The Battle of Riechsvale

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Thirty-Seven

Thomas Kelly

“This war of yours may profit the dwarves, but my people suffer! Unhappily we joined your alliance. Now our lands have been raped while yours remain whole and untouched.” The Count Palatine spoke from bitterness of heart.

Kristryd replied with sympathy, “Peace to you and upon all that is yours. They caught us unprepared this once, but we will not suffer it to happen again.”

Several months had elapsed since the siege. The queen of Gilmorack and her retinue did not arrive in the County until Ready’reat. By then, Jurnre’s wide streets had been swept clean, the fountains sparkled again, the gardens had been prepared and pruned, and the market squares restored. Yet the dwur queen’s eye had not failed to notice the ravaged lands all about. Her journey took her past burned-out villages, ransacked farmsteads, orchards stripped bare, and vacant-eyed, broken people. What will they eat this winter? Where will they find shelter from the rains? she wondered.

Strategy in Jurnre

Kristryd summoned a council of the alliance in Jurnre and promised assistance to those who had lost homes, farms, and villages during the raids. Her father and her brothers came up from Gyrax. Duke Gallowagn’s daughter Nevallewen arrived from Tringlee, demanding reparations. Nevallewen spoke on her father’s behalf, “You drove them out of the mountains and into our lands. Villages are burnt, granaries looted, vineyards trampled, and people slain. Who will compensate for loss of life and home?”

“We are at war!” Kristryd answered boldly, irritation punctuating her words. As much as she admired the duke, she did not like Nevallewen, and she made no attempt to hide her distaste for the elfess. “We have all suffered. Don’t speak to the dwur about your losses. The blood of our folk stains the stones above and below because, when there is a job to be done, by Moradin’s hammer, we dwarves get it done! All of us have paid a heavy price.”

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The Siege of Jurnre

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Thirty-Six

Thomas Kelly

“That witch-loving lickspigot Urgush led us to disaster after disaster, but we are done with him and his drossels!” Hroth paced back and forth, glaring at the fanged faces of the tribal chiefs and shamans gathered about him. They were heads of tribes no-longer loyal to Urgush and what clans remained among the lower Lortmils. Hroth tossed a log onto the bonfire, sending an eruption of bright sparks wheeling up into the nighttime sky. “No more fighting among ourselves. No more orc against goblin and goblin against orc. If you want to feed your bellies and see your young ones live, we need one chief. As I am the only one without his head up his own ass, it can only be me. If anyone says otherwise, say it to my face or crawl back to your shithole and hide.”

The goblins chiefs, orc elders, gnoll pack leaders, and all their shamans jeered at the imaginary dissenters.

“Swear by your gods, by your demons, or by your devils. Makes no difference to me. Just give me your oath!” Hroth shouted. He rubbed at the scarred stump of his left ear to emphasize the point. “You too, you mud-humping sons of Gruumsh!” he gestured toward the sullen orc captains. “Let’s seal it in blood.”

The last suggestion inspired a cacophonous caterwauling of enthusiastic approval. Drums pounded. The shamans dragged victims to the stone. One after another, they took turns, soaking Hroth’s new covenant with the blood of prisoners which, until that moment, the warlord kept caged and bound near at hand. The shamans mixed upon the stone the blood of men and women snatched from villages, dwarves captured in battle, unlucky halflings, unhappy elves, and even gnomes. They smeared it on the faces of the goblin chieftans and the all the orc elders, and the gnolls lapped at it as it pooled around the stone.

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The Scribbet on the Stone

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Thirty-Five

Thomas Kelly

Bagbag returned to Bennoth Tine, troubled in spirit. He told Kristryd much of what had transpired in Dengar but not all things. Then he retired to the tower chamber he had designated for himself. Kristryd found him there at work, surrounded by candles, open books, charts and symbols, and all sorts of paraphernalia she shuddered to guess at. The old dwarf knelt on the floor at the center of the room with a scribbet of charcoal, chalking out a summoner’s circle and scribing it with runes, glyphs, and signs which he carefully copied from the brass-bound book.

Bagbag’s Tale

“I wonder how you freed my sons and set them over Dengar,” Kristryd mused as Bagbag scribbled on the floor.

“I made a bargain,” the old wizard said without looking up. His tone became urgent, “Now is the time to take the anvil back to your father’s kingdom. I would hear the Anvil of the Mountains ringing among the bells of Hammer Hill in the Gyrax! I would see it blessed in Havenhill, in the Temple of the Blue Mines!”

“How is it, wise teacher,” Kristryd pried, “That you have orchestrated all these things?”

Bagbag looked up from inside the summoner’s circle. “Have you been spying on me with your silver-framed mirror?” he snirtled, a twinkle in his eye.

“Often have I tried. Well-warded are your secrets.”

“I’m no fonkin!” Bagbag chuckled. “Of a truth! I have only ever served you and your father before you, and the king of Balnorhak before him.”

“Not so,” Kristryd’s tone hardened. “Who did you serve when you plotted the fall of Grot-Ugrat? From where did you obtain that Suel spell? What role did you play in the theft of the anvil from Dengar? If you would have me trust you, O trueheaded Bagbag, tell me your tale.”

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Dengar’s Treason

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Thirty-Four

Thomas Kelly

“No more will the blood of dwarves be shed to slake the thirst of a witch!” declared Thane Evrast, the undermountain king of Dengar. He recalled all his soldiers and formally withdrew from the alliance. Kristryd’s sons, Grallsonn, Dwalyn, and Pegli, denounced their grandfather for speaking slander against their mother, but the undermountain king showed a letter sealed with the impress of Dame Thresstone of Gilmorack. The king’s scribe read the letter aloud in their hearing:

Be it known that Urgush, the shaman-king of the Red Medusa orcs, colluded with Kristryd and with the warlock Bagbag to loot the treasuries of Dengar and steal away the Anvil of the Lortmil Mountains.

“Lies and forgeries!” Kristryd’s sons said. “Who is this Dame Thresstone and where is she? Let her come and testify about these matters.”

Thane Evrast clapped his hands. Dame Thresstone stepped into his audience hall, adorned in all the finery and wealth of an undermountain queen. “I will testify before you by Moradin’s beard and by all the gods. Moreover, Kristryd has sent her demons to torment me. She has made my life a terror and a nightmare. Had it not been for the mercy of Hedvyg and the power of her wards and sigils, I should already be pulled alive down into the Abyss!” 

Kristryd’s sons reasoned with all who would hear them, “How is it that our mother is called a witch in league with witches when she leads the fight against the witches? How is it that our mother is a friend of goblins when she leads the fight against the goblins?”

Thane Evrast gave ear to the counsel of Dame Thresstone. Said she, “Why chase the rabbit if the rabbit will come to us.” The undermountain king put his grandsons in chains and imprisoned them in the dungeons beneath Dengar.

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Ghosts of Velstar Keep

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Thirty-Three

Thomas Kelly

The guards posted in the lookout towers atop Mount Abharclamh sighted signal fires. “The hosts muster again!” they told the Undermountain Queen. “Our western watch has lit the signals!”

“What woodness? I must see their movements,” Kristryd insisted. “I would know their numbers and see their disposition.”

“Their wardings blind my spells,” Bagbag protested.

Kristryd and her true-headed friend had only recently returned to Gilmorack to settle affairs, administer matters of the kingdom, and silence the false rumors spread by Kristryd’s adversary. Dame Thresstone’s mysterious disappearance raised questions. Many murmured about Kristryd behind her back and named her a witch. By use of the silver-framed mirror, Kristryd heard what things they spoke of her. Those who murmured against the queen, she removed from position. Some she banished without explanation. So the dwarves of Gilmorack learned to fear and dread her all the more.

Then came this fresh trouble with the host of Urgush, and it puzzled her much. “Does he mean to flee these mountains or merely to raid Gran March?” She rolled out her maps and parchments on the stone tables of the Hall of Scrolls and mused over the possibilities. “Let Yolande hate me as she will,” Kristryd resolved. “I will summon Emolasmairim.” That same day, the queen ascended to the lookout tower atop the slopes of snow-covered Abharclamh. From that great height, her eyes could see Veluna. She fancied she saw even the southernmost peaks of the Yatils. Far to the southwest, smoke yet rose from the signal posts near the Haunt of Haradaragh. She filled her lungs with the cold mountain air, put the horn of Celene to her lips, and sounded a blast. The note rang clear and true and echoed back to her from distant peaks. The effort made her head swim, so thin the air at that height. She sat down by the watchfire and waited. The sun dipped low in the west. Icy mountain winds whipped up the mountain snow. Celene showed not her face that night; Luna offered only a waning sliver of her crescent. The dwarves stationed in the lookout post did their best to make their queen comfortable in their eyrie. They heated water for her and offered her their rations. Darkness fell over Oerth. Kristryd wrapped herself in furs and drew herself closer to the warmth of the fire. As she drifted to sleep, she thought to herself, Perhaps he will not come.

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Hedvyg’s Reflection

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Thirty-Two

Thomas Kelly

“Where are your demon lovers now? Where is your Witch Queen?” the yellow-eyed hobgoblin snarled at the half-orc.

“Trust the plan,” Urgush insisted.

Hroth slapped the half-orc a staggering blow across the face as if to waken him from enchantment. Urgush fell backwards, landing hard on his butt. The silver crown fell from his head and rolled along the narrow cliff’s edge. Hroth crushed it under his booted foot. “Time for a new plan half-blood,” he barked.

Urgush pulled himself back up to his feet and thrust a long clawed finger at the menacing hobgoblin, “You’ll pay for that you swollen one-eared sack!” He lifted his shield with the face of the red medusa toward the hulking hobgoblin, intending to petrify him where he stood. The painted serpents on the face of the shield writhed eagerly. Hroth roared, tore the shield free, and tossed it over the side of the cliff. It sailed through the air like a saucer, disappearing into the vale far below. Urgush nearly leapt after it, cursing and spluttering.

“I’m going home,” Hroth announced. He took with him his hobgoblins and a fair number those once loyal to Urgush. Treacherous was the journey. By secret ways and hidden paths, they found their way to their brothers who still made war in the valleys, caverns, tunnels, and hilltops around the forsaken Vale of Grot-Ugrat. Hroth found the goblins there broken and wandering, like kine without herdsmen.

He dispatched ravens to the mountain tribes and clans. He summoned them to hear his words, “Urgush is yesterday’s fart gas! That one led us to the edge of disaster! Hroth is your salvation.”

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Harnekiah

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Thirty-One

Thomas Kelly

“We’ve cut the gravy too blashy,” Bamadar warned his queen. “We have scarce the strength to hold the roads. Supply lines stretch hundreds of miles, and one host is far separated from another by a fortnight march. How shall we fare if Urgush comes against us now?”

“And I am sick to death of goblin stench,” Kristryd admitted. “But I will hold every inch we have taken. If our lines collapse, there remains no shield between our kingdoms and the goblin host.”

“I called for reinforcements, but they send us lads who have not yet seen their first whiskers,” Bamadar complained. “We run out of dwarves!”

“The price of such a war,” the queen shrugged. “Dwarves do not leave a thing unfinished.”

The Low Stream

By the first of Reaping (503 CY), Kristryd’s dwur controlled the west spur of the Low Road between the Ulek Pass and the Celene Pass. From all those caverns and snaking tunnels, they ousted the nests of goblinkind. Such remarkable advances cost her heavily. In those days, the dwarves called the Low Road “the Low Stream” for the quantity of dwarven blood that streamed through those caverns and ran down those tunnels.

Displaced tribes of kobold, goblin, orc, hobgoblin, gnoll, and ogre tried at times to flee the mountains and seek refuge in the lowlands. The Rangers of Triserron patrolled the Druid’s Defile. Hunting parties from Celene watched the banks of the Handmaiden. If any of the gundyguts ever dared cross the Handmaiden River, the elves of Celene cut them down. If they fled to the south, they met the stout troops of the Principality. If they fled to the west, they faced the ready men, elves, and gnomes the Ulek states.

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Hammer and the Anvil

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Thirty

Thomas Kelly

“The vermin move beneath these mountains like rats in a sewer!” Prince Olinstaad Corond complained. He sent teams of workers to close unused tunnels, underground passages, and abandoned mines. Goblin raiders harassed the stoneworkers and the hardhewers as they labored to wall off their roadways, seal their exit holes, and cut off their access to water. The laborers carried a pickaxe in one hand and wore a shield on the other. The work progressed slowly. By Fireseek CY 502, the workmen secured the crumbled halls of ancient Balnorhak, purged forgotten mines, closed off rat holes, and pressed on to the tunnels between the Lortmil Mountains proper.

The Sweeps

The ways into the Lortmil tunnels were less easily sealed, for the Low Road is not a straight narrow path through the mountain’s roots. It makes its way through a maze of passages, now following natural caverns, now cutting through fissures in the rock, now descending by steep steps cut into the granite, now following along underground riverways for winding miles, now exiting by cave mouth and crossing overland, now descending back into the undermountain by hidden door set in the mountain side, now narrowing to tunnel through solid stone for miles … and so it went. In the spring, after winter rains and snowmelt, lower caverns flooded and became passable only by barge and boat. Underground rivers turned to impassable torrents and plunging waterfalls. The battles raged regardless of the season or the dangers. The blood of dwarves and goblins mixed together and pooled in the deep places.

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Bagbag’s Troubles

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Twenty-Nine

Thomas Kelly

Oldid Silverbeard, steward of Ironhelm at Eastpass, put on his spectacles to better read the script on the parchment. Curious indeed! An anonymous letter in the old hand of Balnorhak and sealed with the seal of Thane Dorrii. He tilted the wick of the oil lamp for better light and read over the words a third time. It explained the recent treachery of the three sisters, and it provided detailed instructions for finding the lair in which Hedvyg concealed herself. It concluded with a stern warning, “Give no ear to her lies! Silence the old hag; cease her crooked lips from moving.”

Hedvyg Captured

Silverbeard shook his head in disbelief. “Here in the Principality? After all the years? Well, I shall see to it!” The elderly dwur noble assembled a party of worthies to enter the hidden lair and slay the witch. The adventurers found the halls of Hedvyg, but they did not catch her unprepared. Cruel traps she readied for them, and fearsome monsters she had collected to defend her secret holdings. A certain vampiress of Perrenland gave her command over chilling wraiths and foul necromancies. Hedvyg was ready. Those heroes sent by Oldid Silverbeard never returned, and who can say what became of them?

Hedvyg cast the smoke-raising herb onto the scryer’s pot and called out for her sisters, but they did not answer. She called out for the Yatil Queen, but she received no reply. So I am all alone now, she thought to herself. Now it’s my time. She strode into the dusty halls of her father’s gone and vanished kingdom. Dark-helmed dwarven guards flanked her, granting her the appearance of one to be taken seriously and not trifled with. Undead on loan from Drelnza trailed along in her retinue, striking terror. Hedvyg swept into Eastpass, freezing the blood of all who beheld her and curdling the milk of their cows and their goats while it yet remained in the udders. She declared herself the sole remaining heir to the throne of Balnorhak, the last surviving daughter of the undermountain king. She called upon the houses of Balnorhak to rally to her, and she charged them to cast down the upstart Prince Olinstaad Corond.

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Durgeddin the Black

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Twenty-Eight

Thomas Kelly

A blare of trumpeting fanfare called those in attendance to attention. “Durgeddin the Black, Smith of Balnorhak, Lord of Glitterhame and Thane of Khundrakar!” the herald announced. The carved stone doors swung open to reveal an elderly dwarven lord of noble bearing, broad-shouldered and strong of limb. His grey-streaked beard glittered with jewels and gold. Gemstones studded his leather jerkin. Rings glittered on every finger. At his side hung a great craftsman’s hammer.

Everyone in the audience hall stood to their feet, even the undermountain queen. Durgeddin bowed politely, his long beard sweeping the floor. Kristryd returned the bow, as did all those present.

“Your Majesty,” the old dwarf said, “I have come to your summons.”

Kristryd’s eyes narrowed just slightly. Old Bagbag hastened to explain, “Your majesty. I took the liberty.”

Old Friends

Kristryd nodded. “Thane Durgeddin, you are most welcome in these halls. Had I known of your journey, I would have sent an escort to receive you in royal fashion.”

“As soon I received your letter, I marched out with a dozen of my strongest,” the noble dwarf said. “Our journey from has been long indeed, and we have tales to tell of the perils through which we passed. Plenty of orcish blood along the road, but blessed be Moradin and blessed be Berronar, we have arrived.”

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