The Hateful Wars: Chapter Forty-One
The Lortmil Queen and her elven travelling companions turned aside from the road to avoid the siege of Hagthar still underway. “I have neither time nor strength of arms for such an entanglement now. Let the men of Veluna hold their own border,” she sighed. The detour took them east to Dorob Kilthduum where dwelt Gilvgola, the Sacred Heart of Berronar. The priestess had only just returned from her summer rounds, arriving back at the dwarven fort she called home on time for the moon of Brewfest. The corpulent priestess welcomed Kristryd as one might welcome a dear departed friend when found alive in a happy dream. The priestess offered up festival sacrifices of thanksgivings in addition to those of the holy day.
At the conclusion of the festivities, Kristryd sought counsel of Gilvgola, “I have taken a foolish oath in the names of Moradin, Berronar, and all the gods of my fathers. I spoke in haste and under sway of passion. I would now renounce my oath and have it annulled.”
The Sacred Heart smiled with pity upon Olinstaad’s daughter but shook her head resolutely. “If I had the power to annul oaths, I would be powerful indeed! You have sworn in the name of our Father and Mother. The matter remains between you and the gods. Who is Gilvgola to absolve you or annul your obligations?”
“By Berronar’s beard!” Kristryd cursed bitterly. “Then I have no recourse but to continue this hateful affair! If you cannot free me from this burden, you must help me carry it. Come with me to Gilmorack, you and all your best warriors too. The tide turned against us at Riechsvale. We must move with alacrity or lose all the stones for which we have labored these many years.”
The Sacred Heart gave thought before replying. “Already the castellan has sent away what axes we can spare. Already our young dwarves have fought for you, and many have fallen on faraway fields. Scarcely enough of us remain here to defend these walls or hold these lands about us. Even now Urgush lays siege to Hagthar, a few days march from here.”
“Yet you will come with me,” Kristryd insisted emphatically. “Ask Berronar, seek an oracle, fast and pray, divine what signs you must, but come with me you will! Mother! I need the gods with me if I am to satisfy the debt, and I need you beside me too.”
The Sacred Heart inquired of Berronar. The auguries were good. At the conclusion of the festival, Kristryd left Dorob Kilthduum with Gilvgola and the remaining warriors of that place, several hundred strong.
From Dorob Kilthduum the small army crossed over to Irondelve and recruited Father Furduch for the mission. The gnomish priest of Ulaa executed a few summersaults to express his delight over the unanticipated good news of Kristryd’s survival. “Salvations surely earned! From the dead you have returned!” he observed. Father Furduch came out with sixty gnome warriors, each one a veteran of the recent battles.
The path from Irondelve brought them north until the road to Tristane and to Devarnish, where Kristryd’s sons, Thane Grallwenson and Pegli, came out to meet her. They arrived at the crossroads of Devarnish with canopied pavilions under the noble pennants and colors of Dengar. A host of dwarven warriors lined either side of the road to cheer her approach. The fanfare of sixty trumpeters announced her arrival.
“Mother, have you returned from the halls of Dunathoin?” Pegli asked. “We have already observed the thirty days of mourning over you.”
“I yet live,” she said through tears, but she would say no more nor satisfy the curiosity of her sons. The young nobledwarves embraced their mother, kissed her, and wept over her. She too wept over them and clutched them tight to her breast. They told their version of all that had transpired at Riechsvale, how they sought for her with Bamadar, and how they despaired of seeing her again.
Kristryd pressed them for news of Dengar.
“Our ignoble grandfather has disowned us, and we have deposed him,” Grallwenson lamented. “He wanders the mountains, still seeking the anvil. Many remain loyal to him—a formidable host of greybeards. But we hold the lower halls, the upper halls, and the whole of the vale too. He and his troop dwell alone among the old stones of First Pillar.”
Kristryd turned to another matter of concern, “Where is your brother Dwalyn? Say not that he has perished!”
“Nay, not fallen mother. Rather he has risen above his station! We sent him to steward Gilmorack in your absence,” Pegli explained.
“We thought it best to hold one foot in that door before it closed. At least until matters be resolved,” Grallwenson added.
The undermountain queen nodded. “Upon such matters I have long reflected.” In truth, she had seen all these things already by means of the magical reflection in her silver-framed mirror.
Thane Grallwenson kissed his mother and returned to his new kingdom, but his brother Pegli and two dozen loyal young mountain dwarves who had only recently sprouted whiskers joined Kristryd’s growing company. She arrived in Gilmorack, some months later, sheathed in a spirit of wrath, flanked by three elven warriors, surrounded by several hundred axes from Dorob Kilthduum—every one of them of the old stock of Balnorhak. Behind these came Peg with his mountain dwarves and Father Furduch with his gnomes.
Dwalyn in Gilmorack
Dame Thresstone hastened to meet Kristryd as she approached the first gate. The old globtale faffled and blustered, “I thank the gods! We feared that you had passed to the halls of our fathers! But now you have returned not one moment too early! Traitors conspire against your throne and against your son Dwalyn who stewards it.”
Kristryd ignored the lickspigot and left her groveling on the pavement of the gatehouse among the boots of the warriors. The queen entered the audience hall and took her place upon the throne of Gilmorack. Wasting no time, she summoned the old herald of Thane Redmod and bade him present himself before her. The reprobate came trembling and bowed himself to the floor, scraping before the undermountain queen. Kristryd drew out her short sword from its scabbard and placed it across her knees. The herald kissed at her booted feet.
“Did you think you could hide your designs from one such as me?” she demanded. “Do I not see deeds done in darkness? Do I not hear words whispered in the ear?”
“Nay your majesty,” the old herald protested.
“Get up on your feet!” she commanded cold as ice. “Do your job and herald the entrance of Thane Dwalyn, undermountain king of Gilmorack.”
The herald rose to his feet and announced the entrance of the very dwarf against whom he had so maliciously plotted, “Thane Dwalyn Kristrydson.” Young Dwalyn knelt before his mother for the christening.
“He is yet a child!” Dame Thresstone objected. All pretense of honeyed-tone was gone from her voice, and she keaked shrill. “Have we no worthy dwarves of the stock of Gilmorack that we must kneel to a halfblood boy from Dengar?”
“Teach your tongue some wisdom!” Kristryd snapped. “Who is Dame Thresstone and what is her house? Does Dame Thresstone hold the loyalty of the warriors and hardhewers? Do they chant her name or recite her victories in odes? No? I thought not!
“Behold! I am the sovereign here: Undermountain Queen, Master of the Dwur of War, Wrath of Celene, Fiend Slayer, Rider of the Griff, Champion of the Nineteen Battles, Jailer of the Witch, Scourge of the Mountains, Lady of Bennoth Tine, Hammer of the Lortmil Anvil, and the Throne of the Vaulted Halls! I bequeath my crown to the one I will.”
Dame Thresstone shrank back as the Sacred Heart of Berronar stepped forward to confirm the matter, bringing an end to all objections. The high priestess conducted the solemnities of coronation and made the transfer official with binding oaths and vows in the name of Moradin—the father and king of all dwarves. As Kristryd placed the crown of Gilmorack upon Dwalyn’s head, she instructed him in the hearing of everyone present, “If ever anyone challenges your throne, you shall open the door of this bird cage that hangs here beside your chair and release wicked old Gretyll. She will deal with your adversaries according to your word. And believe me, no sigil will ward her off!” Kristryd sealed these instructions with a menacing glare at Dame Thresstone and a private wink of the eye for her son. Dwalyn received the crown of Gilmorack from his mother’s hands on the thirteenth day of Fireseek (508 CY) and, at the same time, took away from his brother Grallwenson the title of youngest dwarf to ever sit upon a Lortmil throne. Dame Thresstone disappeared that same day and never returned to Gilmorack.
Having settled matters in the vaulted halls, the queen turned her attention once again to affairs of the alliance. She dispatched letters to all members, announcing her “return from the dead.” She told them, “I have returned to fulfill my vows. Pull the noose tight. Let no raiders descend to find succor or provision.” (The distribution of those missives explains the rumor of Kristryd’s resurrection. It was widely believed that Gilvgola had summoned her back from the halls of Dunathoin through some arcane ritual. They said she returned from the dead to fulfill her vows and finish her war against the goblinkind. Kristryd herself never denied the rumor. The story is thus told in popular versions of the saga even today.)
With her escort of heroes from Celene and warriors from Dorob Kilthduum, Dengar, Irondelve, and Gilmorack, Kristryd set out under the mountains and marched the Low Road south at the head of a formidable host. Some weeks later, they arrived at the underground fortress of Bennoth Tine where tolling of bells welcomed their arrival.
Bamadar hastened to meet the queen. He threw himself at her feet and begged her forgiveness for losing her on the field of battle. Kristryd bade him rise, drew him close, and whispered something in his ear. A grin lit his face.
She found old Bagbag sequestered away in his tower. He wiped from his foggy eyes the tears that formed at the sight of his one-time student. He ran his gnarled fingers through her unruly black curls, now streaked with grey. “We recited the laments in your name!” he exclaimed. “I received your letter as one receives a message from beyond the veil.”
“Could I leave the task unfinished? A thing is either done or it is not. There is no half done.”
Artwork: Colin Mayne: Gromlir
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