The Crystal Shard 11. Aegis-fang

The Crystal Shard 11. Aegis-fang

Sweat beaded on Bruenor’s hand as he put the key into the dusty lock of the heavy wooden door. This was the beginning of the process that would put all of his skill and experience to the ultimate trial. Like all master dwarven smiths, he had been waiting for this moment with excitement and apprehension since the beginning of his long training.

He had to push hard to swing the door in on the small chamber. Its wood creaked and groaned in protest, having warped and settled since it was last opened many years before. This was a comfort to Bruenor, though, for he dreaded the thought of anyone looking in on his most prized possessions. He glanced around at the dark corridors of this little-used section of the dwarven complex, making sure once more that he hadn’t been followed, then he entered the room, putting his torch in before him to burn away the hanging fringes of many cobwebs.

The only piece of furniture in the room was a wooden, iron-bound box, banded by two heavy chains joined by a huge padlock. Spiderwebs criss-crossed and flowed from every angle of the chest, and a thick layer of dust covered its top. Another good sign, Bruenor noted. He looked out into the hall again, then shut the wooden door as quietly as he could.

He knelt before the chest and placed his torch on the floor beside him. Several webs, licked by its flame, puffed into orange for just an instant, then died away. Bruenor took a small block of wood from his belt pouch and removed a silver key that hung on a chain about his neck. He held the wood block firmly in front of him and, keeping the fingers of his other hand below the level of the padlock as much as possible, gently slid the key into the lock.

Now came the delicate part. Bruenor turned the key slowly, listening. When he heard the tumbler in the lock click, he braced himself and quickly pulled his hand from the key, allowing the mass of the padlock to drop away from its ring, releasing a spring-loaded lever that had been pressed between it and the chest. The small dart knocked into the block of wood, and Bruenor breathed a sigh of relief. Though he had set the trap nearly a century before, he knew that the poison of the Tundra Widowmaker snake had kept its deadly sting.

Sheer excitement overwhelmed Bruenor’s reverence of this moment, and he hurriedly threw the chains back over the chest and blew the dust from its lid. He grasped the lid and started to lift it but suddenly slowed again, recovering his solemn calm and reminding himself of the importance of every action.

Anyone who had come upon this chest and managed to get by the deadly trap would have been pleased with the treasures he found inside. A silver goblet, a bag of gold, and a jeweled though poorly balanced dagger were mixed in among other more personal and less valuable items; a dented helm, old boots, and other similar pieces that would hold little appeal for a thief.

Yet these items were merely a foil. Bruenor pulled them out and dropped them on the dirty floor without a second thought.

The bottom of the heavy chest sat just above the level of the floor, giving no indication that anything more was to be found here. But Bruenor had cunningly cut the floor lower under the chest, fitting the box into the hole so perfectly that even a scrutinizing thief would swear that it sat on the floor. The dwarf poked out a small knothole in the box’s bottom and hooked a stubby finger through the opening. This wood, too, had settled over the years, and Bruenor had to tug mightily to finally pull it free. It came out with a sudden snap, sending Bruenor tumbling backward. He was back at the chest in an instant, peering cautiously over its edge at his greatest treasures.

A block of the purest mithril, a small leather bag; a golden coffer, and a silver scroll tube capped on one end by a diamond were spaced exactly as Bruenor had lain them so long ago.

Bruenor’s hands trembled, and he had to stop and wipe the perspiration from them several times as he removed the precious items from the chest, placing those that would fit in his pack and laying the mithril block on a blanket he had unrolled. Then he quickly replaced the false bottom, taking care to fit the knothole back into the wood perfectly, and put his phony treasure back in place. He chained and locked the box, leaving everything exactly as he had found it, except that he saw no reason to chance accidents by rearming the needle trap.

* * *

Bruenor had constructed his outdoor forge in a hidden nook tucked away at the base of Kelvin’s Cairn. This was a seldom traveled portion of the dwarven valley, the northern end, with Bremen’s Run widening out into the open tundra around the western side of the mountain, and Icewind Pass doing likewise on the east. To his surprise, Bruenor found that the stone here was hard and pure, deeply imbued with the strength of the earth and would serve his small temple well.

As always, Bruenor approached this sacred place with measured, reverent steps. Carrying now the treasures of his heritage, his mind drifted back over the centuries to Mithril Hall, ancient home of his people, and to the speech his father had given him on the day he received his first smithy hammer.

“If yer talent for the craft is keen,” his father had said, “and ye’re lucky enough to live long and feel the strength of the earth, ye’ll find a special day. A special blessin’ – some would say a curse – has been placed upon our people, for once, and only once, the very best of our smiths may craft a weapon of their choosing that outdoes any work they’d ever done. Be wary of that day, son, for ye’ll put a great deal of yerself into that weapon. Ye’ll never match its perfection in yer life again and, knowing this, ye’ll lose a lot of the craftsman’s desire that drives the swing of yer hammer. Ye may find an empty life after yer day, but if yer good as yer line says ye’ll be, ye’ll have crafted a weapon of legend that will live on long after yer bones are dust.”

Bruenor’s father, cut down in the coming of the darkness to Mithril Hall, hadn’t lived long enough to find his special day, though if he had, several of the items that Bruenor now carried would have been used by him. But the dwarf saw no disrespect in his taking the treasures as his own, for he knew that he would craft a weapon to make the spirit of his father proud.

Bruenor’s day had come.

* * *

The image of a two-headed hammer hidden within the block of mithril had come to Bruenor in a dream earlier that week. The dwarf had understood the sign at once and knew that he would have to move quickly to get everything ready for the night of power that was fast approaching. Already the moon was big and bright in the sky. It would reach its fullness on the night of the solstice, the gray time between the seasons when the air tingled with magic. The full moon would only enhance the enchantment of that night, and Bruenor believed that he would capture a mighty spell indeed when he uttered the dweomer of power.

The dwarf had much work before him if he was to be prepared. His labor had begun with the construction of the small forge. That had been the easy part and he went about it mechanically, trying to hold his thoughts to the task at hand and away from the disrupting anticipation of crafting the weapon.

Now the time he had waited for was upon him. He pulled the heavy block of mithril from his pack, feeling its pureness and strength. He had held similar blocks before and grew apprehensive for a moment. He stared into the silvery metal.

For a long moment, it remained a squared block. Then its sides appeared to round as the image of the marvelous warhammer came clear to the dwarf. Bruenor’s heart raced, and he breathed in short gasps.

His vision had been real.

He fired up the forge and began his work at once, laboring through the night until the light of dawn dispelled the charm that was upon him. He returned to his home that day only to collect the adamantite rod he had set aside for the weapon, returning to the forge to sleep and later to pace nervously while he waited for darkness to fall.

As soon as daylight faded, Bruenor eagerly went back to work. The metal molded easily under his skilled manipulations, and he knew that before the dawn could interrupt him, the head of the hammer would be formed. Though he still had hours of work ahead of him, Bruenor felt a surge of pride at that moment. He knew that he would meet his demanding schedule. He would attach the adamantite handle the next night and all would be ready for the enchantment under the full moon on the night of the summer solstice.

* * *

The owl swooped silently down on the small rabbit, guided toward its prey by senses as acute as any living creature’s. This would be a routine kill, with the unfortunate beast never even aware of the coming predator. Yet the owl was strangely agitated, and its hunter’s concentration wavered at the last moment. Seldom did the great bird miss, but this time it flew back to its home on the side of Kelvin’s Cairn without a meal.

Far out on the tundra, a lone wolf sat as still as a statue, anxious but patient as the silver disk of the huge summer moon broke the flat rim of the horizon. It waited until the alluring orb came full in the sky, then it took up the ancient howling cry of its breed. It was answered, again and again, by distant wolves and other denizens of the night, all calling out to the power of the heavens.

The night of the summer solstice, when magic tingled in the air, exciting all but the rational beings who had rejected such base instinctual urges, had begun.

In his emotional state, Bruenor felt the magic distinctly. But absorbed in the culmination of his life’s labors, he had attained a level of calm concentration. His hands did not tremble as he opened the golden lid of the small coffer.

The mighty warhammer lay clamped to the anvil before the dwarf. It represented Bruenor’s finest work, powerful and beautifully crafted even now, but waiting for the delicate runes and intonations that would make it a weapon of special power.

Bruenor reverently removed the small silver mallet and chisel from the coffer and approached the warhammer. Without hesitation, for he knew that he had little time for such intricate work, he set the chisel on the mithril and solidly tapped it with the mallet. The untainted metals sang out a clear, pure note that sent shivers through the appreciative dwarf’s spine. He knew in his heart that all of the conditions were perfect, and he shivered again when he thought of the result of this night’s labors.

He did not see the dark eyes peering intently at him from a ridge a short distance away.

Bruenor needed no model for the first carvings; they were symbols etched into his heart and soul. Solemnly, he inscribed the hammer and anvil of Moradin the Soulforger on the side of one of the warhammer’s heads, and the crossed axes of Clanggedon, the dwarven God of Battle, across from the first on the side of the other head. Then he took the silver scroll tube and gently removed its diamond cap. He sighed in relief when he saw that the parchment inside had survived the decades. Wiping the oily sweat from his hands, he removed the scroll and slowly unrolled it, laying it on the flat of the anvil. At first, the page seemed blank, but gradually the rays of the full moon coaxed its symbols, the secret runes of power, to appear.

These were Bruenor’s heritage, and though he had never seen them before, their arcane lines and curves seemed comfortably familiar to him. His hand steady with confidence, the dwarf placed the silver chisel between the symbols he had inscribed of the two gods and began etching the secret runes onto the warhammer. He felt their magic transferring through him from the parchment to the weapon and watched in amazement as each one disappeared from the scroll after he had inscribed it onto the mithril. Time had no meaning to him now as he fell deeply into the trance of his work, but when he had completed the runes, he noticed that the moon had passed its peak and was on the wane.

The first real test of the dwarf’s expertise came when he overlaid the rune carvings with the gem inside the mountain symbol of Dumathoin, the Keeper of Secrets. The lines of the god’s symbol aligned perfectly with those of the runes, obscuring the secret tracings of power.

Bruenor knew then that his work was nearly complete. He removed the heavy warhammer from its clamp and took out the small leather bag. He had to take several deep breaths to steady himself, for this was the final and most decisive test of his skill. He loosened the cord at the top of the bag and marveled at the gentle shimmerings of the diamond dust in the soft light of the moon.

From behind the ridge, Drizzt Do’Urden tensed in anticipation, but he was careful not to disturb his friend’s complete concentration.

Bruenor steadied himself again, then suddenly snapped the bag into the air, releasing its contents high into the night. He tossed the bag aside, grasped the warhammer in both hands, and raised it above his head. The dwarf felt his very strength being sucked from him as he uttered the words of power, but he would not truly know how well he had performed until his work was complete. The level of perfection of his carvings determined the success of his intonations, for as he had etched the runes onto the weapon, their strength had flowed into his heart. This power then drew the magical dust to the weapon and its power, in turn, could be measured by the amount of shimmering diamond dust it captured.

A fit of blackness fell over the dwarf. His head spun, and he did not understand what kept him from toppling. But the consuming power of the words had gone beyond him. Though he wasn’t even conscious of them, the words continued to flow from his lips in an undeniable stream, sapping more and more of his strength. Then, mercifully, he was falling, though the void of unconsciousness took him long before his head hit the ground.

Drizzt turned away and slumped back against the rocky ridge; he, too, was exhausted from the spectacle. He didn’t know if his friend would survive this night’s ordeal, yet he was thrilled for Bruenor. For he had witnessed the dwarf’s most triumphant moment, even if Bruenor had not, as the hammer’s mithril head flared with the life of magic and pulled in the shower of diamond.

And not a single speck of the glittering dust had escaped Bruenor’s beckon.