“Hadgrim! Hadgrim wake up!”
The young dwarven prince was enjoying his dreams that night and he resented being pulled away from young Lucinda, his bride-to-be. She called to him from the small boat that drifted lazily in the underground lake. The soft glow of the iridescent mosses along the shores bathed her pretty face in a pale blue radiance as he was pulled further away. She reached for his hand as blackness set in.
Hadgrim’s eyes snapped open but he quickly shielded them with one hand from the blinding red light which emanated from the Dwarf King’s Heart held by his father. The King’s face was intense and worried. His thick grey beard was woven into patterns that hung across his breastplate. The locks of both his beard and long hair were tied in places by rings of gold, beset with wondrous gemstones.
“Father, what’s the matter? Why are you wearing your armor?”
The sounds of war horns and battle drums echoed through the city. Cries could be heard from the people outside as deep booming thundered from far off in the direction of the temple.
“Hurry son, get up and put on your armor. Bring your helm and shield. I want you to take Valdangrer. Do you understand? No weapon will serve you better against the giants this day.”
Hadgrim tried to shake off the disorientation that comes with waking up from a vivid dream unexpectedly as he accepted the giant war mace from his father in awe. Sharp spikes protruded in all directions from the last three feet of the two handed war club. Filigree golden runes were etched upon its red surface. The characters were not dwarven. When he was a boy his father had told him tales about the enchanted mace. Tales say that Dveorger, the first of their race, had received the magical weapon as a gift from Poseidon himself, but that is a tale for another time.
“The giants are here in Svartalfheim?”
“They are at our very doors my son, but it is worse than that. The gnomes are either taking advantage of our misfortune or they have allied with the Jotun scum, for we are now besieged on all sides. They come for the sacred gem. As long as I hold it the gnome army will be unlikely to withdraw. They will remain focused upon me at the front wall. I cannot lead in two places at once Hadgrim. You must take the reserves and defend the Sealed Gate against the Jotun. If you can drive them back further into the tunnels then you must seek aid amongst the fairies or elves, but if that path is blocked take the narrower road to Asgard. The giants will not be able to follow you through those smaller passageways, though it is the longer and more dangerous road. Remember what I taught you about the giants. They are somewhat slow especially the two-headed ones. Go for the legs. I know that sounds obvious considering their height, but they typically wear less armor on the legs and feet.”
Hadgrim stood up before embracing his father for a moment.
“You are stronger than you know my son. Now go, earn your title, keep your honor and save our people.”
“I will make you proud father. Fare thee well.”
Prince Hadgrim was thirty-five years old by the reckoning of mortal men upon the surface world, but amongst the dwarves he was still but a youth for their peoples are long-lived. It was not uncommon for a dwarf to reach over four hundred years of age and it was said that Dveorger the first dwarf lived five hundred years before he died in Alaska.
The young prince stared at his father and the glowing ruby until the King turned and left the room. General Taluk Long-Spear awaited the prince just beyond the doorway. Hadgrim hurriedly donned his thick armor. The metal plates were coated in copper so that Hadgrim stood apart from the common soldiers. His helm bore great metal horns and sharp spikes. His belt was wide and its large buckle was engraved with a trident that was surmounted by an image of the magical ruby of his people that shown rays of light in all directions. Similarly his breastplate and inverted triangular shield also bore the emblem of the royal house.
He strapped his shield across his back and then slid his one-handed war hammer into a loop made by metal wire that was attached to his belt. He then retrieved Valdangrer, his father’s war mace from the table. When it was stood on end it was taller than the prince. A mortal would not be able to wield such a weapon due to its weight. If it were much larger than it might have been more appropriate for one of the giants, but dwarves are strong.
Hadgrim easily hefted the metal weapon and swung it through the air. As he did so a deep hum emanated from the mace. The runes glowed blue as light radiated up the shaft into the young dwarves hands. Hadgrim’s eyes took on a similar, illuminated, blue appearance as he felt a strength and power that he had never known.
The prince’s head was covered in thick black hair. His beard was cropped short, as was the custom in those days until a man had reached the age of fifty. His eyebrows were thick and bushy; his eyes were hazel, his jaw wide and his shoulders broad. His nose guard covered the bridge of his long nose. Hadgrim took a deep breath before exitng his room. General Taluk saluted him as he stepped through the doorway.
The General advised him on the situation as they walked. The reserves were lined up in rows in the courtyard of the palace adorned with fell helms, stout shields and long spears in the front ranks. Those in the middle carried a mix of axes, swords and war hammers. The back row were archers. The Kings men stood at the fore, and the Queen’s guard at the rear. The female soldiers carrying their lozenge shaped shields were not to be underestimated. Their prowess had been proven in the last war when the sacred ruby of their people was taken back from the gnomes.
“Is this all that could be summoned General Taluk?”
“No my Lord, the rest are already assembled near the Sealed Gate and the temple. There we will make our stand against the Jotun swine.”
“Then let us waste no time in spilling the dark blood of giants shall we?”
“Aye my Lord!” The general saluted with a grin as he signaled his squire to blow a horn.
Hadgrim and the General set off at a swift pace, followed by their soldiers towards the rear of the dwarf kingdom. Most of the buildings were built of stone as there were few trees that would grow under the mountains in the half-light. The sound of metal boots thundered in the streets as the reserves passed children and the elderly who were making their way to the Temple of Poseidon. In the rearward part of the realm there was but a single wall that surrounded the great worship center. It was not meant to be a fortress, but it would serve better than any other structure for defense unless that failed and then the palace would be the place to make a final stand should the need arise.
The dwarves had built a series of three massive walls, each taller than the first at the front of the city which faced the gnomes, but never had his people been waylaid by any force which might come through the tunnels. In ages past that path had seemed secure, guarded by their allies in Alfheim, Asgard and the Fairy King’s realm. Though protected by gates strong and thick, the temple would be more difficult to defend than the main walls should the gates fail due to the shorter walls and lack of catapults.
The Captain of the rear guard saluted Prince Hadgrim and General Taluk as the ground shuttered once more. Small rocks fell from around the thick hinges which bound the gates to the stone as the giants beat upon the steel barrier.
It was then that the Prince caught sight of his love, Lucinda.
“When the fighting starts I do not want you to engage. I want you to take your shield maidens and defend the temple gates should we fail here you must protect our people.”
“No Hadgrim, my place is with you! It has always been with you.”
“There is no time to argue, the gates will not hold much longer! I love you more than you could know. We will be married, you have my word Lucinda.” Prince Hadgrim embraced his bride to be and kissed her passionately.
“Now go, I cannot think clearly if I am worried about your safety.”
Lucinda’s light brown hair was the last thing he touched as he reluctantly pulled away from her. Her eyes teared up, but she followed his orders and a small group of twenty young shield maidens trailed orderly behind her as they made their way towards the temple.
The gate bent inward with a thunderous boom, the crossbar shattered as the first of the giants burst forth into the chamber. The armored monstrosity was bald with aught but tattoos upon his face and head. It had six fingers upon each hand and its double rows of teeth were filed into sharp points. He carried a stone hammer, black like the onyx. His armor was of bone and not metal and that would serve the dwarves well this day as it was more easily pierced than their own armor, which was the finest known in Svartalfheim.
General Taluk Long-Spear dodged the swing of the Jotun and thrust his weapon deep into the abdomen of the creature. The giant roared in pain as it pushed itself forward upon the shaft until it could reach his adversary. He batted the general across the chamber with his war hammer. The General’s armor was left dented and marred. He lay unmoving, as his eyes stared up towards the cavern roof.
Hadgrim led a charge as his men cried out their war chant as they ran at his sides and behind. Valdangrer came to light and the prince’s eyes glowed blue. He shattered the leg bones of the giant who then fell hard to the earth. The defenders impaled the creature again and again until it went still. The Jotun stood as much as three times the height of a dwarf who were themselves short compared to mortals in Midgard.
The terrible deep shouts of the blue and white warriors were met by the fury of the dwarves. A two headed giant was next to face the enchanted mace. Unlike his cohort who had fallen he bore a pair of great axes. Although Hadgrim caught the first weapon midair with Valdangrer which moaned with its deep hum, he failed to shatter the second axe as he had the first.
The sharp blade caught the young prince across the left side of his face, creating a deep gash into his forehead which ran in a line down into his cheek. Only his helm saved his life in that terrible moment. Hadgrim stumbled back into his men as the pain shot through his face and into his brain. The battle moved past him except his personal guard who waited for him to regain his senses. He tied a scarf around his head before putting his helm back on. He was now blind in his left eye. Although the orb was still intact, it was damaged beyond repair.
The clash of weapons and armor was muffled only by the cries of the fallen and dying. Hadgrim shrugged off his pain as he charged forward once more. Valdangrer bit thorough one of the skulls of the white giant as it leaned forward to grasp a dwarven soldier so that it might eat him.
The dwarves succeeded in driving the Jotun beyond the broken gate into the large chamber beyond. However, once inside his forces were split. Hadgrim and the King’s guard that remained with him were slowly driven off to one side of the cavern. Many had fallen. He could no longer see the gate. Though the giants were warry of the enchanted mace, they came on none the less. Only one guard now remained to stand with the prince. They fought bravely, back-to-back, surrounded by a sea of foes. Giants stepped upon their fallen comrades in their desire to capture the prince. Hadgrim was hard pressed as he felt his strength begin to ebb. He realized they would have to flee or die for so great were the forces that stood against them that even Poseidon’s fabled mace would not be enough to save them. They retreated through the narrow archway into the tunnel which led to Asgard. The opening was too small for a giant; but a massive, blue, grasping, hand nearly caught them before they were beyond its reach.
Illuminated by the glowing runes of Valdangrer the wounded warriors slowly traveled the long road in search of Odin. Little did they know that Asgard’s King had already fallen.