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The black-bearded dwarf looked about warily, as if expecting attack at any moment. The rocky surroundings offered many hiding spots, and the early evening shadows often served to confuse even his keen eyesight. The trail forked up ahead, a large boulder blocking the left side of the trail from view. Sniffing the air, Lari gave a chortle. Hefting his huge war axe, he wandered haphazardly toward the trail fork. As he turned to take the left trail, he suddenly stepped forward. In a blur of motion, another dwarf jumped out from behind the boulder, hefting a giant bardiche, arcing it high in an attempt at ambush. As Lari, being the intended target, had stepped out of the way, his assailant, a shorter red-bearded dwarf, went sprawling into the trail to land flat on his face.
"BAH! How’d ye do that!" yelled the red-bearded dwarf from the ground.
"Ye stink as bad as a host o ten smelly orcs, ye fool!" he growled, smacking his brother on the head with the flat of his axe blade.
"BAH!" growled Kurl as he slowly got to his feet, "I’ll get ye one o these days don’t ye doubt!"
"Yep one day when I’m bein old n grey, me beard fallin between me toes maybe," snorted Lari, helping the other dwarf to his while feet shaking his head.
"BAH! I need a drink," said Kurl as he dusted himself off.
"Sounds like a good idea. Ye aint the dolt ye always seem to be apparently," said Lari, as he began surveying for a good campsite.
As getting a drink quickly often is a very big concern for a dwarf, the two brothers didn’t look too hard, and decided to set up camp right behind the large boulder. Lari dug in his pack to find a small spade he always carried, and began digging a fire pit. Kurl, in typical dwarven fashion, found as many rocks as he could, and began stacking them up in a large circle around their campsite. Lari moved to assist as soon as he got a fire roaring. Eventually they had a small wall constructed. Defenses, no matter how small, were second nature to all dwarves.
Their work done, the dwarves sat down for a meal of dried meat and ale.
"How much longer ye think we got to travel?" asked Kurl as he chomped into a big piece of jerky.
Lari belched loudly after taking a swig of ale.
"I’d wager on at least a coupla more days. Schnai aint too much further away. We’ll be in the plains tomorrow I reckon," he said.
"Never will I be understandin why anybody’d wanna be livin in the middle of a buncha grass. Them barbarians is all wrong in the head, ye ask me," snorted Kurl in contempt.
"Well they may be taller n both of us, and they may havin some strange ways, but they got gold is as gleamin as anybody else’s!" said Lari as he swigged more ale.
The two dwarves were on a mission from Ironguard Keep, deep in the Bloodmound Hills, to bring a message hoping to open trade with the often volatile plainsmen. Clan Ironbeard was often known for its enterprising mercantile nature, and most especially its skilled weaponsmiths. The clan elders hoped that the barbarians would want to buy dwarven steel. Lari and Kurl had been traveling for the better part of a tenday, and were almost out of the Bloodmound Hills. Surprisingly enough so far, they hadn’t met many troubles along the way. Of course, to the two of them, that made this trip exceptionally boring.
"How’d we get chosen for this anyway," Kurl grumbled.
Lari threw a piece of meat at him across the fire.
"Ye dolt! How many times I gotta tell ye? Ye got roarin drunk, and ye managed to knock over Master Rarg’s anvil, ruinin his day’s work!"
"’Twant my fault the damn fool was in the way! All I wanted was more ale!" complained Kurl.
"Ye were in the wrong buildin, ye fool! The tavern was clear next door!" laughed Lari heartily, starting to feel a little drunk himself.
"BAH!" said Kurl, a scowl on his face, then a grin, "I suppose I’ll be takin the first watch, seein as ye got more ale in yerself than me."
Lari laughed out loud.
"I aint even gotten started! ‘Sides, I’d be fine on watch better n ye even if I had a barrel more ale n ye did!" he hiccupped.
"Ye know if ye weren’t me brother, I’d call ye a bearded gnome makin boasts such as that!" snorted Kurl, taking a bite of meat and a swig of ale.
Lari took off his horned helmet, laid down, and started snoring.
"Figures," snorted Kurl, hefting his dwarven bardiche and putting his back to the large boulder to start the first watch.
Later that night, during the second watch, from some short distance away, Gurzaak looked on with happiness. Two dwarves! And all by themselves without a host of their stinking bearded brethren with them - and he, the mighty Gurzaak, with a host of four fearless orc warriors with him! This would be easy pickings! He turned to his companions, holding up three fingers.
"Only two!" he snorted, "We thwack em up good! Them dwarfs not see what comin!"
Horg, the biggest in the group of orcs, yet most timid, leaned around from behind the rocks to take a look.
"How you know it not some trick? Never just two dwarf! Dwarf is tricky. I worried," he said, shaking his head, scraggly hair going every which way, and some dirt too.
"Yous always worried! Yous remind me of woman sometimes! Not more than two! One drunk I think!", said Jurgz while hefting his big orcish axe, "I cut beards and add to collection!"
"Besides, we gots Bugz and Kurdz with they arrow-bows! It be easy! We attack!" pressed Gurzaak while thumping his chest.
"Where Kurdz?" sniffed Horg with a worried look of sheer panic, "Don’t see nowhere! Maybe dwarf already got him – nooooo!"
Jurgz promptly smacked Horg upside the head.
"You be quiet! They hear you! Kurdz just off taking crap! He always do that before fight! You know that!" he chided.
Bugz, being mute, nodded vehemently, scowling at Horgs and making obscene gestures. Horgz didn’t look convinced.
"Horgz, you shut mouth stop acting like coward, or we send you to dwarf by self!" growled Gurzaak, his patience at an end.
Horgz flinched. Ready for battle, all the orcs looked at Gurzaak for orders. He pointed to Bugz.
"You go find Kurdz! Both sneak around side with arrow-bow. When we run in, you shoot dwarf! Not shoot me like last time!" warned Gurzaak while absently rubbing a scarred arrow wound on his shoulder.
Nodding, Bugz silently (or at least the orcish version of silently) took to the shadows to find Kurdz. Horgz pulled out his rusty long sword, all the while mumbling in fear about evil dwarf tricks. Jurgz scowled at him and hefted his axe. Gurzaak hefted his large orcish double-axe. Ready for battle, they waited to give time for Bugz and Kurdz to sneak into position.
Bugz moved through the darkness well outside of the dwarven campsite. He paused a couple times, making sure nobody was following him and to listen to his surroundings. For an orcish scout, he was pretty good. Shuffling across the rocky ground, he moved to where he thought he remembered Kurdz was. Squinting, he could see a form up ahead in the darkness, squatting. Moving as quickly as he could, he moved up behind Kurdz.
"Pssst! Pssst!" whispered Bugz, not being able to talk.
Kurdz froze and pulled up his pants, slowly turning around. An incredulous look suddenly screwed up his face. A similar look appeared promptly on Bugz’s face.
"BAH! Never interrupt me business!" growled Lari as he swung his axe up at Bugz in a blur of motion.
As his head left his shoulders, the last thing Bugz thought of was why Kurdz had grown a long scraggly beard, and when had he gotten that axe!
"BAH! Damn orcs! How am I supposta sleep with em makin all that durn racket!" said Lari to himself while wiping blood off his axe and spitting on the dead orc in front of him, "Can’t even crap in peace! Damn orcs!"
Looking at the ground, Lari easily found Bugz’s tracks. Growling, he started following them.
"You hear somethin?" asked Horgz, tittering nervously.
Gurzaak shot him an annoying glance.
"Isn’t hearin nothing! You shuttup wait for signal! Make more noise I cut throat!", he said while slicing a finger across his own throat in a macabre gesture.
"You tell Bugz n Kurdz to give signal? I think you say just go wait for us attack din you?" asked Jurgz, scratching his snout.
"Did I? I think I told for them to whistle yes?" said Gurzaak, sure of himself.
Horgz and Jurgz looked to one another and shrugged. A long silence passed.
"Hrmmm….Maybe you right! Better go tell em! Don’t want plan messed up!" said Gurzaak, worried, "Go get Bugz back!"
"Ok boss!", said Jurgz as he hefted his axe and trotted off into the darkness.
Horgz watched him go, a look of sheer doom on his face. Slowly, he looked to Gurzaak.
"I think you had right first time! No told to whistle!" he said timidly.
"What you know? You almost pissing self – not pay attention! Be silent you watch for dwarf ambush!", squealed Gurzaak.
At the mention of dwarf ambush, Horgz got a horrified look on his face, and redoubled his efforts paying attention. Two bedrolls could still be seen by the dwarven camp. But why was only one snoring? He pondered. Maybe the dwarf drank too much.
From the shadows, Lari heard a sound. Looking ahead, he saw a gangly-looking orc with a large axe coming out from behind a boulder. The dwarf scowled, positioning himself behind some of the scrubby bushes that grow all over the hills. From a prone position, he let the rather loud orc "sneak" by him, clanking chain armor and all. Pulling a long dagger from its sheath, Lari stood slowly, sneaking up behind the orc.
"Psssst! Psssst!" said Lari, imitating the other hapless orc that interrupted him not long before.
Jurgz stopped, looking left and right.
"Bugz? That you?" he uttered in the guttural orcish tongue.
Lari charged up behind him, ramming the dagger all the way to the hilt into the back of Jurgz’s neck. The orc died with a soundless gurgling scream, blood running down his chest as the dagger pierced out the other side. Lari caught the orc, lowering him slowly to the ground.
"Bah! Damn orc blood!" Lari cursed under his breath, wiping off his hands.
Lari stalked toward the boulder, a hungry gleam in his eyes.
"It been long time. Where Jurgz?" said Horgz, worriedly twitching and glancing all around.
"He be back! You be quiet watch!" snapped Gurzaak, hefting his double-axe.
"I’m thinking he aint gonna be back, ye scum!" yelled Lari, leaping from the shadows right between the two orcs.
Hari yelled out in fright, dropping his long sword. Turning to run away, he was blocked by the raging dwarf in his way. Gurzaak scowled and swung his lethal double-axe at Lari’s head. Lari blocked the blow with his gauntleted wrist, sparks flying every which way lighting up the night. He then slashed out at Gurzaak’s belly in a wide arc with his war axe. The orc jumped back, only barely cut. Scowling, he came on again straight at Lari. Swinging his double-axe in a double arc over his head to build a killing blow, Gurzaak gave a guttural growl. In a panic, Horgz then ran straight into Gurzaak and bounced back into the boulder, sent flying by the other orc’s momentum. Nimbly, Lari jumped to the side at the last second to avoid Gurzaak’s downward swing. Missing the dwarf completely, the orc’s double-axe blade slammed straight into Horgz’s face, dropping the cowardly orc to the ground, and leaving a sickening smear of blood on the boulder. Lari gave a guffaw.
"Stupid orc bastard! Never interrupt me sleep!" he mockingly yelled in the orcish tongue, long practiced for use in cursing at orcs in battle.
Gurzaak was still trying to recover from his errant blow when Lari brought his war axe in an arc down on top of the orc’s head, splitting his skull in half, gore flying everywhere.
"Bah!" growled Lari, as he wiped blood and gore from his armor.
Lari spit on the two dead orc bodies, and made his way back to the camp. Kurl was sleeping like a iron anvil. Putting his war axe aside, he kicked his brother.
"Wake up, durnit, it’s yer turn to watch!" he snorted while getting his bedroll ready.
"I was havin a dream, damn ye! Was a good one too!" he griped with bleary eyes, and sat up.
Lari was already snoring.
"Bah!" said Kurl, hefting his dwarven bardiche and taking his place for watch.
About an hour or two later, a lone orc spotted the dwarven camp. What luck, thought Kurdz, a lone dwarf in a camp! Unfortunately, he’d have to get close. If only he had a new string for his arrow-bow, the orc thought. He’d been looking for hours trying to find material for a new one. No matter, he thought, it was only one dwarf, and he looked like he was asleep! He wondered what his companions would think when he brought back a dwarven head as a prize, along with all his gold and supplies. Dwarves always had gold! He’d be rich and they’d all envy him! The orc could hardly contain himself as he crept toward the camp, a long rusty dagger in hand. The closer he got, the more excited he got. The dwarf still wasn’t moving. Just a little closer and he’d slit the dwarf’s throat in his sleep! Seconds ticked by. Kurdz crept closer….closer…..closer. Something thudded heavily into his back. It had a biting edge. Pain ripped up through the orc’s back as he lost all feeling in his legs and collapsed to the ground, knowing nothing but blackness forever more.
Kurl jumped around, hooting wildly.
"Wake up, ye kerr!" he yelled at Lari, "I just saved yer life, ye damned loafer!"
Lari slowly opened his eyes. Kurl was gesturing with glee at the dead orc not two feet from his bedroll, a rusty dagger in the corpse’s hand. Lari looked at his brother for a good half a minute, fixing him with a baleful stare.
"Damn orcs!" he snorted, and rolled back over to fall asleep, instantly snoring.
"BAH!" growled Kurl, "Never grateful!"
To be continued...