Tales from the Nine Tailed Cat - 03 Battle of the Cat's Eyes


The Nine Tailed Cat attracts visitors from many races and when I dropped in for a pint after work one day, I found three travel-stained dwarves booking in for an overnight stay. The tavern’s proprietor, Thamos Shtim, was just issuing their keys as I arrived.

“Right then, that’s Fornik Longarm in room seven, Sunak Sunakson in room eight and Borek Blackbeard in room twelve. Perhaps you may wish to join the crowd in the bar when you have unpacked? We have a range of beers from the keg and can serve a cooked dinner.”

The dwarves departed for their rooms and I joined my friends in a pint of beer. A short time later, the dwarves arrived and looked with interest at the beers available. I approached the least intimidating of the dwarves and suggested a beer that they might enjoy. “If you are looking for a foaming ale with a bit of bite about it, I can recommend the Badger’s Bottom. It has a nutty flavour with overtones of autumn and is very popular around here.”

The dwarves ordered three pints and nodded appreciatively as they took their first swigs.

“Perhaps you would care to join us?” I asked. “We are always pleased to hear tales from folk passing through and I can tell from your appearance that you have a good story to share.”

The dwarves agreed to this idea. Introductions were made and we were shortly gathered in a ring with the dwarves in the centre surrounded by interested onlookers. Pipes were loaded with leaf, ale was supped and everyone settled into a comfortable position.

“This ale reminds me of the brew we used to have before the war,” said Sunak.

“Aye, that it does,” agreed Fornik.

Many rounds of ale were drunk and the evening drew on as tales were told and songs were sung.

“Can you tell us a tale of the war then masters?” asked Hezebiah Grozitch, the local blacksmith, later in the evening. “We hear that you had a rough time of it with the Abyssal Dwarves.”

“Right enough laddie,” agreed Borek. “Those were tough times and no mistake. We three all fought in different regiments but there was one battle that we were all involved in, the Battle of the Cat’s Eyes.”

All ears pricked expectantly at talk of battle. We waited eagerly to hear these grizzled veterans reminisce about their deeds that day.

“Aye,” went on Sunak. “That was a battle and a half. It was in the Halpi Mountains besides some caves that had two entrances in the rock face that looked to all the world like a cat’s face with the two caves as its eyes. The ground outside was flat and we were formed up in ranked regiments to stop the abominations from advancing further. My regiment, the Crimson Axes, was formed up in the place of honour in the front rank on the right of the line where the fighting would be hardest, the Old Un knew that he could rely on us when the going got tough!”

“The ale has got to your head already,” laughed Borek. “The Old Un would have known better than to trust your Axes on the right. You were in the middle where he could keep an eye on you to make sure that you remembered your drills correctly. It was us in the Gut Roarers in the front rank where the fighting was to be the hardest. We didn’t have long to wait before the enemy was upon us. Rank after rank of them, charging down the hills towards us, shouting their foul battle cry and waving their banners. We held our fire until we could see the whites of their eyes and then let them have it. Our first volley ripped into their ranks and caused them to slow but it did not stop them and they kept coming forward through the rain and mud.”

“Rain and mud?” questioned Fornik. “What battle were you in? It was a fine day with no wind. I remember thinking ‘at least it’s not raining’ as the enemy charged. My regiment, the Iron Fists, was held in reserve and the Old Un was worried about being out-flanked by the superior numbers of the enemy. I was ordered to take a handful of dwarves out on the left flank to keep an eye open and report any movement so that the rest of the regiment could deploy to hold them. We found a position in some rocks and lay low, listening and watching for any movement. We didn’t have long to wait. The enemy must have been burrowing underground for suddenly, the earth around us erupted and an advance guard of ten or twelve enemy leapt into view. We were taken by surprise and it was only by our force of arms and skill in battle that we prevailed, had we failed, the enemy would have been into our flank. I thought like a dwarf possessed and I personally slew fifteen of the foe. Despite having the advantage of surprise and outnumbering us, the enemy fled from our axes.”

“That’s not the only thing that fled,” interjected Sunak. “Your senses also took their leave. How can you have killed fifteen of the enemy if there were only ten or twelve to start with? Trust an Iron Fist to make up stories to impress others. We in the Crimson Axes have no need of such deceits, we let our deeds talk for us, and many were our brave deeds that day. Wave after wave of Immortal Guard crashed against our armour and fell beneath our axes. The ground ran red and black with their blood but still they came and still we slew them.”

“It is you who has lost his senses,” shouted Borek. “There were no Immortal Guard in that battle, it was Blacksouls that charged you. I could defeat a whole regiment of Blacksouls by myself with one hand tied behind my back. Killing them by the hundred is no feat worth talking about. But as the battle wore on, the enemy deployed their greatest weapon. Out from behind their ranks came marching massive Obsidian Golems. The ground trembled as they advanced, their massive rock-like forms blocking the sun. We took steady aim and opened fire. The roar of our rifles deafened the foe and the smoke from our muzzles drifted into their faces, making them choke. Volley after volley we fired until we slowed their advance and they stood there like so many twisted rock formations.”

“Of course they looked like rock formations,” said Fornik. “They were rock formations. There were no Golems at the battle. You panicked in the heat of battle and saw foes where none existed. All that you achieved was to pepper rocks with shot and waste some powder. I don’t know why the Old Un kept your lot in the army, we’d have been better served with more axes.”

“More axes?” shouted Borek. “More axes? What, axemen that cannot count and cannot tell the difference between an Immortal Guardsman and a Blacksoul? One rifle is worth ten axes any day of the week.”

“One rifle is worth ten axes?” roared Fornik. “I wouldn’t give you ten teeth from a dead Blacksoul for one rifle. If you want killing done, it’s got to be an axe. You can take your rifles and stick them where the sun don’t shine. I fart in your general direction!”

“Well said,” agreed Sunak. “Your boys might be second rate fighters, but at least they don’t pose around with rifles.”

“Who are you calling second rate fighters you spawn of Gilgulli!” shouted Fornik. If we had not been there to stiffen the army’s flanks, you wouldn’t be sitting here now.”

“That’s typical of you axey types,” threw-in Sunak. “You can’t even keep your eyes on a single target but must find some insult for everyone regardless of your own incompetence. It’s a shame that the beer has gone to your heads. Why, even the Mastiffs in their kennels can hold more ale than you, and they talk more sense.”

“Can’t hold our ale?” asked Fornik and Sunak together. “No rifle touting dwarf can hold his ale better than an axe-dwarf! Tell me, is the beer you are drinking called Badger’s Bottom or, as seems more likely, is the drinker a badger’s bottom?”

While this exchange of words had been going on, the surrounding crowd had been nervously drawing away from the arguing dwarves, and not without good cause as the words being thrown at each other were now replaced by fists as a ruckus developed involving all three of them. I took the opportunity to leave and so did not see the end of the fight but I was later informed that when the fists were finally lowered, the dwarves ended up sharing more ale, singing songs and swearing undying fellowship.

Strange folk, dwarves.