Dwarves are mountain creatures. Some myths say they were made from the bones of the earth themselves. They almost always live in the deeps beneath mountain peaks, though, in cities carved from the living rock and sculpted into halls, forges, and homes. In many ways, modern fantasy dwarves have taken on many of the aspects of the Norse culture that helped define them. Their like little underground vikings, fearsome, jolly, and heavy drinkers. Their caverns are like mead halls made from stone rather than wood, and their warriors are vikings compressed down to fit in dwarvish tunnels.
It is well known that dwarves of Calibran come in two general types. Hill dwarves are more likely to be encountered by the other races. They live on the sides of the mountains, and only go below the earth to mine for the metals and gems they value so highly. In their city of Mil Dundhor, they mine and forge, and sell what they make to the wider world.
Mountain dwarves are rarer above ground, spending most of their lives in their deep workings. The things they make are meant for use in their dark halls, and rarely make it into the hands of others. They are stricter, more fierce, and (so they say) are the true dwarves of Calibran. Mountain dwarves in Calibran have their own under mountain home, known to most as Khorduum.
The Halls of the Mountain Kings
Deep beneath the tallest peaks of the Cairbre Mountains is the home of the mountain dwarves. Khorduum is not a city in the sense that a human might expect. A noble elf, wandering the halls, might find it familiar in a strange way. The reason is that Khorduum, for the most part, is as much a mine as metropolis. The dwarves pursue veins of silver, iron, and other metals, carving out the rock. Behind them comes builders and architects, expanding their workings and turning them into homes and marketplaces. The mines and veins have snaked their way through the mountains, miles of dark, maze-like tunnels. Large caverns, better lit and more lively than the tunnels, become market places, temples, and taverns. Is it the city, or a whole country? Dwarves shrug. Those distinctions matter much more to a surface dweller than to Khorduum’s inhabitants.
The center of this complex and organised web of mines, halls, homes, and more, is the Great Granite Hall, the dwarven king’s throne room. Part of the Slate Citadel, the king’s palace, it is where the mountain king holds his court and from whence his decrees are issued. The hall itself is a wide space, and tall, supported by four thick stone pillars that rise from the four corners of the king’s dias. From the floor of the Hall, the dias rises in steps, to the platform where the king sits on his stone chair.
The Great Granite Hall isn’t just the king’s throne room. Dwarves are noted for their practicality, and so the king has placed his kingdom’s bureaucracy there as well, under his personal eye. The Hall is full on most days with dwarven nobles and petitioners seeking an audience with the king. It is also filled with judges, discussing cases with their colleagues and the king’s lore keepers. Clerks and priests complete their work standing in that hall, not wanting to return to their offices lest they be called on by their king to perform some task.
Outside of the Stone Citadel is Kugret’s Market. The name is somewhat misleading as it is as much a manufacturing center as a market. The best dwarven smiths have their forges in the Market, and indeed, it is only possible to work among the Market’s forges with an invitation from the king himself. His weapons and armor, and those of his guards, are made in the Market. But an invitation takes more than simple skill with fire, hammer, and an anvil. It requires some invention or innovation to justify the invitation.
It does also operate as a market, and Kugret’s is the largest in Khorduum. It is one of the few places where dwarves can purchase delicacies, luxuries that can only be produced on the surface. From the Citadel and the Market at the center of Khorduum, the tunnels spread out through the Caribre Mountains like a spider stringing its web. There is a complete map in the Citadel of all the tunnels and caverns. Or, at least the map is complete in theory. Dwarves, being the industrious folks that they are, have a tendency to go off and dig shortcuts, new rooms, and whatever else they need at a particular moment. It is a continuing headache to the king’s court to keep this building to a minimum, and to keep it from undermining other, official construction.
Khorduum remains a legendary place, only rarely opened to outsiders. Mountain dwarves are much more insular, much more private than their hill dwelling cousins. Their culture, sophisticated and ancient, has long been turned inward.
Mosswardens, Tanistry, and a Big Sword
The dwarves of Khorduum are a strange mix. Their life underground, and the harshness of it, often means that they find themselves trapped within rigid roles that don’t allow for much individual freedom. The mountain dwarves that inhabit Khorduum are known, in particular, for their fatalistic and pragmatic manners. Yet, there are few creatures that walk the earth or crawl below it that can match a dwarf in capacity for food, drink, and revelry when they’re in the mood for it.
Sometimes, the dwarven love of adventure and fun gets a little out of hand, straying into the mad. Mine divers, for example, are considered by most sober citizens to be thrill-seeking maniacs. Their hobby involves setting up a crane over a deep hole. The dwarves climb into a net hanging from the crane, then are released to fall into the black depths, without light or sound. The sensation is akin to flying, according to those that try the sport and live. Their fall is brought up short by the rope, and they dangle there until their fellows up above reel them back up.
On the other hand, Khorduum is also home to the mosswardens. This sacred fellowship is charged with maintaining and caring for the coldlight moss, which grows on the ceilings of most corridors and roads in the city. Torches, candles, and fires are used in the city, it would be impossible to light the whole of Khorduum with flame. The danger and possibility of filling the halls with smoke is real. In any case, there is not enough fuel for that many fires burning constantly. In many places, the moss is the only source of light and the mosswardens see it as a sacred duty to keep the ways lighted and navigable. They renounce all position and inheritance when they take up their trust.
Some dwarves have more to lose by taking such an oath. The mountain dwarves have a system of government that is similar to the aristocratic rulers of the humans. Dwarven noble houses sit on the Council of Nobles, led by the King. They are wealthy and privileged.
The government of the dwarves reveals two other sides to their nature, not duty and boldness, but love of both tradition and practical invention. They practice a system called tanistry, where the king’s heir is chosen from a pool of suitable candidates rather than being determined by simple birth. The heir, called the Tanist, becomes king on the retirement of the old ruler, and a new tanist is chosen.
The Magic of the Dwarves
Magic is a living force in Calibran. Every race partakes of it in some way. Elves seem to regard magic as a friend, humans think it an object of study, and goblins as just another sort of of confidence trick. Dwarves are alone in regarding magic purely as a tool, and so they have a unique method of employing it. Instead of casting spells or appeasing spirits, they inscribe runes, engraved into the material or otherwise made integral to the tool or weapon. Each rune alters whatever it is inscribed in, making it stronger or sharper, or one of a host of other possibilities.
The runes are drawn from the secret, ancient language of the dwarves, rarely if ever shared with outsiders. Deep in the halls of Khorduum, loremasters keep lists of the different runes, strictly organized by type.
The greatest runemasters are said to have transcended the need to inscribe their runes into base materials. Instead, they write runes in the air, producing effects similar to the spells of wizards and sorcerers.
Khorduum is a legendary place, known by most only as a far off name. It is a place for dwarves, and so it is a rare visitor who finds their way between the city’s gates. For all their isolation, though, the day may come when they will be forced to come to the surface and take a greater part in the realm.