by Ray Daley
Let me start by saying this: Beings like me, we live a long time. A century is like, well, infancy to my kind. The dwarf kind.
It’s a fine and proud species to be born into until you reach that difficult period . . . Getting married.
I guess most folks still know and subscribe to the old traditions? Those are the ones who are either already married or haven’t reached the right age yet. It’s quite simple, on the face of it. In order to marry, the oldest son must enter his father’s tomb, remove Dad’s sword, and present it to his bride-to-be. Sounds easy, right? Wrong!
Nothing about being a dwarf has ever been easy.
When a male dwarf dies, he’s placed into a tomb with all his weapons and worldly wealth. While not every dwarf still follows the mining traditions, all of them do continue to have an enormous affinity for acquiring as much gold as is dwarfishly possible. Their ghost then guards that tomb, for however long they had been alive. It’s not just a matter of nipping inside and plucking the sword from dear old Dad’s cold, dead hands. Oh, no. Far from it. You also have to defeat his ghost in single combat.
Even then, the sword et all still aren’t yours to claim. Yet.
There’s the petite matter of the golem on guard outside, whose sole job is to stop you from leaving the tomb by any means necessary. That mostly includes killing you. No, I’ll be honest at this juncture: It completely and entirely means killing you, and nothing else matters.
In case you hadn’t already worked it out by now, traditional dwarf weddings very rarely take place. Mostly because the groom-to-be ends up getting horribly slaughtered, in one way or another.
Sure. A lot of dwarfs choose to elope. It’s become the new normal, in fact. Bugger off while no one is looking to go and live in sin, siring bastards.
Less than one in a thousand dwarfs manage to complete the traditional ceremony.
My father lived to the grand old age of nine hundred. He had four sons: Grog, Orin, Tymon, and myself, Erik. I was the youngest, so had no real fears about any impending marriage. After all, the rules only mentioned the oldest son.
Dad had been dead ten years when Grog reached marriable age. He’d been madly in love with the same girl for the last eighty years and she had been giving him all the usual signs that she wanted to mine down.
Sorry, cultural differences there. I understand you Humans say “shack up“? Well, we mine down. It’s a dwarf thing, I blame our ancestors.
Grog was real old school and wanted to do right by his wife to be, so off he went to Dad’s tomb, with his sharpest axe and fiercest attitude . . . Where Pops’ ghost duly murdered him for his trouble. Obviously, the impending nuptials were cancelled soon after, once word got back to the village—quickly, as bad news always does. No, dwarfs don’t use the term “shortly,” and nor should you if you wish to live for any length of time around us.
Now, the role of oldest son fell on the shoulders of my dear brother Orin, who had done a lot of reading in his youth. No wild drinking or roistering for that dwarf—oh, no. When the time came for him to marry, Orin quietly slipped off whilst everyone was sleeping, to go and become a monk.
He’d never had too much luck with the ladies anyway so he figured, rather than die over an arranged and loveless marriage, he’d go and find God or die trying. From what little I could find out, he’s still looking. All those gods, you think he’d have tracked at least one of them down by now, but no. I can’t judge him too harshly, though—after all, he is my brother.
My brother Tymon was never concerned about finding a wife. Ever. By the time he reached ninety, he’d already realized he didn’t like girls in that way. He’d been dating a nice boy in secret (meaning that everyone in the village knew but chose not to say anything about it) so he and his partner left the village, without any real fanfare, to go and live happily ever after. From what I’ve heard through the local grapevine, they’re still doing that now, and good luck to them both!
. . . Which left yours truly as the oldest son.
By the time I started getting the urge to mine down, dear Dad had been dead seven hundred and fifty years. The main problem with this was that a ghost grows stronger the longer it’s around. Let me tell you, Dad was superdwarfal by then. Sorry, cultural differences again. I think you’d say superhuman?
I’m not a stupid dwarf. I can read and write in fourteen different languages. Human is quite easy to learn. After all, you’re reading this, aren’t you?
All carved in stone by my own hairy hand. Blisters and all. Bloody chisels!
Anyway: I spent two hundred and fifty years reading everything there was to know about dwarf marriages, which is a lot more than you’d think, given how rare they are. I’m an odd one, me: I actually wanted to survive my wedding, that’s how much I loved my bride-to-be. It took over two centuries of looking, but it finally occurred to me one day.
All those other dwarfs had been doing it the hard way. There was only a bloody loophole!
The golem guard was always happy to see people arrive at the tomb.
“Morning, golem.” We don’t do anything fancy, like name our golems. They’re piles of animated clay, for crying out loud!
“Morning, Miss Larissa.” For it was she, my wife-to-be.
She smiled and nodded to the golem. “I just need to check your standing instructions. Those say ‘Prevent the oldest son from removing his father’s sword from the tomb.’ Is that correct?”
The golem nodded, a pretty impressive feat for a pile of clay if you ask me. “Yes, Miss Larissa.”
“No other instructions, or caveats?”
The golem shook its head. “No, Miss Larissa.”
Larissa smiled at him. We’d just about gone and done it. “Okay, golem. I’ll be right back. You stay here and enjoy the view.” Well, it wasn’t like there was anything else it could do.
Apparently, Dad’s ghost wasn’t exactly pleased with meeting his future daughter in law. He’d been expecting Orin. However, pleased or not, he was bound by the rules of tradition from preventing her removing his sword.
Tradition is a fine and noble thing. And in my humble, upright, and still breathing opinion, it should be abused whenever possible.
Once she got outside, the golem was equally powerless to stop my dear Larissa from just strolling past with Dad’s sword. And all of his treasure. This here dwarf didn’t marry himself no fool, I’ll tell you that!
We abused tradition for all it was worth. That happened to be forty-eight thousand gold pieces, which was what it was worth to us. Dad had done quite the job in amassing a substantial fortune. Again, I won’t use the word “small.” Dwarfs just don’t.
So my dear Larissa carried many sacks to the cart she’d hired that very morning, especially for the occasion, and rode it back to my front door, where she knocked and presented me with Dad’s wedding sword. “Erik, darling. I believe this is yours?”
I duly made sure she gave it me pommel first, as I had read many accounts of overly eager dwarfs losing not only fingers but entire hands by making the mistake of grabbing their sword by the wrong end. I.E.:- The sharp bit.
After that, there was only one thing left: The proposal ritual.
I took a knee. “Dearest Larissa, I give you this sword, having used my greatest weapon, my brain, to best my father’s ghost in single combat. Will you marry me?”
It was a bloody stupid question, really.
We were already madly in love. Having suddenly inherited forty-eight thousand gold pieces probably sealed it for her, though. As much as one dwarf can love another, we love gold so much more. I mean, there’s that whole “hoarding piles of it after death” thing, for starters. I guess I’ve kept you in suspense for long enough now. You’ll want to know her answer?
Reader, she married me. And the two of us are doing a damn fine job of living happily ever after, much to the disgust of the dwarf race in general. Again, we don’t use the term “at large.” It’s a dwarf thing.
So, that’s our story. Dwarf tales are great—who needs dumb old fairy tales, right?
About the Author:
Ray Daley was born in Coventry & still lives there. He served 6 yrs in the RAF as a clerk & spent most of his time in a Hobbit hole in High Wycombe. He is a published poet & has been writing stories since he was 10. His current dream is to eventually finish the Hitch Hikers fanfic novel he’s been writing since 1986. Tweet him @RayDaleyWriter