The Hateful Wars: Chapter Twenty-Two
Fury burned in Kristryd’s breast when she saw how her kin had had abandoned the fight at an hour so desperate. The dwarves did not accompany the march of Father Furduch. The hosts of Gilmorack paid no heed to the muster at all. Their undermountain king sent not a single axe to join the fight at Luskan. Nor did Dengar send its iron clad troops to the aid of the elves in the battle for Ulek Pass.
She dispatched a complaint to the undermountain kings from the field of the battle, and she sent an apology to Enstad, written in her own hand. The only warrior of her people to stand alongside Yolande’s people in that desperate hour was the Thunderstrike dwarf Bamadar Kadarel. He had come up from the Principality along with the halfling troop from Prinzfield, and, as such, had the privilege of contributing to the battle of on behalf of the Principality and the dwarven nations. His prowess on the field cast no shame on the reputation of the dwarves. His arms did not tire, and his legs did not falter, but many were the victims that fell beneath his axe.
On the day after the defeat of the horde, Kristryd summoned the winsome young Bamadar to her tent in the green hall and commended him, for he had fought bravely and in a manner worthy of her father’s name and reputation. He tried to flatter her with his attention, “I fought only for the honor of the Noble House of Corond, my lady! For your Grace, and also for his Serene Highness, Lord of the Peaks of Haven.”
“The Noble House thanks you,” Kristryd replied, “But now I must charge you another errand—one you might not find so honorable nor to your liking.”
Bamadar bowed and declared, “If my dishonor be for thy honor, my lady, what more could be to my liking?”
Kristryd ignored the words of ingratiation and continued, “Somewhere on the field of battle, near the encampment of the Red Medusa, find the body of a dwarfess, an old spellcaster, slain through the heart by the blade of Xaxa. Find the corpse and bring it to me, for I must know who she is, from where she came, and with what companions she travelled.”
“Your Highness, permit me to provide the answers,” Bamadar intoned in imitation of the pontificating counselor’s of her father’s court. “Who she is? A dead bitch! From where she came? Who in nine hells cares? And with what companions she travelled? Euroz and jebli!”
“Nay,” Kristryd insisted evenly. “The truth matters more than you can know.”
Three days later, Bamadar returned bearing the foul corpse. “Found her in a cairn raised not far from the place of the jebli camp. They raised the stones with the honor of a noble dwurwife,” his voice became reverent. He uncovered the head of the corpse to reveal a face bloated by Nerull’s touch but still recognizable enough.
“I know this dwuress,” Kristryd exclaimed. “Burn this corpse upon a pyre and grind her bones to chalk. Then we must leave at once. I need you to accompany me back to Dengar in all haste. We take the Low Road, despite the dangers.”
“My lady honors me,” the bombastic Bamadar consented with a deep bow.
Return to Dengar
Kristryd and Bamadar entered the Low Road at Luskan Mines. An escort sent from Thane Evrast, her father-in-law, marched out to meet them and accompany them to the undermountain king’s halls. When she entered the vast pillared chamber of the king’s throne, trueheaded Bagbag already waited there, eagerly looking for her arrival. “My daughter, we were in fear for you and for all of Enstad. Blessed be Ulaa who has spared you and brought you safely home to us!”
“Blessed be the Stonewife,” Kristryd agreed. “Why did you not come to my summons for warmages?”
“I received no summons,” Bagbag objected. “I hastened back with our own army to stand for the defense of Dengar if need be.”
“If need be,” Kristryd scowled at the polished floor. “Need was where need was. But only this single warrior, a dwarf of my father’s principality, stood with Enstad in their hour of need.”
Bagbag nodded his acknowledgments to Bamadar, “A credit to your father, Kadarelson. A brave dwarf your father was. Quarried from the same vein.”
Thane Evrast motioned for silence, “Enough of this. Thanks be to Smith! Blessed be Ulaa; blessed be Berronar! Daughter, tell us of the battle, what befell our foes, and what is their disposition? Thanks to my stratagems, we now control of the Low Road from Gilmorack to the Ulek Pass, and I would press the advantage.”
Kristryd raised her head. A flash of unchecked anger flared in her eyes as she briefly met the king’s gaze. His stratagems? Let the hammer smite me! She gathered her wits and lowered her head again, for a dwuress of the mountain dwarves never meets the eye of a male above her station. Remembering herself and her place in the undermountain king’s presence, she took a breath to calm herself before relating the tale of all that befell them in the Ulek Pass, but she omitted from her tale any mention of the dwarfess and the dwarves of the red pavilion.
The Old Vecke of Dengar
The princess of Dengar enjoyed happy reunion with her three sons, Grallsonn, Dwalyn, and Pegli. “Tell us every stroke of the battle!” Pegli pleaded. “Spare no single detail.” She recited the story, including the ignoble strategy so deftly executed by the elven rogue, but again she made no mention of the old dwurwife. The boys cheered the tale. They presented their mother with gifts that they had fashioned in her absence, adorning her with gems and jewelry.
“Fine sons you have mothered. A credit to your father’s house,” Bamadar exclaimed.
After time spent enjoying the company of the three young princes, Kristryd summoned Bagbag and Bamadar to the privacy of her own chambers. She closed the doors and shutters lest any of the servants be lurking near and overhear. “I recognized that spellcaster. It was the old vecke that scowled and slunk about these very halls. Xaxa described her companions, and it sounded to me as if they were all Dengar dwarves; some of the names I might guess. As it is, the presence of dwarves in the command of the horde places our alliance in jeopardy, but if it became known in Celene that these were dwarves of Dengar, we might find ourselves at war with the elves.”
Bagbag leaped to his feet. “By Bocob and all the gods!” he exclaimed. “Falseheaded are the dwur of this place!”
“Do you suspect the undermountain king?” Bamadar asked in wide-eyed shock, forgetting for a moment that his speculation impugned Kristryd’s father-in-law and the grandfather of her sons.
Kristryd ignored them both. She put a hand on Bagbag’s shoulder, compelling him to sit back down at the table. The stony expression on her face silenced their bluster, “Bagbag, I adjure you by Truesilver’s braided beard to tell me the truth. Who was that old vecke?”
The Prophecy and the Three Witches
Bagbag sighed and clawed nervously at his white beard. He stared into the corner of the chamber, refusing to meet Kristryd’s eyes. For a minute or so, he said nothing at all, but then he declared, “For a tale such as this, I will need a bowl or two.”
Bamadar slapped the table and bluttered, “Well-spoken Sir Silverstonecutter! And for the hearing of such a tale, I shall need a bowl or three!”
Kristryd nodded toward the hogshead of merry-go-down mead that stood propped in the corner by the cupboards. Bamadar fetched flagons and poured up bowls. He downed his first in a single draught and refilled it before bringing the other two drinks to table. He favored all with a deep and worthy belch. Bagbag sipped at his mead and began his tale:
“The last undermountain king of Balnorhak died under suspicious circumstances. Some said that his eldest daughter, Gretyll, poisoned his soup. Others believed his youngest daughter, Gunhyld, venenated his mead. Still others supposed his middle daughter Hedvyg might have fed him death-cabbage and sausages. It may have been all three together; rarely does a dose of poison harm one of our people, but all three together might have availed. In any case, all agreed that the king had been poisoned, and all agreed that one or more of his daughters were responsible.
“The king’s three daughters were, all three of them, spellbinders in the old tradition of secret dwarven arts. Some blame the magic for seducing their hearts to evil. I say the trouble started with Vergadain’s prophecy.” Bagbag cleared his throat and began a recitation in the old dwarven cant of Balnorhak:
Behold! A halfblood to unite the broken tribes.
Dwurdotter musters Durin’s sons and rings Moradin’s bells.
As an ore cart heavy-laden crushes ‘neath its wheels.
To tread upon your enemies, and wield the shield well.
The arm that pulls the bowstring snaps it and breaks the strongest bow.
The mightiest shall not save his life. Strength fails the strongest foes;
The sure of foot goes stumbling; the stout of heart flees tumbling.
O Lortmil, Queen of Mountains! Everlasting Possession!
Purge the peaks! Breast and womb! Blessed above; blessed below!
Blessed of Ulaa; bequeathed of Berronar!
My heart goes marching on.
“An ambiguous prophecy,” Kristryd replied cautiously. “Too often quoted and too much subject to vain interpretations.”
Bagbag nodded sagaciously and continued, “The prophecy filled their heads with foolish notions of power. Gretyll, the most powerful of the three, did wield spells of high level by any standard, but especially among our folk, where spellcasting is always frowned upon or forbidden. Employing those arts, she consulted with some fiendish powers from forsaken places to learn the meaning of the prophecy. Spake she to her sisters, ‘Our father sired no sons, and we are the end of his royal line. It is not the way of the dwur to let a daughter inherit her father’s title, but all Balnorhak knows that our mother came of the blood of the Hegoldem-Dwur (hill dwarves) and our father of the blood of Toherntik-Dwur (mountain dwarves). My sisters, we are the half-blooded. The prophecy states that one of us shall unite the broken tribes of dwurfolk; one of us shall muster the hosts of dwur to purge these mountains of goblinkind and take back our everlasting possession. Now, whichever one it be, let us swear an oath, one to another, that we will in no wise scheme one against two, or two against one, but shall ever be bound by covenant, share and share alike in power and wealth. If I am to be the undermountain queen, I will appoint you two as my left and my right, and if one of you shall be queen, likewise you shall appoint your sister and me.’
“The three sisters swore by rite of blood to that effect, and the matter became known throughout all Balnorhak and all the way to Gilmorack. When the undermountain king took suddenly ill and perished, all suspected the daughters of some plot against their father. Despite the prophecy, none of the three inherited their father’s wealth nor his title. The elders and the clan chieftans convened a council with the clerics of Moradin to decide the matter of succession. The great halls, tunnels, and mines that had once belonged to Balnorhak had fallen to the goblinkind that nested in every unguarded nook and cranny beneath the mountains. In the lowlands, a kingdom of men called Keoland had risen and held sway over the dwarven lands. The council looked to the house of Corond, and they chose your father Olinstaad.
“The three sisters were banished under suspicion of patricide and witchcraft. I thought they had all three died long ago—until we arrived here in Dengar for your wedding to the Prince Grallwen. I was surprised to find old Gunhyld still alive and dwelling here. ‘What? Are you still among the breathing?’ I asked her.
“‘I am, and my sisters too,’ she said. ‘And I have brought a blessing for the bride.’
“‘What blessing, Gunhyld?’ I demanded, for I trusted her not at all. ‘Be gone old witch, and trouble us not, or I will have your presence made known to the undermountain king.’ That was the last I saw of her.” Bagbag fell silent.
Hope and Destiny
“My father has told the tale and how the youngest was jealous over my mother,” Kristryd mused. “But I don’t understand. What does Gunhyld have to do with goblinkind? And who are these dwur folk who travelled with her in the company of orcs and goblins?”
Bagbag gazed into his mead thoughtfully. Bamadar drained his own bowl and refilled it, adding, “In Thunderstrike, they say the lord prince put the three sisters to death.”
“Not to death,” Bagbag corrected. “I was there the day they were banished.” Turning to Kristryd, he continued, “I stood beside your father, the young Prince Corond, as he issued the verdict against them. Bitter Hedvyg put a curse upon your father the prince, saying to the prince’s face, ‘May your wife be barren as this stone.’
“Your father the Prince Olinstaad replied most nobly, ‘So be it! For the Lortmil stone is not barren as you suppose but pregnant with rich veins of silver and gold and a womb full of gems.’ Nevertheless, the curse seemed to find its mark. Your mother could not conceive, and no dwarfish remedy availed her. In distress over the matter, your father came to me and asked if I might have some charm or magic spell to remove the curse. Alas, I had not the power, but I told him, ‘There are among the elves ensorcellors more potent than I.’ I escorted your mother to the White Tower in Enstad where she received the blessing of the Fey Queen. Then your father’s seed found fertile ground to root and blossom.
“On the day you were born, I looked up to the heights, and I remembered the prophecy: ‘A halfblood to unite the broken tribes. Dwurdotter musters Durin’s sons … O Lortmil, Queen of Mountains! Everlasting Possession! Purge the peaks!’ Today, thank the gods, I can go in peace to join my fathers in the halls of Dumathoin, for I have seen the prophecy fulfilled. You, Kristryd Olinsdotter! You are the unifier of the mountain kingdoms; you are the dwarfess who musters the hosts to purge the everlasting possession.”
“Am I?” Kristryd asked. “Am I a halfblood then?” She recalled the halfblood they had encountered on the road to Dunglorin and recoiled at the term.
Bagbag shrugged. “Poetic language, that’s all. In your veins runs the blood of the Hegoldem and the Toherntik.” Standing to his feet, he lifted his bowl and said, “Surely, daughter, you are destined to restore the glory of Balnorhak, to purge the mountains, and to unite the kingdoms of our people.”
These words so moved the heart of Bamadar that he slammed his empty bowl down on the table, knelt before the princess, and trothed himself, “My Queen! Long live the Queen! Balnorhak endures!”
“Don’t be a lickspigot,” Kristryd snapped, her lips curled into a snarl. “Get up! I am no queen, nor halfblood; Balnorhak is no kingdom, nor does it endure.”
Read the next chapter: Among the Tested
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