The Hateful Wars: Chapter Forty-Two
“The messenger has returned,” Bamadar announced. He had to shout to make his voice heard above the thrumming of rain on the oiled skin canopy stretched over the pavilion.
“Step in, Bammer, and dry your beard,” the queen summoned. The soggy soldier lifted the heavy fabric of the door flap and stepped into the dimly-lit pavilion. He shook his head and shuddered his shoulders like a dog shakes itself dry. Turning his attention to the thane’s table, he bowed before the queen. Kristryd reclined next to trueheaded old Bagbag. Her son Pegli sat on her other side. No others were present. “Well, you look comfortable and dry!” Bamadar observed.
“Don’t leave the man standing in the rain,” the queen scolded.
Bamadar raised his eyebrows in surprise. “You would have him enter your pavillion?” he asked for clarification.
“Before he melts or floats away,” she insisted.
Bamadar shrugged and stepped back out into the rain. A moment later he returned with the messenger, an equally soggy traveler, shivering with the cold. He stooped to enter through the low-cut canvas door flap. As the traveler stood to his full height, Pegli leaped to his feet in astonished disbelief. “Mother! That’s an orcblood!” he stated the obvious in protest.
“I recognize him,” Bagbag observed with distaste. He narrowed his eyes and sized the man up. “Claimed to be a Duchyman and a vinter.”
“Billy Locks of Gliddensbar, m’lords and lady,” the orcblood executed a quick bow toward the dwarves reclining at table. Somewhat self-consciously, he edged nearer to the hot coals burning on the open brazier at the center of the room. His pig-like eyes darted from face to face as he warmed himself. The glow of the hot coals burning cast a play of shadows which made his orcish features the more devilish.
“Mr. Locks has proven himself a servant most reliable,” Kristryd offered in his defense.
“One of your horse-flesh traders?” Bagbag asked with a dismissive snort.
Kristryd ignored him and focused her attention on the half-orc. “Were you able to deliver my invitation?”
Billy Locks nodded eagerly. “Yes, m’lady. That I did. Ol’ gundygut’s lonely ear went all atwitch with the news. He’ll take yer bait fer sure.”
“What’s this? With what have you baited the trap?” Bagbag asked.
“We are the bait,” the queen explained. She turned back to the half-orc, “How long before Hroth comes?”
“He’s gathered his headmen, and all the tribes too. They’ll be already on the march by now.”
“They won’t march in the rain,” Bagbag asserted.
“Oh, they’ll march in the rain, they will!” Billy Locks contradicted the wise loremaster. “Hroth’s promised plenty o’ spoils, and he tells them they’ll be wintering in Tringlee and Jurnre too.”
“Mother, what have you done?” Pegli asked wide-eyed and wary.
“How many does Hroth bring to the field?” Kristryd asked the spy.
“All of them!” the half-orc promised.
The watchman’s horn sounded from the yet-distant walls of Hoch Dunglorin. Rain obscured the view but apparently not so much that the approaching force could escape notice from atop the towers of the granite fortress. Rain-soaked Bamadar Kadarel lifted a horn to his lips and returned the call according to the signal of the alliance.
“Show them our pendants,” Bagbag urged. Two of the mountain dwarves in Kristryd’s company hoisted and unfurled the gonfalon of Gilmorack. Another lifted up the pendant of Dorob Kilthduum on behalf of Gilvgola and her axes, and Prince Pegli himself raised the arms of Dengar. Father Furduch’s gnomes lifted the ensign of Irondelve and the holy symbol of Ulaa. The banners fluttered and flapped in the stiff mountain wind. The rain soaked the fabrics. “Will they see the colors from this distance?” the old wizard asked. “Surely they can.” As if in reply to the query, more horns from the fortress bade them welcome.
“That’s the sound of a warm fire, dry clothes, a hot meal, and soft bed!” Bamadar laughed enthusiastically. The whole host of dwarves and warriors agreed, and they hurried on towards that hope, hunching under the wind and rain. Only the three elves and their Cooshee dogs seemed indifferent to the inclement weather.
Kristryd’s retinue ascended the prominence upon which sat the fort. Six strong young dwarves of Dorob Kilthduum bore a heavy-timber palanquin upon which the obese priestess reclined, protected from the rain by a canopy. Kristryd preferred to walk; she strode at the head of the party. A long line of soldiers followed. A proper road paved with enormous smooth limestone pavers, now slick with rain, led to a sturdy barbican that stood before a rain-swollen moat. From atop the battlements of that structure, the captain of the watch called out the challenge, “Who draws near to Hoch Dunglorin in time of war?”
“Don’t stand on your formalities Tyren!” Xaxalander, the roguish elf hero, sauntered to the front of the company. He spoke to the captain in the dwur tongue, for he recognized the fellow from his previous residence at the fort, some years past. “We come to you cold, wet, and hungry. Will you makeus shiver in the rain while you recite your protocols?”
Bagbag threw back the soggy hood over his head to reveal his hoary head to the captain. He growled, “Will you ask, ‘Who draws near? I will tell you. Olinsdotter, Undermountain Queen of Gilmorack and all her company! Gilvgola, Sacred Heart of our holy mother! Good Father Furduch and his fighting gnomes. Not to mention a certain irritable wizard who may turn you into something unpleasant if you delay us in the rain!”
The captain of the watch considered the small army of dwarves and gnomes still ascending the hill. He shook his head with apprehension, but another glance back to Bagbag’s scowling face persuaded him to expedite the matter. “As you wish. But you will not find your welcome so warm as you imagine,” Tyren replied cryptically.
“What’s he mean by that?” Pegli turned to his mother for some assurance.
The captain of the watch ordered his men, “Drop the bridge! Open the gates! Raise the portcullis!” Tyren gestured from his perch atop the barbican, bidding the new arrivals to pass. The horns sounded a royal fanfare. Heavy chains lowered a bridge of hewn logs to span the moat. The immense stone doors of the gates slowly swung outward, pivoting smoothly on polished stone hinge posts. Within the gatehouse, a strong iron portcullis with adamant bands rose to open the way into the fastness of Hoch Dunglorin.
A Cold Reception
Dwur soldiers occupying the walls and guarding the gates regarded the newcomers with stoic indifference. Bamadar ordered Kristryd’s small host of warriors to occupy the courtyard and stand at the ready until the quartermaster could show them to lodgings, but he afforded them the dignity of shelter beneath the colonnade.
Kristryd and her companions crossed the courtyard and entered unbidden into the polished granite hall of Thane Bolor Blackaxe. Noblemen and ambassadors of the alliance reclined at table before the powerful warlord. All eyes turned to look upon the rain-sodden newcomers. When they recognized Gilvgola and Kristryd, they leapt to their feet. Only Bolor Blackaxe himself remained seated at his place with Dame Thresstone standing at his side. The old dwurwife stood on the high dais adorned in all her finery. She smirked innocently at Kristryd and rested her hand upon the warlord’s shoulder possessively.
Contradicting and confused thoughts exploded in Kristryd’s head. Utterly flummoxed, she exchanged an indiscreet glance with Bagbag. The old wizard’s scowl betrayed his great displeasure. Grimacing to maintain some composure, Kristryd looked to her other travelling companions: Bamadar, Gilvgola, Xaxalander, Archosian, Peralay, Father Furduch, and her son Pegli. Their shocked expressions mirrored her own. None had foreseen this turn of affairs.
“You favor my halls once more with your presence,” Thane Blackaxe observed without warmth. It was neither the polite thing to say nor the proper way to address Kristryd or the high priestess of Berronar.
“You see,” Dame Thresstone hissed in his ear, yet loudly enough for all to hear, “The ursurper has risen from the dead.”
“Indeed! Scarce did I believe the reports. Now I see with my own eyes. Have you come for the war counsel Olinsdotter? Or have you come to retrieve your trophy?”
Kristryd’s eyes flashed with anger, “Of what trophy are we speaking?”
“That one of which you bade me swear not to speak,” Blackaxe spat his words. “That trophy which has now brought trouble on my house, disgrace on my name, and summons foemen to my gates.”
“Don’t blame him for spilling your little secret,” Thresstone purred. She ran her fingers through warlord’s curling mop of silver hair. “It’s not his fault. He thought you dead and his oaths dissolved. Besides, you should know that no one keeps secrets from me.”
“The anvil rests here?” the heavy priestess Gilvgola huffed. She reprimanded Kristryd to her face, “You should have disclosed this to me!”
“And to me,” Bagbag added sulkily.
Kristryd glared at her host. Cold menace flickered in her eyes. “Whether I be dead or alive, you swore by the goddess not to reveal this matter, and she will require it of you! Who else knows of this?”
“I know of it,” said a familiar voice. Durgeddin the Blacksmith stepped forward from the shadows behind the throne. “I’ll not leave Hoch Dunglorin without it.”
“Thane Evrast knows of it,” Thresstone said. “I myself sent him word. He comes now with an army of loyal Dengar dwur.”
“By the fire of nine hells! He shall not have it,” Durgeddin swore through clenched teeth.
“Nor his throne back!” young Pegli blurted out.
“Thus you have nicely turned us all, one against another,” Kristryd observed bitterly.
“Not against one another,” Thresstone replied. “Only against you, dear.”
Kristryd looked from Thresstone to Blackaxe to Bagbag to Gilvgola to Durgeddin. “The anvil belongs to none of us. It is Moradin’s gift, and he bestows it upon whomever he chooses. Let the counsel decide the fate of the anvil. As for me, my companions and I have come in all haste to warn you and to warn all the delegates that Hroth and his hosts are on the march again, not more than a few days behind us. We barely escaped their advance.”
A Desperate Plan
“Considering how many dwarves wish me dead,” Kristryd remarked to her three elven companions, “I should have either stayed dead or remained in Celene. But then again, I think Yolande prefers me dead too.”
“Not so. If my cousin wished you dead, you would already be,” young Archosian assured her.
“That’s scarcely encouraging,” Kristryd lamented.
Not everyone in the fortress regarded her so tepidly. Her brothers Orin and Olin had come for the counsel of war—another happy reunion with tears of joy. They brought with them companies of the Royal Army which now quartered in the fort. Their strength of arms coupled with that of her own fearsome entourage gave her advantage despite Dame Thresstone’s machinations. Gallowagn, the Duke of Ulek, (also present for the counsel) happily received her and her three elven companions. He gave the three Celenese heroes into the charge of his son, Grenowin, and daughter, Nevallewen. “We shall do what we can to make you comfortable despite the deprivations of Hoch Dunglorin.”
With Dame Thresstone snooping around the inner chambers of the fortress, Kristryd preferred to take lodging among the soldiers’ barracks in the outer defenses. Thane Blackaxe gave Kristryd and Bagbag the entire third floor of the west tower. “These chambers suit me fine,” Bagbag told the seneschal as he observed the sparsely furnished rooms. “I will need a chamber pot, a desk, a chair, a lamp, and a locking door. See to it.”
Kristryd took the room that overlooked the ramparts. Should siege come, as she expected it would, she would lose it to the defenders, but until then, the room afforded her a magnificent view of the mountains and the entrance to the canyon pass.
That first night in Hoch Dunglorin, Bagbag summoned her and Bamadar to his chamber for private counsel. The old wizard had already spread out his books and scrolls and begun scribbling his wards and sigils on the walls and on the floors. “You have quickly made yourself at home,” Kristryd observed.
“I would be prepared when the fight comes to us. Whether it be Evrast, Hroth, Hedvyg, or Durgeddin, or all of them together, I would be prepared,” the old wizard muttered. He wagged a finger at Kristryd and added, “As should you!”
“The anvil is no longer safe here,” Bamadar interjected. “So long as that nasty eyethurl has the ear of Thane Blackaxe, none of us will be safe here. She would return the anvil to Evrast and see the throne of Dengar returned to him as well.”
“Act quickly and decisively or we shall have war within these walls,” Bagbag warned Kristryd. “Tomorrow, convene the counsel and take command of the alliance. The duke will support you, and Blackaxe must submit to the duke’s will, for he is no true king but only a subject of the duchy. Declare yourself Queen of the Lortmil Mountains.”
“This is no time for jesting. I have no right to convene the counsel, nor will they hear me take false titles for myself. They’ll throw me from the ramparts,” Kristryd rolled her eyes.
“Let them try!” Bamadar boomed out. “By Clangeddin’s hammer and axe, no harm will befall you again so long as I stand beside you.”
Kristryd put her finger to her lips and whispered, “Speak softly. Spies are about, and all of our words might be overheard.”
“I have taken precautions. What we say in this room cannot be overheard, nor can any scrying spell pierce my wards,” Bagbag assured.
Despite the assurance, Kristryd continued in a whisper, “Until today, most of those here thought me dead and gone. Should I appear and call myself queen of the mountains, will they not rightly say I have gone mad with delusions of grandeur? In all our long centuries, no monarch has ever laid claim to all these peaks, and never has a dwarfess reigned over our people.”
“Bah!” Bagbag dismissed the objection with a vigorous shake of his head. He waved a hand as if to clear her words from where they hung in the air. “Think on the matter! You will only be stating the truth as it already stands. Your father follows your counsel as if you were his liege. He has dispatched his Adamantine Guard at your command, and your brothers are here to cast the vote on his behalf. Your own sons now hold the undermountain thrones. And you are indeed a daughter of the line of Balnorhak. Even the Sacred Heart grants you her blessing and speaks the oracle of Berronar over you. Who can object if you state the truth?”
“You know our people. The dwur will never consent to be ruled by a dwarfess. I am not Yolande …” Kristryd spluttered out a faffling string of additional objections but her trueheaded old friend was not finished. Talking over her, he continued, “Think on it my lady. This hour has long been coming, but now, my lady, my queen, now the hour is thrust upon you. If you hesitate even a day, we lose the anvil, the alliance, and the war.”
Kristryd stammered, “Bagbag, all this dabbling in arcana and spells and scribbling magical circles and stars has driven sanity from your old head. You speak sheer madness like some hoddypeak prophet.”
“Yes, daughter! Prophecy! This day has been foreseen! Even Hedvyg has foreseen it, and that is why she seeks your soul!” Bagbag replied. “Act now or put us all in peril.”
Bamadar sank to one knee and bowed his head before his queen. “Your majesty,” he said. “Show them strength. Your friends stand with you.”
Kristryd put a hand on the back of his bowed head, “Rise son of Kadarel.” The brash young warrior stood to his feet and hazarded a flirtatious wink.
Turning her silver-framed mirror over in her hands, Kristryd asked her trueheaded friend, “Are you prepared for Hedvyg?”
“If she comes, we will know. My wards will not allow her to enter this fort, no matter what her guise, without first alerting me to her presence.”
The counsel was not scheduled to convene until after Godsday, but Kristryd assembled an emergency session. “Hroth comes, and by the time we are scheduled to convene, we may already be under siege,” she explained. She ascended the speaking stone to stand before the assembly. She wondered how much the scandal of the anvil had hurt her, and how much more poison Dame Thresstone had mixed among her allies. By the gods, she thought to herself, I would rather face an angry dragon than stand before this room of globtales. Would that my father stood here beside me! She looked for her brothers’ faces among those gathered in the hall, hoping to bolster her confidence with their friendly eyes. Gods! What would Yolande do? she asked herself. She swallowed, took a deep breath, and burst into the words she and Bagbag had prepared the night before.
“Kristryd is not dead!” she declared before the assembly. “I live and breathe! I have returned from the halls of Dumathoin, and death flees from before me. Know me! I am the Hammer of the Gods. I am the Keeper of the Anvil. I am the Heart of the Mountains. I am the Fey Queen’s Wrath. I am the Undermountain Queen, the Mother of Kings over the thrones of Dengar and Gilmorack, and I am the daughter of Balnorhak and Ulek. I am queen over the Dwur of the Lortmil Mountains, and today, I lead you to victory and a conclusion of these hateful wars!”
Stunned shock froze the room. For long moments, none breathed. Kristryd did not flinch or waver. Her eye caught the face of her own bother Orin as he stared at her wide-eyed, his mouth hanging agape. There was Bamadar, grinning idiotically behind his whiskers. No one dared to speak. Then the high elf, Duke Gallowagn, stood to his feet and broke the silence with sincere acclamation, “Hail, Kristryd! Queen of the Lortmil Mountains! The Duchy of Ulek acknowledges the title.”
Chaos erupted. Angry shouts. Threats. Cursing and spitting. Dame Thresstone’s shrieking voice. On that signal, Pegli entered the chapel with the young dwarves of Dengar, all of them armed for battle and brandishing weapons. From the other end of the hall strode the looming girth of Gilvgola, leading the choice axes of Doroth Kilthduum. The scowling heavy-jowlled priestess raised her arms in threatening invocation. The room fell silent before her. She turned toward the one still standing upon the speaking stone and declared, “Hail, Kristryd! Queen of the Lortmil Mountains! The dwur of Dorob Kilthduum cast our allegiance with you, and Berronar grants her blessing.”
A gasp and murmur of dissent rippled through the room. Father Furduch hopped up to stand upon the bench where had been seated and proclaimed, “We mean what we say, and we say what we mean! Kron Hill gnomes say, ‘Long live the queen!’”
“Veluna casts no vote into the affairs of the dwur, but we support a strong and united alliance,” the priest of Rao said diplomatically despite having come to the counsel only to withdraw Veluna’s membership.
“The County of Ulek neither approves nor disapproves,” the ambassador from Jurnre said. “We only say, ‘Let there be an end to these wars.’”
“I speak not on behalf of the Fey Queen nor do I speak for my people,” Prince Archosian declared. “But the archers of Celene stand behind the queen.”
“As do I,” Xaxalander added, and Peralay said the same.
“The Principality of Ulek stands behind the queen!” Kristryd’s brother Orin said impulsively, but he quickly added, “At least until my father is present to ratify the matter.”
The smaller clan chiefs began to cave to the pressure. One consented, then another, and another, until the hall burst into such raucous applause that their enthusiasm took Kristryd herself aback. Gilvgola waddled her way through the cheering crowd and declared, “Tonight shall be a festival and coronation according to the old custom of kingmakers. I myself shall set the crown upon her head, and Berronar herself shall place her kiss upon the queen.”
Bamadar took the role of herald, “Behold the Lady of the Lortmils!” Other voices took up the chant, and soon the whole room was repeating her name. Slowly the chant evolved into the dwur word, “Victory! Victory! Victory!” A fresh rush of anxiety welled up in Kristryd’s heart. I shall be a wise and beautiful queen over them, as Yolande is for her people, she told herself, but she believed it not.
Not every dwarf joined the cheers and acclamations. Many shook their heads sullenly. Blackaxe, Durgeddin, and Dame Thresstone scowled and glowered at the others. Kristryd ignored their sulks and grimaces. She motioned for silence and continued her speech, “Today I bring you good tidings. Our alliance prevails. War is at an end! We are diverse peoples: dwarves, gnomes, men, elves, and halfling-folk too. Together, we build a strong tower, not fashioned from worked stones uniformly cut nor cemented together as a common people. True strength we build together from unity of purpose, stone upon stone, fitted together to form an unfailing bulwark.
“In the past, we have let our differences divide our efforts. Today we smelt away the dross of pride and bigotry and all that divides us. Today we reforge ourselves anew.
“Durgeddin, master smith of Balnorhak, stands here among us. To him I give charge over the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains. Let his hammer ring upon it again!”
Durgeddin dropped to his knees, his eyes welling with tears. He exclaimed, “My lady and my queen! I shall fashion a work worthy of Moradin.”
Dame Thresstone realized that things had gone too far. She could feel the ground collapsing under her feet. She spoke up, “I too hail my queen. I am at her service. As always, she possesses my loyalties.”
Kristryd raised an incredulous eyebrow. Several times she had seen Yolande execute the same graceful expression to dismiss the idle words of flatterers. “Your service will be required soon enough,” she replied without betraying any hint of emotion. Turning her attention to Bolor Blackaxe, she said, “Our noble host, Thane Blackaxe, shall retain his ancestral title and claim, so long as his loyalties remain undivided.” A look of panic stole across Bolor’s face. His eyes shot nervously from Kristryd to the duke to Dame Thresstone who stood at his side. Whatever inner conflict he felt, he quickly resolved with a gracious bow to the queen, “Your majesty, Lady of the Lortmils. It is my honor to serve.”
Fifth Counsel of Dunglorin
Kristryd nodded her acknowledgement before turning her attention back to the war planning. She proceeded, “Starvation is our best ally. She has driven our ancient foes out from their hiding holes one last time. Now we must gather the remnants that remain to hold the passes and defend the lowlands. Then let the edges of our swords and axes slake their thirst.”
The assembly cheered and shouted, “Hail, Kristryd! Queen of the Lortmil Mountains!” She waited for the din to subside before continuing, “Hroth caught us squatting with our trousers around our ankles two years ago. He made away with enough plunder to feed his hordes a year or more. But scales have tipped. We have cut them off from all succor. We have sealed them up in their holes like corpses sealed up in tombs. We have stopped their raids into the lowlands. We have emptied the mountain villages. We have burned their mountain crops and salted the soil. We have cut down their groves and slaughtered their flocks. They have no recourse. The vermin abandon their holes and flee their hallowed mountains. Hroth advances upon us now to raid, else they must eat their own young! Let him come and throw himself against these strong walls. For that, we are well-prepared.”
More cheering and “Hail, Kristryd!” By all the gods, Kristryd thought to herself. How easy to stir their passions! Before continuing, she reminded herself of Yolande’s cool and regal resolve when addressing her subjects. No need to shout slogans. She pressed on with deliberately delivered words: “Here in the south, the hobgoblin marches out against us. In the north, the Red Medusa orcs lay siege at Castle Hagthar. We must hold all these fronts. Let the Velunese and the Kron Hills stand fast against Urgush as they must. Here in the south, we will keep Hroth from the Ulek plains. Even now, my father marches to Foghollow, and the Celenese take their stand in Courwood. We are spread thin indeed in this, the most critical hour. If we would see these wars ended, we must not let them resupply their hordes with our livestock, our cattle, and our granaries.”
The queen turned the speaking stone over to Bagbag. The face of the old dwarf beamed with pride and satisfaction. He bowed before his queen before rising to take his place upon the stone. Speaking gravely to the alliance commanders, he said, “The goblinkind come for war, not just raiding. They are desperate, and our long labors have paid off at last. Our patrols report empty nests, abandoned halls. They muster all their numbers, and they leave none behind. Even the infirm, the elderly, and the young are gathered to the muster. Only this fortress and its sisters stand between Hroth and the Ulek plains. Prepare for the onslaught. We will stop them here. When they come, we will mow them down as a scythe cuts ripe barley.”
Peralay of Celene took the floor, bowing before the queen and before Bagbag. “Your majesty,” Peralay interjected. “It is not my place nor my station to object. But I know a thing about goblinkind, and they do not take their younglings raiding with them nor to war. This is something else. They swarm like bees leaving the nest.”
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