Part 5 of Holiday in Orkrania – my free Oldhammer style novella. For the start of it go back to Part 1.
Drew gritted his teeth as he polished dry another flagon. The orders for beer and ale were coming thick and fast. The taproom and the common room were both full of dwarfs who seemed intent on emptying the inn’s supplies of anything liquid. They’d have to siphon off the stream soon enough and tell the miners that it was a new transparent type of beer—very high proof, and see if they noticed. Most of them were so drunk by now that Drew doubted they would.
“And they’re paying for all of this?” asked Rose, Drew’s wife as she pushed a tap into a new barrel that Jase, their son had just rolled up from the cellar.
“They will do,” said Drew, “they will do.”
“All on credit, again, Drew? What did I tell you. We can’t run a business on credit!”
Drew blushed. He knew she was right—he was worried about it too—that the dwarves would never pay, yet he’d made the decision, to he defended it. “There’s gold in those hills, Rose. Plenty of gold. So they’re good for it—of that I’m sure.”
“Even now that you’ve turfed them out—they are taking the proverbial if you ask me before they go. If you ask me…”
Drew never did get to ask his wife the question she so wanted him to ask her. Despite the noise of two dozen dwarf miners drinking and singing, the commotion that came from the door to the stables rose above that to draw Drew’s attention.
Drew saw a Dwarf looking angry on the far side of the tap-room as the door from the stables opened, nudging his arm and causing him to spill his pint. A large dog—black and brown, a doberman, burst through the door followed by two men and two women. Apart from the hikers he didn’t have any other human guests—and besides they usually wore clothes. One of the dwarves whistled as the naked women pushed past. They seemed intent on getting through the crowd of miners as quickly as possible. The dog was growling.
Drew got onto the higher step behind the bar—better to be seen. “What’s this then. Who are you—we don’t want any actors or whores here. Where are your bloody clothes?”
That drew a round of jeers and more whistles from the drinking miners.
“Everybody shut up,” snarled one of the naked men. A squat brute of a fellow—could have been a dwarf except he had no beard and was completely bald. “Let us through or else.”
“Else what?” grumbled a grey-bearded dwarf standing at his elbow. “Who do you think you are laddie?”
“Grr, no one calls me laddie,” the man snarled again, spittle shooting from his mouth as he turned on the old dwarf miner. The doberman was at the man’s heals and barking, what almost sounded like a warning.
The greybeard wiped the man’s spittle from his beart and glaring with eyes like candles in the depths of a deep mine drew back the fist holding his pewter flagon and smashed it into the face of the bald man. The man’s head reeled, but he seemed to have been expecting it and was prepared to take the hit in the face. The elbow connected to the forearm and hand holding his dagger pumped backwards like a mechanical piston and punched the sharp point of the dagger into the old dwarf. The longbeard groaned in pain as the blade stabbed into his guts and slumped to the ground, wailing like a babe.
The response of the dwarves around the bar was rapid if predictable—let no-one tell you that dwarves are slow. Once roused to anger their ferocity can stir them to hasty action. The taproom descended into a maelstrom of punching fists, slashing daggers and whirling dwarf picks. Several miners swung and grabbed at the bald man who had stabbed their, but he was very swift. So swift in fact that before the eyes of Drew he actually disappeared from view, and instead he could hear dogs—more than just the Doberman snapping and snarling at the legs of the dwarfs, several who yelped in pain as large canines sunk into their calves and thighs.
The two women did not stand watching, but instead slashed out with theirs knives, held in a reverse grip to rake the faces of the dwarves. That’s as much damage as they could do like that—a stabbing action was better, but now that battle was joined that required getting closer to the dwarves—dangerous work when hard fists and harder picks were being swung. In fact some of those fists and picks were a danger to other dwarves.
The other man, who hadn’t disappeared pushed over two nearby tables to hold back the surging mass of angry, drunken dwarves—creating a corridor next to the bar towards the stairs and then ran quickly past them and up the stairs. Drew took a swing at him with a flagon but missed by a country mile and nearly unbalanced himself to topple to the ground.
“Everyone stop!” he shouted. “This instance.”
But no-one seemed to hear or care what he said. The he saw Jase, who had been collecting cups near the door, hit by a swinging dwarf pick. There was blood splashed up and Drew thought the worst.
Drew jumped behind the bar and pulled off the door of the cabinet underneath the bar—he could fix the lock later. He pulled out the blunderbuss that he kept there—loaded and primed, he just needed to light the fuse. He did so behind the bar and then clambered up again to face the brawling chaos of the bar.
He didn’t know where to aim it—the women and the dogs were intermingled amongst the dwarves in an ungainly fight which seemed to be going nowhere but was causing a lot of damage to the fixtures and fittings of the taproom. He didn’t have to worry about aiming though. The fuse on the blunderbuss burnt quicker than he planned and the thing fired with an explosion louder and firier thane could have imagined. Blowing a whole in the ceiling and causing a light fitting to crash to the floor—luckily no candles were lit—but everyone ducked and stopped fighting at least for a few seconds.
When the dust and smoke cleared the fighting broke out again—some of it was dwarf against naked human and dog, some of it was directed at other haflings, but sadly much of it seemed to be a squabble between dwarves.
Nevertheless, one young dwarf miner, so young that his facial hair was not much more than a tufty excuse for growth, was bundled out of the front door of the inn. “Go and get Gundrun,” he was told. “We need help down here.”
The young dwarf, who was also quite long-legged for a dwarf and thus a bit faster than most, dashed out of the inn door, through the gate of the wall that surrounded the courtyard. He turned right and around the corner of the wall began jogging up the slope of the valley towards Gundrun’s Exchange. There was a rough track that led up the slope and crossed the fast running stream that ran through Nstaad. A wooden bridge, built by dwarves spanned it, and there was a ford next to it—where the stream was shallower, but slippery rocks and the speed of the stream, fed on thawed ice, meant that crossing that way would be precarious at best.
But the young dwarf had no thought of that while he ran. Just that he was missing the fight and he wanted to do as he was told, give Gundrun the message, and then get right back to the inn as soon as he could.
Gundrun was in his element when he arrived. The old dwarf was in the front of the exchange building with a long line of miners standing queueing out of the door. These miners, who were all camped around the exchange building were newly down from the hills. They’d brought their finds with them—nuggets of gold, and now they wanted to know how much they were worth.
“Hurry it up,” grumbled one of them who was near the back of the line. “I want to get going before nightfall.”
“Why? Ready to retire are you?” grumbled another over his shoulder as he turned and glared at the impatient dwarf.
“Huh! Chance’d be a fine thing. No. These hills aren’t safe. Time to move on.”
“Nonsense …” the dwarf in front was about to continue the argument, but stopped when he saw the young, long-legged dwarf rush to the door of the exchange. Almost looked like a human he did. “Oi, where you going. There’s a line.”
The young dwarf, panting, ignored the complaints of the dwarves standing in line and pushed through to where Gundrun stood behind his counter, a small magnifying glass to wedged in one eye socket, appraising in detail the gold crystals in one quite large nugget of rock.
“Gundrun …” panted the dwarf. “Come … quick … a fight.”
Gundrun looked up the glass still in his eye and saw at extreme close up the scruffy thatch of the young dwarves beard, barely covering the lad’s acne. “Oooh,” he said and removed the magnifying glass in a hurry. “What’s that boy?”
“Fighting at the inn,” the dwarf gasped, bending over to catch his breath. “I was sent to get help.”
“What!” roared Gundrun. “Trying to evict our boys ahead of time are they? I won’t be having that.”
“Dogs and humans—no clothes on,” said the young dwarf.
“Eh? What’s that?”
“Dogs—biting at ankles, and naked women with knives.”
Several of the miners waiting in the queue had now huddled round to listen. “They’ve set dogs on our brothers have they—those bastard halflings!”
“What’s this about naked women?” said another.
“The actress perhaps—the elf girl from the temple—have you seen her…”
“OK lads, let’s not hang around fantasising,” snapped Gundrun. “Our brothers are in trouble. Grab your weapons—a helm and shield if you have one handy and let’s get down to the inn.”
There were twenty one of them all told. Gundrun gave the young lanky dwarf—Smartsch was his name—a spare axe and a shield, and grabbed his own trusty warhammer. He’d had time to slip on a coat of plates—leather with metal plates sown into the lining, and slapped a round helm on his head—that would have to do—but after all what armour and weaponry could Drew and his extended family muster—some knives and short bows at best. The dwarves would not take this lying down—oh no!
“Right then lads,” said Gundrun, looking at the motley crew of miners—most had just grabbed their picks for weapons, but some had axes as well—mostly used for chopping wood though rather than skulls—these were workers on the whole rather than warriors—although a few did have helms and swords that they’d grabbed from their tents. “Let’s not run—no point getting out of breath—need to save energies for hewing halflings, but let’s not hang about either. Let’s go!”