I am submitting this character story for consideration.
Averna was chopping root vegetables in her cosy kitchen when the door slammed.
"Arthain?" she called.
"Maiman, you won't believe it! I got it I got it!" came the excited cry from the
front of the dwelving*.
"The apprenticeship! You got the one you wanted?" She came to the door of front room, wiping her hands on her apron.
"The very one! Master Strobode said he was very pleased with my samples," her youngest son beamed.
"Well, I couldn't be prouder," she smiled at him, putting a hand on his cheek "and your father would have felt the same."
"Aw Mam", he said, ducking his head to hide his blush and maybe a tear, she couldn't say for sure. "Anyway, all that talking has given me a powerful appetite. When's dinner?"
"And where's the fresh fish and mushrooms you promised from market, then?"
"Oh, I knew I forgot something!" He turned on his heel and ran out again.
'Younglings,' she thought, 'And that's the last one gone from the house.'
Suddenly the thought hit home and she had to reach for a chair, her knees felt so weak. She'd known this day was coming, but it hadn't seemed real until this very moment. Her eldest, Tamhain was gone from the house this 9 years, with a family of his own and already training his eldest son in the trading business. The time had drained away like a flagon of dwarven ale! Her two daughters Semhiln and Kertas had married a year apart to a pair of upstanding and hard working brothers, they lived next door to each other. And Murt, her husband gone in the war, lord knows she still missed him but had felt no need for another male in the house, she was so busy with the children.
Not children any more. She shook her head.
'And what will I do with myself now?' she asked herself. From somewhere deep within came an answer. She sat for a moment, then shook her head to clear it of silly elvish fantasies and got up to finish cooking.
Averna shut the lower door of her dwelving and made her way into the mine, welcoming the warm smell of hot metal cooling in moldings, the sound of hammers and gruff voices muttering as the work proceeded. It was her day to deliver lunch to the the miners and casters of her clan, baked venison and mushroom pie, always a favourite.
"Mmmm, I know that smell!" said her cousin Angrum, turning around to reach into the basket.
"Leave some for your hungry workers now!" Averna teased, pulling the basket away with a wink.
"If they would work hard enough to deserve your cooking, I might," he joked as the dwarven men gathered around to receive their portions. They grinned as they bit into the succulent pies, then wandered off to corners to enjoy the rest of their lunch.
"What do have have planned, now that your younglings are all out of the house?" asked Angrum, "Rent rooms to apprentices, maybe? Everybody loves your cooking! Or you could work as nurse, healing young fools that step on their picks or some such."
"I haven't thought much about it," Averna mused, "things are happening so quickly. I'm sure I'll think of something. Can't sit around in that dwelving all by myself. I might like to... I don't know, get outside some."
Angrum frowned. "What do you mean, outside? Don't know that I've heard of any self respecting dwarven women doing such a thing. Suit yourself though, I suppose. Hey what're you doing with that pick, Lunder, how many times have I told you to..." He turned back to his work.
She thought about it as she walked home with her considerably lighter basket. What did women do when their children were grown? Some continued to care for their men, not an option for her. Some went to work for the clan, cooking, cleaning, even tending the library of crafting, a possibility that drew her more than some. Others disappeared from daily life, going to live in the women's cave to study the mysteries. She shrugged and continued home.
The next morning seemed to come too early, a ray of sun making it's way from the upper ground level into her sleeping room, waking her from a dream of being in a desert under an open bright sky, searching for a special flower... She lay still for a few moments, mustering the resolve to start the day, then finally she sighed and levered her feet to the floor.
Today was the 5th day of the month of Akbar, the rain month and promised to be a busy one. Tonight her clan would celebrate the day of rain, not a terribly important day for dwarves, traditionally the day to sample the strong ales and stout beers that had been brewing away in their own quiet caverns. After much tasting, discussion, drinking songs and smashing together of deep flagons, decisions would be made about which brews would be shipped away to foreign parts and which would be kept for daily use, or treasured and brought out for special occasions. Tonight they would also formalise and then celebrate Arthain's apprenticeship, and that meant a great deal of extra cooking, among other chores. Even clan leader Rogustos would be attending, she needed to sit him at the head of the table, she reminded herself. As she pulled her shift over her head, she could hear knocking on the door already, and her daughters' voices chattering to each other outside the door.
"Yes, yes, on my way," she called.
Many dumplings, mushroom pies, and table settings later, Averna had a moment to herself to change. She didn't have much to choose from, but brought out from the bottom of a trunk her special tunic, worn so infrequently it hadn't yet needed patching, and matched it with a clean skirt. Kneeling, she brought out from the trunk her treasure box, the jewellery passed down form her fore mothers; jewellery she would give to her daughters in turn on Headelmas; the day of their first child's birth. This would be the perfect day to wear her favourite opal, with unexpected flashes of bright colour hiding within. It would be in honour of her son, she told herself firmly, and not a metaphor of any other kind.
The dwarven honoured guests, extended family, clan members, and friends had feasted to repletion and were ready to move on to the serious drinking when Averna deemed the time for the apprentice ceremony must be seized or lost forever. She nodded to her cousin Angrum who looked at her blankly for a moment from his well-fed stupor, then mumbled "oh, of course." He rose to his feet and banged his fist on the table loudly until the the din in the room fell to silence.
"We have come together," he announced, "not only to sample our fine hand-made beverages..."
"Here, here" shouted a chorus of deep voices, flagons were raised and the moment was almost lost until Angrum managed to shout over it all, "WE ARE HERE TO HONOUR Our young cousin Arthain, who is leaving the home of his mother to begin the time- honoured work of dwarven men! Our excellent molder of fine metals, Master Strobode, has given our Arthain a place in his workshop and may Strobode never live to regre..."
Averna's sharp glance brought Angrum back to topic.
"Er, may Arthain do us as proud as we expect!" He wiped his forehead with his sleeve. "Master, are you prepared to make the bond official?"
Master Strombode nodded, a twinkle in his eye. He was widely considered one of the best masters, not only for his firm and thorough teaching methods, but for his fairness and sense of humour.
The paper was brought out and signed before all, Averna watched with her heart filled with pride and a mother's sadness and another, elusive spark of feeling which she refused to put a name to. Toasts were made, Arthain was given his first flagon and Averna breathed a sigh of relief, gesturing to the young women to clear the plates. As mother of the apprentice, she was obliged to remain at table for a time. Normally she would have made her escape early to gossip with the women in the cooler and quieter antechamber, watching over the youngling women in their clean-up tasks.
Slowly sipping her ale, a hearty brew with a hint of blackberry which she would recommend to her cousin for the winter festivals, she noticed one of clan leader's assistants slip into the hall to whisper into Rogustus' ear. The clan leader sat up straighter and seemed to ask a question, though Averna couldn't hear a thing through the din. He didn't seem to like the answer, shaking his head and frowning. Then he looked up at the door. Averna turned her head and noticed the entrance of the stranger just seconds before the rest of the party. It was a man, a human, who were rare visitors in dwarven caverns. He stood, with his head nearly brushing the ceiling of the fellowship hall. Dressed in a soft brown tunic and black pants, he was neat and well groomed, even with a reasonable beard, though a dwarf might consider it scant. She found that she liked his face, he was undaunted by the company and had a pleasant, likeable expression.
The hall fell to absolute silence, unusual for the occasion.
"Greetings." said the man with a bow.
"I apologise for arriving in the middle of your event but I have critical news. I am a merchant come through a town just east of here. This morning the town received word from scouts that a large group of monsters had spawned to the north and were heading this way. We don't know which of our two settlements they will hit first. We wanted you to be ready."
The hall erupted into chaos. Dwarves were shouting and standing and reaching for weapons. Averna noticed that the man seemed to have more to say. He tried to speak but the noise was too great. Suddenly he reached into the air and made a ball of blue fire which grew to an enormous size, then died down again. The hall quieted.
"One more thing, if you please. Some of the people in my caravan were injured as we fled the invasion. We need help healing them. If you could send a healer, we would be grateful."
Rogustus grimaced. "We couldn't possibly spare-"
"I'll do it." said Averna, before she could stop herself.
The entire hall to a dwarf, turned to stare, the hall falling to complete silence for the second time that evening."
"My man is gone and my children out of the house," she said challengingly. "I am the best one to go."
Rogustus hemmed into his beard but didn't object. The others muttered amongst themselves, then began to leave to prepare for their own tasks. Her cousin Angrum shook his head. "Are you sure about this?" he asked. She nodded.
The man just smiled at her.
"What is your name?" she asked him.
"Terabain, good lady," he bowed. "And you?"
"I am Averna."