The Hateful Wars: Chapter Thirty-One
“We’ve cut the gravy too blashy,” Bamadar warned his queen. “We have scarce the strength to hold the roads. Supply lines stretch hundreds of miles, and one host is far separated from another by a fortnight march. How shall we fare if Urgush comes against us now?”
“And I am sick to death of goblin stench,” Kristryd admitted. “But I will hold every inch we have taken. If our lines collapse, there remains no shield between our kingdoms and the goblin host.”
“I called for reinforcements, but they send us lads who have not yet seen their first whiskers,” Bamadar complained. “We run out of dwarves!”
“The price of such a war,” the queen shrugged. “Dwarves do not leave a thing unfinished.”
The Low Stream
By the first of Reaping (503 CY), Kristryd’s dwur controlled the west spur of the Low Road between the Ulek Pass and the Celene Pass. From all those caverns and snaking tunnels, they ousted the nests of goblinkind. Such remarkable advances cost her heavily. In those days, the dwarves called the Low Road “the Low Stream” for the quantity of dwarven blood that streamed through those caverns and ran down those tunnels.
Displaced tribes of kobold, goblin, orc, hobgoblin, gnoll, and ogre tried at times to flee the mountains and seek refuge in the lowlands. The Rangers of Triserron patrolled the Druid’s Defile. Hunting parties from Celene watched the banks of the Handmaiden. If any of the gundyguts ever dared cross the Handmaiden River, the elves of Celene cut them down. If they fled to the south, they met the stout troops of the Principality. If they fled to the west, they faced the ready men, elves, and gnomes the Ulek states.
Kristryd the Terrible
The Flaming Skull orc tribe occupied a long-ago abandoned stronghold called Bennoth Tine, a hewn-stone fortress of Balnorhak that had once guarded a critical junction on the Low Road. “We shall be hard at it to lay siege to Bennoth Tine,” Bagbag warned. “Our fathers built it to stand the test of war.” But when Kristryd’s forces arrived at the undermountain fortress, the orcs readily unbarred their gates. Most of their warriors had already been slain in the conflicts. Only females and young remained to defend the walls. In accordance with the orcish custom, they prostrated themselves to signal their surrender. They came out of their holes groveling and weeping and licking at the stones. The village elders bowed and scraped before the armored dwur captains. They sacrificed mountain goats and invited the heads of the invading army to a banquet of peace.
“I will not eat with orcs,” Kristryd told Bamadar. She ordered her soldiers to enter the hall of their feasting and slay them all. She sent her soldiers to sack every home, slay every orc, and burn every cosh and hovel. Many they burned alive inside their lairs. The young and the squealing infants that fled the flames she ordered dropped from the battlements and dashed on the rocks. Black smoke and the stench of burning flesh filled the caverns and choked the air. When none but a few dozen of the clan remained, Kristryd had them rounded up and brought to the center of the fortress, bound in thick ropes. The survivors dropped to their knees, pleading and begging before her unsheathed sword.
“See the weeping mothers,” she said to Bamadar. “Don’t pity them. They keep their younglings in a feeding pit, and they throw fresh victims to the cubs like Peralay throws scraps to his Cooshee hounds. Only the most savage survive. That’s the orc way. They know nothing of compassion, nor shall I be their teacher.”
“Spare the cubs today, and they’ll take vengeance tomorrow,” Bamadar agreed. “Everyone knows it’s bad luck to let a goblin live.” He sounded as if he tried to persuade himself.
“Every orc-dame we leave alive will birth a litter tomorrow,” Kristryd observed. “Nevertheless, I grant these their lives.” Speaking through a half-blood interpreter who knew the goblin tongue, the undermountain queen said to the groveling survivors, “I spare your lives, not for mercy, but to serve as my messengers. Go now sons and daughters of Gruumsh; tell your kin what fate awaits them at the hands of Kristryd the Terrible.” She personally cut their bonds and set them free.
The survivors of the massacre fled and noised it about, telling all that had befallen them in Bennoth Tine at the hands of Kristryd the Hateful. All those who heard these tale quaked and trembled. The villages and nests of goblinkind all along the Low Road, from Gilmorack to Ironhelm, left their places and fled from before the advance of her troops. Some fled deeper into the caverns, some spilled out onto the mountain slopes.
“Stone upon stone!” Bamadar exclaimed as he and Kristryd explored the defenses of Bennoth Tine. “Our fathers built this fortress well.” Indeed, the undermountain king of Balnorhak raised the stones of Bennoth Tine upon the ancient foundations of a dwur fort from times forgotten. Bennoth Tine was once the northernmost outpost Balnorhak kept upon the Low Road. The name translated into the common tongue as “Northfork.” In those nearly forgotten centuries past, the undermountain king garrisoned the fort to challenge the kingdom of Dengar and keep the traitors from crossing over into the tunnels of Balnorhak. Northfork’s spacious halls had room for many soldiers and for provisions to withstand long siege.
“It stinks of orc,” Kristryd complained. “Have the soldiers remove the filth, scrub out every stone, and wash out every hole.”
“Your majesty. The orcs must have occupied this fortress now two or three centuries. It will take more than a few days to clean it up and make it fit for habitation,” Bamadar objected.
“You understand the strategic importance of this junction as well as any. We cannot let this fortress return to the vermin,” Kristryd insisted. “We will hold our advance here and wait for the Royal Army to reach us from Ulek.
Bamadar led a party of adventurers into the depths and secret places of the fort. They crawled their way through dungeon chambers, secret doorways, hidden chambers, old waterways, and echoing caves. They avoided traps and hazards as they went, and they fought a menagerie of monsters who had come to make their homes in the dark places. Then the soldiers exchanged their axes and swords for brooms, scrubbing brush, and swabbing rags. Engineers set to work repairing damage and restoring the defensive structures. The broken towers they rebuilt, and tottering walls they set aright. They drained the cistern, scraped away the plaster and resurfaced it with fresh plaster before refilling it. They dismantled the disgusting altar of Gruumsh with which the orcs had defiled Moradin’s shrine. Gnome caravans and merchant trains from the Duchy arrived with fresh supplies. Durgeddin the Smith and his men set to work restoring the ancient forge that once burned in the heart of that Bennoth Tine, and, with Bagbag’s help, they reignited it and enchanted it with a magical fire.
Ruins of Haradaragh
During the course of the renovations, the old loremaster delighted to discover the shards of broken stone tablets inscribed with dwarven runes. These he found among the debris. Piecing them together, he read in the old tongue long-ago records of an early undermountain king. The fragmentary inscriptions described a shipment of a staggering inventory of supplies for some enormous construction project somewhere within the mountains.
“Not in Dengar, nor in Gilmorack, nor in ancient Balnorhak, has ever such a project been undertaken!” Bagbag told Kristryd. “Surely this speaks of long-forgotten Haradaragh. The legends of Bleredd’s city may be true after all.”[i]
The dwarves completed the work in six months. Kristryd summoned Gilvgola, the Sacred Heart of Berronar, and also Father Furduch, the gnomish priest of Ulla, to attend the dedication of the fortress and to conduct the solemnities. Bagbag used his spellcraft to light up the ancient caverns with a blaze of continuous magical lights and continual flames that shone from pillars and towers. Moreover, finely crafted lampposts erected by the dwarves to drive away the darkness lit up the three roads and all the streets of Northfork. Kristryd assembled the elders of Gilmorack and all the heads of the tribes, the commanders of the army, and all the soldiers who had fought for her, including the commanders of the host of Dengar. Also came Thane Bolor Blackaxe of Hoch Dunglorin and all his nobledwarves to applaud the recent victories. From as far away as the Principality, Kristryd’s youngest brother Orin also came to represent the prince. All of them assembled around her at the Festival of Ulaa’s Hunt in the month of Flocktime to celebrate the cleansing of the mountains.
When all these hosts had gathered in the wide cavern where the three roads converge, Kristryd appeared on the ramparts in her resplendent mithril armor and winged helm. Beside her stood Bagbag and the two priests. Bamadar, Thane Bolor Blackaxe, and her brother Orin stood behind her. Cheers rose from the hosts, and the army shouted out a rhythm of “Kristryd! Kristryd!”
The undermountain queen lifted a long horn to her lips and sounded a single blast. The host fell silent. Pushing their way through the midst of the assembly came Durgeddin the Black and all his men carrying the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains. The crowd parted for the unanticipated procession. Bronze bells cast especially for the occasion rang from the towers, and cheers and shouts filled the halls. The ancient gates of Bennoth Tine swung open dramatically to receive Durgeddin’s procession and the holy relic.
Durgeddin’s dwarves placed the anvil and all the sacred smithying vessels and tools in the newly restored smithy. Gilvgola sacrificed sheep and goats to Berronar on a new altar for Moradin. Father Furduch chanted the Odes of Ulaa the Huntress in honor of her festival. Durgeddin fired the forge. Its flames made such a roar and blast of heat that none could stand near it. The radiance made all the stones glow red.
Gilvgola lifted up her hands, red with the blood of sacrifices, and prayed, “Mother and Father over the Anvil of Souls. Take back thine own, namely thy ancient habitation. Having cleansed your temple and returned thy sacred relic to thy service, this very anvil, bless thee the stones of this fortress and the hosts of thy children who battle for the everlasting inheritance thou hast bequeathed unto us. Now, with the permission of Blessed Ulaa, let this Festival of the Hunt be celebrated hence as the Festival of Cleansing, a week of festivity and thanksgiving for the cleansing of these halls and the cleansing of the mountains!” Gilvgola spread her blood-stained fingers toward the assembly and blessed the entire host. So began the annual Festival of Harnekiah. Whole flocks of sheep and goats they offered up that week, and all the host of dwarves in Dorob Kilthduum feasted that day and for all the seven days of Ulaa’s Hunt.
To this day, dwarves of the Flanaess celebrate the Feast of Harnekiah even beyond the clans of the Lortmil Mountains. All winter, young dwarf children sigh with anticipation for the month of Flocktime. During the week of Harnekiah (Flocktime 8-14), the Lortmil dwarves conduct ritual goblin hunts in keeping with the traditions of Ulaa’s Hunt. Dwarves everywhere light their halls brightly, feast before the gods, and celebrate the cleansing of the mountains.[ii]
Kristryd garrisoned her advance forces in Bennoth Tine. Day and night the hammer of Durgeddin struck steel upon the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains as her craftsmen repaired arms and forged new weapons to outfit the soldiers of the alliance. The goblinkind also heard the ringing of that heavy hammer upon the anvil, and to them, it’s strokes sounded like a bell tolling out their doom.
The nations of the alliance created a noose around the Lortmil Mountains, and Kristryd pulled the end of the rope ever tighter, choking the throat of the goblinkind. “We have confined them and we have walled them off in a circle of death!” she told the members of the alliance.[iii] The elves, dwarves, gnomes, and men coordinated their efforts ever more closely to seal off options for escape. “We will squeeze them from every side, and we will cut them off from raiding and from resupply,” she explained. “They cannot eat the gemstones of the mountains. Let them cannibalize their own flesh.”
[i] LordCeb, “Haradaragh,” Canonfire! online at: http://www.canonfire.com/cf/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=948.
[ii] The festival of Harnekiah appears on several Greyhawk calendars for the month of Flocktime along with a brief description tying it with Ulaa’s Hunt.
[iii] Sobhrach, “The Lortmil Mountains,” Oerth Journal 2:14-19.
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Featured Artwork: Keith Parkinson