The Hateful Wars: Chapter Four
Another arrow clattered and skittered along the stones. Face down on the ground, Bagbag moaned piteously to himself. Crooking his arm up around to his back, his fingers closed on the shaft and fletching of orcish barb. He tugged gently to see if he might pull the barb free, but the pain made him cry out and writhe involuntarily. Abandoning that effort, he dragged himself under cover of a nearby boulder, propped himself up, and forced himself to focus on his craft. His lips moved to mutter the words of a spell. Of a sudden, a flash of lightning sprang from the wounded wizard’s hands and struck against the higher rock on which two orcish archers perched. At the same instant, a crack of thunder echoed up and down the ravine. A half dozen dazed orcs staggered out from the rocks where the lightning had struck. Kristryd sprang to the charge, leveling her spear and thrusting her way back up the steep ascent with all the strength and resolve of her father’s noble blood. The orcs stumbled about, blinded by the lightning and deafened by the thunder. They did not see her coming. The point of her spear caught the first one under the ribs. Her shield shattered a second and sent him tumbling to the stones below. Unseen arrows leapt from Bagbag’s hands, and two more orcs fell dead at her feet.
“You’ll do well to leave some for me!” a voice from up the slope shouted out in the dwarven tongue. A warrior came leaping and half-falling down the sharp incline of the hillside like a tumbling boulder. The momentum of his descent should have carried him over the edge of the ravine to break his bones upon the stones below. Instead, he broke his fall and kept himself from plunging off the side of the cliff only by launching himself ax-first toward one of the orcs. The momentum behind that ax blow severed the startled beast cleanly in two. Both halves of the bisected orc tumbled backward over the ravine. Catching himself on the edge, the warrior spun about and caught the last remaining orc with a chop to the back of its skull. The ax blow dropped the orc to the ground with the blade wedged in its bony head.
“From where did you come just now?” Kristryd asked in wonderment as she gazed on the new arrival.
“From up there!” the warrior said, pointing to a switchback in the path high above.
“By my beard!” Bagbag exclaimed as he made his way to the scene of the short battle. “Young Bamadar Kadarel! What brings you so far into the mountains and so far away from Thunderstrike?”[i]
“I come looking for you!” Bamadar said. “I’ve got letters from Prince Olinstaad warning you not to come south this year, on account of the roads be too dangerous, but I found the way to Dengar flooded out, so I’ve been making my way out here on the surface.”
“You’ve come too late,” Bagbag said. “We are already half the way to Dunglorin, but now we’ve lost our pack animal and I have a damned barb stuck in my back!”
“Never mind that you old cuss,” Bamadar said as he wrenched and twisted the arrow free from the wound. “Introduce me to this fairheaded shieldmaiden that you have protecting you.”
Bagbag hollered from the pain, and blood sprang from the torn wound. Spluttering with rage, he cursed, “You insolent son of that pigheaded Kadarel! This is the Princess Kristryd, daughter of your sworn lord Prince Olinstaad. Show some respect!”
Bamadar looked abashed. He bowed low before Kristryd who was already busy trying to dress the open wound in Bagbag’s back. “My apologies your majesty,” the brash young dwarf said. “I have never before had the privilege. I am utterly, utterly, utterly at your service.”
“Pardoned,” Kristryd replied with regal air. “Now descend your way to our fallen donkey and retrieve our bags. We will have to carry them on our backs the rest of the way.” Bamadar was a handsome dwarf, much younger than herself. A gold earring in his right ear and a richly embroidered traveler’s cloak bespoke wealth and prestige. His wavy black hair, fine glossy beard, and sincere brown eyes nearly stirred some foolish flutter in her heart. Poopnoddy fool! The lad can be scarcely older than your son Grallwenson! she scolded herself. Besides, she added in self-reproach, Isn’t his manner bombastic and overfilled with personality?
A Walk in the Mountains
Some miles further on, the three companions took refuge in a crumbled watchtower along the path. Bagbag fussed and moaned through the night, fumbling with his spell book and reading by light of a cantrip until he found a charm for closing wounds. Kristryd tried to sleep, but the thought of goblins lurking in the darkness kept her alert until dawn.
Despite such dangers and many more skirmishes along the way, Kristryd rejoiced to be free of the confining halls of Dengar. She felt as if a great weight had slipped from her shoulders. True, her heart pined for her three sons (and especially for young Pegli), but she thrilled with the lightness of spirit she felt free from the stifling life at court among the mountain dwarves. The open air, the springtime skies, the billowing clouds, the starry nights, the lights of Luna and Celene, and all the tree-clad mountain vistas inspired her delight. “Blessed of Ulaa; bequeathed of Berronar!” she declared, quoting the first words of an old hymn she had often heard sung in the temple of Hammer Hill.
The Lortmils are a low chain of mountains that cover an area of some 60,000 square miles, extending from Veluna in the north all the way to Ulek and the border of the Pomarj in the south. At some points, the mountains might better be described as ambitious hills, while at other points, they rise precipitously into majestic peaks, the tallest of which on the northernmost extent above Gilmorack can boast of snow-caps even through the warm summer months. Those white-topped northern peaks separate the lands of Gran March from Veluna before tapering off into the lower elevations of the Lorridges on the border of Bissel.
Overland travel through the mountains is confined to a few major passes and a series of well-trodden trails that twist along the ridges. The going proves easiest on the east side of the range near the Kron Hills where misty forests of roanwood trees climb up the slopes from the Celene highlands. Undergrowth beneath their shady boughs is sparse, and the trunks of the enormous trees are widely spaced, making for easy passage. Only at the higher elevations do the roanwoods give way to poplars and firs.
The southern Lortmils, which dip down into Ulek and the Suss enjoy the moisture and subtropical climate of the Azure Sea and the Sea of Gearnat which compete with one another to produce terrific tropical storms and deluges of rain. The verdant mountain slopes descend into the Principality of Ulek cloaked in stands of maple, beech, and yew, while the upper elevations are a tangle of scrub pine. In the late weeks of the month of Harvester, the slopes blaze with autumnal colors. Travelers foolish enough to leave the regular paths or stray far from the passes, however, will find their progress through the mountains hampered by heavy underbrush and limited visibility. Even a wood elf could lose his sense of direction in those thick tangles and steep climbs.[ii]
The way through the central mountains follows no straight path but rather snakes back and forth from ridge to ridge, until at last the ways descend like small tributary streams to join the wider passes. Along those narrow twisting tributaries, the three companions made their way. Their route took them along treacherous trails seldom traveled except by those in extreme need. Ordinarily travelers made their way through the mountains only by three primary routes: through the Ulek Pass which is a hidden way between Enstad and the Duchy of Ulek, through the Celene Pass between Tringlee and the elven realm (the way guarded by Hoch Dunglorin), or through the narrow way called Druid’s Defile which connects the County of Ulek to its frontier city of Courwood on Handmaiden River.
Bagbag and Bamadar made good travelling companions and good guardians for the princess. From time to time, the travelers met with trouble: a scraggly troll, an ambush from goblins, and several more scrapes with orcs. Kristryd had little reason to fear. Bagbag’s prodigious talent for dweomercraft and Bamadar’s strong ax made short work of the bandits and ambushers. Besides, she knew which end of the spear to grasp and which to thrust.
After several days the three travelers descended into Celene Pass and soon were within sight of the strong walls of Hoch Dunglorin. That proud and ancient fort sat perched upon a steep rise near the head of the Kewl River, corking up the mountain pass and protecting the Duchy of Ulek beyond. All caravans and travelers descending into the Uleks needed to pass beneath its ramparts.
“It’s called Yudin in the old tongue of Balnorhak,” the loremaster announced for the benefit of Bamadar and Kristryd. “Tis the oldest continually occupied dwur fortress in the Lortmil Mountains.”
Many centuries earlier, Thane Olbryn Hammerhowl established the fortress to take control of a strategic canyon-way that cuts through the mountains, connecting the Shedolamer Valley with the east side of the Lortmils. Prior to Hoch Dunglorin, the feet of goblinkind stomped up and down the the canyon unchallenged. The hobgoblins used it as a main thoroughfare for coming and going from their holy city of Grot-Ugrat. Monsters walked that path openly, in numbers small or large, by day or night, as if they had nothing at all to fear. Thane Olbryn Hammerhowl built the fort of heavy granite stones, quarried from the living rock, and raised high walls and battlements which stood visible from miles away.[iii]
His great grandson, Thane Bolor Blackaxe, the keeper of the fort, received the three travelers warmly and brought them into his feasting hall. “The daughter of Prince Corond and princess of Dengar!” he exclaimed as he eyed up Kristryd. “A half century since the Prince Grallwen carried you away from my halls, but you look younger and fresher than a spring blossom!”
“Save the gray in my hair and the lines in my face,” Kristryd laughed. “Since I saw you last, blessed Berronar has favored me with three sons, but my husband Grallwen is no more.”
“So I have heard tell,” Bolor said sympathetically. “Old Bagbag has kept me in the know over these many years. Let us drink to the memory of your noble Lord Grallwen!”
They did so more than once. Then Bagbag sighed and asked, “What news of the lands about?”
“Evil years,” Bolor admitted thoughtfully. “The caravans and merchant trains come less frequently. Travelers in the mountain passes have learned to fear ambushes which seem to appear out of the stones. I marvel that you three have braved the journey.”
“They had nothing to fear so long as I walked along with them,” brash young Bamadar boasted. He hefted his ax for emphasis.
“In times past,” Bolor Blackaxe reminisced, “None needed fear to cross the mountains even if travelling alone.”
“It is past time, I think,” old Bagbag reflected, “To teach the vermin of Grot-Ugrat just who holds the hammer and the ax.”
“Many are saying it was a mistake to cast off Keoland’s yoke. We can barely hold our own,” young Bamadar added, utterly oblivious to impolitic nature of making such a remark in Kristryd’s presence. Kristryd glared at the child furiously. She agreed with the sentiment, but to speak it aloud seemed disloyal to her father’s honor.
Bagbag cleared his throat to dispel the ensuing tension. “Our kingdoms are divided, and our numbers grow fewer, but we need not stand alone,” he observed. “The trade routes through the mountains are important to everyone. Veluna, the Kronnish gnomes, Celene, and the Ulek states.”
“Just as you say!” Thane Blackaxe agreed, slapping the table for emphasis. “By my beard! The alliance of which we have spoken is forming. A delegation of gnomes passed by this way two months ago on their way to plead their case to Duke Granolith on behalf of the Kronfolk and the merchant houses of Waybury. The gnomes have promised the feyfolk will support the duke’s alliance.”[iv]
“Unlikely!” Bagbag snorted. “I should not be surprised if the duke capitulates to the demands of wealthy merchants, but the land of Black Ice will melt before the Celenese lend us their bows and spears!”
“Tis not many years past since the elves drove the Keoish men from our lands,” Bolor remarked. “They should bare as much the burden as any.”
“What of my father?” Kristryd asked. “Has my father joined this new alliance?”
“He needs be persuaded,” Bagbag said with stern resolve.
The three travelers stayed briefly in Tringlee and took lodging with Duke Granolith. The high elf welcomed them and spoke as if no time at all had elapsed since their last visit to his palace. Kristryd observed that the timeless elf and the olven members of his court had not aged at all in a half century, but the menfolk among the duke’s afterlings were all dead and gone, replaced by a new generation of human courtesans.
Bagbag plied the duke with questions about the nascent alliance, but he would only say, “Keoland will not come.”
“Why should we need Keoland?” Bagbag asked. “Are you not assembling allies from the east side?”
“I have heard a great deal of talk, but no commitments to lend spears,” the duke said evasively.
“If my father joins the effort, the rest will follow,” Kristryd stated. “Perhaps even Keoland.”
“Daughter. Your father is not a follower. He is a leader,” the duke said gently. Then changing the subject, the high elf asked her, “Have you learned to scry with my mirror?”
She shook her head. “I have not my lord. I have no talent for magic.”
“Keep at it,” he encouraged her. “You will find it useful one day.”
Refreshed with the duke’s hospitality and outfitted with fresh supplies and a new pack animal, the travelers resumed their journey. Their path followed the river to Kewlbanks, Jurnre, and on to Gyrax. The Prince Olinstaad Corond received his daughter gladly, for he had not seen her laid his eyes upon her since the day he kissed her farewell and sent her to Dengar. But he would not be moved to muster soldiers. “Not without your father-in-law and the thane of Gilmorack,” he insisted. “If such a war must be fought, it will be fought beneath the mountains.”
Kristryd replied, “The undermountain kings of Gilmorack and Dengar already war with the orcs and goblins, battling for control of our ancient halls and for the Low Road. Did not my husband Grallwen fall in those clashes? And many fell beside him.”
“But the undermountain kings are not willing to fight together,” the prince observed, “And certainly not alongside outsiders such as myself. How much less then under an alliance led by an elf?”
[i] Bamadar Kadarel is an NPC introduced in From the Ashes, 77.
[ii] Sobrach, “The Lortmil Mountains,” Oerth Journal 2:14-19.
[iii] Russ Timm, Living Greyhawk Duchy of Ulek Triad, “A Guide to the Duchy of Ulek,” Oerth Journal 16:60-71.
[iv] Gary Holian, Erik Mona, Sean K. Reynolds, Frederick Weining, Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, (Wizards of the Coast, 2000), 118.
Artwork: “The Lortmil Mountains” by Aharon.
Read the Next Chapter: The Stolen Anvil