The Hateful Wars: Chapter Nineteen
Luna continued her slow journey across the sky. Kristryd shivered in the cold open air of the night and pulled her cloak tighter about her shoulders. And what shall I do if the queen does not come back to me before the moon has set and sun breaks the east? she worried to herself. How shall I tell it in Enstad? With thoughts such as these still astir in her head, she watched the Moonarch fixedly with unblinking eyes, willing the elf queen to appear.
In the last hour before dawn, as Luna began to slip behind the distant line of the Lortmils, Kristryd felt her drowsy head starting to swim. She rested her eyes only for a moment and plummeted quickly into a dream. Cursing herself for weakness, she leapt to her feet. Am I not a dwarf? she asked herself. My people succumb not to sleeping spells! She shook her head to clear the drowsiness, and abruptly her eyes beheld something new. Through the span of the Moonarch she glimpsed a sunlit land of trees and streams and grassy hills. She stepped nearer, only intending to see the vision more clearly. As she did the image drew itself closer to her, more real and substantial. She fancied she could feel the welcome warmth of those sunlit lands. How pleasant it would be to chase the chill from my bones! Vivid colors and deepening hues crystalized before her. The marvelous world beyond the arch looked more real and solid than Oerth. Indeed, by comparison, Oerth around seemed an insubstantial shadow.
Kristryd swooned but caught herself before she stumbled. She grasped the outstretched hand of a tall elf, clothed in green britches, shirt, jerkin, and cap. He drew her beneath the spanning stone.
“You’re not allowed in here,” the elf said with mischief in his voice. He wagged a warning finger. “I know your type. You dwur can’t resist the shiny things, can you?”
“Where is this?” Kristryd asked as she looked about the turngiddy fey world in which she found herself. All the air hummed with song of bird and pixie wing. Intoxicating scents, colors, and sounds mingled together such that she could scarce distinguish the senses. Wherever she cast her eyes, all things shifted and moved as if alive and the world in motion. She stood in the midst of a forest, not a forest, a garden, more a field of flowers, an orchard really, like a vineyard heavy laden, nay, more an open field, rushes, reeds, and cattails swaying in the breeze beside the bank of babbling stream—not a stream, rather the sunny shore of a sea swept by endless washing waves. She turned to see if she could find her way back; she saw no sign of the Moonarch.
The Three Wishes
“You really should not be here; it’s forbidden,” the elf insisted. He emphasized the point with three sharp tugs to the short beard on her chin, and that surprised her, for she had been clean-shaven when she stepped beneath the arch.
“You brought me here,” she objected.
“I didn’t,” the trickster contradicted. “But so long as you are already here, I’ll grant you three wishes. But only if you guess my name.”
“I can’t guess your name. I have no notion.”
“Oh, I think you know,” the trickster laughed. She didn’t. He placed three glittering azure gems before her. They looked identical to her eye, each one a Lortmil stone of remarkable beauty and cut. “Choose wisely. One will grant you wealth: the stolen treasures of Dengar and your missing anvil too. One will grant you power: the hammer that strikes the anvil to drive your enemies before you and fulfill your oath. And one will grant you wisdom to forfeit the other two. Choose wisely.”
“They look identical to me. I don’t know which is which.”
“Then that’s your choice,” he said. “Take all three.” He handed her the three gems, but they turned to sourberries in her hand.
The Warrior’s Boots
“Put on these warrior’s boots so that you can tread upon the heights and trample your foes.” He handed her a pair of elven boots such as the type Peralay and Archosian wore. Kristryd sat down in the vivid green grass and unlaced her own heavy mountain boots. She set them aside and tried to put on the new boots.
“They don’t fit,” she complained as she tugged the first of the pair up over her foot. “These are elven boots. Far too long for my legs.”
“The boots are not too long. Your legs are too short!” the trickster observed. “Let’s find out who’s inside you!”
The Nesting Doll
The trickster handed Kristryd a gnomish nesting doll upon which the simple squared image of a dwur-wife was painted in red and black and white paints. It looked exactly like a magical toy she had possessed when still a child in her father’s palace at Gyrax. “Open it up and see what’s inside.” She opened the silverwood doll by lifting off the top. The outer shell contained an inner doll, slightly smaller and nested inside. The smaller doll bore the same shape as its outer shell, but it’s features had been painted hideously to show an orcish face with one central eye like that of a cyclops. She recognized the idol of Gruumsh.
“Go ahead, open it up,” the trickster encouraged. She opened the doll again and discovered a dwur-wife inside the idol.
“What is this? Some nonsense reak about the Balance?”
“Open it up and see!”
She opened the dwurwife and found a Gruumsh inside, and inside the idol another dwur-wife, and so forth, a dozen more times, until she withdrew the final nesting doll—a tiny little fairy maid, shining like the sun. The miniature fairy stood in her open palm, fluttered it’s wings, then zipped away.
The Maze of Doors
“Don’t worry, you’ll find your way. Dwarves never lose their way,” the trickster assured her. She looked up to discover herself lost in a twisting passage lined with identical doors, each one leading into a passage lined with identical doors. Fear came rushing behind her; panic pursued her. A baying sound, laughing hyenas, the stomp of booted feet, a pack of hunting gnolls. “Flee daughter! Flee or die!” a familiar voice warned her. She fled, tripping and stumbling, one foot dragging the overlong flopping elven boot behind for her. She knew not which way to turn. Through one door and to another she fled, each one leading to more uncertainties. The baying of the pack drew closer.
“This way child,” an old dwur-wife said from inside an open doorway. Kristryd recognized the old dwur-wife with the white hair and beard and keen gleaming eyes. The dwur-wife beckoned ugently. Kristryd followed her through the doorway and found herself in yet another place with many portals leading further into the maze. The yammering of the gnolls grew louder. “This way daughter!” the old dwur-wife gestured from one of the portals. Kristryd hastened to follow.
So it went until at last she came upon the bank of a river. The dwur-wife no longer appeared before her, but standing in the tall grass on the other side of the water, the trickster beckoned. “Hurry. Swim across!”
“I can’t swim!” she protested. Tears of frustration blurred her eyes.
“No choice! Swim across. You’ll remember.”
She looked all about, eyes wide with terror. She could see no other option unless she fled back into the maze. No. That would not do. Already the loping gnolls emerged from the way she had come. They sauntered toward her. Sloppy grins and peeled lips revealed yellow fangs. Long tongues lolled and panted at the air, tasting her scent upon it. Kristryd stripped down to her small clothes as quick as she might and tossed aside that wretched boot. She took a deep breath and plunged into the water, splashing and wading into the stream. The gnolls drew up on the bank, growling and snarling. The water deepened quickly, frothed about her, and tugged at her. Her bare feet lost their footing on the slippery stones. Tumbling into the water, she fought to keep her head above. Truly, she knew not how to swim. She thrashed about, but her desperate thrashing only hastened to sink her. The current dragged her downstream, and she slipped beneath the water. All her terror subsided the moment she did. Deep peace and sweet forgetfulness received her.
In her mind’s eye, she could yet see the strange green-clad elf laughing at her from the far bank. He seemed to shrink away, diminishing in size, until he vanished completely.
She sank deeper, floating on the moonlight and the blue glow of Celene’s fullness. The fairy moon peered down on her, like the face of a goddess, curious to see what she would do.
In those days, no man nor dwur walked Oerth. But in a certain land lived two sisters, nobly born. Gods! Which sister am I? Kristryd thought to herself as she turned about. She looked into a mirrored pool and saw not her own face gazing back but the delicate features of a fairhead maid. Curse this fey trickery! she lamented. Years passed. All things transpired. The sisters grew older and beautiful. None could tell the one from the other except the most discerning eye. They shared all things, save one. Kristryd coveted the wine in the other sister’s cup. When she found that goblet left unguarded, she snatched it up without a moment’s hesitation and glopped it down. So sweet was that taste that one draught alone could not suffice, and ever after she contrived schemes and plots to taste it often again. Her heart felt light and lithe so long as the taste of the wine remained upon her lips. Her long and slender dream-arms (utterly unlike her real arms) clutched him to her bosom. None the wiser he, for even he could not distinguish the one sister from the other. Kristryd wept tears of joy for the love that welled up within her. Poetry fell from her lips. Such ecstasies utterly erased all thought of her unhappy years with Grallwen.
The handmaiden looked down in unsympathetic silence. Kristryd glared back at the pale moon. “What harm is it?” her voice cool and indifferent. “If you decreed that only one of us should know joy, why shouldn’t it be me?” Even as she spoke these words, some little stab of shame pricked at her kidneys, but the dream quickly washed back over her like a numbing wave. Sleep felt so sweet and warm, the dream so delicious, she could not rouse herself nor lift herself out from its embrace.
The Olven King
Bile for the dwur-folk filled his liver. Dare they brandish hammers and blades? He spat the bitter taste from his mouth. Will the dwur-folk march against me? Was it not enough to suffer the malice of the Spider Throne? For what, then, had his own sons sacrificed themselves? Now the dwur trampled what few living things remained beneath their filthy boots. Without regard, they hoarded shining stones and metals, cut down trees to feed their forges, choked the air with smoke from foundries, and for love of their own honor and pigheaded pride, they spilled olven blood.
The king called upon his gods, praying fervently, “Slay them utterly and to the utmost! Drive them into deepest flosh and drown them there.” He bared his flatchet sword and uttered an imprecation, “Larethian smite them! Cursed be the merciful! Cursed be the weak-bowelled! Let their bones return to the stones, and let the stones be crushed to the dust!” So vehement his hatred and passionate his spite that Kristryd scarcely noted the dissonance in the back of her mind. That vitriol swept her along like a bark swept along in the frothing rapids of a winter-swollen stream. Her own thoughts, such as they were, stumbled all acclumsid. Only a small part of her mind protested, But I am a dwarf! No matter. The thought of grimy dwur-folk, mumpering and simpering, filled him with disdain. Why should they walk above Oerth? Avaricious beyond all reason, materialist and petty! Let the unenlightened be forever darkened! I will not rest nor cease from my vows until I have driven them back beneath the ground.
He stood amidst the smoldering ruins of what had once been a strong citadel. Had that unassailable rock not fallen before him? Kristryd leaned out over a shattered balcony to survey his army. He dangled a bloring dwur child by its heels over the edge. She recognized the child. Pegli. Her Pegli. The fullness of the fairy moon looked down upon him to see what he would do.
Gods! Damn their deceitful dreams!
The Demon and the Sword
Ragged black bat-like wings spread broad and wide enough to blot out the sky from her view. Fear and fury swooped down upon those wings, spewing waves of noxious horror from its vomiting mouth. Every instinct screamed for flight, but she alone stood between the demon and Pegli. “You will not have him!” she said through clenched teeth. She would not let it take any of them. Not her sons—her brothers. Yes. Her brothers. The nightmare shifted. Her mother now entombed. Her father still in mourning. The lads still young. She alone to mother them. She looked quickly about the palace chamber for some weapon with which she might defend them.
“Take it!” Bagbag stepped forward and offered her a wicked sword. “A cursed blade to slay a cursed one.” He held it out to her, hilt first.
“You swore to protect them,” the sword urged. “Wield me, and I will smite.”
The demon hissed, crouching before the pounce.
She grasped the hilt and cursed at the gods, “To nine hells and the Abyss with your tricks and your tests!” She plunged the sword into the tanar’ri flesh. The blade sunk to the hilt, devouring its way through the filth. Black ichor erupted from the wound, splattering, hissing, and steaming, washing over her.
The Hungry Eye
“Wake up!” a woman’s voice spoke in her head. Kristryd opened her eyes and beheld a broad vista spread out below her. She recognized the lay of the land and quickly oriented herself. She must be standing upon a high peak of the north, perhaps Mount Abharclamh. From that height she gazed eagle-eyed to the south. Such views she had seen before from the back of Emolas, but never had her eyes taken in such sweeping extent of the land. She could see impossibly far, over peaks and valleys, rocky heights and tree-clad slopes, cloud-draped high places and misty lowlands, even as far as her father’s kingdom. Gilmorack lay below her, to the south Dengar, southwest Hoch Dunglorin, Grot Ugrat, Havenhill, Gryrax and the sun upon the white caps of the Adirole Bay. She kept gazing, and her eyes took in more and more, never satisfied with seeing, even unto the peaks of Drachensgrab in Poor March.
“All of these hang before you now like ripe fruit ready to be plucked,” spoke the woman standing beside her. Kristryd turned her gaze from the awe-inspiring view to study her companion. A human. Beautiful by their measure, but fearsome. Flowing dark hair fell over bare shoulders and breasts left exposed by a stitched black leather bodice and nothing else on top. Leather trousers she wore like those of a man gird in costume armor except these were of a material pounded thin, cut close, and stretched tight to reveal the shape of the woman’s body. Similar cut black leather boots laced up nearly to the woman’s knees.
What strumpet dresses in such manner? Kristryd marveled.
The woman’s ancient eyes burned with a green light and her imperious lips pulled back into an unkindly smile. “Why should Kristryd be less than the fey queen in might, power, and beauty? Make her the jealous one.”
“I am not jealous of her,” Kristryd objected.
“No?” the stranger asked unconvinced.
Lady of the Lortmils
Kristryd stood in a dwur hall with warm hearth fires stoked ablaze and hot merry-go-down set out on tables of stone. The heat of those fires felt warm upon her face, and the din of the revelers filled her ears.
“Hail Lady of the Lortmil Peaks and Depths!” the throng of dwur chieftans and nobles shouted as she entered their assembly hall. “Highly favored of Ulaa! Blessed of Moradin! Kissed of Berronar! Fist of Clangeddin!”
She gazed about the great hall impassively, cold as the queen of Celene among her afterlings in the Grand Court of Enstad. A dwuress and a queen! Her black curls had grown long indeed, now streaked with bands of gray, and long too had her beard grown. She recognized her father, her brothers, her sons, old Bagbag, Thane Redmod of Gilmorack, Thane Evrast of Dengar, Thane Bolor Blackaxe of Hoch Dunglorin, Thane Durgeddin of Khundrakar. All those proud heads nodded and bowed to her. To left stood handsome Bamadar Kadarel and to her right the girthsome priestess Gilvgola. She recognized others in the throng. All rose to their feet to salute her.
“Behold the Lady of the Lortmils! Benefactor of the Kron Hills. First of Ulek. Mistress of the Pomarj! Queen over the Drachensgrab Mountains!” Bamadar heralded off her titles. The host beat their stone bowls and drinking horns upon the table in rhythm, chanting together, “Kristryd! Kristryd! Kristryd!” Slowly the chant evolved into the dwur word, “Victory! Victory! Victory!”
She motioned for silence. Instantly, a hush fell over the assembly. Taking her seat upon the bejeweled throne, she spoke imperiously, “We have long waited for this hour! Now the gods have thrust it upon us!”
The words came tumbling from her tongue, “Even now, the fairy host musters at our gates. Have we provoked them? No. We have been loyal and trueheaded, but they come to us with demands!” She held aloft a rolled parchment scroll and crushed it in her grip. “Will that one make demands upon our sacred inheritance, bequeathed to us by the gods, for which we have fought and shed the blood of generations? Will the ghosts of our fathers and brothers forgive us if we yield? Tell me now!”
The hall erupted into shouts, curses, epithets, oaths, and vows. A sorry look of disapproval clouded her father’s eyes. The fairy moon gazed intently upon on her. Kristryd looked away.
The Strong Tree and Sturdy Tower
“A queen will you be! Are you strong enough?” the lord of the dance asked her. His familiar form shimmered and shifted: grave and handsome elf lord, a laughing elf maid, a bubbling spring, a soaring eagle, a shining star, a drop of rain.
“I am strong enough,” Kristryd insisted.
“Show me,” he urged.
Kristryd turned herself into a tall tree with branches spread toward heaven. He became a mighty wind and blew against her. She creaked and swayed, her branches waved. He became a Gearnat gale. He stripped leaves from her crown, twisted her boughs, and tore branches from her trunk. She dug her roots deeper below the mountains, wrapped and ramified tendrils tight around the stones, anchored herself with wide and twining lengths that spread through hidden places. He gusted and exhausted all his breath against her, but he could not topple her from her place.
“Are you sure enough?” he asked her. His form shimmered and shifted: a tender elf lad, a calm reflecting pool, a glint of sunlight, a serenade of cricket song, a rearing unicorn, a silver bell.
“I am sure enough,” she replied.
“Show me,” he said.
Kristryd turned herself into a tall tower built into the side of a precipice, extending up from the mountainside, cut from the living stone. He became a tremor in the earth and shook the ground. She shuddered; she cracked but did not crumble. The mountain trembled, groaned and grumbled, tumbled down boulders, rumbled, rolled, pitched and drummed, but Kristryd clung to the rock, bone of her bone and stone of her stone. Half the height fell away. A foggy cloud of dust rose, obscuring the valley. He could no longer see if she remained behind that wall of dust, so he became a breeze and cleared it away. The light revealed the tower still stood tall and strong.
“You are strong, and you are sure,” he admitted. “But are you wise enough to administer justice?”
“I am wise enough,” she replied.
The Sundered Bond
The sun rose high before she opened her eyes again. She shivered, stiff and cold, stretched out on hard stone. Memory returned abruptly. With a panicked start, she looked about, but she saw no sign of the fey queen or the wretched Moonarch. Where the arch stood the night before, flowers out of season had sprung up.
“Curse and be cursed!” she said to herself. “Wherefore did I agree to this fey mystery? What now shall I tell in Enstad?” She shouted and called for the queen. Only her echo returned to her, bouncing off the hilltops. Alone she waited in the gwendering for long hours, uncertain of what to do. The previous night’s dreams swirled in her head in a confusion. Her mind reeled about. Details faded and reconfigured. She felt sick and feverish.
A day and a night she awaited the queen, but the Perfect Flower did not appear, nor did the Moonarch. Heavy of heart, Kristryd returned to the High Road and began the journey back to Enstad. No longer did the queen’s illusory arts drape her form or disguise her visage. No matter. She took no thought for herself. Without the presence of the queen to conceal, why pose as a gnomish traveler? Each passing mile her heart grew heavier. Shall I never again look upon the fair face of my friend? she mused. And what of our oaths of war? All prospects seemed dismal. All plans seemed futile.
When Kristryd arrived in Enstad, she first sought out wise Bagbag and asked his sage counsel. His words astonished her. “I know not what fey enchantment that witch has laid upon you my lady, but she is not lost as you say. She sits even now upon the Blossoming Throne. Go to her, and you will see.”
Kristryd hastened to the white tower, but the Companion Guard did not admit her to the court. “The queen has not summoned you,” Almerayne apologized, “Unless she does, no dwur should enter this hall.”
“I am not any dwur,” Kristryd objected. “I am her lady’s wrath; I am her emissary.” She stopped short of adding the words, “…and her personal friend.” A solemn pitying expression darkened Almerayne’s face. She shook her lilac braided tresses. The Companion Guard drew up to refuse the way.
Stung by the insult, Kristryd returned to her ambassador’s cosh and poured out her plaint to trueheaded Bagbag. “I even sent message by that rapacious magsman Xaxalander,” she lamented, “But he returned to me with a handwritten note set with the seal of the queen, yet not written from the queen, but in Almerayne’s hand.” Kristryd handed the note to Bagbag, and he read it aloud, “Her Fey Majesty requires not your attendance, nor your service at this time.”
“Isn’t this the pitchkettle?” Kristryd wiped away tears.
“Even among our own people monarchs might be fickle,” Bagbag tried to comfort her. “Think nothing of such mentimutations. When the queen desires your presence, she will summon you as always.”
The queen did not summon her that day, nor the next, but on the third day, Kristryd received her call to the Fairy Palace. The Perfect Flower sat impassively on the Blossoming Throne, never deigning to cast an eye upon the dwur ambassador. Onselvon spoke on her behalf, “Her Fey Majesty, Queen of the Faerie Kingdom, bids you bear a second summons to the undermountain kings. Let them send their axes to lift the siege at Luskan.” Onselvon placed a document into Kristryd’s hand, but Yolande kept her gaze fixed elsewhere. She did not even acknowledge the presence of her friend. Kristryd opened the scroll to scan the contents, but she could scarce focus her mind upon the words. Instead, her thoughts reeled and spun around Yolande, and her eyes returned to the Blossoming Throne. By the gods! What sin have I committed?
Read the next chapter: Spells & Stratagems
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