Book Two: The Lone and Level Land
CHAPTER THREE:
Arek in Cauldron

Berrona Umbermoraday

Arek again finds himself winding through the back allies of Cauldron, this time following the neophyte of St. Cuthbert. He separated from his Companions once again with only a pang of doubt. He’d insisted to them that if he allowed Inigo’s betrayal to poison his impression of all men, than fear would be his master and he would sooner be dead. No, he would trust still. Regardless, a small pang of doubt crept and wept in the dark parts of his heart that had once filled with the corrupted stone of the Devourer.

Arek shuddered at the thought. The neophyte had stopped in front of a stone door in a mortar wall. “This is where I shall leave you. From here you are in Moradin’s hands. Wulfgar and your kind await you through this door.” He turns and leaves.

"May St. Cuthbert bless your steps, young one." Arek says softly to the departing Neophyte. He manages a quick smile before turning his attention to his immediate surroundings.

Arek looks around the area for anything suspicious. He checks the stone door and masonery (without touching it) for anything that might look out of place. Gripping Unity, he begins the silent mental rhythms that would lead to a prayer to Moradin should he find anything out of the ordinary.

The door stares back at Arek., It is stout, but it lacks his solemnity.

Arek calls out to Moradin to see if there is a dweomer on the door.

The spell works - there is no weave of spell about this portal. It is a good, sturdy, Dwarven built door.

Arek carefully turns the handle and opens the door

It occured to Arek that a Dwarven door in Cauldron must be ancient indeed. The vents of the extinct volcano are a natural link to the Lakerange undermount. The surface Dwarves earned long ago that controlling such access points was logistically critical for defense and commerce. This, however, was the first Dwarven door he'd seen since he arrived, and he had spent a lot of time skulking in allies. Curious.

The inlaid handle seemed to close around Arek's hand. To his surpise, it held a lockstone inside. Ancient indeed! The ground seemed to tremble a moment as he shifted it to open. The door moved inward without a sound. Beyond lay a room lit by a single brazier, obviously for the benefit of the Human Priest of St. Cuthbert who stood amongst the several Dwarves in full battle regalia. Amongst them, Arek quickly recognized Leonid!

"Well met, Stone-Father," Leonid addressed him in the olf way, "Peace and well met Lord Unifier," he continues. He bids Arek enter the room and stand at the center of the semi circle they form. The Human stood a part of the ceremonial ring. His face is stern yet quiet. Attentive. Respectful.

The eldest Dwarf, a proud old Warrior by the look of his empty sockets, scar-burnt face, wooden leg and missing hand, begins to speak in a Dwarven brogue so thick with history it nearly brings tears to Arek's eyes. "Lay claim His granite shroud, Child of Stone. Lay claim our ancient Home. Lay claim, Sentar's bones. So claim and speak the names of your Fathers."

The words come at Arek as if out of a dream! So begins the Liturgy of Naming! The final words spoken by those who would become Claimers. Arek knew them by heart, as did all neophyte Claimers. They were memorized in preparation for the day that they too would join the Claimers' ranks and speak the names of their Fathers. After all that had happened he never expected, never dreamed, he would ever live to hear the beginning of the liturgy... never expected to be able to respond.

Arek had received virtually no training. Even if he had, he ought not to be a Claim his Fathers names through the Liturgy for years. Yet here he stood.

Arek's Arc of Witnesses in an ancient hall of stone stood arrayed before him. Obviously, they expected him to continue the Liturgy. Once begun, as now it was, the Liturgy cannot be broken. Ceremonal though it may be, any break, any fumble, any departure from or mistake in the Liturgy of Naming, was enough to end all hope of every laying claim to the title, Claimer.

The witnesses watched on. Waiting to see what Arek would do next.

"Of all the places for this to happen..." Arek thought."If this is your wish Blessed Stonecutter, I accept."

Arek tries to remember what he had been thought what now seemed ages ago. Slowly he drops his shield to his feet and lays his helm on it, the crest of Clan Dakar facing the eldest dwarf in the middle of the ceremonial ring.

Discreetly clearing his throat, Arek presents himself to the assembly. "I, Arek Thurin Azagath Bihtat, claim my Father's and his forefather's name. Through the Soulforger`s craft, Sentar's Bones I Claim. From Sentar we have emerged and to Sentar we return."

Laying down on one knee, staring strait into the ancient eyes of the eldest dwarf, Arek continues: "I give my strength to the Clan and to the Maddock. For them, I will claim back what rightfully belongs to them. For myself, I only claim my name, Bithtat."

Arek lowers rises, lowers his head, and turns in the opposite direction, his back to the elder, waiting for his call to be answered.

"For a name, in the end, is all that we are," the sightless Warrior's cadence continues strong and clear, "For a name, in the end is all that we become. The Names of our Fathers binds us to the past. You carry those names forward. For your Fathers, for the Maddock, for Moradin, for the Veins of Stone, then, Claim you Bithtat, your Names..."

Now the hard part. Arek must now speak the names of his geneology back to the earliest known memory of his Clan. An act of endurance and memory that could take hours.

Arek does not forget. That is to say, his mind does not go blank. But nearly as bad. Arek pauses and fumbles, mumbles and trips. Perhaps its his nerves, barely recovered from the ordeal beneath House Golgadin.

The first stutter created a cascade of doubt, as the Witnesses, shifted from foot to foot, some looked at Leonid disbelievingly. Arek clears zombie dust from his throat, eyes widen in shock and carries on. Leonid looks uncomfortable. Wulfgar, the priest of St. Cuthbert, is struck by all of the stirring.

Only the Old Warrior does not flinch.

Nearly an hour and a half after Arek began, he speaks the last of his Fathers' names. The trail of his voice does not have time to echo against the stone before the argument begins.

"I've heard enough, Leonid. You waste my time and risk our loyalty to the Maddock with talk of Claimers and renewal only to bring us this runt who can barely dribble out the names of his Fathers. It's an insult..." and that is not the worst of them.

Leonid protests at first, but bit by bit, he is shouted down. He is beset upon on all sides by declarations and accusations of trickery and lies. Old men complaining about ceremony and ritual unfulfilled. Stubby, angry fingers jab the air at Arek. Shouts fill the hall, Wulfgar's head swings back and forth between Arek and the shouting Dwarves.

The Old Warrior is inscrutable. A stone. He seems to be waiting for something to happen.

"The Claimers betrayed us," one of the assembled shouts, "And now, so have you! If he is Moradin's Lord Unifier, I am a Hobbit maiden!"

Arek listened to the back and forth, feeling shame and gratitude towards Leonid for putting up a brave fight against the other elders. Never had Arek felt so alone, vulnerable, and inadequate."This was not meant to be you fool. Not now at least." With these thoughts, Arek felt relieved. The burden of responsability was gone. He could go back to being a young dwarven cleric, eager to learn the ways of Moradin without having to rebuild a part of dwarven history.

And yet he felt differently as he slightly shifted from one foot to another. He felt the silent strength of Unity, still strapped to his back."Unity," Arek thought," is it that simple?" Arek thought of Woden and of Leonid's reaction when he saw the relic. " I know it to be true that there is more than just chance that I have been given this blessed weapon." Arek reached back, grabbed the warhammer and slowly started to unwrap it from the leather bindings that were meant to hide the true nature of his steel stone weapon. As he did so, Arek found something in him that he had never felt before. A certainty so profound that otherwise would have prevented him from doing what he was about to do. Failed trial or not, Arek would not let his ancestors' names be tarnished. Not after what he had lived through since the Eye.

Arek lifted Unity up and yelled with all his strenght: "ENOUGH! By the Soulforger`s anvil, ENOUGH! BEHOLD MORADIN'S GIFT. Unity is not lost as some feared. Hope for the Maddock and the Clans is alive and well. I wield Unity because I believe it is the will of Moradin. I have failed to impress the elders with the ceremony, so be it. But this is my claim to my ancestor`s name. I am the first of my clan to hold Unity and I have fought bravely with it these last few weeks. No ceremony or traditional rite can deny this. I have seen wonders and horrors many dwarves will never face in their long lifetimes. Through all this, Moradin and Unity have never failed me, NOT ONCE! So I believe I have been true to both. Perhaps I am unfit to hold it further, I do not know. My intentions are true and I wished to return this sacred relic to the Maddock. I know my place. I do not claim to be Lord Unifier. I only do Moradin's bidding."

Arek steps towards the Old Warrior, kneels before him, his head bowed: "Here venerable one. You are more deserving than I to bear Unity. I do not wish to insult the Elders further. I have done my best and done honor to clan Bithtat and clan Dakar. LET NO ONE DENY IT!" Shaking, feeling drained, Arek lifted Unity with both hands over his head up to the Old Warrior. Wincing from the pain and humiliation of having to let Unity go, Arek could speak no further.

But for the blood pounding in Arek's ears, the silence that followed in that granite room would have been deafening.

Time froze.

The Elder smiled, "So, you've some stone in you."

The others seemed to draw breaths simulatenously then, as if they had just woken up. Their eyes are like saucers. Wulfgar's eyes, however, have
narrowed and he is studying Arek intently.

"Can it be...?" One of the most vocal decriers of a moment ago steps forward tentatively, before stopping again. "Leonid, what is this?"

"This, is the Lord Unifier. Fist of Moradin. The last Claimer and the first. This is my cousin, my brother, and my hope for our people, you orc-bred dog." Leonid steps forward and urges Arek to stand.

"It would seem," the Elder begins, "That Leonid may be owed an apology. I seem to recall someone having called him a liar."

So begins a flurry of discussion, no less animated than the cries of derision that preceded them, but certainly less angry and more filled with wonder. Apologies are spoke, some half-hearted words are uttered about the less than perfect lliturgy, to which the Elder responded curtly, cutting the debate short, "Time enough for liturgies to be uttered when there is time and dandies to impress. That time will come, but it is not now. It is more than enough that he remembers the names of his Fathers even as he still bears the stink of battle."

The discussion tapers off.

The Elder urges Arek to stand, and wraps Arek's around Unity. He speaks softly then, so that only Arek can hear, "You do me great honour, Lord Unifier, but Unity is not yours to give away. Speak not such words again, lest Moradin lose patience with your humility and come to believe you truly do not wish to bear His trust."

He looks at Arek with his sightless eyes, his nimble fingers feeling Arek's hands. His frowns deepen the crevices in his scarred face. "Aye, you've some stone in you," he says at last.

"Wulfgar tells us you've a quest to complete," begins one of the Dwarves, "That you are bound by prophecy. If this is so, and you bear Unity, then Moradin has a stake in this affair as well. We shall not detain you, nor as your Witnesses, shall we deny you the Office of Claimer, if you choose to take it."