WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?
By: Andrew Dunn
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Nilan whispered.
“Be quiet both of you,” Rau was older and thought himself the wiser, “what happens if dad hears you?”
“I want to be an artificer,” I whispered back, “and build machines.”
Rau glared at me and then at Nilan in the dimly lit room. For good reason, we weren’t supposed to wander into the caves where the toplanders were. That’s the only place I’d have picked up a word like ‘artificer’.
“What kind of machines?” Nilan imagined out loud.
“I don’t know.” I replied. The toplanders had the most fantastic machines.
“You’ve been around the toplanders?” Rau accused. King Irmysh had opened up one of the old caverns to the women and children from their outpost on the plain while most of their men battled orc hordes that had swept in from the south. It was a strategic decision more than it was humanitarian. Whether the toplanders’ outpost survived or not didn’t matter much to the king. Either way, as long as the orcs were fighting the toplanders they weren’t trying to invade The Old Rock Home.
“I like the toplanders.” I eased the words out slowly. Those words were heresy. Enough to warrant a visit by the Royal Guard if they were ever carried from our bedroom into the rest of The Old Rock Home.
“You shouldn’t say that.” Nilan hissed.
“Just go to sleep!” Rau shot back. “Both of you.”
It wasn’t entirely true that I liked the toplanders although most of them seemed nice. They didn’t take up too much space in their cavern and they took care of themselves. Some of them knew games and didn’t mind teaching a dwarf how to play. Toplanders certainly weren’t dangerous the way Rau thought they were.
“Do you think the toplanders will stay?” Nilan asked.
“They can’t,” Rau said, “the king has only given them temporary refuge while they fight their war.”
“What if they lose?” Nilan asked.
“They won’t.” Rau rasped.
They could though. The orcs came fierce and in large numbers. They could lay siege to the toplanders’ outpost and starve them out. Or they could burst through the fortress walls and destroy everything. That’s what they had done almost 100 years ago to the day to a toplander outpost.
Gramus had mentioned it after school one day. He said there was a toplander outpost far south of our mountains, near a river on the plains. Orcs had come by the thousands and surrounded the outpost. Then the orcs grew tired of waiting for the humans to starve so they made one final push against the outpost. Once they broke through the gates they left nothing standing but the foundations of the buildings they sacked.
“What if they do though?” Nilan insisted.
“Then,” Rau choked up, “then we all have to do our duty for The Old Rock Home.”
We would all have to come to the defense of our king and our home. We’d seal the entrances to the mountain and we’d open one by the river that connected to the old mines. Orcs were stupid so they’d see it and they’d make their way inside. When the generals gave the order we’d send a reservoir of water coursing through the old mines to drown as many as we could. By that time our archers would be outside, on the sides of the river and they’d let loose with volley after volley of arrows to take care of any surviving orcs.
“I want to be an archer when I grow up.” Nilan said after a moment.
“Don’t we all.” Rau was right. Every male wanted to be an archer. They were an elite within the elite Royal Guard. The women swooned over them. They lived near the king and never had to spend much time mining or smelting. Archers were just below the Royal court itself in terms of social class within The Old Rock Home.
Most of us would end up being miners or smelters. We’d all try out for the Royal Guard. Some of us might be given petty positions in the guard but most of us would be called into a room where a graying hulk of a drawf would apologize as he invited us to try again some other time. There wouldn’t be another time though.
There was too much work to do down in the mines and somebody had to run ore in and out of the furnaces. So we’d work hard day in day out and if we were really good at our jobs, we might end up in charge of something. We might even move to the docks down by the river where we’d sell or barter our wares on behalf of the king himself. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a bad way of life.
It was certainly better than thievery or mischief. That could lead the Royal Guard to expel a dwarf from The Old Rock Home. Nobody really knew much about what happened to those dwarves that had been expelled. Except that they weren’t counted in our number anymore and that it was forbidden to allow their names to cross our lips.
“I could be an archer,” Nilan thought out loud, “if I practiced really hard.”
“You’re not going to be an archer if you don’t get a good night’s sleep.” Rau muttered.
“Ever wonder what’s out there?” I asked.
“See,” Rau complained, “you went down there with the toplanders and they’ve got you thinking crazy things.”
“Why is it crazy to wonder what’s out there?” I ventured.
“Because everything you need is right here in The Old Rock Home,” Rau grumbled, “unless you are saying you want to get kicked out of here.”
That wasn’t what I wanted. I also didn’t want to spend my life picking rocks from the innards of a mountain or shoveling things in and out of a furnace in hopes that someday, when I was stooped over and old, I might finally get to work on the docks selling iron and copper to elves.
“If you were an artificer maybe you could build a machine that could do the mining from the outside of a mountain.” Nilan offered.
I didn’t want to be an artificer anymore though. I wanted something more.
“I don’t want to make machines when I grow up.” I mumbled and pretended to drift off to sleep.
“There you go,” Rau smiled, “now you are being sensible.”
“What do you want to be?” Nilan begged.
I didn’t want to say it but I wanted to rule the world. Not just The Old Rock Home but the world. All of it. From the dwarves in the mountain to the toplanders on the plain to the orcs and the elves and the wandering wizards.
Reaching under my pillow I found the device one of the toplander children had given me. Cold. Dark. Made of refined metal and wood. The toplander has said it was called a six shooter. You could load its chamber with what were kind of like miniature arrows, and pull a lever to make it shoot them. Only it fired its arrows a lot further than any archer ever could.
“C’mon,” Nilan pleaded, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
There were four arrows in the six shooter, but there had been five when the toplander gave it to me. I’d snuck way down deep into the old mines to test it. The sound was like thunder and it echoed in those ancient chambers. When the arrow struck the mountain’s wall it tore out of chunk of solid rock. That was something no archer in the Royal Guard could ever do.
“I don’t know,” I mused.
The toplander said their outpost on the plain received six shooters and arrows and other things about once a month or so when a supply ship came down from the sky and dropped off supplies. Sometimes the ships brought more toplanders too. There was more than one outpost and each had machines that no one in The Old Rock Home could imagine.
“You have to want to be something when you grow up.” Nilan tried.
The toplander child said his father gave him the six shooter because better weapons had been delivered from the sky ships. Things that looked like the six shooter but shot bursts of pure energy. The child’s dad had one that could shoot hundreds of pure energy arrows before it needed to be reloaded.
“I think I want to be an archer.” I pretended to be nearly asleep.
An archer. That was the best way to say it. An archer with four arrows that could take care of old King Irmysh and the games he played pitting human against orc. That’s what I was going to be when I grew up.