Druid’s Defile

The Hateful Wars: Chapter Eight

Thomas Kelly

“Trolls! A wall of trolls block the way!” the rider shouted as he urged his horse forward. The druid furrowed up his brow and squinted down the narrow choke point of the mountain pass. He could see horse and rider galloping hard, but he could not make out the words. “What alarm is this?” the stoic priest of the Old Faith asked of the olven prince at his side. The scout’s warning could not be heard by human ears at such a distance from the party, but keen are the ears of the elves.

The Prince Triserron reigned his steed back and called a halt to the caravan at whose head he rode. He fixed his eyes upon the advancing rider. “To arms! Ready weapons! Secure the animals,” the noble prince ordered. He turned in the saddle to survey the company that followed after him: two dozen folk of Celene, servants with wains and pack animals, a half-dozen gnomes, a score of mountaineers, and several of them hardened rangers from the County of Ulek. Moreover, a powerful druid on loan from the pataline walked at his side.

“Well?” The druid asked.

“Your ranger rides nigh. He shouts into the wind a warning of trolls,” the prince replied without concern.

The druid cocked his head to incline his ear in the direction of the horseman. “Less than a day’s ride from Courwood! Beory’s Abundant Bosom! Why fuss over a few scragglings?”

The prince nodded. “Just the same, I will hear the scout’s reports.” The stallion on which Triserron sat snorted and cantered sideways nervously.

The scout arrived and pulled his mount back to a trot, but he did not dismount in the presence of the Prince of Celene as decorum demanded. Instead, he breathlessly delivered an animated report, “Ambush! Hobgoblins have blocked the way forward, driving a wall of chained trolls before them. We will not pass through the defile without a hard fight.”

“How many trolls?” the prince asked, unperturbed by the ill report.

“Enough my lord,” the scout said.

“Lord Triserron. Hear my counsel and take the fight to them. By earth and sky! Let me call down lightning and storm, summon wind and fire, and open the way before us,” the druid swore confidently.

The prince shook his head. He muttered a quick prayer to Larethian, “Protector save us by your grace!”

Mission of the Prince Consort

In the early months of the year four hundred and ninety-eight, Queen Yolande sent the Prince Consort Triserron of Celene on a diplomatic mission to the Upper Uleks. The prince went out from Enstad upon a noble stallion at the head of a vanguard of courtesans bearing gifts and tokens to the duke and the palatine.

In times past, vigorous trade between Celene and the Ulek states brought wealth to both. Under the protection of Keoish patrols, Ulek caravans once carried fine flour, brown rice, oranges, lemons, limes, karafruit, cheeses, tobacco, peppers, cotton, fine lumber, powerfully sweet honey, strong honey mead, and other favorite crafts of the gnomes of Ulek to the frontier city of Courwood. From there, the merchandise found its way to the olven markets. On the return trips, half-elf merchants carried back goods from the gnomes of the Kron Hills and shipments of Celene’s exotic items: magical trinkets, bound books, woven fabrics, slender ropes, musical instruments, rare delicacies, green wine, and distilled spirits. The olven merchandise found eager markets in Tringlee, Kewlbanks, and Jurnre.

Ostensibly, the Prince Consort traveled to Tringlee to reopen the trading relationship with the Duchy and the County of Ulek under a shared plan to police the dangerous mountain passes. In reality, however, the Prince Consort sought to secure a private arrangement with the Upper Ulek states before Celene officially withdrew from the alliance and severed its ties with the dwarves. The new arrangement excluded Gilmorack, Dengar, and the Principality of Ulek.

The Trap Springs

With the new treaties signed and official copies in hand, the Prince Consort and his entourage began their return trip to Enstad. The palatine lent a powerful druid and a company of ranger-led mountaineers with gnomish slingers to escort the Prince Consort and his afterlings as far as Courwood, but they never arrived at Courwood. On the tenth day of Coldeven, when less than a day’s travel from that city remained, the party came upon a narrowing of the canyon called Druid’s Defile. A line of chained trolls blocked their way forward.

“We should turn back quickly,” the scout insisted. “Before the trap springs.”

The Prince of Celene shook his head in disagreement. The druid voiced his thoughts, “We are far from help if we turn back now.”

“I do not fear trolls,” the prince said. “But I fear that we have already stepped into a snare. Blood will be shed this night.”

Indeed, a second scout came riding from behind and confirmed his fears. “Orcs are in the heights! The sun sets, and so they descend upon us!”

Triserron looked to the west where the sun had already slipped behind the nearest mountains. “Well druid. Unless you can turn back the sun, we must prepare for an assault. No one sleeps tonight.”

The goblinkind descended like a spring flood, more than either the elves or the mountaineers had seen of any single raiding party. War cries and orcish screams echoed off the mountains and canyon walls. From the way ahead, now audible, came the answering roars of the advancing trolls.

Prince Triserron was no stranger to warfare. Had he not commanded his lady’s war against the Lion Throne? Had he not driven Keoland from her kingdom and pursued the soldiers of Tavish through those same mountain passes? He quickly organized his company. The mountaineers and Celenese warriors banded together to form a wall of bodies, shields, swords, and spears surrounding the Prince Consort’s embassy. The prince himself stood at the head of their ranks.

The orcs came on fast, sprinting on hairy legs, brandishing swords, spears, and clubs. So long as the line held, the defenders dropped the carcasses of the euroz in tangled heaps and mounting piles on every side. Dark blood splattered every face. The Prince Consort fought valiantly, rallying the defenders behind the broad arcing swings of his enchanted blade. Besmirched with dark blood, he exhausted his considerable wealth of spellcraft against the marauders. Likewise, the worthy county druid called strokes of stabbing lighting and booming thunder against the orcs, and he smote them with fear. At length, the attack broke off, and the defenders thought themselves the victors. The noble prince gave a mighty shout, and all those with him that still stood joined their voices. But before they could give chase, a hobgoblin commander rose up and scolded the retreating orcs.

“Back at it worm-food!” the hobgoblin shouted. His lackeys cracked whips at those retreating from the press, and by these means, they forced the attack to continue. By then, the trolls too arrived. Chained in leg-irons, one to another, they stumbled onto the battle.

Mounting up the fallen corpses of their brethren like soldiers ascending siege ramps, the orcs pressed in. They hurled themselves over the heads of the defenders and into the midst of their circle. Gnomish slingstones struck the leaping orcs midair, but still more came behind. None of the elves of Celene survived to tell the tale—only a single gnome and a wounded mountaineer escaped with their lives by crawling out from beneath the pile of bodies after the orcs had left.

Lament in Enstad

The elves came and burned the carcasses of the orcs. Over the corpses of the gnomes and mountaineers they raised a great cairn, but the body of the Prince Consort and those of his entourage they bore back to Enstad. The priests and priestesses of Sehanine came out to meet the returning prince. They formed a procession carrying lamps, barefoot and with hair-loosed, under the moons, lamenting and beating at their breasts as they went. The funeral procession arrived at Enstad shamefaced to bear the body of the Prince Triserron without his noble head, for the orcs had born it away and also the heads of all his company as trophies of their savage deed. Neither were the signed treaties carried by the Prince Consort ever found, or if they were, they were never acknowledged by Grand Court of Celene.

All Enstad observed the funerary rites for the fallen prince, and all the Kingdom of Celene wept. The priestesses of Sehanine closed the tomb and ordained ten days for mourning and the singing of lamentations. The queen’s lilac eyes spilled such abundant tears that the Handmaiden overfilled her banks.

The mission of the prince consort is alluded to in “County of Ulek,” Gary Holian, Erik Mona, Sean K. Reynolds, Frederick Weining, Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, (Wizards of the Coast, 2000), 117.
Artwork: Toulikoura Battle of Nanduhirion pt 2 Used with permission.

Read the next chapter: The Lay of Larethian

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