As the elves melted back into the forest, Hrunhurer pulled the arrows from his body and crawled slowly back towards the dwarven camp. He dragged with him his family standard, unwilling to leave it behind. He moved slowly, trying to avoid giving himself away to the any elves remaining in the area and eventually came across the site where Thane Danro had been cut down. His body remained - definitely dead. Surprisingly, so did his runic axe. Hrunhurer took this with him - if any of Clan Blackrock had survived the slaughter they would want this returned to them. Of Danro's oath stone he saw no sign. Hrunhurer cursed the elves - they must have stolen the precious item to take back as a trophy.
Slowly; painfully; Hrunhurer dragged himself out of the sacred glade. The elves either remained unaware of his presence or were content to let him live - their bloodlust sated for the day. It took most of the night, but eventually he staggered into the sombre dwarven encampment just beyond the forest boundary. By the small fire he found Thane Alric Blackrock staring into his mug of ale, the other survivors scattered around him mostly asleep.
"Hrunhurer reporting sir."
Alric looked up and Hrunhurer was horrified to see how much he had aged in the previous day. Somehow, seeing the look of defeat in his Thane's eyes was a harder blow than all injuries and death of the day. After a moment, Alric spoke. "You are one of the few fortunate ones. Very few of our brothers have returned from that cursed glade. Tell me - what news?"
Hrunhurer hesitated. He knew his report would do nothing to comfort the shell shocked dwarf but could think of no way to tell it differently. But he had been ordered to report and he always did his duty. "My lord, my unit is lost. Cut down by arrows as we attempted to engage the enemy. I am the last survivor." Hrunhurer's voice choked for a moment as he remembered his brother taking an arrow. "We failed to engage the enemy's missile troops. I am sorry."
"A great many failed today Hrunhurer, you are hardly alone. And my scouts tell me you were responsible for one of the few victories. You defeated that Treesinger in single combat."
Hrunhurer bowed. "Yes, my lord. She killed my brother." The words were out before he realised what he had said. The look of pain on Alric's face shot made guilt shoot through Hrunhurer's heart. "I'm sorry my lord..." his voice trailed away.
Alric turned and gazed into the fire. He was silent for a long moment before he seemed to steel himself. Still looking into the fire, and sounding like the words were being dragged from him, he asked "And is there news of Danro, my brother?"
"I am sorry my lord." Hrunhurer brought out Danro's runic weapon and handed it to Alric who turned it over and over in his gnarled hands. Speaking softly, the Thane murmured a dwarven prayer for the departed before squeezing his eyes tight shut. Another long silence, broken only by the crackling of the fire. Finally, Alric looked back up at Hrunhurer and was about to speak when a shout came from one of the sentries.
"Movement at the forest's edge! We can see movement!"
Alric swore and dragged himself to his feet. "Seems they aren't content with driving us from the forest. They want to finish the job." Taking his brother's axe he headed for the sentries. Hrunhurer followed. They found the sentries training their crossbows on a nearby copse. "Report." Alric ordered.
"Sir, the elves were in those trees. They didn't make any threatening moves sir. And, um... we are surprised we saw them."
"Unless they wanted to be seen." Alric stroked his beard as he watched the elves moving around. "I'm going to look. Cover me."
As Alric marched determinedly towards the copse, Hrunhurer hurried to catch up. "My lord ... is this wise?"
"The elves didn't come here to attack. They would never have allowed themselves to be seen if they had. Which means they have come to talk, or left something for us to find. Which it is, we shall soon see." The pair reached the copse. Moving slowly and carefully, they pushed through the undergrowth. It seemed the copse was circular with a clear middle and, to Hrunhurer's shock, in the middle were a dozen giant baskets woven from some kind of plant life all covered by white sheets. Cautiously the pair approached the nearest one and lifted the covering. After a long moment, Alric spoke. "It appears they are returning our dead."
The following morning was a mournful affair. The elves had indeed returned the dead dwarves - simultaneously cleansing their sacred glade of the intruders and ensuring the dwarves would not return looking to recover the bodies. The few remaining dwarves silently worked together to dig a huge grave before Alric spoke the last rites. Then there was a long silence as every dwarf thought about what had happened and came to terms with their loss. Finally, Alric turned to face the remains of his Throng. He still looked downcast but his voice was strong and clear. "What has happened here was a disaster. Many lives were lost and we accomplished nothing. However, we are still charged by High King Stonebeard to recover the Hammer of Rotek. We will march around this forest, taking the extra time until we are closer to the place where the Hammer fell. The route will be long, but we will pass through some friendly villages where we can gather more troops. However, we will need to replenish our leadership. Come forward please Hrunhurer."
Hrunhurer blinked in surprise. He hadn't been expecting this. Slowly, he limped forwards and stood before Thane Alric.
"Kneel please." Hrunhurer knelt. "Hrunhurer of Clan Heavypick, on our darkest day you brought down a leader of our enemies and survived against all the odds. You brought yourself back to us though wounded and recovered my brother's axe. You have proven your will and ability to stand at the forefront of your people."
Alric drew Danro's rune axe and touched Hrunhurer on each of his shoulders.
"Arise, Thane Hrunhurer of Clan Heavypick."