Feeling the Goddess’s Pain – A tale told over the forge

It was around the time that we spent the night at the ‘Lit Lantern’, the 37th of Autumn I think, when the dreams started to get really bad. Heath was having them, too – not a great introduction to the faith for a young acolyte! The image of the goddess – pale, sickly, and slumped over an anvil covered in purple and green goo was too much to bear, and led to sleepless nights, and I’d wake up in a cold sweat.

What was especially strange was the timing of the dreams. We’d just spent days in our last stop constructing a shrine to Artura, the centerpiece of which was constructed of gold – liquefied, purified, and blessed and reforged to transform it from the monstrosity of a statue it had been into a holy symbol of all that is good – and we had adorned it with the most precious jewel that we had, a very large star rose quartz gem. I’d even given up a very finely made smithing hammer to the blacksmith who’d allowed us to upgrade his forge to a shrine – it would serve as both now – and who appeared to be a new follower of Artura. All of this would be a great boon to the goddess, we thought… and so those awful dreams came as a shock.

It was only a day or two later of travelling east when our party heard the sounds of fighting coming from the woods to our right. We headed that way, and come to find out there was a mysterious group that had a hidden tower in there, and it was under attack by orcs. By this time the dreams had grown worse and Heath and I were getting terrible headaches during the day, but we were able to do our part and help the rest of the party drive the orcs off, although Beth sadly lost her canine companion in the fight. We talked to their leader, Jon, and learned that the orcs had been staging attacks from their encampment across the river to the north. An encampment, he said, that had once been a temple for the worship of Old Gods. I was tempted to take the fight up north then and there, but the orcs’ numbers seemed to be insurmountable, and Borean was following a lead that was leading him towards possible mountain tribe allies, so we moved on.

We came to the town of Saludra, which was holding a jousting tourney, the prize for which was an enchanted blade made from a metal with outstanding properties that was being mined near there. Grel and Morgan entered the tourney, and Borean gambled heavily on it, but Heath and I of course cared little about these things and tried to gather more information from the townsfolk. We found out that there indeed was a temple to Artura right where those orcs were gathered, across the river not far from Crennex Falls. Together with the marks on the orcs that were signs of the Dark Ones’ taint, we knew that it was that evil that was causing the horrible dreams and the pain to the goddess. But what to do? Artura is pragmatic, and would want us to return with a force capable of defeating the orcs and cleansing the temple, but the wait to gather allies was maddening. We swore in our dreams and prayers to Artura that we would return to her temple in force and set her free.

Further east we went, and I was happy to learn that the time they’d spent on the tourney had not been a waste, as Grel (with Borean’s help) had gotten the enchanted blade from the winner. The pain of the headaches was becoming less, which confirmed that it was the corrupted lost temple that was the source of our pain and the goddess’s. It was soon after that we had a very strange night – the dead seemed to rise to do battle near the village we were staying, and Borean took on aspects of the wolf to go join them! We managed to get Borean safely away from the ghosts, but this was a new problem we knew we’d have to contend with.

So with Borean now clearly suffering from the effects of a curse, the fact that we hadn’t found any of his potential allies and our travels taking us further away from the temple, things were looking pretty grim. Two things gave me hope, however. First, we were able to make contact with a group of mercenaries known as the Crossed Sabers, whose commander, Houe Gordan, laid out the rates for a much-needed boost to our numbers we’d need if we were to take on those orcs. Secondly, and most importantly, the warrior Morgan had come to me and said, “Wikton, I want to learn the ways of Artura.”

I was overjoyed. I knew that from at least since the time of the Doom that Priests of Artura had only been wandering priests, spreading the word as they travelled from town to town and at times taking on an acolyte, as my mentor Yereso had done with me. But always only one. Was this a sign that the goddess’s religion was destined to grow, to have a full priesthood as in the stories of days long past? Or perhaps Morgan was destined to become a Champion of Artura, just as Grel was a Tangadorin’s champion? Only time would tell…

The Siege of Hamarholde

As the hammer fell upon the metal with a resounding clang, Wikton smiled.  He’d missed doing this regularly over the long days of travel, so he was fully enjoying his time working here at the forge in this small village of Hallisworth. It would be just a simple horseshoe when it was completed, but what was being created mattered little. The act of creation, of molding the iron with anvil and tongs and hammer, was its own reward. It energized him even as it calmed and stabilized him, bringing him to a state that others achieved only through deep meditation.

Idly, he wondered if those men they had caught kidnapping hippogriffs earlier would consider a new vocation and take up blacksmithing. The one that was hammering away at the lock with the rock they had left him, at least – would he feel the joy and fulfillment that came with landing that last hammer-like blow that gave him his freedom so strongly that it would set him on the path? Wikton knew that it was unlikely, but he also knew that miracles sometimes happened, and they certainly couldn’t return to what they had been doing after what he’d done to their hippogriff-calling machine!

His host, the blacksmith that owned this forge sat nearby, resting. Torrin was a follower of the Light, but he had been good enough to let Wikton work at the forge on some of the simple items that were needed in the village, and he had been curious enough to ask about the iron holy symbol hanging from Wikton’s neck, and the Goddess Artura. As the blacksmith wiped the last of the sweat from his brow, he leaned back with a heavy sigh. Was boredom setting in? Wikton wasn’t much for idle chit-chat, but maybe he’d like to hear a story? Wikton asked him as much.

“What have you got?” said Torrin.

“Have you ever heard the tale of the Siege of Hamarholde?”

“Do tell.”

Wikton paused, thinking back to all the times when his old mentor Culver had told him the tale. He tried to recall all the details, and as he began, he went back to hammering. He tried to match the tone that Culver had used, the intriguing way he had of drawing listeners in to his stories. He used the hammer to keep pace as he told the tale, and to punctuate a sentence when necessary.

 

“In an age long past, at a time before Artura and Vanir had risen to godhood, there stood a city far to the east. Today, that city is known simply as Femo, but back then it had another name: Hamarholde.”

“Warlord Vanir ruled the city, but for years its people had been suffering through attacks from orcs descending upon them from the Sithasten Mountains. Vanir wanted to put an end to this for good, so he gathered an army of the finest warriors in the land and planned an expedition into the heart of the mountains to break the orc tribes and scatter them to the winds.”

“His wife, Artura, was a master blacksmith. She shared her techniques with the other smiths of the city and under her guidance they forged new weapons for their army, and when that army was ready to ascend into the mountains they were armed with some of the sharpest battleaxes ever created.”

“Artura remained in Hamarholde to rule in Vanir’s stead. The army charged into the mountains fearlessly in the hopes of a decisive victory. All seemed well in Hamarholde until word from scouts arrived to tell Artura in the city’s longhall: Their former ally Warlord Osgar had betrayed them, and was marching on them from the south with a huge army of his own, to take the city while it was defenseless.”

“What could be done? The enemy would arrive soon. There was no army left to defend the city, and no allies nearby to summon. But Artura showed no fear. She instructed all the smiths of the city to begin crafting, and rallied the entire city in support of that effort. Inspired smithing apprentices worked as hard as full smiths, so that every forge available was used. Artura’s inspiration was so strong that every man, woman and child assisted the smiths, anything from simply speeding resources to where they needed to be, to working closely to help at the forge, even those who had never swung a hammer before. The townspeople brought everything made of metal that they could to be melted down and reforged, and the work continued straight through the night. It is said that even as Artura led the effort, the sound of her hammer never stopped ringing out as she worked through the night.”

“And so it was that when Warlord Osgar’s army approached the gates of Hamarholde, 10,000 shields had been forged by the townsfolk within. Osgar ordered his archers to fire a barrage of arrows into the city, hoping to force a quick surrender, but the shields protected the people and animals from harm. When no surrender came, Osgar tried to have his army ram through the front gates, but a barricade created by linking steel shields was reinforcing the gates, and they held. The army tried to scale the walls with ladders, but the guardians at the top of the wall, protected by people carrying steel shields to block arrows and spears, were easily able to push the ladders aside.”

“Frustrated but determined to take the city, Osgar lay siege to Hamarholde. Inside, Artura organized the people to work their crafts so that every morsel of food and drop of water could be stretched as far as possible. Day after day, Warlord Osgar’s army tried to penetrate the gates and walls, even as they were trying to starve them out, but the barriers held strong.”

“Finally, just as the last of the food stores were running out, Vanir and his army of warriors returned. Warlord Osgar’s forces were crushed between the hammer of that army, and the anvil of the walls of Hamarholde. When Vanir learned what Artura had accomplished, he ordered the skalds to spread the tale, and her deed became known as the First Miracle of Artura.”

 

After the tale, Wikton completed the work on the horseshoe and spoke with Torrin a bit more. As it was reaching the time to part, the blacksmith said, “You know, I wouldn’t mind having a blessing of Artura on the forge if you think it would help with business.” Wikton smiled slightly and nodded. He went to stand near the anvil, turning to face the hearth and as much of the forge area as he could. Holding his hammer-shaped holy symbol in his right hand, and touching the forge with the palm of his left, he said solemnly:

“I give thanks to She Who Guides the Hands of Blacksmiths. The Hammer builds, the Hammer defends, the Hammer breaks the chains of oppression. Through her guidance, the warrior is equipped for battle, the traveller fears no road, and the artisan builds wonders. The goddess greets the wicked and wrongful with Justice, the oppressed and downtrodden with Freedom, and the community and family with Love. May She bless this forge and all who work it, forever.”