The Hateful Wars: Chapter Twenty-Seven
Siege! The main host of Dengar, more than fifteen hundred axes, marched up through the Low Road, driving the soldiers of Gilmorack back before them. They pitched camps outside the Drake Gate and began to prepare for siege. A second force moved swiftly overland by way of the Great Western Road, crossing Veluna at Asnath and Kempton. Concealing their true motives, they told the Velunese they merely moved troops against the goblins, and they invoked the treaties of the alliance which Kristryd herself had negotiated. In this way, Dengar laid siege to Gilmorack from above and below, cutting off that ancient kingdom from all hope of escape or rescue.
Dengar at the Gates
The newly enthroned Thane Kristryd Olinsdotter made no attempt to break the siege or escape the noose. She only ordered the gates sealed. When the armies of Dengar converged, she sent emissaries out to parley with the undermountain king and to escort him back to the halls of Gilmorack under assurances and pledges.
“My daughter. You have done well. You have united our people,” Thane Evrast declared when Kristryd received him in the vaulted hall. “Not so long ago, you stood before me and Thane Redmod Buddoken in this same chamber, but today, I stand before you.” He bowed before her.
Likewise, Kristryd stood up from the throne and awkwardly bowed before her father-in-law in the manner of the dwurwives. “I have acted according to the will of the gods and done what is best for our people,” she said. “I did not come to Gilmorack seeking any crown except the head of this wicked witch.” Kristryd motioned to the bronze birdcage which hung from a hook set in the wall beside her throne.
“Will you defy your own father? Will you wage war on your own people?”
“Will you wage war on your own daughter? We have no stomach to fight our kinsmen nor to make war upon allies.” Kristryd took a step closer to him, squaring off eye to eye. “Should we be punished for the actions of a miserable witch? The house of Buddoken has suffered sufficiently for their crimes! Every last one of that hoary dynasty now sits in the halls of Dumathoin.”
“Then surrender Gilmorack to me,” Thane Redmod hissed through clenched teeth.
“I cannot, and I need not. We have stores laid up to outlast your siege, and you shall not take these gates by force. If you persist against me, you will all the Uleks to fight as well the goblins, and Celene will come too.”
“Then I name you a traitor.”
“Traitor! Have I betrayed my father, the Prince Corond Olinstaad? Have I betrayed you your majesty? Or my husband who rests beneath the hallowed stones of your halls? Have I betrayed my sons who remain in your safekeeping? Have I betrayed our allies, those nations sworn to stand against the sons of Gruumsh and purge our Everlasting Possession of goblinkind? How then am I named traitor?”
“What of the Anvil, our sacred heritage and the foundation of Dengar?” Thane Evrast cut to chase. The fingers of his right hand closed around the hilt of a knife tucked in his belt.
“I swear by Berronar’s Bosom, the anvil shall be returned to its place,” Kristryd declared, but then she lowered her eyes in the submissive manner of a dwurwife and drew nearer yet to the king, taking him by the hand, and leading him to a seat beside her own throne. When she had settled beside him she spoke confidentially, in soft tones intended only for his ears, “I beg you to suffer me some time father. I must yet persuade the lords of Gilmorack of the matter, and we must first forge new weapons upon that anvil with new spells woven into the steal. We dare not delay. There remains yet one more witch. Until she has been defeated, we fight demons and fiends rather than euroz and jebli. Berronar and Ulla help us! Moradin and Clangeddin! Give me some time to rebuild this people and redeem that sacred anvil of all the blasphemies created upon it. Then we will together chase the horde out from their holes like a boy smokes out a rabbit.”
“Blessed be Ulaa, and blessed be Moradin,” Thane Evrast snapped unhappily. “If the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains has not been returned to me, as you have sworn, before the end of this very year, I shall surely march against you again and make war, even against you, my daughter! Forget not that your three sons remain in Dengar as a surety against your oath.”
“My sons are your own grandsons,” Kristryd reminded him.
The Slander of Dame Thresstone
Not everyone in Gilmorack esteemed the new monarch—indeed, most found no pleasure in the appointment. Kristryd Olinsdotter took power, they said, by exploiting a moment of weakness. Though she was but a steward, her ascension to the throne overturned centuries of tradition and the claims and aspirations of many long-standing dynasties. No sooner had she seated herself upon that stone chair than she earned the contempt of the old families. Among these, none stirred the animosity more than Dame Thresstone, the widowed wife of Lord Bofur Thresstone.
Until the coming of Gretyll and her fiends, Lord Bofur Thresstone took a chair among the most prestigious seats of the kingdom, but like other elders of Gilmorack, he did not survive the reign of the false undermountain king. He was slain with the others, his death made to look like an accident, but his wife remained after him in possession of his estates. No sooner did Kristryd receive the crown of Gilmorack upon her black curls than Dame Thresstone appeared before her, obsequiously fawning, flattering, and begging her favor. Behind Kristryd’s back, the old blob-tale whispered in every ear that would listen, “How have we fallen so low? What have we done but passed the throne of our fathers from one witch into the hands of another?”
Many heads nodded. The other noble dwurwives of Gilmorack readily agreed. They spat upon the stones whenever Kristryd’s name was mentioned, and they said, “She is not my queen! Who is this foreign fiendess who has been set over us? She knows not her place and oversteps all bounds.”
Then Dame Thresstone would say to her circles of blob-tales, “Think you nothing of the fact that she keeps that witch Gretyll ever by her side in a magical cage? Is that not the work of a witch?”
They said, “Half dozen of one; six of another! It takes a witch to cage a witch.”
Dame Thresstone added to those words, “Did I hear it said that she is a secret friend of that drossel, Yolande the fey witch, our old enemy? She even dragged elves from that daggle-tail’s kingdom into our vaulted halls!”
They said, “Observe how a fey look stamps the very the lines of her face! Who can say if she is really a dwarf at all?”
All the while, Dame Thresstone came before Kristryd under false pretense, lickspigotting and feigning friendship, alliance, and confidence. She spoke warnings in Kristryd’s ear, “Others speak ill of thee my queen. So-and-so speaks abusively of thee, but I, for my part, always defend thee against their baseless charges.”
Politics & Policies
Kristryd’s policies won no friends among the nobility. Without political consideration, she pressed her authority and called upon every citizen of Gilmorack to contribute to the war effort. She put a stop to other programs and turned all available hands and every resource to preparation for the purge. She spent down the treasuries laying up supplies and hiring gnome mercenaries. She put the entire delving on strict rationing and began laying up food supplies for the army. Both males and females reported for regular training, and everyone was fitted with arms and armor and expected to become proficient in their use. Day and night the anvils rang with forging of new weapons and armor. They shattered those weapons tainted with Gretyll’s devilshine and the curse of demons, melted them down, and reforged them. Craftsman and smiths worked continuously at the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains, smithying exceptional arms, each one laden with enchantments, charms, and spells to increase their strength, sharpen their edge, and better wound their foes.
“We will not be used. We will not be pawns in anyone’s game,” she told her people, “Not by witches, demons, goblins, or fiends. Not by elves and not by men. We will teach them all with which end of the spear we thrust!”
Her wise and loyal advisor, Bagbag of Balnorhak, cautioned her, “You make enemies of the noblemen and aristocrats. You refuse their bribes, and you offer them no exemptions. Even those who at first supported you resent the impositions of a foreigner.”
“They resent the rule of a dwarfess. They wait to rejoice over my tragic fall. But my ears are long past filled with murmuring. I need not hear the same from you. Give me your wise counsel, not your noodling.”
“Your majesty knows that I am always and only concerned for her wellbeing,” trueheaded Bagbag assured with a bow. She had few other friends she could trust. Those in whom she would have liked to confide fell under the influence of the intrigues of court and the poisons of politics. Would that I might have remained a bosom-friend to Yolande. Surely she needed a trusted ear as much as I do. Often she searched the silver-framed mirror for the face of her friend, but the Fey Queen’s wards kept such simple magics at bay.
Friends & Allies
From among those few other friends she could trust, Kristryd appointed the impetuous and handsome Bamadar to the position of field-commander and captain over her personal guard. She rebuffed his amorous advances. “I am no longer a young dwarfess with her first whiskers, nor do I grow younger,” she scolded. “I am too old to play at poop-noddy. I need a dwarf-at-arms I can trust.”
She beseeched her other suitor, Alton Quickbread, to remain with her in Gilmorack to serve as a healer and friend, but he declined. “Come with me if you fancy lazy mornings of fresh muffins, tipsycakes, and black tea. If, instead, you have decided to break my heart, I now return to my own people,” he said forlornly. “I have no delight in tunnels and caverns, regardless of their grandeur. Nor do I care much for demons, devils, and witches.”
Likewise, Peralay and Xaxalander Deravnye returned to Celene loaded with handsome rewards from the undermountain queen and lavish gifts to bear back to their queen.
The old gnomish priest, Father Furduch, agreed to remain for a spell to serve as first laird over the gnomes of Gilmorack. Kristryd consulted him often. She cherished his wisdom almost as much as the counsel of trueheaded Bagbag, and she needed his assistance to drive out what fiends remained prowling the delving.
All the while, she worked her diplomatic magic to prepare the allies for a great push. “We need more than soldiers,” she told the war council, “We need secure supply lines, commitments of food, grain, and all necessaries, and promises of coordination and cooperation.” She could no longer make the necessary embassies herself as she once did on the back of the great steed Emolasmairim. Instead she sent out gnomish ambassadors carrying letters composed in her own hand, written in magical gnome’s ink which appeared visible only for the addressee. The letters explained her intentions, detailed her objectives, and petitioned for commitments of support in the coming campaigns. Through these efforts, she secured the support of faraway Irongate where her father’s kinfolk dwelt. To Irongate she promised splendid Lortmil stones and better access to her father’s ports in Gyrax. In return, the dwarves of Irongate promised Kristryd one-thousand elite and doughty soldiers to be placed under the direct command of her father, Prince Olinstaad Corond.
Bagbag reviewed all these dealings. “You have done all things as I would have advised,” he congratulated her. “The student has become the teacher. You show more skill in the designs of war than many a general who has taken the field in times gone past.”
“Only by your wise counsel,” she replied. “But for today, I only need one thing of you. Find old Hedvyg, the third sister. Elraniel told me that Hedvyg hides in Balnorhak. That remains a riddle for us to puzzle upon.”
“Would that Balnorhak yet remained,” Bagbag sighed. “We have already sent letters to your father, the Prince Corond. By now his agents search the Principality.”
Read the next chapter: Durgeddin the Black
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Artwork: The Drake Gate (Iron Crown Enterprises, MERP 3110)