|Favorite Wonder:||Caminus Aureus|
Arturus found his friend by candlelight. Torches were forbidden in this hallowed chamber, deep in the Underhome. The soot and smoke they gave off obscured the runes carved into the rows of pillars, covering the names and deeds of the honored Dwarven ancestors. The ancient dwarves who kept these sites, carving new stories and teaching others to read them, were called Runewardens officially but 'Hand Seers' more commonly. Squinting in the candlelight so much invariably robbed them of their sight, so they learned every word and letter by hand. Kandros Fir was at the end of his Clan's section of the Rune Hall, chisel in hand.
"I knew I'd find you here," Arturus said, kneeling next to him.
"I was his closest kin. I must add his name and deeds to our story."
"Of course, old friend. But that isn't all you are planning, is it?" Kandros bowed his head.
"I am loyal to our king, by my bones, I am loyal."
"I can no sooner abandon family than fall on my own axe! Suppose your cousin Grunnos was missing. What would you do?"
Arturus snorted. "Speak not of that wastrel, but be glad he has many older brothers to be king before him should good Kanlore pass."
"But... were his fate that of Luach, I should dig to Mammon's hell if it would find him. But not if my king forbid it! I know the bonds of kinship, but what of kith? Do you abandon your duty and your friends for a mad search? The winter will take you too, and what will that accomplish?"
Kandros rose, placing the hammer and chisel back on the altar as he turned to leave. "My duty has others to attend it, and my friends as well, dear Arturus. But Luach Fir is alone. If our friendship has meaning to you, you will not hinder me."
It had not been easy getting to the surface. No one had been allowed to leave since Kandros' cousin Luach had gone to study the surface. Winter still raged, as it had for more than six generations, but young Luach was undaunted, and had petitioned Kanlore for leave to explore the harsh surface regardless of the danger. Supplies were slim in the Underhome. Their stores of black powder had been exhausted so long ago that the last Dwarves who would even recognize it had passed away, and expansion of the Underhome was tedious work with pick and hammer. Spices had run out early in Kandros youth, and the pork and tubers his children fed on left eating a chore. So Luach had at last been allowed to take another appraisal of the state of the bleak surface, but Kanlore's hesitancy had been proven right when Luach did not return for months. No one was permitted to leave now, meaning
Kandros had to sneak past guards in the dark, and would be ill regarded if he returned at all.
The exit to the Dwarven home was sealed with a massive stone door, and Kandros exhausted himself prying it open, even using his pick as a lever. He bravely stepped from the familiar darkness of his home into the unknown darkness of the Age of Ice. He emerged from the hillside, setting foot on grass. Not snow, and the night air was crisp but lacked the biting chill he had been warned of all his life. He stretched out his arms, marveling at the open space all around, and broke into a run down the hillside. Running was foolhardy in the Underhome. Low ceilings, sharp turns, and sudden drops presented challenges that demanded a careful step, but here there was freedom.
And danger. Kandros found himself surrounded by large, grey dogs. He realized he had nearly charged into the den of these animals, and they cared little for his reason for being there. His hand axe was out barely before the first leapt for his throat. It was his blade that found the wolves throat first. And the skull of the next wolf to charge him. He became a whirl of axe and torch until the last beast lay dead or dying.
So many animals... how could there be prey enough for a pack of this size in the wasteland he had been lead to believe the surface was? Then he noticed something half buried in the wolves' den. He walked over slowly, pulling the body from the debris, his breath held tight. Unmistakably the body of a dwarf, though it was a gruesome sight to see after the wolves had fed on its flesh. The pattern of the clothing marked it as a clansman of his, and Kandros knew he had found his cousin. He rent his beard and wept over the body. After a time he gathered the gathered up the body, intending to bury it within sight of the Underhome. Then he noticed ... the left shoulder blade was shorn in two. Not broken, but split with a clean cut. He examined it carefully. Luach had been hit from behind by a battle axe, almost certainly by someone of his height.
"Murder..." he whispered to the night.
He was answered, not by the night, but by a cloaked dwarf holding a Mithril axe directly behind him. "He, like you, wouldn't leave well enough alone, Fir." The dwarf swung his axe for the kill, but then dropped it clumsily and gurgled blood.
"Kandros!" Arturus shouted from the entrance of the wolf den, his axe embedded in the neck of the cloaked dwarf. The two friends embraced.
"I found Luach, and his killer I think," Kandros informed his friend.
Arturus Thorne went pale. "And I found my cousin as well." The dwarf he had killed was the prince Grunnos.
The last time Kandros had been in the King's Hall, he had petitioned for permission to search out his cousin. Now, it was with accusation that the King's own son had killed his kin. Were it not for the well respected Arturus beside him, he would have been called a murderer, and worse, a name-killer for making accusations against Grunnos. Kanlore stood from his throne and faced the two Dwarves, his beard reaching nearly his full height. His eldest son and his honor guard flanked him; otherwise the chamber was empty. "You defied the laws of your people, Kandros Fir. The surface world is a harsh land ruled by a dread god and his legion of giants. It was treason to leave."
Kandros did not interrupt his king, but rebuked him when he had finished. "The ice is long gone, my liege, and Winter has passed. Your laws made my people's home a prison, and it was based on lies!"
"Tis true, uncle," spoke Arturus. "Your scouts have surely misled you for years!"
"Not years, foolish Arturus. The ravages of Winter were real enough 10 months ago."
"You knew?" gasped Kandros.
"Yes, but your cousin had to die to keep this secret. Even with the Winter King gone, the surface world is a vicious realm. Elves and humans wield magic that can destroy any warrior. Greed makes warfare or subjugation unending. Here my people are safe, and here they shall remain."
"We are not your children, to be locked away for our own protection. Let the Khazad go forth and prove our worth, not cower in stone chambers like men already dead! You have stolen our spirit, and I name you coward, Kanlore, be it treason or no!"
"Enough! Guards, kill them!" The honor guard readied their axes, but looked around, uncertain.
"Are you insane, father? These men did no wrong. You did, and you shamed yourself and your kin." Prince Toril sliced off his braided beard and threw it in the king's face. "You shall have no allegiance when word of this perfidy reaches beyond this hall. Nor shall any of your line." The guards heeded his words, and lowered their weapons.
"So you too turn. My son, hear this--when the last dwarf is hunted down, felled by lance or wand, be it your name that they curse with their last breath!" Kanlore staggered from the royal hall, towards the surface that he so feared and into exile.
The prince turned to Arturus. "Cousin, you are my closest living kin not of my father. It is you the people shall follow." Arturus turned to his old friend. "Kandros, could you not have left this alone as I so asked? Because of you I have become kin-slayer and usurper."
"What? This foul scene was Kanlore's doing!"
"What I say now I say with heavy heart but the weight of the crown. You sought the surface world, and there you must go, banished from the Underhome. Take provisions, take your clan, take all who would seek their fortune above. This is not justice, but there will not be order in the Underhome while a traitor walks its halls, and you did break the royal decree when you left." Arturus sighed. "As did I, when I followed you. Toril, if you will not be king, then be my viceroy, and I shall take the crown to the surface as punishment for my own disobedience, with whoever will follow me."
And so the King of the Dwarves left the Underhome for the first time in over 300 years, and at the same time the Fir clan and their allies parted with their allies to forge their own Khazad nation. The two men who had been closest of friends grew to be the fiercest of rivals for much of the last Age.