The Hateful Wars: Chapter Two
The Prince of Ulek bade his daughter farewell and set a tiara upon her dark curls. He kissed her forehead. Tears streaked down his cheeks and moistened his beard before he released her from his arms. Four stout lads lifted her on a litter which they carried all the distance to the Duchy of Ulek. All that way, old Bagbag paced alongside on foot.
Duke Gallowagn of Ulek, the high elf lord over those lands, welcomed Kristryd and her party to Tringlee and entertained the dwarves in grand style.[i] Indeed, he bade them eat from his own table.
When they had set aside desire for food and drink, conversation turned to matters of politics and news of realms. “I am much amazed,” Kristryd said to the duke, “That you, being an elf, have shown such grace to us.” She spoke in the olven tongue, a mark of her learning in Keoland and old Bagbag’s tutelage.
“Your warder can tell you that I am an old friend of your father,” the wise elf lord replied in the dwur tongue. Then switching back to Olven, he declared, “In Lothromenoron, we are a broadminded people, accepting the many peaceably and with mutual goodwill.”
“Lothromenoron,” Kristryd repeated thoughtfully in Olven. The name spoke of long-ago fairy-tale days. The new name of the territory, “The Duchy of Ulek,” had little meaning to the ancient elf lord.[ii] “What of your neighbors in the mountains? Are you also broadminded toward the dwur in Dengar and Gilmorack?” Kristryd asked.
“Your highness, it is my fond hope,” the duke replied, “That you yourself shall become an ambassador of good will between our peoples. We all hope that this marriage marks an end to the old blood feud which has far too long endured.”
“Let the blessing of Berronar rest upon the bride and groom,” trueheaded Bagbag said in toast, lifting his cup. All those at the duke’s table lifted their own and assented, “Yes, so be it.”
A servant entered with a small parcel which he handed to the grey elf lord. “Now let me present her highness with a wedding gift fit for the soon-to-be queen of the Lortmil Mountains,” the duke said. Kristryd blushed red as the tall elf bowed before her and placed the parcel into her hands. Her graceful fingers gently unwrapped a soft velvet cloth protecting a polished hand-mirror set in silver and mithril. Holding it up by its finely-crafted ironwood handle, she gazed into the perfect reflection of her own face, framed by gleaming silver. Elven runes were etched along the circumference of the silver frame. She recognized the script as that of the ancient grey elves and translated the words in her head, “Look into me and see what other eyes can see.” Turning to the duke, she asked, “What does the riddle mean?”
Before the duke could proffer an answer, old Bagbag sighed with approval, “Ahhh, ‘tis an elven scrying mirror! That is a princely gift indeed! But she will need an elf to teach her to use it!” He winked knowingly at the duke and added, “We dwarves have little talent for magic.”
“She will learn the use of it easily enough, I believe,” the duke said confidently. “She may find the protocols of privacy the more difficult task to master.”
The Prince Grallwen of Dengar would not leave the mountains, not even to fetch his bride. Such is the manner of the mountain dwarves. Bagbag arranged a rendezvous at Hoch Dunglorin, an ancient dwarven fort that sat upon the steep-banked hill at the west of the Celene Pass.
“Now my lady, we leave the civilized lands and enter the wild mountains,” Bagbag warned as their party began the ascent from the foothills. The mountain shoulders loomed before them, dominating the horizon. “We must beware the brood of Grot-Ugrat. That wicked city of the hobgoblin gods casts its shadow over all these lands.” They had little cause for fear. Duke Gallowagn provided escort all the way to Dunglorin, for he would not find it easy to explain if some mishap befell the princess while she passed through his lands.
The dwarf prince, Grallwen of Dengar, awaited his bride’s arrival. The fort called Hoch Dunglorin stood atop the steep slopes of a hillock that controlled the entrance to the pass, and as such, it’s looming shadow was visible for several miles of the approach. As the troop from Tringlee came in sight of the high ramparts, the trumpeters announced their arrival with fanfare, and the trumpeters of Dunglorin answered. From within her coach upon the litter, the princess leaned out the side and caught sight of a noble dwarf lord standing high up among the battlements. Sunlight glinted off his shining adamantine armor, and over his head the pendants of Dengar flapped in the wind next to the standard of the Three Arrows over Three Peaks for the Duchy.
“That, my lady, is your lord Grallwen,” Bagbag informed her. Kristryd pinned up the braids of her chin and wrapped a veil over her face in the custom of dwarven brides.
Thane Bolor Blackaxe, lord over the Hoch, received the betrothed princess into his austere halls with as much pomp and formality as the old warrior could muster. He conducted Hoch Dunglorin as a military fort, not a palace. The heavy stone blocks of the fort needed little by way of ornament or adornment, for they were cut of the striated granite of the Lortmil quarries. The dwarves polished the stone to reveal its natural beauty, but they were reluctant to work the magnificent stone further or to conceal it behind cedar panels or woven tapestries.
Bolor Blackaxe’s warriors slept in narrow bunks and on donge cots in crowded barracks, not on soft spacious beds suitable for a prince of Dengar or a princess of Ulek. The dwarf women of Hoch Dunglorin worked alongside their husbands, brothers, and fathers and shared equally in their labors and in the depravations of their austere accommodation. But when Kristryd and her retinue arrived, Thane Blackaxe declared a day of feast and celebration. He lifted many bowls to both the groom and the bride, and he drained them too. Handsome young Prince Grallwen sat at his right. Grey-bearded, sorcerous old Bagbag sat at his left. An escort of mountain dwarves from Dengar occupied seats of honor at the table with the nobility of Hoch Dunglorin and with Kristryd’s retinue. Kristryd herself took a cushioned seat of honor at the women’s table, two steps lower than the table set for the males. All the dwarf girls at her table giggled and sighed over her, admiring the pretty princess in their midst, but she ignored them, straining her ears to listen in on the conversations from the other table, where the dwarf-men spoke of things of interest to her.
Thane Bolor Blackaxe lifted another bowl in toast. “A daughter of the old blood of Balnorhak within the walls of Dunglorin!” he exclaimed with slur of merrygodown. “By the gods this is a blessed day! A prince of Dengar at my table! By the gods! I am blessed today! May there be peace between the house of Dengar and the house of Balnorhak! May Berronar bless the union with sons!”
“Here! Here!” the assembly cheered. Kristryd risked a glance in Grallwen’s direction and, for a moment, their eyes locked. He is a handsome one! Kristryd thought to herself. She blushed beneath her veil and lowered her eyes submissively.
After the noise of the cheer subsided, Grallwen turned to his host and asked, “Is it true my lord thane, that Hoch Dunglorin has never fallen to a foe?” Grallwen knew it to be true. Everyone at the tables knew it to be true. But Grallwen deemed it a matter of civility to so honor his host by granting him the opportunity to boast over his holdings.
“True it is, and never shall it fall!” Thane Blackaxe boasted. Rising unsteadily to his feet, he lifted yet another bowl of the merrygodown and declared, “My great grandfather Thane Olbryn Hammerhowl raised these walls and towers seven centuries past, long before there ever was a duke! Clangeddin himself blessed the granite stones with which my great grandfather built these walls—a temple to the war god’s glory! Many have tried, but never have the walls of Hoch Dunglorin breached.” These words inspired an enthusiastic cheer all around. Grallwen and Bagbag both nodded their solemn assent.
After three days within the smooth polished stones of Hoch Dunglorin, Kristryd said farewells to her host and to the young dwarves of Gyrax that had carried her thus far. She and Bagbag and the half-dozen servants she retained from her father’s house departed in the company of Grallwen and his mountain warriors. By secret ways, over and around hills and through hidden valleys, alongside splashing streams, behind waterfalls, across swaying bridges, and by tunnels and caverns of the Low Road under the Oerth, Grallwen and his escort of warriors brought Kristryd and all her party at last to the Vale of Dengar. Then he did take his bride beneath those halls.
The folk of Dengar were not so isolated as many of their remoter kin, but they scarcely kept contact with the world outside their delvings and deep caverns. Mountains dwarves, as a rule, are suspicious of outsiders. The dwarves of Dengar trafficked with their gnomish neighbors, but they did not allow others to enter their vale without leave.
Above the ground, the kingdom of Dengar appeared of little account. Two small mountain lakes sat in a bowl surrounded by steep cliffs. Here and there along their shores stood a few villages populated by dwarves and gnomes; a scattering of small farms took advantage of the rich mountain soil. Strongholds and keeps kept watch and made the villages secure from the kobold raids and from bands of gnolls that made their home in nearby caves. Beneath the ground, however, the hallowed and hidden halls of Dengar spread out in a maze of broad intersecting streets and stairways, arched and vaulting halls, colonnaded courts, and glittering palaces. Solemn statues of the dwarven gods glowered from pedestals in the temples, and priests chanted through litanies of devotions. The bearded folk of the underground city worked at every type of craft and trade. Below the city, miners continually chiseled away at precious veins of stone to bring up ore from the lower mines. Hot refinery fires smelted it on coal-fired flames day and night. The finest of these metals they beat into weapons and arms on the high anvil, the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains.
Kristryd’s escort entered the undercity with fanfare, trumpets, and shouts. From her place upon the palanquin she looked out upon the polished stone, gem-studded fixtures, and gilded ceilings in awe. Her keen eyes quickly turned to gaze on the faces of the mountain dwarves, a people who seemed to her both at once familiar and strange. Will they accept me? Or will I forever be a stranger in their midst? Kristryd wondered.
To celebrate the marriage of his son, the undermountain king, Thane Evrast VII, made a great feast. He invited to table all the peoples of vale. One thousand lamps they lit the night of the wedding to set the halls gleaming. Kristryd they clothed in a tabard woven through with mithril thread and set with glistening gems, and Grallwen wore the apron of a master craftsman. To the veiled bride and the splendid groom the gnomes presented handsome gifts, most clever and wondrous. The chieftains of every clan of Dengar bestowed some precious treasure upon them. Even the undermountain king of Gilmorack, Thane Redmod Buddoken, attended the first three days of the wedding feast—and this was considered to be an auspicious and unexpected honor. The old loremaster of Balnorhak, Bagbag Silverstonecutter, entertained the wedding guests with tales of long ago.
While Bagbag spoke of times long past, and Grallwen drank himself merry, Kristryd espied a certain scowling face among the revelers, fixing her with an evil eye. “Who is that old dwarfess who stares at me so?” Kristryd asked her new husband. Grallwen waved the concern away, “You inquire of the old vecke of Dengar. She is no one. Just an old fleak who doesn’t past know it’s time to lay her bones to dust.”
That night, sequestered in the wedding chamber with her noble husband, Kristryd shaved away the braids of her chin, for the dwarven wives of the nobility do so on their wedding night and remain bare-faced ever after. When the whiskered mask fell away from her face, Grallwen cared not for his new bride’s fey features. His heart turned cold. Though she bore him three sons, never did she know a kind word from the prince of Dengar. She felt her heart harden like stone.
Grallwen considered the foreign woman in his home polluted by worldly books and too much exposure to the other races. He distrusted the spellcaster that remained ever hovering at her side and, like most dwarves, he feared magic. Kristryd found she disliked the uncouth manner of the Dengar dwarves. Their long isolation from the world left them ignorant of the other races and ignorant of much learning too. Grallwen and his people spoke ignominiously of other peoples (and of other clans of dwarves), but they reserved their harshest and cruelest vitriol for the despised and treacherous elves.
Kristryd learned through bitter lessons to endure Grallwen in silence. Confiding in her trueheaded mentor, she protested, “I cannot love one so bigoted and filled with hatred.”
“Love is not required of a wife,” Bagbag consoled her. “Only obedience.”
It should be said that dwarfish brides are quite rare among the dwur folk; daughters are few. Dwarves who enter marriage tend toward exceeding jealousy over their wives, sequestering them away like private treasures hidden away in a locked vault.[iii] Grallwen acted just so toward his wife, but he cared not much for her company, nor she for his.
After four decades, a miracle happened: Grallwen fell in a skirmish on the Low Road, leaving behind his wife and three sons. It was said that he died by the sword, slain by in a battle with hobgoblins. The dwarves carried his body back to Dengar and burned him upon a solemn pyre to return his soul to Moradin. They laid his bones and ashes in the tomb of his fathers with lamentation and keening, but Kristryd shed no tears. When the tomb had been closed and the days of mourning completed, she rose from the mausoleum and donned her eyethurl’s garb. Her three sons, Grallsonn, Dwalyn, and Pegli came around her and offered her their tears.
“Now that your husband has fallen,” Bagbag warned the princess, “With him as fallen your bid to the throne of Evrast. Nor shall it pass easily to one of your three sons, for your husband had a younger brother. The throne of the undermountain king will likely pass to that one and his sons. But as for me, daughter, I shall remain loyal by your side. In your veins runs the old blood of Balnorhak, and you shall ever be as a queen to me.”
“Queen to you alone,” Kristryd replied bitterly. “Always I am less than others: less than my father, less than my brothers, less than my husband, less than my sons, and now less than my husband’s brother, and less than his sons.” So she spoke from her bitter heart, and Berronar heard her plaint.
Once a year, the kingdom of Dengar held a festival to Berronar and Moradin. In those days, a high priestess, the Sacred Heart Gilvgola by name, came to the festival to conduct solemnities and sanctities.[iv] She served as high priestess at Dorob Kilthduum, but her reputation far exceeded that modest holding of the Kron Hills, for she bore the Braid of Berronar. All the dwarves of the Lortmil Mountains revered her as the oracle of their high goddess, and they received her in all their halls. Everywhere she went, her hosts welcomed her with lavish days of feasting in honor of the gods, and as a result, Gilvgola was neither small nor slight of frame. Her sacred duties required her to eat of the sacred portions and to drink the holy ales, a solemn duty she did not neglect. She had once been a fair dwarf lass, but the face of that fair lass had long ago disappeared into the smiling jowls and cascading double chins of the revered high priestess. Her corpulence only augmented the weighty sense of her prestigious presence, and no one jested about it, not to her face nor behind her back.
(Once it happened that as Gilvgola went between the Kron Hills and Gilmorack, some haughty young dwarf lads came out from a village and jeered at her, “Make way for the Sacred Porknell of Berronar lest she tread upon you.” She scowled at them and uttered a curse against sacrilege. A cave bear descended from the mountain and mauled twenty-four people of that village.)
In the year that Grallwen died, Gilvgola came to Dengar and officiated over the annual sacrifice, as was her custom. When the royal family gathered at table to eat of their portions, the Sacred Heart inquired of the Thane Evrast, “Where is Grallwen’s widow, the Lady Olinsdotter?”
“She has not come to table, for it is not fit for her to revel in the year of her husband’s death,” Thane Evrast, the undermountain king spake gravely. “But I shall summon her if you desire it.”
“I desire it,” the priestess replied.
Kristryd entered the banqueting hall yet clothed in her eyethurl’s garb. Her three sons stood beside her: Grallsonn, Dwalyn, and Pegli.
The Sacred Heart Gilvgola rose to greet the bereaved princess, kissed her on both cheeks, and blessed each of her sons. “How fine your sons have grown. I see your father’s image in their faces.”
“Their own father is no more,” Kristryd replied stoically.
Gilvgola nodded sympathetically. “I know, daughter. I know. The blood of every dwur is precious in Berronar’s eyes. The soul of even the most common dwarf is more precious than gems or gold. How much more so the firstborn son of your noble father-in-law, Thane Evrast?”
Kristryd nodded, but her face remained impassive. The priestess continued, “I have brought a message for you from our sacred mother. Hear the words of Moradin’s bride. ‘I have seen your tears and your affliction. I stand beside you to bless you; I have not forgotten your noble house. Only remember this: take your oaths in my name, and I will watch over you to see that you fulfill them.’”
“Blessed are the words of the gods. Blessed are the lips that speak them. I thank you mother,” Kristryd replied with the perfunctory liturgical formula and a stiff bow.
“There is one more word,” the heavy priestess whispered confidentially. Pulling Kristryd close in a smothering embrace, she spoke into her ear, “Upon your head she sets a crown.”
“A strange augury. I know not what it might mean,” Kristryd replied struggling for breath.
“Time will reveal it,” Gilvgola replied cheerfully as she released Kristryd from near suffocation.
[i] Grenowin received the title from his father, Gallowagn in 510 CY. Russ Timm, Living Greyhawk Duchy of Ulek Triad, “A Guide to the Duchy of Ulek,” Oerth Journal 16:60-71.
[iii] Roger Moore, “The Dwarven Point of View,” Dragon Magazine, Issue 58, (February 1982): 24-26.
[iv] Gilvgola the priestess of Berronar was introduced in Jeff McKillop’s, “Verbobonc: The Viscounty Part Two,” Oerth Journal 9:6.
Artwork: Medieval Concept by Laffonte at Deviantart. Creative Commons Attribution.
Read the next chapter: Ways Fraught with Peril