Dwarvish Dirty Dozen Book 1: Mud War
Dwarves fighting in a bar? Seems about right, however this particular group of roughians is looking to stir up trouble with someone in particular
Dwarvish 01 snippet –
Torbjorn looked around the room to make certain everyone was in position before contemplating the stale-smelling drink before him.
“We ready to do this?” Raelon sniffed.
The dwarvish commander picked up the beer as he gave a bare nod.
“Showtime.” The younger dwarf grunted as he glanced to make certain the barkeep wasn’t distracted. It would have been a shame to waste the performance.
“How do you tell the difference between human beer and human piss?”
Torbjorn groaned and gave a shake of his dark, shaggy head. He grimaced through the first swallow of the watery ale. He swiped off the thin film that clung to his mustache with a thick, scar-gnarled hand, then threw it away with a contemptuous flick. It landed upon boards scored with runes to keep them clean and polished.
“This one again?” he grumbled into his cup, wincing at the thought of the sour ale being an offering to his people’s inscription upon the floor.
It's about the Wheezer magistrate, he told himself. Nothing else.
After all, Raelon was just doing what he was best at, though admittedly, this was not his best work.
“Huh?” the bartender rumbled from behind a bar that had been crudely raised to accommodate a new kind of clientele some years ago.
The dwarf sitting on Torbjorn’s right raised his snout from sniffing uncertainly at the contents of his cup.
“I said,” Raelon began after clearing his throat, “how do you tell the difference between human beer and human piss?”
Torbjorn had heard the joke before. That didn’t spoil a good joke, mind you, but since it wasn’t a good joke, the repetition grated. The publican who’d served Torbjorn and his companion said ale was both human and standing right in front of them, but that was neither here nor there.
“You really want to finish that one, friend?” the barman asked with enough of a snarl in the last word to make it like a threat.
The dwarf sitting beside Torbjorn performed a far more exaggerated pantomime of revulsion as he took a swig from his own jack of ale.
“Ugh! Oskilget!” Raelon growled, the words rattling in the back of his throat like bile. He looked at the glowering proprietor, beer-filled vessel held up. “I’d much rather finish the joke than whatever this is.”
The first part of the publican’s answer was to draw a heavy club from under the bar, and the next was to nod at a pair of rough-hewn men at a table behind where Torbjorn and Raelon sat. The stout men loomed behind the dwarfs, menacing rumbles and sharp sniffs announcing their presence. Well, further announcing their presence, if the crinkle in Torbjorn’s nose was any evidence.
“All right, then,” the barkeep continued, his voice almost gentle. “How do you tell the difference between human beer and human piss?”
Torbjorn sighed as he idly scratched the welted scar on his cheek.
Smiling from ear to ear, Raelon spoke loud enough for the entire tavern to hear him.
“If the barkeep is washing his hands, you know it's beer!” The dwarf guffawed as the publican’s already red face purpled. From around the room came angry mumbles. The patrons were huddled about tables that had likewise had ramshackle additions to elevate them to be comfortable for humans.
“Get it?” Raelon called, acting like the participation of patrons added them to his audience. Rather than deterring him, the barkeep’s hard-eyed silence made him laugh all the harder. He dumped the offending ale upon the floor.
Torbjorn forced himself not to wince as more of the swill splashed the boards, which had been hewn by dwarvish settlers less than a decade ago.
The wight, he reminded himself. The wight’s what matters.
Baritone laughter rolled across the bar even as the barkeep’s cudgel came down with a sharp smack on the wood.
“That’s it!” the human snarled with such vehemence that his jowls shook. “Both of you, out! Damned uppity badgers!”
Neither dwarf seemed to mind the slur. The pair behind the duo moved forward, hands curling into claws to snare clothes, hair, or beards. They were inches from snaring the dwarfs in front of them when the unnoticed dwarf vaulted onto the table behind them, scattering mugs and platters. The pair of bully boys had just enough time to realize that something was amiss before an iron grip seized their lank hair. Their heads met with a meaty smack, which was followed by the thuds of their bodies hitting the floor.
A quarter of a second after they landed, Raelon slapped down a hand to pin the bartender’s cudgel in place. His other hand swung an ale-streaming tankard toward the man’s shocked, blotchy face. The publican tumbled backward, fondling his mashed lips and cracked jaw tenderly. Raelon used the momentum of the swing to propel him onto the bar, where he paused, cudgel in his hairy fists.
Standing wide-legged on the table and the bar respectively, the dwarfs, clearly siblings despite the different shades of their hair, exchanged wicked smiles. The larger of the two, a hulking dwarf with bright red hair and beard, crossed his muscle-knotted arms over his huge chest. His brother gripped the snatched club. Across the bar, angry eyes swung in their direction.
“Impeccable timing as always, Waelon,” Torbjorn offered with a nod as he turned halfway around to acknowledge the powerfully thewed dwarf. The serene dwarf, leader by sheer presence if nothing else, had not even bothered to shift in his seat through the explosive turn of events. As before, he stared with pensive concern at the drink in his hand.
“Yes, sir.” Waelon grunted. “Satisfactory for our purposes, sir?”
Torbjorn raised his eyes to the cudgel-bearing dwarf on the bar in front of him.
“Has anyone made to fetch the magistrate yet, Raelon?”
Raelon, who’d been busy meeting every human face with a frightful scowl, took a moment to respond.
“What? Oh!” the younger dwarf muttered before straightening a little. “No, sir. Not yet.”
Torbjorn slowly set his tankard down and shook his head.
“That simply will not do,” he muttered, bracing one hand on the bar. “Waelon, if you would, please.”
“Of course, sir.” The big dwarf raised his voice to address the seething patrons. “Well, are you peach-faced, spindly-legged, piss drinkers going to do something about it, or are you scared of a few badgers?”
Like a spark set to tinder, the words ignited the seething patrons. The scene in the pub became distinctly more chaotic.
Waelon’s fists pumped like pistons, pulping faces that came within reach of his table. Raelon swept the hardwood club in arcs about the bar. Snarling and cursing patrons leapt clear of the whistling bludgeon. Only a few moved too slowly to escape its sting, but there was soon more than enough room for Torbjorn to climb onto the bar, dragging his chair with him. Once stationed beside Raelon, chair in hand, Torbjorn got two hard swings out of the furnishing before being forced to snap a chair leg off in each hand. Thus equipped, he leapt back into the fray, dealing out hefty smacks with the stout legs to every hand, shoulder, and head in reach.
“Think I saw a few go for the door, sir,” Raelon growled as he danced back from clutching mitts before dealing a solid thump across the head of an attacker. “Won’t be long now.”
Torbjorn brought both chair legs up to check a swung stool, catching the furniture with one and the wrist of the unfortunate enemy with the other. The wet snap of bone heralded the fall of both stool and wielder to the floor.
“Very good,” the dwarf leader declared, then planted his foot in the face of a lunging assailant. “I was hoping to get this business finished as quickly as possible.”
“Quick and hard,” Raelon crowed as he held the cudgel lengthwise to chuck a pair of humans off him. “Just the way we like it. Eh, Waelon?”
In answer, the fiery-haired dwarf gave a tectonic bellow, then hurtled off the table into a knot of men. Like saplings trying to bear the brunt of a landslide, they bowed and quickly snapped. Not content with the ruin he’d wrought in his descent, Waelon snatched the nearest wretch and hauled him up to use as a living battering ram against his fellows. The sight was as terrifying as it was comical. The men screamed in shock as they were bludgeoned with their unfortunate compatriot.
After Waelon pitched his impromptu weapon aside, he bellowed at the faces around him, “Who’s next?”
Those faces didn’t press forward, and after Raelon clubbed the last arm reaching over the bar, an uncertain silence fell. The dwarvish trio’s ferocity was not easily matched, and the patron’s initial rush had been thoroughly rebuffed. No one was keen to be the next to be corrected, like those who lay on the floor broken, bleeding, and toothless.
The hate still simmered in their flushed, sweaty faces, but they were peasants and thus forced to be pragmatic. Rough, certainly, but only prone to violence when the odds were distinctly in their favor. What had just ensued had drastically altered the calculation. In the face of such arithmetic, obviously not their strong suit, the humans stood glaring above the soft groans of the wounded.
It was easy to hear the doors swing open and the thump and scrape of several pairs of heavy boots.
“What’s all this, then?” growled a mustachioed man whose knee-length gambeson and sable tabard matched those of the four men at his shoulder. The only thing that clearly distinguished him was the heavy copper chain that was about his neck.
“What the kak?” Raelon spat. “Where’s the damned wheezer?”
“Dwan up,” Torbjorn snapped, and even the irrepressible Raelon bowed his chin at the rebuke.
“Wheezer, eh?” The man with the mustache chortled deep in his throat. “That’s who you came to see?”
The walrus-lipped man, who was obviously the bailiff of this heel-clinger of a town, eyed the trio of dwarfs and nodded at his men. The guards spread out across the room, repositioning to corral their quarry as well as giving each other enough room to brandish their short spears. The human patrons, their fear gone after the sudden appearance of armed guards, sneered at the beleaguered brawlers.
“If you come quietly, you’ll get to meet the magistrate,” the bailiff told the dwarfs as he raised one hand to idly toy with the chain on his breast. “I doubt it will be a pleasant conversation, but you’ll still be breathing when you get there.”
A low rumble sounded in Waelon’s chest, and even with weapons in hand, the guards shuffled back a step.
“Come any closer, and you’ll be riding that pigsticker,” Raelon warned as his brother leaned forward menacingly.
“Come now,” the bailiff called, doing a remarkable job of keeping his composure. “You’re outnumbered and outarmed. The worst you can expect from this is to pay damages and spend some time in the stocks.”
Reassured by their leader’s level voice, the guards continued their advance with iron spearheads held level with dwarvish hearts.
“If you resist, though,” the bailiff added, an ugly smile beneath his mustache, “you’ll be lucky if one of you is left alive to stand trial.”
The spear points shuffled closer, and, despite his imposing glower, Waelon slid a foot back toward the bar. Raelon and Torbjorn pressed closer together. It was a testament to the dwarvish brothers that neither looked at Torbjorn but kept their eyes on the advancing enemy.
“I suppose there’s nothing for it.” Torbjorn sighed, rolled his shoulders, and shook the tension out through his arms. The nicked and bloodied chair legs wobbled in his thick hands, then the dwarf tightened his grip and looked the bailiff in the eye with a stony expression.
“Gefarer!” he bellowed in a battle shout, and two more dwarfs sprang from their hiding places in the shadowy corners of the bar.
One, who was nearly as tall as Waelon and even wider, crashed into the rightmost wing of the guards like a blond boulder. He had a round shield gripped in each meaty fist. The other, a dwarfess of pale complexion who was lithe by her race’s standards, darted toward the bailiff, whirling a loaded sling about her head. The first man in the path of the towheaded dwarf went bum over brains in short order while the next slammed into his next compatriot. From the newly created breathing room, the stout dwarf pitched a shield to Waelon before retrieving a broad-bladed sword off his belt.
The bailiff hardly had time to appreciate the sudden change in situation before the she-dwarf snapped his shin with a merciless blow from the sling. The man fell with a scream that was drowned out a moment later by a quintet of deep dwarven voices raised in a war cry.
“BAD BADGERS!” the dwarfs roared as they surged toward the remaining guards.
With Waelon and the blond dwarf leading the way, iron sparked on iron as spearheads met boss and rim, but nothing slowed the advance. Waelon snatched an over-extended spear from the hands of one guard and beat its former wielder about the head with the shaft until bone and wood gave sympathetic cracks. Beside him, the golden-headed dwarf drove up under a thrust and hacked into an exposed knee. The guard fell back with a choked gasp, spoiling the thrust of his compatriot. Raelon and Torbjorn descended in a storm of crushing blows.
In a matter of seconds, the dwarfs had gone from cornered to on the attack to victorious. The patrons of the bar stared in shock. The guard with the ruined knee and the bailiff with the shattered shin broke the silence with piteous and grating utterances forced through clenched teeth.
Waelon looked at his commanding officer, shortened spear in hand, as Torbjorn rose from his victim. Torbjorn nodded at the guard, whose blood was still pumping from his partially severed leg. Waelon gave a grunt of acknowledgment and moved to comply. The spear bit deep and the man gasped, then there were only the bailiff’s moans.
Torbjorn dropped the chair legs as he stepped toward the bailiff, who lay rocking upon the floor. His shin went off at a sharp, stomach-turning angle, but Torbjorn ignored that as he hooked his fingers around the copper chain.
“T-take it,” the man whined. Sweat poured down his face even as he paled with pain. “P-please, just don’t—”
“Kill you?” Torbjorn mused softly as he examined the chain. “No, I’m afraid you don’t need to worry about me.”
The bailiff blinked, his pain-addled mind still able to sense that something was off in the dwarf’s response. However, a lifetime of toadying to the powerful had trained him well for this moment. His hands pawed fawningly at Torbjorn’s sleeve.
“Oh, th-thank you,” he began, trying to catch the dwarf’s attention to assure his coming flattery would have an impact. The dwarf’s dark eyes were locked on the burnished copper.
“You should all get out of here while you can,” Torbjorn declared, his voice raised to address the patrons who remained whole and conscious. “Things may take a turn for the worse.”
The silence continued for a moment, then chairs and stools scooted, and bowed heads and shuffling feet made their way to the door. The bailiff tried to catch the eyes of those who shambled past him, but all of them kept their gazes averted. It was a silent testimony to their tutelage under the bailiff and his patron that they did it with such quiet obedience. They’d learned to look the other way, so why not now?
The dwarf leader’s voice drew the bailiff’s attention to the chain being held before his eyes.
“Can it hear you now?” Torbjorn asked when he spied the faintest tracery of a corrosion like verdigris between the links.
“W-what?” The bailiff coughed, swallowing the pleas and promises he’d been about to utter. The game had changed once more.
“Your master, the magistrate,” Torbjorn muttered, eyes narrowing as the veins of corrosion slithered and squirmed across the copper wrapped around his knuckles. “Does he always hear you, or do you have to reach out to him?”
A dread far deeper than physical pain warped the bailiff's features as he saw something in the dwarf’s expression.
“No,” he sobbed. “Please, just go.”
Torbjorn frowned as he looked at the bailiff’s face for the first time since gripping the chain. The dwarf read the man’s expression, then, with a weary sigh, reached toward the man’s shattered shin with his bloody free hand.
“What’s your name, lad?” the dwarf asked, his voice even and unhurried.
The bailiff gave a soft, gargling whine as he felt the heavy hand settle near raw, splintered bone.
“Ch-ch-chorden,” he heaved between hitching breaths. “Please, I-I’m begging you, just—”
“Chorden, listen to me,” Torbjorn instructed, his voice flat and hard. “I want you to call him.”
Chorden, the bailiff of Ipplen’s Ford for nearly a decade, had done what was being asked of him only twice in his tenure. Each time, he’d sworn an oath afterward, telling himself it wasn’t worth it, and he’d rather be dead than do so again. Neither time had been as desperate as this incident, but even so, he hesitated.
“Anything,” he panted. “Anything but tha—”
Torbjorn’s hand clamped on the messy fracture in Chorden’s leg and slowly twisted. The noises the bailiff made couldn’t be called screams, but the sharp, shrill bleats made the other dwarfs look away, brows lowered and eyes dark.
“Call him, Chorden,” Torbjorn instructed, his voice flat and dispassionate, his face stony. “Call him, and it's over.”
A clever plan from the Bad Badgers, but for what? Who are they trying to call and what is the story behind this group of fierce warriors? Find out on June 24th, 2022 when Mud War: Dwarvish Dirty Dozen Book 1 is released. Head over to Amazon and pre-order it today!