The Hateful Wars: Chapter Twenty-Three
The leaves turned color—some had fallen—before she returned to fair Celene on embassy for the alliance (Patchwall 500 CY). She waited in the garden of the Grand Court and mingled among other ambassadors: men from Veluna and Verbobonc, from the Duchy and the County, and from the free city of Greyhawk. Stranger still, she waited among faeries of the Seeley Court, gnomes from the Kron Hills, a centaur from Greenway Valley. And for the dwur folk, she thought to herself, Kristryd Olinsdotter. So I am reduced in her Fey Majesty’s esteem to just one of a bevy of whiflings in line for a moment of her attention.
“Daughter, what transgression have you committed to incur the Queen Yolande’s disfavor?” the wise mage Onselvon interrupted her thoughts. She had not seen the magic user approach. The long-haired elven wizard sat himself down beside her on the garden bench. “She will not hear told any good of you, whether spoken by the princes, by Darrion, Deravnye, the Fastaal, or myself.”
“I have done the queen no wrong,” Kristryd defended herself. “None of which I know. But I am hated nonetheless.”
“She will not receive your embassy this day,” Onselvon apologized. “But she asks two questions of the dwur, and she sends me to make the akward inquiry.”
Kristryd nodded. She kept a stoic frown. Onselvon continued, “Her majesty inquires of the dwur, ‘Why did you abandon us in our hour of need?’ And she asks, ‘Why did we find your kin leading the horde in the Battle of Ulek Pass?’”
“Bear the queen this message then: I myself commanded the engagements, as you yourself well know and can testify. As for the host of Dengar, we fell back to defend our own halls from the same such an onslaught as you also faced, or so the commanders thought. As for those few dwur found among the horde, call them not dwur folk nor my kin. They are traitors most vile, one of them a foul witch. And say to the queen on my behalf, ‘Forget not that I am your wrath! For your cause have I made this war!’”
“I will bring these replies to the queen,” Onselvon stood and offered a ceremonious bow. “Return to your cosh. If you are needed further, or granted further audience, we will summon you thence.”
Kristryd did not return to her cottage straightway but wandered the royal city aimlessly. Her heart burned too hot with anger at the queen. Her mind boiled with imaginary conversations and sharp exchanges. Neither the colored leaves of Enstad, nor the fragrances of autumn, nor the beauty of the city could in any measure lift a mood so black. She wondered over Yolande’s callous treatment. Each time she rehearsed the matter, her heart grew more bitter. I once called her friend? Why did I ever trust an elf? Damn them all to the nine hells!
As if in answer to her thoughts, a wild-haired elf-woman leapt down from a tree branch above. She wore only a course hair coat tied loosely about her waist with a belt of leather.
Kristryd recovered quickly from the start, “Do you have a message for the queen Edda? If so, find yourself some other errand-dwur. The queen no longer receives my audience.”
“I have a message for you, Kristryd Dwurdotter of Ulek and princess of Dengar,” the wild elf blurted with a maniacal giggle.
“Speak on,” Kristryd replied impatient, paying no heed to the strange address.
“A tale of three dwur sisters. If you would know the rest, seek the cave of Edda.”
“I’ll not play your prophet’s games or guess at your riddles,” Kristryd snapped. Too late. Edda leapt back up the trunk of the roanwood from which she had dropped and disappeared into the impossibly high colorful rustling canopy above.
Small wonder the queen hates the People of the Testing!
Kristryd found it difficult to obtain directions to Edda’s cave. Whenever she asked about the prophetess, the Celenese smiled smugly or offered a gentle, condescending laugh, but they would not confess to know how to find Edda’s home. The centaur from Greenway proved more helpful. He directed Kristryd to a path that wound past the Fane of Correlon, up a small rise and to a homely cave set into the rock, sealed with a moss-covered wooden wall and closed up with a simple rough-hewn door.
“Edda, I have come,” Kristryd called out, and she knocked upon the door.
“Enter,” a man’s voice replied.
Kristryd pushed on the door and stepped into the dim lit cave, expecting to find polished stone, paneled walls, and rich furnishings such as one might find in a halfling’s hole or a dwur home. Instead, she found a natural cave, swept clean, unfurnished except for a low table on which had been set a few wooden bowls, cups, and plates and a wooden platter piled with wild berries. A single lamp on the table cast the only light, leaving most of the cave shadowed and dim. On the other side of the table, on a cushion of leaf and dry moss, reclined an elf wrapped in a brown robe. Unlike Edda, he looked well-groomed and refined of manner, albeit frail and more aged than any elf Kristryd had ever seen. A slight palsy trembled through his hands, his hair was white with age, and his clouded blue eyes stared sightlessly. Edda herself sat cross-legged on the cave floor at the end of the table, tugging sticks and brambles from her tangled dreadlocks.
“I am Elraniel,” the stranger introduced himself. “A friend of Edda.”
Kristryd nodded and executed a stiff bow, forgetting that the blind elf could not see her gesture. He continued, “I have come to warn you of a threat to your alliance.”
“From where have you come?” Kristryd asked dubiously.
“From where have I come?” Elraniel repeated thoughtfully as if the question was of such profound depth that it required contemplation. “Spoken like a true Tested One. I have come from the blood of Larethian, from another world, from Feywild. Though my hoary appearance puts the lie to it, I have been only for three centuries and a score of years consigned to this world and to this body. Indeed, I am younger than Yolande, though I look to be a thousand years older than the Perfect Flower.” He colored the words “Perfect Flower” with intoned sarcasm.
“From where have you come today? Do you dwell here with Edda?” Kristryd asked.
“No. On the last fullness of Luna, I arrived here from my home in Midmeadow. I came here to seek you.” He motioned to the table, “Please recline. Eat.”
“I have heard that the People of the Testing eat only with their own,” Kristryd objected. Elraniel motioned again to the table.
Kristryd reclined at the low table and filled one of the bowls with wild berries. “I am listening,” she coaxed.
“Elraniel is a seer,” Edda offered, as if this fact should explain everything. “He scries out things hidden to other eyes. He has come to warn us of a compact, which, if left to stand, will bring both the dwur and olvenkind to our knees.”
“Why tell me? Why not tell the queen these things?” Kristryd asked.
“She is not my queen. Nor is the counsel of the People of the Testing welcome in the Grand Court,” Elraniel replied. “But I nurture concern, all the same, for the fate of Yolande’s subjects, and for every elvish spirit imprisoned in this material world. And also for you Dwurdotter. I seek your help because you have the power to muster strength of nations and break the arm of the Yatil Witch.”
“I have never heard tale of such a one,” Kristryd stated as she tasted of the wild berries.
Edda leaned forward over the table, supporting her weight with open palms on the tabletop. Her hair garment hung low, exposing her swinging breasts. The light of the solitary lamp cast shadows up her face, and her wild hair seemed to writhe in the flame’s flickering. She whispered menacingly, as if uttering a threat, “Yes you have heard of the Queen of Perrenland. The most powerful devilshine summoner that has ever been. You have felt her. You have sensed her malice. She rallies the vermin under her standard—a Red Medusa, though none such is she.”
“To the sons of Gruumsh she may appear so,” Elraniel corrected, “She takes many forms. A fair-skinned, dark-haired human, beautiful to the eye, ugly and twisted of soul. She is a whore of fiends, and something worse than a gorgon. An ancient magus. A mighty one of eld.”
“And what wants the Yatil Witch with us in the Lortmil Mountains?” Kristryd asked.
“Her power in Perrenland has been broken,” Elraniel gazed unseeing. “She seeks a new lair.”
“Does a roc take the nest of another unless it drives out the first? Does a dragon take the lair of another unless he slays it first?” Edda asked cryptically.
Elraniel nodded his assent. “She has found new allies in the Lortmils. I have perceived it, and you, Kristryd Olinsdotter, have been merely a tool in her hands.”
Kristryd’s temper flared. She snapped, “To the Nine Hells with all the elves and to the deepest layers of the Abyss with the Tested and their pitchkettling riddles! Dare you call me an agent of a witch?”
“Elraniel has seen what he has seen,” Edda replied.
Elraniel continued, “For long centuries past, while the temples of goblinkind remained, the mountains fell beneath the warding of those fiends, like a bottle of Black Pomarj Wine stopped up by a cork. You have uncorked the bottle and spilled the contents. You have the blood elves upon your hands dwurdotter, and the blood of the Prince Consort too.”
“So these are the lies that you showed the queen under the Moonarch!” Kristryd exclaimed with growing comprehension. “It was you who turned her heart cold and bitter toward me! How true what they say: ‘Ever the Tested turn the elves against the other races!’”
Elraniel snapped his fingers triumphantly, “There it is! She has passed beneath it! It is as I had foreseen.”
“Has she passed her tests I wonder?” Edda laughed, “She’ll never admit to it.”
By the gods, now I’ve done it! Kristryd thought as her face colored with shame. I’ve spilled the secret and broken Yolande’s trust.
Edda laughed again as if Kristryd had made a great jest.
“You credit us too much! The Tested exercise no control over Sehanine’s dreams. Nor have we any sway over Yolande’s heart,” Elraniel sighed. “What a Tested One sees under the Moonarch is known only to the Tested, and none speak of what they learned or what trials they met during the testing.”
Edda sank her hand into the bowl of wild berries and scooped another pile into Kristryd’s bowl. “Eat!” she urged.
Elraniel added, “I have not come to sow lies. I have come to warn you, Kristryd Olinsdotter, and I have come to prevent more shedding of Larethian’s blood. I may be blind, but I have my eyes in all the lands of olvenkind, and I see more than most. These blind eyes have solved the riddle of the Red Medusa and unmasked a conspiracy between the three sisters of Balnorhak and the Yatil Witch.”
“What conspiracy?” Kristryd asked, her mind suddenly returning to the tale of Gretyll, Gunhyld, and Hedvyg.
Elraniel shifted forward and leaned upon the table, next to Edda. His clouded blue eyes gleamed dully in the light of the lamp. He lowered his voice, as if afraid of being overheard, “What did the sisters trade to exchange for her spells and her powers? Their souls? But all is not yet lost. You have already slain one of the three. Redeem yourself; finish the work before they finish theirs.”
Kristryd fell silent, brooding over these words for a long while. Her mind turned over the tale of the three sisters and the revelations she had learned from Bagbag. I will be damned to the Nine Hells myself before I trust these riddle-masters and dream weavers! “Where must I find the remaining sisters?” Kristryd asked.
“One rules in Gilmorack; the other hides in Balnorhak. More than that I cannot tell you because more than that I have not seen,” Elraniel replied.
Kristryd returned to her cosh, mind spinning with conspiracies and distrust. She asked herself, Why did I come to Enstad without Bagbag. If ever I needed trueheaded council, I need it now!
She gave a start as she stepped inside the cottage. There in a chair pulled up to her own table sat a cloaked and partially hooded figure. In the gloaming half-light that came through the window, she recognized the sharp profile of Onselvon the mage.
“My apologies. I let myself inside to wait,” Onselvon explained. “It has reached the ears of Her Fey Majesty that you went about Enstad today seeking Edda the Tested.”
“Edda summoned me,” Kristryd replied. “Else I would have no cause to seek her.”
“Did she? Or did a certain hoddypeak deceiver called Elraniel summon you?” Onselvon asked. Kristryd detected a barely controlled edge of anger behind the mage’s calm voice. When she did not reply, Onselvon continued, “Know this Elraniel for who he is—an enemy of Her Fey Majesty and no friend of the Grand Court. If my queen had reason to distrust you aforetime, now she does all the more!”
“I am not a party to the intrigues of the elves. I dwell among my own people,” Kristryd replied evasively.
“But you are party now!” Onselvon snapped. “Tell me. What council did the People of the Testing provide you?”
Kristryd sat down opposite the mage. Her mind raced, trying to decide if she trusted Onselvon or not and whether or not she believed the words of Elraniel. Pulling her wits together, she said, “They spoke of one called the Yatil Witch, but I do not trust them. I think they are liars and that they have spread lies about me. Worse than that, I think they may have betrayed the Prince Consort to his enemies, and now they seek to shift the blame elsewhere. They would use me as a pawn in their games.”
Onselvon nodded gravely. “Not unlikely. You must tell me everything they told you.”
Kristryd repeated the general contents of her converse with the Tested, but she omitted their incriminating suggestions of collusion lest it plant the idea in Onselvon’s mind too. She focused on the threat of conspiracy between the three sisters of Balnorhak and the Yatil Witch.
“I know of this summoner of which they speak,” Onselvon said. “Some few years past she enslaved Perrenland, and many feared her rising. But she came to nothing and is no more. Her lust for power was her undoing. They say that she summoned a powerful fiend, imprisoned him, and forced him into servitude. From his hand she derived her great strength, but in the end, he broke her bonds and slew her. The fact that she is dead and gone can scarce be doubted, for these things transpired a decade past. The tale is known among the wise.”
“So then there is no Yatil Witch, or at least not anymore! I no longer know what to believe or who to trust,” Kristryd admitted. “I will find the remaining two sisters and put an end to their mischief.”
“On that quest, you will have my blessing and my help, even if not with the blessing of Her Fey Majesty” Onselvon conspired.
Read the next chapter: Terror in the Hall of Scrolls
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Artwork: Lothlorien by Levest