“Ye wouldna understand. Ye’re no different than Moira.”
Muradin sighed and lowered his head. “When ye joined the council, I thought tae meself, ’Now there’s a dwarf who can set the bickerin’ in this city straight.’ Instead, all ye did was make things worse.”
“Aye, because I had tae go at it alone. Ye greeted me wi’ open arms, but as soon as I made a stand fer somethin’ I believed in, ye turned yer back on me.”
“How many times did I tell ye that this business wi’ the hammer wasn’t worth fightin’ over? I stopped wastin’ me breath when it was clear ye wouldna listen tae reason,” Muradin retorted.
To the Bronzebeard’s credit, Kurdran recalled numerous times in the past days when Muradin had approached him in private and spoken with him about giving up the Wildhammer scepter. But each of those conversations had seemed more like a personal attack than advice.
“Dinna ye see, lad?” Muradin continued. “That old piece o’ iron is a shackle holdin’ ye back. Holdin’ this whole city back. The more ye argue about it, the tighter it becomes.”
“An’ what if I dinna go through with the reforging tomorrow?” Kurdran blurted out. As the words left his mouth, he felt the scepter hidden beneath his armor dig into his ribs.
Muradin’s brow furrowed. He looked at Kurdran with disdain. “Magni enjoyed the tales o’ yer fightin’ with Sky’ree in Outland. I’m only happy that he isn’t here tae see the fool ye really are.”
Kurdran had considered telling Muradin about his confrontation with Moira. Now, though, he wondered if Muradin had colluded with Magni’s daughter. Yet there was an air of forthrightness to Muradin that lessened Kurdran’s fears. In a way that made the Bronzebeard’s words all the more painful to hear.
“That scepter kept the heart o’ me clan alive in Outland!” Kurdran shouted.
“The heart o’ yer clan is in ye!” Muradin’s voice rose to match Kurdran’s. “It was in Sky’ree. An’ it’s in all those Wildhammers in the city, sufferin’ every moment that ye keep arguin’. I’m tryin’ tae move this city forward, not bog it down with nonsense about old iron.”
“Move forward?” Kurdran scoffed. “The hammer wasn’t the right way tae move forward when we thought it was real, an’ it sure isn’t the right way now that we know it’s a lie.”
Muradin took a deep breath and placed his hand on Kurdran’s shoulder. “Just let it go, lad. Nothin’ good comes without sacrifice. Ye know that more than any o’ us.”
Kurdran shoved the Bronzebeard’s arm away. “Is this the reason ye were lookin’ fer me? Tae tell me how tae run me clan?”
Muradin’s face became twisted in anger. He glanced back at the shadowy forms working in the night. The other dwarves continued unloading crates, oblivious to Muradin and Kurdran. When the Bronzebeard turned back, he whipped his right hand in Kurdran’s face, knocking the Wildhammer back.
“Nay, lad. Just wanted tae see fer meself where the line between fact an’ fiction lay.”
Muradin was already on his way back to the cart by the time the shock of the blow had worn off. Kurdran simply stood at the gates, staring into the dark of the night.
The Wildhammer scepter felt oddly heavy at his side. Many of his memories on Outland were tied to it. But before that, he’d had little emotional attachment to the heirloom. In fact, he remembered nearly leaving it behind when he had set out for the orcish homeworld. The scepter had been hanging on a wall, coated with a layer of dust, when on a whim he had decided to pack it with his belongings.
All at once he felt foolish for taking the scepter from the High Seat. What did he intend to do with it? Leave the city and forsake his duties as a member of the council, tarnishing not only his own honor, but that of Falstad and the rest of his clan as well?
Kurdran mulled over the question as he walked through the gates and back into the heat of Ironforge. As he paced aimlessly at the outer ring of the city, a voice called after him, “Kurdran!”
Eli jogged toward him, carrying a bundle of furs.
“I’m nae in the mood,” Kurdran muttered.
“Aye, aye. I know the feelin’. But ye’ll want tae see this, lad!” Eli said, and he nearly tumbled to the ground.
The gryphon tender set the furs down on the stone floor and knelt beside them. Kurdran also knelt and watched with sudden attention as Eli unwrapped the bundle.
“It’s hers,” Eli said. A smile bordered by his thick beard was stretching from ear to ear.
Kurdran leaned closer to the furs in disbelief. Nestled within was an egg stained with soot.
"How…?” Kurdran was at a loss for words.
“I found one o’ the other gryphons carryin’ it. He’d been hidin’ up on a perch in the Great Forge. Must’ve grabbed the egg durin’ the fire. None o’ the others were tendin’ tae eggs,” Eli said. “I’ve been lookin’ fer ye ever since.”
Kurdran recalled then, among the chaos of the fire, the ash, the feathers, and the terrible cries, a gryphon shooting up in a blur from next to Sky’ree, his forelegs tucked tight to his chest. Kurdran raised his head and saw Eli’s eyes watering. The gryphon tender quickly wiped them.
“Dinna tell anyone about this. If the other lads knew I was sheddin’ tears, I’d never hear the end o’ it.”
“It wouldna be the first time ye went all weepy.” A laugh rumbled from deep within Kurdran as the words left his mouth. Yet the joy was tinged with anger as he gazed back down at the egg. It was a miraculous turn of events, but if he had the choice, he would have traded the egg for Sky’ree without a second thought.
“It isn’t Sky’ree….” Kurdran said.
“Och, a thought like that’ll put poison in yer head, lad. Put it tae rest now, or else ye’ll spend yer whole life waitin’ fer somethin’ that’ll never be.” Eli gripped Kurdran’s forearm. “This will nae ever be Sky’ree,” Eli continued, his face as serious as Kurdran had ever seen it. “But it’s her blood. It’s her gift tae ye. An’ I can promise ye that one day it’ll grow into a gryphon just as great as its mother.”
“Aye…" Kurdran said, and he felt a lump moving up his throat.
Hesitantly, he placed his palm on the egg. It was somehow warm, but the sensation was altogether different than the stifling heat of Ironforge. The warmth coursed through Kurdran’s veins and made him feel as though he were standing under the blue skies of the Hinterlands, bathed in the light of the sun. In that moment, everything became clear. He knew what he had to do, regardless of the consequences, to honor King Magni and fulfill his own duties as a member of the Council of Three Hammers.
The Great Forge was packed with dwarves shoulder to shoulder when Kurdran arrived. Nearly the entire city had turned out for the reforging of Modimus’s hammer. Even a few scattered gnomes, draenei, and other members of the Alliance were in attendance, although they stayed far from the dwarves gathered near the monstrous Great Anvil at the heart of the forge.
A line of Ironforge guards cordoned off the area around the anvil, and only Moira, Muradin, and a Dark Iron smith stood within. Many of the dwarves present were armed, tense with bottled rage. The Wildhammers had assembled near the entrance to the High Seat, far from their usual place at the gryphon roost. After the fire, they had taken all of their winged companions out of the city. The roost, cleaned and lined with new straw, now housed only Ironforge’s own gryphons.
Kurdran edged his way through the crowded forge. A great clamor rose from the mob around him, and among the indecipherable din Kurdran caught the word “thief" uttered numerous times. As he neared the center of the room, he could see Moira standing just behind the guards, addressing the audience.
“We have our suspicions regarding who stole the handle of Modimus’s hammer,” Moira said. “An investigation will take place. We will not, however, allow these thieves to disrupt what we have set out to do. We will commence with the reforging as…" Moira trailed off as Kurdran shuffled through the line of guards encircling the Great Anvil.
“Kurdran,” Moira said casually, as if their encounter the night before had never happened, “there’s a thief in our midst.”
The Ironforge heiress gestured at the Great Anvil, where the Bronzebeard hammerhead and the Dark Iron gem lay in plain sight.
“Care to shed any light on this predicament?” she asked loud enough for the gathered onlookers to hear.
Beneath her mask of civility, Kurdran could sense Moira savoring every moment of what she surely believed was her domination of the Wildhammer representative.
“I do,” Kurdran replied, looking momentarily at Muradin. The Bronzebeard stared at Kurdran with disgust, but he said nothing.
Kurdran strode to the edge of the Great Anvil. He drew the Wildhammer heirloom from inside his armor, thrusting the scepter in the air toward the watching dwarves.
“Ironforge!” he roared. “It was I who took the hammer piece.”
Shouts rose from the crowd, and dwarves began pushing against the ring of guards around the Great Anvil. Others edged toward the Wildhammers at the High Seat’s entrance.
Muradin stepped closer to the anvil and grasped Kurdran’s free arm. “Kurdran!” The Bronzebeard was seething. “Ye’re goin’ tae start a riot!”