Of Dwarves: Death

July 23, 2008

Death in dwarven culture is handled differently then in other cultures.  Being a practical race, dwarves find the rites and rituals of other cultures odd, and vice-versa.  In most other cultures, the custom is that the deceased is buried with some belongings that will aid him in the afterlife.  A period of mourning is expected for the deceased’s friends and family, and it’s generally considered a sad affair.

A dwarven funeral is completely different.  Dwarves generally do not hold funerals.  They hold celebrations.  Dwarves do not see death as a time to mourn, but as a time to celebrate the life of the deceased.  It’s a time to celebrate the accomplishments, the honor, the glory, and the exploits of the dead.  To be sure, no dwarf wants to die, but they do not see death as an end.  Merely, it’s the stage in which a dwarf leaves the material world to join Moradin in the great Mountain beneath the world.  This is the place dwarven dreams go.  The Anvil of the Earth, the Fires of Moradin, the Mines under the Mountain – these are all part of the dwarven afterlife.  But most important of all is the Hall of Dwarves.  A giant hall with ale and food always ready and waiting, and with dwarves always ready and willing to greet you.  It’s the reward for a lifetime of duty and honor.

So it’s a shock for outsiders who are unaware to see the celebration of a dwarves death.  Dwarves understand this, and take great pains to explain their actions, though rarely with success.

This of course affects the beliefs of dwarves in general.  For the most part, this creates a rather odd division in beliefs when a dwarf is accused of “grave robbing.”  In dwarven culture, grave robbing does not exist.  Rather, desecration of a grave is a crime, but robbing a grave is counter-intuitive to a dwarf.  The idea that a corpse would need material wealth in death is crazy talk to the bearded folk.  Indeed, for many of them, it’s an insult to the gods.  If the person being buried was indeed blessed by his god and was rewarded on death, what makes the mortals of the world feel that anything they could provide would be in any way needed by the dead.  Moreso, no dwarf worth his beard would want to be buried with a tool or item that could be used by others.

This is not the say dwarves are buried naked without armor or weapons.  But there are really only two reason for this to happen.  The first, and far more common is the ceremonial armors, weapons, and tools.  These items represent the tools of their trade, but in practical use, they are not useable.  They are made purely for look, and in many cases, cannot function as the represented item.  The other reason a dwarf would be buried with his tools is if the dwarf died far from home and bringing armor and weapons would be unwieldly and unwise.  Dwarves are practical folk, and while burying a dwarf with weapons and armor isn’t needed, neither is removing it for no reason.  It’s also useful because now dwarves have an easy way of retrieving said weapon or armor at a later date if the need arises.  And by Moradin’s beard, no dwarf would want his tools to go unused after his death.  It would be an insult to some to see that their tools were not wanted.

Dwarves understand that this belief is not shared by other races, but they frankly don’t understand why.  Dwarves won’t go digging up graves looking for treasures, but they have no qualm in taking a quick peak to see if something could be useful in their current situation or following a map to buried treasure in a tomb of some old dead guy.

This is not to say dwarves do not understand the importance of the body.  They won’t destroy a body for the sake of hoping to find treasures.  They’ll do their best to restore the tomb, minus treasures, to it’s original condition.

The practical dwarf – confusing and infuriating priests and religous folk of other races for centuries!

The Golden Gryphon was the typical inn the Legion of Frontiersmen would use to meet up.  Loud and busy, people coming in and out, laughing and shouting, clinking of mugs, bar maids dancing about chairs and drunks, and a sign that must have once been that of a gold gryphon, but had been worn away with weather and time.  The patrons were the typical lot as well.  Loud and boisterous, laughing and shouting, drinking from mugs, bar maids dancing around outstretched hands looking to grab some flesh, all a sign that it was another typical night in Phirul.

It was difficult not to be impressed with Phirul.  The size itself of the city was something Thor had never yet encountered.  Everyone said the city was imense, but you didn’t appreciate the size until you saw the city for yourself.  Thor had spent the better part of the last hour wandering the streets taking in the sights all around as night slowly settled over the city.  Shops were closing up, but the night life was beginning.  Ruffians and theives, oh most definetly.  He saw them aplenty down the narrow alleys.  But bards carrying their instrument of choice to their local pub, men done with a long days work finding their way to spend their money at games of chance, and the ladies making their appearance in various door ways.  The night life was like any city.  It just happened that this city was a lot larger than most.

Foolish dwarf.  Even then something was amiss.  Too busy eyeing every fancy dandy and waiting for the expected to happen.  Nah, no one gonna pick your pocket.  Too busy watching for that, eh? But now you know, don’t yah? Now you know that them screams weren’t just a dandy laying an unwanted hand on the ass of a lass.  It was more, weren’t it so?  Now you know, dwarf, now you know.

It wasn’t until he walked throught he door to the Gryphon that he spotted the pair, and the third one approaching them.  The pair he’d learn soon enough was the quick witted and wiley Arnold.  His taller half was his companion Viggo.  He could tell in an instanct by their interaction they were opposite pieces in a puzzle that fit perfectly together in all the right spots.  The third figure, who he’d come to know as Dirock, was an imposing young human carrying a great maul.  Proud, idealistic, and demanding.  Thor sighed, smiled, and nodded to himself.  Pride be a fools trait if you trying to defend, son.  Get it out of yer system now.  Idealism is just as bad.  Idealism is reserved for those that read and write and talk all day.  That’s not what you do.  Practicality is your virtue. Yeah, his par had been right.  But the human wasn’t a defender.  He was a champion of Kord.  Already Thor could see how the two would at once butt heads and at the same time become each others biggest support.  An interesting group, to say the least, and each one would need his hammer, Thor decided.

Foolish dwarf! Twice now you’ve heard the screams.  Mixed into the background with the shouts and laughs from the Inn.  You’ve lost your code, lost your teachings.

YOU’VE FORGOTTEN THE FACE OF YER FATHER!

Oh, you know the signs now. Always be waiting.  Always be ready.  Har! What a farce.  Ignorant of that which goes on around you.  Foolish, foolish dwarf.  Be waiting and ready for ANYTHING!  Not just what you be expecting, but being aware of all.

Spitting on the grave of your grand-pere before he has even set foot innit, you are.

Foolish, foolish dwarf.  You’ll suffer for it, you now know.  Oh, you’ll suffer.

Thor made his way throught he crowd.  The bar was hopping, the people were packed in, and a bard of sorts was flipping a half-dozen balls in the air in the far corner.  A bar maid flew buy carrying a tray of hot eats and enough mugs of ale that Thor had to wonder how her petite little hand could care them all.  Walking throught he crowd, he watched her swerve and sway through the boisterous lot to finally land the food and drink without spilling a scrap of food or a drop of ale.

Finally he approached his own destination only to have Viggo reach out and grasp his hand.

“‘Elo lil one! My name is Viggo,” he said. “DIs be Ah-nold,” he said pointing to the short halfling. “Who you be?”

“I’m Thor…,” he started to say, but Viggo moved on to welcome Dirock who had happened to reach across and over Thor to shake hands with Viggo.  Meanwhile, the halfling reached out and under and presented his hand to Thor.

“‘Elo my friend.  My name is Arnold Wurzel, the third eldest son of Wilbur and Willowmena Wurzel.  This is my good friend Vigyori Estergom,” he said, gesturing back to Viggo. “So your name is Thor.  An appropriate name considering Viggo and Dirock…”

In some sense, what happened next was a blessing for Thor.  He wasn’t good in social situations.  He was a defender, after all.  Throwing out taunts to the enemy or yelling at companions to stop jumping in front of the big bads and getting themselves hit was all part of a defenders typical “social situation”.  Hitting that same big bad with his hammer was considered good manners.  Killing quickly and efficiently was the proper way to address monsters.

All this is to say that when the first zombie burst head first through the front door and bit into the next of a bar wench, pulling her down to the floor in a bloody screaming mess, Thor relaxed some.  Like most cases of surprise and shock, the common folk stood and stared for a second.  It wasn’t a pleasant scene for sure, but in Thor’s experience, the less pleasant the scene, the stronger the urge to look becomes.  Then all of hades seemed to break loose.  The bar patrons flew from the area giving the monstrosity a wide berth.  The unlucky fellow standing behind the zombie screamed in horror as the beast jumped onto him.  Down they went to the floor, but Thor knew he was already dead.

Seeing his companions start to act, Thor knew that with his two simple words I’m Thor…, he was one of them.  He would perform his role, and had to trust that they would perform their roles.  He ran around a table, pushing his way through the crowd of patrons who were trying to get farther away from the monster.

Leaping the last few feet to the creature, he pulled out his hammer and readied is large shield, screaming at the beast.  Dirock, standing beside him, swung his might maul at the creature, slamming the thing’s back.  He heard bones cracking, but the great beast stood up from his meal and turned on Dirock with claws and teeth.

From behind, he heard growling and hissing, and looking over his shoulder…

“By Moradin…” he said.

The lady that had just falling dead to the floor, the one that had her neck torn open, was rising again.  And it was clear that she was now one of the zombies.

“Ware their bites friends! They’ll turn you!” he shouted.

With a few seconds remaining, he turned his attention to the one in front, hoping to get it to turn it’s attention to him.  Bringing his hammer down and around, he was able to connect square with the beasts jaw sending chunks of flesh and blood spraying out across the screaming crowd.  They were heading toward the second floor, and he saw why.  From the kitchen in the back he heard more screams drowned out by tearing flesh and growling.  In that moment, it was made clear: they were surrounded.

From the kitchen coming in right behind the people flying up the stairs, two more zombies can running in.  One jumped onto a man who had fallen over a table, the other went right for Arnold.  Dirock was sending his maul into the original one, and from behind Thor could see Viggo reining arrows down as quickly as he could.  Laying another attack into the side of the zombie, Thor spun around the back of Dirock to place himself next to the newest zombie on Arnold and swung his might hammer into the creature.  The vile thing turned from the halfling and swung wildly at the dwarf, connecting only with a well placed shield block.  Form behind, he heard the shatter of a window, but with two zombies here and a third only a few feet away, he knew he had to trust that his companions could hold the rear.

The one that had jumped onto the man looked up, and jumped up at the dwarf, snarling and growling away.  His claws dripped with the dead man’s blood, his teeth still held the man’s flesh.  Thor swung his shield out wide blocking the attacks with ease, but the other zombie slipped in behind the shield and bit hard into his arm.  Rage filled the dwarf, and he swung his shield back around pushing the zombie back away.  Out the corner of his eye, he saw his companions dispatch the original zombie, and that had come in through the window was being dealt with quickly.  Dirock had turn his attention to one of the zombies on Thor, and blasted the thing with lightning.

“Kord smite you down, vile beasts!” he shouted in praise, and he could feel the power from the blow through his own body, lifting up his spirits and pushing him forward.

From the stairs, he heard many shouts form people telling them to come quickly, and he knew it was a sound move.  With all the windows and open doorways, the first floor would be flooded.  His instincts told him that they were surrounded, and that fleeing into the night would do more harm then good.  He also knew that the burning sensation in his arm would have to be dealt with, and soon.  Shifting around, and keeping the two zombies on him focused, his companions started to swing back around and make their way to the stairs.  It was just as it should be.  He held off the remaining two as his companions made short work of them, and they made quickly for the stairs to the second floor.  Reaching the top and turning the corner with the zombies in hot pursuit, the slammed the door in behind them with no time to spare.

For a moment, they rested, but only a moment, because they heard shouting down the hall.  Apparently, the second floor had a rear entrance.

Of Dwarves: Defenders

July 5, 2008

When you are a defender, his father would say, you accept responsibility for the lives of those you defend.  It isn’t out of glory.  It isn’t out of honor.  It isn’t even because of your family.  It’s because you accepted it.  And they’ve accepted you as their defender.  As much as you depend on them to find the ore and mine the ore and smelt the ore and smith the ore into something you can wear and wield, they depend on you to defend them at every turn.

His grand-pere would look up at this, and smile, shake his head, and laugh at this.  Not because it was funny, but because What yer par is trying to say, sone, is that you watch their back so they can be doing what they be out there to do.

His par nodded to his par, but when he turn back to face his sone, his eyes gave that serious look that only means one thing, that Thoradrin better listen now, sone.  Grand-pere be right.  But you know it’s serious out there.  Twenty times you might go out, and twenty times you might come back, not a drop of blood you spilt save for when you crack your head a good one on a sharp ‘tite.  But it’s the one and twenty that will get you good, and the orc and goblin will come in to kill.  And don’t be soft when that time comes.  Always be ready.  Always be waiting.

Thoradrin would nod and accept his par’s blessing each and every time he went out, and his grand-pere would always slip him a bit of rum to keep him warm out in the dark. A nip or two in the whee cold hours ne’er hurt.  Keeps the blood boiling and the heart ready he would say.

So defending became his purpose.  Defending became his life.  And defend he did the miners and prospectors and the traders and the caravans.  Until that day.  That damned awful day.

His grand-pere once said A day will come when you all you do to defend won’t be damn near enough, and you’ll bite yer own head off to take it back.  That’s when you’ll have to make a choice.  Go back to defending, or move on.  No Mightstone ever defended clean, but damn no defender every did.  But when that day comes, and you’ll know it sure, remember this, that same be I told your par: Always be ready.  Always be waiting.

Thoradrin Mightstone

July 5, 2008

Few things in life are as important as purpose is to a dwarf.  Purpose is what defines their lives.  Without purpose a dwarf becomes lost.  A lost dwarf is a sad dwarf, and a sad dwarf will find trouble.  For the Mighstone family, the purpose was clear.  While some dwarves mine, some dwarves smelt, other dwarves forge weapons and armor, and other families carve stone, the Mightstone defeneded.  They defended the miners out searching for veins of mithril.  They defended the caravans throught the under lands.  They defended the traders meeting with merchants above ground.  They defended their homes from invaders.  They were defenders.  And while the Mightstone would have gladly died defending what they loved, they were really good at making sure the enemy would die doing what they loved.

Thoradrin was no different.  Thoradrin Mighstone – son of Thoradane, son of Thoradorn, son of Thorandine – was a defender.  A hardened warrior who had seen countless battles.  His shield was well used, well bruised.  His hammer, his family’s preferred weapon of choice since time began, was notched across the handle and head.  His armor, earned at his coming of age, did not shine bright in the mid-morning sun.  It did not reflect the light from a torch proudly proclaiming it’s dwarven make.  It was a real dwarf’s armor.  Hard and well-worn.  Dull from use, dull from age.  Thoradrin could tell a tale for every mark in his armor.  Every dent had a story, every scar had tale.

Like all the Mightstone warriors, his head was shaved bald, and tattoos were inscribed across his head.  Black to represent the defense of his comrades, red to represent the blood of his ancestors.  His crimson beard is carefully braided into long braids, each wrapped in thick leather bands.  Each band tells a story, a great story of a great battle that his ancestors have fought.

He is Thoradrin, son of Thoradane, son of Thoradorn, son of Thorandine, of the Mightstone house.