Earlier this year, I attended a fiction writing conference focused on revision. We were divided into small groups and encouraged to submit the first chapter of our WIPs for group feedback. Since I had no WIP, I wrote this as the first chapter of a fantasy book I have no intention of continuing.
The Keenest Edge, Being an Account of the Events Which Raised the Dragonslayer Fellowship Into Prominence (and a clarification of the entirely true rumor that said fellowship has, in fact, slain no dragon)
By Belianne Silversdaughter, Loremistress in the 2nd Degree, erroneously named Dragonslayer and Hero
For Mum and Dad. May your light fade more slowly than the sun.
I have lovely memories of the summer of 3062, when the dragon left us and it seemed like life could begin in earnest. I was barely a century old by then, barely old enough to remember faintly a time before that off-gold wyrm had eaten the old dungeon-keeper and settled in to stake his claim as lord of the dungeon of Arn.
And before that summer? Do not pity me when I say I can remember little of the first two decades I lived in Gorrithweld before journeying to live on the surface with my parents. There’s no sense in regretting choices others made for you.
That said—to go all the way to the beginning, I must speak to why any dwarfs would forsake their heaven’s nest to live on the surface. Though it is a common enough slander among humans and orrucs alike that the only dwarfs who become skin-dwellers are exiles or gold-hungry bastards, this is a bald-chinned lie.
When news reached Mum and Dad in the hollows of Gorrithweld that, high above us and far away, a new dungeon had been found, their hearts sang with hope.
As the child of skin-dwelling dwarfs, in light of the aforementioned common slander, my parentage has been much maligned since I and my companions rose to prominence. Though I hope the words on this page read as calm as a monk’s thoughts, any success in that direction comes after more than a dozen crumpled-up drafts of spiteful, righteous anger.
Not for my own sake. I can take a proverbial spit in the face.
But Mum and Dad are saintly pilgrims. I won’t stand for them becoming martyrs too, if only in reputation.
My parents were young when they wed, neither having more than touched the threshold of their third century. Dad mined silver and Mum worked inventory control for the most illustrious silversmith in the whole of Gorrithweld, which was how they met.
Among my people, a miner has a good hair more dignity than any smith. There might be a hundred miners to each artisan, but the hundred are the stars in the sky and the smith is the reflecting pool below, only giving polish to the light that does the sparkling… if you see what I mean. It's difficult to explain to an outsider.
It fascinates me, by the by, how our various species value all sorts of work so differently. The craft of orrucs, how they assign intrinsic value to things which were once alive, even when the end product looks knobbly and stained from its unforged materials? That's closer to the pathos of the illustrious craft of the dwarfs than to the work of any other species.
If an orruc loves the material she turns in her hands, loves the shape of the body from which it came as much as the shape it will take when completed, then she knows the same pride that dwells in the heart of every dwarf. Let no one say anything different.
But I digress. It was a turbulent idea for Mum and Dad to leave Gorrithweld, where two generations had lived so deep beneath the world's skin. Yes, the holy metals were fading...
That’s our word for it, “fading,” the way the veins were ever-harder to find. According to last year’s census, you are most likely, as an inhabitant of Arn, human. Certain concepts are imperative to grasp for a human who seeks to understand the dwarfish mind, and this is one of them.
I spoke with a friend of mine about this at great length, the illustrious anthropologist Magus Firastus. Between us, we teased out what I think comes close to the truth: fading is the primal fear of the dwarfs. To a species as long-lived as us, passing slowly from brilliance is… horror. It is the process of once-vibrant life falling to a lower and lower state, all the while knowing that this winding spiral’s end will be a long time in coming.
I have another theory, one I dared not share with an outsider even as dear to me as Firastus, except for one dreadful hint: we dwarfs have always felt a special affinity with the stars, and one day, they too will fade.
My apologies. I blame my meandering on my dwarfishness. Back to the time before I remember.
Mum and Dad feared the fading of the holy metals, or the "drying up," as a human might put it. When the metals passed fully away, the whole heaven’s nest of Gorrithweld would go with it. Its people would find a new home, a new place to work for perhaps a generation, before withdrawing their roots and seeking a new source again. Gorrithweld was quite the outlier, you see. For a dwarfish city to shine for two generations is something hardly ever seen.
If you are unfamiliar with heaven’s nests, this may seem strange to you.
Think of it another way: in the time between Gorrithweld's incorporation and the day my parents left its fading glory, three human eras rose and fell, each forgetting the last and believing themselves to be the pinnacle of human achievement. The new one rising around me now, only a few decades old, will eclipse them all.
Gorrithweld lingers still and will outlive every human alive today.
But the dwarfs who live in it will leave it soon—as we reckon soonness—and find another home. We will look back at Gorrithweld forever, the dead heaven's nest cradled by the world our mother, and pray thanks for the bounties we could barely count.
I am not old. Why do I feel so weary? Perhaps I've lived among humans for too long. Their sentimentality has a way of rubbing off on you. No, “sentimentality” is the wrong word. “Nostalgia,” perhaps? Not a concept familiar to my people... or so I thought, before I found myself mired in rumination.
The dungeon. That's the point.
A new dungeon hadn't appeared within five thousand kilometers of Gorrithweld for a generation. This one was by no means nearby, but the prospect of a quarter year's travel meant much less to any dwarf than it would to an orruc or human.
And, well... I hardly need to describe the prospective bounty of such a thing. Yet I now write a truth which, to my knowledge, has never been revealed to outsiders. As best as I can tell, no doctrine demands this veiling; a reason to share this information has simply never appeared.
Dear reader, let your curiosity be reason enough!
Graven upon a dead star in the deepest part of the departed City of Uthmarron are words given us by the divine, given seven generations ago:
Parallel mirrors swallow light,
A void un-infinite
Only by the laws of heaven.
Behold: a dark reflection!
Heaven's nests in a mirror, dark-green,
From a past that still is.
Remember always, sparks of heaven's light:
This place is not your home.
Light echoes, too,
And stars fade.
By our soundest doctrine, dungeons are the dark reflections of heaven's nests. It is therefore a spiritual imperative that we collect their eggs.
Yet this would be no pleasant pilgrimage for any dwarf who took it up.
Even still, the holy metals faded.
I’ve already mentioned the common, idle beliefs concerning dwarfish culture, that we exile our worst folk to the surface or otherwise become skin-dwellers in pure lust for personal gain. Not so! These lies are based on the misconception that we dwarfs have a natural hatred for the surface, that we recoil from the open sky, that we feel naked without a sturdy roof or cavern-face over our heads.
A single year lived in a heaven’s nest would strip all such lies from the mind of even the stupidest human or orruc. I challenge you to do so, dear reader! We are a kind folk—in Gorrithweld, at least. We embrace visitors with open arms and invite them to celebrate our holy days with us.
Stand hip to hip with us as we entreat the divine to peel away stone and air and fire and water, to remind us of the life to come, when the vastness of the universe beyond our tiny world will be made moot and we will be united with the stars once more.
A tear falls to the page as I write this. It would smear a cheaper ink. Incredible, undeserved wealth has some benefits, I suppose!
All that to say, the dwarfish people do not dwell in heaven’s nests because we fear the surface. We make our homes so far from the sky purely to commune with the holy metals.
So, though it was a bitter thing for my parents to lead me from Gorrithweld where they’d spent all their days, I still remember the joy in Mum and Dad’s eyes when the sun rose on the first day spent outdoors on our journey. I remember the stirring wind of morning, the growing glow and heat of the sun, the furtive chirping of birds, the promise of many long days ahead filled with such glorious life.
I could write a whole book about our journey, that of Mum and Dad and little me, from Gorrithweld to the City of Arn. Perhaps, one day, I will.
But not today.
For now, I push ahead a few months, to the day when we arrived in Arn and I beheld a dungeon for the very first time.