Amerak and the Ogre Raid
It had been a cruel, harsh winter in the Khordal mountains. Blizzards had raged long and hard and the first melt was already three weeks late. All mountain dwelling creatures were beginning to suffer as they eked out their winter stores of food with no clear sign of when the thaw would arrive and encourage new growth. Even the dwarves of Khordal were beginning to grow concerned as they were forced to delve ever deeper into their emergency stores to keep themselves and their families nourished.
In times as harsh as these it was little wonder that the creatures of the mountains, driven by their hunger, began taking more and more risks to secure themselves a meal. This is the tale of a daring raid perpetrated by an ogre on a small dwarven settlement in the upper reaches of Khordal, and of one dwarf's heroic struggle to defend her family.
Amerak Khurdugan was by no means an exceptional dwarf. Standing an inch under four feet tall, she was a homely sort and did not appear a force to be reckoned with by any stretch of the imagination. She was content to simply keep house and tend to the needs of her family, while her husband, Gladrin, worked long shifts in the Rivpax shaft to provide for her and their two small children, Almarad and Kalderak. The day had started early as usual for Amerak, rising first to pack a meal for her beloved Gladrin before tending to the children then starting her daily chores. She set the fire and started preparing a stew using the recipe passed down to her by her grandmother. It would take the best part of the day to reduce down, but the results were always delicious and well worth the effort. Once the pot was set, she turned her attention to cleaning the kitchen. Amerak sang cheerfully as she swept the besom in wide arcs across the floor, while Almarad and Kalderak skipped gleefully around her, joining in with her song whenever they could remember enough of the words. This was their favourite song by far, a ballad that told of the exploits of a dwarf, Thoradrin Grazghad, who had left the mines to seek adventure up on the surface. Kalderak particularly loved the verses describing his battles, and joined in with great gusto as his mother sang of how Thoradrin had valiantly slain an Orc twice his size. Almarad was less interested than her brother in battles, but delighted in hearing descriptions of the strange people and creatures he had met along the way. All was well in the Khurdugan household, until at the beginning of the second chorus a very different sound began to mingle with the cheerful voices of Amerak and her children. Amerak bearly noticed at first, but as the sounds grew louder, her cheerful grin faded rapidly to be replaced by a look of concern and fear. The last few words of the chorus lodged in Amerak's throat as she heard grunts and howls growing louder and closer outside. She quickly hushed the children who had continued singing, completely oblivious to the chilling accompaniment emanating from the thoroughfare. Wild animals from the surface had wandered into the tunnels before, but never had Amerak heard noises such as these. Ushering her children into the back room, she crept to the door, opened it a crack and peered outside. The site that met her eyes turned her stomach in knots, for advancing along the thoroughfare was a huge hulking shape, unlike anything she had ever encountered before. The beast was nearly twice as tall as Amerak, and more than three times as wide. It slavered and grunted as it swatted and grasped at barrels and carts in its path. From the relative safety of her home she could see other families cowering in whatever shelter they could find, praying to be overlooked by the monstrosity that was gradually ripping its way through their village. For several minutes she could do nothing but stare aghast at the scene before her. Every muscle in her body tensed as fear began to surge like ice through her veins. The beast was about to make a grab for another barrel when it stopped abruptly, turning to look directly at Amerak's home. It cocked its head quizzically and sniffed at the air. Amerak felt her heart miss a beat as she watched it turn slowly towards her. It sniffed again, as it began to drool foul saliva from the corner of its mouth. The creature was starving, and it could smell food. Her heart thumped harder and quicker until it felt as if it could burst right through her ribcage at any moment. Her breathing grew shallow and rapid as a wave of panic threatened to overcome her. At the last conceivable moment something stirred deep inside her that drew her back from the precipice. She fought hard to regain a semblance of control and forced herself to think rationally. Her immediate thoughts were for her children. She bolted the front door shut and ran to the back room where Almarad and Kalderak were huddled together looking confused and very frightened. They had never seen their mother act this way, which meant something must be very wrong. She gathered them in her arms, held them close and kissed them both. With tears in her eyes she made them promise to stay together, look after each other and keep the door bolted until she came back for them. With a strained smile and a deep breath she closed the door and turned to preparing her defenses. There was little in the house in the way of weaponry save for Gladrin's grandfather's battleaxe. He had fought in the last war against the elves, and had been a well-respected warrior in his time. Amerak wondered just how many enemies he had slain as she pulled the weapon clear from its rack. If she and her family were to survive, she thought, the axe would need to claim the life of one more foe. She stood defiantly, the axe held firmly in both hands awaiting the beast's first move. As she battled to control the panic that threatened to overwhelm her once more, she became aware of the sound of scratching at the front door. With one almighty crash, the door was flung open and left hanging off its hinges. An evil stench hit Amerak's nostrils as the beast lowered its head to peer inside. It was far too large to fit through the doorway, but extended its arm through the opening, groping to and fro in search of food. Amerak backed off as far as she could as the creature felt its way blindly around the room. Finding nothing of consequence, the arm withdrew as the creature let out a strangled howl before lowering its head to look again. It sniffed again, and grunted. Its huge hands grasped the sides of the doorway as it tugged furiously at the stonework. Small cracks began to form in the corners where the stone was at its weakest. Amerak could no longer afford to back off. If she did nothing she was in no doubt that her house would be torn down, burying her and her children in a tomb of rubble. She would not let that happen while she had breath and strength to fight with. The creature groped inside once more, but this time Amerak was ready to strike. She swung the mighty axe with every ounce of strength she could muster at the beasts forearm. The blade was keen and clove easily through the beasts flesh, sinew and bone, severing the hand completely. The creature jerked backwards, bellowing in pain as its blood gushed forth from the gnarled stump that remained. Amerak wiped splashes of the creature's blood from her face and hands and ventured outside. A rage was brewing deep inside her and her confidence was growing. She had hurt it. Now she would finish it before it got the chance to finish her. The creature was wheeling around, howling in rage and gripping at the bleeding stump. It didn't have time to react to the diminutive dwarf as she took a second almighty swing, this time hitting the back of its knee. The blade bit deep into its flesh once more. Amerak barely managed to spring back in time to avoid being crushed by the creature falling to the floor in agony, blood flowing in vile torrents from the new wound. It thrashed and kicked wildly on the floor but somehow Amerak managed to dodge most of its desperate assaults. She took a few glancing blows that knocked her momentarily off her feet, but by this point she was so focused on ending its life that she paid no heed to such minor cuts and bruises. Her confidence was soaring with every successful hit, and in a disturbing way, she was actually starting to enjoy the battle. At every opportunity Amerak swung the mighty axe, drawing strength from reserves she never knew she possessed. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the beast lay at her feet, twitching, moaning and unable to strike back. Though her foe was mortally wounded, Amerak was not finished. Her eyes were ablaze with rage and her enemy still drew breath. She moved to its head and stared down in disgust at what lay before her. Drawing on every last ounce of strength she could muster, she heaved the battleaxe above her head one final time and brought it crashing down across the beast's throat. Though not enough to cleave head from body, the blow was more than enough to end its life once and for all. Once the creature was still, Amerak took a step back and blinked in disbelief at what she had done. The rage was subsiding and giving way to a mixture of relief, confusion and disgust at what she had done. She let the axe slip from her grasp and held her bloodstained hands out in front of her. Shaking violently, Amerak sank to her knees, her legs no longer able to bear her weight. She had had to kill it, but the satisfaction she had felt doing it was not something she had been at all prepared for. When her neighbours found her, Amerak was slumped on the ground sobbing hysterically. She was a mess, her hair matted, her clothes torn and covered in blood, both the creatures and her own. She desperately wanted to go to her children, but begged her neighbours to help her clean up first. No child should have to witness the result of such horror. After wiping her face and throwing on a clean dress she was helped into her home, where she called to Almarad and Kalderak to open the door. Slowly the door creaked open a crack and two small frightened faces peeked out warily. On seeing their mother, the two flung the door wide open and ran to hug her. She gathered them in her arms and wept once more. Their ordeal was over, but Amerak would never be the same again. She'd had a taste of battle and, though she hated to admit it, she had enjoyed it. With their husbands away working in the mines someone had to protect the women and children. This was to be Amerak's calling. Never again would she allow their homes be left so vulnerable.
Thanks to Sarah Pightling for this contribution!