The Hateful Wars: Chapter Nine
At times the sound of the ethereal voices seemed to draw close, as if the singers stood outside her cottage window, but at other times, the voices sounded far and distant. Kristryd tried to make out the words. The archaic forms were beyond her level of fluency. Nevertheless, the potent enchantments lulled her into trance-like waking dreams in which she seemed to see the characters, the deeds, and the scenes described by the silver voices rising and falling on the night air.
“It is the story of Gruumsh and his wars with the gods,” the old lore master explained. “We’ve been hearing it retold nearly every night.” For the whole ten-day lamentation, the eerie keening melodies of Sehanine’s priestesses kept Kristryd and Bagbag mesmerized, hushed, and reverent.
“You understand the words of their poetry?” Kristryd asked her tutor.
“Nay daughter, not scarcely half of it, but I know the tale as it’s told in Enstad. Not like the version told by our priests. Here in Enstad, gods know, they have their own telling.”
“I would know it if you can tell it,” Kristryd said with a dreamy sigh. Though she could not make out the words, the olven songs stirred her heart with a sad and mournful pining she could neither express nor explain. Some wistful nostalgia in the melody tugged at her. It made her heart melancholy … but wasn’t it a sweet and beautiful sorrow?
Bagbag explained, “The elves of Enstad say their city is the birthplace of their people—the very place where the elven god battled the One-Eyed (may Moradin smite him) and their war came to its grisly conclusion. You know the tale?”
Kristryd nodded, “Gruumsh took insult when the Correlon Larethian failed to show him proper deference. As I have heard it told, the orc god hurled a spear which would paralyze any that it pierced. Larethian put an arrow to the string of his bow and shot out the left eye of Gruumsh. That’s the tale I have heard.”
“They tell a different tale here in Celene,” Bagbag said, “And the orcs tell yet another version of the tale. The shamans under the mountains (may they choke on their spells) claim that Gruumsh never had two eyes! All their idols are cyclops. A single eye in the center of his boar-boned forehead. But they hate the elves. They claim that ‘the Great Fairy’ (so they name elven god) tried to blind the unblinking eye, but his arrow went astray…”[ii]
“Tell me not what the goblins would say,” Kristryd interrupted. “I would know only the merry-go-sorry story as the elves are singing it tonight over the Prince Consort’s tomb.”
“Very well,” Bagbag agreed. He stroked his grey beard and considered how best to begin the tale. The sound of the song continued on the night breeze. After a few moment’s reflection, Bagbag cleared his throat and began the story in a sing-song cadence like the old chants of the dwur bards, “The olven god had a wicked and unworthy wife, treacherous as she was fair to behold. Deceived by her blinding beauty, Larethian knew nothing of the darkness hidden in her heart. Only his wife’s handmaiden, the one called Sehanine, knew the truth: her mistress was false. The bedswerver feigned to stray into the snares of Gruumsh. The orc god laid filthy paws upon her, imprisoned her in his castle, locked her away in his dungeons, but this was not but a ruse of her own design. All the while she conspired with him against her husband, seduced the boar-headed fool, to see her husband slain.
“Ignorant of her malice, Larethian went to rescue his beloved bride. He laid siege to the castle of Gruumsh, launched volley after volley from his magical bow, piercing Gruumsh and spilling his blood. But the bedswerver betrayed him. She gave into the hand of her captor a magically poisoned spear, a weapon of her own design. The spear might have struck the mark, might have pierced the target, but in his eager trembling haste, in his unbridled passion, Gruumsh sent the shaft a hair’s breadth wide.
“The battle between the two gods raged across all worlds and struck Oerth like a meteor, like a fallen star that smites the earth. Then Gruumsh fled from the hunter. (The orcs say Larethian fled from Gruumsh.) Larethian chased the Gleeded One across the Flanaess, pursued him into the Kron Hills (where, according to the gnomes, Garl drove him out). Gruumsh fled to the mountains and climbed a tall peak from which he could espy his pursuer’s approach. Larethian came hurtling him, climbing warily into the heights, still hunting his quarry. Gruumsh ambushed Larethian, swept down like an eagle takes a hare, leapt down from the Lortmils. Larethian struck back with his holy sword Sahandrian and smote Gruumsh such a fierce blow that the blade shattered, broke into pieces, yet his hand still clutched the hilt. The two gods grappled one another, rending the earth and breaking the ground beneath them. They tumbled down from the mountains and fell upon the forest.[iii]
“Larethian’s strength waned as night drew near, but the strength of Gruumsh waxed. Gruumsh gnashed at his adversary and tore at his flesh with fingernails like claws. Seven great strokes rent the Seladarine’s flesh and bared his bones, one for each of the seven woes that would strike his people. The broken body of the dying god, still clutching the hilt of the broken blade Sahandrian, fell in the forested hills near the place where we now sit this very night. His blood poured out of his body and soaked the ground all about.”
Bagbag paused a moment to gather his thoughts before continuing the tale. Kristryd waited patiently. In the distance, the keening song continued. At length the story resumed: “From her place in Arvandor, Sehanine Moonbow, the Handmaiden, listened to the battle unfold, helpless to assist under a moonless sky. When the two moons at last rose over young roans, the Handmaiden peered down upon Oerth and saw her master’s lifeless body prone, sprawled out upon the ground, unbreathing and unmoving in the midst of a widening patch of blood-soaked soil. Sehanine made haste and descended into the Oerth, stepped lightly into the world. She wove together shafts of moonlight, stitched together moonshadow and mist to create a blanket of illusions that frightened and confused the pig-headed god and kept him distracted lest he come near and desecrate the body of her master.
“Now the Handmaiden came to the place where her master lay. She wept over his corpse, wailed over his body, anointed him with tears. Abundant tears spilled and mingled with the blood and with the soil of Oerth, giving birth the firstborn among the elves.”
Bagbag broke off from the singsong of his chant to make a few prosaic comments, “That is how they tell it! The fountain of her tears swelled to form a river, this Handmaiden, that flows past us now, not but a league from where we sit, and so it is named even in the dwur tongue from ancient times.”
“Tell on,” Kristryd begged.
“The river lifted the body of Larethian and carried him downstream, like a leaf carried on the water. All the while his lifeless hand frozen to the hilt of broken Sahandrian. The river bore him away, carried him away, but moonlight on the rippling water revived him, glinting moonbeams resuscitated him. Sehanine’s tears washed and healed the seven wounds (though the seven scars remain). Of a sudden, Larethian sprang up from the water and smote Gruumsh with the shattered butt of the blade of Sahandrian. He thrust the jagged hilt into the left eye of the orcish god, plunged it into the socket, gouged it out from the boar-headed skull, rendering him the Gleed (One-Eyed) forever after.
“Howling in pain, squealing like a sow, the Gleeded One fled back to the mountains, bleeding as he went. The mountain passes ran black with his blood. From out of that black ichor the orcs were spawned. Thus they claim the mountains as their birthright and sacred inheritance, for the blood of Gruumsh spilled on those stones and gave birth to their race.”
Bagbag fell silent, but the mournful song of the elves continued the tale far in the distance.
“And is that how the story ends?” Kristryd asked.
“There’s more to the tale, but the essential part has been told,” Bagbag said. The tone of his voice said he had lost interest.
“Well finish it anyway,” she insisted.
Bagbag sighed. “The song concludes as the resurrected god rises from the water and takes the Handmaiden for a bride in the place of his treacherous wife. She is the Handmaiden Sehanine, the wife of Corellon Larethian, the Lady of Dreams.”
“Is it all true? Were the elves born here, in this very place, from the blood of Larethian?”
“True? What is truth, daughter?” Bagbag chuckled. “Priests and the bards say these things. They make good poetry and good religion. But only the priests here in Celene will tell you that these things happened here. They claim the inner sanctum of Corellon marks the actual spot where his blood soaked the ground. But what did you learn in Keoland?”[iv]
“In Keoland, they say that the story of the elves begins on the shores of the Lendore Isles, many thousands of years ago,” Kristryd said with some disappointment.
Bagbag snorted, “You see. You can’t trust priests, and you can’t trust bards. Boccob knows!”
“I wish it was true,” Kristryd sighed.
“Who can say? Perhaps it is in some a manner.”