The Life That Should Have Been
In the faint light of dawn, Crushaw squatted and drew a crude map in the dirt near the gate to Kwarck’s farm, outlining the western mountains, the Mother of Ice, and the plains. Then, he marked where he wanted the ogres to set their defenses, several miles south of their border within the lands of Rugraknere. From traveling those lands with Roskin, he remembered an expansive field north of the last town they had stopped in that would serve perfectly. Across from him, Vishghu and Kwarck quietly watched, each staring intently at his scheme.
“The Great Empire is here already,” he said, indicating the majority of Rugraknere. “So they’ll want to march north, clip the ogres’ western flank, and then turn against the Kiredurks. You must convince enough matriarchs to hold them here.” He dug the stick deeper into the dirt.
“I know that area well,” Vishghu returned. “I’ll convince my mother, and she holds sway with many others.”
“Good. I’ll approach from here,” he said, drawing an arrow from the east. “General Strauteefe is in command. He’ll want to wait for the spring thaw before advancing, but if you press forward in winter, he’ll be forced to meet you. I’ll arrive on the Winter Solstice.”
“Does that give us time to train the army?” Kwarck asked, uncertainty tingeing his voice.
“No, but it gives us the advantage of bad weather.”
“I don’t know,” Kwarck said. “Extra time would be a better benefit.”
“I agree with that,” Vishghu said. “My people could use the time to build better fortifications.”
Crushaw dropped his stick and rose to full height. Despite his age, his presence became commanding and imposing. Clenching his jaw, he stared at them for several heartbeats, and their expressions changed from questioning to submissive. He exhaled sharply and pointed his right index finger first at Kwarck and then at Vishghu:
“Do you know why I’ve never lost a pitched battle?”
“I don’t doubt your judgment,” Kwarck said, lowering his eyes.
“You’ve charged me with leading this army,” Crushaw snarled. “So do me the courtesy of answering me.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Because I always choose the time and place,” he said, his voice a low growl. Shifting his attention to Vishghu, he continued, “Control those and you dictate the kind of battle fought. Strauteefe is cautious. He’s planning a siege up a mountain in the spring and summer. Do either of you know what that means?”
Both shook their heads. Behind them at the gate, Vishghu’s buffalo stamped its front hoof, the sound startling in the quiet of morning.
“He won’t have many long bows. Mostly crossbows for close range. And catapults and trebuchets. And infantry, heavily armored.”
Vishghu nodded, a look of comprehension coming over her.
“One thing the elves already know how to do is fire long bows accurately. That’s about our only advantage, and in heavy snow, I like long bows against armored infantry. I like knowing that catapults and trebuchets will be hard to maneuver. And I really like hitting my enemy before they want me to.”
“You’re right, Crushaw,” Kwarck said. “I’m sorry.”
“If you want me to lead, we do things my way.”
“I like it,” Vishghu added. “And I’ll make sure we’re in place a few days before the solstice to draw them out.”
Crushaw relaxed and breathed deeply. Of all the warriors he had trained, she was one of his favorites because she saw the larger canvas, much like he always had. Just over a year before, she had confronted him at this same gate, prepared to die to fulfill her duty of keeping him on the farm, and now, she was one of the few he trusted to execute a duty as imperative as this. Reconciling the forty years of violence against her people with the respect he had for her wasn’t easy, and part of him was ashamed of the hate he had carried against her kind. He knew there was no making amends for the ogres he had killed and tortured, but he hoped that helping them expel the Great Empire would ease his shame slightly.
“Get moving,” he said, extending his hand.
She bypassed the handshake and hugged him, wrapping her massive arms around his shoulders. He returned the gesture as well as he could, his hands barely reaching her back, and pressed the side of his face against her chest.
“I’ll see you both after the battle,” she said, stepping back.
“Take care of yourself,” Kwarck said. “On your trip and on the battlefield.”
“Remember your footwork,” Crushaw added.
The stakes are higher than ever in the fourth installment of the popular dwarven saga!
The Great Empire has surrounded the Kiredurks and are preparing to conquer the kingdom, but unknown to them, Kwarck, the mysterious hermit of the plains, has his own plan in action. To the east, he has summoned an elven army and charged Crushaw with leading them into battle. To the south, Roskin will gather an army from the fractured Ghaldeon lands. But to the west, an ancient and powerful evil stirs.
The Great War is about to errupt, if Roskin can overcome the Dark One...
Books in the Brotherhood of Dwarves series:
D. A. Adams is a novelist, a farmer, a professor of English, and in my estimation, a true gentleman. His breakout fantasy series, The Brotherhood of Dwarves, transcends genre and illuminates the human soul in all its flashes of glory and innumerable failings.
He is active on the Con circuit and has contributed writing to literary as well as fine art publications, and maintains his active blog, "The Ramblings of D. A. Adams". He lives and works in East Tennessee, and is the proud father of two boys, Collin and Finn.
His ability as a storyteller breathes life into every character, and his craftsmanship as a writer makes these stories about relationships; human or otherwise.