Korkronn Bloodfist, Lesser Overlord of the Third Perimeter, Scourgeknight of the Western Underkeep, the hero of the Battle of Hell Cavern was more scared than he had ever been in his three-hundred years of life. He paced back and forth restlessly, pausing occasionally only to plant his feet firmly on the rough-hewn flagstones of the antechamber in order to gauge how much time had passed. Before him was an iron-bound door made of treated planks of the rare surface-plant that no Dwarf had seen in over five millennia. It was unguarded, but he would never pass its sacred boundary. Beyond it was the only part of his home of which he was not absolute master: the Women’s Quarters.
He reached the wall again, and stopped as per his custom these last hours. Closing his eyes, he allowed himself to sense the movements of the earth all around him. Since steamclocks became affordable, many Dwarves had lost the art of terrametry – the reading of the earth – but Korkronn kept to the old ways, in this and in other things. A few minutes had gone by only. So far, the labour had lasted seventeen hours. Not an unusual length, but longer than any his wife had endured before. Korkronn sighed heavily. He allowed himself a rest from his constant pacing, lost himself for a long moment in the depths of the Underworld. Even from here, he could sense the great river of molten rock that the Dwarves called Molochfyre – God’s Blood – that flowed through the heart of the Dwarven Empire and gave them life and prosperity. It was raging hard this Ebbing, a sign of ill-fortune, according to the Pyromancers whose ability to sense the earth’s heavings was especially strong. It was stronger and stronger every year, it seemed to Korkronn, and quakes had become common all along its length. Bloodhall was in no danger of that, so far away from the Core, but there was still an occasional rumbling in the upper levels of the Western Underkeep, more so than was usual.
The sound of the door to the Women’s Quarters opening brought Korkronn out of his reverie and he turned to see Thorkan, Chirurgeon to House Bloodfist, emerge, a small bundle in his arms. Chirurgeons were the only males permitted to enter the Women’s Quarters, and it was a good job too, judging by the blood that stained his heavy leather apron. His beard was tied up in two strands behind his head to keep it out of the way.
“Thorkan? Tell me it is good news…”
Thorkan held out the bundle in his arms. “Good news indeed, my Lord – a healthy babe and, what’s more, a girl.”
Korkronn’s wide face split in two with the grin that overtook him. He and Barralla had not dared to hope that this, their fifth child, would be female. Few Dwarves were ever blessed with such a thing, and every family hoped they would be able to birth and raise a daughter and therefore contribute to the continuation of the race. House Bloodfist had several hundred members and only seventy-three – less than a quarter – were women. Thorkan reverently placed the newborn into its father’s outstretched arms and, gently, Korkronn pushed back the blanket, revealing a small, round face framed with coarse, black hair.
“Deep Ones be praised, Moloch and Mammon both,” he breathed.
“Deep Ones be praised,” Thorkan murmured reflexively.
The babe opened its eyes – fierce and dark – and regarded her father with an unreadable expression. None of his sons had ever been able to focus on him so soon, and none had shared his colouring so closely.
“Her hair is as dark as mine, Thorkan.”
“Quite so, Lord.”
“And of a kind to make fine warrior’s braids someday…”
The Chirurgeon chuckled. “You have been too long a father to sons, my Lord. Always you have looked for the traits of a warrior in your offspring, but may I remind you that this one is female.”
“Yes, yes, I know that,” Korkronn snapped. His eldest son had been a warrior born, but he had died before his fiftieth nameday, not even a man grown, when the Goblin tribes took Blackvault. His next eldest was a scholar, the middle son born with the spark to be a Pyromancer and his youngest a Chirurgeon in training, apprenticed to Thorkan himself. But this one…
Experimentally, Korkronn probed the babe’s mouth with one thick finger. There he felt the growing stumps of two tusks. He had heard tell that the infants of other races did not grow teeth until they had lived for a year or more, but it was not so with Dwarves. Pregnancies were long and hard, and their children emerged far more strong and capable than the mewling spawn of lesser creatures. As if to prove the truth of his thoughts, his daughter suddenly bit down on his finger. With a curse Korkronn snatched away his hand and sucked on his injured finger, tasting the hard iron tang of blood.
“She has tasted blood already,” Thorkan smiled, “a good omen.”
“For her, perhaps.” He examined his finger gingerly. “She is strong,” he announced.
“Strong, yes,” Thorkan agreed, “she wailed louder than any other babe I have birthed when finally she arrived, and wriggled like a Goblin when we tried to cut her cord.”
Korkronn gazed down at his daughter. She continued to stare up at him with the same placid expression. “Strong, like a warrior. She has had her first taste of blood, so she must be named. Tradition be damned.”
“Fyaka is a fine name, Lord. It was your Lady’s mother’s name.”
“Fyaka?” Korkronn snorted contemptuously. The word meant ‘meek’ in the Ancestor Tongue. “No, she shall not be meek, not this one. I shall call her…” he searched his memory for a suitable word from the Ancestor Tongue, the language of ceremony from which the Dwarf nobility always took their names. He had paid little attention in his lessons as a boy – more interested in the practice chamber than the dusty books of the library – but one word did suddenly come to mind. “Grulka,” he pronounced.
“A fitting name for a boy child, perhaps…” Thorkan began.
“And a fitting name for my daughter,” Korkronn said, speaking right over him. “She will be Grulka Bloodfist, Grulka of the Bloodied Tusks, and she will be a warrior to make the Underworld tremble. Dare you gainsay Korkronn Bloodfist, Lesser Overlord of the Third Perimeter, Scourgeknight of the Western Underkeep, hero of the Battle of Hell Cavern, Chirurgeon?”
“No, my Lord,” Thorkan replied, bowing his head meekly.
“Then let it be proclaimed. Summon my warriors. There shall be a feast this Waning.” Gently, he handed his new daughter – Grulka – back to the Chirurgeon. “Take her back to her mother. And tell Barralla what I have called her and why.”
Thorkan paled visibly. “I…yes…of course…”
“She will understand. Eventually.”
by Thomas Heasman-Hunt