The Hateful Wars: Chapter Thirty-Seven
“This war of yours may profit the dwarves, but my people suffer! Unhappily we joined your alliance. Now our lands have been raped while yours remain whole and untouched.” The Count Palatine spoke from bitterness of heart.
Kristryd replied with sympathy, “Peace to you and upon all that is yours. They caught us unprepared this once, but we will not suffer it to happen again.”
Several months had elapsed since the siege. The queen of Gilmorack and her retinue did not arrive in the County until Ready’reat. By then, Jurnre’s wide streets had been swept clean, the fountains sparkled again, the gardens had been prepared and pruned, and the market squares restored. Yet the dwur queen’s eye had not failed to notice the ravaged lands all about. Her journey took her past burned-out villages, ransacked farmsteads, orchards stripped bare, and vacant-eyed, broken people. What will they eat this winter? Where will they find shelter from the rains? she wondered.
Strategy in Jurnre
Kristryd summoned a council of the alliance in Jurnre and promised assistance to those who had lost homes, farms, and villages during the raids. Her father and her brothers came up from Gyrax. Duke Gallowagn’s daughter Nevallewen arrived from Tringlee, demanding reparations. Nevallewen spoke on her father’s behalf, “You drove them out of the mountains and into our lands. Villages are burnt, granaries looted, vineyards trampled, and people slain. Who will compensate for loss of life and home?”
“We are at war!” Kristryd answered boldly, irritation punctuating her words. As much as she admired the duke, she did not like Nevallewen, and she made no attempt to hide her distaste for the elfess. “We have all suffered. Don’t speak to the dwur about your losses. The blood of our folk stains the stones above and below because, when there is a job to be done, by Moradin’s hammer, we dwarves get it done! All of us have paid a heavy price.”
“That may be so,” the duke’s daughter conceded. She lowered her voice, as if sharing a globtale’s gossip, “But we have heard that the dwarves fight among themselves beneath the mountains.”
“Idle rumors! Nothing more,” the Prince Corond growled. His tone implied a threat.
Kristryd exchanged a worried glance with Bagbag. Does the whole alliance now know of Dengar’s treason and the battle at Bennoth Tine? She quickly changed the subject, “This raid undoes much of our labor! The hordes have resupplied. We shall not again suffer them to break out upon the lowlands.”
“Do you offer some assurance?” noble Nevallewen asked. “Or has the time come to turn back to Keoland and beg Lion Throne’s protection?”
Prince Corond bared his teeth and scowled at that remark so fiercely that the elfess looked away and returned to her seat. The prince took the speaker’s stone and said, “My axes, already, I have spread too thin. I cannot be expected to hold down both sides of the mountains and battle in their belly all at the same time.” He threw his hands into the air for emphasis, “If giants or trolls came upon my lands, they would surely find me squatting with my britches around my ankles.”
Nevallewen blanched at the uncouth expression, but Kristryd smirked. She had rarely seen her father so flustered. Taking up Nevallewen’s tactics, she pressed the Prince of Ulek further, “Father! The dragon’s share of my own host remains locked in stalemate at Bennoth Tine; the few that remain hold the gates of Gilmorack lest Urgush come. Who will secure the west if not Ulek? We cannot rely only upon Chalcedor and Hoch Dunglorin! Father, you must put more skin in the game.”
“Tell your blooming lady to put some of her fair skin in the game,” the prince grumbled.
The remark stung, and for a moment Kristryd felt she lost her footing. Only for a moment. Clearing her throat in regal manner, she replied, “If we speak of her Fey Majesty, then know this: Celene has already reinforced the line and doubled the fairy kingdom’s numbers all the way down the Handmaiden and Jewel to the Mill at Altimira. The elves fight and fall no less than the dwarves.”
“The line is too long, our numbers too few,” the prince protested helplessly. “At the very least, for the love of Berronar’s bosom, give me the cooperation of the Pomarj Lords! Else we leave the back door standing open!”
Kristryd did not return to Gilmorack or Bennoth Tine that winter. She and Bagbag spent the rainy months in Gyrax with her father and her brothers Orin and Olin. They laid plans for the spring and the disposition of the armies. At Kristryd’s behest, the prince placed the stronger forces of the Royal Army on the west side of the mountains to prevent a repeat of the autumn raids. At the prince’s behest, Kristryd made one more desperate appeal to the Pomarj Lords. Again, they paid her entreaties no heed.
Kristryd placed the main strength of her father’s army west of the mountains to defend the Uleks, for she supposed that, whatever spoils the tribes carried away in the last raid must be exhausted by spring. Only a matter of time until they struck again. She was in no wise prepared for the word of the scouts, “A host descends from the mountains and marches east down Druid’s Defile!”
“You have brought us to the brink of ruin! We could lose the Principality!” Kristryd’s brothers Orin and Olin complained. “Pride has blinded you sister. Now we see why a dwuress should not rule.”
“The Principality will not fall little brothers,” Kristryd pretended to laugh off the affront. “You’ll yet see! When I have vanquished the foe, I shall charge you an assything of gelt for such saucy words.” Despite the confident bluster, her heart felt sick with dread. She had, indeed, made a terrible blunder. If the alliance been prepared for war in the east, they might have met the armies of Hroth in that narrow pass and massacred them. As the situation stood, however, they had need to defend the Principality.
Only the fortress called Defile’s End stood between goblinkind and the Jewel River Valley. Outnumbered, two-score goblins to every man, the defenders of that worthy fortress looked out over their battlements in dismay as the bowels of the mountains disgorged upon them. The soldiers might have been overrun in a single night if not for the heroism of one Captain of the Watch called Javis Harn. This man rallied the fort and spoke words of courage, urging his soldiers to die and die well rather than abandon their posts. Fourteen days Javis Harn and his heroes held the walls while the Principality mustered. In years thereafter the fort was renamed “Heroes’ Hold” in honor of their bravery and resolve.
Muster at Riechsvale
While those noble souls at Heroes’ Hold yet held the walls, Kristryd and her father hastily cobbled together men and halflings from Prinzfield, gnomes of Treehome, the remaining part of the Royal Army, including her father’s personal Adamantine Guard and hastened north. She sent urgent summons to the rangers and woodsmen of Courwood and, with Bagbag’s help, a message to her Fey Majesty in Celene by means of magical courier. Will Yolande send help? Kristryd’s stomach soured at the thought that her one-time friend would let them perish.
A small hodgepodge army came together under the standards of the Principality. The troops pitched their camps on the plains near Urgo’s Mine and Foghollow. They made their stand at the mouth of the wide valley called Riechsvale, some day’s march from the Mill of Altimira.
Kristryd inspected the camp. Bamadar strode proudly beside his queen, swaggering in his armor and weapons as if he was Clangeddin himself. Kristryd also took the field, gird in her mithril armor, her shield upon her arm and her spear in her hand.
A warm breeze from the south fluttered the banners and pendants. As the sun began to sink behind the mountains, scouts returned from reconnaissance. “A horde of jebli and euroz have joined, one to another, tribe after tribe, until the number of the soldiers we could scarcely guess. Not hundreds, but many thousands!” the halfling scout said.
“Speak plainly,” the Prince Corond Olinstaad demanded. “What number? Five thousand?”
“Twice that,” the halfling squeaked. “They have overrun Defile’s End. They follow close upon our heels and will march through the night. They will be upon us before the dawn.”
Kristryd looked around at the encampment and fortifications. She and her father had assembled less than half that number. She smiled grimly. Summoning the captains and commanders, she roused them with steel spirit and brave words, “This is the battle for which I have long waited—the fruit of our hard labors these eight years. The rats forsake our mountains. Now is the tipping point. We have lanced the wound and squeezed the pus out from the infection.” With words like this, she raised their spirits and set their resolve more firmly. Likewise, the Prince Corond stirred them with similar slogans, “Tonight, we fight for the Principality! If we fall, so do all those homes from here to Thunderstrike and Havenhill.” Then came the battlepriests with their blessings, anointing the soldiers with oil, splashing them with holy ale, and smearing their helms with the blood of sacrifices.
Engineers and stone masons erected barricades, dug out pits, and raised short defense towers. Darkness fell. A long tense night of watching ensued. Soldiers checked and rechecked weapons and gear. Archers pulled at the bowstrings, testing their draw. Halfling slingers counted and recounted the smooth stones in their pouches. The heavy infantrymen laced up shirts of adamantine chainmail, pulled helmet straps tight, and bound up iron-shod boots.
Both moons rode high by the time the host arrived, but even the keen-eyed halflings could scarcely see the goblinkind as they took the field across the vale. The goblins crept silent as the evening mist until they had come half the way across the vale where they met the first volleys. Then they struck flame to torches and lifted them aloft, lighting torch to torch, until the whole valley seemed ablaze. Under the canopy of licking flame and red light, they rushed forward with the sound of the horns, drums, and shrill screams.
A Worthy Song
Bagbag and the warmages met the host with spells, striking at the advance ranks with lightning, fire, and unseen arrows. Their dweomercraft flashed in the darkness like the flashing of a summer storm, and still the goblins came.
“I like not these odds,” the Prince Corond Olinstaad remarked as he peered into the darkness. The light of the goblin torches revealed their numbers. “We may well die this very night.”
“Then let’s make our deaths worthy of a bard’s song,” brash young Bamadar boasted.
“I don’t care for songs like that,” Kristryd replied pensively. She swept her black curls away from her eyes and tucked them beneath her helmet. “Here they come!” she exclaimed as the torches drew nearer. The ground shook under the pounding feet of the advancing horde.
“Archers at the ready!” the Prince Corond commanded.
“Listen!” Kristryd interrupted. Above the din of drums and war screams, she heard the familiar sound of single horn of Celene, winding in the sky. She lifted her own Celenese horn to her lips and answered the call. By the light of the two moons, she saw the distant wings of hippogriffs spread against the sky. Her heart soared with hope and delight.
Swooping down from the darkness, the cavalry of Celene descended on the charging ranks. Darrion led the dive. The hippogriffs pierced the night with their shrieks, scattered the advancing troops, and broke the front line. Cavalry officers mounted upon the bird-horses struck furious blows with lances and swords. Fastaal Dothmar rode at the head of the queen’s cavalry, wielding fearsome, flashing Concluder. A chaos of beating wings, ripping talons, stampeding hoofs, and clashing steel collided with goblin, orcs, and hobgoblins. The front ranks turned back and fell beneath the stampeding feet of those who followed.
One great orc rose up and hurled his heavy spear. The point found its mark and unseated Darrion from the saddle of Emolasmairim. That worthy captain of Celene dropped into the midst of the press. They hacked the cavalry officer to death. The dwarves later found his nearly unrecognizable body, trampled and torn, among the dead.
With the elves came Kristryd’s friends. Onselvon of Celene. The elvish wizard arrived with a small company of warriors. He offered his services as warmage alongside trueheaded Bagbag, and the two of them hurried to concoct what further spells they might employ. Kristryd’s friends, Archosian, Xaxalander, and Peralay greeted her too. “We cannot leave all the glory to the dwarves lest Kristryd’s head swells to bursting,” young Archosian jested.
The battle lasted the rest of that night and into the day. The allies hoped that the rising of the sun would grant them fresh advantage, but with the morning light came heavy dark rain clouds, carried on the wind up from the Azure. For the duration of the day, the goblinkind pushed their way forward.
“We are overmatched,” the Prince Corond Olinstaad admitted as sun sank again behind the mountains again. “We may hold them another night, but we will yet die in this valley!”
Kristryd agreed, “Let this valley be the place we rest our bones.”
It might have proven to be just so. Hard pressed were the defenders that night, and none slept. Bagbag and Onselvon waged war with spellcraft until their spells fell silent, both mages utterly exhausted. “Had I the time to prepare, I would raise a mighty ally for our cause!” Bagbag sighed to the queen confidentially. “Alas, I fear that I have failed my lady.”
So the magic users spent their spells, and the archers, likewise, spent their arrows. Still the goblins came. The prince’s heavy infantry formed a wall of axes with their own armored bodies and warded the hateful creatures back.
On the third day the tides turned with the arrival of a fresh column of dwarven soldiers. “Who are these?” Bamadar asked as the new arrivals marched onto the field under the sound of horns and pipes.
“By Ulaa’s grace,” Kristryd exclaimed. “Those are the colors of Dengar and pendants of my husband Grallwen. Beyond all hope, my sons have come.”
Kristryd’s sons Dwalyn and Pegli led five hundred doughty warriors onto the field. Indeed, those beards had set out from Dengar to march to the Principality months ago. Only by happy coincidence and the design of the gods did they come upon the time and place of battle.
Beneath the pavilion of Prince Olinstaad, Dwalyn and Peg knelt before their mother. “Your majesty,” they said, “We have come! Moreover, we have left your son Grallsonn on the throne of Dengar, may he reign as long as stone endures! Evrast has been banished. Dengar is united.”
“How? By what woodness or miracle?” Bagbag wanted to know.
“The woodness of our grandfather, Thane Evrast, was miracle enough. The elders of Dengar banished the undermountain king. He left his halls with the host of those few that remained loyal to him, and we closed the gates behind them,” Dwalyn explained.
“This day, I have seen the glory of Balnorhak restored!” Prince Corond Olinstaad wiped tears from his eyes, “Long live my grandson, Thane Grallsonn! Long live my daughter, Kristryd, Queen of the Lortmil Mountains!”
“As long as stone endures!” Bagbag echoed. They all took up the cheer, “As long as stone endures!”
Kristryd’s heart hammered inside her chest like Moradin’s hammer upon the anvil. She shook herself. “There will be time for toasts and cheers after the work at hand is done,” she reminded them. “First we go to finish these hateful wars.”
They did not finish the wars that day.
In the thick of battle, Kristryd fell at Bamadar’s side. He did not see it happen. None did except the one who struck her from behind, a certain treacherous dwarf from Dengar, one yet loyal to Evrast and carrying out his bidding. (For the deed he received a bag of gold and precious gems, and when the matter was discovered, some years later, he received the gibbet.)
Bamadar fought on boldly, assuming the queen and her guard to be yet safe behind him. He chopped through a clutch of hobgoblins and an ogre too, but when he turned back to find the queen, he saw her not, nor her guard. As the press of the battle bore him on, he shouted her name until his voice turned hoarse and could no longer make a sound.
At the end of it, a mass of the goblins lay heaped and strewn on the field of battle. The lesser part of the host turned back and fled into the mountains from whence they had come, but a greater part broke through the line and advanced into the south.
“Woe to us,” Prince Corond lamented. “Now the land lays naked with none to stop these gundyguts all the way down the Prince’s Road. They will loot and pillage a peaceful people and set all Prinzfield to the torch.”
To Jay Scott.
The battle of Riechsvale is mentioned in Anthony Pryor, Patriots of Ulek, WGQ1 (Wizards of the Coast, 1992), 12. Urgo’s Mine appears in Christopher Reed, Downward (Wizards of the Coast: Living Greyhawk, ULP1-04). The tale of Defile’s End and Heroes’ Hold is from Jay Scott’s “Order of Ulek” campaigns. Likewise, the “Mill of Altimira” is a non-canonical place name to mark the future location of the Free City of Altimira from Jay Scott’s “Order of Ulek” campaigns.
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