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Dwarfen Holds ~ Karak Norn

“Never trust anything that burns to easily. Wood… gone before you can smoke your pipe. Coal, now coal will last you a good while, that you can trust. That cursed forest to the west, it too can burn. I’d wager my axe that the elgi inside it burn too. Clan Grintzagaz has lost its home once, and we wont lose it again.”

~ Iregar Brokksson, Son of King Brokk Ironpick of Karak Norn

Karak Norn is the largest of the current dwarfen holds in the Grey Mountains, and as such it acts as a regional leader for the Grey Dwarfs, as they are called. The Grey Mountains are among the poorest mountain chains in the Old World, poorer even than distant Norsca. The dwarfs here are a stubborn lot clinging to hope in a brighter future, a hope that is unlikely to come.

The Grey Mountains are a stretch of mountains spanning from the Vaults, at the center of the Old World, to the Sea of Claws along the northern frontier of the Old World. The mountains are relatively low when compared to the mighty World’s Edge Mountains or the Vaults, and the dwarfs attribute this small stature to their unstable rock structure. Even during the Age of Ancestors, the Grey Mountains were deemed unsuitable to support dwarfen civilization given their lack of mineral wealth. Early prospectors scoured the Grey Mountains before the First Chaos Incursion with hopes of finding ore and gemstone lodes to rival those in the World’s Edge Mountains. Alas their hopes proved to be misplaced. Instead what they found were mountains whose composition was primarily slate and marble with some pockets of granite and iron.

Where the Grey Mountains were poor in mineral wealth, they were full of many wide passes despite their short length. In the south the dwarfs name the pass at the foot of the vaults as Kadrin Grimaz. Further north the Granite Pass cut through the mountains revealing one of the more promising concentrations of granite the Grey Mountains had to offer, but the low forested pass ended in the dark and unsettling forest the dwarfs called Thingaz’Dum, or Athel Loren as the elves called it. Beyond the reach of the dark forest, further to the north two passes ran side by side , now known as the Grey Lady Pass and Axe Bite Pass. These two twin passes proved to be the most useful for large-scale movement of goods or people, but the mountains around them had little to offer. At the far northern end of the Grey Mountains, the pass known today as the Giseroux Gap cuts through the mountains, opening up on the east to inhospitable mires. The dwarfs noted all of these passes for their ancestors, but little would come of it for many centuries.

During the Golden Age the Grey Mountains only served as a border between two of three principle realms of the elven colonies. The oldest and largest colonies were west of the Grey Mountains, while second generation colonies were to the east. The youngest colonies were south of the Vaults. The heavily forested flatlands of the Old World were full of marauding beastmen brayherds, a remnant of the First Chaos Incursion, and unsavory trolls. The mountains were populated by smaller concentrations of Chaos breeds who used the flatlands as hunting grounds. The dwarfen desire to establish trade relations with the elves was hampered by the great distance between the World’s Edge Mountains and the coasts of the Old World, a distance which ran through the aforementioned forests. The dwarfs were not keen on entering the forests and pursing a clearing campaign, instead opting to control the mountains and mountain passes.

The joint dwarfen-elven strategy to tame the Old World so that trade could flourish was to divide and conquer. The dwarfs would control the mountains and mountain passes, not allowing foul populations to cross the ranges, while the elves would do their best to clear the forest realm as it was a terrain they were far more comfortable with. As part of their role, the dwarfs would begrudgingly return to the Grey Mountains for the sake of trade. It was not the dwarfs who were to settle the Grey Mountains who would benefit from this trade, but rather the World’s Edge Mountains holds. The lone dwarfen hold of Karak Zanda was founded in the middle of the Grey Mountains to control one of the main east-west trade routes, but beyond that the Grey Mountains were overseen by minor outposts and their garrisons of a dozen or so rangers.

Roughly a quarter up the length of the Grey Mountains is a pass known to the dwarfs as Kadrin Gragrut, the Granite Pass. This pass was not viewed at all as a vital trade route by the dwarfs, or even as an invasion route for the beastmen, for the western end of the pass ended within the mysterious forest the dwarfs knew as Thingaz’Dum, or Athel Loren among the elves. This dark forest was a curiosity for it seemed to be completely devoid of any beastmen or trolls unlike the other forests of the Old World, yet at the same time it seemed to harbor some living force unknown to the dwarfs. However, this pass was also the location of one of the most promising granite deposits in the Grey Mountains. Early prospectors had also discovered minor iron deposits in the region, giving the location additional value in the Grey Mountains.

With the colonization of the Old World’s coastlines and waterways by the elves, the dwarfs embarked on a campaign to construct outposts along the mountains that could safeguard trade routes. Among these outposts was Migdhal Gragrut along the Kadrin Gragrut, the Granite Outpost on the Granite Pass. The pass itself was not considered a trade route, but it never hurt to have eyes on one of the passes cutting through the Grey Mountains. The dwarf rangers who manned this outpost soon learned that the beastmen who travelled west through the pass and into Thingaz’Dum never came out. Their trip west ended in guttural screams. The dwarf avoided this forest at all costs after the reports and warnings they had received from Mighdal Grim in the south. The forest was not believed to be the source of Chaos, but rather some other magical source that consumed life.

Migdhal Gragrut was built atop a plateau above Kadrin Gragrut. From this location it could monitor movements in the pass below, but also keep an eye on the western forest of Thingaz’Dum. Due to its more abundant natural resources, Migdhal Gragrut was the largest outpost of the Grey Mountains, but less as a military fortification and more as a workcamp. The central stone tower served as the barracks for the rangers who patrolled the mountains. Surrounding the squat stone tower were several smaller, wooden-walled and slate-roofed buildings that served as the facilities for the woodcutters and stonemasons. The forested valley that formed the pass provided the dwarfs with a supply of wood that they traded to the other outposts in the Grey Mountains. The surrounding granite peaks offered the base material to build the fortifications of the surrounding outposts. The difficulty lay in transporting the goods across the mountains, which consisted of fragile slate. To help bypass this the dwarfs constructed the Drin Gragrut, the Granite Road, which bisected the pass and ran south-to-north to the nearby outposts. This wide granite road was a key trade artery in the southern Grey Mountains, used exclusively by the dwarfs.

Throughout the Golden Age, Migdhal Gragrut worked to expand the Drin Gragrut and provide the other outpost of the southern Grey Mountains with the minimal resources they needed to grow and sustain their settlements. In the latter centuries of the Golden Age, Migdhal Gragrut began to increase its own commercial activities with the elves, providing them with raw materials for construction. No where was this more evident than in the construction of the new elven outpost along the Anurein river and its convergence with an eastern river branch flowing from the World’s Edge Mountains. The name of this outpost has been forgotten in dwarfen history, for who are the dwarfs to remember the meager achievements of lesser races, but atop it ruins stands the city of Nuln today. Ruins, yes ruins, for the Golden Age would come to an end and all the dwarfs and elves worked to build during the Golden Age would be destroyed.

The War of Vengeance started in -1997 IC, though unofficially it started years earlier, and the start of this war would change the fate of Migdhal Gragrut. The outpost was fairly isolated and rather removed from any nearby elven settlements. The nearest aforementioned outpost was scores of miles to the north, and friendly relations between the two settlements prevented initial conflict. The course of the war would change much between the two races. The first century of the War of Vengeance would close out in a state of total war, with the dwarfs razing many major elven settlements east of the Grey Mountains. Migdhal Gragrut was not well prepared for war, and thus maintained its role as a scout along the Grey Mountains. Thus when the elven refugees from the outpost the dwarfs had helped build flowed through Kadrin Gragrut, the dwarfs did not stop them. Firstly, they had been friends before the war; secondly, the dwarfs were too few in number to face the elves; and lastly, the elves were marching west into Thingaz’Dum, surely the forest would take care of them as it had hundreds of beastmen before.

The initial century of the War of Vengeance tore such a great rift between the elves and dwarfs, who before had been such close allies and trade partners, that the following centuries would be ones of bitter bloodshed. This would not bode well for Migdhal Gragrut. The very elves the dwarfs had allowed to pass would come back into the mountains to wage a bloody guerilla war against Migdhal Gragrut and other outposts further north towards Karak Zanda. Whenever the dwarfs mounted a counterattack, the elves would fade back into Thingaz’Dum, unharmed by the dark magic within. Over time Migdhal Gragrut would suffer high losses leading to many of the residents of the outpost being killed or driven away. By the end of the War of Vengeance, Migdhal Gragrut was an outpost manned dwarfen skeletons, with any survivors fleeing south to Migdhal Grim, which had avoided the wrath of the elves.

The end of the War of Vengeance would bring no peace or justice for Migdhal Gragrut. Dwarfen rangers observed many elves fleeing into the forest of Thingaz’Dum, and not across the Great Ocean as most of their race had done. This did little to settle the grudges within the hearts of the dwarfs who had survived the guerilla war in the Grey Mountains. Though the High King had declared the grudges of the War of Vengeance settled when he took the Phoenix Crown off the corpse of Phoenix King Caledor II, the Grey Dwarfs hardened their hearts and looked at Thingaz’Dum with spite and a longing for vengeance. However, soon the Time of Woes would strike and vengeance would be delayed.

The Time of Woes saw the dwarfs practically disappear from the Grey Mountains. Karak Zanda was buried under the weight of the fickle slate of the Grey Mountains, as the unstable bedrock beneath it gave way. With the loss of the only hold in the Grey Mountains, and the largest dwarfen presence there, the minor settlements and outposts became islands of resistance that would not stand the test of time. Without the elves to keep the populations of Chaos breeds in the forests of the Old World in check, the beastmen surged forward, and they were not alone. The Time of Woes would also spew forth onto the Old World two new foes of the dwarfen race – the greenskins and skaven. The flatlands of the Old World were no safe haven and the mountains buckled under the weight of these races of hatred and destruction. Fortunately for the dwarfs, the Time of Woes would also cause the humans to migrate to the Old World, and they were not a race of rabid wanton destruction.

Though the Time of Woes and ensuing Goblin Wars were primarily fought in the World’s Edge Mountains and around the Badlands, the impacts of this struggle would shape the future of Migdhal Gragrut. Quite early in the Goblin Wars the outposts of Kadrin Varag, or Mad Dog Pass as it is more commonly called, fell. Survivors of these outposts would flee north seeking shelter in Karaz-a-Karak or Mount Silverspear along Agrildrin, or the Silver Road. However, in -1387 IC Mount Silverspear would also fall to the greenskins, prompting another exodus. This time they would flee further west away from the surging tide of greenskins from the east.

The migration of some of the surviving clans of Mad Dog Pass and more importantly Mount Silverspear to the west would incite the anger of the High King, furious that dwarfs would abandon their homes to such a vile foe instead of fighting, to the death if need be, for what was rightfully theirs. Around the year -1362 IC, twenty five years after the fall of Mount Silverspear and failed attempts to retake it, some clans of the fallen mine opted to go west in search of a new life. The act of their departure, coupled with the founding of Karak Izor by refugee clans from Ekrund, sent the High King into a fury. In -1362 IC, full of ire, the High King disowned all clans who abandoned their homes and founded new holds west of Black Fire Pass, the previous border of Karaz Ankor. It was with the weight of this decree weighing on them that the dwarfs of clan Grintzagaz left the World’s Edge Mountains for western ranges.

The journey west would take some time, and by the time the weary dwarfs arrived at Karak Angazhar new holds were being founded in the Black Mountains and the Vaults. The miners of Karag Agilwutraz, or Mount Silverspear, were not ready to fall under another king’s reign given the shadow the High King had cast over them, so they decided to keep pushing on to unclaimed lands, lands where none would rule over them and cast them out. The unfortunate nature of this time was that there were few ranges worthwhile to colonize. Old prospector maps showed where promising lodes of ores and gemstones were located, and most of these sites had newly founded holds on them. Only the Grey Mountains remained unclaimed, and they were certainly not a prize anyone longed for. The dwarfs of Mount Silverspear held onto the hope that perhaps there was hidden wealth within the Grey Mountains, wealth that only proper miners like those of clan Grintzagaz could find. With this hope in heart, the exiled dwarfs of Mount Silverspear and Mad Dog Pass made the long trek to the location of the fallen outpost of Migdhal Gragrut, for at least the granite deposits could provide some value in building a sturdy hold.

After years of travelling across the Black Mountains and later the southern Grey Mountains, the dwarfs of the Grintzagaz clan made it to the desolate site of Migdhal Gragrut. The surrounding buildings were heaps of rotted wood under slabs of slate, whereas the sole squat tower still stood, though the lack of a door did little to preserve it from the elements. Some wild beasts had turned the interior into their lair, wolves perhaps. Upon looking at the plateau that was the site of the outpost, a dusty flat scrap of land littered with ruins, the dwarfs of clan Grintzagaz were said to have called the place ‘norn’ or a barren land. Some wanted to push on to a more promising location, but the head of clan Grintzagaz held firm saying that this would be their home and that the dwarfs of Karaz Ankor would one day come to envy Karak Norn. So it was that in -1136 IC, after decades of wandering, the exiled dwarfs of Mount Silverspear and Mad Dog Pass founded their new hold.

The early centuries of Karak Norn’s history were not easy. The hold existed in a quite isolated position, without the ability to rely on neighboring holds for trade. The nearest hold of Karak Zilfin was also newly founded and barely scrapping by, and neither was rich in iron that they needed to shape their tools and feed their forges. They had to trade for iron from the hold of Karak Hirn in the Black Mountains, though they had little to offer in return. Karak Norn did indeed sit atop a site rich in granite, but granite is not a luxury commodity among the dwarfs. The prospectors of Karak Norn counted on finding wealth if only they dug deep enough, and so they would keep prospecting in the decades and centuries to come.

The main commodities that Karak Norn had initially were wood, granite, and slate. This did little to boost the economic state of the hold, as these were not commodities that were highly valued among dwarfs. The hold did not sit atop any large gold or silver veins, and only with great effort found a small iron vein sufficient to support its needs – atop which it built the mine of Grung Gandaz. Dire warnings from Karak Zilfin’s past told the dwarfs not to venture into Thingaz’Dum, the western forest, for it was a forest of death. For nearly two millennia the dwarfs would heed this warning, but some words fade in importance over time.

The economic viability of Karak Norn would get two minor boosts in the first millennium before the foundation of the Empire. Firstly, the arrival of the eastern tribes of men would lead to their colonization of the flatlands of the Old World, filling in for the rightly-exiled elves. The humans were a poor replacement for the elves, for they lacked the military skill, tact for trade, and cultural refinement of the elves, but they at least were not children of Chaos, yet. Trade between the dwarfs of Karak Norn and the early human tribes of the lands to the west helped ease some of the economic burden that befell the hold. Secondly, after hundreds of years of prospecting, the dwarfs of Karak Norn got their just reward, and were convinced it as the start of something great. This small find was the miraculous moment in Karak Norn’s history when they found a minor vein of semi-precious gemstones, including garnets, amethyst, and topaz. Though these were not highly prized gems among dwarfkind, they did much to help in trade with the humans.

Karak Norn would struggle through its early millennium of existence, scrapping by as a raw materials producing hold. Drin Gragrut was cleared of debris and renovated to ease communication to the north and south, but largely the hold lived a rather spartan life. Digging into the weak bedrock of the Grey Mountains was an activity fraught with danger, and even expanding the halls of the hold deeper into the earth was a risky undertaking. Due to this the hold expanded at a strikingly slow pace compared to other major holds. It comes as little surprise then that a significant portion of the hold is built out of the sturdy granite and resting atop the plateau. Not only does this allow for a better view of the surrounding lands, but it also gives some assurance that a weak point in the bedrock will not be fractured and cause catastrophic structural failure to a portion of the hold.

The formation of the Empire in the year 1 IC did much to help Karak Norn’s meager coffers grow. The establishment of the Empire and peaceful relations between the tribes allowed for civilization to grow in a direction that was not dictated by war. As such, cities and urban centers began to spring out around the lands of the newly formed Empire, and for those nobles who wanted to establish their stature as a powerful magnate, there was no greater symbol than a stone manor house or castle. Lower classes were content with slate roofing, which proved to be a great upgrade to the previously dominant thatched roofs. The dwarfs of Karak Norn quickly jumped at the opportunity to provide granite, slate, and their services to the humans in exchange for gold or even silver.

The most notable event in Karak Norn’s history came nearly two thousand years after its founding, when the dwarfs forgot the lessons of the past, or perhaps chose to forget them. Millennia before the rangers of Migdhal Grim ha warned the dwarfs of entering Thingaz’Dum, for it was a forest filled with darkness and a sickly taint of magic dissimilar to the winds of Chaos. The dwarfs knew that this forest had become the refuge of elves who did not leave the Old World after the death of their Phoenix King at Tor Alessi, but these elves were largely reclusive and seldom were seen, let alone seen outside of the boundaries of their forest. Recorded history from surviving rangers of Migdal Gragrut spoke of the bloody guerilla war between the dwarfs of that outpost and the elves who had sought refuge in Thingaz’Dum during the War of Vengeance. It appeared that these tales of the guerilla war did more to stir up a sense of vengeance among the dwarfs of Karak Norn than the warnings of Migdhal Grim.

Forgetting the warnings of the past and clinging to a sense of unresolved vengeance, in 1350 IC the dwarfs marched from Karak Norn west down the Granite Pass. This was not a route anyone took, not even the humans, and for the first time in thousands of years a host of warriors marched down the pass. In 1350 IC the dwarfs dared to enter the wood elf high realm of Wydrioth, and the ensuing Battle of Pine Crags was a disastrous failure for the dwarfs. They had re-learned the lessons of their ancestors and fled back to their hold, those who survived the battle that is.

It is easy to attribute the Battle of Pine Crags to a tale of misplaced vengeance among the dwarfs, but the truth of the matter is likely more complicated. The western face of the Grey Mountains was never a realm under the control of the dwarfs, who saw themselves as masters of the mountains. No, the western face of the Grey Mountains and the forests that climbed up it were the realm of the wood elves, a fact that was hard for the dwarfs to stomach. Additionally the arrival of the humans set into motion the events that would lead to a resource war. The dwarfs of Karak Norn were strong enough to exert their authority over the eastern face of the Grey Mountains and even into the forests that grew around the foothills of the mountains. Over time the growing human populations needed more wood to build their hovels and fuel their miserable ovens and stoves. With such a great reliance on the trade of constructing lordly manor house and castles, the dwarfs protected their forests. The resource conflict was managed so long as the human tribes were fragmented and buy warring each other or the Chaos breeds, but that would change.

The rescinding of the decree exiling the dwarfs in -234 IC changed diplomatic affairs for Karak Norn in a way it could not anticipate. Initially the dwarfs of Karak Norn were happy yet skeptical of the act, for it brought them back in union with their kin in the World’s Edge Mountains, but it also put them under the authority of the High King, and the dwarfs of Karak Norn had grown to enjoy their autonomy. The immediate effects of this union were not felt by the re-united Karaz Ankor, but events over two hundred years in the future would change that. In -15 IC a human princeling by the name of Sigmar would save High King Kurgan Ironbeard from a band of greenskins, thus earning the High King’s eternal debt. An oath of friendship was sworn between the two races. This oath would culminate in the First Battle of Black Fire Pass, which itself would lead to the formation of the Empire. These events drastically shaped the future of Karak Norn.

The formation of the Empire had two effects on the dwarfs of Karak Norn. Firstly we had the aforementioned boom in construction brought about by the stability of the human realm. Secondly the oath between the dwarfs and the Empire put Karak Norn in a difficult position, for it was less able to exert its authority beyond the mountains and into the forested flatlands. Forest management alas is not a strong point of the dwarfen realm, and with time the forests of the lands around Karak Norn would be cut down and not replanted sufficiently fast enough to keep the building industry of Karak Norn well fed. Ironically the formation of the Empire increased the demand for dwarfen craftsmanship and construction, but it also decreased the supply of readily accessible wood near the mountains. This drove the dwarfs to push westward instead, into the pine forests of the wood elf high realm of Wydrioth. So while it is easy to paint dwarfen actions as simple acts of vengeance, the truth is often buried behind layers.

The Battle of Pine Crags served its purpose to remind the dwarfs of the danger of the forest of Thingaz’Dum. However, it also greatly weakened the ability of the dwarfen carpenters to provide their services. There would be no peace between the dwarfs and the wood elves, only a continuation of the guerilla wars of the War of Vengeance. Dwarfen carpenters would dare to cross into the wood elf realm to fell some trees at the risk of their lives, and the wood elves would answer by harassing the dwarfs of Karak Norn. Karak Norn, fearful of elven reprisal has greatly fortified its plateau position with large ramparts topped with bolt throwers, and in recent years flamecannons. Neither faction is willing to commit its forces to attack in full the other, for they knew the strength of the opposing defensive positions, and so a permanent state of tension exists on the western borders of Karak Norn.

Today Karak Norn is led by King Brokk Ironpick and his wife Queen Thurma. Just over five thousand adults call Karak Norn home, making it the single largest Grey Mountain hold, though it is still but a fraction of the size of other post-exile holds such as Karak Hirn or Karak Izor. In fact, Karak Norn is the smallest of the principle dwarfen holds who claim a direct lineage from the Ancestor Gods. The hold is still rather poor by dwarfen standards, never having found that great lode of hidden wealth, though some still try. Many dwarfs have left the Grey Mountains giving up on such hopes and instead seeking a new life as Imperial dwarfs working smithies in the cities of the Empire. Those that remain in Karak Norn are a grumpy lot caught between poverty and a sense of wounded pride caused by the wood elves.

The banner of Karak Norn has seldom flown beyond its walls in battle, most notably in the disastrous Battle of Pine Crags. The banner’s central image is of an axe, which some have said symbolizes the plateau upon which the hold is built, with the squat tower atop it and the mines cut into the earth. Others have said that the image is more akin to the translation of clan Grintzagaz, which is a combination of the words for waste-rock and history. Therefore the image of the central banner is tied to a candle with a flame lit for the memory of the past, that rises through the axe-shaped barren plateau. More recently the banner has come to be viewed simply as an axe, the foe of the trees and therefore the wood elves. The central image and borders are black in color, a reference to the dark past that led the dwarfs westward, both the fall of their homes during the Goblin Wars, and the exile by the High King as they left Karaz-a-Karak westward. The field of the banner is among the few parted per pale fields in the dwarfen realm. The right side is blood red in color, for the bloody past in the east, while the left side is white, a token of the hope for a new beginning in the west that the early founders of Karak Norn held.

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