The Hateful Wars: Chapter Forty-Four
Grey skies concealed the sun. A keen-eyed hawk, serving sentry duty in flight high above the fortress, screeched out urgent warning. Her sharp eyes focused on mounted wolves slinking down the pass. They scouted the defenses and circled about the elevation upon which the granite stones of Hoch Dunglorin rose. They drew closer, even braving the ascent, but their riders took care to steer the wargs well beyond the arrowshot of the dwarves upon walls. Darkness obscured the advance of the rest of the host except for the orange light of torches which seemed to extend all the distance up the canyon. Echoing out of the mountains came din of drums and horns. Shouts and war screams, no longer distant, announced the arrival of advance ranks. Presently came another sound to the ears of the soldiers listening from atop the battlements: the sound of singing. Heavy voices, chanting in unison, called off cadence. The hobgoblins had arrived.
Light in the Darkness
Before midnight, the assault began. The defenders heard crashing sounds like rocks striking rocks as they tumbled down an avalanche. The sharp eyes of the dwarves saw well enough in the darkness to discern orcs and goblins moving about, carrying heavy loads. Tall ogres drew near. They held aloft enormous shields to protect the workers from darts and arrows.
Tyren, the captain of the watch, called for light. The arch-clerics, Gilvgola and Father Furduch, invoked their goddesses to shed divine light and illuminate the area outside the walls at the point of assault. Sublime effulgence burst into being and exposed the contrivances of the goblins. The vermin stooped under loads gathered from their march—stones and rocks and whole trunks of trees. Some of these they piled up in embankments to reach the walls where the steepness allowed them. With the rest they filled the shallow moat that protected the easier approaches. Giants and ogres piled immense boulders against the walls.
The dwarves cast down large stones on the attackers, shot at them with volleys of arrows, and launched engines for throwing stones and lances down on the besiegers. If the goblins drew close enough to the walls, the dwarves poured out scalding oil and flaming pitch prepared ahead of time. As the front rank of attackers fell, more stepped forward to replace the fallen. The bodies of the victims they threw onto the heaps and embankments they stacked against the walls.
By the blaze of the divine light, the bulk of a tenterbelly dwurwife came into view atop the gatehouse, attracting a clatter of arrows. Gilvgola leapt back and took shelter behind a stone of the bartizan.
“You make a large target. Best not to tempt them,” Archosian the Green Arrow warned the high priestess. The three elven companions stood near her atop the gatehouse, peering out into the conflict below. Elven cloaks of Enstad made them nearly invisible in the shadows.
“Now would be a good time for a wizard to play warmage,” Xaxalander observed.
Archosian agreed as he unfastened the string of his bow and relieved the wood. “I have already spent all my arrows and exhausted my few cantrips. Where is Bagbag? What is he cooking up?”
“Wizards are not the only ones wielding powers fit for war,” Gilvgola muttered. She tugged at her beard for emphasis. “Magic can only extend so far, but the power of the gods knows no limits!” To illustrate her point, the priestess turned her attention back to the battle below, raised her hands into the sky, and reigned down strikes of fire and lightning and whatever miracles she could muster to drive the besiegers back. Giants and the ogres made the most tempting targets.
Father Furduch called upon the blessings of Ulaa to protect his gnomes and sent them sallying forth. The gnomes hurried down over the walls, dropping by ropes from loopholes and arrowslits. They dismantled what they could, toppling ladders and pulling away the shields that covered over the goblin work parties. Despite these efforts, orcs and goblins sprinted up the embankments and hurled themselves at the bastions. If ever one or more came over the top, the met the angry axes of the soldiers upon the walls.
Gilvgola Sallies Forth
Outside the walls, Thane Evrast of Dengar and his greybeards formed a circle of shields to protect themselves from the first wave of the horde. Evrast quickly saw they could not survive the night if they did not give up the field. They fell back to the walls of Hoch Dunglorin and, with some persuasion, took occupation of the barbican where they made their stand against the growing army of goblinkind. The host soon pressed in on their small fort. Orc shamans wielding fire spells assaulted them and ignited the shingled roofs of the short towers. Evrast and his warriors found themselves caught between the flames and the blades.
“Can’t you help them?” Dame Thresstone demanded of Gilvgola as, from atop the gatehouse, they watched the barbican burn. “Listen! They are dying! Do your ears not hear the shouts?”
“Daughter, I do what I can,” Gilvgola sighed.
“For the sake of the gods! Drop the bridge and open the gates. Grant them to fall back inside these walls! I beg it of you!”
“I will not transgress the command of the queen,” Gilvgola shook her heavy jowls. Yet when she saw Dengar dwarves aflame or pushed back to fall over the edge of the moat, her sacred heart moved. The priestess called upon the gods and besought them to affect the fires and cool the flames lest Evrast and his greybeards be burnt alive. That done, she resolved, “I will go out to them and stand with them. If Gilvgola falls beside Thane Evrast; I fall.”
The loyal dwarves of Dorob Kilthduum gathered about their priestess to sally forth with her. Also went the three elven warriors and cooshee dogs, eager to take the fight to the enemy. Evrast and his men gave a mighty cheer when they saw the portcullis rise and the heavy bridge drop. Peralay and Archosian led the charge. A heavily armored host of dwarves and gnomes followed, and behind them came the unmistakable girth of the Sacred Heart. The sight of the rescuers and the holy priestess so heartened Evrast and his men that they launched forth against the assailants, driving them back from the flaming barbican.
“Did my daughter send you out here to spare us?” the old king asked of Gilvgola. Exhausted from the fight, he leaned upon his axe, breathing hard.
The Sacred Heart shook her head, “Nay, lord. Berronar has sent me.”
The old king nodded grimly.
The priestess applied her healing arts to those wounded. The gnomes extinguished flames. The dwarves piled up a quick wall of fallen stone from the upper course of the barbican towers. Archosian, Peralay, and Xaxalander took positions to hold the three arches.
The Demonhead Ram
Hroth’s lieutenants reported that the first engine now stood ready. The warlord grinned eagerly. “Let’s show these piss-pants how to throw stones!” The catapult crew set to work, lobbing heavy rocks and flaming pitch over the wall and onto the hoch. “Get the ballista working too!” he ordered.
More effective than the siege engines, goblin shamans engaged in their dweomercraft. Fireballs and lightning strikes targeted dwarves on the walls.
Hobgoblins wielding grappling hooks on chains came up against the defenders at the barbican. When they beheld the three elven heroes holding the arches to block their way, they hooted with joy at the prospect of slaying their hated enemies. A grappling hook and chain hooked Archosian’s legs and pulled his feet out from under him. The brutes leapt upon the fallen elf and would have surely dismembered him barehanded had not Xaxalander struck them from behind. He dragged his wounded friend from the fray. That left Peralay and his hounds alone to face the goblins down. The hobgoblins jeered at the one elf, but they feared Gnoll-cleaver, and they feared the cooshee dogs. More gathered until, made brave by their numbers, they rushed at him in rage and wrath as if they had discovered the elf solely responsible for the fall of Grot Ugrat. Peralay fell back before their assault, escaping only by leaping behind the makeshift wall the dwarves had assembled. He fell bleeding at the feet of Father Furduch while his green-patched cooshees yelped and bayed.
Father Furduch attended to the wounded elves while the Dengar dwarves defended the wall. Three gnomish warriors appeared around him as if materializing from thin air. The gnomes brought a report from up the field. “They be bringing up a swinging rammer slammer …” one of the faffling gnomes jabbered breathlessly.
His colleague interrupted, excitedly spilling words out of his mouth in an incoherent squeaking jumble. “We went out connoitering and reconnoitered a rattering bam! Unseen I seen a mean team of sixteen hoch jebline with a beam.”
A third gnome added, “It’s got an iron head of a devil head mounted ahead of its head and its headed this way!”
Sixteen hobgoblins carried the unhewn trunk of a giant roan on swinging chains. As they marched to the rhythmic beat of a great war drum, the ram swung lazily to-and-fro like an athlete warming up and flexing his muscles in eager anticipation of the game. A company of shieldgoblins went before the rammers to provide them cover as they came within range of the walls. True to the report of the gnomes, the iron head of the ram had been fashioned to appear as the leering horned head of a tanar’ri.
Inside the inner fort, none slept. Kristryd received reports on the battle every few minutes. The messengers told the queen how Gilvgola and the dwarves of Dorob Kilthduum had disobeyed her and descended from the gatehouse and faced certain death in the barbican. Kristryd observed, “The rescuers now stand in need of rescue.”
“What is to be done?” Dame Thresstone demanded. She locked eyes with the queen. Neither one looked away.
Without breaking off from the staring contest, Kristryd rose from her throne and declared, “I myself will lead this charge and sound the horn of Celene. We will drive them back from our walls and rescue both our friends and foes.”
Thane Blackaxe objected, “Who remains to defend the walls? Already I am nearly overrun. By Berronar’s Bosom! I will go down to Dumathoin in shame if the goblins take this fortress.”
“All your axes remain with you. I will take only three score of Pegli’s young warriors. We will strike fast and send the skitterbrooks into flight before they see how few our numbers. While their backs are yet turned, we will withdraw back to the safety of these walls and bar the gates until Bagbag completes his spells.”
“For Dengar, Gilmorack, and Balnorhak!” Pegli exclaimed. The young prince hefted his hammer and swung it at the air.
“Not you son. You remain to command the defense of these walls,” growled Bamadar as he strapped Kristryd’s winged helmet to her head and placed her spear into her hand.
“Flesh and bone!” the young prince cursed. “My own grandfather in deadly peril, and I should remain safe inside these walls?”
Kristryd glowered at her youngest son, and he retreated from her presence.
“I will go out with you, your majesty, and all my dwarves of Khundrakar with me,” declared the Durgeddin the ancient smith.
“Nay. You and yours guard the holy anvil,” the queen replied as Bamadar handed her round shield to her.
Lest he dishonor himself in the presence of the queen, Thane Blackaxe rose to his feet and took up his axe too. “I go forth to fight beside my queen and to rescue the Sacred Heart,” the warlord resolved.
“Nay,” the queen refused. “You remain with those who hold the fort for the sake of your fathers’ bones.”
Kristryd Sallies Forth
The gates swung open and the bridge to the barbican dropped again. Kristryd winded three long blasts upon the horn of Celene—just to put the fear of elves into the air. She leveled her spear and leapt forward near the head of the charge. Pegli’s young warriors gave such a shout as to shake the stones, and those greybeards pinned down in the barbican made hearty reply. The queen’s thrust poured out over the bridge to join the trapped warriors of Dorob Kilthduum and the dwarves of Dengar. A deafening cheer they raised as the newcomers arrived at the barbican. Together, the combined force made a new sortie and rushed headlong, up over the makeshift wall, tumbling kewkaw into the darkness, colliding with the hobgoblin ranks, cracking blade to shield and steel on steel. “In the name of our holy mother and for all the sons of Durin!” Gilvgola roared. She waded into the thick of the assault, swinging her hammer as one possessed of a berserker’s rage.
The sudden explosion out of the fort, accompanied by the blasting of the elven horn, discomfited the attackers. The front rank of shieldgoblins fell back, dropped their shields, and left the soldiers bearing the ram fully exposed. The dwarves fell upon the hobgoblins and slew all sixteen in a moment. The heavy beam fell to the ground crushing a few fleeing goblins and more than one dwarf beneath its weight. Bamadar leapt upon the great trunk of the ram and, with two dozen chops of his axe, he cut off its demonic iron head and held it aloft. The iron head was nearly twice the size of the dwarf. With a mighty shout, he hurled it at the retreating goblins.
In the mad rush of the charge, old Thane Evrast fell behind. The weary king would make his way back to where his greybeards fought into the press, but orcs fleeing the sortie outflanked him. The cowards espied the old dwarf struggling alone, and they drew nigh, baring yellow fangs and licking at their lips. The old king defended himself like a cornered animal. A half dozen he slew. Carcasses he dropped in a grizzly ring around him as he warded off further attacks. One shaggy orc with a wicked short bow stepped up to the circle and leisurely nocked an arrow, unleashing it at short range, then another, and another. The undermountain king neither flinched nor ducked away. The arrows bounced off his enchanted shield and mithril armor, slamming him about, but none found a mark, save one, which sank to the fletching into his chest above the half plate. Evrast swayed precariously as if he might collapse. The shaggy orc nocked another arrow.
Pegli’s first hammer blow smashed the archer’s legs out from under him from behind; the second blow crushed the fallen archer’s shaggy head. The young warrior prince turned on the remaining few and drove them away from his beleaguered grandfather. Despite the queen’s word, Pegli had joined the charge, for he feared for his father’s father and hoped to find him on the field. Not a moment too soon did he come. Rescued from the immediate danger, the undermountain king sank to his knees.
“Get up grandfather! Let me help you,” Pegli urged. “We dare not rest here!”
“Is that you, my son’s son?” Thane Evrast asked; his voice rasped weak and pained.
“It is I, majesty,” Pegli helped the old king back to his feet. “This night, all is forgiven!”
“Yes. All is forgiven,” Evrast agreed. His dagger found its way between the prince’s armor plates. He plunged the blade into his grandson’s belly and carved him open. “Not again will Balnorhak’s hammer strike upon Moradin’s anvil!” Pegli collapsed at the feet of the undermountain king.
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Artwork used with permission. Tulikura: The Two Kings