[The origin of this story is the huge number of games my Dwarfs had against Lizardmen at a series of tournaments in 2010]
During the 13th century since the foundation of the Empire Karak Thorinkin had entered a period of rapid population growth and stability under the reign of King Kalderbek Gadanrin (1197-1300). While a strong King in many of the ways valued by Dwarfs his one failing, kept hidden for many decades, was his almost psychotic lust for gold. While gold lust was a common trait among Dwarfs Kalderbek was afflicted with its most severe form a need for the precious metal so strong that it eventually consumes the Dwarf in question. Many Dwarfs sucumb to this disease and they are unfortunately less rare than credited by most Dwarfs, who hide the true nature of the psychosis by referring to its victims as Smednirs Children after the Lesser Ancestor God of Ores. Only on rare occasions of honesty is the lust given its true name 'Smednirs Curse'.
King Kalderbek gold lust, unlike that of many others, served him well throughout the first decades of his reign but it would ultimately lead to his death and the deaths of hundreds of his kinsmen on far away shores.
The expedition to Lustria
In the year 1297 the 100th of Kalderbek's reign word spread through the Old World of a gold rich empire across the great ocean, whose strange jungles, steep mountains and deep rivers were paved with gold. Many humans from the lands bordering Karak Thorinkin had already left for this land, known as Lustria, but while few returned the stories continued to grow. As they did, so to did the strength of Smednirs Curse in the heart of King Kalderbek. When allies of the Karak Thorinkin from the Border Princes called for help in sending a great expedition to the fabled golden Empire King Kalderbek shocked the hold by announcing the full fledged support of its people. Dissent rocked the hold as many of the clan Thanes refused to give the king their full support. In the end the King called for the hold's Warriors to vote individually essentially splitting the clans and undermining the legitimacy of Thanes who the King represented as an equal only. For the 2nd time in 200 years the Thorinkin were wracked by internal dissent. King Kalderbek and warriors from across all five ruling Clans of the Thorinkin and some from the Clan of Shopkeepers volunteered to join the human expedition to the fabled land of Lustria. After a year of preparation they set sail on a human fleet from the shores of the Border Princes in the winter of 1298. They left behind them a hold seething with anger and a throne that would perhaps not be empty when, or if, Kalderbek returned.
Arrival in Lustria
Ignorant of the lands ahead scouting parties were sent ahead of the main expeditionary force on faster ships. Only a few returned telling tales of fetid jungels, constant rain, steam, giant insects and strange dragon like creatures that walked like men. Landing on the continents eastern shores a base was established on island just off shore. Offering a safe harbour it was linked to the mainland by a low level estuary that could be easily and safely crossed when the tide was out. Leaving the fleet and a small guard force with the fleet the combined human/dwarf army marched inland following the course of a major river.
Early scouting parties had provided maps of the land around the landing site and identified that it sat within a large area enclosed by mountains (see Maps section). At least 3 major mountain passes followed the river through the mountain barrier and ruins had also been found pointing the past existence of some form of civilisation. It was around one such set of ruins that the combined army set up it is main on-shore encampment. The ruins were buried under decades or even centuries of undergrowth but were still impressive in size and scope.
Small expeditionary forces of Dwarven Rangers and Human Scouts set out from the army camp following the river. Soon old roads and overgrown trails were found leading through dense jungles to other overgrown ruins. It was around several smaller ruined areas that the first of the strange lizard creatures were encountered. Human scouting parties began taking casualities from small fast moving creatures hidden in the undergrowth. These were found scavenging among the ruined sites and offered scant resistance to the human and dwarf forces.
Smednirs Curse & an Expedition splits
After 6 months onboard ship Smednirs Curse had taken full hold of King Kalderbeks mind. His thoughts and dreams were now turned to one and only one end finding the fabled gold of the new continent. With human scouting parties returning empty handed arguments broke out between the King and the leaders of the human forces. With three passes through the surrounding mountain ranges to choose from none of the leaders could reach agreement on which to take. The humans were wary, too many of their initial scouting parties on prior expeditions had failed to return from the interior of the continent. Now attacks by the small lizard creatures were increasing and their leaders urged caution. King Kalderbek was by now consumed with gold lust and impatience in his 101st year as King his sanity was now all but gone.
Raging against the humans caution he bullied them into agreeing to march into the interior of the continent. With the Dwarfs providing the majority of the armies infantry and all of its warmachines the humans were faced with a stark choice. But now many Dwarfs were beginning to question the King, just as the Royal Thanes had done back at Karak Thorinkin. Elements of the Dwarven army now sided with the humans, while others sought their own path to riches. The result... the expedition split into 3 columns. The first, and largest, led by King Kalderbek marched northward following a river through a line of foothills. With it went the majority of the Dwarven infantry and nearly all of the armies war machines. The 2nd dominated by the humans and accompanied by a few Dwarfs marched Northwest, while the third consisting of the remaining Dwarfs marched Westward. After only 4 short months on the continent the expedition was already facing disaster.
The death of a King and burning ships
What happened next has been pieced together from the accounts of the few battered and bloodied survivors of the columns that managed to return to the expeditions encampment and harbour many many months after they marched off. From the survivors who returned only the following information could be taken for certain as most refused to talk about those years. The human and Dwarf columns that had marched North and Northwest both found passes through the mountains and reached a large grassland plain on the other side. At the foot of each mountain pass stood a town and beyond them, equi-distant from both columns, out across the plain could be seen a huge city - larger than anything seen in the Old World.
Driven by avarice, blinded by dreams of wealth and led by a cursed Dwarven King the two columns marched boldly forward toward the towns and cities before them. Swarming from the walls of those cities came a horde of dragonmen and huge beasts whose like had not been seen in the old world for millenia if at all. Waves of magic turned the sky red with fire, and the ground red with blood. Sword, axe, mail all cleaved by lightning, spear and serated sword. Dwarfs and men fell but achieved small victories as the Lizardmen retreated toward the giant city. But a trap had been set. Both armies now faced a horde uncounted, giant dragons, ancient lizards taller than buildings, thousands of small two legged lizards, giant flying creatures whose cries tore the air. Greed though had blinded all of them and unthinking they marched into battle and into slaughter. Among those that fell was the King. His madness was now a thing of potent and visible malice. Burned into his every expression it filled him with battlelust and gave his axe power unmatched by the enemies that assailed. But it could not last. As Dwarf after Dwarf around him fell, as their human allies fled from his sight, the madness slipped for an instant. In those few moments Kalderbek wept as he realised that death his desire for riches had caused. His axe fell from his hand and with arms wide open he accepted the blows of the enemy who faced him. As the King died his sole remaining shieldbearer, Glodreg Steelhammer, leapt to protect his body. Gathering what few Hammerers remained to him he bade his liege farewell and taking his crown ordered the retreat.
The bravery of Glodreg Steelhammer
Only those Dwarfs who rallied around the banner of Karak Thorinkin and Glodreg Steelhammer remained steadfast during that long bitter retreat. Around that the banner Hammerers gathered, Longbeards mixed with beardlings bolstering their courage as they fought mile by mile back to their ships. Slowly day after day, night after night, they inched closer to the mountain pass. Higher and higher they began to climb, plains giving way to hills and then to mountains, and finally the cold snow bound pass and safety. By now only 60 Dwarfs were left, led by Glodreg they alone had managed to survive the hordes of creatures that had assailed them for so long. Only upon reaching the snow bound valley did the earn as respite. The strange creatures unwillinging or perhaps unable to follow them through the snow the survivors marched wearily toward the waiting ships.
Grim faced, broken and scarred dreams of wealth had long ago been replaced with constant nightmares of the countless dead and the endless ordeal of the long retreat. Reaching the remains of the old army encampment the survivors did not find the salvation they longed for. The dead were all that was there to greet them. During the long march into the interior and the longer retreat the encampment had been weakened by disease, boredom and infighting. At the very moment that Glodreg and his small force had reached the entrance to the mountain pass the Lizardmen had struck.
Destruction of the encampment and Glodregs return
Approaching from the West a large force of Lizardmen, the very same force which had destroyed the small force of Dwarfs that had marched that way, had assailed the encampment. Dark magic swallowed entire regiments of Dwarf and Human alike in pits of shadow and darkness. Giant beasts crushed spear and axe underfoot as fire, javelins and blow dart pierced mail and shields. The scattered survivors retreated through the rising tide to the island where the expeditions ships were beached they found refuge saved only by the Lizards unwillingness to cross the rising waters. The majority of the ships that remained they burned, not all, but enough to cover their retreat and prevent dark magic from doing further damage. Of the scores of ships that had landed on the island some 12 months previously only a handful were left to sail back over the ocean. Into this carnage Glodreg and his surviving Dwarfs marched, carefully avoiding those Lizards that had remained behind to scavenge among the dead. Reaching the ships they joined with the few surviving sailors and set sail for home, the battered banner of Karak Thorinkin and a burned battle scared crown of a mad King all that remained of the doomed expedition.