Among the Tested

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Twenty-Three

Thomas Kelly

The leaves turned color—some had fallen—before she returned to fair Celene on embassy for the alliance (Patchwall 500 CY). She waited in the garden of the Grand Court and mingled among other ambassadors: men from Veluna and Verbobonc, from the Duchy and the County, and from the free city of Greyhawk. Stranger still, she waited among faeries of the Seeley Court, gnomes from the Kron Hills, a centaur from Greenway Valley. And for the dwur folk, she thought to herself, Kristryd Olinsdotter. So I am reduced in her Fey Majesty’s esteem to just one of a bevy of whiflings in line for a moment of her attention.   

“Daughter, what transgression have you committed to incur the Queen Yolande’s disfavor?” the wise mage Onselvon interrupted her thoughts. She had not seen the magic user approach. The long-haired elven wizard sat himself down beside her on the garden bench. “She will not hear told any good of you, whether spoken by the princes, by Darrion, Deravnye, the Fastaal, or myself.”

“I have done the queen no wrong,” Kristryd defended herself. “None of which I know. But I am hated nonetheless.”

 “She will not receive your embassy this day,” Onselvon apologized. “But she asks two questions of the dwur, and she sends me to make the akward inquiry.”

Kristryd nodded. She kept a stoic frown. Onselvon continued, “Her majesty inquires of the dwur, ‘Why did you abandon us in our hour of need?’ And she asks, ‘Why did we find your kin leading the horde in the Battle of Ulek Pass?’”

“Bear the queen this message then: I myself commanded the engagements, as you yourself well know and can testify. As for the host of Dengar, we fell back to defend our own halls from the same such an onslaught as you also faced, or so the commanders thought. As for those few dwur found among the horde, call them not dwur folk nor my kin. They are traitors most vile, one of them a foul witch. And say to the queen on my behalf, ‘Forget not that I am your wrath! For your cause have I made this war!’”

“I will bring these replies to the queen,” Onselvon stood and offered a ceremonious bow. “Return to your cosh. If you are needed further, or granted further audience, we will summon you thence.”

Kristryd did not return to her cottage straightway but wandered the royal city aimlessly. Her heart burned too hot with anger at the queen. Her mind boiled with imaginary conversations and sharp exchanges. Neither the colored leaves of Enstad, nor the fragrances of autumn, nor the beauty of the city could in any measure lift a mood so black. She wondered over Yolande’s callous treatment. Each time she rehearsed the matter, her heart grew more bitter. I once called her friend? Why did I ever trust an elf? Damn them all to the nine hells!

Continue reading “Among the Tested”

The Halfblood Prophecy

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Twenty-Two

Thomas Kelly

Fury burned in Kristryd’s breast when she saw how her kin had had abandoned the fight at an hour so desperate. The dwarves did not accompany the march of Father Furduch. The hosts of Gilmorack paid no heed to the muster at all. Their undermountain king sent not a single axe to join the fight at Luskan. Nor did Dengar send its iron clad troops to the aid of the elves in the battle for Ulek Pass.

She dispatched a complaint to the undermountain kings from the field of the battle, and she sent an apology to Enstad, written in her own hand. The only warrior of her people to stand alongside Yolande’s people in that desperate hour was the Thunderstrike dwarf Bamadar Kadarel. He had come up from the Principality along with the halfling troop from Prinzfield, and, as such, had the privilege of contributing to the battle of on behalf of the Principality and the dwarven nations. His prowess on the field cast no shame on the reputation of the dwarves. His arms did not tire, and his legs did not falter, but many were the victims that fell beneath his axe.

The Corpse

On the day after the defeat of the horde, Kristryd summoned the winsome young Bamadar to her tent in the green hall and commended him, for he had fought bravely and in a manner worthy of her father’s name and reputation. He tried to flatter her with his attention, “I fought only for the honor of the Noble House of Corond, my lady! For your Grace, and also for his Serene Highness, Lord of the Peaks of Haven.”

“The Noble House thanks you,” Kristryd replied, “But now I must charge you another errand—one you might not find so honorable nor to your liking.”

Bamadar bowed and declared, “If my dishonor be for thy honor, my lady, what more could be to my liking?”

Kristryd ignored the words of ingratiation and continued, “Somewhere on the field of battle, near the encampment of the Red Medusa, find the body of a dwarfess, an old spellcaster, slain through the heart by the blade of Xaxa. Find the corpse and bring it to me, for I must know who she is, from where she came, and with what companions she travelled.”

Continue reading “The Halfblood Prophecy”

The Ignoble Act

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Twenty-One

Thomas Kelly

The orcs had a hard time ignoring the ripping talons of the hippogriffs and sharp javelins of their riders, but there came too few of those to stop the advance of the host. From horseback, Fastaal Dothmar rallied the elven line, and he led the charge up the shallows of the Handmaiden. The goblinkind of the first ranks beheld that bright prince in resplendent armor and all those warriors following, their steeds kicking up such a spray of water as to obscure their numbers. This was the doing of Onselvon’s illusory arts. Only a paltry sparse number of warriors followed the charge, but under the powerful illusion spell woven by that great mage, it appeared to the goblins that a mighty host leapt forward from the dawn, silhouetted against the early rising sun just above the mountains. Blinking in terror, the front ranks scarcely had time to draw back before they learned to fear the three blades Defender, Concluder, and Gnoll-Cleaver.

Some unseen dweomermaster dispelled the illusion almost as soon as it had been cast, but the front ranks turned their backs too quickly to discern the truth of the small number that pursued them. The retreating goblins collided then with those who still advanced from behind just as the screeching eagle-horses and their deadly riders in the sky descended upon them again. Confusion and sudden bewilderment spread through the host. The advancing ranks tripped over retreating kobolds and goblins and orcs, and they turned their knives against one another. Three blasts on a heavy horn signaled a halt. Urgush had no choice. He ordered the host to dig in for the fight. They drew up ranks, threw up barricades, dug pits, crawled under rocks, and prepared to huddle down for the day.

Continue reading “The Ignoble Act”

Spells & Stratagems

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Twenty

Thomas Kelly

When the snowmelt and winter rains subsided, famished goblinkind came pouring out of their holes, seeking farms to raid and villages to plunder. This time, a surprise met the hungry hordes. The allies occupied every pass in the northern Lortmils, strangling the routes from the Pass of Celene all the way to the Lorridges. Under the earth, Dengar and Gilmorack garrisoned strategic positions on the Low Road, funneling the underground movements of the tribes. Kristryd had arranged it all. In the months prior to the snowmelt, she consulted with the generals and strategic thinkers of the alliance, negotiated troop placements, prepared supply lines, and sketched out contingencies. Once the action began, she played her role as liaison between the forces, moving rapidly back and forth between battlefronts mounted on the back of the great hippogriff Emolasmairim. Elves, dwarves, gnomes, and humans alike watched the sky for the wings of her steed. Field commanders and officers consulted her for information about deployments, supplies, and the movements of the enemy. She found herself providing answers to questions that exceeded the scope of her actual authority, and she did not hesitate to issue commands in the queen’s name when necessary to do so. Why shouldn’t the Queen’s Wrath take charge? Am I not the author of the strategy?

Battle of Luskan Way

The northern squeeze corralled the tribes together into a wide vale between the Celene Pass and the way to the Luskan Mines. There they remained, bottled up, until Father Furduch arrived with a gnome army from the Kron Hills and Verbobonc. Continue reading “Spells & Stratagems”

Under the Moonarch

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Nineteen

Thomas Kelly

Luna continued her slow journey across the sky. Kristryd shivered in the cold open air of the night and pulled her cloak tighter about her shoulders. And what shall I do if the queen does not come back to me before the moon has set and sun breaks the east? she worried to herself. How shall I tell it in Enstad? With thoughts such as these still astir in her head, she watched the Moonarch fixedly with unblinking eyes, willing the elf queen to appear.

In the last hour before dawn, as Luna began to slip behind the distant line of the Lortmils, Kristryd felt her drowsy head starting to swim. She rested her eyes only for a moment and plummeted quickly into a dream. Cursing herself for weakness, she leapt to her feet. Am I not a dwarf? she asked herself. My people succumb not to sleeping spells! She shook her head to clear the drowsiness, and abruptly her eyes beheld something new. Through the span of the Moonarch she glimpsed a sunlit land of trees and streams and grassy hills. She stepped nearer, only intending to see the vision more clearly. As she did the image drew itself closer to her, more real and substantial. She fancied she could feel the welcome warmth of those sunlit lands. How pleasant it would be to chase the chill from my bones! Vivid colors and deepening hues crystalized before her. The marvelous world beyond the arch looked more real and solid than Oerth. Indeed, by comparison, Oerth around seemed an insubstantial shadow.

Kristryd swooned but caught herself before she stumbled. She grasped the outstretched hand of a tall elf, clothed in green britches, shirt, jerkin, and cap. He drew her beneath the spanning stone. Continue reading “Under the Moonarch”

Moonarch of Sehanine

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Eighteen

Thomas Kelly

An snarl-headed elf woman stepped out from behind a floral-canopied garden walk and hailed Kristryd in the elven tongue, “Behold! Errand-dwur of Yolande, I would a word with thee.” The she-elf looked more like a wild woman of the mountains than noble grey. A course hair-coat she wore tied about her waist with a belt of leather. The feats of her hair paggled loosely, knotted in dreadlocks and tangled with sticks and twigs and leaves.

Kristryd took two startled steps back, sneered her lip and retorted in perfect olven, “I am the Princess Kristryd Olinsdotter of Ulek and Dengar, daughter of the Prince Corond Olinstaad, daughter-in-law of the undermountain king Thane Evrast. I am no errand-dwur! But who are you who dares address the queen’s embassy so disrespectfully?”

“I am Edda the Tested,” the wild elf said with such air of authority that it seemed she expected that the name should convey some significance to Kristryd. It did not. “I have a message for you to bear to the queen.”

“If you have a message to bring, do so. I will not be your messenger,” Kristryd snapped. For emphasis, she pushed the wild elf from her path and continued her way.

Edda recovered herself gracefully, effortlessly scaled up the trunk of a stately ipp, leapt to the limb of a phost, and followed after Kristryd, leaping from limb to limb, tree to tree, like a squirrel. She only left off the pursuit when Kristryd passed into the inner lawns. Even then, Edda called after the dwarf from her perch in a deklo, “Tell her that her lover-boy was betrayed.” Kristryd marched on stoically with her back to the woodness elf, deliberately ignoring her shouts, “Tell her that Edda the Tested gave you the message. You tell her that errand-dwur!” Continue reading “Moonarch of Sehanine”

The Stirges’ Nest

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Seventeen

Thomas Kelly

“From where has this one come to your lands?” Kristryd asked the duke’s daughter. He was certainly no Celine elf nor grey of Silverwood. She saw that clear enough. A long dandyish coat with polished brass buttons hung draped over his slim form. Boots of striding laced up to his knees. Tight-fitting elbow-length silken gloves concealed his hands and forearms. Colorful scarves like the kerchiefs of the Baklunish harem girls adorned his head. Baubled jewelry dangled from his ears. Trinkets, charms, and precious stones hung from a slender-linked silver chain about his neck. Glittering gems set in rings adorned his fingers. Kristryd observed that he conversed easily with the duke and seemed at home among the nobles in the palace yard at Tringlee.

“Deravnye is from Seltaren in Urnst,” Nevallewen replied. “He is a most distinguished elf.”

Overhearing his name, the foppish stranger turned to Kristryd and the duke’s daughter, executed a formal bow, and introduced himself properly, “To my kinfolk I am Deravnye, but I am simply Xaxa among friends.”

“Xaxa? Is that a name?” Kristryd asked. To her, all elves seemed effeminate, but this one more so.

“It’s a diminutive form. Xaxalander in full. And it is a name among the people of Urnst.”

“It must be a difficult burden to bear such an uncouth string of syllables!” the duke’s daughter flirted with feigned distaste.

“My lady knows that I am an uncouth elf. A rogue, expert treasure-hunter, dungeon explorer, magsman, and adventurer,” Xaxa returned the flirtatious jest. Continue reading “The Stirges’ Nest”

Head of the Medusa

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Sixteen

Thomas Kelly

Those sons of Celene who gathered the dead and committed them to the priests of Sehanine came upon a place of battle ringed about with many corpses. In the midst of these they found a toppled and broken stone sculpture of a single warrior. Though the flesh had been made stone, the petrified warrior still wielded his armor, weapons, and gear. “This is no work of an artist’s hands,” Onselvon said when he saw the broken remains. “This was Amras the son of Telfinwe.”

Onselvon made inquiries among the survivors and found one named Eldaeron who had fought beside Amras on the High Road. “Tell us all that befell you,” Onselvon urged.

“We fought our way through a clutch of black-armored ogre guardsmen wielding axes and spears. They ringed about the commander of the force, and we hoped to cut the head from the wyrm. Many fell on my left and my right, but Amras and I leaped through a gap in the ring and confronted the commander: a tall half-blood. That one carried a shield which bore goblin heraldry, painted in red. Namely, the head of a gorgon, magically painted with such enchantment that the serpents of her head writhe and move upon the face of the shield. When Amras saw the shield he stopped frozen, even with his sword poised for the stroke. The color drained from his flesh, and in a trice, he turned to solid stone. This I saw with my own eyes, and to my shame, I turned and fled.” Continue reading “Head of the Medusa”

Way of Tears

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Fifteen

Thomas Kelly

“We’re only here to burn the wretched city,” Hroth explained. “Outside of that, we don’t give a shite.” He gestured to the few dozen one-eared hobgoblin soldiers. They stood motionless at rigid attention—a study in military discipline. Many hundreds of miles had they traversed, under and above the mountains. They were footsore and hungry, on the last of the rations, and impatient for the fight. Now this dung-wad wanted to make excuses! Hroth hovered over Urgush and whispered, breathing his foul breath into the face of his lesser, “Where is your fiend-loving strumpet?”

Vantage on the High Road

Urgush Halfblood blanched and turned his face away from the hobgoblin warrior. “She has supplied us with spells, devilshine weapons, and armor too,” he insisted. He knocked his knuckles against the face of his shield to emphasize the point. “Tokens of her good faith!”

Horth’s yellow eyes blazed with menace. “We didn’t march a whole bloody moon for bloody tokens.”

From the height upon which they stood, the hobgoblin warlord and the half-orc looked down upon an open stretch of the Veluna High Road. A long caravan of gnomes descending from the Kron Hills snaked along the turns in the road, heading toward the fairy kingdom of Celene. Urgush pointed a clawed finger toward the caravan and snivelled, “What do you think those fonkin turds are doing? I watch ‘em come and go on that road, in and out, day after day. Buggerin’ elves, turd-nose gnomes, blasted dwarves! Armies and supplies! No one bothers them. No one hinders them.”

Hroth’s single remaining ear twitched. Continue reading “Way of Tears”

A Voice in the Dark

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Fourteen

Thomas Kelly

The fastaal shouted out orders in the elven tongue, assuming himself the commander of the situation. Likewise, the dwarven officers shouted their own commands in their own tongue, each one assuming himself the leader. Arrows punctured flesh, dwarves and elves clutched at wounds, and savages leaped toward them with thirsty blades.

As the chaos of the battle erupted around her, Kristryd seemed to float above it, as if observing these things happen to someone other than herself—as if playing war in a child’s game. The curious detachment had dreamlike quality. Despite the darkness all around her, her dwur eyes could clearly discern the orcs leaping from behind the stones and dropping from hidden alcoves above. So this is how it ends, here on the Low Road, as it ended for my miserable and unhappy husband, she thought to herself. Her thoughts turned to her three sons. Shall I leave them as orphans?

Kristryd Takes Charge

After only a moment of hesitation, she took charge, ignoring both the Celene officer and the long-bearded dwarven warmen. With a natural ease like one long accustomed to the battlefield, she shouted orders in elvish and dwarvish as the need demanded. Her clear-toned voice resonated above the din of battle. “Form up! Wall of shields! Hammers and axes between!” she commanded in the dwarvish tongue. “Archers aim low, drop the first ranks first,” she commanded in the elvish tongue. “Spellcasters! Light spells, magical arrows, and a wall of fire on the flank!”

Both the elves and the dwarves heeded the voice in the dark, for they had already grown accustomed to her translating on behalf of one another. The dwarves raised a wall of shields, hammers, and axes against the onslaught. The elves loosed away volleys of arrows, striking the first wave so that the second stumbled over them. Archosian employed cantrips to create light spells that revealed the enemy, blinded their eyes, and outlined them in fey light. The sturdy dwur wizard Bagbag threw down spells of power worthy of warmages. Nothing struck fear into the orcs as much as Peralay’s dogs. The cooshees silently leapt at the orcs, ripping at throats. Dothmar and Peralay followed quickly with Concluder and Gnoll-Cleaver, both blades naked and unsheathed, flashing in their hands.

If any foe struck up a conversation with Fastaal Dothmar, Concluder struck twice in reply, putting in the last word. If any orc’s ugly head strayed too close to Peralay’s reach, Gnoll-Cleaver removed the offensive hairy bulb from its shoulders. The battle ended swiftly with the orc host falling back in retreat and cooshees, elves, and dwarves in full pursuit. Continue reading “A Voice in the Dark”