A Hold of His Own
On his eight-and-a-half birthday, his parents took Aleister MacErwin of Clan Erwin out on a picnic to the old quarry, where there were some very interesting limestone strata. He had brought his pick (he would hardly leave the hold without it) so that he could chip himself a trilobite or graptolite out of the exposed rock.
Aleister was a dwarf of the lowland MacErwins, who had a small claim on a lignite mine and a barley farm. He stood four feet tall, which was big for his age, but his bright red beard was hardly a mass of fuzz, and he had a habit of pressing his chin to his chest to make it look longer.
Like most women at the time, Aleister’s mother stayed home and did the forging and knit the chainmail and managed the finances in the hold while the fathers and uncles delved into the mysteries of sheep and barley and prop shafts and firedamp (although even Aleister’s father admitted that when she was younger she had been a deft hand at a pick), and like most boys his age he wore the helm that she had forged him, which was so big (“You’ll grow into it”) he had to wear a woolen cap underneath, and a set of chainmail so long he had to roll up the extra and tuck it into belt and boots.
So it was that Aleister fell a little behind as they walked through the forest on the way to the cliff, since he constantly had to stop and pull up his chainmail to keep from treading on it and tripping, and then he stopped to examine some quite lovely glacial deposits, and before he knew it his parents had passed entirely out of sight, and the young MacErwin was all alone in the woods.
Now Aleister MacErwin was a doughty young dwarf, and not given to undo emotion. So he had himself a little weep, dried his eyes on his beard, then set out to build himself a hold of his own.
He followed the forest trail down to the old quarry, all the while dreaming of his little hold. He’d want a well, of course, and that meant driving a shaft down to the local water table, and maybe a small curtain wall to keep the goats in (when he found some goats to keep) and to help with the sieges. There would be an icebox-room, and in the winter Aleister would carry buckets of water up from his well to the courtyard and let them freeze overnight, then carry them back down and lay them between sawdust to keep there until summer; and a drying-room for hanging meat and laying in salt for the winter, and a root cellar. Of course, he thought, with any luck there might even be a little ore-vein and he could do some proper mining and smelting. Aleister’s palms grew sweaty and he gripped his pick harder at the thought of that.
All these thoughts and more came to Aleister as he finally arrived at the quarry face. The old laird who had owned it had lost it to a city-dwarf in a rat-race, and it had almost been played out then so the site was abandoned for a while, so the young dwarf figured he could make a good claim on it under mining law if he made any improvements to the property and stayed for ten years or more. He examined the whole site with care, climbing over mounds of gravel and picking out a few grapolites that had been shaken out for his collection. Then the young dwarf critically examined the expanse of wall, and picked out a nice flat stretch.
With the point of his pick, he carefully chipped out a rectangle, as high as he could reasonably swing and half-again as wide as he was himself. Aleister stepped back and examined the rough outline of a doorway with a critical eye, then tugged at his beard, raised his pick, and started carving out his hold.
The sun was near to setting when Amelia and Peter MacErwin found their son. Mrs. MacErwin liked the ornamental engravings along the outside, piles of dead goblins mounding up on either side of the doorway, and Peter commented on how straight and well the runes had been carved, announcing to all that this was Aleister’s Hold, the founding date, and a brief legal claim. Aleister himself was curled up to sleep around his pick in the alcove he’d carved out at the bottom of the doorway, the rubble arranged into a loose pile wall, with his grapolites on top.
Not unkindly, Peter MacErwin picked up his sleeping son in his arms to carry him home, leaving his wife with the pick and picnic basket.
“Someday m’boy,” he said to the dreaming dwarf. “Someday.”