The dwarf woke to find himself feeling very cold and wet. He opened his eyes carefully and found he was lying on a pebbly beach, half in and half out of a river. He shivered and pulled himself out of the water. Suddenly, he coughed and brought up what felt like enough water to start another river. He retched for a while, and then sat down.
He remembered then that he had been just beginning to cross the Brundella with the caravan when there was a tremendous roar and what seemed like a wall of water had swept him off his feet and carried him downstream. He remembered thinking that this was the end, and that he really was not ready to die. He prayed to Roth, the favoured god of the dwarves, whose remit was minerals and mining. It seems that Roth had answered his prayers because he was still alive. He looked around. He had no means of telling how far he had been swept down the river, except that the road was nowhere in sight. He had been washed up on a small beach, the only one, it seemed, on this part of the river, for high cliffs rose on either side of the rushing water. Here, though, a small stream had cut its way through those cliffs and made the beach on which he now sat.
He decided that his first priority was to get warm, and to get his clothes dry. His pack was still attached to his back, and, he was pleased to note, so was his crossbow, and his battle-axe was tucked into his belt. Certainly Roth had been thoughtful. As well as answering his prayer to save his life, Roth had also ensured that he had the means to protect himself and catch some food. It would not have been helpful for him to survive the flood only to die of hypothermia and starvation. He rummaged in his pack until he found a dryish cloak at the bottom, but everything else was wet. He thought about a fire, and discovered that his flint was just about dry enough to use. He again sent up a brief prayer of thanks to Roth, whom he now felt was definitely on his side.
Once he had gathered some kindling and a few larger sticks and logs from the forest that grew at the top of the cliffs, he set about lighting a fire. Clearing a space so the fire would not spread, he surrounded it with large stones, and then he placed the kindling and a few twigs inside the ring of stones. It took him several attempts to strike a spark from the damp flint, but eventually a thin stream of smoke rising from the kindling rewarded him. This he blew on gently to encourage it and when it had caught some of the twigs, he fed more onto it, gradually increasing the size of the twigs and branches until he had a good blaze going. When he thought the fire was going well enough he stuck some larger branches into the ground around it. Onto these he hung the wet, spare clothing from his pack and stripped off, hanging his current clothes to dry as well. He hunkered down in front of his fire, naked except for his one dryish cloak. This he put round his shoulders, but held the front open to let the warmth from the fire in.
‘I must look quite an amusing sight.’ he muttered to himself, smiling at the thought.
He laughed aloud then at the picture in his mind as he rung out the remaining water from his beard and hair, and then realised he was very tired. This gave him a dilemma. If he slept, he would be vulnerable to any bandits or wild beasts, but he needed rest if he was to travel on, and he could not stay here forever, so he decided he would have to sleep. In order to gain as much protection from it as he could, he built up the fire so it would not go out for some hours. It would double as a heat source for him as well as help to keep any predators at bay. Of course, it would not deter any humans, but that was a risk he would have to take.
Four hours later, the dwarf woke. The fire had burned down to embers but he felt a little better. At least he felt strong enough to press on. Thinking about which direction to go, he decided that he would be better back-tracking to the road he had been travelling even if it proved to be further. He had no idea how far the river had carried him and he definitely did not want to find himself in the vicinity of the Mistmere and the Dead Marshes alone, with their ghostly inhabitants. The Dead Marshes had a dread reputation. It was said that the ghosts of those drowned men, women and children who had been sucked down into its watery depths called to the living and enticed them to wander from the paths and so to meet the same death by drowning. So he dressed in his now dry clothes, put out the fire with the help of some water carried from the river, and turned his face towards the east.
He estimated that it was mid afternoon by the position of the sun, maybe about the tenth hour of the day. (On Vimar, the day was deemed to begin at the time of dawn on the equinoxes.) It was cold, and there was a chill wind from the east. He plodded onwards steadily along the cliff top with forest to his left and the river to his right. The sun dropped down towards the western horizon, but still he plodded onwards. Eventually the gorge the river flowed through came to an end and from here he found himself walking along the riverbank. He walked until he thought he was going to drop, then he sat down on a log and decided to rest again for a few more hours. This he did, going through the ritual of lighting a fire again. He was very hungry by now, but had seen little game. He drank some water from the river and re-filled his flask, then he drew out another flask. He looked at it for a few seconds and then uncorked it. He put it to his lips and took a small sip. The fiery dwarven spirit coursed down his throat. He resisted the temptation to drink more knowing how quickly it affected people who drank on an empty stomach, but it made him feel a little better. He curled up for another short sleep. After another four hours, he repeated the ritual of putting the fire out and continued his trek, following the river upstream. It seemed to have receded to its accustomed bed, but was still very full and fast flowing, and the banks were still damp and muddy.
‘No one will be crossing that any-time soon.’ he muttered to himself. He had been in the habit of talking to himself recently.
‘I’ve been on my own too long.’ he muttered. ‘I need to be with people again, even if they aren’t dwarves.’
As he walked, he thought back on the past. He had expected to be the joint owner of a lucrative mine a few years ago, after the death of his parents in a mining accident, but somehow his brother, Schist, had cheated him and become the sole owner and very rich too. He began to feel sorry for himself then, and angry. Schist had given him all the worst jobs and eventually he was accused of a crime he had not committed, which made it impossible for him to stay, so he had left to make his own way in the world. He felt a sadness envelope him as he thought back on his childhood. He remembered Schist as a loving brother who played with him and got him out of endless scrapes. Schist was the elder by a long way and had loved his little brother.
‘So what went wrong?’ the dwarf asked himself. ‘I bet it was that woman.’
Schist had married a girl from the village. Her name was Opal and the dwarf had never liked her. He suspected her of poisoning his brother’s mind against him in order to have the mine and its profits for herself and any future children she may have. He was convinced that she had had a hand in the framing of her brother-in-law, but he had no proof.
As he walked he thought about these things until he decided to put it all behind him. He had been making out quite well living in Grosmer. He had worked as a smith and as a jewellery maker as well as doing the odd bit of mercenary work. He was also good at carving wood and could make more than adequate pots and pans. He was not rich, but he was not starving either, so he decided that he had better be content with his lot. He did miss friends though, and the company of others.
By the middle of the morning he reached the place where Carthinal and Asphodel had camped the first night. He looked around saw the remains of their fire, carefully extinguished. He was not an expert tracker, but was accomplished enough to be able to deduce that there were probably only two people. Tracks went down to the water and back, and some went into the woods. He was somewhat puzzled by two long grooves as though they were pulling something. He could not decide what it was. His stomach growled with hunger. He had to eat something before he continued or he would be too weak, so he went into the woods searching. Luck was with him. A pigeon flew by and he shot accurately, bringing it down. He took it back to the camp of the others and re-built their fire. After plucking and drawing the bird, he put it on an improvised spit and cooked it. It seemed to him that it was one of the most delicious meals he had ever eaten. The juices ran down into his beard, making it greasy, but he did not care.
The whole procedure took a couple of hours, but after eating he felt so much better. He set off along the road in the direction of Hambara hoping to catch up with the others. They would probably have set off at dawn, so would have over six hours start on him, but they seemed to be encumbered by whatever they were dragging and so he had no doubt that eventually he would catch up with them.
In the event, it took longer than he thought. He came to a clearing and saw them. There were three of them, but one was wounded and on some kind of wooden contraption. He looked at the others. There was a girl dressed in the white robes of a cleric of Sylissa, fast asleep by the fire, and wrapped in a blanket. The other was a young man who was lying slumped against a log, fast asleep too. He had obviously been pulling the wooden contraption with the injured man on it and was so tired that he had fallen asleep on watch. The fire had nearly burned out, so the dwarf set about re-kindling it before he sat down on a fallen log and waited. He was sitting so quietly that a rabbit popped its head out of the bushes and began to graze on the grass. He slowly picked up his crossbow, loaded it and let off a shot and killed the rabbit instantly, then began to prepare it for cooking. These two would be hungry when they woke.