The Hateful Wars: Chapter Thirty-Eight
“Now the rats flee as the ship sinks,” Urgush remarked to himself. Tidings of the battle of Riechsvale had travelled quickly through the mountains. “Gather around me,” the half-blood summoned the leaders of those few clans that yet remained under his sway. He tried to imagine how Hroth might rally their hearts if he were present. He chose his words accordingly. “Hear what I will say. I won’t wait here to be buggered by bearded dwur boys and frolicking olvin ass-lickers.” He lifted his eyes reverently in the direction of the distant Yatils even though they remained far out of sight from where he stood on the high slopes of the northern Lortmils. “Am I not the servant of the great witch? Time to leave these stinking dwur-shit holes and join her fight against those putz-sucking Perrenlanders. Then we will eat and drink without fear, and she will feed us the flesh of men!”
With inspiring words like this, he rallied those tribes and clans that remained yet loyal to him. Urgush gathered up the treasure of gemstones he had stolen from the treasuries of Dengar. He loaded the precious cargo on wagons with many other treasures, indeed, all the treasures of his tribe and those beneath him—a lovedrury to place before the archmagis.
Urgush dared not lead his meager host along the roads of the dwarven kingdoms. He brought them instead over the Kron Hills. They passed uncomfortably close to the borders of Celene. They crept along beneath the wide-spreading boughs of mighty Roanwoods, where no road winds. They made their way swiftly and in silence, as best they could. The gnomes they encountered fled before them. At length, Urgush descended onto the Veluna High Road as he had done before many years earlier. On the previous occasion, he marched his host boldly (and foolishly) against Celene. This time, he turned north toward the lands of Vol.
None rose up to challenge them until they reached the border. At the edge of the theocracy, a formidable keep called Castle Hagthar stood as a resolute sentinel straddling a steep uplift in the land overlooking the Veluna High Road where it crossed the border. A certain Knight of Veluna called Sir Clayborne commanded the garrison and kept the watch.
Urgush and his horde laid siege to Castle Hagthar on the first day of Planting (CY 507). They far outnumbered those within the walls, but the strength of the fortification and the height which it commanded gave the defenders every advantage. Urgush sent his goblinkind to scale the escarpment and take the walls, but the defenders repelled his fang-faced soldiers with arrows, boulders, flaming pitch, and scalding oil.
Urgush sent reconnaissance missions to strip the lands about to build siege equipment, but his reconnaissance missions never returned from the elven woods. By a stroke of good fortune, he captured a clutch of trolls and forced them to hurl rocks against the battlements and to beat a roan ram against the gates while his goblins wasted volleys of arrows launched over the walls. From time to time, Urgush came out and brandished the Red Medusa shield. Not only did the site of the shield inspire his followers, it terrified the men defending the walls. Inevitably, one of them turned to stone. The trolls took turns trying to shatter the petrified soldier with hurled rocks.
Sir Clayborne sent urgent summons to the allies. He dispatched messages to Enstad, to Gilmorack, and to Dengar, beseeching them to break the siege. If Kristryd had received the message, she might have hastened some relief, but she had fallen at Riechsvale. Behind her she left the forces of Gilmorack stretched so thin they could scarce guard their own vaulted halls, much less offer assistance to the Velunese. “Besides,” the chieftans at Gilmorack observed, “the halls of Dengar are closer to Hagthar; let the duty fall to the neighbors.”
Meantime in Dengar, the new undermountain king, Thane Grallsonn, received the summons with disinterest. “I have not yet sufficiently consolidated my power,” he observed. “Nor can I risk sending off another contingent until my brothers return from the south. Are the heads of ten Volman worth the blood of a single Dengar dwarf? Not according to my exchange rates! If the goblins want to flee, I say, ‘Let them flee.’ So much the better for us!”
Nor did the summons move the heart of the castellan at nearby Dorob Kilthduum. The priestess Gilvgola who resided there might have led a troop of axes to the rescue, but on word of Kristryd’s fall, dark dreams and visions of the future haunted her. She advised the castellan seal the gates of the fortress and withdraw the bridge. This he did, so the summons found no welcome. Meantime, Gilvgola travelled south to make her rounds.
Nor came any answer from Celene.
The Priests of Rao
There were living near Hagthar, in those days, some holy men of Rao who heard about the siege. One of their high priests led a dozen of these to Castle Hagthar and prevailed upon Sir Clayborne, saying, “Let us go down to the euroz and jebli and speak words of peace with them. Surely Rao will smile upon our efforts.”
Pious Sir Clayborne, a paladin of St. Cuthbert, doubted the efficacy of such an effort. He thought not much of the ways of the holy men of Rao, but neither did he feel it fit to deny them that which they asked. They appeared as wise men with long beards and flowing robes, and over their faces they wore the mask of Rao. “Who am I to naysay men of god?” Clayborne conceded.
The twelve holy men descended to face Urgush beneath a flag of parley. Urgush took them, one and all, and impaled them on stakes before the walls of Castle Hagthar, one man per day. Each day he said, “Open your gates and surrender your walls! My people will pass through your lands peaceably. But if not, tomorrow I impale another of your raggedy men, and the day after that, another.” After twelve days, twelve martyrs of Rao hung limply upon sharpened stakes set into the ground before the walls of Hagthar.
Alone at Castle Hagthar
Urgush smeared their blood upon an altar, burned the choice fats and entrails, and offered prayers to the Yatil Queen, but she did not answer him. The Velunese watching from the walls turned their prayers to St. Cuthbert and Heironeous. The siege continued for nine months. Travel between Veluna and Enstad came to a halt. Reinforcements from Veluna came, as did allies from the Kron Hills gnomes, but the silence of the elves and the dwarves became a matter of deep offense to the Velunese.
Urgush employed goblins to undermine the walls. They might have succeeded had they not gone astray and missed the castle. By night, Urgush sent kobolds to scale the walls and creep in through arrow loops and balistaria. They slit the throats of what sleeping guards they found before being discovered and tossed over the walls. Urgush brought a band of ogres and set them to work heaping stones to create a siege ramp, and this enterprise kept his forces busy most of the summer.
The orcs and goblins hunted the hillsides for game meat, but they found not enough. By the end of the summer, the army had exhausted their supplies, eaten the kobolds and smaller goblins, and started to eat their way through the larger ones. Meanwhile, the men in the fort had all they needed, and plenty more in supplies, for Urgush could not pen them in so long as his soldiers remained below the escarpment.
By Sunsebb, Urgush and his goblins completed an enormous sloping siege ramp reaching to the top of the escarpment and a second one that laid up against the castle’s wall. As they sounded their horns and rushed up the ramp to finally take the walls, gnome sappers provided by Father Furduch detonated magical explosives cleverly concealed beneath the ramps. The detonations turned the piles of stones into a cascading landslide which buried the charging soldiers. Those waiting below to take their turn at the ramps also disappeared beneath the collapse of tumbling stones.
The dust settled. Urgush wailed and clutched at his head. That night, under the cover of darkness, he slunk away with the remainder of his hungry army, back into the Lortmil Mountains.
The Velunese who held that fort for nine months should have had a song to commemorate the deed, but their heroism went mostly unnoticed. What did not go unnoticed was the failure of Kristryd’s alliance to come to their aid. The Velunese College of Bishops convened and voted to officially withdraw from the effort. Thus the pious Velunese washed their hands of the Hateful Wars.
Based upon the tale of Castle Hagthar in Jeff McKillop, “Verbobonc: The Viscounty Part Two,” Oerth Journal 9:4-10.
Artwork: Cerasi Helm’s Deep
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