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Member No.: 445
Joined: 20-April 07
It started with those called Burned Dwarves. They were warriors who fell during the closing battle of the War of the Dwarves and Orcs in 2799 in the Vale of Azanulbizar. Red Hakon was one. He was a terror to the goblin hordes and leader of a fierce company of tunnel fighters. He came from the dwarven clans that survived the fall of Gabilgathol, where once his own ancestors had been personal guard to King Azaghal. The Kingís death in battle with the dragon Glaurung made this guard company bitter foes of dragonkind. Vengeance was passed on from father to son, growing into a singular violent streak over the years. The Black Staves, as they came to be known, developed a fearsome reputation as fighters, brawlers and mercenaries. By the Third Age, many of their relations dwelt in the Grey Mountains hunting fell beasts. Their skills came to be highly valued by other dwarven clans, particularly the Longbeards of Thorinís folk. Quarreling with Fram son of Frumgar over Scathaís hoard led to a long simmering feud with the horsemen of the Eothed when they dwelt in Anduin Vales, a short reckoning by dwarven standards. They slew Fram for his insulting ďgiftĒ of dragonís teeth. The swift cavalry of the eothed under Framís son, Eorl, drove the dwarves back into their mountain fastnesses.
By the 2700s, the human market towns of the northern Anduin were deserted and despoiled, as goblin and hobgoblin bands took the lowlands after Eorl led his people away south. Red Hakon gathered what Black Staves still remained and led them to victory after victory. Their arms were fierce but the long war of attrition against the goblins continuously thinned their ranks. In the War of the Dwarves and the Orcs, they fought for the joy of slaying and for the insult paid by the orc Azog to Durinís Heir, the Father of their longtime allies the Longbeards. Most of all they fought for access to new markets controlled by the Longbeards, promised them by Thrain, for their mercenary skills. Many of the Black Staves, including Hakon himself, fell defending Thrain and Thorin during the battle. His son, Heimdal, a young and skilled warrior at 80, asked recompense in weregild of Thrain. The impoverished Heir of Durin instead took Heimdal into his service as a bodyguard, or housecarl, with promise of riches to come.
Heimdal served Thrainís household well, trusting Thrain to honor his word and recompense him for his fatherís death. For 65 years as housecarl Heimdal guarded and trained their warriors as an arms-master. They lived first in Dunland and later removed to the Blue Mountains. This close relationship brought him in contact with many of Thrainís retainers and the women folk they protected from outsiders. The families of the Thorinís trusted advisors Balin and Gloin were among them. In particular, Heimdalís heart was turned to that of Gloinís eldest daughter, Geira, and hers to Heimdal. However, Heimdalís status as a housecarl, or a mercenary without a hall of his own, made him unsuitable as a match in Gloinís eyes. Heimdal pressed his case for the weregild owed him by Thrain in order to gain enough status to start his own household.
During these years, the lust of gold inflamed by the secret Ring of Durin, changed Thrainís heart so that he valued wealth above honorable dealings. Heimdal, as a dwarf from another kinship, felt the brunt of this change as the leader of the Longbeards hoarded what little valuables the clan could assemble. Despite constantly being put off, Heimdal escorted Thrain when the elder dwarf desired to return to Erebor in 2845 with hope of winning a share of the fabled treasure of Erebor, a suitable dowry for Geiraís hand. Not realizing the depth of Thrainís madness, he stove to keep the crazed elder safe as the secret ring drew the small party too close to southern Mirkwood and the lair of Dol Guldur. Thrain disappeared in the night along with Heimdalís chance for the wealth he needed. Returning overlong to face Thorinís wrath, Heimdal was accused of negligence and dismissed, a servant disgraced. Balin and Gloinís judgment in council was that one fatherís loss paid for another, negating the debt owed by the Longbeards for Hakonís sacrifice during the war, which the Longbeards could not repay in any case. Thorin accepted this and banished the housecarl. Heimdal departed in secret rage, but Geira fled with him, eloping into the wild. They removed to Dunland where Heimdal still had some trading contacts. Setting up as a fighting master, he made a living in Tharbad training rich sons of the merchant families to duel.
There Hrothulf was born to Heimdal and Geira in 2875. The young dwarf was trained in his fatherís fighting school but secretly father and son trained in the ancient arts of the Black Staves. These techniques had been handed down from father to son among the descendants of Azaghalís body guard for centuries. Hrothulf made many friends among the corrupt upper echelons of that crumbling ancient city, where his developing fighting skills served him well. Tharbad had once been a mighty outpost of Arnor, then Cardolan, then as an independent city-state after the great plagues. Even as it slipped into its last twilight as a smugglers haven, the influence of Numenor could still be seen in its mighty bridge and outworks. As a friend to the elite, Hrothulf had access to the cityís guilds and libraries. He learned much of the stone masons of the city, blending dwarven natural skill with ancient learning handed down from the old kingdoms. He also learned much of the smugglers code made contacts among the Corsairs who made landfall to stir politics in Dunland and Western Rohan. Heimdalís inherited blood-feud with the Rohirrim from the days of Fram led father and son to participate in these politics, which often broke into warfare. Just before the Fell Winter was such a time. A mixed invasion of Dunlanders and Corsairs had dwarven aid from Heimdal and Hrothulf, whose new learned engineer skills as a sapper served them well. With the Fell Winter setting in, the men of Dunland attacked driving Folcred into the Hornburg, which at that time had no great wall, merely the burg. There the dwarves first learned of Aglarond the Glittering Caves. If Rohan ever fell to their allies, it would make a great place of strength and wealth for the dwarven clan that could claim it.
After the Fell Winter of 2911 great flooding followed in the spring. The city of Tharbad was greatly damaged by the flood waters. The Dunlandish attack was driven off. The dwarven father and son fought their way out and returned to their home in Tharbad. There they found many had died when the city levees collapsed, including Geira. The last life of the city washed away with the floods. Those citizens of Tharbad who survived became refugees and passed mostly north to Breeland. Heimdal and Hrothulf went among them as guards escorting a band of the survivors to Bree.
Where the Greenway crossed the Great East Road, the party they traveled with fell in with a dwarven caravan for extra protection from bandits. Among the crowd it was not at first known that this caravan belonged to none other than Gloin, now a powerful councilor with the ear of Thorin, Durinís Heir. Gloin, the enraged father of Geira, hearing that she had died, blamed this misfortune on Heimdalís actions. Taking revenge into his own hands, Gloin fought and slew his former instructor, who was then nearing 200. Claiming only his fatherís axes, Hrothulf left the caravan silently at the age of 37, swearing revenge.
Bearing the burden of vengeance for his father and grandfatherís still unpaid weregild, and now a hatred for Thorin and his councilors Balin and especially Gloin, he headed east after hearing rumors of Dain Ironfoot, a name from his fatherís tales of the old wars. He now knew that he would need great wealth to take this vengeance and it smoldered in his heart. The grandson of Red Hakon was accepted into the service of the hero of Azanulbizar. Serving among Dainís people, Hrothulf sought to reunite the long sundered warriors of the Black Staves, if any still remained. He achieved some measure of success as a warrior protecting the valuable iron shipments between the Iron Hills and Esgaroth. This trade brought him into contact with many smugglers, thieves, and cutthroats who also valued his singular expertise and from whom he gathered much information.
Hearing of his reputation, several other descendants of the Black Staves came to him, forming a formidable company much like his grandfatherís. They warred constantly in the frequent strife Dain had to keep the Eastern tribes of Rhovanion from over-running the struggling dwarf colony. This experience helped prepare them for the coming war when Dainís battle host was suddenly summoned to Erebor for what became the Battle of the Five Armies.
Hrothulfís mercenary band slew many goblins that day. When Thorin led his foolish counterthrust from the gate into the heart of the goblin host, the Black Staves were already too engaged to support the charge. It could not be said what went through Hrothulfís mind as he saw Thorin, Gloin and Balin overwhelmed by goblin spears. Only the timely intervention of Beorn the bear-man saved Hrothulfís unfriends from the goblins. His actions did not go unnoticed.
In the refounded kingdom, Thorinís rule passed to Dain II. Knowing of the old feud, Dain wisely knew he could not keep such bitter rivals under one roof. However, the 12 companions, as they came to be known, had much acclaim in the kingdom. Dain gave Hrothulf ever more duties as his reeve in the Iron Hills to minimize the chance that the feud would upset the newly regained kingdom. Hrothulf saw the wisdom in this, even as his heart burned to see his fatherís killer grow rich and respected in Erebor.
The Black Staves had little war-work during this period of prosperity. Their skills at smithing and crafting were inferior to the Longbeards who now flocked to the area, and they mostly fell on hard times, veteran brawlers without much to fight except old grudges. They turned to caravan protection, a poorly paying occupation but it provided opportunities for smuggling and racketeering schemes. Within several decades Black Stave ďprotectionĒ was needed for movement of many goods across the worsening road conditions across Wilderland and their ties to the smuggling rings influenced trade from Dorwinion to the East Bight.
Whether the rumors started from southern Mirkwood or no, word soon trickled back into Erebor of the abandoned lands about old Khazad-dum. By now Erebor felt too small for some and a new generation of dwarves was ready to make a place for themselves in the wider world. Hrothulf saw opportunity in this and encouraged the talk, knowing it would profit his enterprises greatly where a colony founded in Khazad-dum, one that needed supplies and protection. To his secret delight none other the Balin stepped forward to lead the effort, against King Dainís wishes. Hrothulf dissembled his intentions and promised Balin the support he would need. The elder dwarf was taken in, thinking Hrothulf would have been too young to remember Balinís part in exiling Heimdal.
The colony initially did well and had the support of the Black Staves in arms and supplies, run through the dangerous forest pathways, keeping communication between the Lonely Mountain and the new colony in old Khazad-dum. In truth Hrothulf and his men threw themselves into the effort, curious as many were to plumb the depths of the ancient Dwarrowdelf. As the years turned, it became apparent to the seasoned fighters that they were too few to reclaim or even hold the ancient underground city.
As the colony began to lose more and more men against the innumerable goblin and orc denizens, not a few decided to cut their losses and abandon Moria. Hrothulf saw profit turning to loss, even as Balin, now infatuated with his title of Lord of Moria, blindly stayed. The Black Staves withdrew their support. Shipments stopped getting through. The colony quickly foundered. Before leaving, Hrothulf made sure that orc archers found their way to the shores of Kheled-zaram, where Balin had come to admire Durinís Crown in the depths. The guard that should have been present at Balinís side were unaccountably absent and the old dwarf died, shot in the back. In the confusion and grief, accusations faded into general despair in the doomed colony. Any record of the last days of the doomed colony were lost. Before the end, Hrothulf and his men went west over the Redhorn Pass, now with enough wealth to start out on their own. They passed south into Dunland where dwarven smith-craft of any type was welcome. War was already brewing and the Dunland Hillmen were arming for the coming storm. The Black Staves built their own hilltop burg near to the ruins of Tharbad and set to supplying the region there about. They taught those who could learn some of their craft and were even called on to aid in fortifying Isengard, which was growing into a place of strength to be reckoned with. The mercenary band was hired often to strengthen the position of one bandit chief or another, and many refugees were set upon the northern greenway chased by dwarven raiders.
When the terrible Black Riders passed north in 3018, they had the aid of Saruman and the Dunlanders, who procured horses for them from Rohan. The menance of these messengers left many shaken, as did the mission and the quest for the Baggins. They crossed the River Isen at Tharbad, pursuing their deadly task.
With the growing power of Saruman and the passing of the Nine, Hrothulf saw first hand the changing world. Often the Dunland hill chiefs would drunkenly brag about their new master and the alliance with Mordor and its special enmity for the Lonely Mountain. Knowing a great storm was coming, Hrothulf decided to return to Erebor, knowing that Dain would need every warrior to survive the coming war. Not all chose to go with him but for most of the Black Staves loyalty to their people outweighed the opportunity for selfish gain. Durinís Heir was once again threatened. All dwarven folk would need to unite if they were to survive the war.
They arrived in Erebor none too soon. The eastern marches were already overrun and the Black Staves immediately went into battle on the front. The wilder tribes of Rhovanion had been well armed by Mordor and the Iron Hills were had been cut off from the rest of the kingdom. Gloin, the kingís general sent to defend the Iron Hills, had not been heard from in some weeks. The old smuggling ways of the Black Staves were invaluable, as was their stalwart skill at arms. They were sent to relieve the embattled general. Using the hidden paths and smugglerís hide-outs along the River Running, they quickly made their way to the Iron Hills and joined forces with Gloinís warband. The old generalís bumbling tactics led many dwarves to wasted deaths and the Iron Hills were overrun. Seeing his moment come at last, Hrothulf challenged Gloin for leadership of the warband. The old dwarf, not forgetting his enmity for Hrothulf son of Heimdal, mocked him for a son of a thief and kiler of women. Backed by his warriors and not a few of the dwarves from the Iron Hills who were fed up with Gloinís leadership, Hrothulf overthrew Gloinís command. Gloin was put in chains and brought back with the retreating warband towards the Lonely Mountain.
During the ensuing retreat, Gloin was slain, some dais trying to escape, others said by Hrothulfís own hand. Hrothulfís revenge was complete. All those involved in the slaying of his father, and the dishonor paid to his grandfather, had died.
Yet the Kingís justice in the matter had to be postponed. The forces under Sauronís influence were soon at the gates of Erebor and every dwarf was needed in the defense, especially as the Black Staves refused to fight without Hrothulf at their head. During the long siege many deeds of renown were done and the Black Staves acquitted themselves honorably. In the great battle before the gate Hrothulf was slain defending the King.
Many were divided after the battle in how to honor such a dwarf who was undoubtedly cunning, brave and loyal to his sireís memory. Yet too many whispered of his actions and close proximity to the death-blows that had fallen on Thorin, Balin and Gloin. In his wise manner, Dain had given thought to this before the end. After the great Kingís death before the Gate, his will was read before the assembled people. The death rede of a king was a strong portent for dwarves anywhere, words strong enough to diffuse feuds, settle old debts and do justice. As the king had surmised, the Black Staves had been at the thick of the battle, loyal to him as their ancestors had been to Thror during the battle of Azanulbizar, or their distant ancestors to Azagal. If the rede was opened, then it would mean that the king was dead and that Hrothulf had fallen alongside him. This preseince was greeted with many wagging beards at the kingís foresight and his justice. Before the gate a great pyre was made. There before the assembled people Hrothulf joined his grandfather as a Burned Dwarf. The golden weregild for his fatherís death was sent to Gimli son of Gloin, and thus was the old feud ended and Gimli able to found a hall of his own in glittering Aglarond.
Member No.: 445
Joined: 20-April 07
The echoes came faster now. Cool air flowed over them still the sweat beaded beneath helm and hauberk as they waited in the shadows.
Blasted tunnel war. He sniffed, trying to ignore the beading droplets making his face twitch behind the iron war mask. As if these could even be called tunnels. Vengeance had brought them from the north. Vengeance paid well where dwarven honor was involved. Vengeance and gold oft went together. Twas said it took gold to make gold, but also that it took gold to feed iron. Iron blades or iron blood, he wasn't sure though he had tasted plenty of both, and hungered for more. So here they were sitting above a stinking goblin nest as the sun set, draping the cave in darkness. The tunnels of the warrens below wrapped and snaked along the lines of stone, little more than cracks and splits that had been widened to allow the scuttling things to sneak through the dwarves natural environment. Filthy things, goblins. Termites in the stone in need of a good cleansing.
He shifted, the old scar tissue stretched over his shoulder-blade stiff, a scimitar slice from earlier battles. At least three chimes they had waited here, clinging to the poorly scrapped ceilings, among the rough formations of natural stone, waiting for their foe. Heat was now in the updrafts from below. Pinions, straps and buckles held them to the roof, driven by leather headed hammers. The climb team waited above the low ceilinged room. Silver wolf heads clinked together. The shaped beads braided into his beard rattled as he shifted to see his squad, concealed around the uneven roof. Round shields and weapons, black as pitch, were tied to their hauberks and strapped to their arms, leaving hands free. Phosphur tipped fingers signed in a surprisingly dexterous combination of finger movements. Old dwarven battle-code. From his point position where the cave met the tunnel mouth, he signed back to the squad spread around the room, "ware...contact...closing". Those nearest signed response and passed the message to the rest of the warriors.
It felt good to finally prepare a solid strike against the goblins. Too long dwarven warrior bands had broken into the labyrinth warrens of the Misty Mountains only to be foiled by the cowardly foe retreating to another system of caves and tunnels. It seemed the weakling goblins had no wish to engage but he thought different. They were cunning, in the way insects swarming were cunning. Good khazad craftsmen were masters of detail. Small details. Things others would overlook. In his wandering he had once watched a hive of ants wear down and destroy armored beetles. Details written in the earth others had overlooked. He was a master craftsman at his chosen trade. He closed his eyes and sniffed, like the wolf whose totem he bore, scenting the shifting airs of the cave. Waiting for the moment to pounce.
His plan, once his clan had arrived to swell the warrior bands chasing goblin scum through the vast underways of the mountains, was not well received. No surprise there. Incompetent seasonal campaigners, most of the theigns were somewhat indifferent to old Thror's plight, or the dishonor cast on the Longbeards by losing him. For the theigns war was a chance to make a profit, shift the trade cartels, perhaps carve out a nice little mining colony from greater goblindom. Weak fools, truth be told, they were chasing riches more than goblins. He knew better. The insult to the slain Elder of the Longbeards could not be born without reprisal. An insult to the Longbeards was an insult to all the clans. The one thing that could get them to put old feuds and debts aside. Convert the squabbling merchant families bleatings into true dwarven purpose. It might take some doing but they would see it his way in the end. Fool Thror's fate could draw their hot anger towards the mountain caves where the goblins held sway. They armored beetles creeping among mountain roots, grubbing. He wasn't here to re-balance trade or found a new mine. He was here to start a war. Push the swarming ants until they were bound to strike, strike so hard the dwarves would unify. One purpose. One war. Even now their scurrying ant feet could be heard running up from below.
The echoes were near now as the goblins fled the half-hearted assaults below. His clan had dueled for the honor of the hammer blow before the war council. Let others flush the goblins out from below with fire. His warband would be the killing stroke. That he had drugged the other contender in the duel for the place of honor bothered him not at all. Oftimes fate needed a push in the right direction. His direction. They had chosen a moonless night to press their attack at the setting sun, goblin dawn. Teams below pounded hammer to shield boss, making their numbers sound greater than they were, sending echoes through the goblins dark domain from every point but the upward way, that leading out the high gate. Long ago the faultline in the mountainside had let water work its way under the stone skin, eaten away like a canker at the core. There the goblin termites had nested, digging their own tunnels out into the lower foothills nearer to their prey. Where men settled pestilence came among them. They were almost as bad as the goblins. He sniffed. They even almost smelled the same. The cave reek wafted up, mixed with acrid smoke. He tensed, waiting.
Dwarven assault teams had entered the tunnels near sunset. The cracks below where the old creeks and streams had once issued out. Nothing came out those slime-holes but goblin scum these days. The woodsmen and farmers in the Anduin Vales, lanky brutish oafs, had been glad to show the unexpected dwarven war-party where the scuttling things came from that raided sheep and swine. Not that the doughty farmers and herders would enter the forbidding caves. Oh no, but they would charge outrageous prices for their honey-cakes and mutton. The war council had only been to willing to let the young warrior take the role he had proposed after dueling for the right. Dead dwarves had no claim on any treasure gained in the raid.
Driven by the noise and racket below, he had counted on flushing the goblins up the tunnels towards the high gate his team had found, like startled bats. He and his warriors had worked in the sunlight room all morning, climbing into their hidden positions, hanging quietly through the afternoon as the sun settled on the far side of the mountains. Only a dwarf would have such patience. Faces smudged in dark paste, armor dulled in ash, weapon hafts already blackened, his team had waited in the shadows and cracks as goblin patrols moved under them, about the high gate passage with the coming of night.
The sounds below changed now. He could hear the scabbling of clawed hands and flap of sandals. The bugs came closer.
Before hand, he had instructed the warrior band entering below to break off the pursuit. Turn the foes natural cowardice turn against themselves. The first drifts of smoke wafted up from below as the dwarves lower down lit bundles of straw. Smoke and flame carried upwards after the goblins. Now the goblins knew it too. The screeching sounds gave truth to the panic boiling up from the tunnels below. Now the moment came. The moment of gamble when they died, or he did.
With a rush and explosion of putrid air the swarm burst into the room. They scuttled across, milling about, until several orc captains appeared flailing whips. It was clear none of them wanted to exit the cave mouth, yet, expecting a trap outside. None thought to look up until too late.
With a slash of the knife held behind his shield he cut the straps from the pinions holding him to the ceiling. Two hundred and fifty pounds of dwarf fell from the ceiling, dropping like a stone onto the milling goblins below. His round shield faced down and he landed on top of it, smashing into at least five bodies with the satisfying sound of crunching bone and squeals. His axe swung out before he even rose, shearing ankle, tendon and knee. Around the room similar ripples appeared in the goblin crowd as the dwarves of his warband fell upon them. Snarling warmasks rose in the dark, black hafted weapons laying into the panicking swarm. In the clammering milieu, only those immediately around the dwarves were even aware the bearded foe was among them. Taking a glancing blow to his helm, he returned the strike with a vicious lunge, spitting the black blood that spurted across him. Dwarven axes rose and fell, carving a path through the goblin swarm. Most of whom did not see their foe in the lightless cave until too late. There was yelling and confusion. It was a sweaty, crushing work. The dwarves knew they could lunge and swing without worry of hitting their friends since they had spread themselves so around the room, each lashing out into the darkened cave. The pressed goblin mob hesitated, biting and kicking each other in their haste to get to the gate and freedom. The panicked screams and screeches of the wounded spread.
Taken by surprise, the goblins fell back, bolting for the exit as awareness of the dwarves among them spread. The high gate yawned before them and would let them out into the night. But not so. The dwarven warriors were engineers as much as they were warriors. The simple poles were sheathed in crude iron. The dwarves had brought from the valley below before dawn. Now they slammed into place, dropping on the rope hinge they had been hung to in the morning light, installed while sunlight made the goblins shun the narrow gateway. The cross beams, lashed together into a grate, slammed into place across the high gate's exit. The night beyond was just beyond their reach but close enough it drew all the goblins attention as they tried to escape the fire below and the sudden foe falling upon them. Cornered they would have fought, overwhelming the dwarves. Tempting them with escape and taunting them with fear of fire, the goblin mob threw itself blindly forward.
Pulleys strung across the ceiling with dwarven ingenuity held the grate up, chained to points around the room. Points that carried axes and slew any that came close. The panicked goblin press crushed against the iron sheathed poles, mobbing, feverishly hacking in their rush to get out, like fish in a weir. The trap was closed and held shut by the goblins own panic to get out. The few orcs in the room swung lash and cursed their quarrelsome kin to no avail. It took fear and brute force to turn goblin kind into a fighting force and now fear had overmastered them.
The squad fell back to the tunnel mouth as the swarming goblins pressed against the barred exit. The gate would not hold long but long enough for the dwarven tunnel fighters to regroup at the entrance to the warren. There they formed a shield wall while their leader knelt to set flint to tinder, the first light in the cave since sunset. His last two comrades let themselves down from the alcove where they had been tightly stowed. Miners carrying bilge pumps. They quickly turned nozzles to other purpose. Lamp oil was sprayed across the goblin swarm. He tossed the flaming torch he had lit.
The dwarves smiled behind their war masks as the heat flamed through the room. Goblin screams lit the room.
"Now," he growled and warrior release the restraining lines, loosing the hinge and the grate slammed outwards. Burning shrieking goblins ran out onto the bare steep mountain slopes.
From the vale below, farm families looked up in hope, seeing the gout of falling flaming sparks that fell from the cave. Heimdal smiled behind the snarling iron wolf face of his warmask. For the Black Staves, the War of the Dwarves and the Orcs had begun.
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