Ceremonies

The Hateful Wars: Chapter Forty-Five

Thomas Kelly

“They fall back before us!” Bamadar roared. Jubilant and maddened with battle rage, he hacked his way forward into the thick press of goblins. Behind them the first light of morning already softened the dark sky. Kristryd risked a glance over her shoulder. Her eyes anxiously searched the dark silhouettes of turrets and towers until she espied a faint green light flickering and flashing in one of the high tower windows. Turning her attention back to the fight that boiled all around her, the queen’s eyes narrowed with concern. They had strayed too far from the protection of Hoch Dunglorin’s walls.

“Hold Bamadar! We dare not further! If they outflank us, we are cut off and the gates undefended,” she shouted. Her voice could not carry above the din of battle. I must signal them to fall back! Pushed along with the crush of the fight, she struggled to lift the horn of Celene to her lips. Before she could sound the note, a sudden eruption from the fight ahead abruptly reversed the forward momentum and sent Bamadar tumbling backwards and crashing into her. She fell to the ground with the heavily armored dwarf sprawled backward on top of her. As she disentangled herself, a mad blur in the darkness emerge from the goblin line. A half-score of hobgoblins pushed and shoved their way forward at impossible speed and with impossible strength. Charging like stallions, they passed by her as a rushing wind. So quickly they moved that eye could scarce follow their pace. They tossed aside goblins, orcs, dwarves, and gnomes that stood between them and the gatehouse. Before Kristryd could recover her feet, they were already leaping the makeshift wall the dwarves had placed across the entrance to the barbican. Bodies of dwarves went hurtling over the moat and cracked against the stone walls of the fort as if thrown by giants.

“Raise the bridge! Seal the gates!” Kristryd urged. Even if her voice could have been heard, the order came too late. Moving with ridiculous speed, the hobgoblins were already across the bridge and wrenching at the heavy portcullis with unreal strength. The defenders in the gatehouse hurried to react, but by comparison with the magically quickened hobgoblins, they seemed to move sluggishly. Hot oil gushed down from murderholes, but the quickened hobgoblins deftly leapt away. The oil splashed harmlessly on the pavers where they had stood, slicking the stones.

Kristryd tried to run for the gatehouse, but her legs remained frozen in place. To her surprise, she found she could not move a muscle.

“Bind her hands and feet! Be quick!” The voice belonged to Hedvyg. Strong hands took hold of her and bound her hand and foot. Kristryd knew Bamadar was near her, within reach, but she could neither turn her head to see him, nor could she move her tongue to call out to him. She tried to scream, but she could utter no sound.

The old dwurwife seemed to have materialized out of the darkness. She threw back the hood of a cloak and produced a single flame of fire, like a burning lamp, that hovered in the air to illuminate her ancient face. The naked flame cast long shadows that played over the witch’s features. Her ancient eyes glittered in the reflection like black onyx. “Look at me, drossel! Face to face. Now I will teach you to see through these eyes.”

Bamadar exchanged blows with another of the one-eared hobgoblins. He disengaged and turned about to locate the queen again, but a clutch of Dengar greybeards had gathered around her and concealed her from his view. The queen has been wounded! he panicked. Yes, so it seemed, for they lifted Kristryd to their shoulders and set off toward the gates. Abandoning his fight with the hobgoblin, Bamadar leapt off in pursuit of the Dengar dwarves, shouting and raving wildly. His headlong charge ended abruptly when he tripped over the crumpled body of a dead gnome. He recognized the face of Father Furduch.

Bagbag’s Weapon

For a moment, the predawn light in the sky seemed to retreat into itself, swallowed into blackness. The light spells cast by Father Furduch and Gilvgola also faded, affording only a dim glow through some thick and dreadful darkness that had fallen upon the battlefield. Clambering back to his feet, Bamadar staggered and swooned under a nauseous wave of fear. It emanated from within the fortress—not from the direction of the attacking host. A hush rolled out from Hoch Dunglorin and over the battlefield like the expanding ripple on the surface of a pool into which a stone has been dropped. The clash of steel on steel fell momentarily silent as it passed. The shouts of dwarves and their cries of pain fell silent. The pound of war drums fell silent. The shrill screams of orcs and goblins fell silent. The wail of war horns fell silent. The whole field of battle drew its breath in fearful anticipation. Here it comes! Bamadar growled to himself. An unnatural dread choked him, and a nauseous stench seemed to fill the air.

Ignoring the devilshine, the Sacred Heart waddled across the battlefield, took Bamadar by the hand, and pulled him back up to his feet. “Fall back!” she shouted. Her resonant voice carried the weight of authority. “Some fell thing has been loosed upon us,” she lamented. Her eyes fell upon the face of Father Furduch where he lay at her feet. “Bring him too!” she instructed Bamadar. He hoisted the body of the dead gnome over his shoulder and called to his companions, “Fall back! For the queen!”

Fight for the Gatehouse

A dozen dwarven bodies scattered about the floor of the gatehouse indicated that the battle with the quickened hobgoblins had not gone well for the defenders, but there also lay the dismembered remains of several of those intruders, chopped and hacked apart. “We held them back best we could, and great the price!” Tyren gestured toward the carnage. Blood slicked his own armor.

Bamadar laid Father Furduch’s lifeless body on a bench along the wall. “Did you see the queen borne hence by Dengar dwarves?” he demanded of the captain.

“While we fought these bequickened ones, a clutch of greybeards passed through this gate, carrying her majesty aloft, but if she be dead or merely wounded, I could not say,” Tyren reported. Bamadar waited for no further explanations. He set off in pursuit of Kristryd.

Thane Blackaxe entered the gatehouse of his citadel, armed for the fight. Wasting no time for concern over those yet fighting outside the walls, he ordered the captain raise the bridge and close and bar the gates behind him before the besiegers rallied. Alas! The bridge could not be raised, the gates could not be closed. Some enchantment held them fast. The gatehouse guards worked furiously at the winches and the chains, but a clever spell held the mechanisms frozen in place.

Young prince Archosian staggered into the gatehouse, bedecked with wounds and weals, but he declared boldly, “Peralay and I shall be your gate, and Xaxalander shall be the bar. Let them come and batter themselves against us.”

As if to fulfill the young prince’s boast, the attackers rallied themselves and charged across the bridge, emboldening themselves to force entrance like a bandit come upon an unguarded maiden in a field. Those loathsome intruders found themselves chastened back by the chaste belt of Defender and Gnoll-Cleaver, the stealthy backstab of Xaxalander Deravnye, and the ripping fangs of Peralay’s last surviving cooshee dog. “Elves! The elves have come!” they squealed before their heads fled from their shoulders. The report travelled back through the ranks, inspiring fear and dismay among those following. “Elves within the walls!” the goblins cursed.

Not alone did the elves stand either. Gilvgola added her efforts to their defense and worked what powers remained within her to undo the bindings of Hedvyg and seal up the gates. Until she could dispel such magics, the flashing blades of Defender and Gnoll-Cleaver piled high the gundyguts.

Vlixipur

“Vlixipur, I speak your name!” Bagbag commanded of the abomination that now flickered before him within the confines of the summoning circle. “I adjure you! Descend upon our enemies, even those of goblinkind that now besiege this fortress! Smite them with fear and terror; strike them with death and devastation; turn them about and send them fleeing in dismay. Then return unto me to hear my command!”

“I do your bidding, master,” the archfiend snarled. His words dripped with venomous sarcasm, but the summoner’s binding spell held him fast. From the menacing shadow that rose behind him, Vlixipur partially unfolded two great bat-like wings to the extent the ceiling and walls of the chamber allowed. They blazed dark with black-fire. A light in the demon’s piggish eyes flashed like strobes of devil’s red and piercing white-heat. Compelled to obey by the spells Bagbag marshalled from the brassbound book, Vlixipur turned toward the tower window that overlooked the battlefield below and launched himself from the high tower like an arrow loosed from a bow. His great wings fully unfolded and caught the air. The demon wheeled about in the sky. An unholy azure light flashed about him like lightening. Fire and fear and chaos rained down on the besieging hosts below. Eyes melted away in the sockets of heads; skin bubbled and cracked; bones turned to dust; and joints turned to water and weakness. Goblins died from fright in the wake of his passing, and hobgoblins pissed themselves.

Those great bat wings of black fire spread to blot out the sky; an abyssal scream turned the blood of every foe toxic in its veins and unleashed pure panic and mayhem. Goblin turned upon goblin, weapon upon weapon; they smote one another in the terror of their flight and trampled one upon another in blind fury under stampeding boot and claw before the swooping fiend. All semblance of order disbanded; all discipline of rank and command evaporated. In only moments, the whole of the besieging host broke off in mad flight, shrieking like banshees, dropping shield and sword and stripping arms. They haphazardly littered trails of gear behind them leading in every direction away from Hoch Dunglorin.

Hedvyg’s Prey     

“Drop her there,” Hedvyg commanded. The bespelled Dengar dwarves obeyed her every command. They dropped Kristryd indelicately on the stone floor at the feet of Dame Thresstone.

“What will you do with her?” the noble-dwarfess of Gilmorack asked.

“Lichify her!” old Hedvyg keaked excitedly. Kneeling over the queen, the witch used a charcoal scribbet to scribble out magical runes on Kristryd’s face. “Just need to snatch her soul and stick it in my purse. First take me to Bagbag! He owes me a book and anvil.”

Dame Thresstone’s face betrayed no inner thought, neither her glee at the prospect of at last seeing Kristryd defeated nor her revulsion at the witch’s necromantic designs. “Follow me. He rooms in the high towers above the barracks,” she said. Regarding Kristryd’s crumpled form Dame Thresstone added, “And bring her along. I will help you with the deed.”

The Dengar dwarves hoisted the queen’s inert body back up over their shoulders and set off to follow Dame Thresstone. With a torch in hand for illumination, she made her way through the austere stone halls and chambers of Hoch Dunglorin. Servants and dwur-at-arms stepped aside. “The queen has been injured,” she explained to no one in particular. “We bear her to her chambers.” None stood to challenge them; most had been dispatched to the defense of the walls, and those that remained suspected no mischief.

Dame Thresstone led Hedvyg and the greybeards up the flights of the high tower stairs to the door to Bagbag’s chamber, but he had magically locked and warded it. No matter. Hedvyg sliced through his spells and wizard locks with ease. The door swung wide, thrown open by unseen magical hands. Hedvyg charged in with a spell already on her lips. Dame Thresstone and four Dengar dwarves carrying the body of Kristryd Olinsdotter entered the chamber behind the witch.

All the room seemed afloat with magic and devilshine. The candles, lamps, and magical illuminations pulsed and flashed like strobes. Strange swirls of kaleidoscope colors spun about the tower chamber. A summoner’s circle, etched upon the floor in chalks and bloods seemed to slowly rotate. Startled by the sudden intrusion, Bagbag’s looked up from the brassbound book upon which he concentrated. “Stay Hedvyg! You err gravely!” he warned. “This is not the time!”

Hedvyg completed the spell she had already been casting. A nearly invisible globe of shimmering magic expanded around her. “Do I err, oath breaker? I’ve come to claim what’s mine!”

“Not so!” Bagbag argued. “Spare the queen. For her life, I will trade what trophy you ask of me, but you must spare her life.”

“You know the bulse I want. Give me the devilshine book you hold in your hands!” Hedvyg laughed. Bagbag looked from the face of the witch to the face of Dame Thresstone who stood near at hand. The dwurwife of Gilmorack smiled sweetly and executed a sarcastic curtsy.

“Release her,” Bagbag pleaded.

Hedvyg nodded toward the four Dengar dwarves. They threw Kristryd’s body to the stone floor as if dropping a sack of onions. The queen’s helmed head cracked noisily against the stone. Kristryd felt the blow to her bones. The wind rushed out from her lungs. The paralysis spell did nothing to cushion the pain, nor did it close her eyes or ears. She heard and saw all that transpired about her.

Hedvyg knelt over the queen’s inert body and pulled the helmet from her head. Kristryd’s dark curls spilled loose. “Such a pretty one!” the old witch sighed as she resumed sketching magical runes on Kristryd’s face. In the other hand, the she held a cruel dagger.


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Read the story from the beginning here.

Artwork used with permission. Tulikura: The Battle of Five Armies

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