Tales of Zhek’dar No 1:- “Heinrache’s Lament” By �?~Abecedar�?T.
The Dwarf patiently watched the approaching caravan from his position deep within the thicket. Yes, this was so perfect he almost laughed out loud. A sound, that if it had been heard would have been filled with notes that defied the human term joyful laughter. Just a bit more time to let all of them file down into this dell and the trap could be sprung. He eased back away deeper through the thicket and exited out the back. He turned to give the waiting Hobgoblin bosses and their lackeys another repeat of his orders. No moves and No noises from any of them until his signal. Or he�?Td be using the inside of their worthless skins to clean the bottoms of his boots, whilst they were still living in them. He left them there, sure of their compliance, to go prepare himself for his little performance. The Wolf riders were terrified of him as they should well be, he had made sure they were, as a simple matter of discipline. Terrified but loyal, as much as creatures like them could be trusted to be loyal. They were scared into complete obedience but not into useless insensate stupidity. They knew that he did reward well and that failure was still failure. But that oddly for one of the Dawi-Zharr masters, any failure on their part was not punished unjustly or out of hand just to sooth his own ego. Something that from the other masters they�?Td served was not often a consideration. Not like the random spontaneous unwarranted violence any of them could and did suffer at the hands of the currently absent but erstwhile leader of this raid.
In amongst the foremost wagons of the caravan trudged Sera Heinrache, he was eager to arrive at the Dwarven Enclave and as were all the others but he cared little for them. Their guide had said “not too far now” in his typical gruffness the last time he had asked, which could mean soon or a somewhat greater length of time than expected. He brought his thoughts away from when and back to why and why would be the imminent prospect of profits. The opportunity to make those profits and the possibilities that the profits themselves would create afterwards were what he looked forward to. It was this constant planning and having all the probable options thought through that had made Heinrache such a successful merchant.
For Heinrache and the others with him in the caravan, the journey had been relatively easy and almost like an extended and oversized picnic. Travelling away from the major roadways had never really been to his liking and moving into this hinterland area even less so. Speed was essential in successful trading. But their guide seemed to know where he was going. It was to be expected that the dwarfs they were going to trade with would not have set up anywhere really close to any well-travelled routes or near to human settlements. They liked mountains and rough country and such, liked it much better than man usually did. The Dwarven encampment that his guide’s had told them about was only temporary and that as it was an unexpected but necessary delay for them. Now they were short of some supplies, and their needs may turn out to be very profitable for him, but how long this opportunity would last he knew not. That depended on the roads further south becoming useable again before the wet season set in properly. The unseasonal early flooding this year had caught a lot of people unprepared.
Heinrache�?Ts wagons and the others in the extended cavalcade were spreading out now as they passed the crest of the hill. They all began moving forward a bit faster to get out of the dust of those in front as they rolled over the hill and down into this broad meadow. Maybe they would camp somewhat earlier tonight; it looked like an easy spot to make their bivouac in. If they didn’t there would surely be another round of argy-bargy as they all tried to get through the narrower end of the small valley as it ended. Originally it had been only him and his goods, along with the beer merchant with a fully laden wagon and a dozen labourers. Of the fifteen heavily laden wagons in this bloody great circus, only three were his, one the blacksmith�?Ts and another two were the beer and grocery merchants. Another also carried separate supplies for the attached unit of guards but all the others were pedro�?Ts-come-lately who�?Td come tagging along on his coat-tails. They had all spied on his preparations and then done their own, and then jumped onto the bandwagon after he himself arranged everything with their guide. Spoilers all they were, hoping to take a cut of this hard earned trading opportunity out from under him. Well his goods were of much better quality and quantity. He had bought up and gathered all the best that was available that he could before the word of what was happening had got out. He knew that dwarves were always pernickety traders and very discerning of quality. Knowing that dwarfs always had some of their superior weapons and armour available he had borrowed heavily of the local money lenders and also brought a large amount of his own gold as well. It was then that the confounded guide had ruined it. His innocent statement within earshot of everyone, �?ooh there�?Ts plenty of gold and gems for us to trade with�?� had brought out lots of would be entrepreneurs with thoughts of getting rich. Though the late addition of the smith and his wagon, half of it taken up with a travelling forge, numerous tools and materials, was passing strange. Dwarfs didn’t usually need help with such things. Maybe the dwarf knew something that he hadn’t told the rest of us. Probably he hadn�?Tt known there was one available that could fill their needs until the last day before their departure.
Heinrache mentally and visually took stock of his three wagons. One of them was his families travelling wagon, but it too was laden down with goods, mainly with food and other supplies. No need to take up good space from trading stock in the other wagons. His wife and daughter were certainly enjoying its comforts at night. But oh no, not him, he had been evicted by his wife, to make room for a so called �?~society�?T friend. He had been dismayed by his wife�?Ts decision to bring their daughter along but as usual he could not say no to her. She had always known all of his plans as her organisational skills were a part of his success. But someone, somewhere had started a rumour that there were whole dwarf families, dwarf women and children no less. Nobody they knew had ever seen any dwarf other than the males before and this was their chance to do so and his wife had been very adamant about going. When she had blurted out to their guide that they would all love to come along and see the dwarven families, he had looked a bit dumbstruck. For a long moment he had paused and then with a shake of his head, had said they were all very welcome to come along and meet them. The dwarf probably disapproved of vulnerable women and children leaving their homes or something unless it was necessary.
A last straw was when his wife must have boasted to her friends of what she was going to see and do. Her friends of course were the wives of the other merchants and it had all run out of control from there on. Later the seemingly bemused guide had declined his request to refuse their pleas and had told the gathered crowd of vultures that they could all come and all would be welcomed in exactly the same way as he would.
During all the hub-bub throughout the town, the preparations had drawn the attention of the Earl of Sandrakes household. The Earl himself was away; somewhere off to the north with the bulk of his cavalry and guards. Goblin raiders had been making a nuisance of themselves with numerous small raids somewhere away to the north and the earl had gone to the assistance of his neighbours at the behest of their Baron. The earl had left his eldest son, �?~Beldran�?T to rule in his place. To date the young lord had not received any reports of raids or any other problems in the local area or within the regions of his immediate neighbours. He seemed to believe that the dwarven presence out there must had discouraged any such creatures from breaching his borders. As he had been left in charge he felt that it was his duty to provide some sort of an escort for the earl�?Ts subjects. He knew his father had fought alongside the dwarfs against a green-skin incursion in his younger days, though it was probably not these ones. This he felt his father�?Ts and his own honour made it necessary to make a polite diplomatic overture to these new neighbours, even if they did prove to be only temporary. That explained the presence of the extended squad of the militia that was travelling with them to guarantee the safety of so many of his people and also the presence of the Earls youngest son, Falaren. He had volunteered to lead the �?~expedition�?T, as he was now fond of calling it. The most unexpected result was that the young noble was quite often seen accompanying Heinrache�?Ts only child, �?~Millein�?T. Of them all, Falaren was the only one who was individually mounted but instead could usually be found strolling alongside his daughter. Heinrache had quietly discussed that particular opportunity with his wife. The situation would have to be managed carefully and if at the end of this trip a very eligible marriage did occur, well that could be the icing on the cake for the family�?Ts future fortunes.
Their guide the trader Kethdah (Heinrache knew never would say that name right) was back from his ablutions. He was walking near to Falaren, who was with Millein, as he had been for most of this day. Both were probably being pestered by the excitable girl again. The lad of course did not mind at all, considering the young beauties charms. The dwarf kept taking everything about this trip in his stride quite amiably. At the last smallish village they had passed their guide had suggested that they hire some more labourers from the locals, as the travelling would be getting harder later on and that it was the last such place they would see before getting to the dwarven encampment. More labourers to help unload was not such a bad idea and the villagers would work for peanuts. His thoughts turned back to planning, snippets of information he�?Td gleaned from the other merchants over the days. These had given him much to think about and he must sort it all out in his head. Any advantages he could think of to use to gain the upper hand in the up-coming trading were always welcome.
A loud crunch sounded through the clearing and Millein�?Ts scream pierced the air. Heinrache looked over to see their dwarf guide dragging his daughter away from under Falaren’s collapsing horse, his hammer drawn. He was obviously saving her from being crushed but what had happened? The horse fell down limply, almost trapping the swearing young noble who was scrambling to draw his sword. Heinrache finally realised that Falaren wasn’t cursing at his horse or for that matter at something else; his anger was directed solely at the dwarf as he finally got his sword out and swung it madly at Kethdah. The dwarf knocked the sword away with a simply twitch of his hammer then with a seemingly gentle twitch, whacked the side of the young nobles head rendering him unconscious with the single blow. All Heinrache could think was, Why? And why was the dwarf holding the still screaming Millein off the ground by her hair! What was going on here?
The dwarf slowly turned a full circle looking at them, suddenly oozing an air of arrogance at them all and pointing his war hammer at them in an equally arrogant manner. �?oStay where you are, surrender now and you will live!�?� His words easily broke through the noises of the other traders and the cries of their shocked families. The Militia Sergeant Hanseln came running from the head of the caravan, yelling something at the dwarf and thrust at him with his spear but the dwarf batted it away with a lazy downward half circle block, then thunderously the hammer drove forward like a piston, crashing into the on-coming sergeant as he continued to charge in. The soldier�?Ts broken body landed away to one side with a final clatter, leaving everyone in a stunned silence. The dwarf then looked at the milling squad of militiamen and spoke again, �?oLay down your arms and you will live. If you do not then first your lordling dies, then her and then you all�?�. The dwarf raised his hammer up as if to take the young lords life then and there, but it was a signal that brought dozens of snarling wolves with goblins on their backs bursting out from the nearby trees and from behind the hill, until they wholly surrounded the caravan.
None thought to try to escape at first, they were too stunned. They didn�?Tt think about it at all after the dwarf had made a curt gesture and several of the wolves ran in to tear apart and devour Falaren�?Ts horse and the sergeant. Their bodies were both gone in moments, leaving only scraps that the wolves continued to snap and snarl over. The leering goblins began herding us all together with some being forced to drive the wagons at spear point. They forced the group to continue along in the direction they had been going. A few hours later, their backs stinging from the whips and their minds reeling, still not sure what had befallen them, the captured caravan came upon an encampment hidden in a mountain foothill.
There were more dwarves but these were all garbed as warriors and there were none of the expected dwarven women or children to be seen. Ominously there was also a large metal contraption with cages attached behind it and in those cages were men and women. These new dwarves were different from any of the other dwarfs Heinrache had known or met before. The look of these was different from those dwarf. A normal dwarf was what their betrayer had looked like before. But now he looked different, his bearing and demeanour had subtly changed, the expression on his face somehow darker. Now Heinrache could see that the betrayer was really kin to these strange ones and not a dwarf as he knew them at all. Another of the strange dwarfs emerged from a tent, it looked drunken and dishevelled but still exuded an overwhelming sense of arrogance as it came towards them. It bellowed out orders in a language that was not the dwarven he knew. Orders that appeared to be followed, but only half-heartedly by the other dwarfs. It stomped up to Kethdah obviously demanding answers but the answers it got only seemed to enrage him more. This one was obviously trying to assert his authority over the dwarf they�?Td known as Kethdah and it wasn�?Tt happening. He got louder and the grating replies seemed to make it worse and in his fury he slapped the betrayer. The reply to this blow was a sudden silence and stillness from both Kethdah and the other dwarfs. Again the angry dwarf�?Ts hand rose and fell. The blow rang solidly upon Kethdah�?Ts face but this time it was answered. Kethdah�?Ts dreadful hammer rose up from where it had been held, unnoticed at his side and was driven sickeningly up into the bottom of the belligerent dwarfs chin. Twice more it struck in chillingly lethal blows. Once to drive the raving brute to the ground and the next to slay him. The dwarf warriors or whatever they were had all looked on without lifting a finger to help their leader. Kethdah spoke in that un-dwarf language and the others uniformly grunted something back. All of them quickly dropped to one knee with their eyes lowered briefly. After a moment one of them rose up and snapped out an order. He then bowed deeply to the betrayer as the rest of them began to move about their tasks. The goblins and their wolves had all dropped to their bellies in obeisance but they did not rise when the dwarfs did. The new leader now looked them over, gestured to two of them and growlingly gave them some orders. They leapt up with shrill cries and howls. Some of them stayed to guard the captives but the majority went racing off back in the direction we had recently come from. Kethdah or whatever he was called had staged a coup, planned or not I didn�?Tt know. The deference the others now showed him was clear, not at all like what we had briefly seen them showing the previous leader.
Zhek�?Tdar had almost howled in elation as he felled Grob’ham but he restrained himself. The lamentable cousin that the clan chiefs had put in charge of this mission, had made mistake after mistake, since their arrival here in the soft lands. Half of the creatures they had so far captured had died from mistreatment or due to Grob’hams own useless killing lust. Grob�?Tham had not risked his own skin in any of the prior skirmishes and Zhek�?Tdar knew he would have squandered far too much of the new captives if he were left in command. The fool had believed in his unassailable right to do what he wanted, not what was best for the clan. The task of making the Dawi-Zharr and the Hobgoblin raiders ready to accept his command had taken most of his time over the preceding weeks, but it had needed some incident to justify his action. Grob�?Thams mistake was in striking him, no Dawi-Zharr of his position would stand for that sort of insult. The quick acceptance of the change in leadership by the warriors proved to himself that it was justified. A huge plus in their acceptance was that the sergeant knew who he was. More importantly knew who Zhek�?Tdars patron was. The actual loyalty of the Dawi-Zharr themselves would come or it would not, for them to continue with their duty would be enough for now. The poor showing of Grob’hams leadership to date should sooth the rulers back home when they got there. The breakdown of the steam driven slave cart through Grob�?Thams stupid directions and missed maintenance would be easy to present as his final indictment, the last proverbial nail in his coffin. As to the obedience of the hobgoblins, he had easily coerced them through deserved rewards and judiciously applied pain. The confrontation with Grob’ham would have happened one way or another. Better now than at a time not of his choosing.
The wisdom of his patron, the clan�?Ts lord sorcerer, in choosing to send him out to scout through the human lands and learn how to fit in with them had shown itself to be very wise. Learn he had over the past few decades or he wouldn�?Tt have survived. Before this last foray into the human realm, Zhek�?Tdar had given his own orders to the Raiders, not to raid anywhere in the areas anywhere near here. Do not alert the humans to their location by drawing attention to themselves. Go raid further north and let the humans look for them there and leave them unaware of the real location of their base. That had been his orders and they had been followed to the letter. To reward their obedience, he had sent the hobgoblins and their wolves back to the village they had last passed through. The village that was now conveniently left with far fewer defenders, he may sent them of as a reward, sent them to have some fun and if they brought more humans back?, well they knew him enough now to know he would reward them even more if they did.
Heinrache lamented his lot as the captives plodded along. Long weeks of marching had brought them here, wherever here was. Compared to the people in the slave train he was in, the wretched condition of other groups of captives that they had passed appalled him and the wanton cruelty of the others captor�?Ts outstripped belief. Their betrayer and his troopers did not seem to treat them so poorly and protected them from those who would. The goblin helpers were also fairly fanatical about it as well. It seemed that it was not worth their lives to unnecessarily damage the captives. They had all been shown what would happen to them after a wolf had been let to stray too close and it had killed someone, Heinrache didn�?Tt know who it had been and it made him sad to think that he no longer cared who it had been. As an example, the not-dwarfs had pinned the wolf�?Ts rider down with stakes while the howling goblin was still very much alive and ordered the others to make their wolves eat him, starting at its feet. The captors still cuffed and whipped us if we didn�?Tt move quickly enough but they had kept us fed and watered. The other groups of slaves looked starved and despondent with no life or hope left in their eyes.
The meaning of many things had changed now for Heinrache. Some things becoming clear whilst others not so. Things like why one of the normally standoffish dwarfs would have been delighted to have more and more humans travelling with him. Why the blacksmith had been convinced to come along. His wagon with it’s travelling forge, and those piles of flat iron straps, and especially all of the chains that he could fit into his wagon. The drag of the chains and manacles weighing Heinrache down were a constant reminder of where they had came from. The sight of another bull headed image emblazoned upon a way-stone had brought understanding as to why the dwarf had steadfastly refused to listen to reason and change his mind when he insisted on draft horses instead of oxen to pull the wagons. The story one of the militiamen told of the old dwarf fur trapper in one of the taverns some days before their departure. He had told how he had seen the trapper suddenly go homicidal upon seeing the betrayer. How the old dwarf had stopped drinking suddenly with a gasping splutter. How he had knocked over the table as he surged towards the betrayer raising his axe and screaming �?oYOU!!! YOU HERE!, NO NEVER, YOU WILL DIE�?�. He had told them of how the false dwarf had reacted after he had killed the old trapper; how the dwarf had stated self defence and that it was a case of mistaken identity by the drunken clansman and a possible clan feud. No, now that was revealed to be the reaction of a real dwarf recognising this monster for what he was.
Heinrache looked out over the vista of a barren plain, harshly lit by a sullen reddened sun. Areas of it were broken by streams of lava and other areas had reeked of foul gaseous fumes. Often the distances were hidden by gouts of steam and smoke, and again he tried to bring his thoughts onto opportunities. So far that he could see them but he was sure there would be some. He stared at the towering ziggurat they were approaching and at the sprawling outer areas. Save his family, yes if he could. Escape, yes he would if it became possible. He was convinced that they weren�?Tt going to kill us. They wouldn�?Tt look after us this well if they were. Kethdah had said that hale and whole they were worth far more. Yes there was hope. Healthy they could survive and he kept that hope close to his heart.
A simple plan, Zhek�?Tdar thought, yes it had been a simple plan. Convince a few humans to come with him and re-supply him (and unbeknownst to them his units of raiders) and then make them his slaves into the bargain. It had all been working quite smoothly to begin with. But the greed of these creatures when gold was mentioned had again utterly surprised him. More and more had begged to join in, without any effort on his part. They had brought along mounds of valuables and other goods. They didn’t know that the most valuable items would be themselves. They had even brought along the materials and tools of their own imprisonment, all on the promise and lure of the gold to be had at the end. Almost two hundred slaves in total, the other booty and the delicious horses, nothing would be wasted. All would be taken to his clan�?Ts holdings in as good a condition as he could make possible as per his lords wishes.
His clan�?Ts fortunes had continued to rise ever since the Lord Sorcerer had told them of his visions and at his orders the other lords and leaders of the clan had acted. Strong and healthy sacrifices they would be, with their minds relatively unbroken. That is what they would give to their god. Not just the weak and broken semblances of living beings that were mostly given. Beings that had still held some fire and hope within their hearts and souls, these were the emotions that Hashut would savour. That was what the Lord Gred’zoed had decreed that Hashut wanted and that is what his clan would give him. Hashut�?Ts blessings and strength had been flowing back into his clan, making them stronger and now they would be able to offer up more to him again. These humans did not know it yet but they would get their gold. It would be the blinding glow of Hashut�?Ts presence as he devoured them. Then their eternal servitude to him in his realm would begin and their souls would form the carpet beneath his crushing hooves.
Soon to be home. Despite the obvious success of this raid, the Clan’s expectations that he would do better next time, however unspoken they may be, would always be there. His own expectations, possibly harsher were also there. He would continue to strive and to live up all that was required of him, at least he would until he died trying or ever dared to fail in his lords demands. Killing Grob’ham may not have been as big a risk as he’d originally feared it would be but it also may well be seen as unforgiveable anyway they looked at it, he would soon find out either way. Zhek�?Tdar was forced to ponder more on his immediate future and almost concluded with the thought that maybe this time he had been too clever and far too lucky. Luck he knew would often suffice a Dawi Zharr if his courage held. No he decided, it was not his luck but the Blessings of Hashut which had favoured him this time. His devotion to those he trusted would see him safe.