought Deceit down hard through his outstretched arms and his head, coming to a halt around his sternum. As I loosed Deceit he fell like a discarded stone onto the dusty floor.
Other slaves throughout the pits, seeing that freedom was upon them, soon rose up taking arms where they could find them. That night many slaves died but many more of Quarn’s followers died too. Sidqar had quickly returned to his Traven and freed the slaves he had bought. This act alone meant his tavern was spared; many other buildings were not so lucky. The night glowed red as the fires leaped from building to building.
I headed for the Quarn’s house as I did not want that sacked. I wanted it searched. The Dwarves that had followed me held guard and the crowds, seeing them, looked for easer targets. As night became dawn followed by day it was clear that the town had been completely ravaged. About half the buildings had been burned, at the slave market, those that had owned slaves had been killed and a pile of heads were stacked near the entrance.
Thanks to Avicii I was once again clad in my dragon armour and sat in the main square, holding court of sorts. People slowly came to the square not really knowing want to do. I had told my Dwarves that we would hold the peace that any who entered would be unharmed, word soon spread.
When most of the population had arrived, I began to speak, “Last night is last night. Any Dwarf that wants to follow me is welcome to. I head to our ancestral home, Ureke. Where we will move to from this corrupted world and grow our families and save our race. Let the younger races destroy each other, for we will be in the mountains and free from their wars. Those that chose to stay, I understand. Sidqar will make a fine leader for he is friend to both those that were slaves and those that were not. My Dwarves and I will take just what we need and leave you plenty for winter.”
With that I returned to the Quarn home and took any map that I could find. We took weapons and armour from the barracks. Each Dwarf packed food and warm clothes. Two wagons were also taken as my small army now had children and women to support. All women were given arms as by the traditions of my race, some of the younger people objected but soon backed down after I punched a particularly vocal idiot in the face. “All have the right and need to fight for our freedom. Our women are as strong as any of us. Our history teaches us that they held arms and held high office, often ruling over great lands. Thus we are all equal, any who would say else should leave.”
All told thirty-seven Dwarves left with me. Our journey was just beginning. We headed out of town and set off towards the gold mine first, then onwards to search for Ureke.
Not a nation. Haydes, not even an army, but a start.
Stoneheart's tale will continue in 2021...
The above short story is an Orcs in the Webbe original and was first published on December 9th 2020 as part of the 2020 Advent Calendar.
Jaffa is a long time friend and ex-house mate of mine who has been my opponent in many battles of Flintloque and Darkestorme over the years (although not for some time I am sad to say). At my request a few years ago we transported Stoneheart into the Third Age of Valon, the time of Flintloque, and Jaffa is taking keynotes from Flintloque but making the story of the Dwarves of Valon in these dark ages very much his own.
You can see the previous Stoneheart tales, in chronological order by clicking on the maroon Stoneheart tag just below.
* Note that the image from Warhammer Online has been used without permission and will be removed if requested by the artist/copyright holder.