The Grief of Ziemach

War is brewing, the fates of four great kingdoms teeter on the edge of destruction. Zeitun the majestic mountain fortresses of the Dwarves, Lithae the beautiful forest home of the Elves, Morok the home of the once mighty Horse lords, and Bracocia the home of the Orcs and a terrible, slumbering evil. The fragile peace seems destined to fail, for the past few years Orcs have been raiding the borders of Zietun burning and pillaging.
There is perhaps one who can stave of this mighty evil, in the most unexpected of places. Fjolin a young dwarvish warrior is about to be thrown on a deadly adventure through barren wastelands, towering cities and dangerous plots

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5. Chapter four: The Proving

Zharon shook Fjolin gently waking him from his slumber; slowly he sat up grumbling about the hour. “Stop being such a wuss lad”. He said sternly. “Your proving is in fifteen minutes and you are by no means ready or fit to be present to the king”. Zharon spoke disapprovingly but a small smile played at his lips as he watched Fjolin realise what was going on. “"Get your armour on then lad”. He said gruffly chuckling at his bewildered state.

Fjolin jumped out of bed faster than a bird when startled from its nest, and reached quickly for a simple cotton doublet from his cupboard that was cunningly crafted into the rock. Pulling it on over his head he quickly belted it about his waist before pulling on his suit of armour, the steel sparkling in the candlelight like diamonds.

It was heavy and he grunted slightly as its weight hit his shoulders, then quickly buckling on his greaves and bracers he stood for a moment checking his armour over in the small mirror he had above the cabinet. He grabbed a cloth and quickly polished the silver falcon on his chest, then grasping his shield he pulled on his helm and turned to Zharon who stood with a look of pride on his face and a smile about his lips.

“Let’s get going then”. He said, slapping him on the shoulder.

They started to walk up towards the great flight of stairs that led from the lower bowels of the city where the living chambers were to the highest plateau on the mountains The Plateau of Kings; this was the burial place of the rulers of Ziemach and the proving grounds for all dwarfs seeking to graduate to the army. The stairs were long and climbed spiralling upwards for a mile within the rock. As they reached the top of the stairs and stepped out on to the wide expanse of the Plateau, their eyes drinking in the surroundings and the small arena split in to 8 reasonably sized sections.

15 other young dwarves stood in a line facing a throne cut into the rock between two larger than life effigies of dwarven kings at next to door cut into the mountains that led into the large halls of the dead in which where contained the bodies of kings dating back to the first age. Dwuli was sat in his chair head in hands, surveying those before him closely with his stormy grey eyes, upon seeing the arrival of Fjolin he stood clapping and rubbing his hands in a very businesslike manner, clearing his throat he began to speak.

“Dwarfling Initiates: today you take to the field to prove yourselves worthy of a place in our ranks, to prove yourselves worthy to stand amongst our nation’s greatest warriors and of course” he chuckled “your right to call yourself a dwarf, and not a dwarfling or initiate. Now I’m sure you all know what’s at stake but to make sure I shall give you a brief explanation, the proving tournament will take place on the grounds you see before you”. Dwuli said, sweeping his hand over the small multi sectioned arena

“Now the tournament itself shall be very simple all bouts shall be one on one and each time a dwarf loses he is taken out of the running and placed to the side for the time being, then the winners of their respective bouts shall step forward and take place in another one on one fight. This time any losers shall be out of the competition completely.

There will then be two one on one fights between the remaining four and the winners shall progress to the final, the final bout will then take place and the prize at stake here is the command of all of you as you are to become in your own right a company in my army. After this is decided the losers of the first bout will step up and follow the same procedure to win the second in command position however be aware that this position is alterable at any time by your company commander”.

He stood for a moment clearing his throat before asking

“Have I made myself clear?”

There was a thundering yes from the initiates and so Dwuli nodded gravely before proclaiming in his best battlefield commanders shout “Let the bouts begin” signalling to Zharon. With a wave of his hand Zharon stood forward carrying a small sack and several tournament swords and spoke

“In this bag there are 16 tokens. For each symbol there is a match, the Initiate who draws the corresponding symbol will be your first challenger”.

Having spoken thus he then proceeded down the line carrying the sack, stopping for each dwarf to draw a token and sword before moving on. Fjolin drew the Orc symbol and felt a rage boil inside of him before quickly forcing himself to be tranquil and at one with himself. He wondered who had drawn the matching token and which one of his friends and training partners he would be battling first.

Zharon having shouted for them to take positions shooed them all into the fighting enclosures before shutting the barriers with a resounding thud. Fjolin focused and brought his scrutinizing gaze to bear on his opponent, he was stocky with short arms and was nervous Fjolin could tell by the way he was rocking on his heels and casting his gaze furtively around like a trapped and wounded animal. Fjolin smiled wickedly more of a smirk really, before casting a glance towards the king who was stood his arm raised for a brief moment before letting it fall and as it fell a drums booming shattered the tense silence, so it began.

Fjolin readied his sword and raised his shield to cover the lower half of his face, he began to circle his eyes remaining still fixed upon the enemy watching his every twitch. Suddenly the other initiate charged raising his sword high above his head to bring down a devastating blow. Fjolin saw it come, but to him with the adrenaline pumping through his veins it seemed that his enemy moved in slow motion. Shifting his weight onto his back leg he tucked his shield into his chest bringing his sword across to counter the blow, there was a moments stillness before the swords met jarring Fjolins elbow but quick as a flash his shield struck, coming out from his body in an arc and smashing into his opponents jaw, knocking him to the ground. He tried to desperately scramble away but Fjolin kicked him in the back, forcing him to the floor before placing his sword on the back of his neck and applying a slight pressure. The cry of yield went up and Fjolin stepped away pulling the other dwarf to his feet.

Grinning as Zharon lifted the barrier allowing them out of the arena. Zharon was overjoyed his face beaming with pride as he led our hero to one of the side benches.

“Good lad”. He boomed,

“A good counter that, the poor fool never saw it coming”.

Fjolin was overjoyed; to have made Zharon proud meant so much to him. The grizzled veteran had been a father to him since he had found the Dwarfling in the wreckage, someone to talk to, someone to be respected but ultimately his sole friend, the only one who understood him.

Forcing away tears furiously, he turned his attention to the other matches watching the two remaining bouts as the contestants fought hard for victory slowly but surely those fights too were concluded and the barriers were withdrawn to leave 4 slightly larger sections for him to fight in.

Again Zharon stood forward with the tokens congratulating each dwarf with words of encouragement and a smile, perhaps a pat on the back if he thought they had done well. Our hero this time drew the wolf symbol and once more waited to be escorted into his arena, his theatre of fighting. Zharon pushed him along into his enclosure and again the barriers shut with a loud crash.

Fjolin surveyed his opponent, he was taller than most and lean for a dwarf, and he didn’t look uncomfortable in the slightest; he did however look tired having been in one of the longer bouts previously, Again the drum sounded and time Fjolin left his shield loosely in his grasp swinging it slightly before hoisting it up to cover his chest and circling slightly to the left never once taking his eyes of the enemy his enemy stood stock still sword and shield ready.

Our hero darted in, his sword stabbing in a short thrust to test his opponents guard. It was strong to the first hit; however he was sluggish at getting his shield down in time to deflect the stab at his knees. Therein lay Fjolins advantage; he was faster, more manoeuvrable and he knew it.  Coming in from the left, he slashed at his opposition’s helm and as the swords clashed he came round again and smashed his sword hilt into his enemies back causing him to stagger forwards cursing loudly into the barrier.

His opponent then was enraged and charged quickly like a bull, Fjolin sidestepped and this time brought the pommel of his tournament sword down on the back of his skull knocking his enemy clean out. As he thudded to the ground, bleeding from his mouth stretcher bearers ran in and quickly took him to the medics on the sideline for their attention.

Fjolin was surprised to find that his had been the longest bout and there was little time for him to enjoy the elation that victory gave him. He immediately went and stood with the three remaining champions to select their final tokens, this time our hero was given a silver falcon and he took this as a sign, a good omen as to his chances of success.

This time the arenas were larger, much larger and he stood looking at his opponent, he was huge, tall and stocky in equal measure. He smiled arrogantly at Fjolin who smirked back. The drums rolled again and Fjolin quickly jabbed low with his sword, his opponent quickly blocked but was not expecting Fjolin to kick his shield. In fact he kicked it so hard that the poor Dwarfs shield splintered beneath his boot and his opponent fell flat on his back, yielding immediately as he felt Fjolins sword at his throat. He left the arena and this time Zharon led him up to the throne to stand before the king who looked silently at him for a second before saying

“That was a damn good kick lad, Zharon trained you well”.

Fjolin of course almost burst with pride having been praised by the king, and sweeping off his helmet he knelt immediately saying

“You honour me my lord”.

Which is of course the proper way to respond to a king or personage of such noble standing. Dwuli merely chuckled and gestured for him to stand saying.

“Look, your challenger awaits ye lad”.

He walked slowly taking his time to don his helm and assess his opponent. He was tall and lean but Fjolin knew from watching the other bouts that he was also lethally quick and would be wise to most of his tricks by now. He stood ten paces away from his opponent, eyes narrowed, his opponent almost challenging him with his twinkling blue eyes. This time there was a massive drum roll which echoed off the mountain side like thunder and fading just as quickly.

His opponent attacked quickly jabbing here, and there almost simultaneously, our poor friend was in quite the pickle, he couldn’t engage without opening himself up but he knew that he couldn’t stand under this onslaught either. He decided to attack and as he did his sword was knocked from his grasp by a hard whack to the wrist. His opponent smelling blood lunged.

Fjolin dived out of the way and his opponent’s sword struck the barrier splintering along its length. Seeing his opportunity Fjolin snatched up his sword and slammed the hilt into his opponents back and neck forcing him to the floor, he rolled over only to have Fjolin stamp his foot down on his chest winding him and a blade descend softly to stroke the outline of his neck almost like a caress.

After a second he yielded and stood shaking Fjolins hand and congratulating him on the fight and his success amongst a cacophony of applause and cheers. With that ended what I shall term as the winner’s bracket and so the barriers were replaced and the loser bracket began. There were a few minutes of thwacking and thudding as they fought before the round ended the loser going to sit on the side benches to be consoled by fathers and brothers.

The next bout was much the same, no real skill, just each dwarf launching and onslaught and then withstanding one until their guard slipped and they were forced to yield. Now came the interesting match for this one would chose our dear friends second in command it would either be the dwarf with the blue sash or the dwarf in the green one  (bear in mind that he did not as of yet know names).

Fjolin watched avidly waiting for the thunderous drum roll; it came shattering the silence into a thousand fragments, like a broken mirror. The contestants moved lightly on their feet circling looking for an opening, green struck first darting in and darting out, then blue each testing, searching out their opponents blind or weak spots.

This went on for several minutes until blue went down on one knee to dodge a swing and thrust his sword hard into his opponent’s midriff winding him and as he stumbled he backhanded his shield up across his opponents face knocking him cold. The cheers erupted again applause echoing around the arena. Dwuli stood and beckoned for Fjolin and the other dwarf to come and stand beside him and grasping both their arms thrust them into the air.

Booming out in his commander’s voice.
“Your champions.” The applause redoubled and Dwuli leant over to Fjolin and said “Well done kid, now I just have one thing to ask you”

Fjolin looked surprised but replied. “Ask away your grace”.

Dwuli chuckled “don’t worry lad you’re not in trouble, but I must ask for what you will name your company, oh and if you will get them to close ranks I would be most obliged.” He said glancing at Zharon who nodded and bellowed at the initiates almost as loud as the drums “Close ranks.”

The king then turned to Fjolin coking an eyebrow slightly “Well lad”, he said “Do you have your answer?”

Fjolin remembering that afternoon his family had died nodded.  Dwuli then beckoned to him to come closer, or hero whispered his choice into the king’s ear, who then stood up and addressed the dwarves below.

“My loyal subjects” he began “You have now proven yourselves to be worthy of warrior status and I am proud to have you in my army, however you must also remember that although as subjects your loyalty lies with me. As soldiers your loyalty belongs to your commander.” He continued his voice as hard as ice “you will obey him without question for the penalty for not doing so on campaign is death.” “Now stand proud for you are members of wolf regiment and shall henceforth be known to all as the wolves”.

Fjolin stood there blinking back tears of joy and pride for a moment before throwing back his head and roaring his defiance to the heavens, his warriors followed suit joining the mighty war cry.

Thus was our hero’s legacy born and our story truly begin.

 

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