While the three great races of Tarimis bickered their way into the growing possibility of conflict, in the deep city of Kazucdir, the dwarves of the great city had heard very little about the brooding tensions that swirled above. Few had even heard about the sarcophagus crisis which had facilitated the return of old prejudices and watered the dormant seeds of mistrust. Enclosed by rock and steel, the market quarter bustled with trade from other underground cities; there was the occasional chatter of why so few human tradesmen had ventured to the deep, but the vigilant guard and well placed spy explained it all away with misdirection and rumour.
"Not seen a human merchant down here in a week," one woman was saying, her hands busy polishing a mirror gilded with a silver crest of the clanhold. "'Tis the polish you see, for the chestnut frame. Usually get a regular batch from the men over Fleaswood way. Just stopped coming, right when I needed some!" There was more than a touch of irritation in her voice, but there was little that indicated she knew of recent troubles.
"You know humans. Likely they forgot to ready their bees for the winter. Thought I heard old Thorm say he had some left, you might ask him..." grumbled a reply, the tired tone of his voice betraying an unenthusiastic view of today's shift. Satisfied that the shop owner had believed him, Uys Krige left her to seek and sell her wears - he was to be released of this menial duty in just a few moments time, and was anxious to return to the great hall where there would be fresh news of the real events that had caused rising tensions on the surface. As he walked up the steps which lead back towards the Clanhold, he looked over the basin of trade and commerce and despaired at how he was being kept in this opaque bubble of ignorance. If there was conflict, the dwarven way was to stand and face gathering foes with a line of well crafted shields. If there were talks to be had, then let them be had. The sense of wallowing in inaction was something he had rarely been able to stand for long.
"Ah, Uys, time for you to head to the great hall I think - Irsbane himself is expecting you. I'll take over your job here" - the face of the guardsman was warm and understanding. His name was Bahuthk, a veteran officer with a long grey beard and heavy lines over his brow; he had known Uys for some time, and their understanding was typically dwarven - deep and of few words. "Aye, the market... is the market," Uys offered in monotone response. The two warriors nodded and then went upon their way, each of them keeping their wandering thoughts within the stoic boundaries of duty.
As he walked into the great hall, Uys breathed in its magnificence. The marble arches which supported the roof, some fourteen metres above his head, were decorated with lavish maroon banners and the insignia of Irsbane. The ceiling was painted with the epic tales of the clan's ancestors and the story of the dwarven race itself; the ties between clan, city and race were recounted in almost all dwarven art, and yet there was nothing as moving as the ceiling of the great hall. Even from fourteen metres below, the scale of the painting was entwined with such rich detail, that even the most stone-hearted dwarf was frequently moved to tears upon its sight and study. Lastly, the statues of Kazucdir's most famous clan leaders, generals and smiths, lined the long walk to the throne of Irsbane himself. The walk to the end of the hall was a heart rendering experience, no matter how many times it was taken. The bodyguards that stood by the pillars each nodded to Uys as he strode towards his leader, their respect wakened by the sound of his heavy feet echoing throughout the vast structure. As the son of Jys reached the golden throne, his eyes caught sight of Irsbane - his body draped in fine white cloth, his head supporting a thin, golden crown, and his hand holding the great hammer of Kazucdir. When he arrived at the thick, red line on the floor, Uys took to his knee and bowed in deepest respect. For a moment, there was complete silence in the hall before the words of the clanlord were spoken:
"Welcome back, Uys son of Jys. You are a great friend to this city, to me and to your King. Your house is one of our most loyal, and you one of its most powerful; together, we - the King and I, believe you may be the right choice for a task of... prodigious precedence."
Uys waited until he was sure Irsbane had finished speaking, it being of gravest offence to interrupt a clanlord; following another brief silence, he calmly began his reply - "My lord, I am yours in service. But state what is expected of me and I shall strive to follow every detail."
Irsbane smiled warmly; he respected Uys on a level that went beyond expected formality, but here in court, language was dictated by convention; as such, he continued in the manner required of a leader.
"The situation lies thus, son of Jys. The theft of the sarcophagus has been a hammer to cooperative foundations built since we have worked with elves and men on this ancient city. Much and more has been lost in its disappearance. The dead bodies of armed men feed the already stoked fires of human anger, and the elves are quick to deride follies they consider beneath their pride to envisage making. Greater still, is the knowledge that the artefact and the tombs travelling with it, may not only be lost to us, but may now reside in the hands of those who cultivate designs against us." The gravity of his voice was a whetstone to the words, sharpening their meaning with a focus only a clanlord could give. "Time has moved on since this crime. Too much, perhaps, though we have not been idle. I have met with human and elven representatives. We have decided on action." A pause encouraged Uys to form a reply in his mind, but was soon cut off again by Irsbane - "There will be a union of our peoples. Of human, of Elf, of Dwarf. Where there is mistrust, roots of a new understanding will be planted. Where bitterness lies, cooperation will see it cleansed. Where passions of anger take hold, a shield brother at each others' side will restore the spirit of friendship. And together, this artefact will be found, Uys. You must not fail me in this."
"My lord, I will not. Provide me only with details, and I shall do as you speak."
"Details will come, housecarl. When the others come, you will all be given the details." Irsbane smiled slowly, seeing his words elicit confusion on his subject's face.
"Come, my lord? Here?" Uys spoke, his question soft as if he had misheard.
"Indeed. It took a while to call those chosen, and one in particular, has had very far to travel. Truth is, I do not know how we reached him. Still, they do indeed come here, to Kazucdir." The name of his city filled Uys with a rising sense of pride. To him, it was the greatest city save for the vast capital of Vánagandr. If there were strangers to come here, then he would show them true Dwarven hospitality.
"Where should I go to meet them, lord? In the civic hall?" The civic hall was where the people's council met, and where ambassadors and other distinguished guests were often entertained.
Irsbane let silence linger a while. For a moment, Uys had thought himself too bold in asking questions where he should not, but Irsbane was choosing each word carefully, "No, here, in the Clanhold. The meeting will take place in the great chamber." The shock came to the housecarl like a clap of thunder.
"My lord, no outsider has stepped into the Clanhold in nearly two hundred years. It is..." Words failed him.
"A sign of trust. A symbol of great power. King Úlfr himself has permitted it. The humans know that no man in their generation, no their fathers' or fathers' before them, have set foot in a Dwarven Clanhold. It is an invitation to mend what must be mended. I will go and see to the hall, where you shall all be addressed. You must go to the gates of our city and meet our guests. If it is you who is to travel with them, then it must be you who extends the first hand of dwarven friendship."
On face value, Uys thought the request unfathomably strange, but it had come from his clan leader - to refuse was not a possibility that could even be slightly entertained. The two men of the deep held eye contact for the first time - it was then that Uys understood the weight, the sheer weight of the burden which pressed upon dwarven kind and Tarimis itself. A smile then graced Uys's lips as he strode out of the great hall.
As he neared the exit, he caught sight of a banner which hung upon one of the marble arches. It was a famous quote from a great runemaster of an epoch long since past, his true name forgotten to time. If the words were historically accurate or not now seemed irrelevant, as their resonance reached out to touch the housecarl who stood absorbed and still before them:
I did not fear. I opened the gates of my heart to hatred so deep-seated that to this day, whenever I catch sight of our mortal enemy, I feel it between my teeth and in the rousing violence of my arms and back. If a dawn of doom once again rises from the shadows, I will take my drum and issue a clap of thunder; then the darkness will know that no dwarf will ever submit, even as it swallows the world in a monstering horror; I will not scream. I will never scream.
Time dilated itself for a moment. Uys had caught himself up a great deal in the politics of this proceeding. He was forgetting the most important thing, which now raced into the passive aspects of his mind in a surge of passion. He was a warrior. A housecarl to the finest Dwarven people, and out there somewhere, was an enemy unknown which now threatened the security of all he knew. His core became strong and resolute. In ancient times, this unknown warrior of the banner had stood against an enemy shrouded in darkness. Uys would now do the same. His fist clenched the warhammer which rested easily to his side. He left the great hall, and boarded the wagon which would take him to the surface gate. There he would wait, and embrace his soon to be companions with the warmest offering of Dwarven generosity that he knew...
"Driver, swing by the market will ya? Two barrels of Olin's XXXX ale need picking up."