The Two Swords by R. A. Salvatore



  The torchlight seemed such a meager thing against the unrelenting darkness of the dwarven caves. The smoky air drifted around Delly Curtie, irritating her eyes and throat, much as the continual grumbling and complaining of the other humans in the large common room irritated her sensibilities. Steward Regis had graciously given over a considerable suite of rooms to those seemingly ungrateful people, refugees all from the many settlements sacked by brutish King Obould and his orcs in their southern trek.

  Delly reminded herself not to be too judgmental of the folk. All of them had suffered grievous losses, with many being the only remaining member of a murdered family, with three being the only remaining citizens of an entirely sacked community! And the conditions, as decent as Regis and Bruenor tried to make them, were not fitting for a human.

  That thought struck hard at Delly's sensibilities, and she glanced back over her shoulder at her toddler, Colson, asleep - finally! - in a small crib. Cottie Cooperson, a spindly-armed woman with thin straw hair and eyes that drooped under the weight of a great loss, sat beside the sleeping toddler, her arms crossed tightly over her chest as she rocked back and forth, back and forth.

  Remembering her own murdered baby, Delly knew.

  That horrific thought sobered Delly, to be sure. Colson wasn't really Delly's child, not by birth. But she had adopted the baby girl, as Wulfgar had adopted Colson and in turn had taken on Delly as his traveling companion and wife. Delly had followed him to Mithral Hall willingly, eagerly even, and had thought herself a good and generous person in granting him his adventurous spirit, in standing beside him through what he had needed without regard for her own desires.

  Delly's smile was more sad than joyous. It was perhaps the first time the young woman had ever thought of herself as good and generous.

  But the dwarven walls were closing in on her.

  Never had Delly Curtie imagined that she could harbor wistful memories of her street life in Luskan, living wild and on the edge, half-drunk most of the time and in the arms of a different man night after night. She thought of clever Morik, a wonderful lover, and of Arumn Gardpeck, the tavern-keeper who had been as a father to her. She thought of Josi Puddles, too, and found in those recollections of his undeniably stupid grin some measure of comfort.

  "Nah, ye're being silly," the woman muttered under her breath.

  She shook her head to throw those memories aside. This was her life now, with Wulfgar and the others. The dwarves of Clan Battlehammer were goodly folk, she told herself. Often eccentric, always kind and many times simply and playfully absurd, they were a lovable lot beneath their typically gruff exteriors. Some wore outrageous clothing or armor, others carried strange and ridiculous names, and most wild and absurd beards, but the clan showed Delly a measure of heart that she had never before seen, other than from Arumn perhaps. They treated her as kin, or tried to, for the differences remained.

  Undeniably so.

  Differences of preference, human to dwarf, like the stifling air of the caves - air that would grow even more stagnant, no doubt, since both exterior doors of Mithral Hall had been closed and barricaded.

  "Ah, but to feel the wind and sun on my face once more!" a woman from across the common room shouted, lifting a flagon of mead in toast, as if she had read Delly's every thought.

  From all across the room, mugs came up in response and clanged together. The group, almost all of them, were well on their way to drunkenness yet again, Delly realized. They had no place to fit in, and their drinking was as much to alleviate their helpless frustration as to dull the horrible memories of Obould's march through their respective communities.

  Delly checked on Colson again and filtered about the tables. She had agreed to tend to the group, calling upon her experiences as a serving wench in Luskan. She caught bits of conversation wherever she passed, and every thought found a hold on her, and bit at what little contentment remained within her heart.

  "I'm going to set up a smithy in Silverymoon," one man proclaimed.

  "Bah, Silverymoon!" another argued, sounding very much like a dwarf with his rough dialect. "Silverymoon's nothing but a bunch of dancing elves.

  Get ye to Sundabar. Ye're sure to find a better livelihood in a town of folk who know proper business. "

  "Silverymoon's more accepting," a woman from another table argued. "And more beautiful, by all tellings. "

  Those were almost the very same words that Delly had once heard to describe Mithral Hall. In many ways, the Hall had lived up to its reputation. Certainly the reception Bruenor and his kin had given her had been nothing short of wonderful, in their unique, dwarven way. And Mithral Hall was as amazing a sight as Luskan's harbor, to be sure. Yet it was a sight that quickly melted into sameness, Delly had come to know.

  She made her way across the room, veering back toward Colson, who was still sleeping but had begun that same scratchy cough that Delly had been hearing from all the humans in the smoky tunnels.

  "I'm right grateful enough to Steward Regis and King Bruenor," she heard one woman say, again as if reading her very thoughts, "but here's no place for a person!" The woman lifted her flagon. "Silverymoon or Sundabar, then!" she toasted, to many cheers. "Or anywhere else ye might be seeing the sun and the stars!"

  "Everlund!" another man cried.

  In the stark crib on the cold stone floor beside Delly Curtie, Colson coughed again.

  Beside the baby girl, Cottie Cooperson swayed.



  I look upon the hillside, quiet now except for the birds. That's all there is. The birds, cawing and cackling and poking their beaks into unseeing eyeballs. Crows do not circle before they alight on a field strewn with the dead. They fly as the bee to a flower, straight for their goal, with so great a feast before them. They are the cleaners, along with the crawling insects, the rain, and the unending wind.

  And the passage of time. There is always that. The turn of the day, of the season, of the year.

  When it is done, all that is left are the bones and the stones. The screams are gone, the smell is gone. The blood is washed away. The fattened birds take with them in their departing flights all that identified these fallen warriors as individuals.

  Leaving the bones and stones, to mingle and mix. As the wind or the rain break apart the skeletons and filter them together, as the passage of time buries some, what is left becomes indistinguishable, perhaps, to all but the most careful of observers. Who will remember those who died here, and what have they gained to compensate for all that they, on both sides, lost?

  The look upon a dwarf's face when battle is upon him would argue, surely, that the price is worth the effort, that warfare, when it comes to a dwarven nation, is a noble cause. Nothing to a dwarf is more revered than fighting to help a friend; theirs is a community bound tightly by loyalty, by blood shared and blood spilled.

  And so, in the life of an individual, perhaps this is a good way to die, a worthy end to a life lived honorably, or even to a life made worthy by this last ultimate sacrifice.

  I cannot help but wonder, though, in the larger context, what of the overall? What of the price, the worth, and the gain? Will Obould accomplish anything worth the hundreds, perhaps thousands of his dead? Will he gain anything long-lasting? Will the dwarven stand made out here on this high cliff bring Bruenor's people anything worthwhile? Could they not have slipped into Mithral Hall, to tunnels so much more easily defended?

  And a hundred years from now, when there remains only dust, will anyone care?

  I wonder what fuels the fires that burn images of glorious battle into the hearts of so many of the sentient races, my own paramount among them. I look at the carnage on the slope and I see the in
evitable sight of emptiness. I imagine the cries of pain. I hear in my head the calls for loved ones when the dying warrior knows his last moment is upon him. I see a tower fall with my dearest friend atop it. Surely the tangible remnants, the rubble and the bones, are hardly worth the moment of battle, but is there, I wonder, something less tangible here, something of a greater place? Or is there, perhaps - and this is my fear - something of a delusion to it all that drives us to war, again and again?

  Along that latter line of thought, is it within us all, when the memories of war have faded, to so want to be a part of something great that we throw aside the quiet, the calm, the mundane, the peace itself? Do we collectively come to equate peace with boredom and complacency? Perhaps we hold these embers of war within us, dulled only by sharp memories of the pain and the loss, and when that smothering blanket dissipates with the passage of healing time, those fires flare again to life. I saw this within myself, to a smaller extent, when I realized and admitted to myself that I was not a being of comfort and complacency, that only by the wind on my face, the trails beneath my feet, and the adventure along the road could I truly be happy.

  I'll walk those trails indeed, but it seems to me that it is another thing all together to carry an army along beside me, as Obould has done. For there is the consideration of a larger morality here, shown so starkly in the bones among the stones. We rush to the call of arms, to the rally, to the glory, but what of those caught in the path of this thirst for greatness?

  Who will remember those who died here, and what have they gained to compensate for all that they, on both sides, lost?

  Whenever we lose a loved one, we resolve, inevitably, to never forget, to remember that dear person for all our living days. But we the living contend with the present, and the present often commands all of our attention. And so as the years pass, we do not remember those who have gone before us every day, or even every tenday. Then comes the guilt, for if I am not remembering Zaknafein my father, my mentor, who sacrificed himself for me, then who is? And if no one is, then perhaps he really is gone. As the years pass, the guilt will lessen, because we forget more consistently and the pendulum turns in our self-serving thoughts to applaud ourselves on those increasingly rare occasions when we do remember! There is always the guilt, perhaps, because we are self-centered creatures to the last. It is the truth of individuality that cannot be denied. In the end, we, all of us, see the world through our own, personal eyes.

  I have heard parents express their fears of their own mortality soon after the birth of a child. It is a fear that stays with a parent, to a great extent, through the first dozen years of a child's life. It is not for the child that they fear, should they die-though surely there is that worry, as well-but rather for themselves. What father would accept his death before his child was truly old enough to remember him?

  For who better to put a face to the bones among the stones? Who better to remember the sparkle in an eye before the crow comes a'calling?

  I wish the crows would circle and the wind would carry them away, and the faces would remain forever to remind us of the pain. When the clarion call to glory sounds, before the armies anew trample the bones among the stones, let the faces of the dead remind us of the cost.

  It is a sobering sight before me, the red-splashed stones.

  It is a striking warning in my ears, the cawing of the crows.
No Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]