Winter – Fates and Choices – Year 3


The new administrator has arrived. I am spent and relieved.

They say that once engraved, steel never forgets. No amount of heating, hammering or melting can remove the essence of what it records. This is why ancestral weapons are considered the finest and why cursed blades given as ‘gifts’ are the greatest insult. Recent events have imprinted upon me in much the same way.

Fedor Emilianenko became our first legendary wrestler. In her short stint as a recruit she devised techniques that I’d say are revolutionary. Choke-locks, joint-twists, and counter-throws all unlike anything I had ever seen. I have to admit, when word of her dominance came out of the barracks, I was more than a bit skeptical. So much so that I put on my old training gear and prepared to show her and the rest of them how real dwarves fight.

It was humbling. Imagine a veteran of two wars, a master of axe and hammer, tossed about like a rag-dwarf by a ruddy-faced girl. If I wasn’t so amazed by the superiority of these techniques, I’d be embarrassed to admit it even happened. Needless to say, she was promoted and began instructing the rest of our troops in her new way. This led to an unprecedented explosion of skill and martial knowledge. So much so that by mid-winter every recruit had transformed into an indomitable champion and even civilian dwarves were coming to see her in their off times to learn a thing or two.  The amount of respect she garnered was matched only by her ability, humility and grace.

But the good times did not last. As is unique to dwarven biology, Fedor Emilianenko suddenly found herself pregnant.  The throes of labor struck like lightning and all in the barracks rushed to attend to her. The pain must have been intense for the cries she uttered far exceeded those she made when she dislocated her joints and had bones broken. I swear I’ve seen lesser dwarves die under such duress in hours, yet she bore it for days. All work in Helmgorge stopped as we held our breaths for our champion and our friend.

Just past midnight into the third day the gentle squall of a baby girl echoed joyously through our halls and a collective sigh passed all our lips. But this battle wasn’t without its casualties. By Armok’s will Fedor only held her new child for seconds. With her last breath, she named the baby Urvad and passed from this world.

Fedor’s husband, one of the shooters named Bass Reeves, went mad with grief. He refused to look at or be near the child. He no longer speaks and now spends all his waking time at the range shooting bolt after bolt into targets or pouring drink after drink past his beard.

Nevertheless, life at Helmgorge had to go on. A funeral was conducted and the procession included all citizens. Branches of oak and alder were braided into wreaths and the craftsman sculpted lillies and tulips from gypsum, bauxite and olivine to adorn them.  This appropriately dwarven tribute in the midst of a flowerless winter reflects what Fedor meant to us.  

After the funeral, things slowly returned to normal. I put the masons to work carving statues and had our resident tailor, Armani, put his focus on getting new clothes for the populace. The miners had completed digging out new quarters for nobles and accommodations for future migrants.

I also gave Urvad one of our finest rooms and assigned a peasant to do nothing but attend to her needs. However, a week after being assigned these duties, this peasant reported that the child refused all help. I took his bucket of water and I went to investigate myself. I found the child crawling through the halls wailing and weeping. When she saw me, she stopped. I spoke:

“Child, please take some water from this bucket. You must keep up your strength.”
“Mama no more, papa no care, mama no more, papa no care…”
“I hear you cry, but I see no tears. Drink so that your tears may hallow the place they fall with your grief and love.”
“I have tears enough for that.”

Then she approached, a fresh wave of lamentations issuing forth, her hands covering her face. I held out my arms and caught her as she collapsed from exhaustion. I held her close and she buried her face into my shoulder. I crouched there motionless as she wept, and I could feel fresh tears running down my neck and chest. Gradually the wailing became a whimper and then finally silence. I slackened my grip and she limply fell back into my arms.

She was dead. Tears she had left, tears of blood.

My friend had died giving birth to this child. The father, by his inaction made her my ward. And now she lay in my arms, dead. The last traces of her life streaked down her cheeks and down my neck, red stains of my shame and disgrace.

It was then I felt two hands on my shoulders. On my right was Esseffbee, on my left, Orto. My anguish was theirs. In their silence lay their empathy. They stood me up and led me to the catacombs. Though things had mostly returned to normal, and we walked the most trafficked paths, we passed no one and heard nothing but the silence of stone.

Upon entering, the quiet repose of the mausoleum washed over us and as I lay Urvad in her coffin, the cold stone and sublime quiet soothed the recent stings. Esseffbee quietly chanted a hymn to Armok, while Orto carved a simple epitaph:

“Here lies Urvad, beloved daughter of Fedor”

With the carving complete, we looked about, knowing it takes four to lift the coffin cover. As if bidden by the spirits, Bass Reeves appeared. With him, we lifted the cover into place. Reeves then knelt at the coffin and quietly prayed. Silently, we left him there.  He has since returned to duty, but still he does not speak. 

That was two weeks ago. Since then things have been lax. I haven’t worried too much about idlers, nor have I made any plans to do any additional fixing or cleaning. I had previously commissioned a tomb for myself in vanity, but I now request that the next overseer remove my claim. It is my wish that I be buried with the commonfolk of Helmgorge.

Yes sire, I have made my decision. For my next assignment, I’d like to be stationed here permanently. While some may see this place as a backwater, I have grown fond of its peculiarities and feel inextricably bound to whatever fate befalls it. In the meantime, I have joined the militia and I am working on a manual of Fedor’s techniques. When it is complete I’ll send it your way, so that what has been learned and developed here can be used to make elite fighters all across Dwarfdom and so that the legacy of my friend shall never be forgotten.

It has been a pleasure serving you, but with my oath now fulfilled, I take my leave.

Until we meet again in this life or the next,

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