The Hateful Wars: Chapter Fifteen
“We’re only here to burn the wretched city,” Hroth explained. “Outside of that, we don’t give a shite.” He gestured to the few dozen one-eared hobgoblin soldiers. They stood motionless at rigid attention—a study in military discipline. Many hundreds of miles had they traversed, under and above the mountains. They were footsore and hungry, on the last of the rations, and impatient for the fight. Now this dung-wad wanted to make excuses! Hroth hovered over Urgush and whispered, breathing his foul breath into the face of his lesser, “Where is your fiend-loving strumpet?”
Vantage on the High Road
Urgush Halfblood blanched and turned his face away from the hobgoblin warrior. “She has supplied us with spells, devilshine weapons, and armor too,” he insisted. He knocked his knuckles against the face of his shield to emphasize the point. “Tokens of her good faith!”
Horth’s yellow eyes blazed with menace. “We didn’t march a whole bloody moon for bloody tokens.”
From the height upon which they stood, the hobgoblin warlord and the half-orc looked down upon an open stretch of the Veluna High Road. A long caravan of gnomes descending from the Kron Hills snaked along the turns in the road, heading toward the fairy kingdom of Celene. Urgush pointed a clawed finger toward the caravan and snivelled, “What do you think those fonkin turds are doing? I watch ‘em come and go on that road, in and out, day after day. Buggerin’ elves, turd-nose gnomes, blasted dwarves! Armies and supplies! No one bothers them. No one hinders them.”
Hroth’s single remaining ear twitched.
“Take the High Road,” Urgush explained, “And we can saunter our way into fonkinland whenever we like.”
“I promised them pillage and rape,” Hroth said, gesturing again to the hobgoblin host he had led up from the south.
“I need dweomercraft; I need more devilshine weapons and armor,” Urgush objected. “I need time.”
“You have kobolds, goblins, gnolls, and more than a thousand orcs ready now. We brought two fists full of hungry ogres and trolls! Someone’s has to feed them soon!” Hroth growled. He added with a menacing grin, “Just don’t get your fingers near their mouths.”
An Unpleasant Dream
In the fortress of Dorob Kilthduum, the tolling of the bell startled the Sacred Heart of Berronar from an unpleasant dream. She prayed for light, and a holy luminesce filled the room. What time is it? She peered out the tower window and observed the position of the moons and the stars. Still the middle of the night. She called to her acolytes, “Go! Inquire of the watch. Why have they raised the alarm?” The bells continued to toll as she pulled a tent-sized shift over her head, donned her sacred vestments, and uttered a prayer for protection. A memory from her dream made her shudder, but she could not recall the specifics or bring the details into focus. A few minutes later, the acolytes returned. “Orcs and goblins on the High Road!” they reported with breathless excitement.
“How? Surely I should have foreseen it!” the high priestess mused aloud. Then the details of the dream returned. “Does Hagthar yet stand?” she asked.
“We have not heard tell,” the second acolyte said. “But the castellan has mustered the axes, and he summons you to the keep.”
Gilvgola strapped a long belt about her wide waist and hitched her heavy bespelled mace upon it. Then she rummaged about her things, selected a book of psalms, and set off for the keep. The bells had ceased tolling. All of Dorob Kilthduum was awake. Guards had been doubled. Sentries posted. Soldiers, already armed and armored, stood at the ready in the lower chambers. The castellan awaited Gilvgola when she arrived.
“Surely Yolande will march out to meet them,” he declared, tugging at his beard. His voice betrayed uncertainty. He searched the face of the old priestess for some affirmation. “I have doubled the guard and mustered the axes. If they come this way, we will be ready for them.”
Ignoring the castellan’s assurances, Gilvgola said, “I have seen a troubling dream. The corpses of the elves litter the High Road from Kron to Enstad. Celene is lost if we do not march out at once.”
“Who remains to guard our own walls?” the castellan objected. “We have families to consider.”
“I have no time to brook arguments. Send a summons by way of signal fires to Hagthar, Irondelve, and Rockhall. Berronar has shown it all to me in a dream. Time is short. See to it!”
The sun rose on the Kron Hills, and with it, a force of gnomes, several hundred strong, arrived from Rockhall. A priest of Ulaa called Father Furduch of Tulvar led them. “How did you come so quickly?” Gilvgola asked him. “It has not been but a few hours since we lit the signals.”
“But it has been a full day since Ulaa woke me with a dream and told me to muster a host and march to Dorob Kilthduum. Behold! We have come,” the gnomish priest explained, snapping his fingers with excitement and hopping from foot to foot.
“Blessed be Ulaa,” Gilvgola declared.
“And blessed be Berronar,” Father Furduch replied, clapping his hands together for emphasis. “Now we hurry off to the fight. Our brothers will follow on our heels.”
Gilvgola and Father Furduch invoked the blessing of their respective goddesses, offered sacrifices, read the omens, prayed over the soldiers, and hastened their forces to the High Road. By the time they arrived, corpses littered the road, just as the Sacred Heart had foreseen.
Way of Tears
Days earlier, Urgush and Hroth descended upon the High Road, overran the outposts, and slew every villager and traveler between Hagthar and Celene. As if the survival of her kingdom were simply a game to be played out upon a chessboard, the elven queen dispatched the main body of her soldiery to meet the threat. Her forces marched out under flying standards, trumpeting fanfare, and in polished armor. The glittering host believed they merely needed wave their noble banners and make a parade to cow the enemy. In the flight of their skitterbrook retreat, they left behind a trail of abandoned bodies from Hagthar to Enstad. No record tells the number of the slain, but the poets claim the quantity of blood rivalled that of Larethian from whence their first fathers sprang.
Coming late to the battle, Gilvgola’s dwarves and Furduch’s gnomes threw themselves upon the victors. Ferocious blows fell. Orcs converged and the gnolls howled with greed for blood. Goblinkind shot barbed arrows from behind the stones. Ogres roared with delight at the prospect of flesh (for they will not eat olven flesh). Gilvgola and Father Furduch led the charge. Their soldiers slammed furiously up against the monsters. The axes of Dorob Kilthduum severed limbs and heads. The gnomes of Rockhall struck helms and horns. All the High Road was asplatter and gore. None could traverse it except they stepped upon the fallen and slipped upon the blood. It seemed that the efforts of gnomes and dwarves would fail, for the horde drove them back. But in his enthusiasm to satisfy Hroth and pursue the elves all the way to the Great Hall of Enstad, Urgush left his vanguard poorly defended. The dwarves and the gnomes rallied, gave a great shout, smote the hindermost, and the enemy fell back before them. Joy faltered when scouts came to report, “We have seen yet another host marching from the north, numerous and strong.”
“We are too few!” they wailed. “Come! Let us fall back, else we be trapped between the goblins and this second host.”
Gilvgola addressed herself to the gnomes, “Surely Ulaa has not abandoned you. We will meet this new host and turn them back.”
Father Furduch spoke to the dwarves, “What have dwur-folk to fear? Do you think Berronar will turn her face away from you while Gilvgola fights beside you?” He punctuated his confident words with a handstand during which his cloak flipped up over his head and the contents of his pockets fell to the ground.
Heartened by the war priests, the dwarves formed up to hold the road; the gnomes took up flanking positions from which they could spring a surprise, but none of it was needed. Before the advancing host arrived, another gnomish scout came proclaiming the glad news, “Yonder host that comes upon us, no longer boasts that foes surround us! Not but men come out for war, Velunese from high Hagthar!”
“What means this jabber? Speak straight to me in the manner of dwarves,” Gilvgola scolded the scout.
“We have nothing to fear. Velunese from Hagthar draw near,” Father Furduch translated. He added an interpretive dance for additional clarity.
Rao Joins the Fight
A solemn procession of Raoan priests leading the ranks came to a halt before the fidgeting gnome and the sizable dwarfess. Behind them, the whole company of men halted. Gilvgola addressed herself to the chief priest among them, “Did you see our summons by signal fire, or did Rao summon you in a dream?”
In the decades leading up to the war, Veluna assisted its neighbors in the Lorridges and the Kron Hills against the goblins but never with the genocidal fervor advocated by the Blossoming Throne. Instead, the Raoan priests held that the best course was to swiftly punish aggressive goblin bands while leaving less troublesome ones alone. In so doing, they gave both threat and reward to dissuade goblins from attacking humans and demi-humans alike. Such was their policy. Raoans reasoned that indiscriminately taking up arms against goblinkind would only inspire them all with reason and incentive to band together.
The goblins profited under Rao’s liberality. They were fruitful and multiplied. Raiding parties grew ever bolder. Velunese fled from the mountain villages. The College of Bishops dispatched a large company to the southern Lorridges to pursue raiders back to their caves and warrens. On its first mission, the company chased a routed band of orcs deep into the mountains—where Urgush set upon them with an overwhelming ambush and slew them to a man.
The chief priest removed the heart-shaped mask from his face and regarded the gnome and dwarfess that stood before him. He replied in serene tones (as is the way with all of his cloth) as if he transcended all mortal concerns, “Indeed, Rao appeared to me and instructed me as I slept. The Implacable One appeared to me on the Night of Hopeful Judgment and declared that I should call the muster and march out to seek the Sacred Heart. We have marched a day and all through the night hither from Hagthar.”
“I am the Sacred Heart of Berronar, the one you seek,” Gilvgola replied. “Let your men rest their feet for a spell. A hard march and hard fight will be ahead.”
“Now we have a proper force,” Gilvgola told Furduch. “Let’s teach those pig-snouts to stay in their holes.”
Gilvgola’s army of gnomes, dwarves, and Velunese men smote the horde of Urgush up the backside like a goodwife spanks her unruly brat on the ass. The priests of Veluna called upon Rao for miracles, Father Furduch beseeched the arm of Ulaa, and Gilvgola asked Moradin’s Bride to wield her gold and silver mace. Rumor passed among the orcs that the Sacred Heart had come out to the fight. The mention of her name seized them with terror, for they had not forgotten how Gilvgola slew Dregrak the cruel and banished his fiends so long ago. Now she drove their sons before her.
The unexpected combined attack from behind sent the goblins headlong in careening reckless flight directly into the defenses of the elves. Goblinkind that crossed into the borders of the fey kingdom found themselves misled and confused by powerful illusions from the priests of Sehanine. Elven archers concealed in the trees rocketed arrows down on the fleeing orcs, and the elven mages loosed potent spells. Onselvon, the queen’s wizard, called down fire and lightening, erected dweomer-built walls of flame and blade, and rained down magical arrows. The queen’s elite cavalry swooped down upon the trolls and slew them all. Even the Fey Queen strapped her flatchet belt about her hips, hung her gleaming sword upon it, and went out to meet the onslaught. Not a single goblin found his way to Enstad. Rangers and woodsmen from as far as Courwood hunted the survivors. By the end of the fourth day, the army of Urgush melted away. Those not yet slain fled into the mountains. Hroth and his hobgoblins vanished too.
The College of Bishops convened and signed the alliance treaties, officially committing Veluna to the war to the purge of the Lortmil Mountains. Gilvgola, Father Furduch, and their victorious gnomes and dwarves returned to unassailable Dorob Kilthduum where they celebrated the victory with a day of feasting at the table of the Sacred Heart. Back in Enstad, however, the Celenese celebrated no victory. Such numbers of their folk had fallen that the bards of Celene renamed that path the “Way of Tears” in reference to the tears Sehanine shed over Larethian. So the High Road is called to this day.
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Kirt Wackford, “Geopolitical History of Keoland,” unpublished manuscript version, 15, 26. Sobrach, “The Lortmil Mountains,” Oerth Journal 2:14-19.
Artwork: ICE “Orc Band with Troll.”