( Bit of a short story this one. Sorry. )
She had heard of the majesty of the dwarven holds but to see it for herself gave the stories no justice.
To see the city carved inside the mountain with it's many roads and bridges, lights and busy merchants. As she looked up to the ceiling she saw bright crystals illuminated the inside of the mountain much like a small sun. Other jewellery was embedded on the walls and the street art from Forge Urchins. Stalls were brimming with goat hides, meat, gryphon cloaks. All of it was so...vibrant, warm, alive. A far cry from the dull, dark and cold depiction she had when her grandmother told her of homeland.
"Coolcraig is a terrible place. A city who lost it's grandeur centuries ago and where backstabbing and ambition have replaced the virtues of honour and the feeling of a hard day's work." she said as she was busy cutting a tree." That is why I left and made a life here with our people."
She placed her ax to the side as the young gnome listened to her dwarven grandmother." Gnomes always appreciate hard work and fun. They life in harmony with the forest, for every tree we pull down to make our homes and keep us warm, we plant another in it's place. Dwarven miners just keep digging and digging, tearing the earth apart. They will destroy everything in due time."
But young Mara of the Mushroom Leapers tribe did not see this dreaded destruction. She saw the gems and roes of the earth being remade into something new. From a crude black ore, forge smiths turned it into a piece of armour. Pick axes picked at the stone until a bridge was made connecting one side of the mountain to the other. Everywhere she looked she saw people working hard and there was order in the streets.
"Like what you see, Miss Mara?" her escort asked. She looked to the dwarven male and nodded." It's quite....different from what I was expecting."
"I bet." he replied and motioned her to follow him towards the massive citadel up ahead that towered over the smaller buildings inside the mountain." Still, you gnomes still have some gifts left coming from the children of the stone."Mara looked puzzled until he motioned to her scythe." Good quality metal there and well made. Did you make it?"
She shook her head." The blacksmith did. He makes everything. Axes, scythes, nails. We use the same ore your merchants give us."
The guard smiled." Good, I was afraid the elves changed your ways to much."
This made Mara frown." How do you mean?"
He looked surprised and his face showed instant regret at having summoned the fury of the small gnome. "Well with you living in forests and all that."
"The elves are a kind and wise people, they showed us how to life in harmony with the forest. We may not have these cobbled streets or bright crystals but we have tree houses, bridges over the foliage and we know which mushrooms and herbs are poisonous or can save your life."
This made her escort's face sour." Fat chance it does against the Blight now does it?"
Mara's felt guilty. Here she was marvelling at the city sights as her home was being destroyed by the undead horde. Dark Garden had fallen when she was send off as a emissary to the dwarven kingdoms, how much of the forest still remained whole? Was her village still safe?
She felt a heavy hand on her shoulder." I'm sorry lass, my inner forge burns hot at times. Come, the Mountain King will hear you and I am certain that we will help your kin."
"You sure?" Mara smiled.
"Aye, Gnomes are still children of the stone. Dain himself said that we have to help each other in good times and ill. We're like the rock of the mountain, we stand together or the whole mountain collapses."
"I'm still a rock?" she asked.
"Aye." her escort replied." Just...a bit covered in moss is all." he smirked.
The duo made their way past the busy streets and made their way towards the citadel. Two sentries stood in between them." Halt, who goes there?"
"I am Frolgar Axehamerer." the escort said." This is-"
Mara stepped up." Mara of the Mushroom Leapers, emissary of the gnomish and elven people send by Prince Halmadir himself! I demand a audience with the Mountain King!"
The two sentries looked to one a other before giving a hearty chuckle." My, my, a real fire cracker this one." one said." Her inner forge is brimming over!"
"Come on in, Mara of the Burning Shrooms!" the other jested." The mountain king is expecting you."
The sentries stepped aside and allowed them entry. Frolgar thanked them before leading Mara inside the citadel. Much like the city outside, the citadel was busy. Servants were cleaning the hallway as large statues of previous mountain kings decorated the sides. The gnome noticed a few paintings hanging on the wall showing different kinds of vistas. Such as mountains, rivers, human nobles and their hounds and...a naked woman who was laid down on a long, red bed and only had a book to cover her modesty. This made Mara look away with blushing cheeks much to Frolgar's amusement.
"A gift from Lord Darren Verelden of Queenspark." her escort replied." As thanks for the dwarven people's sacrifice to hold back the Blight masses twenty or so years ago."
"Whose..." Mara motioned to the naked brunette.
"Oh, his mistress if I recall correctly."
"....humans are weird."
"I know." Frolgar nodded in agreement." But come, the throne room is up ahead."
The throne room was, much like everything dwarven, large. Mara guessed the large room was roughly half the size of the citadel. Held up by mighty pillars as a massive throne was placed in the middle. The walls to her sides were covered in mosaics, plated with different types of steel of vibrant colours. To the throne's right was a large book that was held up by a bookcase shaped like a gryphon. The book of grudges, Mara recalled from her grandmother' stories. Each dwarven king owned one, detailing back to the foundation of his thaig and detailed every slight an enemy of the dwarven people had committed on them. Guessing since the book was half open, the dwarves were holding a lot of grudges.
Frolgar spoke to one of his kin who nodded and motioned them to follow.
A dozen eyes followed her every move as they came closer to the massive throne. This was it, her journey was nearly at a end. Now awaited the hardest job of all, asking the king to help her people.
Nerves were getting to her. She looked to Frolgar who gave her a smile and a assuring nod. She returned the smile and stepped forward.
The court fell silent as the gnome approached, the dwarven nobles moving aside.
The dwarf Frolgar spoke to said aloud." Your highness, Lady Mara of the Mushroom Leapers."
Mara looked up to the figure sat at the throne. Much like the city, even the mountain king surprised her.
She was expecting a old dwarven male with a yellow beard reaching his belt, covered in trinkets and a gryphon's cloak draped around his shoulders. Instead she saw a young queen draped in trinkets, rings, necklaces and a gryphon cloak coloured blue. The queen gave Mara a kind smile but there was no mistake, this queen was every inch a rightful monarch as her male counterparts.
"I am Freya, daughter of Hadgar Dainson and Mountain King of Coolcraig. Come forth, Lady Mara and tell me, how fare our cousins in the forests?"
"A-apologies your highness." Mara excused." But I thought you would be..." she couldn't finish the sentence.
Freya smirked." A woman. Yes, Mountain Kings can be of both sexes although we are both called King. Women are just as capable of ruling as men but I believe you are not here for a lecture." the queen placed her arms on the arm rests of her iron throne." I believe I asked you a question?"
Mara nodded." My people, your cousins, are in danger your majesty. The undead Blight has come from the south and swallowed everything whole. The forest kingdoms are in danger and Prince Halmadir has asked me to ask the noble people of Coolcraig for aid."
"Look at this, the point ears are asking us for aid and they don't even bother sending one of their own!" One of the noblemen shouted.
"Let the blight come, our holds held against the trolls they can hold against some rotting corpses!" a noblewoman shouted.
"Hang the elves and their gnome pets!" Another added to which a large ruckus erupted amongst the court. Mara tried to speak but every time she tried her voice was overwhelmed and stayed close to Fralgor when things chairs were coming off to be thrown around. She looked pleadingly to the queen.
Freya let it continue for a while before she picked up her mace from beside her throne and slammed it hard on the ground." SHUT IT!" the room fell silent." Good. Lady Mara, why did Prince Halmadir send you?""
Mara sighed with relief and spoke." Because us gnomes are kin to you. He knew a elf could only expect a closed gate if they asked for help. He came to us as a friend, not as a ruler. We gnomes are still children of the stone and we only answer to ourselves. But the Blight is coming, your majesty." she looked to Frolgar who nodded at her. She smiled back before she turned to the Mountain King. "Now more than ever must we realize it's not just dwarves but also gnomes, elves, humans, orcs, trolls, goblins that are stones in this mountain. We either stay together or we will all collapse."
The court muttered in their beards at this, some even grumbled, but all fell silent when the Mountain King slammed her hammer down once more, more gently this time.
"I hear you, Lady Mara. You are not the first who mentioned news of the blight to us. Years before my father was told of the Blight and choose to ignore it....it was I who had to slay him when he returned as Lord of Destruction." she motioned her hammer to the book of grudges." I added the name of the Blight in the book and I am all to willing to scratch that name out of it." the Mountain King stood up." Let it be known throughout Coolcraig, Forgotten Echo, Kingspass and every village in between. We are going to war! We are going to save our kin, smash this undead horde into a pulp and show the point ears how it's done!"
This made the court cheer and Mara's heart soar. She turned to Frolgar who cheered at her before she pulled him to her and kissed him deeply on his bushy lips. Now it was his turn to have reddened cheeks.
Mara's smile faded when she realized something." It will take weeks for a army to gathered...and the march will take months!"
A heavy hand fell on the gnome' shoulder. She turned and saw the Mountain King as Freya smiled." Don't you fret, we will be in time to save your woods."
A week later, a dwarven host marched. But not through the mountains as Mara had feared but underground.
Long tunnels that connected the dwarven realms allowed the Mountain King to rally her armies and march towards the edge of their realms towards the woods.
"Mountain Kings have knowledge of these routes." Freya said to Mara as they marched through the tunnels." Our ancestors build these generations ago to keep close ties with the nearby other dwarves and to rush to each other's aid. It seems fitting we would use it now to help our forest dwelling kin."
"My thanks, your highness....I don't think Prince Halmadir actually thought you would come to help us or if you did only send a token force."
The gnome looked back as a army of Hammers, Blunderbusses and Winged Warriors were spurred on by Gryphon standard bearers and horns." But this...."
"Here's one thing you can always expect from a dwarf, young Mara." the Mountain King pulled her close." Us dwarves will do anything in our power to upstage an elf." she gave the gnome a wicked grin which the gnome returned.
The dwarven host left the tunnels as were greeted by the sunshine. Undeterred the dwarves marched as the sun beat down on them. Frolgar wiped his forehead and placed his helmet back on. Mara offered him her drinking flask which he gladly took and drank from.
"Ta." he thanked her." Not used to marching above ground..."
"You could've stayed at Coolcraig." Mara teased.
"And not be able to crack some skulls alongside a beautiful woman? You must be jesting." he replied.
Mara took the flask back." When my ma said to take a man back home, I'm not sure this is what she meant."
"I'll do my best to impress then."
Freya called the company to halt as they neared Buffs Wood. In the distance they saw the forest was being corrupted, losing their leaves while fall was still half a year away, as the sounds of battle sounded. The Mountain King pulled out a binocular and saw elves trying to fight off the undead horde. Elven steel, arrows, Gnomish steel and Ents did their best but it was evident they would lose. She saw the banner of Prince Halmadir fluttering bravely against the tide.
"Prince Halmadir stands alone..." Mara whispered sadly.
"No, not alone." Freya lowered her binocular and pulled a general to her." Sound the attack."
The Stout general saluted and motioned to the Gryphon Horn. A long, heavy bass tone rolled over the woods which made both the elves and undead horde turn their heads.
Mountain King Freya drew her hammer and gave out a mighty battle roar and charged forward, followed by the dwarven host. Mara drew her scythe and ran alongside Frolgar as they followed their Mountain King into battle.
Dwarven steel and gunpowder met rotting flesh as the dumbstruck elves saw their rescuers were the stout people of the mountains.
Their prince was the first to snap out of the surprise." Sons and daughters of the wilds, with me!"
The battered elves took up their prince's cry and charged alongside their unexpected saviours.
Mara sliced undead elven heads and arms off, her back to Frolgar who bashed skulls in with his shield and mace. When they had a small moment, one would look towards the other and giving a knowing look and a eternal vow, one way or another they both would make out of this alive.
A hundred years later, a statue was build on that battleground. Elven, dwarven and human citizens go around their business in the town every day as the statue of a female gnome watches over and salutes them.
'To Mara of the Mushroom Leapers and House Axehamerer, for whom none of us would be here.'