'Listen close, my audience, and ye shall hear of the tragic tale of Thrall and Yola, two dwarves in love. Mistakes were made, and honor bound their fates, for one shall kill the other. In the depths of the Hotaxe clan's mines, blood shall stain the pure love of Thrall and Yola.'


The rhythm of the dwarven miner's pickaxes provided the beat for their worksong as they strove for the black stone known as firerock by the dwarves, and coal by the humans. The song wafted through the tunnels and old veins of firerock up towards the Hotaxe clan's village. This village, set at the mouth of the mine, was a wonder to behold. With neighborhoods carved into the mountain's face, the whole thing demonstrated dwarven architectural and urban ingenuity. The bottom neighborhoods were markedly less interesting than the ones toward the top of the village. The homes at the bottom were drab, practical, one-storied structures that suited the common dwarf's needs. The ones at the top, however, approached the idea of a palace with a calculating eye and left behind the idea of a stately manor in the only way dwarven architecture can. These higher ones had the balconies and glassed-in windows and flower gardens and draping ivy that the bottom ones, and even the middle homes, lacked. Where the bottom ones had a stout wood door, the higher ones had a fancy, extravagant, paper-thin door of gold and silvers. Where the bottom ones had a thatch roof, the higher ones had a roof of glass, so the sleepers could look up at the stars.

The town bell rang twice. Twice to signal the workday is done. And the song of the miner's ended as they streamed out to their homes at the bottom of the hill, like a stream of ants. But one dwarf excuses himself from his miner friends. He claims he has to go buy bread. And so Thrall Ironspear walks away from his fellow miners in the direction of the store. Thrall strolls through the pleasant streets of Hotaxe with a happy gait that should be missing from a tired miner. He passes the food market with nary a glance, and heads up the hill with a smile itching to break free. Thrall bears wonderful news, news that is almost bursting to break free of his head. But Thrall, even so, slows when he nears his destination. He must not be seen. But Thrall has found a special path, a secret path, that almost too easily brings him to his destination unknown. Under the fence here, dog biscuit to the Ashkeeps there, crawl through the bushes here, and a quick roll past the flower garden there, and Thrall is at his destination- the backyard of the Goldenaxes.

Thrall looks up, waiting, impatience in his eye. The news is too joyous to remain within him for too much longer. He waits in silence, however. The words parade themselves through his brain in a euphoric step. And then he feels something gently touch his shoulder, and he almost screams in surprise. He spins around, and there she is.

Yola Goldenaxe has been called the most beautiful dwarven girl the world has ever seen. She is certainly the most beautiful girl in the Hotaxe clan. And it was she that Thrall had come to see, and was gazing upon now.

Yola smiled (and Thrall's heart fluttered), and beckoned him to follow. They went behind a tall bush, out of sight of the rest of the Goldenaxes.

'Oh, how I have missed you, Thrall!' Yola said,

'And I, you. I have great news Yola,' Thrall began. 'We've found a new vein of Firerock. The others are saying that this is a big one. If this pans out, I'll finally have enough to buy you off your father. It may be another week till we can marry.'

'This is great news, Thrall! I can barely wait another week. '

'Soon, my love. Soon we can be together. It has been a long time coming. Do you remember when we met?'

The pair smiled at each other, remembering the day at the lake. Thrall had been hunting, and had followed a deer down to the shore. Yola had been gathering flowers for a circlet. They pair had talked on the shore of the southern lake. Though Thrall never did catch that deer, he did manage to get a flower. Thrall felt that Fate had given him a deal heavily lopsided in his favor. That day they had met. That day they had fallen in love.

And then, as if to cut the pair's talk far too short, Madame Goldenaxe called out: 'Yola? It is time to eat.'

'If only we could have more time. Goodbye, my love. Goodbye, Thrall.'

Yola tore her gaze away from Thrall and walked into the manor. Thrall stood there a bit longer, basking in the remaining perfume Yola wore. But then he started his walk back his own home. Down the streets with the sun at his back, passing by friends and neighbors. He turned right close to the bottom of the village, and walked up the to his house. His house stood tall and dark. Unlike the other houses near his, Thrall had a two-story house, with windows of glass. But the paint on the wood was peeling, and the recently-appearing cracks between boards were closed with bits of old shirts. Thrall sighed as he walked up the once-appealing way. The Ironspear fortunes did not used to be like this. The family used to be a respected member of the community. Thrall walked down the Corridor of Portraits. His ancestors glared at him from the paint and paper. He knew each of their stories. There was the first Ironspear. He had joined the Hotaxes two centuries ago. He was the one who revolutionized the firerock industry, and drove harder and faster and deeper for new veins of the stone. He built up the family fortunes. And here was Renar Ironspear. A century ago, it was under his hand that the family fortunes declined. He spent most of his time making a statue for the god Melethan. But Renar was driven to making this statue absolutely perfect, and in doing so, wasted much of his life and the family's money. Thrall paused by his grandfather's portrait. Throns Ironspear was a gambler. He was addicted to it, but was not the best at it. He gambled at Four Forges (Four Forges: a simple board game played by Dwarves), and lost the fortune. Thrall paused again at the last on in the corridor. Unlike the other portraits, this was only a sketch, a piece of paper tacked to the wall. It was his father. Growing up with no money, his father had gone down into the coal mines to make ends meet. But his father had his vice, too- and that was alcohol. Each night, his father would drink himself into a drunken state, a feat that required much more alcohol than for a human, and much, much more than for an elf. And in doing so, he drank away the remainder of the money Throns Ironspear had left, and most of the money that he made in the mines. Thrall's father had died from an accident in the mines.

Thrall Ironspear had raised himself. With no father, and his mother long dead from a drunken rampage perpetrated by his father, Thrall taught himself what he needed to know. And what he didn't know, he learned from the priests and the warriors of the clan. This kind of childhood has installed a several things into his young mind: a deep hatred of alcohol, a deep sense of honor, and a deep need for financial security.

He sighed as he put firerocks into the fireplace, and then stacked logs on top of those. Not much wood left. He would have to buy some soon. He struck a match and lit the firerocks. He watched the crackling fire for a bit. When he was certain that the fire would not need dwarven intervention to keep it going, he got up and started making a stew. Into the well-used pot that he put on top of the fireplace, he put in water, a mixture of vegetables, and some meat. He chewed the corner of the meat. Rabbit. He shrugged as he added a little more rabbit to the stew. Rabbit was not his favorite, but he was saving his coins for Yola. Once this was done, he retrieved his money from its hiding place, and started counting the coins. One, two, three, four... He reached 1,642 when the stew was done. He ate while he counted. 2,400 gold coins. And by his best estimate, Yola was worth 2,500. So close. Hopefully, this new vein would provide the remaining 100 coins, and enough for the wedding.

Thrall thought back to the old priest of Melethan, the dwarven god of tradition, honor, and duty. It was this priest that had explained the marriage practices of the Hotaxes. It was their tradition that the suitor, who was always the male, buy the women off of her father. The suitor gave the father the sum total of everything that the women had cost him. This would include housing, food, clothing, everything and more. And when he got that total, it was also tradition that they would haggle for the best price. But as before, it was also tradition that the suitor attempted to raise the total he was paying, and the father lower it, to, as the priest had put it, 'prove that the suitor feels that the girl is worth more than the father does.' After this, of course, the suitor had to pay for the marriage. If the father helped him out with the payment was his own prerogative. And after the marriage, the girl and the suitor would be legally one. After the marriage, Yola would be his.

---------- ---------- ----------

The morning bell rang a little before sunrise. It, as it usually did, woke Thrall from his sleep. He groggily forced leg into pant leg, arm into sleeve, foot into boot, until he was dressed for a day of mining. He grabbed his tools, and headed down into the mine. Unlike human mining, the dwarves had a sort of constructive free-for-all. What you freed from the earth you kept. Taking from another dwarves' stash was against the unwritten rules. Of course, help was freely given if you needed it. The dwarves were skilled enough at mining, and at working together, that they needed no better framework than this.

Thrall headed down a particular series of tunnels to an area that he had found long ago. Unknown to the others, Thrall had found a rich vein that had led to an even richer vein. He followed the tunnels that he had worked oh so hard on, climbed a ladder he had bought and used so much, and reached a large cavern. He recognized the it as an area where the vein had petered out. But he had found a new one. Crossing the floor to his latest tunnel, he settled into his comfortable rhythm of mining. He soon filled one bag with firerock, and then another. And that was when disaster struck.

Thrall had forgotten to clear the firerock dust. The highly combustible firerock dust. His pickaxe hit the stone, and a spark shot out. Normally, it would not be a problem. But normally, their was no firerock dust on the floor.

The dust instantly caught. Thrall reacted instantly. There was no way to smother the flames. They had an almost infinite supply of firerock to keep it alive. The only thing to do was run. Thrall grabbed his stuff, thrust it into his bag, and picked up one bag of firerock- he could carry no more. He ran as fast as he could as the inferno behind him hit a pocket of methane. The resulting explosion sent burning dust flying at his back. And Thrall ran, screaming about the fire to the other miners, as flames licked his boots. He jumped down the ladder, turned the force into a roll, and tripped over an up-turned rock when he tried to continue running. And then patch of burning dust fell on the bag of firerock he had carried. The cloth ignited, and the firerock blew. Thrall screamed as the fire bit into his hand. He rolled away from his burning stones and tried to smother the flames. He dove on top of the his flaming hand to stop the burning agony. But he could not. Other miners neared him, and delivered the stroke they knew they had to. In the sudden, sharp agony, Thrall fell into the blissful darkness

Thrall returned to consciousness on the grass yard, with dwarven faces peering down at him.

'Wha... What happened?' Thrall said.

'You were fleeing an explosion. Your hand... well. It was on fire. We had to...' one of them said, and finished with a gesture at Thrall's right arm.

Thrall looked down at his stub, the world crashing down around his ears. It would be impossible to earn the money now. He would barely be able to earn enough to support himself as a lame dwarf, let alone earn another 100 gold coins. His dream, his love, his hope, of marrying his love, gone. Burnt to cinders like his hand. A single tear escaped his eyelids and melted into his beard at this lost future. But no more than that. Anger was coming out of his poverty-stricken core, anger at the world that had stolen his family's wealth, anger at the mines that had taken his hand. It was the world that had created Yola, the perfect girl, the love his love, only to take her away from him like this. Thrall let loose a yell, a scream, a wordless shout that conveyed his anger to the gods. And then he stood up and walked home, broken, cut off from the world like his hand was from him.

---------- ---------- ----------

Thrall walked through the quiet streets of the Hotaxe clan's village silently. He had come to bid his goodbyes to Yola, to tell her the news. The night before he had walked the streets so happy. And now happiness itself seemed like a distant memory. He slipped his accustomed way into the backyard of the Goldenaxes, and threw a stone at Yola's window. She peered out, saw him, and hurried down to join him.

'Thrall! I heard that there was an accident at the mines. I was worried about you,' she said.

'Yola, I have bad news,' Thrall began, and raised his stump. 'The accident at the mines...Well, it was me.'

'What does this mean? What does this mean for us?'

'It means... Well, it means goodbye. I cannot possibly raise enough money to buy you off your father as a lame dwarf. And so I have decided to leave Hotaxe. I just cannot stay here, thinking of how close I came to getting you, and forever reminded of that whenever I see you. And so goodbye, Yola. Do not pine for me. I'm not able to live a full life because of this, but please don't ruin yours.'

Tears streaming down her face, Yola asked 'When... When are you going to leave?'

'Within the week.'

'Where to?'

'South, perhaps. I was always curious of these humans. I'll see the world a bit, and probably settle in some dwarvish clan.'

They stood there silently, gazing into each other's eyes, for a while longer, treasuring the last moment they would have together. And then Thrall kissed Yola's hand, and left.

Yola stood there, tears falling onto her cheeks, until her tears dried up. She wiped the last of them off of her face, and walked silently to her room. She paced and she thought, her feet in slippers gliding over the thick rug. She thought about marriage, and the ways two could become one. She thought and she pondered, love guiding this thinking, turning and twisting it beyond what Yola would normally consider. Love manipulated her young mind and made it pause at one particular thought. Yes. Yes, this is what she would have to do. There was no other way that would work. There was no other way that would allow her to keep Thrall.

---------- ---------- ----------

Thrall was making his rounds buying food for his time on the road when the town bell rang three times, signaling a town meeting. All patriarchs of the dwarven households were required to attend such a meeting. Thrall shrugged, took his purchases back to his home, and went to the town hall. He waited patiently for the meeting to start. Finally, Chief Riran Longspear stood up on the podium.

'May I have your attention please!' yelled Riran. 'I have tragic, tragic news. Last night, Cahen Goldenaxe and his wife were killed. A moment of silence for the fallen.'

He continued after enough time had passed. 'We believe that their daughter, Yola Goldenaxe, was their killer. A knife was found in Cahen's chest that was Yola's. She is nowhere in the village. You are all honor-bound to find her and bring her here to be questioned about her role in her parent's death.'

Honor-bound. The word sounded itself over and over in Thrall's ears. Honor-bound.

He knew why she had killed, and to where he had fled. He remembered telling that he would go south. He could go south with her, explore the world, live with her, except for that one word. Honor-bound. He recalled the old priest who had told him of honor. 'Your honor is your life. The humans or the elves do not understand this. They live their lives by what is fun. No. A dwarf has three things: duty, honor, and honesty. These things are your life, Thrall. Live by them.'

Honor-bound. The word rang and rang in his skull, shouting without end. Honor-bound.

Deaf to the continuation of his speech, or to their dismissal, Thrall stumbled out the door. He went to his house, and grabbed his axe, food, clothing, and bedroll. He then left the village, heading south, heading to where his heart led. And it led him down the southern road to the fork. He chose a path between the fork, and soon he came to the shore of the lake. To the place they had met.

Thrall found Yola sitting on the shore of the lake. He shoes were resting in the sand, and her feet were snuggling deep into the sand under the water. She was gazing out over the lake's water, a great sadness covering her demeanor.

'How could you do that, Yola?' Thrall asked, sorrow coating his words like snow over a mountain.

'I had to, Thrall. I couldn't... I couldn't bear it if you left without me,' she said, turning to face Thrall. 'And so I had to kill them, Thrall. I had to. I love you.'

'But what about honor?'

'Honor was standing in the way of our love, Thrall! We can be together now. Together, forever.'

'We can't. They're looking for you, to question you about the deaths of your parents. Why did you kill them, Yola? Why?'

'They were in our way! Like honor, they blocked our love.'

'No, Yola. They were innocent. They simply upheld dwarven tradition.'

'Come with me, Thrall. You said you were going to leave before. Let us flee together.'

'I cannot.'

'Then kill me, Thrall. I cannot live in a world where you are not. I would prefer to die by your hand than by theirs.'

Honor-bound. Now duty-bound. Thrall drew his axe, and, tears streaming into his beard, did what had to be done. Honor, and duty, and love, dictated what had to be done. Thrall, ever a dwarf, did his duty.

The other search parties found the pair's corpses resting half in, half out of the now bloody water. Using the money Thrall had save to buy Yola, they purchased a tombstone marking the place where the lovers had died.

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