The Hateful Wars: Chapter Five
The urgent toll of bells roused Kristryd from sleep. Blinking in the darkness of her bedchamber, she called for a light. A servant girl hurried in bearing a single candle and busied herself kindling the lamps. Their illumination quickly cast the shadows from the room, but the light did not dispel the confusion or uncertainties. “Why toll the bells of Dengar?” Kristryd demanded of the servant, but the girl could only reply anxiously, “I know not my lady!”
The ringing clamor continued. “Alarm! Alarm!” the bells seemed to warn. The blare of horns could be heard too, faintly at first, but soon answered by nearer trumpeting.
“Bring me a gown!” Kristryd commanded the maidservant. As she pulled the garment over her head, she caught the scent of smoke in the air, not smoke of candle nor lamp, but rather the acrid sooty smell of consuming fire. “Has a dragon come upon us?” she asked the servant girl. “I smell smoke.”
“I known not my lady,” the girl repeated innocently.
Young Pegli erupted through the bedchamber door, half dressed in armor, fumbling with the straps, chain links, and clasps. “Mother! Goblins have entered the lower halls! All the lower city is ablaze!”
“Clangeddin’s Hammer!” Kristryd exclaimed in dismay. Then noting that her youngest son intended to join the fray, she added quickly, “You shall stay here, by my side to defend me. Let the warriors drive back the foe.”
“I too am a warrior of Dengar!” Pegli insisted. His injured tone of voice betrayed wounded dignity. “Help me fit this armor.”
Some say the watchmen on the walls and at the portals fell entranced beneath a sleeping spell, but no one knows because none of them survived to tell the tale. Assassins scaled the walls the of outer gatehouse at Durin’s Chasm and slew them all. The gates from the long-bridge that pass into the lower chambers were found unlocked and unbarred, presumably by traitors. A horde of goblins, orcs, and hobgoblins under the command of a powerful half-orc leader called Urgush crossed undetected and overran the outer defense on the Low Road. A ferocious running battle through the lower levels ensued. Horns blared and bells tolled, calling soldiers to arms, but the goblins had the advantage of surprise. Before the dwarves could muster, the orcs and goblins had already hacked and slaughtered their way into the underbelly of the kingdom.
They stormed through the lower halls and looted the lower treasury. More came up from across the long bridge, looting and pillaging as they went. By the time the warriors of Dengar had strapped on a helmet or hefted a shield, the lowest of the undermountain villages blazed in flames. The defenders fought their way through choking smoke and burning cinders to drive the savages back. The furious dwarves cut the goblins down so quickly and in such numbers that they could scarcely advance over the piles of carcasses. Meantime, Urgush made away with enormous fortune in the finest gemstones of Dengar and no small amount of gold too.
While the attention of everyone in the kingdom was fixed upon that dramatic battle for the lower halls, tragedy occurred. Thieves somehow penetrated the royal smithies, passed unseen through guards and sentries, disabled powerful glyphs of warding and alarm, and slipped away with the High Anvil—a weight so heavy that it took four stout dwarves to lift it.
“Not the work of goblin, orc, or ogre,” Bagbag observed grimly. The superstitious took it as a dire omen. Some suggested that Moradin had sent his golem to take back the sacred gift. “What have we done to so displease the gods?” Thane Evrast, the undermountain king moaned. The priests of Moradin, Clangeddin, and Ulaa had a ready answer, “The gods grow weary because we have failed to cleanse these holy mountains!”
Seven centuries long past, the dwarves invoked the gods, pleading for divine help against the goblinkind. The high-priestess of Balnorhak fasted for the twenty-eight days of Fireseek, invoking the power of Moradin, beseeching him for a gift with which to smite Balnorhak’s enemies. On the twenty-eighth day, Moradin appeared to her in a dream and gave her the design for a great anvil on which to strike steel made red in the forge of the gods. The finest craftsmen of Balnorhak gathered in the shrine of Moradin to craft the item according to the pattern revealed in the dream: the legendary Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains. They forged it from alloys of adamantine and steel and adorned with elaborately carved depictions of Moradin and Berronar laboring at the soul forge from which the soul of every dwarf is drawn and hammered into shape.
Any weapon fashioned upon that anvil yielded twice the strength and keenness of edge as might be obtained else. The dwarves of Balnorhak hammered out legendary enchanted blades which they wielded against their foes in the Lortmil Mountains. Moreover, nations far and wide coveted the weapons forged in the fires of Balnorhak and beaten upon that high anvil.
When Sire Evrast the First led the exodus from crumbling Balnorhak, he carried away the anvil with him in the arms of a powerful golem called “Rockborn.” This creature was magically fashioned of granite in the likeness of a great dwarf, and it commanded awe and fear as if it were a god. Indeed, Sire Evrast claimed that the golem had been given to his clan as a gift from Moradin and that the voice of Moradin spoke through the golem. None dared challenge Evrast or his golem, and even the thane of Balnorhak feared Evrast and his monster.
Evrast led a great exodus from Balnorhak, including many renowned heroes, the sacred priests of Moradin, and the entirety of the Oimaeglin clan. Despite the helpless protests of the undermountain king of Balnorhak, the defectors also took with them the Anvil of Lortmil Mountains. The stone golem carried the heavy anvil in his arms at the head of their procession into north. Prominent families of Balnorhak took this as a definitive sign of the gods’ favor upon Sire Evrast and his divine golem, and they elected to follow him, forsaking their ancient halls. In the space of a few days, half the kingdom of Balnorhak abandoned the old undermountain king.
Sire Evrast and his followers traveled north through the Low Road, but they turned aside before reaching Gilmorack. The high priest of Moradin led them into a broad valley of mountain lakes and high cliff walls. “Beneath these stones,” he piously declared, “Is the place our kind first were formed. Beneath these stones, Moradin first gave shape to Durin, and Durin begat his seven sons.” (Whether his claims had any validity or not—let the dwarves settle their own arguments and sort through their own theology. Dwarves from outside the Lortmil Mountains scoff at the notion, but for those dwelling in the mountains, the new doctrine transformed all those hills and snow-covered peaks into a holy shrine, sacred to all dwarvenkind.)
The golem set the anvil upon a firm rock in the sacred valley, and they raised the citadel of Dengar (Rockhome) round about it. Then they turned their attention to the denizens of the valley. They flushed the goblinkind out from the networks of caves set in the cliff face, and they burned the hobgoblin villages that stood beside the lakes.
Five centuries later, Kristryd’s father-in-law Thane Gavin Evrast the Fourth declared a quest, offering bounteous reward to whoever would find the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains and return it to him, “Up to half my kingdom!” Scrying spells searching for the whereabouts of the precious artifact could not locate it, nor could the priests divine it. Brave heroes took up the call and searched the mountains, and adventurers too, both above the rock and below, but all in vain. None found the anvil, but many found death. A year passed. Then came the old Vecke of Dengar, requesting audience with the undermountain king. She said, “Behold! The gods have given me a dream, and I have seen your missing anvil. Behold! Does it not sit as a trophy in the temple of Nomog-Geaya within the walls of Grot-Ugrat?”
Summons to Gilmorack
After these things, Bagbag came to Kristryd and her three sons. He gathered them around, locked the door to the chamber, and cast certain spells and wards to thwart eavesdropping and scrying. Kristryd and her sons wondered at this, for it seemed the old wizard had some matter of great import to impart.
Bagbag spoke directly to the young dwarves in confidential manner, as if he intended his words only for their ears, but not so quietly as to keep their mother from discerning. “The death of your father, the assault of the horde of Urgush, the theft of the crown jewels, and the disappearance of the sacred anvil betoken a new age of troubles,” he told the boys. “The undermountain kings meet together in Gilmorack to draft a treaty of cooperation. Your grandfather, Thane Evrast, has sworn to war against goblinkind, to drive them from the Low Road and away from your kingdom. Even more, he and the king of Gilmorack have agreed to end their long centuries of isolation and appeal for help from the lowlands, even from your grandfather the Prince Olinstaad Corond.”
“What have the affairs of kings to do with us?” Grallwenson asked suspiciously. “We three are neither heroes nor do we command influence at court.”
“Perhaps less to do with you than with your mother,” Bagbag explained. “Thane Redmod and Thane Evrast have need of allies, but what do they know of the lowlands?”
This was true. For many long centuries, the dwarves of Dengar and Gilmorack lived in isolation, dealing with the outside world only so much as necessary to bring their wealth to market and feed their people. Bagbabg observed, “They know not the modern names of the lands about the mountains nor their heads of state. But your grandfather Thane Evrast remembers that one of his household is learned and adept in all such matters, and she has recently traveled abroad and safely returned.”
“You think the undermountain king will ask my counsel?” Kristryd exclaimed incredulously, inserting herself into the conversation.
Bagbag turned to the princess and bowed. “My lady, his majesty the king already has asked for your counsel,” the old dwarf said with a smile. “He has summoned his daughter-in-law, the Princess Kristryd Olinsdotter to the vaulted halls of Gilmorack, where the undermountain kings take council together. I hold the summons here in my hand as it was delivered today. You must depart at once. I shall accompany you.”
“Mother, you bring us honor,” Grallwenson said with bow. His voice conveyed a new tone of respect for his mother. “May the gods give you wisdom.”
“Would that I too might look upon the vaulted halls of Gilmorack!” Pegli said excitedly, tugging at the scraggle that he hoped would soon fill out into a proper beard.
“Your wish is fulfilled,” his mother said as she read over the document. “We are summoned to go, all of us, to the Kingdom of Gilmorack.”
The Story of Gilmorack
Seven centuries earlier, less than a decade after the establishment of Balnorhak, a second clan from Holgereth arrived on the far northern end of the Lortmil range and sunk shafts beneath the towering peak of Abharclamh. In that place, guided by a vision of a Berronar, they founded the vast hidden hall of Gilmorack. It rivaled any hall of Crystalmist clans, both for splendor and wealth, but it never knew peace.
The goblinkind who dwelt in the dens and deep holes beneath the northern peaks made fierce war against the newcomers, stormed their fortresses, and raided their supplies. The orcish shamans believed that the mountains had been bequeathed to them as their inheritance from the One-Eyed god Gruumsh who had received it as his allotment after being tricked out his rightful share of Oerth. The orcs considered the arrival of the dwarves a test from Gruumsh, one that could be passed only by expelling the interlopers. They came in waves, swarming up from the deep places. The halls beneath the mountain rang with the shouts of battle, the clash of arms, and the screams of goblin voices. Many are the songs still chanted among the mountain dwarves to recall the valorous and heroic deeds of those underground battles.
In those days, the undermountain king of Gilmorack made a solemn covenant with the undermountain king of Balnorhak, and the latter sealed the covenant with a princely gift from the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains. He presented to the northern king a mighty hammer with which to smite the foe, and such enchantments he laid upon it that when it left a warrior’s hand to strike his enemies, it returned on its own accord into the warrior’s grasping hand. Many heroic tales are told of the first undermountain king of Gilmorack and his marvelous hammer. (Alas that the hammer has been lost, and none know what hand grasps it now.)
During the reign of the first undermountain king of Gilmorack, a bitter cold winter brought heavy snows to Mount Abharclamh, burying the roads beneath avalanche and isolating the kingdom such that none might pass. There has never been a winter like it since, nor was there such a one before it. Hungry orcs raided the granaries, burning what stores they could not carry away. The isolated dwarves of Gilmorack faced the grim prospect of starvation. The only path to survival led through the lower caverns and out to the lowlands where they might replenish their stores. Under threat of the death of every last dwarf and child in his kingdom, the undermountain king lead a company of one-hundred heroes to break the blockade, bludgeon through the lower tunnels, and escape into the lowlands (now possessed by the Archclericy of Veluna). But that great feat of heroism was not yet half the battle, for, on their return, the undermountain king and his men carried upon their own stooped backs great sacks of grain, each one bearing more than a donkey might have borne, and yet also so encumbered they did fight their way back up through lower caverns until they came again to their hidden kingdom. The deed is told in the chants of Gilmorack.
Treaty of Gilmorack
Kristryd adorned herself in her mithril-threaded tabard and traveled to the north kingdom in the company of her three sons and her trueheaded adviser. The herald announced her as she entered the high-arched council chamber of dazzling Gilmorack. Faithful Bagbag walked at her side. All the chiefs of Dengar and Gilmorack rose to their feet at her entrance. Thane Evrast, the undermountain king of Dengar, and Thane Redmod, the undermountain king of Gilmorack, alone remained seated on their polished thrones.
“Speak to us daughter,” Thane Evrast invited his daughter-in-law. “School us regarding all the lands about. Do not withhold from us all that you know. For you came to us as a foreigner and a lowlander, and you know the ways and manners of the lesser races. What then is their number of men-at-arms, and what is their disposition for war? Tell us all that you know.”
So it came to pass that Kristryd Olinsdotter tutored the undermountain kings and all their advisers in matters of politics and foreign affairs, and who better prepared to do so? Raised in the Principality of Ulek, she knew the ways of men and all the nations whose trade flowed through the port of Gyrax. Moreover, her father’s palace received regular embassies from Keoland, Yeomanry, Gran March, Onnwal, the Iron Hills, and the Great Kingdom. Had she not learned the lore of men and the history of their kingdoms in the schools of Niole Dra? Verily. And she had excelled in all her learning. Kristryd spoke of nations and alliances, kings and potentates, and all the matters of state which had been the common table talk in her father’s house. Moreover, she spoke of history, alliances old and new, the strength of nations, and the dispositions of their peoples. The old kings plied her with queries, and she answered all their questions to their satisfaction.
“Even today,” she declared, “My father stands ready to unite the lands all about our sacred mountains to beat back the goblinkind. He waits for only one particular omen.”
“Speak it,” Thane Redmod said.
“He waits for the undermountain kings to set aside old rivalries and to join his cause,” the princess declared boldly. Many voices murmured at this, and many bearded heads wagged their assent. The kings and all their chiefs conferred.
Then a certain elder dwarfess with gleaming eyes rose up and said, “Thane Redmod, let me speak! The time for secreting ourselves away in our hidden halls has passed. No longer can we bear the weight of this burden alone. Let us chisel an agreement betwixt our kingdoms, a treaty and a pact of war, and let us ally ourselves with the Prince of Ulek, and all his allies too. The time to unite our peoples has come.”
This they did.
“And you, my daughter, Olinsdotter, you shall be our ambassador to the lowlands and speak on our behalf,” decreed Thane Evrast. “Return at once to your father’s house and make our appeal. May the blessing of Moradin rest upon you.”
“Blessed be Moradin, and blessed be his consort,” she replied. Her heart nearly leapt out of her breast. I shall be free to come and go as I please.
Six years had elapsed since Kristryd’s last journey to Gyrax. This time a strong escort of mountain dwarf soldiers accompanied her as far as Hoch Dunglorin, so she dared to bring her three sons along with her. Prince Olinstaad Corond hosted a great feast to welcome his grandsons, all three of them stout dwarven boys, already bearded. Thus the sons of Grallwen were united with Kristryd’s brothers. Shouts of joy were heard and many eyes glistened with tears—a fond union of blood.
Kristryd quickly discharged her duty and appealed to her father on behalf of the undermountain kings, “My father-in-law Thane Evrast sends you tokens and small treasures, but he promises lordly wealth if you will muster the nations for his cause.”
Lest the prince should hesitate, Bagbag further filled Prince Corond’s ears, speaking of the atrocities of the raids and the scope of the danger. With tears running down upon his beard, he reminded the prince of Grallwen’s fall and how the hobgoblins had left his daughter widowed and his three grandsons fatherless. Moreover, he spoke gravely of his recent suspicions over Grot-Ugrat. “Some fiend,” he suggested, “has taken up residence behind those walls and now orchestrates the disparate tribes of goblin, orc, hobgoblin, ogre, gnoll, and flind. Perhaps a sorcerer, a lich, or a demon has occupied that cursed city and stolen away the sacred anvil. Why should Grot-Ugrat, and the many other lesser goblin cities like it, be tolerated in the mountain passes?”
Prince Corond gave ear to his daughter’s appeal, and his heart moved under the sway of his trueheaded friend. “The thing you ask is not easily done. Grot-Ugrat is near impregnable and impervious to siege, else the deed would have been done by our fathers long ago,” the prince replied. “And the cost of war will be paid in the blood of men, of many halflings and gnomes, and not a few dwarves. But let it not be said that I failed to do my part to tame the mountains. We shall muster the lands all about, and if they will not heed our call, we shall open our treasuries and make mercenaries of them.”
It should be admitted that the Duke of Ulek had already formed such an alliance to fill the vacuum left behind by the absence of Keoland’s patrols, but, on joining that alliance, Prince Olinstaad took credit for its formation and considered himself its rightful head. The Principality of Ulek had always held the honor of protecting the wealth and resources of the southern Ulek hills, and Prince Olinstaad prided himself in keeping the trade flowing through those hills to the port of Gyrax for more than two centuries. Under the new Treaty of Havenhill, the three Ulek states united to reopen the mountain roads and protect the vital merchant routes. The Upper Ulek states promised to lend soldiers, rangers, scouts, and warmages to the effort. “Why shouldn’t we purge the mountains once and for all?” Prince Olinstaad asked.
It would not prove so easily done. The Pomarj lords had only just recently expelled Ulek from their lands and declared their independence, and they would not come. Keoland and Gran March felt little threat from bands of goblins high away in the mountains. The king of Keoland did not even proffer reply. Only Veluna promised troops, and a paltry number at that.
Disappointed by the tepid response, Prince Olinstaad Corond weighed his options. “I have hesitated to include Celene,” he admitted to Kristryd. “I know those stubborn mountain dwarves will refuse to fight beside elves.” True. The undermountain kings had no love for the elves and little respect for them either. Prince Olinstaad, on the other hand, owed grudging allegiance to the fey queen, for she had led the Ulek states in obtaining their independence. Moreover, trade to and from fey kingdom passed through his own, and for that, he commanded some sway among the fair folk.
“Father, the undermountain kings are desperate enough to overlook even this obstacle,” Kristryd assured him. “None of us can afford the luxury of old bigotries.”
Sobrach, “The Lortmil Mountains,” Oerth Journal 2:14-19.
“Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains,” Ward, Greyhawk Adventures, 77.
Artwork by Tulikoura: Battle for Moria (Used with Permission)
Read the next chapter: Her Fey Majesty