A Taste of the Lethe

The Hateful Wars: Chapter Forty-Eight

Thomas Kelly

“I beg you to accompany me on one last embassy to Enstad. The Fey Queen is to be honored for her victories. The Grand Court intends to invest her with the Mantle of the Blue Moon, raising her to the title ‘Lady Rhalta of All Elvenkind.’”

Bagbag snorted. “What did she do? Mope about on her faerie-flower throne while you did all the work. They should name you their queen.”

“Will you accompany me?” Kristryd ignored the old wizard’s bluster.

“We have come to a changing of the guard,” Bagbag mused philosophically. “One feels it. The wars are at an end. Kristryd is made queen over the mountains, her sons over Gilmorack and Dengar. Urgush is no more. Hroth is no more. Gilvgola and Furduch have fallen. In Tringlee, the Duke Gallowagn passes the Shining Crown of Lothromenoron to his son and takes his leave. In Keoland, Senestal II ascends to the Throne of the Lion. All things change, but not in Enstad. In Enstad, they heap more honors upon do-nothing Yolande.”

“‘Yes’ or ‘no,’ old dwarf,” Kristryd pressed. “Will you walk with me to Enstad this summer?”

“I am ever at your service, your majesty,” Bagbag said with a bow. “But why should the Queen of the Lortmil Mountains walk? You should be carried upon the wind or teleported by means of dweomer.”

“I prefer to forget my sorrows with a long walk, and I desire your company,” the queen said. “Just the two of us. We’ll leave Bamadar to look after affairs.”

The Way to Enstad

Bagbag agreed. He leaned heavily upon his sorcerous staff each limping step of the way. His old bones had refused to properly knit back together, even under the healing power of the Sacred Heart. But the trueheaded loremaster felt glad enough to enjoy the journey through the mountains with her once again. They went by way of the Celene Pass to Anyanes, just the two of them together, with no escorting guard or afterlings. In reward for all their labors to purge the mountains, they walked without fear of ambush. As they travelled, they reminisced over all that had befallen them and all they had endured during twelve years of war.

On a fine summer evening under stars hung in the mountain air, sitting across a small campfire from her old friend and guardian, Kristryd produced from her sack a skin of good merrygodown. When both their hearts felt light and merry, she pressed him for information. “Now tell me truly the tale of Bagbag and the three sisters, sparing no detail,” she insisted.

“I keep what secrets I may,” Bagbag chuckled happily. Still, he cleared his throat and began to speak in the practiced tones of a loremaster’s recitation. “In time past, whilst the three sisters still dwelt beneath the vaulted chambers of their father’s palace in Balnorhak, they made acquaintance with another young noble—a handsome and clever-minded young upstart called Bagbagotiouk Silverstonecutter. Yours truly! This Bagbag was younger than they by some half a century, but all three daughters loved him and vied with one another for the right to court him. We dwurfolk aren’t known as spell casters, but the sisters found he had a quick mind for the arts, and they taught him their craft. Each one considered him to be her personal apprentice. When they all three were banished on account of suspicion of treachery and patricide, each of the three bade young Bagbag to accompany her alone into exile. Being loyal to the new prince and his young wife, Bagbag would go with none. Instead, he swore his allegiance to the house of Corond. The spurned and bitter Hedvyg, the youngest of the three sisters (and most winsome too), spoke that ignoble curse upon the prince of Corond, saying aloud to the prince’s face, ‘May your wife be barren as this stone.’

“So it came to pass. In distress over her shame, Sjarrdys turned to me, seeking a magical elixir or some charm to counter the curse, but what could I do? It seemed to me, in those innocent days, far beyond my power or that of the dwarves to remedy. I suggested, ‘You might beg leave for a journey to Celene. I myself will escort you there to set you before the fey queen , for I have heard that the blessing of Astaranthe can unlock the womb.’ And so I first came to those elven woods, guardian to your mother. And it worked. Under the blessing of the Faerie Queen were you born, and after you, your two brothers (may their names be honored in stone). Had she not perished so young, she might well have born more sons and daughters to your father.

“For my part in these affairs, I ever cherished Vergadain’s prophecy of one who would ‘unite the broken tribes! Dwurdotter musters Durin’s sons!’ The three sisters taught the oracle to me, but they stumbled over its interpretation. Each sister imagined herself the queen of the mountains, but I attributed that destiny to none of them. Oh, but when I beheld Kristryd in her mother’s arms, then I knew of a certainty: ‘O Lortmil, Queen of Mountains! Everlasting Possession! Purge the peaks!’ Since that day, I have long labored to arrange matters in such a way that I should not be disappointed in my interpretation of the riddle.”

The loremaster paused the telling of his tale.

“Yes, you arranged my betrothal to Grallwin of Dengar, but I am left to guess at your other labors. Hold nothing back. Now is the time for spilling secrets,” Kristryd prompted.

“I’ll admit it. And what’s done is done. When you came of age, I sought out my teachers, the three sisters, and I bragged to them of my prodigy. ‘She is certainly the one,” I told them. Gunhyld swore to assist me. Gretyll also lent me her counsel. Hedvyg entered my confidence. The sisters promised me their help and even to set you, my queen, upon the throne of Balnorhak reborn. Indeed, they took oaths before me, promising to serve you and to deliver into your hand the whole of the Everlasting Possession. But I was a fool to trust the word of witches. I was most bitterly betrayed. How could I know they cast their allegiance with the Yatil Witch?”

Bagbag sighed deeply and fell silent again for a spell.

“I would know only one more detail of this story,” Kristryd implored.
“Promise me, on your loyalty, that you will answer what I ask.”

“On my loyalty,” her trueheaded friend replied. He took another pull from the skin of merrygodown.

 “How did Hedvyg come to know the Prince Consort’s path through Druid’s Defile on that day and hour? And how did she know he carried such documents as he did for the dissolution of our alliance?”

Bagbag sniffed and grimaced, “A witch can scry things by means of her spells, even as you would do by means of your silver-framed mirror!”

“Perhaps so,” Kristryd allowed. “But perhaps there is more to it than a scrying spell. Had the Prince Consort completed his mission, and Celene withdrawn from the alliance, could we alone, without their spellcasters, have levied the Suel spell against Grot-Ugrat? Could we have prevailed in these conflicts?”

“Perhaps not,” Bagbag conceded.

“And if Grot-Ugrat still stood fast, we scarcely could have won the mountains,” Kristryd continued.

“True as well,” Bagbag admitted, but his tone now turned suspicious, “Is there some target at which you aim your arrows?”

“There is indeed,” Kristryd resolved to keep her voice steady, but a tremor betrayed her anxiety. “Outside of the Grand Court, only you and I, my friend, knew the Prince Consort’s mission and his errand, his route and his whereabouts.”

Bagbag scowled silently at the dying flames of their campfire. “Your majesty. My ways may not always seem proper to your eyes, but I have only ever served you,” he insisted.

“Trueheaded Bagbag. You are indeed loyal and trueheaded. I do not question it, nor do I forget your friendship. But will you not tell me one more thing if I ask it?”

“Ask it my lady, and I swear, by Berronar’s beard, I withhold nothing from you.”

“Am I truly a daughter to the Prince Olinstaad Corond?”

Bagbag’s eyes widened in surprise. He tilted his head and scratched at his chin, “Why ask such a thing? How could anyone say otherwise?”

The Lady Rhalta

When Kristryd arrived in Enstad, she went first to the stables of the elite cavalry where she found Emolasmairim nested down and well-attended. “I have brought a brace of rabbits to repay you for plucking me up from Riechsvale and delivering me to Alton,” she whispered in the ear of the hippogriff. “Goodbye, my brave friend.” The hippogriff pawed at the stable doors and nuzzled her beak under Kristryd’s arm.

The Grand Court of Celene invested Yolande with her new titles and stations during the midsummer festival of Richfest. The whole court blazed with light on the sacred night when both moons showed their fullness: pale Luna and blue Celene. Lanterns set with crystal lenses, colored gems, and glinting mirrors hung from the branches and shone in the trees. The flames of slender tapers, reflecting in polished mirrors, added their gentle light to the brilliance of the double moon. The whole of the court glimmered with fairy light, and all the chambers and rooms and pleasant gardens about the grounds glowed softly with luminescence too, each a different hue and color. The heady scent of blossoms floated on the nighttime breeze, and only the leafy cascades of vining floral walls separated court from court. Sweet strains of olven song rose and fell on crystal voices accompanied by lyres, harps, flutes, and the tinkle of distant bells.

Resplendently clad in her mithril tabard, the Queen of the Lortmil Mountains stood among the onlookers that watched the fey host, all purfled in their colored silks, satins, and leafy gowns, as they danced on the polished alabaster floor of the Grand Court. Despite the enchantments and all the romance, she had no desire to join the dancing, for she remained in her months of mourning. In any case, she would have felt oafish, ridiculous, and clumsy-footed among the graceful grey elves, high elves, sylvan elves, and fairy folk. Child-like Archosian, who also felt too shy and clumsy for the dancing, spotted her standing alone in the crowd and came to her side, relieving her awkward sense of embarrassment. The extravagantly foppish Xaxalander Deravnye danced the night with dryads and nymphs, while the graceful hunter Peralay rotated through elven maids. All the while, Kristryd’s eyes searched the green for her fey majesty. At long last, a clear note sounded on silver horns and golden pipes. The dancers parted at the fanfare to make way for the entrance of the Perfect Flower. She arrived, tall and slender, clad in the flattering green gossamer dress with the embroidered brocade. The glance of her lilac gaze quickened hearts and stole away the breath. A gentle smile, warm as the summer night, drew a sigh from all who looked on her face. Noble elven princes and princesses stepped back to open the way before the fey queen. They averted their eyes from her splendor, bent their knees before her, and bowed their heads.

“Behold,” the herald proclaimed, “The Lady Rhalta of All Elvenkind, Victor of the Lortmil Wars.”

Silence and anticipation fell on the dancers at the ball. Xaxalander, Peralay, Fasstal Dothmar, and a host of other elven princes, each more handsome than the next, stood at the ready. Yolande regarded them all evenly before extending her delicate hand to Fasstal Dothmar. He stepped forward, beaming with pleasure; the music resumed, and they danced the Midsummer Frolic.    

Confessions to the Fey Queen

On the fourth day of Reaping, Kristryd stood barefoot, clad only in her mourner’s smock, beneath the White Tower outside the Grand Court in Enstad. “Will you not dress yourself in a manner befitting a queen?” Onselvon scolded her.

“I would,” Kristryd answered, “If the Lady Rhalta would grant me an audience.”

“Enter then,” Onselvon said. “I myself will usher you.”

So came Kristryd, clad only in a simple peasant’s smock, to stand before the Blossoming Throne where sat the Lady Rhalta of All Elven Kind. “How now, Kristryd Olinsdotter, have the lines of your face grown so deep and the hairs of your head turned to grey?” the ageless Yolande asked as she extended her blossom-wreathed hand to Kristryd.

“The years of war have worn heavy. Your wrath has grown weary, your majesty,” Kristryd said, taking the queen’s hand in her own.

“Let us walk together in the gardens as once we did,” the queen suggested.

In this manner, hand in hand, like sisters reunited, they walked together in the gardens of Enstad until they could be certain they had left behind all prying ears. Then said Kristryd, “Unless Sehanine has already revealed all things to your Fey Majesty, I would confess my sins.”

“Confession corrects the spirit,” Yolande mechanically recited an olven dogma. “Those things we renounce not, we are doomed to live again.”

“Then know this,” Kristryd sighed, “I am no longer your wrath. I have labored hard for your majesty, but no more. I have satisfied my vows with awful price: the blood of my own brothers and the blood of my youngest son. And all these sorrows for naught! This friend of mine, called Bagbag, old warlock of Balnorhak, betrayed us through all these years of war. He consorted with witches and demons and drew us all into his schemes. The war he waged on Grot-Ugrat he made at the bidding of the three sisters: Gretyll, Gunhyld, and Hedvyg. The Suel spell he called down on that ancient city came by the hand of the dread of Perrenland (may her name be forgotten). Moreover, this same traitor betrayed the whereabouts of the Prince Consort to Hedvyg, witch of Balnorhak. I know not how or by what means, but he certainly passed to that witch those words he heard from my lips concerning the embassy of Prince Triserron. This he did to slay the prince, inspire your wrath, and spark these hateful wars.”

“All these things, sister, I have already seen,” Yolande sighed. “No more will I spill the blood of elves in the affairs of other races, nor will my people again be drawn into their schemes.”

“My lady, I have brought him hither,” Kristryd suddenly sobbed.

Yolande’s gentle hands wiped away her tears. “Be of good courage, sister. These hateful things lie behind us now.”

The High Court of Enstad arrested Bagbag, bound him, caged him, and sent him gagged and manacled to the Silent Tower in Keoland. Onselven confiscated his personal spellbook into which the dwarf had transcribed portions of Demonomicon, and he burned it together with the other magical items the old dwarf carried on his person.

A Walk with Edda

Kristryd left Enstad alone without her trueheaded and loyal friend. She made her way south along the Handmaiden River. As she passed near Courwood, Edda came out to meet her.

“You have prevailed over your enemies,” the wild-haired prophetess congratulated her. “But have you passed your tests?”

“I have passed no tests, and I am sure that I have rectified no wrongs. I have only incurred new ones,” Kristryd admitted. “I have stained my hands with the blood of friends, allies, my own brothers, and my son. I was merciful when I should have been severe, and I was severe when I should have been merciful. I have taken counsel with a witch; I have been manipulated by a warlock, and I have employed the power of demons. If I have prevailed, it has been at the cost of my soul.”

“Yes. That is the cost of war,” Edda observed. “The same price every king, queen, or ruler has always paid and always will. But now that you have prevailed, what will you do? Will you reign over these mountains for which you have so long labored?” She gestured to the majestic towering peaks that climbed the sky into the west.

Kristryd shook her head. “I wanted to be a queen like Yolande. I guess I did. Now that I have prevailed…” she hesitated, “I want…” She paused to think for a moment before starting the sentence again, “I will utterly forget myself and all these sorrows too. I will take my place where fresh, warm muffins are served with fried eggs, some pickled fish, and some salty cheese—where the kettle sings of hot black tea in the morning.”

The End

Read the story from the beginning here.

Gary Holian, Erik Mona, Sean K. Reynolds, Frederick Weining, Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, (Wizards of the Coast, 2000), 40; Russ Timm, Living Greyhawk Duchy of Ulek Triad, “A Guide to the Duchy of Ulek,” Oerth Journal 16:60-71.

Artwork William Blake: Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing

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