The Hateful Wars: Chapter Thirty-Six
“That witch-loving lickspigot Urgush led us to disaster after disaster, but we are done with him and his drossels!” Hroth paced back and forth, glaring at the fanged faces of the tribal chiefs and shamans gathered about him. They were heads of tribes no-longer loyal to Urgush and what clans remained among the lower Lortmils. Hroth tossed a log onto the bonfire, sending an eruption of bright sparks wheeling up into the nighttime sky. “No more fighting among ourselves. No more orc against goblin and goblin against orc. If you want to feed your bellies and see your young ones live, we need one chief. As I am the only one without his head up his own ass, it can only be me. If anyone says otherwise, say it to my face or crawl back to your shithole and hide.”
The goblins chiefs, orc elders, gnoll pack leaders, and all their shamans jeered at the imaginary dissenters.
“Swear by your gods, by your demons, or by your devils. Makes no difference to me. Just give me your oath!” Hroth shouted. He rubbed at the scarred stump of his left ear to emphasize the point. “You too, you mud-humping sons of Gruumsh!” he gestured toward the sullen orc captains. “Let’s seal it in blood.”
The last suggestion inspired a cacophonous caterwauling of enthusiastic approval. Drums pounded. The shamans dragged victims to the stone. One after another, they took turns, soaking Hroth’s new covenant with the blood of prisoners which, until that moment, the warlord kept caged and bound near at hand. The shamans mixed upon the stone the blood of men and women snatched from villages, dwarves captured in battle, unlucky halflings, unhappy elves, and even gnomes. They smeared it on the faces of the goblin chieftans and the all the orc elders, and the gnolls lapped at it as it pooled around the stone.
Weariness of War
Weariness weighed upon the allies. Fields, groves, and vineyards fell into neglect as the war continued to siphon off the able-bodied. What food supplies and resources could be spared went to feed the war effort. In the three Uleks, prices for goods and services exceeded the common person’s purse; many went hungry. The peoples of the Principality entreated the prince for an end to the seemingly ceaseless battles. The treasuries were spent, the war chests long empty, and only by raising taxes and tariffs could the Prince Corond Olinstaad continue the campaigns. In the eighth year of the conflicts, people began to murmur against Gyrax; some spoke openly of appealing to Keoland and returning to the Lion Throne.
The goblinkind also suffered. Kristryd’s “circle of death” left them starved for resources and desperate for solutions. Hungry orcs fought with goblin and kobold tribes beneath the mountains, and to the victors went the flesh of the victims. Starved hosts looked down from the mountains and out to the west. Their eyes fell upon the County of Ulek, and they coveted the flocks, the herds, fields, and the orchards of that goodly land.
The Old Faith druids of the County spoke loftily of peace, neutrality, and balance. From the beginning of the conflict, the County participated only under pressure from their Ulek neighbors, and they cooperated in Kristryd’s campaign to purge the mountains only because of the bloodguilt they owed for the Prince Consort of Celene—for his blood had been spilled in Druid’s Defile, not far from Courwood. For the duration of the war, the County provided support, primarily to the Principality, in the form of food supplies to feed the armies. They sent druids to heal the wounded and add what they might to the efforts of the war.[i] They took little thought for their own defense, and they had little resistance to offer as the hordes of the lower Lortmil Mountains swept down upon their lands.
Hroth waited until the month of Harvester when the granaries would be full and the cattle well-fed. Gnolls from the rocky ledges led the advance. They came yelping and baying out of their holes and, in no time, they overran the Triserron Rangers who guarded the pass called Druid’s Defile. A host of hungry orcs and goblins followed. Goblins, orcs, gnolls, and hobgoblins flowed together into the narrow pass and marched west, toward the rich fertile lands of Ulek. Driven on by hunger and desperation, they crashed up against those forts and keeps the County of Ulek had built under Kristryd’s plan to stop up the pass. They scaled the walls, leapt over battlements, threw up ladders, and savaged the defenders. The mountains disgorged and vomited up more hordes from the bowels of the earth. The whole length of the pass rang with war horns and the pounding beat of battle drums. Many thousands of goblinkind, all hungry for plunder, descended and spilled out on the County of Ulek.
The onslaught came so fast and so unexpectedly that the alliance could scarcely muster any response. The raiders overran and ravaged all the lands between the mountains and the Kewl. They burned farms and villages, slaughtered the livestock, and looted the granaries.
The inhabitants of the County fell back before them, fleeing as they might, to take refuge in the walled cities, fortified manors, keeps, and strongholds of the various baronies. The raping horde moved faster than the refugees, cutting off their escape to Tringlee and Kewlbanks, forcing many to flee for Jurne. Those unable to travel the distance quickly enough became playthings for the goblinkind; their corpses littered the land. Fleeing men-folk still choked the roads to Jurne when the yammering hordes began to close upon them. The refugees abandoned their burdens, left their wagons behind, and fled with nothing but their loved ones for the protection of the city walls. Not that the walls offered much protection. They were neither high nor thick.
Though the city boasts itself the oldest continually inhabited city of the Flanaess, beautiful Jurne never suffered siege before the onslaught of 506 CY.[ii] Her citizens took pride in the city’s well-swept wide streets, its sparkling fountains, its colorful flower gardens, it’s exotic market squares, and its clever gnomish architecture, but they gave little thought for its defenses.
Jurne was not a large city. Less than ten thousand men along with some clans of gnomes and halflings lived within its walls. During the siege, that population swelled up ten times the number. The city so proud of its clean streets, pure fountains, fragrant flower gardens, and well-planned sewers quickly found itself suffocating in the stench of overcrowding, human waste, and an immediate food supply crisis.
The first of the mountain hordes to reach the walls came as wild raiders and killcows, not an organized army with siege equipment, well-disciplined ranks, or any strategy to execute a successful siege. They took more interest in the abandoned wains and wagons left behind by the fleeing refugees than in laying siege to the city, and they exhausted themselves squabbling over the spoils rather than scaling the walls of Jurne. They encamped about the city, shot at the defenders on the walls, and lobbed the severed heads of their victims over the gates.
The Count Palatine of Ulek summoned the druids. They performed their ancient rites and made war against the attackers as druids will. The besiegers found themselves terrorized by mauling lions, hampered by sudden violent changes in weather, struck by thunder, tripped and entangled by roots, vines, and branches of growing things. Walls of thorns grew up all around the perimeter of the city. Plagues of stinging insects and biting flies appeared, as if out of nowhere, and harassed the besiegers.
On the tenth day of the siege, Hroth arrived with his elite force of trained hobgoblin warriors. Unlike the orc, goblin, and gnoll warbands that preceded them, the hobgoblins came marching in disciplined ranks, organized under commanding officers. They marched to the beat of drum and blore of horn, and their deep voices boomed out cadences calling for the death and dismemberment of their enemies.
The orc captains forsook their vows of fealty, rose up against the new arrivals, and defied Hroth, “Turn back your soldiers. We came first to this place, and all the plunder belongs to Gruumsh.” Hroth gave the order and his ranks closed on the orcs. A short skirmish left dead orcs and goblins on the battlefield and the orc captains slain as well.
“Now unless anyone else has a better plan, let’s take down this wall!” Hroth declared. The host of besieging humanoids cheered wildly, casting their renewed allegiance behind the warlord.
Horth’s hobgoblins began to fashion ladders and battering rams. To these the druids applied their arts, making their ladders spring with tendrils and vines that entangled the one climbing. Likewise, battering rams rotted away and splintered as they slammed against walls magically reinforced by spell-craft stone.
On the fourteenth day, Jurne’s lookouts spotted the great wings of a giant eagle from the direction of Tringlee. Hroth’s archer’s shot at it, but the eagle wheeled about the sky far beyond their bowshot. Then it dove for the safety of the walls. A shout went up in the city, for this was no common bird, but a certain friend and ally of the His Noble Mercy, the Count Palatine of Ulek. Soldiers surrounded the great bird with cheers as it lit upon the courtyard of the citadel. The Count Palatine came forth to hear what tidings the new arrival brought him.
“I came hither whence I did hear the tidings,” the giant eagle spake. “Fear not Noble Mercy. Already the muster from Tringlee sets out, and the Duke Gallowagn sends what cavalrymen he can spare to thy succor. Behold! Are they not already nigh by way of Kewlbanks, three days ride, four at most?”
“What of the Prince Corond?” The anxious Count Palatine asked. “Comes there help from the Principality?”
“Nay! Look not to that vain hope. Half their number remains yet deep in the mountains whilst the remainder takes the field east of the hills to hold his border. Other allies we must summon forth.”
“Our spells are exhausted,” the Count Palatine lamented. “Yet the walls may hold longer than the stores of bread. We have not yet felt the grip of famine, but we have already emptied our granaries and all our stores too.”
“Stay thyself and hold thy walls but a few days, a week at most,” the eagle assured the Count Palatine. “Salvation comes.”
The Sior Kerrita
As events unfolded, Jurne did not need to hold the walls for a full week or even a few days. On the fifteenth day of the siege, druids making their way from Silverwood called up a heavy fog to blanket the Kewl River. A herd of centaurs emerged from Silverwood, quietly crossed the river some few miles upstream from Jurne, unobserved in the fog. With them came a troop of sylvan elves, armed with bows and spears. When the fog abruptly lifted, revealing the bright light of the midday sun, the centaurs charged down on the besiegers. The baying of their horns and the thundering of their hooves terrified the goblins. So sudden and unexpected came the attack that even Hroth was caught off guard. His hobgoblins forgot their training, dropped their weapons and gear and fled for the mountains with Hroth cursing and shouting at them all the way. The centaurs circled Jurne, splashing along the banks of the Kewl. The sylvan elves struck hard, singing as they did, like women in the field on the day of harvest.
Those within the city crowded onto the walls to watch the spectacle. The battle unfolded all about them, on every side of the city, including the banks of the river. A thousand gave chase to ten thousand. The centaurs pursued the retreating horde across the Ulek plains. The terrified gnolls, goblins, orcs, and hobgoblins shed their swords, shields, packs, bags, and equipment as they fled before the thundering hooves. The litter of their gear stretched more than a mile. The centaurs tirelessly gave chase as long as the sun remained in the sky that day. They cut the goblins down as they overran them, stampeding them beneath their hooves. All the while, a giant eagle careened about, swooping down now and again to pluck a terrified goblin up in its talons, lift it high into the sky, and drop it from a height.
The Count Palatine declared the festival of Sior Kerrita to commemorate the day when the centaurs of Silverwood crossed the Kewl River and saved the people of the County. The festival of Sior Kerrita is still celebrated to this day, once every seven years, in the manner of the Old Faith.[iii]
[i] Gary Holian, Erik Mona, Sean K. Reynolds, Frederick Weining, Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, (Wizards of the Coast, 2000), 117.
[ii] Sobhrach, “The Lortmil Mountains,” Oerth Journal 2:14-19; Robert J. Kuntz, Nigel Findley, “Junre,” The Fate of Istus WG8(TSR, 1989).
[iii] Paul Duggan, Into the Unknown, (Wizards of the Coast: Living Greyhawk SHE6-05).
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Artwork ithueldar: Centaur