The Drawing of the Veil

The Hateful Wars: Chapter Thirteen

Thomas Kelly

The ambassador traveled to and fro between the nations of the alliance. Often she went afoot but, more often, clinging precariously on the back of a hippogriff and holding tight to a cavalryman of Enstad. Wherever the fragile alliance began to fray, Kristryd arrived to stitch together the rending seams and heal the wounds of insult with eloquent salve and articulate balm. If ever a nation began to flag or grow weary, she arrived with fiery words to stir hearts and strengthen resolve.

Reflections on Diplomacy

In all these efforts, she relied much on the magic of the silver-framed mirror. Many long hours, each day, she gazed intently into its reflection. Those who saw her doing so thought her very vain indeed. “See how she loves to look on the delicate lines of her fey face!” the dwarven women sniffed. “More olve than dwur, that one. And she loves none more than Kristryd!”

The dweomer upon the mirror worked in such a way that, if she looked long into it while focusing her mind on some person she knew, she could see through that one’s eyes and see what that one saw and even hear the words being said. The more she practiced, the more adept she became. What a fine gift Duke Gallowagn gave to me. He could not have guessed how useful I would find it, she thought to herself as she spied on Gallowagn’s own court.

Much she learned through the eyes and ears of others, and so she came to understand secret matters of state. Royalty, leaders, and aristocrats employed protective wards that the dweomer upon the mirror could not penetrate, but Kristryd found that, by turning the scrying magic to spy on the conversations of servants and lower court officials, she learned all she needed. The mirror gave her advantage in all her negotiations. She knew the truth of things behind the diplomacy, and she was not misled by deceptions, subtle lies, or even matters left unspoken. Yet she guarded her words carefully not to reveal too much of her knowledge. They mustn’t discern that I have the power to peer into their private affairs, she thought to herself. If I do, the advantage will be lost.

The mirror had disadvantages. Trusted friends and allies spoke unkindly of her in her absence. Their private words stung her like darts. Though she knew it petty, she could not help but treat them coldly thereafter, and so she acquired a reputation for haughtiness. To most Kristryd seemed aloof and distant.

Not every court proved vulnerable to her probing. When she tried to employ the mirror on the Grand Court of Enstad, she found the wards around the capital of Celene impenetrable. Not that I would ever use my mirror to spy on the queen, Kristryd told herself.

The Fastaal’s Charge

Had Kristryd’s mirror shown her that which transpired in the Grand Court, she would have seen the new fastaal summoned before the Blossoming Throne. The elves had not forgotten about the Karrak Bowl. Fastaal Dothmar, wielder of the dread sword Concluder, desired to return to that deep and hidden outpost of savagery and avenge himself of the comrades he had lost on his last visit.

“Go,” the Queen Yolande granted. “Take what heroes you will and fill the bowl with the blood of Gruumsh. But you will also take with you dwur folk who know those tunnels and can guide your coming and your going. For I would test the mettle of this alliance we have made with the bearded ones.”

“My lady, surely not!” the fastaal objected. He fell to one knee before her beauty and bowed his head in supplication.

“Your queen has spoken,” Yolande replied, unmoved by the entreaty. “Share the adventure with my cousin, Archosian, who seeks to make his name worthy of tales. See that no harm befalls a hair of his head.”

“By Sehanine’s bright night! Will we send an inexperienced sword beneath the mountains! His majesty is a child,” the fastaal objected. His eyes sized up the homely elf prince who stood to the left of the Blossoming Throne.

Archosian drew himself to height and fumbled awkwardly for words, “I am not yet of your stature, but neither is my sword inexperienced.” It was true, in a manner of speech. He had inherited the magical blade Defender from heroic forbears. The sword had tasted a great deal of goblin blood, only not by Archosian’s hand. Orcs remembered the blade, hated it, and called it by the name Razor.

“Take Archosian with you,” the queen repeated firmly. “You may find him useful in dark places. Onselvon has tutored the lad in cantrips, and his arrow rarely strays the mark.”

“I’ll take the Green Arrow,” the fastaal acceded, but he assigned his new charge to his companion Peralay, a tall, left-handed olven ranger. A hunting hawk decorated Peralay’s shield, the symbol of his noble house. In the sheath at his side he carried the magical blade Gnoll-Cleaver, a weapon forged in Balnorhak upon the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains. Peralay traveled with three vicious cooshees that answered to his every command and understood the tongue of the elves. The green-furred sylvan dogs knew the scent of goblinkind and delighted in the hunt.

The three elven lords brought together a handful of loyal heroes. According to the queen’s instructions, the expedition looked to the dwur for assistance. Mountain dwarves of Dengar and Gilmorack had maps of the Low Road, and they could provide an escort through those sunless tunnels. A company of dwarves from Ulek came too. The principality claimed the fortifications of Karrak Bowl, for it had once been an outpost of Balnorhak. Kristryd’s father sent scouts and infantrymen of the Royal Army to accompany the mission and occupy the fort once the orcs were driven thence.

On an appointed day, the elves and dwarves rendezvoused in the city of Courwood, east of the mountains on the banks of the Handmaiden. Kristryd made all the introductions and smoothed the negotiations, but when she committed them all to the grace of Ulaa and bade them farewell, the mountain dwarves refused to leave Courwood with the elves unless she accompanied them.

“I already have enough charges to watch over. I shall have to account to Her Fey Majesty if her favorite dwarf suffers so much as a scratch,” Dothmar complained. “Would it be fit to take a woman into man’s fight?”

Kristryd burned at these words and retorted, “I am a daughter of the Ulek Dwur. I hefted battleaxe before I learned my letters, and I slew goblins before I saw twenty summers. I have hunted giants in these mountains with the priests of Gyrax. Dwarf women do not cower at home while their men go out to fight as do the women of other races. We fight alongside.”

“And so you shall!” the fastaal capitulated hastily. Besides, he needed her help. The mountain dwarves spoke not a single word of common tongue, and, moreover, they loved the elves not much more than goblinkind. Likewise, the Ulek dwarves hated the Dengar dwarves, and the mountain dwarves returned that sentiment with generosity. Olinsdotter stood betwixt all three parties: translator, counselor, and ambassador, with the wizard Bagbag at her side.

“Do not fear daughter,” her most-trueheaded advisor said. “I will see that no harm befalls you, so help me Moradin.”

Peralay and the Green Arrow

They set out from Courwood on the thirteenth day of Goodmonth. The mountain dwarves kept to themselves; the Ulek dwarves kept to themselves; and the Celenese kept to the themselves. At their first encampment, the three remained at such a distance that one looking on from above might suppose the flames of their campfires had no relation. Only Kristryd enjoyed the favor and confidence of all three parties and moved between the camps unhindered.

On the second day’s march from Courwood, the parties turned aside from Druid’s Defile to follow the canyon-way to the north. Along this route Peralay and his cooshees tracked the ambushers back to their holes though their trail was now cold a year. They entered the sheltered valley, fearful of what eyes might be spying from the caves and rocks above.

In the camp of the elves, Kristryd found Archosian and Peralay reclining under the stars, sharing draughts from a skin. Peralay’s cooshees lay beside their master, curled up with their snouts tucked under their tales.

“Will you drink with us?” Archosian asked in the elvish tongue. “It’s an emerald!” The elves are well-known through the Flanaess for the golden-green “emerald” wine of Celene, a crisp, dry wine, best served chilled on a hot day. Even warm, the vintage tasted light, refreshing and rich with the aroma of summer nights—far too easy to drink.

“It’s not the local,” Peralay enticed. “I brought this from Enstad, from the earliest grapes of the season.”

“One should never refuse a gift of the elves,” Kristryd only quoted half the proverb as they handed her the skin. She raised it to her lips and sipped at it—enough to be polite but not so much as to lose her wits. Handing the skin back to Archosian, she asked the young elf, “Why do they call you Green Arrow?”

“Because he is green,” Peralay answered on behalf of his younger companion. He punctuated the statement with a silly giggle.

“I prefer to think it an homage to my marksmanship,” Archosian explained, “But Dothmar names me so because I am young and lack experience. Like green wood.”

“Like green wine,” Peralay jested, taking back possession of the skin.

“How many years are you?” Kristryd asked the young elf.

“I celebrated the drawing of the veil two score ago,” Archosian replied with the indignant tone of a teenager eager to prove himself an adult.

“The drawing of the veil?” Kristyd asked.

“It’s when an elf comes of age. It’s that age when we can no longer remember our previous lives,” Peralay explained. “It usually comes upon us after we have passed our first century.”

Elves are strange creatures! Kristryd thought to herself, but out loud she jested, “Then you are green indeed! Too young for green wine I think.”

“And how old are you my lady?” Archosian prodded.

“One never discusses a lady’s age,” Kristryd feigned an insult to her dignity. She took another sip at the wine Peralay offered her before continuing, “But since you have been so impolite to inquire, I fall three years short of finishing a century.”

“Aha!” Archosian triumphed. “The child among us! Younger than all of us! No more emerald for you!” He pulled the skin from her hands.

The Twisting Tunnels

On the seventeenth day of Goodmonth they came to the porch-hole and descended beneath the mountains. As they entered the undermountain, Bagbag warned dwarves and elves, “We show no mercy; we take no prisoners, and we give no heed to the lies of goblin tongues!”

Neither dwarves nor elves need much light of lamp or flaming torch to see their path in the darkness. They make their way dimly along as a man makes his way in the bright starlight on a moonless night. But when it came to consulting maps and checking journals, the mountain dwarves lit candles and lamps, spread out great parchments on cavern floors, and confirmed the party’s position with compass marks, ticks, and notations. Otherwise the troop moved quietly through the darkness, often without light of lamp or flame of candle, hoping to catch the euroz by surprise.

The tunnels through which they made their way were roughhewn affairs, narrow passages with high ceilings. At more than one point the way constricted so much as to allow them to pass only single file. In other places, the tunnels widened into natural caverns. Pools of standing water filled a few of these, forcing them to splash their way through. They fought off bats, stirges, giant rats, giant centipedes, and a disturbed a den of trolls. Though they saw no orcs or goblins, the stench of goblin filth made the air reek as they drew nearer to the Karrak Bowl. Peralay’s cooshee dogs sniffed at the foul scent and growled eagerly.

On the second day in the tunnels, after warding off giant spiders and cutting through their webs, Dothmar took Kristryd aside and spoke to her in the elvish tongue, saying, “By now we should have come upon the Karrak Bowl. My memory is not so foggy as to forget the number strides. Surely these dwarves of yours have led us astray.”

“They are not my dwarves,” Kristryd rejoined, “Forgive me if I trust their maps more than your memories of these winding ways.”

Another day passed and even the mountain dwarves admitted that either maps had led them astray or the tunnels themselves had conspired to shift into a misleading maze. Kristryd translated these words into the elvish reluctantly. Her report elicited exasperated sighs from the fair folk.

“Cursed be the sons of Durin!” Dothmar exclaimed. “We must retrace our way at least a day’s march and pick up the trail where we lost it.” The sons of Durin sullenly agreed, but when the party turned back, they found the way that they had come blocked and impassible, as if no tunnel had ever been there at all. The cooshees growled apprehensively.

“Illusory arts!” Bagbag exclaimed. “We have been deceived by the tricks of the shamans.” Scarcely had the words left his mouth than came the ambush. Orcs fell upon the party from before and behind. They poured down from hidden alcoves above. The tunnels rang with war screams. Bow strings twanged and black poison-tipped arrows swished through the air.

Prince Archosian Brightflame of Celene is mentioned in Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss. Peralay appears in Carl Smith, The Shady Dragon Inn (TSR, 1983). Regarding wine of Celene, see Alasdair, “The Wines of Oerik—Part Two: Celene and the Wild Coast,” Canonfire!

Read the Next Chapter: A Voice in the Dark

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