The Hateful Wars: Chapter Twenty-Six
In haste Thane Redmod Buddoken led the party of strange guests through the winding halls and broad streets of Gilmorack, a naked broadsword in his hands. No longer did the spell of disguise cloak the elves or the halfling priest; they had no such need, for all who saw the king prostrated themselves before him. Fury burned on his face; his subjects shrank back before his flashing gaze. As sentries, soldiers, and guards saluted their king, he commanded them, “Fall in behind me.”
The Holy Anvil
The undermountain king’s growing procession followed after him into the lower halls. They descended by the great central stairs into the Wide Ways and then to the Armor Smithy where the furnaces burned hot and hammers fell in ceaseless rhythms on a hundred anvils. All the air smelled of coal fires and the acrid taste of molten metals. The king came to a certain furnace that seemed stoked to full heat, the metal door glowing red, but the king laid bare hands on the metal casting, swung open the grated iron door, stepped into the flames and commanded, “Follow me!” Kristryd thought the flames should surely consume him, but he stepped through untouched. Bamadar plunged after the king, calling back to the others over his shoulder, “Not but an eye-biting illusion!”
The rest of the axes and worthy dwarves-at-arms followed after, as did the remainder of Kristryd’s party. They stepped into a Grand Smithy, the king’s own secret chamber, and there before them they beheld two muscled and shirtless dwarven smiths laboring with hammers over a wondrous anvil. All about the room stood precariously placed stacks of arms and armor, piles of spears, axes, swords, hammers, and maces. Here too were cruel jagged scimitars and curving blades such as the orcs preferred and such as the six-armed tenar’ri had been wielding—and no wonder about that, for overseeing all the work stood a towering, glowering beast with the torso of an ape, the legs of a boar, and a fang-laden face. Small feathered wings extended from behind his hunching back, fanning the air.
The creature sprang to attention as the king entered. An expression of confusion and fear twisted the demonic features. Then he saw the soldiers, sniffed at the air, and snarled. The two craftsmen laboring over the anvil stopped their work and looked dully toward their king. “Slay them!” the tenar’ri lord ordered, his voice grinding gravel. He clapped his mighty paws, and, with a great clatter and clang, swords and spears and axes and hammers around the room hurled themselves at the king and his men. Cruel and crooked blades sliced through the air and swished about as if swung by unseen hands. They pierced the undermountain king as he threw himself against the monster, sinking his magically enchanted broadsword into the place where the creatures heart should have been. Peralay flanked the creature, using Gnoll-Cleaver to hack at its bulging arms. The tenar’ri crushed the undermountain king in his enormous paws, lifted him to his gaping maw, and bit at his shoulder. The monster gave the king’s body a shake as if he shook a child’s doll of rags. Wretched ooze gushed from the wound in the monster’s chest. An agruwing wave of fear and revulsion filled the room, and the lesser soldiers shrank back. Alton and Furduch stepped forward with their holy symbols raised aloft and words of adjuration and banishment on their lips. Xaxalander leapt over the heads of the dwarves and landed atop the enormous anvil. From that position, he dodged and warded off flying swords, spinning axes, and hurtling spears. Some of these he caught in the air and hurtled back at the fiend. The axe of brave Bamadar cut through one ugly boar’s leg, severing it at the knee and unbalancing the top-heavy monster. With its arms wind-milling and wings beating to regain his balance, the monster dropped the undermountain king to the floor. From atop the anvil, Xaxa kicked at the beast’s chest, toppling the unbalanced fiend backwards. Striding up onto the prone form, Peralay let Gnoll-Cleaver finish the work. The demon seemed to sink away into the floor. All the weapons that, until that moment, still hurtled about in the air, fell with a noisy clatter. The two dwarven smiths also dropped their hammers and sat down on the floor, forlorn expressions on their faces.
“The undermountain king is sorely hurt!” Kristryd shouted. Alton hurried to the fallen king’s side and administered what divine healing he could bring forth in the name of his gods, but the full extent of such injuries went beyond even his considerable ability to rectify.
“How comes this sacred relic to Gilmorack?” Bamadar asked, pointing to the great anvil upon which Xaxa still stood. There was no mistaking it. The old lettering of Balnorhak, the images of Moradin’s Forge, the immense size …
“Beyond all hope! Tis the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains, stolen from Dengar, here in the halls of Gilmorack!” Bagbag exclaimed.
“Forgive me,” the wounded king wheezed against his wounds. “With this gift, she deceived me most bitterly. I have paid the price for folly and greed.”
The Caging of Gretyll
The injured king, Thane Redmod Buddoken, thirteenth undermountain king of Gilmorack, ordered the sentries to open the door to his private chambers. “But Your Majesty, how did you come to stand outside these doors? None have seen you leave your apartments all this gladsome festive night.”
“Unlock them!” the king demanded. He had not the strength to stand alone. Two stout dwarves supported him on either side. The guards unlocked the doors to his apartment. The king’s constabularies poured in through the open door. From inside the chambers, Kristryd heard the false undermountain king’s voice shouting in surprise, “Treason! Treason! Treachery!”
A few moments later, the constabularies emerged with the false undermountain king bound in chains, cursing and spitting. The servants of the court gathered around to see this spectacle as Thane Redmod Buddoken faced off with Thane Redmod Buddoken.
“How have you escaped your little bronze cage?” the false undermountain king hissed in venomous tones.
“Gag her! I told you not to let a witch speak!” Bagbag stepped forward through the press of bodies. A gag went over the false king’s mouth.
“Were you referring to this little curiosity?” Bagbag asked. He held the bronze birdcage aloft; its door already hung open. The eyes of false King Redmod grew wide indeed as Bagbag spoke a series of arcane words and commands, concluding with the naming: “Gretyll Athama Doriisdotter of Balnorhak!” In that moment, the false king Redmod vanished, the cage snapped shut, and inside the cage, a little three-inch version of old Gretyll appeared, still bound and gagged. Bagbag presented the cage to the true undermountain king with the instructions, “Keep it safe. Do not let it fall into the wrong hands. Only I know the command words to open the cage.”
Thane Redmod Buddoken did not die of his wounds, but neither did he recover his strength. The combined healing power Alton’s prayers, Father Furduch’s invocations, and the care of all the priests and healers of Gilmorack only sufficed to keep the king alive. As the truth of Gretyll’s treachery became known, his strength waned.
The monstrous extent of Gretyll’s atrocities quickly came to light. After she had imprisoned the undermountain king in the brass cage, she transformed herself into his guise to deceive the court of Gilmorack. Using the devilshine book, she summoned fiends to assist her and to carry out her plots. She employed magic, enchantments, poisons, diabolical murders, and a series of unlikely accidents to slay the undermountain king’s family and many noble dwarves of the kingdom. She slew the queen, all the king’s sons, and all the heirs to the royal houses of Gilmorack. Those who occupied preeminent positions of power she replaced with fiends and imposters like herself. Meantime she used the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains to forge cursed weapons bespelled in such a way that the warrior wielding one of the foul creations fell under her enchantment and carried out her bidding in a battle. “With weapons such as these she intended to control the dwarven hosts and goblinkind both,” Bagbag observed.
When Thane Redmod Buddoken learned that the Shield of the Red Medusa had been crafted in his own smithy, and many foul and cursed weapons too, his heart lost the will to beat. When he learned how Gretyll had deceived him so utterly with her honeyed promises, his soul despaired of life. Moreover, word of these things reached faraway Dengar. The undermountain king Thane Evrast mustered his army and marched in full haste upon Gilmorack to take back the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains. The dwarves of Dengar clashed with the dwarves of Gilmorack, and many lost their lives in the tunnels of the Low Road. The news of the battle smote Thane Redmod sorely. For shame he felt over his collusion with Gretyll in the theft of the anvil, the undermountain renounced his crown and threw himself upon his own sword. They buried him on the eighteenth day of Flocktime in the tomb of his fathers, and they lamented over him in a manner befitting the kings of Gilmorack, but necessity cut the days of mourning short.
Lady of Gimorack
On the fourth day of Wealsun, the court summoned Kristryd to the high-arched council chamber. She donned her mithril tabard and entered through those heavy doors. All stood to salute her; not one remained seated. Old Bagbag stood beside the council of clan chieftans, advising them as they conferred.
The eldest of the dwarves present spoke on behalf of the chieftains: “Now our clans are in turmoil and confusion. The heads of our royal houses are all slain or missing, and the sacred blood of House Buddoken has been poured out on the stones. Their light has gone out from the world. Yet fiends still lurk within these walls and among the halls of Gilmorack, and some of our own once-trusted lords remain under their sway. None know who to trust or where to turn, and there is no one who can take charge over the whole of us.
“Meantime, an army from your own kingdom marches against Gilmorack, and your husband’s father, Thane Evrast the undermountain king of Dengar, comes to lay siege to this ancient delving. He strikes us in the hour of our greatest weakness and need. He has the strength, the numbers, and the rightness to do so, for we have sinned against him and all his house, and we are all discomfited before him.”
“What would you have me do?” Kristryd asked. “There is little I can say to stay his wrath.”
“Your Highness, if we have found favor in your eyes, and you would have mercy upon our ancient kingdom, wear upon your fair head this crown, the crown of Gilmorack, and steward over our throne until this crisis has past and we have crowned a new king under the mountain. We are certain that your father-in-law will not lay siege to his daughter.” With these words, the elders brought forward the crown of Thane Buddoken. All those assembled gasped, and even the royal herald sank suddenly to the floor as if his knees had failed him.
A disapproving murmur rose among the dwur-wives who waited behind the rail. One Dame Thresstone, a prominent dwarfess of standing in Gilmorack, opened her mouth as if to speak, but she remembered her station and stayed quiet. Kristryd felt the lance of her gaze nonetheless.
“This is not the way of our people,” Kristryd objected. “A dwarfess does not rule.”
“Your Highness,” the elder dwarf stammered, “You are no dwur-wife. You are Kristryd Olinsdotter, our savior and our redeemer, the hammer of our gods!”
So they mean to make a hostage of me by placing me on the throne, she realized. A cautious cheer arose in the room, and some of those assembled began to chant her name. Bagbag tapped his staff on the stone floor and motioned toward the empty throne of the undermountain king. Am I dreaming under the Moonarch again? Kristryd asked herself. Is this not the very thing I desired? Her heart hammered hard within her chest, and she blushed furiously. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine herself tall and regal, beautiful and terrible, like Yolande. Moving in a dream, she seated herself on the throne of the undermountain king. They placed the crown upon her head and sounded the horn.
“Long live the Lady of Gilmorack!” they shouted.
Read the next chapter: The Undermountain Queen
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