The Hateful Wars: Chapter Thirty
“The vermin move beneath these mountains like rats in a sewer!” Prince Olinstaad Corond complained. He sent teams of workers to close unused tunnels, underground passages, and abandoned mines. Goblin raiders harassed the stoneworkers and the hardhewers as they labored to wall off their roadways, seal their exit holes, and cut off their access to water. The laborers carried a pickaxe in one hand and wore a shield on the other. The work progressed slowly. By Fireseek CY 502, the workmen secured the crumbled halls of ancient Balnorhak, purged forgotten mines, closed off rat holes, and pressed on to the tunnels between the Lortmil Mountains proper.
The ways into the Lortmil tunnels were less easily sealed, for the Low Road is not a straight narrow path through the mountain’s roots. It makes its way through a maze of passages, now following natural caverns, now cutting through fissures in the rock, now descending by steep steps cut into the granite, now following along underground riverways for winding miles, now exiting by cave mouth and crossing overland, now descending back into the undermountain by hidden door set in the mountain side, now narrowing to tunnel through solid stone for miles … and so it went. In the spring, after winter rains and snowmelt, lower caverns flooded and became passable only by barge and boat. Underground rivers turned to impassable torrents and plunging waterfalls. The battles raged regardless of the season or the dangers. The blood of dwarves and goblins mixed together and pooled in the deep places.
The prince commissioned heroes and warriors of the Low Road to clear old mines, route out dens of monsters, and protect laborers from goblin attacks. The so-called “mine rangers” laid ambushes against the goblinkind, chased them from hole to hole, and banished monsters that lurked in unlit chambers. They led explorations and surveys, mapped out the old tunnels, and charted the mazes of interconnecting mineshafts, arteries, and veins that cut to and fro through the stone. (To this day, mine rangers continue to patrol the deep tunnels between the dwarven kingdoms.)[i]
According to Kristryd’s war plan, her father’s Principality needed to be the anvil. The combined armies of Gilmorack and Dengar struck like a hammer. The goblins stood between the hammer and the anvil. From the north, the forces of Gilmorack and Dengar conducted systematic sweeps, striking the enemy with speed and ferocity. Father Furduch led gnome teams armed with explosives, flash powder, and smoke-makers. Gnome trappers devised all manner of ingenious cruelties: spike traps, pit traps, flame-strikes, poison gas clouds, collapsing ceilings, and other devious inventions to harass goblinkind and teach them not to tread wherever they like. (Many of their traps remain yet in the deep places beneath the Lortmil Mountains and, even today, more than a century later, they yet claim unwary victims who stray from the main thoroughfares.) Bagbag schooled spellcasters in the art of fireballs and lightning strikes. Bamadar led young dwarven warriors armed with spears, lances, and spiked shields charging through the tunnels, striking terror into their adversaries and sparking panicked flights of whole clans. When they encountered well-defended fortresses and lairs, rather than take the time to purge them, Kristryd’s forces isolated them from reinforcements and resupply.
The wars dragged on. The stench of corpses mingled with the filth of orcs to taint the air under the mountains. The dwarves burned the carcasses of their victims, polluting lower chambers with the sweet, sick-smelling smoke of burning flesh.
The Battle of the High Caves
While the dwarves made war beneath the earth, the lowland nations provided them with succor and supply. They guarded the passes and struck against goblinkind who tried to quit their holes and creep down from the mountains. The County sent druids after the armies to heal the wounded and add what they might to the efforts. The Duchy provided provisions and mountain patrols. The Velunese armed a defensive line from the Lorridges to the Kron Hills.
Kristryd’s advances dislodged the clans under the mountains. Kobolds, goblins, and orcs fled the lower halls and took shelter in remote caves set in high places. To obtain food, they raided the villages along the Celene slopes, slaying gnome shepherds, stealing flocks, burning elven vineyards, and marauding through villages. The villagers put together troops of hunters to climb the slopes and purge the caves, but the kobolds dropped rocks on them, the goblins showered them with darts and arrows, and the orcs descended downsteepy upon them, slew them, and desecrated their bodies. The raiders grew bolder and came again upon all the villages of the lower slopes and ridges. Before help arrived from the elves, the orcs looted and pillaged a dozen villages and set them ablaze.
Queen Yolande sent Fastaal Dothmar and his heroes to pay out the retribution and drive out the killbucks. Peralay and his cooshee dogs sniffed out the goblin trails and pursued them to hidden lairs. The goblins feared the cooshees more than they feared the elves.
Observing that, if they attempted to climb up to the caves, they would be slain as the hunters had been, Peralay and Xaxalander devised a new strategy. The elves whickered together enormous baskets and lowered them by paggling ropes from the height above the cave entrances. As the baskets dangled outside a cave mouth, elven warriors leapt out and into the cave mouth with weapons and flaming brands. They moved silent as cats and pounced just as quickly too. The canyon walls echoed with the screams of surprised kobolds, goblins, and orcs.
At times matters went awry. The orcs cut the ropes on a whickered basket, and the elves fell headlong to the stones below. The goblins set a basket aflame and burned alive the warriors in it. Some cave mouths proved so narrow that the elves could scarcely crawl in except one at a time; those who tried were slain.
The elves appealed to their allies in Gilmorack for help. They returned to the endeavor the next year upon great war platforms constructed by Durgeddin the Smith. They suspended them by chains fashioned on the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains. They lowered them to the caves by means of winches contrived by the Kron Hill gnomes.
With the fire in his eyes and the sharp edge of the blade Concluder cutting its swath, Fastaal Dothmar struck terror into the goblinkind and sent the gundyguts squealing and careening to the canyon floor. Xaxalander Deravnye joined the effort; leaping from the boxes, scaling up canyon walls, and slipping unseen into the caves. He slew all that he found. Prince Archosian, the Green Arrow, commanded a company of archers to watch over the entrances, and their feathered shafts found marks if ever a goblin dared poke his head up from the hole. Onselvon sent a wizard on the platforms adept with the fireball spells which turned many otherwise inaccessible lairs into hellish infernos.
The Gods of War
The conflict inexorably drew more and more gods into war. The dwarven gods involved themselves from the start. Gilvgola, the Sacred Heart of Berronar, offered the goddess’s blessings and auguries. The priests of Clangeddin offered up prayers to the dwarven god of war, “We will anoint the battlefield with our enemies’ blood and beat their weapons in your name!” They boasted of fighting with alaghor, a word describing “those who demonstrate valor in battle.” None exemplified the concept more persuasively than the devotees of Clangeddin, Lord of the Twin Axes, whether they hailed from Ulek, Dengar, or Balnorhak.[ii]
Ulaa’s fellowships and churches suffered from the goblins. The displaced clans of goblinkind overran small communities, settlements, and miner’s towns in deep places and along the Low Road. The losses inflamed the wrath of the faithful, and they swore themselves to Ulaa’s revenge.[iii]
The gods of the elves could scarcely hope to avoid the Hateful Wars, though they sighed over the conflict and turned their faces away from it. Ehlonna begged for peace, but Larethian fell under the swoon of his ancient struggle with Gruumsh. Peaceful Rao found himself also drawn into the conflict along with the Velunese that revered him, and the wars perplexed him no small amount.
Kristryd prayed to Berronar, poured out libations in her name. She offered up incense and sacrifice. She made special votives to Clangeddin before each battle. She kept the name of Ulaa upon her lips too, and she did not neglect her service. She offered prayers and performed the necessary rites herself before marching out with the armies of Gilmorack, resplendent in shining mithril armor. Her troops saw her as the incarnation of Ulaa, girded for war. She inspired fanatical devotion among the young dwarves. The poets composed songs about her, and the soldiers sang her praises as they marched.
Thousands of fanged face did the mountain thanes slay;
Ten times that number of blood runs black
Before the axe and before the blade
O Undermountain Queen of Gilmorack!
The clan chieftans and nobles heard the songs; they liked them not. When Thane Evrast, Undermountain King of Dengar, heard the songs praising his daughter-in-law chanted also in the camps of his own soldiers, his heart turned hard as stone.
The Place it Belongs
The time came for Kristryd to return the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains to its place in Dengar, as had been agreed, but Bagbag protested, “Will you truly surrender to Evrast the greatest artifact of your father’s kingdom? Will you give those rebels and deserters the gift of the gods?”
“I will not,” Kristryd agreed. “Nor did I promise to do so. I only agreed to return the anvil to the place it rightfully belongs.”
Bagbag clapped his hands together in glee. “As shrewd as Vergadain!” he exclaimed. “Surely you are the rightful and destined heir of Balnorhak!”
“Whether I am for this destiny or another, or for this kingdom or that, I do not hazard to suppose,” Kristryd replied in haughty tones. “But I send the anvil to the place it belongs—the front lines of our advancing forces. Let the weapons and armor of our brave soldiers have the benefit of its dweomer!”
Durgeddin and his men agreed to carry the anvil along with the army of Gilmorack as they advanced through the Low Road. They marched out of the vaulted halls, carrying the anvil as on a palanquin aloft upon their shoulders.
Meantime, Thane Evrast of Dengar sent a delegation to retrieve the anvil from Gilmorack, as Kristryd had promised. The dwarves of Kristryd’s kingdom turned his delegation back at the gates. “The anvil has departed from here,” they said. “The undermountain queen has sent it now to the place it belongs.”
[i] Thomas Gross, “Mine Rangers,” (Wizards of the Coast: Living Greyhawk PoU Metagaming Committee).
[ii] Andrew Valentin, “The Valiant Host,” (Wizards of the Coast: Living Greyhawk PoU Metagaming Committee).
[iii] Patty Kinyon, “Principality of Ulek: Church of Ulaa” (Wizards of the Coast: Living Greyhawk PoU Metagaming Committee).
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Artwork: HEROD-BATTLE-ROBBERSIN CAVES-BASKET-WINDLASS-Luyken-1732