The Hateful Wars: Chapter Twenty-Eight
A blare of trumpeting fanfare called those in attendance to attention. “Durgeddin the Black, Smith of Balnorhak, Lord of Glitterhame and Thane of Khundrakar!” the herald announced. The carved stone doors swung open to reveal an elderly dwarven lord of noble bearing, broad-shouldered and strong of limb. His grey-streaked beard glittered with jewels and gold. Gemstones studded his leather jerkin. Rings glittered on every finger. At his side hung a great craftsman’s hammer.
Everyone in the audience hall stood to their feet, even the undermountain queen. Durgeddin bowed politely, his long beard sweeping the floor. Kristryd returned the bow, as did all those present.
“Your Majesty,” the old dwarf said, “I have come to your summons.”
Kristryd’s eyes narrowed just slightly. Old Bagbag hastened to explain, “Your majesty. I took the liberty.”
Kristryd nodded. “Thane Durgeddin, you are most welcome in these halls. Had I known of your journey, I would have sent an escort to receive you in royal fashion.”
“As soon I received your letter, I marched out with a dozen of my strongest,” the noble dwarf said. “Our journey from has been long indeed, and we have tales to tell of the perils through which we passed. Plenty of orcish blood along the road, but blessed be Moradin and blessed be Berronar, we have arrived.”
“We shall hear those tales and more in the feasting hall this very day!” Bagbag exclaimed. Unable to further suppress his enthusiasm, the warlock hobbled across the hall to welcome the noble dwarf. Kristryd saw tears moisten the cheeks of her old friend as he embraced and kissed the newcomer.
“Old friends, long missed? Dwur lords exchange a kiss?” asked Father Furduch at Kristryd’s side.
“Indeed. Very old friends,” she replied softly.
Father Furduch and all the court of Gilmorack heard the tale of Durgeddin the Smith that night in Kristryd’s feasting hall. The noble smith and his companions crowded around the queen’s table. If they expected a lavish banquet, the Khundrakar dwarves were disappointed. Kristryd imposed the same austerity and rationing on her own table that she imposed upon the other houses of Gilmorack. Nevertheless, she fed them well. Hasneath smiled on the throng. After a few rounds of merry-go-down, the tale-telling began.
“When I was still a young dwarf in my father’s house,” Bagbag said, “This Durgeddin was the greatest smith of Balnorhak. Before Evrast and before the people of Dengar stole away the anvil, his father’s father beat out fine treasures upon that heirloom. But Durgeddin surpassed them all. In those days, none of us ever him unless covered with soot from the fires of his forges. Durgeddin the Black!”
“Thanks to me, the term ‘blacksmith’ was first coined!” Durgeddin interrupted jovially. None laughed louder than brash young Bamadar. Durgeddin continued in a solemn tone, “When those coal diggers stole the anvil away from Balnorhak, my grandfather felt as if someone had stolen away his bride. He would have followed the anvil to Dengar if not for loyalty.”
“Such is the fidelity of our folk!” Bagbag put in. “But where was the loyalty of Dengar?”
Durgeddin nodded. His piercing eyes met Kristryd’s implacable gaze for a lingering moment before he continued. “As the strength of Balnorhak faded, we could no longer defend our own outlying halls. Orcs took clan Silverstone and slew us, including the females and children. Only those fortunate to be absent at the time survived. I was one of those.”
“And I too,” Bagbag sighed. “I served in the court of Thane Dorri. Durgeddin as well, tending the king’s forge.”
“I lost a wife, a son and a daughter,” Durgeddin spat bitterly. “I took a solemn oath on the names of our father and mother at the forge to make unrelenting war.”
“Many of us have sworn like oaths of late,” Kristryd said.
“The last undermountain king of Balnorhak died,” Bagbag continued the tale, addressing his words directly to Kristryd. “Your father, the Prince Olinstaad Corond, inherited the remains of our crumbled kingdom. Old Balnorhak became Ulek of today. Your father also inherited the court and all Dori’s officials. Durgeddin here became master smith of Ulek. I became advisor and court magician to your father.”
The Magicians of Khundrakar
“These things were already known to us,” Kristryd said. “I would hear the tale of how this Durgeddin departed from my father’s court.”
“There’s not much to tell,” Durgeddin shrugged. “Keoland appointed your father over the Poor March. The prince grated us rights to open new mines in the Drachensgrabs. I led the scragglings of Silverstone to Glitterhame beneath Stone Tooth, north of Blaisingdell. I dug Khundrakar where I plot my vengeance against the euroz and jebli.
“Before laying in place the first stones of the stronghold, we carved out twenty-three sepulchers beneath the mountain, one for each of the dwarven noblemen of Clan Silverstone.”[i]
“My own tomb is among them, waiting to receive my bones,” Bagbag added, shaking his head thoughtfully. “Now I am here, in the north, and all my books are there, in the south.”
“Arundil has his nose in them,” Durgeddin laughed.
Bagbag hmphed and snorted unhappily. “We learned spellbinding together, but he followed gnomish spells: walking tea pots, cups, and saucers, brooms that sweep the floor themselves, shovels that dig with no one holding them, that sort of thing. Childish!”
“There’s more to it than that,” Durgeddin boasted between mouthfuls. “Bagbag, Arundil, and Old Hedvyg built a fearsome fiery furnace. The greatest forge ever created, hotter than the fires of all the hells, and it smelts steel with the alloy of vengeance.”
At the mention of witch’s name, Kristryd sat up straight. All the mirth drained from her countenance. “Where is Hedvyg today?”
“We seek her most urgently,” Bagbag told Durgeddin. “She and her sisters betrayed us all.”
Durgeddin frowned at this news and shook his head in puzzlement. “She remained with us at Khundrakar in the early years, but I have not seen her or heard any tale for a century. She was old back then. Surely she is long since dead.”
“No my friend,” Bagbag said, “Not dead. Not yet.” Turning to Kristryd, he changed the subject, “Your majesty. Durgeddin desires to bring the Anvil to Khundrakar.”
The blacksmith added to the petition, “Please your majesty. Then we shall have our vengeance, and Balnorhak shall rise again!”
Kristryd’s stoic face betrayed no inner thought. She replied, “Thane Durgeddin, so long as you remain here in Gilmorack, our anvil is at yours to fashion upon it what you will as you will.”
Durgeddin found a place of prominence among the smiths of Gilmorack. He labored long at the forge and the anvil, melting Gretyll’s cursed blades into slag and forging them anew into works of beauty. Each one received his personal mark, a sign of the blade’s integrity and wholesomeness. With Bagbag’s help, he added potent magic to the finest.
Some score of days after his arrival, he presented Kristryd with a crafted helm, adorned with silver sigils and interlacing patterns of golden knots. Gilded wings, like the wings of Emolasmairim, swept back from each side. Soft worked leather on the interior of the helm made it fit comfortably; a strap of under the chin pulled it snug.
“This is a fine helm,” Kristryd admitted in genuine admiration of the work.
“The finest I have ever made,” Durgeddin boasted with a humble bow. “For the finest head I have ever seen.”
Her eyes widened, but she recovered herself quickly. “My lord flatters the queen.”
“Would that I was your lord and you my queen! Surely the gods have twined our destinies together,” Durgeddin faffled over the words. “You would make for me a fitting wife. Your father would not forbid it, I am sure.”
She set the glistening helm down on a table at her side and glanced about at her servants and the members of court. No one dared to breathe. If I outright refuse, he will be humiliated. Then I shall pay the consequence. She looked over to trueheaded Bagbag. Her trusted friend lowered his eyes as if to apologize for his old friend’s impertinence.
“My lord. I am flattered,” Kristryd replied with careful diplomacy. “I will consider and inquire after Berronar’s will, but not before I have fulfilled my vows to finish this war and purge our eternal possession.”
“Fitly spoken,” Bagbag encouraged, but Durgeddin shook his head.
“Nay your majesty,” the old smith said. “I have outlived three dwur-wives already, and my beard has grown long. I too have vows of vengeance, not unlike your own. Together we will fulfill our vows.”
Kristryd smiled graciously, “You shall have an answer after I have had time to think on it.”
Later in the privacy of her own chambers, she collapsed onto her couch, shaking with laughter. “I did not see that coming!” she said to Bagbag.
“No laughing matter! He will not take ‘no’ for an answer. He never has,” Bagbag warned gravely.
“I don’t intend to tell him ‘no,’” Kristryd laughed.
“You will take him as a husband? He is as older than I!” Bagbag objected. “He wants only the anvil! Give it to him and let him be gone.”
“Are you jealous?” Kristryd taunted the elderly dwarf.
“By Moradin’s grey beard!” her old tutor huffed in disgust.
“I do not intend to refuse him,” she laughed again at her own joke. “Neither will I ever accept.”
“You are a shrewd one Olinsdotter,” Bagbag conceded. “Be careful. A strong-willed and tenacious dwarf as ever was, that one.”
[i] Ironically, only a handful of dwarves were ever interred in those tombs; the rest lie where they fell when the Pomarj orcs stormed Khundrakar only a few years after the conclusion of the Hateful Wars. Richard Baker, “The Forge of Fury,” Tales from the Yawning Portal (Wizards of the Coast, 2018), 32-59. The rerelease of the 2000 Forge of Fury in Yawning Portal placed Khundrukar “in the Pomarj, in the western Drachensgrab Hills” and states that “the fortress fell shortly after the Hateful Wars, when a wave of orcs and other evil humanoid invaders swept over the region” (33).
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