Roars of laughter rolled through the smoky tavern as Roald Torrew spun another tale of romance, battle, and epic victory. Stories were told late into the night, and the musicians had stopped their playing hours ago. The ale still flowed, however, and the celebration continued. The men of the small town of Waldenburg had come home from battle. They were victorious against their greenskin foe, and even more important, they were still alive. Heinrich Hospen, the closest thing the small town had to nobility, smiled. He smiled at Roald, a laborer who had earned glory and respect for himself on the field of battle. He smiled at Adulf Tannerson, alive and home again despite overwhelming odds. Heinrich smiled as he saw Josef Lehre, a butcher, forget the different sort of butchery he had committed by bathing in large steins of ale. The men of Waldenburg were alive, and they were home. For two weeks they had been away, marching to the east and then the north. They met other men from other villages along the way, and they became an army. A vicious tribe of greenskin goblins had risen up in a remote valley, killing all who came near. The men of the region gathered, and they went to war. The militia had been supplemented by a wandering band of knights. Old spears and swords were sharpened and tested; some had not seen use in a generation. Those weapons, and the men of Waldenbur, were tested. Tested, and found worthy. Heinrich smiled as Roald, the same Roald who had saved Heinrich's life by standing over him after a fall from a horse left him on his back and defenseless, the Roald whom he saved moments later from a goblin spear, finished his tale. It had a happy ending, unlike some tales told that eve. There were remembrances of those fallen in battle and those that did not survive the march home. There were tales of lost loves and fallen heroes, loves denied and heroes unheralded. As Roald and the men around him called for one more round of strong dwarfen ale, an old tale Heinrich had heard as a boy, and then once again as a young man far from home, drifted out from the dim corners of his memory, just like the smoke escaping through small cracks in the thick-paned windows of the tavern. "Ale of the dwarfs? Strong brew, that," said Heinrich. Roald looked up at him, a grin splitting his face. Though separated by wealth and trade, the two had become friends. Roald settled back, sipped at his ale, and let Heinrich take his place as storyteller. Roald could tell a tall tale like no other, but Heinrich's stories had a depth that stirred the soul. From the far off look in Heinrich's eyes, Roald knew this one would be good. "What do you really know of dwarfs?" Heinrich began. "You drink their ale, and if you're lucky, wield their blades. But what do any of us here, in the Empire, truly know of those who live under the mountains? They come to our aid, and we to theirs, for we share common foes. We know they smith, and brew, and carry a grudge like no one else who walks the world, but what do we truly know of them? "This is a tale told to me when I was a boy. My father's youngest brother was a soldier, and he had traveled far and came home only after he had lost his left arm in service to the Emperor. He barely survived, and only because a dwarf and another man carried him to safety once the battle was won. The dwarf himself needed treatment, though his wounds were not grave. As the three of them convalesced, they told each other tales of their homelands. They became fast friends, and once they had healed, they took to carousing together. One night, the last night before the dwarf warrior was to leave with his brothers for their mountain home, the other man, named Adulf, asked the dwarf about a story, almost a myth, that he had heard as a boy." At the mention of his name, Adulf sat up a little, his eyes glazed over from too much drink. Those around him chuckled, as he quickly sank back into his drunken stupor, likely to fall asleep any second. "The dwarf listened to the tale, his expression stony throughout. When Adulf had finished, the dwarf shook his head slowly, and made Adulf promise to never tell it again. Adulf did so, but only reluctantly, for it was one he liked to tell over a campfire to fellow soldiers, and he had never heard it told by anyone else. My Uncle Karl, however, made no such promise. The dwarf was angry, or perhaps too drunk, to think to ask Uncle Karl for his silence as well. "Regardless, my uncle had a great deal of respect for this dwarf, and kept the tale to himself. He told it to no one, he claimed, until he told it to me. This, he told me, is the tale of the dwarf they called the White Widow. A tale of revenge, battle, and, oddly enough, a female dwarf." Laughter sprung up around the table, and from those next to it who were listening in as well. Dwarf women were themselves almost a legend, a myth. No one ever saw them, and they never marched to war. Who could say for certain that they even existed? Some people claimed that the dwarves carved their own sons out of solid rock, or that they crawled out of a dwarf's beard, full-grown and ready for battle. A story of a female dwarf, and one full of battle at that, was one worth listening to. Heinrich had their attention. "Long ago, in the mountains which men no longer remember, and even dwarfs have abandoned to time, there stood a small hold of dwarfs known as Mun-Kadr. The sons of Mun-Kadr went to war against their greenskin foes, generation after generation. In the deep mines, in the snowy passes, and in the rocky highlands, the dwarfs lost ground. They won battle after battle, but no matter how many foes they took down, more sprung up. The same could not be said for the dwarfs. Even in the best circumstances, a few brave dwarfs would die killing off ten times their number in orc or goblin scum. We've seen how fast even a small horde can grow--and the greenskins that plagued Mun-Kadr were no small horde. They had orcs, some acting as some sort of feral wizards they called shaman. They had others, larger and taller than the others clad in the pieced together armor of the fallen. They had uncountable numbers of goblins, so many that they loaded them into their primitive war machines and launched them at dwarf lines. "There came a day when there were no more sons of Mun-Kadr to fight off the enemy. There came a day when the husbands, sons, and brothers of the women there were dead. When all you know and love has been taken from you, when there is no one left to care for, and when there is nothing left but vengeance, what else can you do but pick up the axe that has fallen? When every insult ever done a dwarf is remembered, written into a Book of Grudges, how can they have done anything else? That is how the White Widow and her rangers were born. Every one a grieving wife, mother, sister. They would take their revenge, even if it meant death. "The White Widow struck back, from behind enemy lines, laying traps here, ambushes there. She was both the white haired widow and the vicious spider of the mountains. Deadly and cold, able to execute her plans perfectly. She did not save her people, the war was beyond that. Mun-Kadr was lost. She did claim her vengeance, however. The grudge which drove her and her band was so strong, so fundamental to their nature, that they did not, could not, die of old age as long as their grudge went unavenged. The Widow and her rangers struck back, killing every greenskin who had killed one of their own. Twenty years, thirty, forty. It did not matter. They haunted those mountains until every greenskin who had ever drawn blood from the sons of Mun-Kadr was dead. And they haunt them still. "The White Widow is there, coming out of the blizzards that assault the mountain's peaks to bear her grudge into battle. They say her rangers are as white as she is now, barely able to be seen in the falling snow. Their handiwork is easy enough to follow, though. Blood-drenched snow and hacked apart goblins mark the passing of the White Widow. She comes with the blinding snow, and is gone in moments. "Now, this is where the legend of the White Widow gets interesting. That same dwarf who swore Adulf to secrecy, began to tell a tale of his own. That dwarf's father claimed to have seen the White Widow once, during a desperate battle in a high mountain pass. Things were going poorly; greenskins poured through crags and crannies. The wind picked up, blowing snow everywhere. The fight dragged on, and things looked hopeless. Axes fell down on greenskin heads, but more heads always appeared out of the snow to take their place. It became apparent that there was to be no victory, only death in battle. Still, the dwarfs fought on. "Then there arose a cry. A wailing lament sailed on the wind, and the greenskins went into a frenzy. They began fighting something behind them, presumably their own troops. The dwarfs had seen that before. Greenskins were notorious for the animosity they held for one another. It quickly became apparent, though, that this was something else. Something deadlier. "A lone dwarf among the dozen who survived that battle saw something, briefly, through the blinding snow. White hair framing an aged face, a face that he would never have expected to see here in battle. It could have been his own grandmother's face, he claimed, the face of an aged dwarf twisted with fury, unsatisfied even though it had taken some vengeance. There are grudges, and then there was this. How do you describe a face consumed by hatred, eyes with a single cold purpose? That face was like the mountain itself--cold, hostile, and lined with age. And then it was gone, as the snows intensified for a moment, and a gust of wind cleared the sky. "In front of those surviving dwarfs, hundreds and hundreds of greenskin corpses lay steaming in the snow. Death had visited that pass, and it came bearing a grudge." Heinrich paused for a long time, letting his audience picture the cold mountain pass, and the ghost of vengeance hidden in the snows. "A wild and outlandish story, I know," said Heinrich. "But I swear, that's how it was told to me. Even as a child, I thought it was something my Uncle had made up to entertain me. That was, until I heard the same tale, a decade later, far from home. It was a tavern like this, in a small town, the kind of town whose name is only known for a few days ride in any given direction..." Heinrich watched, as his audience was drawn back to him, ready for the next part of his tale. It was good to be alive, and in the company of men who knew life's value. Heinrich waved to the bartender, signaling him to bring over more fine dwarf ale. The men of Waldenburg continued drinking, and Heinrich Hospen, merchant and tradesman, continued his tale. Yes, thought Heinrich as he remembered the grim tale of the White Widow, it is good to be alive. It is even better to be home.