When the World Changed
The aftermath of the battle against the spiders and the driders on night of Guyekoni 24, 997.
The rain fell on the quick and the dead.
Matthew, armed with a long knife taken from a tangled pile of gear, turned over the mildly twitching corpse of a spider. Long lean brown and hairy, its multifacted eyes conveyed a certain amount of confusion and rage, seemingly at its demise from being bludgeoned by a wrestling madman. The rain fell in sheets upon its wicked upturned mandibles. It was a bowstave long easily.
“Ugh,” he spat, poking at the long, piercing jaws. He made sure that he had his arrows, checked his bowstring by touch, and went to pull his shafts out of the the hickory tree where he had feathered another damned spider. Up there, on a rain soaked trunk. Out of reach. “Sagron’s Holy Tits, Matthew, next time shoot the damed things closer to the ground.” Probably break my neck getting it down. He looked to where Birdy sat crumpled under a nearby tree. Nah. She needed some quiet time.
Perin hauled one spider over to a pile, where the others were laid, along with the remains of the two driders. Thror stood by the pile of hacked and gutted monsters, their vacant orbs reflecting scattered lightnings in the gloom. He drummed his mithril spear haft as he counted wounds and bodies, consulting with the other dwarves as they gathered the gear together. Some were still dazed by the sudden onslaught, or worse in a lethargic torpor caused by the venomous bites of the arachnids.
In a fit of – rage? cold blooded efficiency? – the driders had been methodically hacked into segments after they were brought down. Some of the dwarves weren’t taking any chances in the woods. The forest was not a nice place. Not here, not now.
Thror started to walk towards Mariam and Alain, as if to say something, and stopped himself. He did this twice, shaking his dripping beard.
Wet sodden gear, packs and armor, weapons and cloaks were being pulled from the green tangles of loosely clinging vines. Despite the tangles, no one seemed willing to cut the gear free of the green. Certain other piles held other fugitives who had failed to win free of the fae spellcrafts – they were now bones and rotted fabrics. Those piles were best left alone.
Sir Alain and Mariam were huddled over where the door opened into the rivulet veined hillside. An entry way gaped there, square, solid and dry, curving upward slightly and to the right. They could see the smooth sweeping marks where it had been carved into the hillside. A small drift of dry amber leaves and fine birdskulls lay in a scrum near the lintel. There were no steps.
The dwarves did not remark upon the door – nor did the holbitlan. It was as if they could not see it at all. Still the heavens poured down.
Lynnet sat under a large spreading beech, barely aware that a cloak had been draped over her linen shirt. She was cold, cold, cold and. that. drider. kept coming DOWN at her every time she closed her eyes. It was in pieces now, she had dwarves all around her and she was safer, but the adrenaline was over with and the awful breathy smell of the webbing was in her hair and her clothes and she didn’t want to be wrapped up in ANYTHING right now. She shook off the cloak, feeling stifled by its warmth.
It was all so… real. Was THIS an adventure? Were people supposed to be this miserable? The music, the dancing and those wonderful little drinks that tinkled…
Thunder boomed and wind hissed through the trees here.
Tran Deathbow had been reverently sewn into his cloak where he lay, and his tools had been redistributed. His stilled body was just over there by the yew hedge. The two Malins were tending him now, after the dwarves had watched the Matriarch and the Axebearer stop his life from ebbing.
Lynnet could just see where Bear, heedless of the rain, was kneeling by an old lightning wracked red oak looking for horse tracks. Or elf tracks or whatever he was looking for. He didn’t talk much. And those tattoos. As if he heard her thoughts, he briefly raised his eyes to hers where he kneeled, the rain streaming and bejeweling his bald, tattoed head. Lynnet looked away to find Mariam and saw Sir Alain jerk up into a less hunched posture.
Mariam looked at him, “What? Is it your wounds?”
Alain, paler than pale, stood, looking-inwards, “Feel something – I…”
It happened. Like a ripple passing through a reflection, things changed in the rain drenched clearing. Laughing Bear said something in his own tongue, and somewhere Thror tried to shout a warning but – what?
The dwarves spoke, all of them, in unison, in the same voice and inflection. A voice from the hall under the world. A voice that could be heard in any clangor, through any murk, by any ear. The voice of the Soul Maker, the forger of the Khazadrim. The clean sharply made kennings of Morradin, the All Father of dwarven souls.
Murin looked up from where he stood, his eyes jerking from where the shouting dwarves and startled hobbits were fading into dim spectres, to his right hand which swam uncertainly under his gaze into a longer and less blocky form of itself. It was grasping a smooth planed staff shod with elemental iron. He looked in the swiftly gathering darkness at Mariam, but she stayed the same. Wet.
“What did they do? Hey, my stave! I wonder how much that attracts lightning?” he muttered looking upwards through the trees into the riven and plundered sky. His eyes were playing up though, he could not see the treetops any more tonight.
Lynnet shot bolt upright. “Perin! Thror!” Her voice was naked. Raw. They were gone. All of them.
Mariam stepped back against the hill, her hand upon her scimitar, glaring into the storm tossed glade, but nothing moved. With a groan, Alain slowly crumpled into a ball on the threshold of the hall, his head crunching a small birdskull into dust, and a few dried mallorn leaves tangling into his locks. Strength and fatigue had claimed him.
“Alain?” As Mariam bent over him, her fingers splayed across her abdomen. Something was wrong. Very wrong. Lynnet kept on laughing. Or was it crying?