The Hateful Wars: Chapter Thirty-Five
Bagbag returned to Bennoth Tine, troubled in spirit. He told Kristryd much of what had transpired in Dengar but not all things. Then he retired to the tower chamber he had designated for himself. Kristryd found him there at work, surrounded by candles, open books, charts and symbols, and all sorts of paraphernalia she shuddered to guess at. The old dwarf knelt on the floor at the center of the room with a scribbet of charcoal, chalking out a summoner’s circle and scribing it with runes, glyphs, and signs which he carefully copied from the brass-bound book.
“I wonder how you freed my sons and set them over Dengar,” Kristryd mused as Bagbag scribbled on the floor.
“I made a bargain,” the old wizard said without looking up. His tone became urgent, “Now is the time to take the anvil back to your father’s kingdom. I would hear the Anvil of the Mountains ringing among the bells of Hammer Hill in the Gyrax! I would see it blessed in Havenhill, in the Temple of the Blue Mines!”
“How is it, wise teacher,” Kristryd pried, “That you have orchestrated all these things?”
Bagbag looked up from inside the summoner’s circle. “Have you been spying on me with your silver-framed mirror?” he snirtled, a twinkle in his eye.
“Often have I tried. Well-warded are your secrets.”
“I’m no fonkin!” Bagbag chuckled. “Of a truth! I have only ever served you and your father before you, and the king of Balnorhak before him.”
“Not so,” Kristryd’s tone hardened. “Who did you serve when you plotted the fall of Grot-Ugrat? From where did you obtain that Suel spell? What role did you play in the theft of the anvil from Dengar? If you would have me trust you, O trueheaded Bagbag, tell me your tale.”
“Very well,” Bagbag hmphed. He stood to his feet and slapped the soot and chalk dust from his trousers. “I will tell you my tale. When I came first to Dengar to negotiate your bride price, I flattered myself with the fancy that you might one day be made queen, fulfill the old prophecy, and return to Balnorhak with the anvil. Then perished your husband, the Prince Grallwen. I saw that I must take things into my own hands. But I did not steal the anvil. I merely arranged to take back that which belongs to your father by all rights! Dengar stole the anvil from Balnorhak centuries past. I took back what is ours.”
“Did you indeed conspire with the witches?”
“The sisters deceived me! Gretyll was to take the anvil to in Gilmorack where it could be hidden away until such time as we could safely bring it home to the Blue Mines.”
“Or do you mean to Khundrakar? Surely Durgeddin is part of your thieves’ guild,” Kristryd’s voice trembled with scarcely contained fury.
“One who takes back from thieves what belongs to him is no thief,” Bagbag insisted. “The Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains belongs to Balnorhak alone. You know that better than most. I could not have known that Gretyll would let the vile hands of abyssal fiends hammer upon it.”
“Yet you knew exactly where we would find Gretyll in the halls of Gilmorak.”
“Yes,” Bagbag shrugged. “I knew to look in the Hall of Scrolls, for it was there that she and I and both her sisters laid the plans for the siege of Grot-Ugrat. Gretyll obtained the spell for me, although, at the time, I knew not from where. Not until you found Gunhyld slain among the dead did I understand that the sisters had been playing another game.”
Kristryd pressed on, “What was their game Bagbag?”
“They dallied with the Yatil Queen, so recently deposed in Perrenland. Who can say what designs she drew?”
Kristryd fell silent. She thought back to Elraniel’s warnings. Bagbag resumed his work on the floor. For long moments, the only sound in the tower was the scratch of the scribbet on the stone. At length, Kristryd asked, “Were we merely pawns for the Yatil Witch to break Grot-Ugrat?”
Bagbag scoffed, “That’s a pitchkettle way to interpret events. But it’s over now, and no harm was done. Tasha’s power is broken; the sisters of no further account. You, Kristryd, are the one destined to rule these mountains. Not the three sisters nor the Yatil witch. Before you alone, your majesty, bow the knees of those above the stones and those below.”
The Anvil Departs
That same night, Kristryd told Bamadar to select twelve of his trueheaded and most stout dwarves and bear away the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains. “Take it away from this place and bear it to the place I tell you,” she told him. “Speak of your mission to no one. Make your dwarves swear solemn oaths.”
Bamadar chose twelve stout warriors, four to carry the heavy anvil and eight to protect them on the road. They went by way of the Low Road until the Ulek Pass, but they found the path ill-going on account of the heavy burden that they bore. By the time they emerged from the Low Road and stepped down into the pass, melting snows and spring rains made the path a misery. The party arrived at their destination with soggy beards and backs bent under their load.
It did not take Bagbag long to realize that Kristryd had deceived him. “You have acted foolishly,” he spat angrily. “You have put yourself and all of us in danger! Have you surrendered it to Dengar or sent it to your sons?” Kristryd offered no answers.
When Durgeddin the Smith found the anvil gone, he grew so wroth that he spoke not a single word. He and his men departed Bennoth Tine and marched toward Dengar.
“We are left few in number,” Kristryd lamented to Bamadar upon his return. “Urgush threatens our gates in Gilmorack, and all the nobles there whisper against me and plot my downfall. Dengar is a kingdom divided. It collapses under the contention and intrigues. My sons remain in danger so long as Evrast lives. I no longer trust Bagbag, and Durgeddin would see me dead for taking the anvil from him. What is more, the Lady Yolande will neither receive me nor return my missives. All around us, the alliance totters, and our enemies grow bold again.”
“Your majesty speaks the truth,” Bamadar agreed, “But she forgets that she has yet a most-loyal, handsome, and hardy dwarf at her side.”
The queen ignored the jest. “We have come to the brink of utter disaster. The goblins will not forgive us for what we have done them. The reprisals will be terrible.”
On the eleventh day of Coldeven (506 CY), a patrol of dwarves came upon the remains of a battle on one of the branches of the Low Road near Bennoth Tine. Corpses of dwarven warriors and goblins lay strewn about on the stones, but one dwarf, wounded and gray-skinned from loss of blood, still held the breath of life in his lungs. They bound his wounds and hurried him back to Bennoth Tine.
“Open the gates!” the patrol shouted as they came in sight of the watchmen on the walls.
They summoned a priest to pray for healing, but the wounded dwarf waived the priest away. “No!” he said, “I have a message for Bagbag. I must see him and speak to him alone.”
They summoned Bagbag. The wizard stood over the bed of the dying warrior and said, “I am Bagbag. Speak your message, son.”
The wounded warrior sat up in bed and said with sudden strength, “Don’t you recognize me? I have come for my sister’s book and my father’s anvil.”
“Hedvyg!” Bagbag nearly fell over in his surprise. “Damn you! You have come too late! The anvil has departed, and the priests have destroyed the book!”
“One lie and one truth,” Hedvyg observed. “But which is which I wonder? No matter. I levy my fee for breach of contract.”
The witch spoke a word and a sphere of impenetrable darkness filled the room. Bagbag dispelled the magical darkness with another spell, but by then Hedvyg was gone. “Alarm!” he shouted to the guards. “Hedvyg is here! Protect the queen!”
Panic seized the halls of Bennoth Tine. Hedvyg summoned screaming banshees and laughing haunts to make a racket and add to the confusion. The lamps along the streets went dark, and an unoerthly chill fell upon the fort. Watchmen in the towers rang the bronze bells. Guards and soldiers shouted back and forth to one another. “Foes! Fiends within the walls!”
As Kristryd stepped out from her chambers to see what the alarm betokened, Bamadar took her by the arm and said, “My Lady. You are to be taken to Bagbag’s tower. He has drawn a circle of protection for you.”
“But the way to Bagbag’s tower lies in the other direction,” Kristryd objected, pulling herself free from Bamadar’s grasp.
“Where you have taken the anvil?” the false Bamadar’s face twisted in rage.
Kristryd did not hesitate. She blunted the false Bamadar a solid blow to the face with such a head-butt as to break his nose. The illusion spell vanished, and there stood Hedvyg in the place of Bamadar, staggering and reeling about with blood flowing from both nostrils, soaking her beard.
“That’s how you do that!” exclaimed the real Bamadar as he came upon the fight. He hefted his axe and made ready to end the witch’s life before she could recover herself, but the wand in her hand flashed a spell that froze the warrior in place.
Hedvyg vanished. The wail of the banshee’s and haunts fell silent.
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Art by Merlker: Witchking