When journeying through the desert wastes or the desolate northern mountains, occasionally the traveler will meet an archer armed with the rarest of bows, the dwarven steelbow. The wielder is sure to be a warrior of distinction, for the steelbow is a rare treasure and a weapon for the heroes of legend.
These carefully forged weapons are only found in desolate regions, where the hardwoods most suitable for tillering bows are rare and precious imports. Typically shorter and more deeply curved than the wooden bows wielded in more fertile lands, their increased weight and great expense have caused these bows to be the unique prerogative of champions and master archers.
Dwarven steelbows can only be produced by a specially-trained master of his craft; they require many long days of careful shaping and tempering to produce a weapon that will bend and spring without eventually losing its shape and power, or worse, cracking and shattering when drawn. The masterful archers that wield these weapons are generally men of great skill and resolve; only the most powerful of archers have the strength to draw them.
Origins of the Dwarvish Steelbow: The Legend of Tor-Gonesh
The origins of these bows are lost to myth and legend. The ancient tales speak of master smiths toiling deep in the Earth, perfecting a weapon unlike the unyielding swords and axes they first devised. In the eternal darkness beneath the mountains’ roots, these primal smiths found the secrets of metal both hard and supple, metal that would flex and spring, metal that would achieve what could once be done only with wood and sinew. The old tales relate how the secret of the metal bows was held for centuries, until the day when the ancient dwarves made alliance with humanity and shared their lore with the greatest of the smiths of men.
Whether the aged legends deserve credence or not, some few bows survive from the ancient past to remind folk of the old tales. The most ancient of all these weapons are a matched set of eight perfectly crafted bows; each wrought of richly blued steel inlaid with enigmatic runes of bright gold. According to legend, these bows were the legacy of Tor-Gonesh, greatest of the dwarven craftsman. The tales say how in his 120th year, the wise craftsman withdrew from his people, declaring that he would return only if the gods would give him a sign of their favor.
The smith returned from his solitude four years later, on the very day that the first of humanity’s great kings, Senach I, announced victory over his foes and successfully unified the splintered land under his rule. Tor-Gonesh announced that he had been granted the sign he sought and gathered his most skillful apprentices (Each more knowledgeable than a master of any other craft), inviting them to join him in a quest for perfection. They cloistered themselves within the most ancient of the dwarves’ secret places, a sanctum for the mastery of the secrets of metal.
Long years passed without word, until the human king held a great gathering to celebrate the eighth anniversary of his rule. Without fanfare, Tor-Gonesh appeared with his apprentices. After announcing that each of his apprentices had now proven himself a master of his art, the master smith presented the king with eight perfect bows of gleaming steel, one for each of the monarch’s sons. No one truly knows whether the tale is true or a mere tale to inspire apprentices, but the perfect bows remain.
The Steelbows of Senach
Each of these flawless weapons is adorned with nocks and a grip crafted of gilt bronze, each engraved with the image of an ancient hero or mighty ruler. Much of the ancient gold has worn away in the centuries since, but the gilt details display signs of diligent care and restoration. Each of the bows easily breaks down into two pieces, one end socketing into the other along a seam at the top of the bow’s golden grip. The archaic runes running the length of the ancient bows appear to make no sense, but when the bow is viewed in bright sunlight, the deeply blued steel reveals additional runes hidden in the depths of its finish, runes that complete the message of the golden runes. Each of the eight bows has its own unique riddle; one of the riddles could be loosely translated as follows:
The lords of the air / Drop me in their path / A gift to a branch / To teach it to fly
(Common Answer: A feather / fletching)
Not all the riddles relate to archery, however:
Deep have I searched on hidden roads / Reaching beneath for my host’s need / My heart above striving to rise / My rich clad host reach for the sun
(Common answer: A tree)
Over the years, many have speculated that the bows’ riddles hold hidden meanings. Some theorize that they tell the location of hidden treasure, while others believe that the runes hold other messages, waiting for the right light to reveal them.
Of course, less impressive examples of the bowsmith’s craft are also found. A skilled smith or archer can easily distinguish these bows from the true “dwarven” design. They are often slightly warped or cracked, with uneven draw and reduced range. Some will even shatter if drawn in cold weather or struck by another weapon. For all their flaws, these bows may actually be easier for an inexperienced archer to use: They often have a weaker draw strength and weigh less than the dwarven steelbows. Unscrupulous merchants will sometimes attempt to foist these inferior weapons on unsuspecting buyers, trusting that very few customers have the experience to distinguish the difference and even fewer could prove that the bow before them is other than what the merchant claims.