The Two Swords

Prelude
The torchlight seemed such a meager thing against the unrelenting darkness of the dwarven caves. The smoky air drifted around Delly Curtie, irritating her eyes and throat, much as the continual grumbling and complaining of the other humans in the large common room irritated her sensibilities. Steward Regis had graciously given over a considerable suite of rooms to those seemingly ungrateful people, refugees all from the many settlements sacked by brutish King Obould and his orcs in their southern trek.

Delly reminded herself not to be too judgmental of the folk. All of them had suffered grievous losses, with many being the only remaining member of a murdered family, with three being the only remaining citizens of an entirely sacked community! And the conditions, as decent as Regis and Bruenor tried to make them, were not fitting for a human.

That thought struck hard at Delly's sensibilities, and she glanced back over her shoulder at her toddler, Colson, asleep - finally! - in a small crib. Cottie Cooperson, a spindly-armed woman with thin straw hair and eyes that drooped under the weight of a great loss, sat beside the sleeping toddler, her arms crossed tightly over her chest as she rocked back and forth, back and forth.

Remembering her own murdered baby, Delly knew.

That horrific thought sobered Delly, to be sure. Colson wasn't really Delly's child, not by birth. But she had adopted the baby girl, as Wulfgar had adopted Colson and in turn had taken on Delly as his traveling companion and wife. Delly had followed him to Mithral Hall willingly, eagerly even, and had thought herself a good and generous person in granting him his adventurous spirit, in standing beside him through what he had needed without regard for her own desires.

Delly's smile was more sad than joyous. It was perhaps the first time the young woman had ever thought of herself as good and generous.

But the dwarven walls were closing in on her.

Never had Delly Curtie imagined that she could harbor wistful memories of her street life in Luskan, living wild and on the edge, half-drunk most of the time and in the arms of a different man night after night. She thought of clever Morik, a wonderful lover, and of Arumn Gardpeck, the tavern-keeper who had been as a father to her. She thought of Josi Puddles, too, and found in those recollections of his undeniably stupid grin some measure of comfort.

"Nah, ye're being silly," the woman muttered under her breath.

She shook her head to throw those memories aside. This was her life now, with Wulfgar and the others. The dwarves of Clan Battlehammer were goodly folk, she told herself. Often eccentric, always kind and many times simply and playfully absurd, they were a lovable lot beneath their typically gruff exteriors. Some wore outrageous clothing or armor, others carried strange and ridiculous names, and most wild and absurd beards, but the clan showed Delly a measure of heart that she had never before seen, other than from Arumn perhaps. They treated her as kin, or tried to, for the differences remained.

Undeniably so.

Differences of preference, human to dwarf, like the stifling air of the caves - air that would grow even more stagnant, no doubt, since both exterior doors of Mithral Hall had been closed and barricaded.

"Ah, but to feel the wind and sun on my face once more!" a woman from across the common room shouted, lifting a flagon of mead in toast, as if she had read Delly's every thought.

From all across the room, mugs came up in response and clanged together. The group, almost all of them, were