Shoemakers' Stand Prose in Scarterra | World Anvil

Shoemakers' Stand

Though his auburn beard was streaked with grey, Yordek Shoemaker was still one of the youngest vice-elders in history because fewer and fewer dwarves had the luxury of growing old. He surveyed his charges with a mixture of pride and apprehension.   Hundreds of dwarf men, women, and children huddled together in a vast gloomy cavern dimly lit by some feeble fires of burning moss and a few scattered torches. In the dim light, the dwarves’ haggard, and unwashed faces showed they were weary. Their clothes were a bit threadbare and covered with patches. In contrast, their boots were immaculate.   Over half these refugees were of the Shoemaker’s Clan of Meckelorn. Their shoes all had thick soles and were in excellent condition. Their boots were even free of dirt and grime. The clan’s children often cleaned the adults’ boots just so they had something to do during tense periods of waiting. The heartland of ancestral dwarven homeland of Meckelorn was currently occupied by orcs and their allies. The surviving dwarves had to flee to rugged mountains and deep tunnels on the fringes of Meckelorn’s territory. The survivors had to scatter into small bands like this one to avoid enemies and to not exhaust their food supply.   The orcish forces still hunted the survivors and sought to slay them, but dwarves excel at small scale hit-and-run battles underground, so they often were able to strike back against the orcs. It was a game of Cat-and-Mouse, where who was playing the role of the cat changed day-by-day.   Today the dwarves were not the cats.   Shortly before the orcs invaded Meckelorn, by dumb luck one of the Shoemaker Clan rangers had saved the life of a kalazotz, one of the humanoid bat people that lived in the underground caverns of Scarnoctis. Now that particular kalazotz and her family members were the only non-dwarven friends the Shoemakers had when it seemed every other creature above and under the mountains was against them.   The kalazotz were rather small, so they weren’t much help in a fight but they were nimble, and they had an amazing sensory ability called “sonar” that could pierce distance and darkness. Until recently the kalazotz were able to give the Shoemakers and other nearby dwarf clans advanced warning of orc war parties so the dwarves were always one step ahead of their pursuers. Now the orcs were using hounds, making it much harder for the dwarves to misdirect their pursuers and drastically cutting the lead time given them by their kalazotz allies.   Etzli the kalazotz, turned to Yordek. Being reasonably fluent in the Dwarven language, she addressed Yordek.   “Orcs catching up. Dwarves getting tired.” Yordek stroke his beard in thought and scanned the faces of the dwarves he chose to make a small council with. Aloc the young warrior turned towards the kalazotz.   “Do you know a place we can hide from the orcs and their hounds?”   Etzli shook her head.   “I could reach place to hide with wings, but dwarves no have wings. My clan can carry some small dwarf pups to safety, maybe ten, maybe more. Not enough time to carry more.” Broril, who was the spokesdwarf for the Brewers Clan, with whom the Shoemakers were allied and linked by marriage, spoke next.   “I don’t like it, but our only choice is to keep moving and try to stay ahead.”   Most of the dwarf men nodded grimly, but Yordek was not convinced.   “No.” Vonelsia, Yordek’s wife, said firmly.   “If we keep running endlessly, they will still catch us. Our best chance is to fight now while we still have the strength. Etzli can move out those too young to fight and the rest of us make a stand.”   “Wise words, my lady. Bold words. Now is the time for boldness. We run no more.”   The dwarves around him perked up, excited to be taking action. Though Etzli the bat interrupted.   “Wait! Run little bit more, then fight.”   Some of the other dwarves looked angry, but Yordek waived her on to continue.   “There is big cavern with small opening that would be good place to fight orcs. Small opening limit orc big numbers. Etzli show way there. Dwarves must move fast to reach cavern before orcs do,” she said.   “Then move fast we shall!” Yordek said. Yordek stepped forth from the small council and directed several dwarves with torches to make him as visible as possible.   “Shoemakers! Clanmates and allies! Prepare to move! We move to our salvation and glory! By Hallisan’s Beard, we move to make the orcs pay for their trespass!”   The cavern rang with cheers and soon the dwarves began packing up their loose belongings.   * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *   They chose ninety-nine of their strongest men and women to stand and fight while the rest of their band was some distance away. As the shoemakers and ale brewers readied their armor and weapons, Yordek analyzed the cavern by torch light and looked for the narrowest spot.   “This place is better than most, but they can still get four orcs abreast. Maybe five.”   “Can we move some stones in to slow them down, or thin the entryway?” asked a dwarf behind him.   “Maybe.”   As if on cue, they heard a familiar squeaky series of loud clicks down the tunnel.   A kalazotz flew through the tunnel and awkwardly landed with a series of stumbling steps before face planting on the tunnel floor and promptly getting up. A broken arrow was lodged in his shoulder.   Etzli flew towards her kinsman and the two had a rapid conversation in their squeaky language. Etzli turned to Yodrick to translate.   “Close, quarter hour, maybe less.”   Yodrick said, “Have a healer address the bat’s shoulder. Brumroth! Hadder! Ready the caltrops! Front squad, make ready! Theurgists and second squad, make ready!”   The frontline soldiers and reserves took their position. Yodrick took his place at the front.   Once Etzli was able to hear the initial approach, she signaled Yodrick who signaled the front two theurgists of the god Hallisan to cast their spells. Their divine magic was not very powerful, but it was utilitarian, he had two acolyte theurgists just behind the front lines, Dabrahilda, his wife’s niece and his younger cousin Tunduk. They both had enough control over Divine Crafts magic to add a modest amount of cutting power to a blade for a short time and to add a modest amount of durability to armor for a short period of time. They were drilled to hold just behind the front lines and make sure the front line had the best weapons possible for as long as their magic held out.   A third theurgist, his own daughter Hatholyn was an acolyte magical healer and could stabilize a severely wounded warrior to prevent them from bleeding to death and avoid infections, allowing the warrior to fight another day, but her magic but was not yet powerful enough to allow wounded warrior re-enter the fray immediately. Any wounded dwarf was to be brought immediately to her while a reservist warrior rotated in to take the place of the fallen warrior.   Not the most complex battle plan, but a solid one.   As hoped, the first orcs charged without checking what was below their feet and got feet full of spikes for their oversight. They shambled forward grunting in pain blocking the orcs behind them and making the first wave of orcs easy targets for a volley of crossbow bolts.   This was only a small delay. The orcs behind them had swept away the remaining caltrops and charged through.   A half dozen giant fireflies the size of a man’s fist flew in with the next wave attacking orcs. The orcs were using lantern spirits for better visibility. No matter, it helps us see better too.   With the bottleneck ten dwarves were able to fight five or six orcs at a time but the orcs were strong and surprisingly resilient. Very few of the dwarves’ axe strikes struck true.   “Nine damn them! They have a theurgist enhancing their defenses!”   He gritted his teeth and willed his next swing to hit despite the magical protection, driving a deep gouge in the orcs shoulder with his battle axe.   The front line had slain a dozen orcs, with Yodrick personally slaying three, but not without cost. Already two dwarves were killed and were four badly wounded. The orcs had pushed the dwarves back a few yards using their bulk and their shields.   As the front line widened, reservists filled the gaps and the theurgists enhanced their weapons and armor. The orcs gradually pushed forward but the dwarves made them pay for every yard they gained in blood. Yordrick had taken some hits, but his armor absorbed the bulk of the force behind the strikes leaving little more than bruises under the new dents in his mail.   From the glow of a lantern spirit, Yodrick saw an orc in blood red armor just behind the orc front lines wearing the garb of a battle priestess of Maylar. She must be out of mana, we’ll have to kill her later. No more of the orcs had any protection magic helping them, but the damage was already done. The orcs had already pushed past the bottleneck and they were engaging the dwarves one-to-one now.   The battle continued, at least twice as many orcs had fallen as dwarves but the orcs had more men to lose. Yodrick roared in defiance and redoubled his efforts. Yodrick’s front side was covered in blood, very little of it was his own.   The lines of orc warriors parted and an exceptionally large orc advanced as the others made way. Once at the front he struck down Brumroth with a single blow and fended off two more dwarves with his shield as he scanned the dwarf lines locking eyes with Yodrick, immediately recognizing who the enemy’s leader and best soldier was.   He pointed a dark grey sausage-like finger at clan elder and addressed Yodrick in a reasonable approximation of the dwarf tongue.   “YOU! Weak-bearded old fool, now you die! Look upon your executioner and despair!”   Yodrick yelled back, “You’re their leader? What kept you? I’ve been busy at the front actually fighting!”   The orcs and dwarves both let out a raucous cheer and backed away from the fight, giving their leaders ample space for a challenge as the soldiers paused their own battle to watch their respective champions duel.   The orc chieftain swung his axe first but Yodrick deflected the blow with his shield. Yodrick swung his axe and it too was deflected. This happened a dozen more times with neither side landing so much as a glancing blow against the other’s armor. Yodrick never recalled an orc fighting this defensively before.   “Feeling tired old man?” the orc taunted.   I understand, I’ve been fighting since this began, and he just started. He’s trying to drag this fight on, so he can wear me out.   “I’m tried of waiting for you to stop hiding behind your shield like a scared little girl and fight like an orc!” Yodrick responded in the Orcish tongue loud enough for the other orcs to hear.   One of the orc spectators shouted.   “This is boring! Give us blood!”   Soon the orcs were all chanting.   “Blood! Blood! Blood!”   The orc chieftain finally stepped up his aggression and struck several times in quick succession. He managed to get past his shield and scrape his axe past Yodrick’s axe and strike his shoulder, but the blow rebounded off of Yodrick’s pauldron.   Yodrick ducked low and struck, managing to find a minor gap in the orc’s armor and drew a shallow cut of blood. The orc chieftain backed off in dismay and confusion. The shoemaker clan cheered as the orc chieftain’s own men began booing him. Yodrick struck again leaving a large dent in the orc’s mail and as the dwarves cheered and the orcs jeered.   “EERRRAHHH!”   The orc chieftain let out a guttural scream and swung his axe savagely. Yodrick hastened to try to deflect the blows away from his body…but his body wasn’t the target.   Yodrick felt it before he saw it. His left arm ached, a bone fractured or broken. His shield was in splinters. The orcs cheered and resumed their chant.   “Blood! Blood! Blood!”   The orc leader struck multiple times again and Yodrick barely kept the enemy blade at bay with his axe as he fought through the pain and creeping sense of fatigue.   Yodrick counter attacked but the orc blocked his attacks easily. Then the orc struck his axe into Yodrick’s axe, hitting the shaft square on and sundering it before kicking Yodrick to the ground with his iron shod boot.   “BLOOD! BLOOD! BLOOD!”   The chieftain motioned with his hands for the orcs to quiet down and turned to dwarf onlookers.   “This is your leader, your best and strongest! Your best and your worst alike will fall before us. There is nothing you can do.”   Yodrick stood up and yelled, “There is never nothing we can do!”   The orc turned to Yodrick in surprise as adrenaline and willpower let him power through the pain in his left arm. Yodrick grabbed the shaft of the orc’s axe in his left hand and pulled it downward with all his might. With his right hand, he held the broken shaft of his broken battle axe and drove the splintered shaft through the visor of the orc’s helmet. The orc screamed and dropped his own shield.   Yodrick wrenched the orc’s axe from his now weakened grip and held it with both hands, finishing off the orc chieftain with his own weapon. Then he pulled what was left of his own axe from the slain orc’s eye socket and held up the bloody shaft of his axe with one hand and the orc leader’s axe in the other and yelled.   “VICTORY!”   Yodrick barely had the strength left to stand but it didn’t matter. His men had surged forward with a mighty cheer as what was left of the orc force turned and fled.   The Clan of the Shoemakers was no more. The Clan of the Red Shaft was born.


Cover image: Crude Red Shaft Sigil by me

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