Arcaeus crested the long staircase to the shrine, shivering slightly. Winter was fast approaching and the weather was getting ahead of itself, dropping more than ten degrees in the past two days. Arcaeus had heard that the shrines at the top of this hill were giving out furs in celebration of some holiday and decided to get one for himself.
Several dozen people jostled one another as they milled around a handful of shops and such that had been hastily but professionally assembled around a central square. The people were mostly bundled up warmly already and were instead browsing wares being sold at the stalls, which ranged from children’s toys to battle-ready armor and weaponry. The atmosphere held a general excitement and perhaps a hint of restlessness.
“Hey, boy!” a voice called from the side of the street. Arcaeus turned to find Bogrin heading towards him through a thickening crowd, a broad smile on his face. He was covered in many thick furs.
“Ah, good morning, Bogrin. I was wondering where you’d gone this morning.”
“Been up since before the sun,” he responded, thrusting forth his hand. Arcaeus stood confused for a moment before realizing Bogrin was trying to shake his hand. He offered forth his own hand and Bogrin clasped it with both of his own, bowing his head over them and mumbling to himself.
“What are you doing?” Arcaeus asked, wincing at Bogrin’s powerful grin.
“Today is Naze eight, Moradin’s day. Dwarves all over the world will be taking the day off and celebrating in Moradin’s honor. Did you come to pay your respects as well?”
“Not really,” Arcaeus said, pulling his hand slightly to indicate he wished Bogrin would release it, but his silent plea went ignored. “I heard there were furs being handed out up here and thought I would pick some up.”
Bogrin’s smile slipped slightly. “Although I appreciate you trying to clothe our party in something warm, the furs are only for the priests and clerics who worship Moradin. It would be inappropriate to give them to you.”
“I see,” said Arcaeus. “Would you mind?” he indicated his captive hand with his free one.
Bogrin released Arcaeus’s hand. “Today is a celebration of camaraderie and thankfulness to those who support you in your daily endeavors. Just trying to get the spirit of the holiday going.”
“Right,” said Arcaeus, rubbing his hand. “I thought Moradin was a god of crafting and smithing; why are the priests giving out furs instead of, say, breastplates?”
“Don’t be daft, boy,” Bogrin responded, though he laughed as he did so. “Moradin loves all things created by the hands of mortals, even things cured, stitched, and sewn, so long as they are made well and with great care. Besides, with only a month until winter begins, what good would cold steel do his followers?”
“It makes sense when you put it like that, I suppose.” Arcaeus looked around at the other celebrants. “There are not a lot of Dwarves in attendance here. A bigger city than Edelton probably has some great festivals this time of year, right?”
Bogrin’s smile became even more strained. “There are about twenty Dwarves here, so it’s not too bad. Even big cities tend to only have a hundred or so if they’re lucky. Dwarves don’t gather around in big groups as much since the fall of Moradinka.”
“Yeah, I’d read about that,” said Arcaeus a bit awkwardly. He didn’t want to bring up something like the mass slaughter of his people on a religious holiday: that would probably be tactless. “So you’re celebrating today?” was the best new subject he could concoct on short notice.
“A bit, yes,” Bogrin responded, “but I’ve been putting a lot of work into the shrines as well, helping here and there, cleaning, blessing, watching a stall while the priests take a break, that sort of thing.”
“Ah, that’s admirable,” said Arcaeus. “What has made you so proactive today?”
Bogrin’s smile finally fled completely. Arcaeus was beginning to think his innocuous questions were anything but. Bogrin looked around anxiously. “Come over here,” he said, directing him towards a batch of empty merchant’s stalls the crowd was ignoring.
“What’s the matter with over there?” asked Arcaeus when they stopped.
Bogrin sighed heavily. “I don’t want anybody hearing me.” He turned to face Arcaeus. “It’s becoming… difficult to be here at this celebration. Any Moradin’s day celebration, actually.” He ran a troubled hand through his beard and seemed hesitant to continue. “Moradin has done things-
and not done things-that has me concerned as to whether he is really a loving creator. He just…” he lifted his hands in the air in a futile motion as he searched for the right words, but none came.
“If you don’t want to talk about this-” Arcaeus began, seeing Bogrin was becoming quite upset.
“No,” Bogrin interrupted. “I’ve been bottling this up for a while. I need to voice my concerns to someone.”
“I don’t think it should be me,” said Arcaeus. Bogrin made a sad and disappointed face. “What I mean,” Arcaeus said quickly, “is shouldn’t you talk to Moradin or something? I mean, this is a celebration honoring him, right? More than any other time, he should be listening to prayers and such, I would think.”
Bogrin look surprised. “I… I couldn’t. How can I talk to Moradin about such things?”
“I think everyone likes to get some constructive criticism every once in a while. It couldn’t hurt, surely.”
Bogrin took a deep breath. He opened his mouth to speak, closed it again, and took another deep breath. “It couldn’t hurt,” he said as if to convince himself. “Moradin is just waiting for me to say something. Moradin loves me.” He blinked. “Yes, Moradin loves all Dwarves.” He nodded. “I think you have a good point, Elf. I think I should talk to him myself.”
Bogrin dropped to one knee in the dirt, the furs about his frame bunched up into his arms to keep them from draggin on the ground. “Moradin?” he whispered. He paused for a moment, his jaw trembling. He licked his lips and continued, speaking in Dwarvish. “Moradin, my father. I know not if you hear me, but I shall speak nonetheless. I, Bogrin Silvertrough of clan Silvertrough, come before you a priest of damaged faith.” His teeth chattered as he said those last words, but he forced himself to press on. “I have always been taught that you were a god of compassion, that you lead our people to great things, that you gave us the power and courage to survive, that you were always a beacon of good. But I have seen things, things you have personally had a hand in, that have been anything but representative of good. I have seen friends and clansman killed by our cousins who took our home, allowing the deaths of thousands of your children. I have lived through the Fury, which you pushed for, and have fought against people I wished not to fight against on your order, for I believed you a being of good. I have ever strived to be the kind of example that you have always been, but now I find myself questioning if you really are the kind of being I should aspire to be like.” He clutched his holy symbol, the anvil and hammer of Moradin, and felt tears run down his face. “I don’t wish to feel this way about my father. Please, father of my kin, give my heart peace.” He rubbed his thick hands over his symbol vigorously. “Give my heart peace.”
+ + +
Fetin clapped Arcaeus on the shoulder. “Hope you’re not here trying to get furs!” he bellowed with a laugh. Arcaeus said nothing, but stared straight ahead. “What are you staring at?” Arcaeus pointed at Bogrin. “Ah, Bogrin my friend!” he called.
Bogrin did not respond; he stood still, kneeling in the dirt, staring at something unseen in the boards of a merchant’s stall, his mouth slightly agape. “Bogrin?” said Fetin again, calmer and more silently than the first time. He approached the Dwarf slowly. With great care, he inched his hand forwards and placed it on Bogrin’s shoulder. Bogrin jumped as if from some great shock, looking at Fetin with amazement and confusion.
“Where did you go?” asked Fetin.
“Somewhere wonderful,” managed the Dwarf, wiping his runny face with his hands.
“Good,” said Fetin, shaking the tiny Dwarf a bit with his hand, “that’s good.”
Bogrin chuckled as he stood up. “You’re stone drunk, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Of course,” said Fetin, standing erect. “You’ll never find ale like you find at a Moradin’s day celebration. You’ve got to get while the gettin’s good, as you Dwarves say.”
“We don’t say that,” said Bogrin, laughing. He noticed Arcaeus standing there.
“Did things go well?” Arcaeus asked. The question felt appropriate.
Bogrin’s wide grin returned, though it somehow felt more natural than before. “Why don’t we all go back and enjoy the festivities, my friends?” Arcaeus nodded and Fetin placed his arm around Bogrin’s shoulder, great bouts of laughter shaking him as they walked back towards the main grounds of the festival.