The time before was not within my remembrance. My earliest memories are associated with following around the silver robed instructors within the library, sneaking around amongst the caretakers, and causing mischief. They were all my surrogate family. My father, however, was Master. The silver-haired man everyone called Master. The man who exuded confidence and supremacy with naught by a wave of his hand and the way he sat his carven wooden chair with its battle scenes etched in detail sufficient to tell stories of its own. His long regal face elegance in itself, until he was displeased, then the thunder set in and everyone cowered in their own way, hoping the storm would pass, even as he never moved from his chair nor raised his voice.
Master adopted me, I had come to know. He had salvaged me from the depths of the underworld. My family, those who performed their tasks for him, were of like ilk. We each had a unique story and we rarely knew all of the details, even of our own story. We each had our tasks, however, and those tasks were done to perfection. It was his demand on us for providing for us all.
My given task was never well defined. I was the youngest amongst them all. Shunned by many, especially the dwarves whom I most resembled, barely recognized by the rest, I learned early on to charm my way into the kitchens or the armory or the laboratories. There, I followed around whoever wouldn’t kick out at me or at least those I could dodge the easiest.
It was when I began to grow in my beard that he summoned me for the first time. I had been tinkering in the forge and the shop where the silver-wright was busy forming jewelry. He talked as he worked. Sometimes it was rambling. Often it was instructional. I learned a great deal from the rambling old Halfling as he churned out baubles, fine chains, and other items of which he never provided explanation. I had taken to speaking to him when he wasn’t babbling, trying with all my charm to get him to combine the heavy metal functional items I saw the blacksmiths hammering out with his elegant jewelry. It was during such a one sided discussion that the Master summoned me to his chambers.
I arrived to find him seated beside a smokeless fire that gave off an odd blue-green cast, an elegant pipe carved in the likeness of an elvish maiden resting elegantly on his lips. Without words, he gestured for me to sit on the hearth, there across from him. For minutes, he said nothing, only stared intently at me. As my eyes began to wander, I felt a presence. Not in the room, but in my head. In a panic, I slammed doors that were not there in my mind, scrambling through chambers of my own devising, mentally pushing down bookshelves and slamming doors in an effort to keep whatever that presence was from catching me. I jerked as pain brought me back from the dead-run panic inside my head. My hand had gripped the metal grating on the fire pit. A barking laugh escaped Master that made me jump yet again.
“Very well done he-dwarf.” Master did not use names except for his most trusted.
“I…” I stammered, trying to recall what I had done that he would appreciate. A bead of sweat dripped down my forehead and I inched further from the fire.
“You,” he replied and paused. “You, despite your bastard heritage, have caught my eye.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I held my thoughts close.
“You have come of age in this place. Not knowing the world outside.” What he said was true and it was something I had avoided thinking on over the years. I knew nothing other than what I found in the books and dredged from the thoughts of those around me. “I believe it is time for you to take up a skill. I have need of someone with your inclinations, but the way is not easy.” I shrugged. Nothing in my life had been easy. He nodded as if I had wholly agreed to this mysterious path. I supposed I had. “You will apprentice with Davkas Ironbender.” I must have looked confused, as he clarified, “our master metal-worker. He runs the forges and fine workings shops.” He must mean the old, grumpy dwarf. I had avoided that one at all costs, for when his eye fell upon me, my skin crawled. Master’s intent stare never wavered. “He has instructions to teach you all he knows, but I said nothing of being easy on you. You will work hard for your apprenticeship. You will find the work demeaning, at least at first. But you will learn. And you will learn it well.” This last was not a question, but a forceful statement that held the weight of a stormcloud. Once again I nodded my understanding and he nodded his acceptance.
_ _ _
True to Master’s word, my apprenticeship was a challenge – and not in a good way. The constant effusive hatred oozing from Davkas was enough to cause me fear. In time, his hatred became a loadstone. I was early to work, late to leave, and spent my extra time between tasks thinking of ways to introduce him to chaos. He was my mentor, even if enforced to be so, and I would do him no harm, but it was not uncommon for the metal he was working to fail mid-stroke or his tools to be just slightly bent. But, through those years of hardship, I learned. I learned a great deal about the working of metals. I also learned to speak to the elementals as my teacher mumbled a constant litany of syllables that spoke to those denizens of other planes associated with ores, metals, and heat. I did not know at the time that what I was hearing, but over the years I did learn. I even began to issue requests of the elementals as I worked. And I carried that into the silversmithing with the old Halfling as well. And the elementals responded. Buried deep inside our fortress, where daylight never thought to creep, they responded in rumbles and groans that I began to hear clearly.
Inside our caves and caverns, language flowed. I learned to speak the Halflings native tongue as I learned to speak the Dwarven tongue of Davkas. The orcs, always grunting just around the corner, but mostly hidden from view as they went about their tasks, were not foreign to me either. I learned languages quickly as I did the intricacies of melting metals and allowing them to harden again, but only by my will. These things I consumed as if they were food.
_ _ _
My second summons came years later. How many years I cannot say as you cannot measure while deep in the bowels of the earth.
Without preamble, my Master, looking much as he did on that first visit with pipe smoke drifting about his silvery-white hair and clean shaven face, waved me into a seat. This time, I did not face my Master from the hearth, but rather sat beside him staring at the flames of his oddly colored, smokeless fire.
“Davkas Ironbender has taught you well?” It took me a moment to realize that he had spoken to me in orcish.
I responded in the language of the elements, “ore, fire, and mass I understand.”
He raised an eyebrow at my words and smoothly transitioned into undercommon, the language of the deep dark recesses where chaos and evil fight their constant battles, “then you are ready.” This time it was not a question.
I had no idea what he meant by that statement. Until months later… when I was forced to join a traveling caravan in search of a forge for my work and links to the past’s present. My search for artifacts had only just begun and was no longer constrained to the library.