Gram scuttled down the dimly lit side-corridor with hardly a slip in his step. He rubbed a calloused hand over his sunken, grave face; the day had been long at the Forger\’s House and he was in no mood to deal with what was about to happen. Turning the corner put him on the Main Drag, which was quiet for a Sunday, and the better light shone down upon the lines on his face. He kicked the lamp post, as was his custom on briney days, so the caged glow-worm at its top shuddered and the bright green light flickered and faded before returning to normal.
A few more turns, and a few \’Hello\’s to passers by on the Drag, and he had reached his destination: Maud\’s house.The home was unmistakable as one of a great Lady, sitting directly at the end of the little street and flanked by far more modest accommodations built into the walls of the giant cave.
Put lightly Maud was grim. She wasn\’t even Gram\’s Lady, but that of Foreman Tad, and Gram was not at all pleased at having to face such a wicked scolding by her. With a great exhale his long mustache puffed out and he gave his beard a quick and frustrated tug. He knocked. The door was not of stone, as is the usual fashion for those dwarves of modest stature, but of fine birch wood inlaid with ivory and jet and accentuated with fine carvings of the heraldry of her Cog. Likewise, the house itself was not dug into the wall or floor of the great cavern, like usual dwarves, but had been carved out of the stone itself and stood like a giant pillar supporting the roof of the cavern. The structure was lavishly decorated, much like the door, and very old for such a house. \’House\’ wasn\’t even the proper term, but a profane one hardly sufficing for the Proper term as kept by the Keepers. Despite its greatness this was not a Home, but a comparatively crude place made to be like one.
The door flew open and Gram stood facing a very clean looking dwarf. His coat was smooth black silk and his beard kempt; he\’d even sacrificed the hair above his lip to keep it so. The servant sniffed and spoke in a nasally tone, asking Gram to follow him. Gram followed. Through a hall dimly lit by firelight and rooms as ornate as the outside of the home to the receiving room of the Lady. Maud was already there.
In the fashion of all dwarf-women of stature her face, beard included, was veiled save deep green eyes and bushy brows. Maud was as proud as any and had been anticipating this, since Tad informed her of Gram\’s offense.
\’Shut up!\’ she bellowed.
Gram breathed, ready to remind her that he hadn\’t yet said anything, but thought better of it.
\’Now!\’ she said, only a little softer, \’What is this I hear of thou, rabble and scum most offensive, refusing to dig with thine pick unto the jet-wall! So sayeth mine kinsman, Thadricaman…\’ She trailed off into some half-muttered title in a tongue half forgotten to all but the Keepers before finishing off with a twitch of her brow and flash of her eyes.
\’Madame, Tad…Thadricaman did not know and would not listen when I said that the wall bore water and that further digging could have flooded the hall. Tad isn\’t even my foreman; I am a Forger and was only at his dig site in a short search for ore as we were run out.\’
Maud stared. She had sent the summons to this swarthy dwarf under the pretense that he\’d gravely offended her grand-nephew. This new information changed things but she\’d little choice and must save face.
\’Insolence! Voyeurism and grandiose lies from thine goblin-tongue!\’
Gram sighed a sigh of severe annoyance.
\’You have one weeks time! I shall confer with the Grand Lady but shall have no trouble in executing your sentence in that time. At this hour in seven days thou shalt be henceforth banished from the Homes for two seasons hence; a year and a day. Go now and spend your time in whatever way you best see fit. Blaggart!\’
Gram counted his steps. It was a trick he had learn early on; a sort of distraction to keep him calm when anger would get the better of him. He stumbled over a small rock and remembered that he was a little drunk. Maud\’s dwarf-servant had offered him a tall draught of some liquor or other and Gram had readily accepted it. It was another odd custom kept by the gentry of the Homes. Its origins were long forgotten but it was still maintained with the vigour of faith and tenacity like greed. Gram had often thought it was the only thing of value left to those sort of dwarves who already had everything, even if they did not understand it.
It was getting late in the day, even as long a day as the Dwarves kept, when he finally left Maud\’s house and the few strays wandering the Drag were home now. All dwarves had a home whether they wanted one or not. A gong sounded somewhere in the deep, the Clanger\’s call to officially end the working day. It meant the moon was high enough to see at the High Hole; a small canyon in the northernmost hall and one of the only openings to the outside world.
Down down the Drag he walked, passing a score of anonymous dwarf-homes and holes. Some were ornate like Maud\’s, only less so; others had more modest designs and curvatures scored on their walls and doors in the lazy fashions of the day; others were plain, the homes of more lazy or poor dwarves. These were the fewest and furthest between as dwarves are an industrious folk and those who could not, or would not, keep to this code were shunned. A few more steps down the road, which grew less paved and decorated as he got further from town, and he finally turned onto Bald Street. There he opened his plainly decorated door, sat in his plainly dressed chair and sulked.
Next morning he awoke in the same chair with a shiver and a start. The Clangers were always on time and the deep, echoing gong meant the day had officially begun. With a strip of magnesium and a spark from his flint his stove was lit and he put the kettle on; it was an old copper thing long in his family\’s keeping. Sleepily he stumbled through his food-stores in search of tea leaf to steep. These were small, wooden canisters, indeed some of the only wooden things he owned. The tea was found with little enthusiasm and Gram had little to do but sit and wait for the water to warm.
Gram was depressed. His friends at the Forgers, though more like co-workers they were, often thought him sullen and serious. His dad was the same; born Grimboldís, his name was shortened to Grim for the sakes of brevity and appropriateness both. They were the solid and rueful foundation of their Cog, always to be counted on in their hardness. Gram, though, was unlike his father in that his seriousness came from a deep care and thought for the beautiful things of the world while his father was only so for the hardness of the world. It was his work that Gram loved: that such lovely things could be wrought by living hands was a joy and wonder that was reborn with every tool or sword or ware he crafted. So it was that his home, though it be small with three rooms only, two square and one round, was a living museum shodden with crafts old (some extremely so) and new. It was not unlike the dwarves of the Homes to so dedicate their lives to their work (or \’marry\’ to it as some said [mostly unwed dwarf-women]) but few, even among the most skilled, took to it with such care as Gram.
The dwarf pursed his lips in thought after a sip of tea. He was especially depressed because he now had a week to say goodbye. It would be enough time, no doubt, but he had little care for places outside the Homes; he had been abroad only twice in his long life and was not impressed. The first time was a fool\’s errand to find a fabled vein of silver-ore to the south of the Homes, at the edge of the Fang Desert. He and a small band of Forgers had left with a few hunter-dwarves on a trip that earned them naught but weary feet and disappointment. The second time was to bury his mother. Not an occaision worth remembering. Suffice to say, he did not wish to leave the Homes. Even if his one reason for staying was his work it was more than enough.
Gram stood and with a long and lasting look at his kitchen. Covetous as it might have been he cherished every one of his trinkets, even the poorly made chimes and other insignificant pieces he had never touched since hanging them on the walls. It was home.
And now that tom-fool and his mattress of a Lady had kicked him out.