The Hateful Wars: Chapter Eleven
The officers gave Kristryd the stirrup and bade her take a place behind the rider’s saddle. Dwarves prefer not to ride on mounts, not even ponies or pack horses. A helmed cavalry officer peered down at her from atop the hippogriff, “This noble beast on which you are to be carried is called Emolasmairim. She has borne none upon her wings except me.”
The Elite Cavalry
The officer extended a hand to the dwarfess as she put foot to the stirrup. “I am Darrion, captain of the queen’s cavalry. Wrap your arms fast around my waste. Lean with me when I lean, but not overmuch to the left or right,” the rider told her as he hoisted her up to the back of the hippogriff. Kristryd shifted about behind the saddle, gripping the beast between her knees and wrapping her arms around the armored waste of the cavalry officer. Emolas spread her great wings and flapped them thrice as if testing the air before leaping into a full gallop. Kristryd had once ridden a horse while at school in Keoland, but on that occasion, only at a slow trot, led by lead-rope in the hand of a squire around a track. That experience terrified her enough. Now she hurtled forward through the air, the wind whipping all about her and snatching away her breath. Her legs clamped the hippogriff tightly and her arms held the rider fast. The beast moved in spanning leaps, landing talons first, then launching again from hoofs behind, faster than she might have supposed. The terror increased when she realized that her mount charged full speed and headlong toward the edge of a precipice. To her left and to her right thundered along the rest of Celene’s elite cavalry, all galloping wildly toward the cliff’s edge. For a moment she launched weightlessness, and her stomach dropped. Then she felt the lift of the great wings as they beat against the air, and Emolas climbed toward the mountains.
Emolas carried her over forests, rivers, valleys, mountains, and hills, resting by night, flying by day, until they came to her one-time home, Gryax, capital of the Principality, a city of dwarves, halflings, and just as many men. Kristryd had never seen the great port city from such a height. From upon the back of the hippogriff, she could see the sails of ships out at sea as well as those ships docked in the harbors with sails furled.
The dwur of Balnorhak built ancient Gyrax on the Adirole Bay in centuries long past, but the Prince Corond had much improved the harbor until it ranked among the greatest harbor cities of all the Flanaess, rivaling Gradsul and Irongate on the Azure Sea. The location was once unfavorable for large vessels, but the Prince Corond contended with the difficulties by ingenious feats of engineering, fashioning breakwaters and channels to calm the waves until the city became the chief port of Keoland’s holdings. Even after breaking with the Lion Throne, the Principality prospered tremendously from trade that flowed through Gyrax and passed through its markets, including merchandise from as far north as Celene and the Duchy. Gyrax also harbored the prince’s navy, three score strong warships crewed by humans, and with these, the Principality sailed the Azure to defend the southern coast and keep the shipping lanes free of pirates.[i]
From her perch behind the captain, Kristryd directed Darrion toward her father’s heavy-stone palace. The queen’s elite cavalryman landed the hippogriff upon the bailey of the gatehouse and helped Kristryd dismount before the guards atop the walls had even sounded warning. Darrion pressed an ornate and gold-chased horn into his passenger’s hands, “A gift of Her Fey Majesty. Should you be in need, whether to fight for your defense or only to carry you aloft, sound this horn. I will hear its call, no matter the distance, and I will come to you with Emolasmairim, by the command of Her Fey Majesty.”
Upon the Speaking Stone at Gyrax
Kristryd stepped up to the speaking stone before the prince’s council, commanding the attention of elders, clan chiefs, noblemen, and advisers. Also present were men and halflings who served the prince and represented the interests of their communities and clans within the Principality. These latter folk seemed less intimidating to Kristryd than her own kin. Disregarding the sea of glowering bearded faces that regarded her so suspiciously, Kristryd took her place on the stone. Dumathoin take them! I shall teach them that a dwarfess can stir hearts as well as a dwarf, she told herself.
“Now hear my words,” she began. Her strong steady voice belied her slight build. She spoke with authority as she had so often heard her father do. The tone of her voice arrested the attention of the gathering. “I speak as your ambassador to Enstad, and I bear a message from Her Fey Majesty. In years gone past, we dwarves have done what we can against goblinkind, but we have received little thanks and less help for the effort. Now the Fey Queen demands their utter extermination. Behold! The gods smelt together a new alloy of dwarf and elf—forging a new weapon to purge the mountains and take back the everlasting possession. Listen to what her Fey Majesty says, ‘Let those who join our cause be called our friends and those who refuse be called our enemies!’”
Kristryd’s father rose to his feet. All eyes turned to him. “Daughter,” the Prince Corond said, “You speak well for Yolande, but we will not be made to dance at her whim like fairies at her midsummer’s frolic. I, myself, the god’s-own-appointed dwarf over Ulek, forged this alliance, and I command it to this day. If the elves will join our cause, very good. Let them lend us their swords. But Berronar bind my oath! I am no sellsword for the faerie queen!”
Kristryd recognized her father’s strategy. She bowed before her him and yielded up the speaking stone. The prince did not bother to take her place upon it. Instead, he turned to face the elders and chieftans of his assembly from his counsel seat. “Now is the time,” he said, “to strike while iron glows red. Clangeddin’s Ax! Let us sweep through the mountains, above and below, as a woman sweeps out her home with a broom. Beat out the filth as a woman beats out her rugs on the first day of open-tide.”
Prince Corond Olinstaad summoned a council of war to assemble at Havenhill, near the ancient halls of Balnorhak. The queen’s elite cavalry provided flights back and forth between kingdoms until all necessary emissaries had been summoned. The Upper Ulek states came out of respect for the prince (they showed little concern for obligation to the queen or fear of her threats).[ii] Likewise came the gnomes from the Kron Hills. A company from Celene arrived by magical conveyance with Yolande’s counselors of war, including Onselvon, the court mage of Enstad and Bagbag, counselor to the house of Corond, who had been left behind in the elven kingdom in Yolande’s haste to send forth Kristryd.
Kristryd asked herself, How would Yolande address this council were she in my place? Would she not first dress the part?
Kristryd donned a war helm over her black curls, a chain shirt of mithril armor over her slight frame and strapped upon her thigh a naked blade forged on the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains. So attired, she took her place upon the speaking stone and addressed all those counselors and masters of war, staring them in the eyes, daring them to raise objections. Standing above her younger brothers and above all the chieftains of the clans, she issued challenge, “Who will rise against my word? I speak today on behalf of my father, His Serene Highness, Lord of the Peaks of Haven, the Prince Ulek; I speak on behalf of my father-in-law, Thane Gavin Evrast the Seventh, undermountain king of Dengar; I speak on behalf of the Thane Redmod Buddoken, undermountain king of Gilmorack, and I speak on behalf of Her Fey Majesty, the most-terrible avenging Solar of Celene. I say to you now, one and all, that the word is ‘War!’ most unrelenting, most hateful, and most savage, until not one of the goblinkind remain in any hole or hovel, cave or cavern, until we have utterly cleansed the Lortmil Mountains and taken back the Everlasting Possession of the dwarven people!”
All those gathered in the great hall looked upon her in amazement, for it seemed that she spoke among them as neither dwarf nor elf, nor gnome nor man, but a goddess of war.
In the days leading up to the official declaration, Godsday sermons in the temples of Moradin discoursed passionately about divine destiny, the inheritance of the sons of Durin, and the inviolable sanctity of the “everlasting possession.” The ancient patriarch, Thunderblade, urged the faithful to action against the sons of goblinkind.[iii] On the first of Goodmonth 498, the Prince Olinstaad published a notice of war and summons to allies:[iv]
To the People of the Freed Territories, and to those of my people who fight for the honor of our gods and noble blood, hear ye now the words of His Most Serene Highness Prince Olinstaad Corond, Lord of the Peaks of Haven, Chosen of Moradin, Defender of the Ulek States, Rightful Lord of the Pomarj, and Heir of the Glory of Balnorhak: We go to war!
To the cowardly mongrel goblinkind cowering in your holes beneath the sacred mountains: We make war upon you!
To my friends and allies in the Sheldomar Valley, the County of Ulek, the Duchy of Ulek, the Gran March, the Lands of Veluna, the cities of Verbobonc and Greyhawk, to the Kron Hills, the Forest of Celene, and the Drachensgrab Hills: I summon you to a council of war!
To my brethren in the ancient kingdoms of Dengar and Gilmorak, and to the Gnomes of the Lortmil Mountains: We stand with you!
To every craftsman, adventurer and wanderer in my realm, to every dwarf, elf, halfling, half-blood and gnome, to every man, woman and child who can hold an axe, to all who hears these words or reads this proclamation: The time to purge our sacred inheritance has begun!
The Poor March
Not Keoland nor Gran March nor the Baronies heeded the summons to the prince’s council of war. The prince sent Kristryd to Niole Dra to make the entreaty before King Nyhan IV, citing the ties between their people and noting that Keoland would benefit as much from suppressing the goblins as would the people of the Lortmils. Nyhan the Listless replied contemptuously, “Tell your father, ‘You and the Uleks have chosen a separate path, and Keoland honors your choice.’” [v]
Prince Corond liked not the thought of such an undertaking without the strength of Keoland, but he deemed his Alliance could manage the mountains. Only the southeast side and Suss Forest, where neither Celene nor the Uleks commanded, remained vulnerable. “We need the Pomarj Lords to complete the noose and pull it tight,” he told his daughter. “To wage and win such a war, we must rely upon strength derived from mutual defense and greater numbers. Our great lands were once united, and we shall be again, from here to the Drachensgrab Spine.”
Celene’s elite cavalry carried Kristryd from Havenhill to the Poor March house of Baron Billaro. Upon the Free Lords of Highport came, unannounced and unforeseen, dwarven royalty descending suddenly from the clear skies amidst an entourage of beating wings, hooves and talons, flanked by elven warriors in shining male, all mounted upon flying beasts like those from children’s tales. Kristryd entreated the Free Lord, “Thus says my father, His Serene Highness, Lord of the Peaks of Haven, Prince Olinstaad Corond of Ulek …”
The House of Billaro swore their fealty at once and all the overawed Free Lords of Highport took upon themselves binding oaths to the prince of Ulek and the queen of Celene. They only begged permission to meet also with the other dukes and nobles of the Pomarj lands, for none possessed the authority to speak for all. “We will convene a council here in Highport, and we will give you an answer according to the oaths we have already sworn,” they assured her.
In truth, the Free Lords harbored only contempt for other races, and they reserved an especial antipathy for the dwarves who, until recently, had ruled over them as overlords. A full year after the war had already commenced, the Free Lords assembled in Highport to discuss their options. By then, the shock of Kristryd’s auspicious debut had been forgotten along with their oaths, “If a man escapes from the murder pits, does he throw himself back into the hole? Why should we trust the bloody prince? That greedy bugger wants back what has slipped through his fingers!” They quickly reached a consensus: “Let the grubbers and the fairies deal with their own kind and their own troubles. We are men not bloody gnomes, and we need have no fear of goblins here in these lands.”
When Kristryd received this word, she sent sharp reply, “Let your own imprecations find you out for the oaths you have broken.”