The sequel to my other dwarf tale “Troth’s Eye”
Since Gemlik the last of the mountain ogres had sacrificed his single eye to save the ancient world from the disease of humanity, peace and harmony among all living things had returned once more.
Gorin, the much loved and respected elder and arbitrator of the dwarf clan, had journeyed north with Tallow the giant eagle and the crystal tool fashioned by Troth, to return it to Gemlik to create the replacement for Troth’s Eye.
Now he felt his remaining time and that of his life giving ancestor oak was fast growing short. Like all living things, the link between the pair meant they were born together, lived and died together as is the natural way of things in the world.
Through still sleepy eyes, he marvelled at the sight of fresh spring grasses, flowers, and the already fattening buds of wild fruits. His old face once more felt the delicate touch of clean fresh spring air wafting through the window of his home in the exposed roots of his life giving oak tree. The time for sleep was over for another year.
Gorin dearly loved his snug little home.
Until both tree and dwarf reached two hundred summers, nature demanded that the young tree’s dwarf shelter in the leaf litter and grass beneath its branches during the summer, while in winter, it had to seek refuge in whatever hole beneath the ground that it could find.
In those early years Gorin was forced to keep one eye open in the darkness of the holes he sought shelter in with his trusty knife grasped firmly in his hand ready to defend himself if need be. Often, he would find himself sharing the tight, pitch-dark confines with moles, rats, mice, voles, rabbits, weasels, stoats, worms, snails, slugs or snakes.
This was the time in a young dwarf’s life when he either learnt the craft of diplomacy and negotiation that all dwarfs were renowned for, or perish at the claws and teeth of whoever the occupant may be.
On numerous occasions he had to escape from the creatures he shared with in those early years, before the notion of eating a tasty young dwarf to stave off their own hunger brought on by the chronic shortage of food in the frozen wintery underworld, even entered their minds.
Gorin had survived those early winters by adding guile to his armoury, often saving himself from a cruel death by striking them hard on the nose with his tiny fist in the case of snakes, or by painfully plucking whiskers and stabbing his attackers faces with the sharp point of his knife, in the case of the weasels, mice, rats and stoats, distracting them long enough for him to escape.
In those times the one animal Gorin preferred sharing with above all others was a member of the mole clan. He would often spend the hours of the long winter nights deep in conversation with his friendly host, sharing food supplies. Often the pair hunted together for food during the brief hours of daylight, always providing that the snow was not too deep outside.
Unlike you and I who continue our kind by being born out of the union between a male and a female of our species, all ancients were born a day or two after the new seedling of their clan tree species first poked its head above ground, living as long as their tree does.
The ancients have no concept of family as you and I know it. Instead they owe allegiance to their birth tree first, their tree clan second and finally to nature and the world itself.
A thousand summers ago, when his life giving oak and he had witnessed two hundred summers, he had sought its permission to hollow out his home in its largest exposed root.
In that wonderful summer, he first fashioned from a knot-hole in the great root a tiny circular door, before opening up a short passageway with two doors leading off it to the left and right, with a third at the end.
The door on the left led into his larder where he kept his supply of edible acorns and the occasional piece of honeycomb, which the bees kindly left at his door from time to time. All were stored on expertly fashioned shelves, made from twigs which he had gathered and carefully split with his knife.
His supply of acorn ale was stored in dwarf sized barrels, constructed from tiny staves split from his supply of twigs, and bound with green vines, which as they dried out, tightened their grip on the staves. He brewed a fresh supply of ale each spring, making sure to prepare the ingredients in his chestnut shell bath before he went to sleep at the beginning of each winter.
The door on the right opened into his windowless warm living room, softly lit by glow-worms, where his armchair, fashioned from acorn cups, furnished with cobweb cushions, took up most of the tiny room.
Beside it sat a small table, constructed from a dried toadstool, where he kept his bark paged life journal, in which he recorded everything of great interest to a well schooled dwarf. Beside it sat his Wren-feathered quill pen and his tiny bottle of blackberry juice ink. At the foot of his chair was a small stool made from an upturned acorn cup for his feet to rest upon in front of his fireplace.
The door at the end of the passage opened into his tiny bedroom with an equally tiny round window, expertly glazed with a semi-transparent moth wing which let soft light through, decorated with curtains made from multicoloured butterfly wings. During the warmer seasons, always providing of course that he remembered to open it to see out and to allow fresh air to enter, he could look out from the comfort of his warm bed at the world outside if his bones ached too much, or if he had a summer cold.
For the last three hundred summers, Gorin found himself increasingly confined to his bed much more than he would like by the many ailments that now plagued him due to his great age.
“I feel the time for birth planting is fast approaching us friend oak,” he sighed. His life giving oak flexed its equally ancient branches in agreement. When the last leaf finally fell from the great oak’s branches as winter finally gripped the land, both oak and dwarf would die.
Between them they had seen twelve hundred summers and witnessed many new birth plantings by all of the ancient clans.
Both knew they still had one last summer left to enjoy together. Gorin realized that very soon he would have to carefully search out a special site for the new planting, and he also knew he would have to climb his oak’s great trunk to select the very best seed acorn. This was a hazardous task for one so small should he have to climb its rough outer bark. If a hungry bird or beast spied him as he climbed aloft, he knew that he would surely die.
But Gorin knew of a secret space inside his oak. He had found it when he was excavating fresh storage space six hundred summers earlier, which led upward to the first branches emerging at the back of a hole in the trunk where a pair of squirrels had made their home.
He realised that when he made the long final climb in search of a seed acorn, it must be of the finest quality. To plant a diseased acorn, or one partially nibbled by the creatures living in the oak’s branches, would only result in a deformed oak sapling, and the dwarf it would produce would surely prove malevolent.
He swung his feet out of bed and stood on the warm dry moss mat beside his bed, searching for his boots, trousers, jerkin, jacket and hat. Over the long winter months he had constantly tossed and turned, spilling his clothes onto the floor.
A loud knock on his door startled him.
Quickly donning his clothes he walked down the passage to his front door.
“Who is it?” Gorin enquired nervously as his forehead furrowed deeply with worry while he brandished a cudgel in his tiny fist. The very loud knocking had clearly unsettled him.
“It’s me,” replied a loud voice.
Gorin, still not yet fully awake asked once more, “Who?”
“It’s me Tellik dear uncle Gorin,” the voice announced.
Gorin carefully opened his door and peered outside. A young and healthy plains ogre towered above him.
“Ah my boy it is so good to see you, how are you?”
Tellik was the product of the birth-planting Gorin had performed when Gemlik gave him the precious seed from his own witch-hazel tree two hundred summers earlier. Gorin had tended the young seedling daily and when Tellik emerged into the world, took it upon himself to school the ogre youngling in the ways of nature and the world.
For the remaining summer months, Tellik carried Gorin wherever he wished to go as the ancient dwarf said farewell to all of his friends among the countless clans. All the while Gorin was looking for that special place where the planting would take place.
One morning in late summer Gorin asked Tellik to lift him high into the oak’s branches, not needing to use his hidden stairway inside the oak’s trunk. As the last leaves turned brown, Gorin finally found the acorn he was looking for.
“It’s time young Tellik. We leave tomorrow morn.”
Tellik, despite his fearsome reputation and great size, shed a tear. While he knew it was his duty to carry the one being in the world he loved beyond all others on his final journey, he dearly wished that he didn’t have to.
The following morning saw Tellik standing on the highest side of Gorin’s valley, tenderly holding the old dwarf, barely alive, in one of his gigantic hands. Gorin opened his eyes one last time to see his ancestor oak finally shed its last leaf.
Tellik obeyed Gorin’s dying wish with tears flowing uncontrollably down his fearsome face. He gently laid the ancient dwarf’s lifeless body on the ground and carefully planted the precious seed acorn before lovingly burying his dearest friend close by in a tiny grave.
The following spring Tellik returned to tend the new sapling. When its dwarf was born, he began to school it, ensuring the continued friendship both ogre and dwarves have for one another and their shared respect for the ancient world in which they live.
As the dwarf youngling grew, his giant ogre friend and teacher continued his schooling until the end of his own days. When Tellik eventually died, it was his dwarf pupil who carried out the ritual birth planting for the next plains ogre as is the way of things.
Carefully clutching Gorin’s bark paged life journal, Wren-feathered quill pen and bottle of blackberry juice ink, he set off on his own life adventure.
His first task was to find his own name.