Heidelheim – a Brief History
The dwarves of the Underground Kingdom of Heidelheim have inhabited it for roughly 2000 years. It has been their only known home since they took the kingdom from a race of undead creatures in a siege which lasted for over three years.
Little is known of the dwarves’ origins before the Siege of Heidelheim, other than ancient mythology. The traditional legend is as follows:
The Legend of Dweorg
There was a rock, usually referred to by the dwarves as Dweorg, where the dwarves used to live. The dwarves dug great mines into Dweorg, and extracted many ores and gemstones. However, the realised too late that they had dug almost all the way to the bottom of the rock. One fateful day, the bottom started to crumble, and soon the structural integrity of the rock was in peril. Gradually, more and more rock fell into the unknown depths below. Among the most tragic losses was the great library which held thousands of books and scrolls detailing the dwarves’ rich history, stories of heroic deeds of battle, and the accumulated knowledge of the scholars. Only a handful of the books were saved. The dwarves hastily evacuated, climbing perilously across the great chains to another rock, and within days the entire rock of Dweorg was gone.
They spent several months travelling across the rocks, and lost many people in fights with unfriendly natives and in the dangerous trips across the chains. Eventually they arrived at the land we call The Rock, and found relative safety.
In modern times, this story is generally understood to be a myth. However, some true believers insist that the story is true. It is not uncommon for dwarves to claim (usually while drunk) to be direct descendants of various leaders or scholars of the great institutions of Dweorg.
The Siege of Heidelheim
Before Heidelheim was founded, the dwarves numbered only five thousand or so, and inhabited a hilly region of the Rock in various small caves which offered relatively little protection from predators and the elements.
One night, a young dwarf girl was kidnapped. A band of hunters set off to find her, easily tracking the footprints and pungent smells left in the kidnappers’ trail. What they found left them in awe. She had been taken to a huge cavern set into a mountain. The trackers snuck inside, sheltering behind some boulders as they observed hundreds of faintly glowing, undead creatures scurrying around. Waiting for hours for the right moment, they charged out from their hiding place, swinging axes through the skulls of the girl’s captors and rescuing her. They returned to their people and told them of the wondrous cavern, and the foul creatures occupying it. They decided that this was to be their new home.
Thus began the Siege of Heidelheim. The dwarves constructed a crude barracks near the cavern entrance and kept a constant watch for any emerging creatures. They built shacks to live in, and smithies for armour and weapons, and soon a shanty town was formed. It took years, but gradually the creatures were starved out. They made their final stand against the dwarves, and after a bloody battle, Heidelheim was won.
The Modern Day
Heidelheim is now a thriving, if insular, kingdom. The original cavern system has been dug out to many times its original size, and houses hundreds of thousands of dwarves.
The kingdom is comprised of a main city, known simply as “the City”, and numerous other small towns, all completely underground. The entrance to the kingdom has been expertly hidden, looking even to an experienced eye like a normal rock face on the side of a large but unremarkable hill. When the doors are open, however, a large and ornately decorated staircase leads down into the Great Hall, which provides access to the rest of the City.
Many hallways, staircases and lift shafts lead from the Great Hall to the living quarters, workshops, storehouses, kitchens and other areas in the levels below. Further down are the mines, which to this day are steadily expanding. Having learned from their mythology, the dwarves are careful not to dig too deep, instead digging sideways. The mines now extend many miles away from the City, providing access to the other towns of Heidelheim.
The running of the kingdom is primarily done by a council of twelve dwarves. There is no single leader. Membership of the Council of Heidelheim is generally lifelong – the Councillors are replaced only when they die, or are unanimously voted out by the other eleven (the latter being almost unheard of). New Councillors are chosen by a semi-democratic process – a candidate is chosen by the council, but the citizens of Heidelheim can veto their choice with a two-thirds majority vote. This process continues until a suitable replacement is found. A veto is relatively uncommon, but there have been some cases of up to five vetoes in a row before a Councillor was accepted. Candidates are usually respected public servants or scholars.
Out of necessity, the staple foods in Heidelheim are all things that can be grown underground, primarily mushrooms. However, in more recent times the scientists have found ways to channel daylight into some caverns using a system of silver mirrors and discreetly hidden lenses on the hill above the City. This light is used to grow crops such as grains, carrots and potatoes. Venison (the dwarves’ most beloved food) and other meats are hunted daily in the forests outside the City by bands of skilled marksmen.
Some types of food are bought from traders in human towns outside the kingdom. Traders regularly take mined gold or gemstones to barter for crops, spices and meats which the dwarves cannot grow or hunt for themselves.
Water is supplied to the city via several underground channels dug into the bottom of nearby rivers. More channels distribute water to the towns, though some towns have their own independent water supplies.
Heidelheim’s primary method of defense is secrecy. Very few outsiders even know of its existence, and those who do are told very little. The goal is that no non-dwarves will ever know its exact location, though nobody knows for sure if this ideal has been kept.
Aside from that, there are many methods of defense built into the City, the mines and the towns of Heidelheim. At every possible point of entry to the kingdom, huge slabs of rock are suspended above the tunnels. A water-based system can be used to wash away pegs which hold these slabs, causing them to fall in and block the entrance. A similar system can flood areas with flammable oil and shower sparks down from a flint contraption, igniting the oil and incinerating anyone unlucky enough to be caught there.
The final defense is good old fashioned fighting. The City has been designed such that no dwarf is ever more than a stone’s throw away (literally) from an armory.
In the event of an attack, the whole kingdom can be notified using a system of ropes. Tightly strung ropes stretch between different parts of the City and out to the towns. When a rope is pulled, a stone tied to the other end hits a bell. Different numbers of bell-rings are used to convey different messages. This system was designed for emergency use, but has come to also be used for day-to-day communications.
More detailed messages can also be sent using another, looped set of ropes. A parchment is tied to the rope, and the pulley at the end is turned, sending the parchment along the shaft until it reaches the other end.