MIDDAY, HEVENSDAY, 12TH OF RETHE, TA 2988
AS SOON AS HE HAD DONE WITH THE TOIL OF HAULING HIMSELF UP THE ROPE and gained the balcony, Yngwi leapt to his feet and took command of the situation, striding down the passageway. He stepped ahead of Fjiar and Gymir, who stood ready at the door with axe and shield and cudgel, opened the door a crack and listened for a moment.
“No, you idiot, get back!” he heard a voice saying in Khuzdul, echoing in a large space. “We have to climb up to you!”
Throwing the door open he stepped through and bellowed out, “We’re here with the permission of the Dathrins. Show yourselves – you’re trespassing!”
He was on a gallery that ran around three sides of a lofty hall with two solid pillars up the middle, dimly lit by a couple of lanterns on the floor at the far end. A handful of figures were scurrying about, shocked into activity by his challenge.
Tóki, meanwhile, pulled the lantern up on the rope and shone it down the passageway. It ran straight ahead with no doors or side passages to where his three comrades stood in the doorway at the far end, but halfway along on the left there was what looked like a table with the legs broken off it. He stepped up to this and pulled it aside to reveal a shattered gap in the wall. It was a sniper’s watchpost!
Bofur had by now reached the top of the mound of rubble. Before him it sloped downwards to the back of the mansion’s entrance chamber, where he spied the tops of a pair of archways through which it looked like a dwarf could clamber to gain the interior of the dwelling.
He turned back to Toleðr and Thorfinn. “I think we can get thr—” he began, but was interrupted by a crash of stone.
Leaning forward into the gap he’d found, Tóki had seen that it commanded a view over the expanse of rubble across which his other three companions were making their laborious way. And in that moment more of the structure had given way under his feet. With a yelp of surprise he just leapt backwards as the stone crashed down to the storey below.
“Intruders, give it up!” Yngwi hollered, pressing his advantage as the crash of stone echoed from behind him. He stepped forward for a better view of the hall and Fjiar, switching his shield to his right arm, put himself between Yngwi and any possible bowshots from below.
“Oy!” he barked, adding his voice to Yngwi’s. “Put down, and get out!” But this did not come out as commandingly as he’d hoped.
Gymir, meanwhile, was looking ahead rather than down into the main hall. In the gloom at the far end of the gallery he made out a dwarf clambering over the balustrade. His rage up, Gymir charged forth!
Fjiar took in the situation immediately and charged after his comrade. Yngwi was taken aback but as Tóki ran in and his lantern cast much-needed light on the fracas they too joined the pursuit.
Gymir closed on the startled dwarf, swinging his cudgel. The other dwarf, with only a bow slung on his shoulder (to free his hands for climbing), had nothing with which to defend himself and he desperately jumped back out of the path of the swinging club.
With Gymir, Yngwi, Fjiar and behind them even Tóki bearing down on him, he turned to flee before Gymir could recover his stroke.
Yngwi’s long strides took him in hot pursuit past Fjiar and wide of Gymir but he saw that he still wouldn’t easily close with the fleet-footed foe. With a wordless roar he hurled his axe end over end to strike the dwarf in the backside! Howling in pain the dwarf faltered and only just kept his footing.
Fjiar and Tóki left them to the chase. Tóki realised that his lantern was shining back from a section of wall that was largely glass, and he felt suddenly exposed to the hostile dwarves below. He set down the lantern where he was, and hunched down to steal back the way he’d come.
Fjiar thrust his axe into his belt and his swung his shield round on its strap to cover his back, planning fearlessly to climb down to the floor of the hall. The rest of the interrupted intruders were still in disarray, unsure of the force attacking them and he wanted to deny them the chance to organize their defences.
Yngwi pushed on, charging down the now-limping dwarf who was making for a hollow of darkness off to one side of the gallery which the light of Tóki’s abandoned lantern did not reach. Just as his quarry turned the corner Yngwi surged up with both hands on his shield, barging into him with his full weight. The dwarf let out a grunt as he was slammed back into the blackness.
Gymir bounded up behind and swung his club again, high past Yngwi’s shoulder, but the harried dwarf ducked. The club swept scant inches above his head and struck with a ringing thud betraying the fact that the dwarf was backed up to a stout wooden door.
Caught by the two of them the dwarf screamed out for help. Gymir showed no mercy and put his whole weight into a massive overhand blow. All in darkness there was a chaotic moment as the slippery archer ducked aside from Gymir’s cudgel-blow and got the door behind him open, then lurched back through it just beyond the reach of Yngwi’s flailing fist.
From the moment he had heard Tóki’s crash of rock and Yngwi’s shouted challenge echoing back from the archway ahead of him, Bofur Ironhand knew there was no time to pick a cautious way over the rubble in the entrance chamber. He redoubled his efforts, and gained the archway. Toleðr was not to be outdone and sought to catch him up and Thorfinn brought up the rear, rueing the fact that his kit bag containing the helm and hauberk was still at the foot of the rope behind them.
Toleðr, following Bofur’s route over the rubble, saw the alchemist stoop and then crawl through the narrow space at the top of the rubble-choked archway. He refused to be daunted by the loss of the light from ahead, but trusted to his balance and made his way onwards.
When he crawled through the archway himself, he found himself atop a last receding slope of shattered stone that petered out and gave onto the close-set flags of a regular passageway floor at last. Bofur had by now smothered his lantern but was outlined against dim light beyond, unslinging his bow and drawing an arrow. There was a distant noise of fighting, but no ring of steel on steel. Toleðr drew his sword and shield and ran on, as Thorfinn gained the archway behind him.
With his own lantern casting no light Bofur had stepped round the corner in the sure knowledge that no one in the better-lit hall ahead could see him. If they advanced only steadily he would have the leisure to choose his mark.
But he could say nothing without giving himself away and he silently gritted his teeth as Toleðr and Thorfinn neared his position.
The dwarves in the hall were all distracted by the fracas that Bofur could hear, all their gazes upwards. He realised with a mix of horror and surprise that two of these were Foron son of Jídli and one of his henchmen who had been in the Gold Hush Inn only yesterday afternoon. The competition had got there before them! Foron seemed flustered, and his henchman was firmly ushering him back behind the high table of the hall, where a couple more dwarves cowered uncertainly. And then another dwarf came into sight, not only clad identically to Foron’s henchman but with the same grey beard and bearing. As the other herded the non-combatants back, this one was making decisively for the corridor where Bofur stood in readiness.
Toleðr rushed up behind Bofur, rounded the corner and hurtled into the hall with his sword in a back guard, but he had the sense to bear hard left to leave Bofur an open shot. Thorfinn more cautiously drew axe and shield and stood at Bofur’s shoulder, eyeing his bow and arrow with mistrust.
The target was advancing at a jog straight towards him and Bofur had time to pick a mark well clear of the dwarf’s shield. He opted low, and loosed. A masterful shot! The arrow sprang at the unsuspecting twin and transfixed his foot. He rocked back and collapsed to the floor. Bofur allowed himself a grim smirk and used the barb of his next arrow to scratch a notch into his quiver strap to mark the hit.
The howl of surprised anguish from the greybeard in the middle of the hall drew attention from all quarters.
Yngwi and Gymir hesitated as their fleeing victim planted the door shut in their faces, the howl from below suggesting that the battle had moved on.
Tóki had sought to outflank the dwarves below by slinking along the other branch of the gallery to a position above and behind the other intruders, but had been unable to find anything to use as a missile. A daring plan suggested itself and he considered the angles and the distance to the floor below.
Fjiar let go of the rope to drop the last few feet to the floor of the hall and ran over, sweeping out his axes.
Toleðr charged. The one dwarf to his right was down, no threat as he dragged himself across the floor and under one of the long tables out of arrow-shot.
“Dwîm!” cried the other one ahead and left of him, a second dwarf who looked identical to the one Bofur had shot. With no time for puzzling, Toleðr son of Mánkr brandished his sword in an arc around his head and charged the second twin.