The Thousand Orcs - By R. A. Salvatore

"Oh, well ye got to be pullin' harder than that!" Tred McKnuckles yelled to his team of two horses and three dwarves. "I'm hoping to be making Shallows afore the summer sun shines on me balding head!"

His voice echoed off the stone around them, a bellow befitting one of Tred's stature. He was stout, even as dwarves go, with a body that could take a beating and lumpy arms that could dish one out. He wore his yellow beard long, often tucked into the front of his huge belt, and kept a throwing hammer-commonly called "a dwarven arrow"-strapped on the back of each shoulder, ready for launch.

"It'd be easier if ye didn't have th' other horse sitting in the back o' the wagon, ye blasted fool!" one of the pulling dwarves yelled back.

Tred responded by giving him a crack on the rump with the whip.

The dwarf stopped, or tried to, but the fact that the wagon kept on rolling, and he was strapped into the yoke, convinced him that maybe it would be a good idea to continue moving his strong and stubby legs.

"Don't ye doubt that I'll be payin' ye back for that one!" he growled at Tred, but the other dwarves pulling, and the three others still sitting up on the wagon beside the boss dwarf, all just laughed at him.

They had been making fine progress since leaving Citadel Felbarr two tendays earlier, chancing the north run along the western face of the Rauvin Mountains. Breaking through to the flat ground, the group had done some minor trading and re-supplying at a large settlement of the Black Lion barbarian tribe. Named Beorunna's Well, it, along with Sundabar, Silverymoon, and Quaervarr, was a favored trading locale for the seven thousand dwarves of Citadel Felbarr. Typically, the dwarves' caravans would run to Beorunna's Well, swap their wares, then turn back to the south, to the mountains and their home, but this particular group had surprised the leaders of the barbarian settlement and had pressed on to the west-northwest.

Tred was determined to open up Shallows and the other smaller towns along the River Surbrin, running the western edge of the Spine of the World, for trade. Rumors had it that Mithral Hall had for some unknown reason slowed its trade of late with the towns upriver, and Tred, ever the opportunist, wanted Felbarr to fill that void, Other rumors, after all, said that some pretty amazing gems and even a few ancient artifacts, thought to he dwarven, were being pulled from the shallow mines on the western edges of the Spine of the World.

The late winter weather had been quite favorable for the fifty mile run, and the wagon had rolled along without incident past the northern tip of the Moonwood and right to the foothills of the Spine of the World. The dwarves had gone a bit too far to the north, however, and so had turned south, keeping the mountains on their right. Still, the temperatures had remained relatively warm, but not so warm that they would destroy the integrity of the snow sheets and thus rain avalanches all about the trails. That same morning, though, an abscess had reared its ugly head on the hoof of one of the horses, and while the handy dwarves had been able to extract the stone the horse had picked up and drain the abscess, the horse was not yet ready to pull the laden wagon. It wasn't even walking very comfortably, so Tred had the team put the horse up on the back of the large wagon, then he split the other six dwarves into two teams of three.

They were quite good at it, and for a long time, the wagon had kept up its previous pace, but as the second team neared the end of its second shift, they were starting to drag.

"When're ye thinking we'll get that horse back in the harness?" asked Duggan McKnuckles, Tred's younger brother, whose yellow beard barely reached the middle of his chest.

"Bah, she'll be trotting along tomorrow," Tred answered with confidence, and all the others nodded.

None knew horses better than Tred, after all. In addition to being one of the finest blacksmiths in all of Citadel Felbarr, he was also the place's most prominent farrier. Whenever merchant caravans rolled into the dwarf stronghold, Tred would inevitably be called upon, usually by King Emerus Warcrown himself, to shoe all the horses.

"Might be that we should be putting up for the night then," said one of Copyright 2016 - 2024