The Dungeoneers and the associated setting is the product of a tabletop roleplaying campaign created and managed by Tim Richey. These stories are based on that campaign and were written at the behest of both Tim and the players involved.
9 years before Moira's wedding...
The Hearthstone Inn of New Cestin was bustling with life and good spirits, but over at the bar there were three lonely men nursing their beers together in silence. The bartender quietly wiped the counter with a rag, prepared to fill the men's mugs, but otherwise leaving them to their own thoughts. The other patrons sat at their tables, joking and relaxing, but they too gave the men wide berth.
They were Almonzo, Tucker and William, three of the deadliest men in Balanor, and they were hiding from their wives. While a hangout that had been a second home to not only them, but also the women they were married to was not the most inconspicuous place they could go, they didn't want to actually look like they were hiding. This did not change the fact that everyone knew that was exactly what they were doing, but most were too polite or wise to make mention of it.
It had been several hours and the beer had managed to dull the instinct that told them they had crossed that line where the longer they waited, the more trouble they would be in by the time they actually did get home. They felt they were relatively safe as long as they didn't reach the point where their wives had to come and find them.
Earlier, they had complained about how unfair they wives were being, how they had no right to be mad at them for whatever reasons had driven them to flee. After that, once the beer began to loosen them up, they egged each other on, boasting about what they would say to put their wives in their places, knowing full well they would never actually challenge the women they loved with such swagger. Finally they had simply settled into slumping on their stools, sipping from their mugs and staring into space, making no sounds but for the occasional sigh.
Suddenly Moira burst through the front doors and into the bar, her face filled with so much joy the lamps seemed dim by comparison. "I'm getting married!!!" she announced in a frantic, giddy voice. The other bar patrons raised their glasses in a cheer at the news, but the three men at the bar did not move an inch.
The dwarf beamed as the other patrons raised a toast in her honor, then gave a quick, excited giggle before darting back out to find other people to share the news with. Tucker, Almonzo and William slowly turned and looked at each other. No words passed between them but they all slowly nodded in agreement. Without changing his expression, Tucker reached over and took the rag the bartender had been using and began to wipe down the empty stool beside him, cleaning it for the future companion who would occupy it someday.
I hope the immigration of Harborlanders has not presented as much of an administrative strain to you as I myself have seen since they opened their gates. Almonzo's influence in the Mage's Guild has proven concrete, and many of the settlers have sent their children to our school hoping to gain admission. Moira and I have only just recently finished processing the latest batch. There have been over two hundred applications, however most were found unsuitable and we have redirected them to some of your finer military academies. It still comes as a surprise to have our school running at full capacity so soon after having been formed.
I understand the Baron Tucker's exile from Apan has put a slight strain in relations with our neighbors across the ocean. I have spoken with him and he accepts it but says his reasons for goading the noble into a duel were just, and I have to concur. It seems the noble was not well liked so I don't expect you will experience too many difficulties as long as you ensure he does business with them through other channels.
Sir John's Dungeoneers are managing their duties well. They were able to handle the retaking of University Island with a level of skill and efficiency equal to their predecessors. For several months they dealt with pirates and escaped zoo animals, both with a minimum of injuries. Most encouraging, as we've seen in the tournaments, they have displayed a level of teamwork and understanding of each other's abilities that Lady Khana's team never really warmed to.
They are still in Harborland, seeing to it that pirates do not interfere with the coalition of legal merchants that formed after Almonzo said the mages would no longer protect them. The slave quarter of Harborland is no more, and I am glad of the loss. I am confident the region will stabilize within a few years and will keep you abreast of Sir John's progress as news reaches me.
Your friend and servant,
7 years before Moira's wedding...
Whenever Moira gave new students and their parents the tour of Dungeoneer Mansion, she always wore her long red hair in a tight bun. Even amongst humans, she was young at barely more than thirty years and to her fellow dwarves she was still a whelp. She was used to not being taken seriously, so it had come as a great surprise when Sir Nigel asked her to assume the role of Headmistress for the new Adventurer's School. She hoped her hairstyle choice made her look more mature to the humans so that they'd be more willing to accept her authority.
As she led them past the massive double doors of the mansion she began pointing out various features. Certain trivial things, like architectural details, got only a passing mention. Moira focused on important locations like the classrooms, dining hall and sleeping quarters. Time was also devoted to pointing out certain unique amenities such as the haunted broom closet, where George, the illusionary lich would appear and shout "How dare you!" anytime the door was opened. She also pointed out the mansion's defenses and briefed them on what to do if it was ever attacked. This made some of the younger and non adventuring students a little nervous, but Moira assured them that they would be perfectly safe inside the walls of the school.
From there she began introducing them to the staff. She began with the teachers, including Sir Nigel and Zachery Beard, who had signed on full time as instructor of medicine since retiring from active duty as a Dungeoneer. After meeting all the teachers, the students met the rest of the mansion's occupants, most notably dear old Miss Brown, the housekeeper, just in time for the new students to eat the meal she had prepared. Moira was glad of the momentary repast, for the aroma of the food had been distracting the children for the past half hour of the tour.
Once lunch was finished, Moira took them outside to show them more of the grounds of the school. This was where much of their education would take place, from archery to animal handling. Moira herself taught several classes, and often wondered how she found time in the day to squeeze everything in, but somehow she had managed to fulfill her duties to Sir Nigel's satisfaction.
As the tour neared it end, Moira was smiling. This was the fourth time she had brought in new students and while her first few times had been nervous affairs, this one had gone smoothly. She could hardly believe it, but it seemed she was getting the hang of this. Looking at the assembled group, she began to wrap everything up by asking if anyone had any questions.
Just then she was tackled by Dodger, an orangutan she had befriended while in Apan. The ape was playful, rambunctious, and had a habit of getting into trouble at the worst times. Moira struggled to escape from his clutches, yelling curses and forgoing any further efforts to present a dignified front. The children and parents stared in shock as Moira, hair unbound and in complete disarray, held a hand up and said, "It's okay! This really doesn't happen that often!"
It was good to see you at Prince Edwin's wedding. Though we are all glad of his father's rule, when the time comes, Edwin will make a fine Emperor, I am sure. Let us all pray that he and his wife are blessed with child soon so that the line of succession is secure, and, if you will forgive the attempt at humor, so that he is not pressured to quit the Dungeoneers.
If I may be more serious, however, it is my sad duty to inform you that Enshu has been slain while the Dungeoneers were dealing with the giant raids. A mountain giant warlord had captured the daughter of an important fire giant, and he bravely sacrificed his life to rescue her. We will be holding a memorial for him in a few weeks, and we would all be honored if you can attend.
As for the matter of the giants themselves, the hill and mountain giants have been defeated, and the fire giant king has signed the treaty as written. It is a shame an agreement could not be reached on what to do about the orcs, but at least trading can begin again and we have their assurances they will no longer deal in slavery.
I hope you and your family are well, and will write again soon.
Your friend and servant,
5 years before Moira's wedding...
Sara Tucker ran through the woods, gazing with a child's curiosity at the myriad sights that surrounded her, all the while unaware of the frantic search her father was directing for her. She stepped on tiny legs over mossy rocks and chased a butterfly through a tiny glen. Suddenly she heard a twig snap and she froze, looking around. Finding nothing, she continued her pursuit.
A man in ill-fitting leathers peered around a large tree at the little girl. He had a sack with a rabbit he had just poached, but he recognized Sara and decided that if he was patient, an even greater fortune would come his way. Just a little closer...
Sara leapt at the butterfly as it rested against a tree trunk. It flew away from her clumsy swipe and she turned to follow it when the man darted his hand out wrapped it around her chest. She screamed for a second before his hand clamped over her mouth.
"Shush, you," he said, lifting her close. "You'll fetch me a nice hefty rans-" Sara's struggles went from instinctive to violent, and she shook and twisted and kicked at her captor. "Stop, that you! I'm not going to hurt- OW!" Sara bit deep into his hand and he dropped her to the ground. As soon as she was free she began running back into the glen.
The man spat a curse and chased after her. Sara ran as quickly as she could, but she was no match for him and he knocked her to the ground after only a few yards. "You little-!" He yelled as he pulled his knife. "If you want to fight like a rabbit, I'll cut you like one!" He reached down with the knife and Sara's eyes widened as her struggles became desperate. Inches from her neck, he paused at the sound of a deep, menacing growl.
His hands suddenly became very still, and slowly he lifted his eyes toward the source of the noise. Standing just a few yards away was Moira, arms crossed and glaring at him with eyes that projected so much fury he felt the blood drain from his face. Beside her were two of her closest animal friends, Bandit, a wolverine, and Dodger, the orangutan. "Let the girl go," Moira said evenly.
The man leapt to his feet, holding Sara against him like a shield, with his knife close to her face. "Come any closer and I'll kill her!" he warned.
Moira's expression didn't change. She just looked at him and spoke a single word. He felt a slight tingle, but nothing else. When she started walking toward him he tried to thrust his knife against Sara's neck, but his hand moved like it was swimming through honey. He tried to look down and see if something was restraining him, but his head moved just as slowly.
When Moira reached him she calmly plucked the knife from his grasp and lifted Sara into her arms. The tiny four year-old hugged her closely and stared at the man as she was carried away. The man's face slowly assumed an expression of terror as he realized he couldn't even beg for mercy, but when Moira snapped her fingers and the two animals bore down on him he found that he could still scream.
According to the reports I have received, the Dungeoneers' trip to the Savage Lands has been a mix of success and failure. I regret to inform you that the most notable loss has been the sinking of the New Cestin Venture.
Apparently while they were there, word reached them of a rogue dragon leading several genies in attacks and raids. The Dungeoneers, with the help of Baron Tucker, Sir William and Lady Raina, were able to find and slay this dragon and had believed the issue resolved. Sir George concluded his business with the Sultan and they began their journey back to Balanor.
However, while they were sailing home, the "Rude Snail" was ambushed by a pack of dragons, who succeeded in sinking it, but were themselves slain in the process. Dame Raina and her companions returned to the Savage Lands where they managed to slay four young green dragons while Captain Bowshaft and the Dungeoneers salvaged the magical engine. The wreckage had been surrounded by a contingent of kuo-toa, but some aquatic elves living beneath the ocean offered to help and the engine was recovered.
I am pleased to inform you that the keep in Bordertown blocking the pass is nearly finished. The dwarves have been most helpful in this, I only hope that when times grow sour and the giants no longer like the terms of our treaty that it will be enough to keep them out of Westmarch.
Your friend and servant,
2 years before Moira's wedding...
Moira sat at the desk, looking across it at Khana and Raina and wondered how she could slip away without their noticing. "Couldn't we do this later?" she asked them.
"No," Raina said with characteristic bluntness.
Khana looked at the dwarf with a sigh. "Moira, you've already waited seven years. We have to plan this now or everything might not be ready in time."
"What's t' get ready?" Moira said. "Dwarven weddings aren't that dressy. All ye need is to invite everyone, and I did that ages ago. The only real concern is making sure there's enough to eat and drink at the party that follows."
Khana shook her head emphatically. The strawberry blonde half-elf had gotten used to her friend's humility and occasional bouts of low self-esteem, and wasn't about to let her short-change herself on the most important day of her life. "This isn't an ordinary wedding, Moira. This is your wedding. You're the Hero of New Cestin," Moira suppressed the urge to roll her eyes at that. "You're a knight. The King's going to attend, perhaps even the Emperor. They're going to want to see your dream coming to life!"
"Adding a personal touch is part of the tradition," Raina reminded her, taking a sip of her tea.
"Yours will be the biggest wedding since Edwin's," Khana declared, "You're obligated to at least try to make it as spectacular!"
"Are ye daft, woman?" Moira blurted as she squirmed in her seat. "I'll not turn my wedding into a bloody competition!"
Khana waved her off. "It's not competing, it's respect. People will think you didn't even care about it if you make yours drab and boring."
"You'll remember this day for the rest of you're life," Raina said and slid the parchment across the desk toward Moira.
And so their arguments continued, Khana and Raina covering the need from every angle, leaving Moira no room to sneak away and dismissing every objection she could think to voice. The two women had grown up together, knew how to play off each other, and while they didn't have the same level of sisterhood with Moira, they knew exactly which buttons to press to get her to eventually cave.
"You may as well just do it," Raina said. "We're not letting you leave until you do."
"All right, fine!" Moira grumbled, snatching up a feathery quill. She thought for a bit, staring at the parchment, and hoping something would just magically appear on it. Khana and Raina leaned forward in their seats, breathlessly anticipating what she would write. Almost despite herself, Moira made a little "hm" noise as an idea struck her. Her eyebrows lifted and a small smile crept across her face as she slowly dipped the quill downward.
An hour later Raina and Khana were seated at the table, wearing stunned expressions as they watched their dwarven friend, unable to look away. They saw Moira dance the quill along the parchment, giggling a bit maniacally, and realized they had created a monster. With a triumphant gesture, Moira finished listing items and turned towards her friends with a wild gleam in her eyes, and they suddenly changed to the type of grin one presents to a wild dog while feeling around for a rock to throw.
The dwarf displayed the page to Khana and said, "There! It's done! Can ye do it?"
Khana shot Raina a worried glance as she said, "Moira, I-"
"Can. Ye. Do. It?!!"
"Yes!" Khana said helplessly. She could hardly believe this was happening and wondered when exactly they had lost control of the situation. She looked at Raina again and silently mouthed the word, "Doctor?"
Raina shook her head and mouthed back, "Exorcist," earning her a scolding look in return from the half-elf.
Moira gifted them with a goofy little smile and said, "Okay." Handing them the papers she told her friends, "Did ye want to stay a bit longer and chat?"
"No!" Raina and Khana said in unison, immediately following the outburst with weak excuses for why they had to be somewhere else before beating a hasty retreat out of the room. Moira watched them leave and waited until the door was fully shut before bursting into laughter.
The two women were among the few who actually knew about Moira's unusual fondness and talent for pranks and practical jokes, and the dwarf was happy to see she could still catch them off guard. Now that she didn't have them breathing down her neck she walked back to the desk and began to slowly and thoughtfully jot down what she really wanted to do with her wedding.
Please allow me to start this letter with the joyous news of the birth of Sir John and Mary's son Andrew. The boy is healthy and loud. You are of course invited to his baptism next month.
Sir George has recently returned with news of the Worldship we all believed had been sunk. I have included his report with this letter. I have also received word from Lady Raina that she is looking into the rumors of the mysterious rogue called "Silver Claw," in her barony.
Sir John's Dungeoneers have ventured twice into the orc lands to deal with a group of brigands known as the Black Dagger clan, as per the treaty with the fire giants. The first mission was successful, bringing down the base they had erected, but the remnants of the clan managed to kidnap the fire giant king's son and the Dungeoneers were called for again. On the second expedition the Black Dagger clan was completely eliminated
I fear our favor with the fire giants is already beginning to wane and will continue to keep tracking the situation. Until then, may good health continue to stand by your side.
Your friend and servant,
6 months before Moira's wedding...
Moira stared across her desk at Prince Charles and tried to keep a lid on her temper. The boy had been enrolled in the Adventurer's School for less than three weeks and had already crossed the line more than once with the staff and his fellow students. Most had been afraid to even mention it to Moira because of his high rank, but no matter what, order had to be maintained, and discipline had to be enforced when the need called for it.
Punishments were still a difficult matter for the dwarf. The closest thing to children of her own were her animal friends, especially Dodger, but keeping them in line required a far different method. Moira found herself relying on the experienced Miss Brown for advice on how to deal with problem children, and so far it had been an effective strategy. Only twice since the school was opened more than half a decade ago had Moira ever had to deliver a spanking, and this was about to be the third.
The young teenager glared at her with smug defiance. She wondered if he had actually listened to a single word of her lecture. Realizing she was getting nowhere, she decided it was time to proceed to the next stage and rose from her seat. She walked over to a bookshelf and took the switch off the peg from which it hung. "Lay over the chair and drop yer britches," she ordered.
Charles' eyes nearly leapt out of their sockets when she started to approach him. "You wouldn't dare!" he said. "I'm the Crown Prince!"
"Yer a student," Moira clarified. "In my school, and ye'll do as I say.""If you touch me, I'll have you exe-" he paused, not quite bold enough to threaten her with death and instead finished with, "I'll have you banished from the kingdom!"
In a smooth motion Moira lifted Charles off the seat, took his place on it and laid him across her knees. He was shocked at how easily she was able to do it despite his height advantage, and tried to struggle out of her grip, but it was like trying to escape from a vice. "Ye'll take what's coming to ye, and I hope for yer father's sake ye learn yer lesson." With that she hiked his breeches down and smacked his bottom with the switch.
The sudden pain shocked Charles out of his struggles and his head jerked upright. The disbelief was plain on his face as he slowly turned to look at Moira, who continued to hold him down. She brought the switch down again, and against his will, a tear welled up and drifted down his cheek.
Moira somberly looked down at him and said, "Now get to yer room and stay there until tomorrow. Dinnae ever give me a reason to see you in here again, understand?"
Charles slowly nodded, lifted his pants, and fled from the room. Moira heaved a great sigh and returned the switch to its place, hoping she wouldn't have to use it ever again. She then walked to the door to her office and stepped outside. Surrounding the door were more than a dozen students and two teachers, who all stared at her in amazement and a little fear. They had all too obviously been eavesdropping on the punishment and none of them could believe she had dared to spank the Prince.
She waited a moment for them to realize on their own that they were staring at her like idiots. When it became clear they would need her help she said, "Don't ye all have someplace t' be?"
The halls were empty within seconds.
Sir John has informed me that he and his fellow Dungeoneers wish to retire. They say they will be available for emergencies, and are grateful for the service they have provided to the kingdom. They wish to pursue other interests however, and I believe they have earned that privilege. I have asked Thomas to sign on as a regular teacher at the Adventurer's School and he has graciously agreed.
Please inform me if you would like to hold a ceremony to mark their retirement and I will make the arrangements.
Your friend and servant,
1 month before Moira's wedding...
"Oh, Moira. It's beautiful!"
The dwarf smiled at her friends as they admired her in her wedding dress. Modifying it to compliment her short, stout frame had been a challenge for the dressmaker, but the results on display proved it could be done. Moira did a little twirl so they could see it from every angle and Khana and Raina cooed their approval.
Though neither had mentioned it in Moira's presence, both women had been fearful that their friend would request a dress that imitated the animals she admired so much. They half expected her to walk out decked in furs and feathers, and perhaps even scales, something that would have not only been gaudy on a tall, slender woman, but worn by Moira would have inevitably drawn comparisons to a chicken or worse. Surprised and impressed by the actual dress, they found it difficult to stop complimenting her.
The dress was simply astonishing. It enhanced Moira's figure by complimenting her curves while abbreviating the effect of her height, broad shoulders, and muscular features. It was a sleeveless A-line dress with thin shoulder straps and a smooth waist, made of pure satin, and while the bare shoulders were a bit shocking, everyone was forced to admit it looked good on her. Since it was a dwarven ceremony, the color of the dress was not restricted to white, and so instead the dress was a brilliant golden color, accented with silver and jade. Pearls and diamonds decorated the bodice, while the lower half was smooth, given a little body by the short train that barely reached beyond her legs. The shiny fabric was further accentuated by a subtle hint of glitter, such that the dress sparkled in the light. She had golden slippers and shoulder length gloves and her headpiece was a bejeweled, thin crown that lay softly on her head and radiated out from the sides like a fish's sidefins.
Khana rose from her seat to get a better look. "You look like a walking piece of jewelry! Coldsteel's going to love it!" Moira's fiancée was a miner headquartered in Raina's barony, and had a fondness for all the riches of the earth.
Raina also rose, and after admiring the headpiece, asked, "Why no veil?"
Moira shrugged. "Well, I do think it's sweet and all when ye humans do that, but it's nae really part of a dwarven ceremony." The seamstress began examining the fit for any last minute adjustments that might be needed, and Moira shifted to allow her room. "Besides-"
Suddenly the door open and Coldsteel started to walk in, "So, how does my little peach loo-"
Khana and Raina both let out an alarmed shriek and darted between the dwarf and Moira. "Get out! Get out!" they yelled, shooing him back through the door and slamming it shut. Khana spun and braced her back against it, looking at Moira with an expression of pure indignation.
Moira herself was a little surprised, and asked, "What the blazes did ye do that for?"
"It's bad luck," Raina explained earnestly.
Moira looked at them quizzically, and then her expression changed to one of amusement. "Oh, that! Ye silly, daft girls, dwarves don't do that. Now ye've gone and scared the poor dear. Go and fetch him so ye can apologize."
Raina glanced over at Khana. "You go," she said.
"I will not!" the half-elf said indignantly. "You're the one who pushed him."
"Are ye two lasses ever going to grow up?" Moira said, rolling her eyes. "Go, afore I do it and risk tearing this dress." At that comment the seamstress shot the two noblewomen a panicked look and they grudgingly left the room.
Moira sighed. Her friends were as dear to her as always, but they were getting a little too excited about the wedding. "Ye might want to help get me out of this thing afore they get back. If they keep on like this they might just kill him," she said with a sigh.
The seamstress chuckled, but said nothing.
I regret to inform you that we have been forced to expel Prince Charles from the Adventurer's School. We have had numerous difficulties with him in the four months he's been enrolled and while we have tried to work with him to correct his behavior, his most recent violation was too extreme to allow him to remain. We simply cannot tolerate assaults on other students, particularly against non-adventuring students. I hope you understand the need for us to make this decision.
There are some adventuring students who have banded together and have begun referring to themselves as "New Dungeoneers." They are led by Harga, the eldest of them. Also in the group are a half-orc named Mazra, Zampher, the daughter of the local glassblower, Alex Storm and two students who were accepted when the settlers from Harborland arrived; Theida Ralls and Kristin. I'm fairly certain that in a few years they will be joined by Lady Raina's daughter, Alexandra.
Moira has been keeping an eye on them and I shall trust her judgment on which missions to send them on. Until then, be well.
Your friend and servant,
5 days before Moira's wedding...
"So after Baby knocked him into the pit with me I looked at him and said, 'Well, you've caught yourself a Dungeoneer. Now what are you going to do with him?'"
Everyone burst into laughter as Tucker finished his story. Gathered in the dining hall of the mansion were all of Moira's old companions, together in the first full Dungeoneer reunion in ten years, and they had naturally gravitated toward retelling old stories of their exploits together. The feast prepared by Miss Brown was as delicious as ever and Moira found she hadn't stopped smiling since the evening began.
"Well, he eventually answered that question," Almonzo said, lifting his wineglass. "He replaced you."
"That he did," Tucker agreed, smiling. "And John proved a fine leader for his group." He lifted his glass and said, "May they enjoy their retirement as much as we have."
They others drank to that, and Khana looked at Moira and said, "Have you ever considered retiring, Moira? You don't adventure much now anyway."
Moira shook her head slightly. "Aye, I've been busy with running the school, but I still enjoy being a Dungeoneer. Besides, unlike the rest of ye, I've never killed the 'sworn enemy from my past' like the rest of ye did before ye retired."
The others leaned forward in interest. "You never mentioned a sworn enemy," Raina said.
"I don't think I've got one," Moira said with a grin. "I suppose that means I'll never get to retire." She laughed and the others joined in.
"Well spoken," William said. He turned back to Tucker and quipped, "I hear you had another baby last year"
Tucker beamed. "Anya," he said.
"Congratulations," Almonzo said. "That's your fifth so far, isn't it?" Tucker's only response was a proud nod. "You must be running poor Mariko ragged. Perhaps you should bear the next one and give her a break."
"No," Tucker said humorlessly while the others laughed.
Zach got a thoughtful look on his face and said, "I bet if I worked on it I could-"
"No," Tucker repeated, more firmly this time.
Khana looked at Moira and said, "Well, I heard Alex and his friends have begun calling themselves the 'New Dungeoneers.' Any chance they could be the real thing someday?" Khana was always eager for news of her son.
Moira smiled. "Aye, I've taken them on a few trips into the wilderness and they've done well for such wee things. Harga leads them. They just had their first unsupervised adventure last week, as a matter of fact. Poor Theida got a bad case of poison oak." She chuckled a bit and Zach winced at the memory of treating the girl's rashes. "I've told King James and he wants me to reinforce the idea that they're a team. Who knows, maybe in a few years they'll earn their sashes." Her eyes sparkled and she emptied her wine glass. "Now tell me again about that winter ye spent with Daniel Cordaine," she said with a wicked grin.
"An expert on giants," the others said in unison, "Noted in some circles!" They all fell back into laughter as they launched once more into their favorite stories.
The night before Moira's wedding...
All the women in the room applauded as Moira finished unwrapping her last gift and thanked Mary for it. The party was being held at Raina's house while Coldsteel's brother ran the bachelor party, and gifts, food and decorations were everywhere.
"Thank ye, everyone," Moira said. "All yer gifts are lovely."
Khana gave a little smile and said, "Just think, Moira. By this time tomorrow you'll be married! I still don't see how you could wait nine years."
Moira shrugged. "I feel as if things are rushed as they are. I'm not even as old as most dwarven courtships last, and I certainly never expected to fall in love so young."
Princess Allison, Edwin's wife, piped in with, "Oh, tell us about when you knew you were in love," and the other women nodded their agreement.
A softness fell over Moira as she summoned the memory. "It was the first time I saw him after our trip to Apan. He was just returning from the mines, covered in dirt and sweat, and he saw me and waved hello. He started greeting Bandit like always when he noticed Kone. He'd never seen a crane before and thought she was just lovely. It was the first time I'd ever seen him honestly admire an animal, rather than putting effort into it in order to impress me. I knew that at that moment he'd caught a glimpse of what I feel every day, and that's when I fell in love with him."
The others nodded their approval at the story, except Sakura, one of the former servants who'd been brought over from Apan, who asked, "What happened next?"
Moira chuckled. "Dodger decided he wanted to wrestle Coldsteel and caught him completely off guard. He tried to play it off, but I could tell how upset he was."
Everyone laughed and Raina said, "Men are such bad liars."
Khana, still excited about the future, decided to ask, "So, how soon do you plan to have children?"
"I dinnae know," Moira said. "I haven't really thought about being a mother. I'm not sure I'm ready yet. Maybe in forty or fifty years. No more than a hundred." This drew a flurry of protests from her friends, who all wanted to hold a dwarven baby in their hands before they were using canes to stand with. When the objections finally settled, Moira finally decided to venture with a question she was a little nervous about. "Actually, since we're near the subject, I was wondering if any of ye had some advice for the wedding night."
The other women stopped and stared at her in complete silence until Raina blurted, "You're kidding, right?"
Moira blushed a little and said, "I wouldnae joke of such things. I was hoping ye'd have some advice for a new bride."
Mary, just as stunned as the others, said, "Just do what you always do, except hug him more."
The blush deepened. "Ye dinnae understand," she said. "I'm... I've never..."
"Oh my God!" Raina exclaimed, and Khana herself was too shocked at Moira's admission to chide her friend for taking the Lord's name in vain. "How is that possible? You've been engaged for nine years!"
"So?" Moira said, becoming defensive. "All of ye went to yer wedding beds as virgins, didn't ye?"
The women glanced at each other. Some had guilty expressions, while others simply looked amused. All of them shook their heads and said some reluctant version of "No," with Allison adding, "Don't get us wrong, we think it's okay to wait for the wedding night, but we wouldn't have waited nine years!"
Moira just looked at them helplessly. "Please?" she asked.
The women began to all speak at once. "It's all about-"
"What you need to do first is-"
"Edwin loves it when I-"
"Don't worry about-"
"Mariko, you do that?!"
"My favorite is-"
"If anything goes wrong, just-"
Moira held her hands up and said, "One at a time, please! I cannae understand a word any of ye are saying!"
"Sorry," Mary said sheepishly, before taking the initiative. The rest of the night progressed with the ladies taking turns with their advice, and Moira listening with interest, until the hours grew heavy and the moon hung low in the horizon.
The day of Moira's wedding was clear and sunny, the grass lush and green, and a gentle, cooling breeze flowed happily through the clearing. The guests had gathered around the central lake of the New Cestin Animal Preserve. They had been encouraged to bring their favorite pets, and a veritable menagerie of animals stood alongside their masters in the massive gathering. At the edge of the lake sat the animals who lived in the park, predators on one side, herbivores on the other, and thanks to the efforts of Thomas and others, all the animals were perfectly behaved.
In the center of the lake was a massive floating platform covered in summer flowers of red and gold and ringed with wrought iron figurines representing several animals in gentle poses. Waiting on the platform were King James, Coldsteel, his brother, Tucker, Almonzo, Raina and Khana, all dressed in their finest. A full orchestra played for the audience, one of the largest that had ever assembled in Westmarch, full of common folk and nobility alike, as well as every dwarf living in Brunde and the neighboring baronies. The little hill that sloped from the lake gave everyone a suitable view of the event, and they patiently awaited Moira's arrival.
Then, from the south came Nimbus, flying low, and riding on him was little Sara Tucker, wearing an elaborate dress of white and silver. Both she and the dragon she rode wore wreaths of flowers, and as they circled over the crowd she showered them with petals thrown from her basket. Slowly, he settled onto the platform and Sara stepped off and took her place next to Khana.
After Nimbus took his place at the top of the hill, Baby and Snowfeather appeared. The roc and giant owl glided toward the platform with Sir Nigel proudly riding the first and Moira demurely astride the other, sidesaddle. They flew together with precision, and when they reached the platform, Baby gently settled down while Snowfeather hovered above it. Once Sir Nigel had dismounted and Baby had gone to join Nimbus, Moira was finally brought to the platform, where she slid off the owl's back to murmurs of appreciation from the crowd. As Snowfeather flew off, Moira took Sir Nigel's arm and they approached the King.
"Who gives this woman away on this day, to be married to this man, Coldsteel Ironbeard?" The king intoned.
"I do," responded Sir Nigel, giving the king a brief nod and stepping away. Moira then walked up to Colsteel and stood beside him. Her long red hair had been wound into a "V" shaped bun hinged at the base of her neck, with two locks of hair kept loose to frame her face. She smiled at the dwarf, and he smiled back.
King James gave each a brief look, and continued. "Dame Moira Redforge and Coldsteel Ironbeard, step forward and pass the chain. At their feet, toward the King, was a long, thick chain, with the crest of each clan engraved onto a small plaque within the end links. After they stepped over it, Tucker and Coldsteel's brother took the ends of the chain and brought them around, forming a loop around the couple. Then Almonzo approached, and the King said, "This chain, once forged together, will represent the bond you two have also forged. Take hold of it now if you wish to continue."
The two did as instructed, taking the chain in their hands as the Tucker and the dwarf stepped away. Almonzo reached into a pocket in his robes and withdrew a link, made of the same strong steel as the chain, but painted gold. He slowly hooked each side of the chain to the link and then incanted a few words. The link grew red hot in his grasp but he was unburned, and he gently pressed the link until it was fused and the chain became one. He stepped away and Moira and Coldsteel slowly lowered the ring of chains back to the ground.
"You are now one family," The King said. "Step out of the ring, that the world may greet you." Hand in hand, they walked out of the ring, and the crowd began to cheer. Unseen by anyone, the ghost of Moira's mother watched the ceremony, and a field of magic radiated before her like an eye. Miles away, in the high northern mountains of the dwarven lands, Duncan Redforge sat on a stone ledge with his second wife, hands clasped together. Projected onto the rock wall across the chasm was the image of the ceremony.
"Thank ye, Mary," he whispered. As a small tear rolled down his cheek, his wife gave his hand a little squeeze.
40 minutes after Moira's wedding...
The dwarves attending the wedding had pulled the party into full swing, and the humans were making a good effort to keep up with them. Moira gazed into her husband's eyes and smiled. She never wanted the day to end.
Coldsteel's brother rose and offered a toast to the new couple, and everyone lifted their glasses. Moira hardly heard a word of it. She soon realized, however, that she could not stay in her own private world forever, as just about everyone wanted to stop by and congratulate her. Moira politely spoke with each of them while patiently waiting for the time when the party could continue without them.
The wait would be long. Cakes had to be cut, more toasts had to be offered, and silly little games had to be played. At one point Khana thrust a bouquet into Moira's hands and instructed her to toss it to a crowd of unmarried women gathered together. The young dwarf good naturedly did as she was bid and turned her back, tossing the flowers high over her shoulder. Sara was the one who caught it, though the precocious nine year-old deliberately knocked down two women twice her age to do it. It took much more prodding to get Coldsteel to do the same with the men, but moments later an extremely embarrassed young Prince Etienne was the new owner of a frilly garter.
While Moira and Coldsteel were allowed to slip away before the evening was done, the party itself lasted four days. The dwarves kindly chose not to extend the celebration further, to which the exhausted humans were grateful.
1 year after Moira's wedding...
"Hold the bow steady, Alexandra, and focus on the target," Moira said to Raina's daughter. The girl squinted and loosed her bow, sending the arrow flying through the air. The shaft imbedded itself into the target, just about two rings away from the center. "Good, yer improving. Try it again."
Just then one of Thomas' students ran up and said, "Dame Moira! There are two men here to see you. I think they're druids!"
Druids? Moira thought. What business did they have with her? "All right, Brian. Tell them to wait in my office. I'll be along in a minute," she said. She rubbed her back and thought that it might be nice to sit down anyway. The pregnancy had taken her by surprise, but she had been delighted at the news, or at least, she had been delighted ten months ago. Now that she was weeks away from giving birth she just wanted it to be over with. Humans certainly had it easy with their shorter pregnancies.
It took her longer than she expected to waddle her way back to the mansion, but she found the druids waiting patiently in her office and she slowly eased herself into her seat. "Sorry to have kept ye waiting," she said.
The men introduced themselves, and the taller one, who seemed to be in charge, wasted no time in getting to the reason for their visit. "We came as soon as we heard you were with child."
Moira's expression darkened, and she said, "How does my being pregnant come as any concern of yers?"
The elder druid said, "We have discovered that your family line is very old, and will play an important role in future events. We believe you are the on who figures most prominently in that role."
This had not been the first time someone had told Moira in cryptic terms that she was somehow special. Ever since she had found out that her father feared for his family's safety because of it, though, she had stopped trying to uncover the secret. She gave them both a hard look and said, "What future events? What do ye know? Are ye the reason my Pa doesn't want me returning? Tell me!"
The smaller druid shook his head and said, "These things we do not know. The truth will be revealed at the proper time, but we know that your mother comes from a very old and powerful dwarven clan and you have inherited her legacy."
"What are ye talking about?" Moira said. "She had three other children before I came along. What makes ye so sure I'm the one yer looking for?"
"Because you are her only daughter," the elder said. "The line runs through the women, and that is why we are concerned. If you have a daughter, she may not be old enough to handle her responsibility when the time comes. We are prepared to train you, however. All we ask is that you let us perform a ritual to determine the gender of your child."
Moira leaned forward in her seat and slowly lifted herself out of it. She had heard enough. "You keep yer filthy magic off of my baby! If yer so hot to know the gender I'll have Doctor Beard check it and send ye a message. After that I want ye off of these grounds."
The younger druid seemed ready to object, but the elder placed a hand on his shoulder. "We understand, and apologize for upsetting you." They rose to leave when he paused and said, "Oh, have the elves contacted you yet?"
Moira tracked his every move as she said, "Narry a word."
"Good," he said, satisfied. "They are fools. Please avoid them if you can." With that he and his companion left and Moira allowed herself to return to her padded chair. This legacy was really starting to grate on her nerves.
5 years after Moira's wedding...
Moira listened patiently as Sir Nigel and Almonzo explained the situation, but she was very upset with what they were saying. There were two potential threats on the horizon, one which threatened the Empire, the other potentially the whole world, and plans were being put into motion to address both of them. Moira herself knew very little of some of the things they mentioned; the Kaimerion Empire, the Dracone Realm, the World Eater. Still, all these things were clearly very serious and she tried to understand as much as she could.
They only had the beginnings of a plan, but certain things had already been set into motion and they wanted to know what role Moira wanted to play. The king of Blackmoor was of Kaimerion blood, and long ago his ancestors had challenged the Empire with ruthlessness and fanaticism. The line had been generally lost for centuries, and their fear was that this king would raise another such army. Were he to do that, the end result would certainly be the bloodiest war in the history of Balanor. It had been decided that the best way to avoid this was to ferret out the nobles who would side with Blackmoor and deal with them before an army could be raised.
The other threat was the World Eater, of which the mages of University Island knew little, but what they had learned was deeply troubling. According to the ancient texts they had discovered, the World Eater was some kind of force, a being of immense power that traveled between worlds and violently consumed all the magic on it, leaving much of the rest of the planet dead in the process.
The plans to deal with both of these situations involved an elaborate, and risky game of politics, church policy, and subterfuge. Moira believed she could handle this. She'd done something similar when she played at being a guard and mercenary when the Dungeoneers invaded Pirate Isle, but she had other concerns.
"My husband and son," she said. "I want yer assurances they'll be protected. I'll understand if they're caught in the path of a general uprising, but I'll have yer words that they'll not be targeted specifically as a result of my choices here tonight, or I'll pack them up and we'll hide in the mountains with the Ironbeards."
Sir Nigel gave her a serious look. "You know that if this is as serious as we think it is, they won't be safe, even there, and we need your help in this."
"Then ye'd best give me yer word. If ye think I'm being unreasonable, ye'll not like to see me if one of them falls to an assassin's blade," Moira said, refusing to budge.
Almonzo looked at Sir Nigel and nodded. "All right, Moira," he said. "You have our promise. Now, shall we go over the details of what you'll be doing?"
Alex's Dungeoneers have grown slightly since you commissioned them. Baron Tucker's daughter, Sara, has joined the group. She is only fourteen and she clashes with the others on a regular basis, but they have allowed her to join because she was causing more problems by being excluded and they hope some real world experience will modify her attitude.
Now that they are operating on their own, I am redirecting my work toward the situations of Blackmoor and the World Eater. I continue to receive reports from University Island and they have not alleviated my concerns. I have chosen a few students who seem good prospects for the new group Moira will lead, and they should be ready within a year, I expect.
I have also been told that far from here is a boy who has been raised by some of Damien Luger's surviving followers. This boy may actually be his son, and if so, some action will need to be taken to contact him, assuming he hasn't been fully corrupted already.
There is still much to do and the information is scarce, but we do not know how much time we have to accomplish our goals. All we know is that these fears we have kept are no longer "ifs" or "maybes." It is starting.
It is starting, and we must be ready. We will be ready.
Your friend and servant,