“She needed tae get away from the heat,” Kurdran said as he patted Sky’ree’s leonine hindquarters.
Moira stepped close to Sky’ree and raised her hand to the gryphon’s beak. “A magnificent creature. How is her condition?”
“Improvin’,” Kurdran lied, not wanting to discuss the matter with Moira any more than necessary. He was surprised that Sky’ree had been able to rise from her nest today.
“I have a feeling she’ll be as good as new in no time,” Moira said. She stroked Sky’ree’s mane, and the gryphon lowered her head, cooing softly.
Kurdran had always known Sky’ree to be a good judge of character. The fact that she regarded Moira with such favor filled him with doubt about his suspicions concerning the Dark Iron leader.
Moira glanced at Drukan, who stood farther back with a dour look on his face. “Come, Drukan. Sky’ree is a legend. She’s faced dragons before: did you know that?”
“I dinna trust a beast that has a taste fer dwarven blood,” Drukan said, sneering.
Moira’s eyes grew wide in shock, and she stifled a laugh. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“That’s what they say about the Wildhammer lands,” Drukan said. “They feed their prisoners tae the gryphons. An’ Sky’ree here, well, the story goes she’s had more than her fill.”
Kurdran felt his body flush with heat, and he took a step toward Drukan.
“Watch yer tongue, lad.”
“You know how these absurd rumors have been spreading,” Moira said, placing her hand on Kurdran’s armored shoulder. “Drukan is—how should I say it?—still learning the finer points of civility.”
She turned to Drukan, and her tone was malevolent. “Apologize.”
“But, Yer Highness—”
“Now.” She glared at Drukan with a cold gaze that spoke more than words.
“Beggin’ yer apologies,” Drukan said to Kurdran through clenched teeth.
“Well, I don’t mean to trouble you and Sky’ree,” Moira said, her tone cordial once again. “I merely wanted to say that your decision yesterday was one of great humility… something I’ve come to expect after hearing of your heroics on Outland. Reforging the hammer will bring unity, and it will be due to your decision that this unity comes to be.”
“I’m not one o’ the dwarves out there who canna think fer themselves,” Kurdran said harshly. “What’s done is done.”
The Ironforge heiress simply smiled. “Of course. I’ll leave you and mighty Sky’ree to your walk.”
He watched Moira and Drukan as they went on their way, his moment of peace with Sky’ree sullied by the interaction. He wanted Moira to be the enemy. That, at least, would make the confusion in Ironforge understandable. Yet Kurdran felt with growing unease that he was searching for reason in a city that had abandoned any semblance of it.
“Let’s get back tae the roost, lass,” Kurdran said, and he tugged on Sky’ree’s wing.
Kurdran stood at his throne within the High Seat, forcing himself to stay calm. It took all of his willpower to keep from lashing out at Belgrum, who was standing before the thrones.
“I take full responsibility fer this,” the advisor said, lowering his head in respect to Kurdran and the other council members.
The High Seat was empty save Belgrum and the three clan representatives. Even so, the old dwarf spoke in hushed tones. Between his words, a tense silence filled the room. Clutched in his hand was the parchment recounting the story of Modimus’s hammer.
“It’s a well-made piece o’ lies.” Belgrum lifted the scroll and grimaced. “After further scrutiny, it seems as though the parchment was aged wi’ magic. An’ it was stuffed away in the record books. On the surface, nothin’ was a cause fer concern.”
“Nothin’ a cause fer concern?” Kurdran said. “One o’ me clan is dead!”
“In case ye forgot, one o’ me clan has died as well,” Muradin retorted. “It wouldna have come tae this if ye would’ve given up yer piece o’ the hammer in the first place.”
“Are ye deaf, lad? It isn’t a piece o’ anythin’!”
“Dinna use that as an excuse! Ye didna want this tae begin with!”
“Muradin, Kurdran, please,” Moira said, turning her attention to Belgrum. “The reforging is a day away. You understand what this means, don’t you?”
“Aye, Yer Highness. But the parchment is a fake. I’d stake me life on it. Someone took a mighty effort tae pass it off as real, but the script used doesnae match that o’ other scrolls from the same period o’ time.”
“So when did the pieces originate?” Moira asked.
“Fer all we know, the Wildhammer scepter an’ the Dark Iron gem came about after the civil war. The parchment described the damage on the Bronzebeard hammerhead in detail, which was how we found it. But knowin’ what we know now, there’s no tellin’ when it was damaged and put into the library.”
“Who did this?” Kurdran grumbled. He wiped a fresh layer of sweat from his hairless scalp. Despite his hearty constitution, the stifling heat of the city was getting to him.
“Och… impossible tae say. Many dwarves pass through the library each day,” Belgrum replied.
“It matters not. We must go through with it,” Moira said. “Our fellow dwarves are expecting an act of unity. If this story comes to light and we cancel the reforging, they’ll want someone to blame. Word of this does not leave this room,” she added, fixing her gaze on Belgrum. The graying dwarf nodded.
Kurdran slammed his fist against his throne. “I’ll not give up somethin’ that rightfully belongs tae me clan tae keep this lie alive!”
“It’s not a lie tae the city anymore,” Muradin said. “Not after days o’ arguin’ about it.”
Much to his agitation, Kurdran recognized the wisdom in Muradin’s words. Discussion of the Modimus hammer had set the tension in Ironforge on an immovable path, like a roaring avalanche that would continue its course until the reforging, regardless of what the council said.
Kurdran sat in the gryphon roost and mulled over the troubling situation. The truth of the Modimus hammer weighed heavy in his mind. He had hoped to take Sky’ree for a walk and clear his thoughts, but she couldn’t rise from her nest. She simply lay motionless, her breathing barely noticeable.
Wildhammer gryphon riders sat near their winged companions, distraught over Sky’ree’s condition as well as the tense atmosphere in Ironforge. Even Eli’s usually jovial demeanor was absent, and the gryphon tender lethargically raked bundles of straw in silence. Many of the gryphon riders, including Eli, were veterans of Outland. They had followed Kurdran to Ironforge just as they had followed him to the orcish homeworld, never questioning his decisions. For the first time in Kurdran’s life he felt that he had led them into an unwinnable, pointless battle.
Kurdran rose and paced through the roost as ten Dark Irons carrying wooden kegs began traversing the nests that stretched out into the walkway. The Dark Irons glared with their unsettling eyes at the seated Wildhammers as they passed. One of the Dark Irons tripped on a stray pile of dry straw, sending a keg crashing to the ground. The wooden container cracked open, and a pale liquid gushed out into the roost.
The fallen Dark Iron beat his fist against the ground and struggled to his feet.
“Why do ye Wildhammers have tae have yer birds scattered out where we walk?” the Dark Iron said, and he spat on the nearest gryphon. The creature squawked and swiped the edge of his nest with a talon, sending a clump of straw into the enraged dwarf’s face.
Eli stopped his work and calmly approached the Dark Iron.
“It’s not their fault, lad,” he said in an even tone.
“Yer beasts have been nothin’ but a nuisance since they got here. As if havin’ tae dance around their dirty nests wasn’t bad enough, I can smell their stench from the city’s gates.” The Dark Iron was seething. He cracked his knuckles and then took a step toward the nearby gryphon, both hands balled into fists.