Dwarf Cleric of Torag
Redgar is big for a dwarf—he’s a little taller, a little wider, and a little heftier than others of his kind. Much of his bulk is in his chest and arms, as both have been substantially beefed-up from years in the steelworks. His skin is dark tan, and usually is smudged by all forms of dirt, grease, and soot. Redgar bathes less than he should, leaving his scent as a pungent copper-smoke smell—the smell of warm metal over a fire. His red-brown hair is unkempt and the braid of his beard could be neater, but both of these details seem to fit well with the dark lines of his face and the bushy brows above his shadowed eyes. When it suits him, he laughs like a thundercloud or growls like a wolf, but usually his manner is grim and subdued. Like most dwarves, his smile is saved for those who earn it from him.
Redgar fell in battle in the depths of Runeforge.
In life, the dwarf Redgar Ironhand was just minutes from being born in the heart of Janderhoff’s Steelworks. His mother’s water broke as she was working the bellows on one of the larger furnaces, and she barely had time to find her way out into the hall before her contractions began. No one dared move her in such a state, and so Redgar’s birth occurred just beyond the steelworks’ gates, surrounded by a crowd of dwarves who didn’t know whether to gawk, gape, or cheer.
The circumstances of his unusual birth were brought about by the stubbornness of his mother—a stout forgemaiden of the name Ilde Ironhand. Ilde had insisted on working well into her sixteenth month of pregnancy, against the orders and wishes of almost everyone she knew. Ilde had always considered her tasks at the steelworks to be more important than any personal concern, and thought it would show weakness or self-pity to excuse herself until absolutely necessary. She thought it bad enough that Redgar was to be born without a father to stand beside her—she needed no other stain upon her honor to drag her down.
Two days later and Ilde was back in the forge with Redgar snuggled into her bosom. As such, some of his first sensations were the prickling radiance of the forge’s heat, the stinging echoes of hammers against anvils, and the bitter taste of coal smoke inhaled in through the nose. Redgar did not know it then, but much of his life to come would be tied to the steelworks in which he had nearly been born, as would his destiny in the wider world of Varsia.
- – – -
Redgar grew up alone as Ilde’s only son, without a father to call on for guidance. He learned the forge’s secrets from his mother with some aptitude, and before the age of ten he knew how to fire the coals, how to set a sand mold, how to quench steel and manage heat. In these early years he recognized the work of the forge for the magic that it was, and reveled in its intricacies. His mother was proud of him and his progress, despite the muttered jeers he sometimes earned her. He was, after all, a bastard child. In dwarven culture, there were few higher disgraces.
Redgar asked about his father from time to time, but his mother’s answers were always evasive and nondescript. He learned far more about his father from the expressions that would pass across her features at his mention than from any words that were ever said. These expressions were always distant, always sad and laden with regret. Ilde never spoke badly of him, she never used his name as a curse or as a shaming word, but neither did she tell Redgar who his father was, how they had met, or even what time they had spent together. As such, Redgar came to know that his father, whoever he might be, was someone that had never loved him. Before he had even known him, his father had chosen to abandon him.
These early years were not easy for them, as the circumstances of Redgar’s birth cast his mother and him as unlabeled outcasts from the other dwarves. Ilde maintained her position at the steelworks, but she was never allowed to advance, and the silver pieces she brought home dwindled with each successive season. Ilde grew bitter with her fate, and Redgar grew combative to match her. As Redgar lived through his third and fourth decades he and his mother fought near constantly, because they had no other foe to turn their anger and frustration against.
But even in their bleakest days, even when there was nothing to eat and no fuel to burn in their hearth, Redgar never hated his mother. He knew she was doing what she had to in order to keep them alive. He didn’t know how to show it, he couldn’t say it…but he always loved her, as only a son can love a mother. At times he hated himself for the pain he caused her. At times he felt she would have been better off without him.
As Redgar entered his adult years, things became worse. Redgar discovered the intoxicating lightness of ale, and decided this new magic was of greater interest to him than anything he could find among Janderhoff’s forges. With time he became a lout, a drunkard, a waste of potential and instigator of fights. At his worst, his mother scolded him with the words, “Your father would be ashamed.” At his worst, he had replied, “How would you know? You don’t even know who he was.” She had slapped him for that, and the blow had stung for days like needles in his cheek.
His mother barred him from their home the day after his fiftieth birthday, a day that had ended in a fight at the local tavern and with the threat of jail from the city constables. Redgar then became a wanderer, a bum, a dwarf that other dwarves pretended they could not see. He found enough work doing menial labor to keep bread in his stomach and ale in his cup, but nothing more than that. In these years he came to know the texture of his shame as a blanket to pull over himself. The disgrace of his birth, the pain he had caused his mother—they protected him from all ambition, all purpose, and all sense of self-worth. Shame became his armor, remorse his shield, and self-pity the weapon he wielded against any who might come too close.
- – – -
Redgar was somewhere feeling sorry for himself the day of the great Steelworks fire, an accident that claimed the lives of twenty-three dwarves, including his mother. He was told after the fact that Ilde helped two of her fellows out of the blaze, and then rushed back to see if there were any others that might be saved. She never came back out.
It was winter at the time of the fire, and Redgar didn’t have the money to buy his mother the tomb he would have liked for her. So instead, he and his estranged grandparents came together, and agreed to bury her on family land far outside the city walls. Together they hewed a grave in the hills overlooking Janderhoff’s silver gates. Ilde was buried, a few words were said, and a crude marker was erected above the broken earth. This was all there was to do for her. Her grandparents left Redgar with his head bowed in endless regret.
It was sometime later that a shadow passed over Redgar, and he looked up to see an aged dwarven cleric adorned in the fiery-orange and coal-black vestments of the forge god Torag. The cleric gave Redgar a hard eye and asked gruffly, “Are you Ilde’s son?”
Redgar sniffed miserably in the cold. His tears and flowing nose had frozen into his beard, and only then did Redgar realize how cold and stiff he had become. He drew his cloak tight and nodded to the fiery stranger.
The cleric scowled in response, “I’ve heard you have some skill with fire and metal.”
Redgar nodded again. The wind howled and pushed him deeper into his cloak.
The cleric didn’t seem to feel the chill. Instead he motioned Redgar up and ordered, “Come along then, you can help me.”
- – – -
The cleric led him back into Janderhoff, past the ancient gates, and into the steelworks that had taken his mother’s life. Dwarves were already toiling to get the forges and anvils working again, and the cleric took a place among them as if he belonged there. Redgar noticed that the other workers gave the cleric a wide berth, bowing and saying respectful words as he moved between the different stations. The cleric in turn gave them almost no notice—his attention was focused entirely on the task before him and the work to be done.
Through his time in the steelworks, Redgar had watched many fine artists craft their works, including other clerics of Torag. But never had he seen another who worked with the skill or confidence as the dwarf before him now. Before his will, the metal seemed to change of its own accord—flowing, folding, and channeling itself into whatever shape the cleric wished. His hammer rang like thunder, his arms bulged like thick cables…even his breaths seemed to curl and shape the fire as the hot air bellowed from his lungs. In the cleric’s work, Redgar saw the magic of the forge anew…and he found awe in it.
The cleric made two items that day. First was a long and powerful forgehammer, a thick-handled, heavy-headed instrument that would serve equally as a crafting tool or weapon of war. Into its faces, the cleric inscribed the burning anvil, the image of forged strength—the symbol of his god Torag. When it was done he turned the hammer over and over in his calloused hands, studying carefully every facet and fillet for imperfection or blemish. Slight changes were made under the cleric’s exacting touch, and when it was done he held the hammer aloft over the forge’s glowing light. Both dwarves marveled for a long time at the hammer’s simple magnificence.
The second item he began on was a gravemarker, cast first as a long, flat bar, and then shaped as a high obelisk crowned by an eclipsed sun. The hammer had taken hours to forge, but the gravemarker was destined to take far longer. The cleric threw every ounce of his energy into founding the magnificent creation, and in time called on Redgar to help him. Together they pumped the bellows—together they hammered the steel and folded the layers of drawn metal into one another. The hours passed, the sun rose, and still they worked on it. Neither felt the passage of time nor the weariness in their joints. They saw only the glow of the steel in front of them…they felt only the wonder of what it was to shape the heart or the earth.
It took them nearly two days to finish the gravemarker, and when it was done its polished, shining faces gleamed like the celestial steel of an archon’s blade. They took the gravemarker together back up the hill, and pounded it into the earth above Ilde’s grave. Redgar realized then that he was crying. The cleric stepped back to give him a moment for his grief, and said nothing for a long time.
At long length, when the sun was rising over the far hills, the cleric spoke. He said, “Your mother left a letter with the master of Torag’s temple, with instructions for delivery in the event that something ever happened to her. That note came to me a week ago. She said you would need my help.”
Redgar turned and wiped at his eyes, “You knew my mother?”
“Aye,” the cleric answered, “When she was young…and I was young…we knew one another very well. She was a pretty lass…and fiery … the other girls seemed less to be near her. Every dwarf I knew pined for her, but none of us had the courage to court her. She had all of our strength and more.”
The cleric was silent for a moment of long contemplation, then continued with a bitter twist of his lips, “I was young then…and stupidly brash…and I told her that I would win her heart through my deeds as Torag’s servant. I told her to listen for my tales and wait for my return. And so I went into the world in my first set of robes and sought out every evil I could find to set right. My journeys took me to the far ends of the world and back again…though not for several decades. When I returned, your mother had grown into a fine woman…and I felt a fool for ever leaving her.”
“We had some time together then, and I thought for a moment that I would leave the order and take her on as a proper dwarf should take a wife. But your mother would have none of it. I had earned some notoriety for my deeds in the larger world, for I had had hand in fighting darkness in the human lands. She told me it would be a crime to confine my talents to the narrow halls of Janderhoff. Ilde told me to be the hero she knew I was…and she sent me away.”
The cleric stopped and his mouth grew tight. He said, “Your mother was never someone I could argue with boy. I did what she said.”
Here the cleric straightened his posture and drew up his chin. He continued by saying, “Your mother was strong boy, and proud, and beautiful beyond mortal words…but she was also stubborn…and cruel. She was stubborn because she never listened to how I felt about her—she could only ever hear what I had done and what I could be. She was cruel because she never considered how it would feel for me to be turned away…and to never know…that I had fathered a son…”
Redgar looked up at the cleric and his eyes grew wide, “You’re my father?”
“In name only,” the cleric answered in gravely voice, “I’m your father, but I did not know of your existence until I received Ilde’s letter. She said she had kept you from me to protect what she considered my purpose in life. She feared that if I knew of you that I’d return home and forget my duties against evil.”
“Would you have?” Redgar asked.
The cleric nodded, “Of course I would have. Greater evil would have been done because I would have not been there to stop it…scores would have died because I was not there to heal and protect them. But you would have had your father …” his eyes moved back to Ilde’s grave, “…and maybe she wouldn’t have been lost like this.”
Redgar followed his father’s eyes to the gravemarker, “If I had been there…I could have stopped it. If I had been the dwarf I should’ve been, she—”
“There’s no point in that,” his father interrupted with a scoff, “Regret serves no purpose except to give you a reason to learn. And what have you learned boy? What has her death taught you?”
Redgar shook his head slowly, “I don’t know.”
His father moved closer and took a knee beside him on the cold, hard earth. He said, “What I’ve learned is that I have a son, and that son has the potential to be more than I can ever be. I’ve learned—even though he’s lost his way—that there is still strength and wisdom in him—there is still anvil steel beneath his flesh and stoked fire in his blood.”
Here his father offered forward the hammer they had made together, “This is for you Redgar. I am your father…but I haven’t been a parent, I haven’t been your Dad. The time we should have had is gone forever—I can’t give it back to you. But I can show you a way out of the life you’ve crafted for yourself. Follow me back to Torag’s temple, and I’ll show you the ways of the forge god. Torag can give you the wisdom to find who you should have been.”
Redgar stared up at his father for several seconds, then looked down, back to the frozen earth, back into a history of depthless shame and pain. He thought then how much easier it would be to lie down and let the earth reclaim him. He thought then how much easier it would be to give up completely.
His father’s voice came again, hard and resolute in its fierceness, “Will you take it Redgar? Will you learn from her death? Will you honor all she gave for you?”
Redgar’s weary eyes came up to look upon his mother’s silver gravemarker. They were soft for a moment—weak—the eyes of a child. Then, as hot metal quenched in dark water, his eyes hardened, they gained purpose, and found the pride that he had forgotten so long ago.
He said with grim purpose, “Forgive me mother…I have much to atone for.”
Redgar stood, turned, and took the hammer’s grip in his palm. The cold steel haft was firm and comforting between his fingers, and he locked them around it like iron in a vise. He said, “I’m ready father…show me the way.”
His father nodded, and they turned together back toward Janderhoff’s distant gates. The wind picked up, and loose snow was thrown tumbling through the air. Neither dwarf did feel it. Like metal under hammers, like steel seared in flame, the pain they felt now only served to forge them yet stronger, harder, and more complete. They moved together now with long, purposeful strides. The protesting wind was forced to break around them.
Redgar followed his father into the dwarven city and found his destiny waiting for him.