The Hateful Wars: Chapter Twenty-Nine
Oldid Silverbeard, steward of Ironhelm at Eastpass, put on his spectacles to better read the script on the parchment. Curious indeed! An anonymous letter in the old hand of Balnorhak and sealed with the seal of Thane Dorrii. He tilted the wick of the oil lamp for better light and read over the words a third time. It explained the recent treachery of the three sisters, and it provided detailed instructions for finding the lair in which Hedvyg concealed herself. It concluded with a stern warning, “Give no ear to her lies! Silence the old hag; cease her crooked lips from moving.”
Silverbeard shook his head in disbelief. “Here in the Principality? After all the years? Well, I shall see to it!” The elderly dwur noble assembled a party of worthies to enter the hidden lair and slay the witch. The adventurers found the halls of Hedvyg, but they did not catch her unprepared. Cruel traps she readied for them, and fearsome monsters she had collected to defend her secret holdings. A certain vampiress of Perrenland gave her command over chilling wraiths and foul necromancies. Hedvyg was ready. Those heroes sent by Oldid Silverbeard never returned, and who can say what became of them?
Hedvyg cast the smoke-raising herb onto the scryer’s pot and called out for her sisters, but they did not answer. She called out for the Yatil Queen, but she received no reply. So I am all alone now, she thought to herself. Now it’s my time. She strode into the dusty halls of her father’s gone and vanished kingdom. Dark-helmed dwarven guards flanked her, granting her the appearance of one to be taken seriously and not trifled with. Undead on loan from Drelnza trailed along in her retinue, striking terror. Hedvyg swept into Eastpass, freezing the blood of all who beheld her and curdling the milk of their cows and their goats while it yet remained in the udders. She declared herself the sole remaining heir to the throne of Balnorhak, the last surviving daughter of the undermountain king. She called upon the houses of Balnorhak to rally to her, and she charged them to cast down the upstart Prince Olinstaad Corond.
None came to her summons except Gilvgola, the Sacred Heart of Berronar, priestess from the fortress of Dorob Kilthduum, the old stronghold of Balnorhak at the headwaters of the Clearwater River. What errand the priestess had in the Principality of Ulek that summer, the saga does not tell, but, fortunate for the Prince Corond, she happened to be present. Gilvgola brought a strong party of priests from the Blue Mines in Havenhill, clerics of the Soul Forge and warriors of the Holy Axe. Heroes of the Prince’s Royal Army too. Gilvgola and the priests dispelled Hedvyg’s undead, and the warriors slew her dark guard. They bound Hedvyg in bespelled adamantine chains. They imprisoned the humiliated witch in the dungeons of Havenhill to wait for a trial before the Prince Corond on charges of treason, treachery, witchcraft, and patricide.
The Prince Olinstaad Corond sent Gilvgola back to her home, but before she left, he bade her carry summons to Bagbag in Gilmorack. “I will need my trueheaded friend present for the trial of this witch,” the Prince Corond said.
Bagbag’s Strange Fits
When the Sacred Heart of Berronar arrived at Gilmorack and told the tale of Hedvyg’s capture, Bagbag seemed ill-pleased. “A shame they do not burn her like cordwood and be done with it!” The loremaster seemed even less pleased over the prospect of a long and treacherous trip to the Principality just to attend the trial. “What lies did Hedvyg speak?” Bagbag asked.
“The old witch is not allowed to speak lest she use her mouth to beguile or cast a spell,” the priestess assured him.
Bagbag had other troubles with which to contend. Since the fight in the Hall of Scrolls and the discoveries in Gretyll’s private chamber, an unseen fiend pursued him like a recurring nightmare. It leapt upon him unexpectedly and at the most inopportune moments. Only with great difficulty could he free himself from its grip and thrust it away. To make matters worse, no one else could see the assailant. To all who looked on, it appeared that the old dwarf fell suddenly into a seizure or some queer fit. He thrashed and flerked about, cursing and faffling, and then it ended as abruptly as it had started. He would sit up, dust himself off, straighten his jacket, and carry on about his business as if nothing unusual had befallen him. The attacks occurred almost daily, often leaving the old dwarf with blackened eyes, swollen bruises, and long scratches across his flesh.
Father Furduch offered to assist the dretched wizard, “I see what’s unseen! Let me banish this fiend!”
Bagbag refused the offer, “I can well take care of myself.” He preferred to seek the solution to the daily menace in the vile book he had taken from Gretyll’s study. Many long days he spent deciphering the contents of those occultic pages. He took over the room that had once been the private study of Gretyll, for he felt safest in that place. He decorated it with wards, sigils, diagrams, and geometric patterns, laced with magical scripts, to protect himself. But if ever he left that room, the unseen attacker leapt on him.
This malady did little credit to Kristryd’s reputation. Dame Thresstone took full advantage, pointing out the mage’s frightening condition to those both high and low. “You see,” she said to them, “Kristryd holds the old mage under her power, and if ever he crosses her or thinks to disobey her will, she sends one of her demons to attack him.”
Bagbag’s malady continued until the day the priestess Gilvgola arrived in Gilmorack. Much to Bagbag’s embarrassment, as he sat at table in the feasting hall, the fiend assailed him and threw his face down into his soup. Crockery and platters spilled over the table as Bagbag thrashed. The serving maids screamed with fright. The elderly dwarf rolled over the table, spluttering and snarling out curses, trying to push his unseen attacker away. A thick brown chowder soaked his proud white beard, and spittle sprayed from his mouth as he strained at the unseen being.
Gripping the Braid of Berronar in one hand, Gilvgola clutched at the air with her other hand and spoke words of prayer and adjuration. Bagbag fell free from the unseen creature’s grapple. Holding the creature in her invisible grip, the Sacred Heart said to the kitchen lads, “Bring flour and fairy dust, and be quick about it.” (No one has explained why the kitchen of Gilmorack kept a store of fairy dust in the larders.) Gilvgola held the unseen fiend tight until the dwarf lads returned with the flour and the fairy dust which they sprinkled liberally over the invisible fiend. Under the magic of the fairy dust, the fine flour remained visible, revealing the misshapen form of the fell creature. Durgeddin the Black, ancient smith of Balnorhak, rushed upon it with his enchanted hammer and smote it into black ichor.
Umbrage in Enstad
The shortest road to the Principality went east of the mountains. Bagbag accompanied Gilvgola and her party as far as Doroth Kilthduum before continuing south. The way to Ulek led him through Enstad. His credentials as a diplomat of the alliance granted him the right of passage, but it seemed to him that the elves allowed him that privilege grudgingly. The Grand Court gave Bagbag and his small entourage lodging for one night, but they did not receive him, nor did the Queen of Celene accept his petition for audience. Nevertheless, Onselvon, his colleague in the magical arts, paid him a visit.
“We have heard the tales from Gilmorack. Is it true that your prodigy now sits upon the throne of that kingdom?” Onselvon asked.
“My lord knows it to be so,” Bagbag replied stiffly. “None are worthier than she nor is there any name worthier than that of her own house for such honor.”
“That may be true enough,” Onselvon admitted. “But do not suppose that she attained that high power without the help of this kingdom.”
Bagbag snorted, “On the contrary. She attained that high power despite the obstinance and arrogance of your kind. But if you wish to take the credit, do something creditworthy and join her war plan, as you will find it explained in these documents which she has addressed to your queen.”
Onselvon bowed low, “I will see to it that Her Fey Majesty receives this correspondence and reviews the proposals. But one unresolved matter yet remains, and that is the matter of the third sister.”
“Again the elves come to king’s banquet a day late and without an invitation!” Bagbag snapped. “Already my lord the Prince of Ulek has captured Hedvyg and holds her in chains in his dungeons. We dwarves take care of our own problems, and the business of the three sisters is none of your own.”
A troop of elven rangers and border guards escorted Bagbag and his company through the Fey Kingdom until Courwood. Arriving in Rittersmarche in the Province of Prinzfield, he made inquiries about the halfling priest Alton Quickbread. None knew any halfling by that name, and those who seemed to know of an itinerant healer of Ehlonna matching his description could not say where he lived or from where he came.
By the first Godsday in the month of Reaping, Bagbag arrived in Havenhill where Hedvyg was enchained. Behold, that same day, Hedvyg escaped her chains and vanished from the dungeon cell. The Prince Corond, who had come up from Gyrax, apologized, “Forgive me my old friend. I have made you travel all this way for naught!”
“Would that I might learn the spell of teleportation! Long was my journey and disappointing its end. Surely Hedvyg’s escape will do us worse mischief,” the old wizard lamented. “If only you had slain her or cut out her lying tongue on the day you captured her.”
“She is the daughter of an undermountain king,” Prince Corond demurred. “There are laws in this land. I hoped we might settle the matter together and, afterwards retire to Gyrax for some days of planning and strategy. But now I think it best you tarry not. Some Keolanders have been about, asking for you, and I like not the look of them nor the manner of their inquiry.”
“What is the look of them and what is the manner?”
“Humans of the old Suel blood. One skinny old albino they called Mohrgyr the Old. He desires to consult with you, but if I take their meaning, he desires to see you arrested and hauled back to the Silent Tower,” the prince warned.
“Arrested? For what crime?” Bagbag humphed.
“What does it matter?” Prince Corond assured his trueheaded friend. “I sent them back the way they came and said unto them that, if I ever see their kind lurking about Ulek again, I’ll show them the other side of dwarven hospitality.”
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Artwork by Aharon: Bagbag