Ceremonies

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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.

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Siege of Hoch Dunglorin

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Forty-Four

Thomas Kelly

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.

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Comes the Trampling Host

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Forty-Three

Thomas Kelly

Gilvgola conducted coronation solemnities, sacrificed flocks and herds, and declared a sacred meal. The dwarves swore vows and took oaths to Kristryd in the presence of the Sacred Heart. The feasting went long into the night, and the dwarves lifted many bowls to their queen. Kristryd sat at the head of table with Thane Blackaxe at her right and grey-bearded, sorcerous old Bagbag at her left. Sullen-faced Dame Thresstone glowered dejectedly from her place at the women’s table, two steps lower than the table where Kristryd sat.

Reflections

As the night degenerated into bawdreaming songs of Hanseath and Wenta, Kristryd excused herself to the privacy of her room. She removed her silver-framed mirror from it’s velvet cloth wrap and spoke into her own reflection, “Hedvyg! Hear me!” The old witch’s face failed to materialize in the mirror, but Kristryd continued. “Hedvyg! I live and breathe! Mine is the sacred anvil of your fathers, and mine is the devilshine book. I am made queen of the mountains without your assistance. You have failed. I am prophecy fulfilled. You are nothing.”

The first faint glow of the new day began to brighten the sky. Kristryd found her way through the austere halls of Hoch Dunglorin to the chamber where the high elf Gallowagn stayed. She tapped softly on the door. Despite the hour, she knew the duke would not be sleeping.

“Does the Queen of the Lortmil Mountains request my audience?” Gallowagn asked with surprise as his servant showed her into his chambers. “Should I not rather request audience with her?” He stood to his feet and bent at the waist in a graceful bow.

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Hail, Kristryd

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Forty-Two

Thomas Kelly

“The messenger has returned,” Bamadar announced. He had to shout to make his voice heard above the thrumming of rain on the oiled skin canopy stretched over the pavilion.

“Step in, Bammer, and dry your beard,” the queen summoned. The soggy soldier lifted the heavy fabric of the door flap and stepped into the dimly-lit pavilion. He shook his head and shuddered his shoulders like a dog shakes itself dry. Turning his attention to the thane’s table, he bowed before the queen. Kristryd reclined next to trueheaded old Bagbag. Her son Pegli sat on her other side. No others were present. “Well, you look comfortable and dry!” Bamadar observed.

“Don’t leave the man standing in the rain,” the queen scolded.

Bamadar raised his eyebrows in surprise. “You would have him enter your pavillion?” he asked for clarification.

“Before he melts or floats away,” she insisted.

Bamadar shrugged and stepped back out into the rain. A moment later he returned with the messenger, an equally soggy traveler, shivering with the cold. He stooped to enter through the low-cut canvas door flap. As the traveler stood to his full height, Pegli leaped to his feet in astonished disbelief. “Mother! That’s an orcblood!” he stated the obvious in protest.

“I recognize him,” Bagbag observed with distaste. He narrowed his eyes and sized the man up. “Claimed to be a Duchyman and a vinter.”

 “Billy Locks of Gliddensbar, m’lords and lady,” the orcblood executed a quick bow toward the dwarves reclining at table. Somewhat self-consciously, he edged nearer to the hot coals burning on the open brazier at the center of the room. His pig-like eyes darted from face to face as he warmed himself. The glow of the hot coals burning cast a play of shadows which made his orcish features the more devilish.   

“Mr. Locks has proven himself a servant most reliable,” Kristryd offered in his defense.

“One of your horse-flesh traders?” Bagbag asked with a dismissive snort.

Kristryd ignored him and focused her attention on the half-orc. “Were you able to deliver my invitation?”

 Billy Locks nodded eagerly. “Yes, m’lady. That I did. Ol’ gundygut’s lonely ear went all atwitch with the news. He’ll take yer bait fer sure.”

“What’s this? With what have you baited the trap?” Bagbag asked.

“We are the bait,” the queen explained. She turned back to the half-orc, “How long before Hroth comes?”

“He’s gathered his headmen, and all the tribes too. They’ll be already on the march by now.”

“They won’t march in the rain,” Bagbag asserted.

“Oh, they’ll march in the rain, they will!” Billy Locks contradicted the wise loremaster. “Hroth’s promised plenty o’ spoils, and he tells them they’ll be wintering in Tringlee and Jurnre too.”

“Mother, what have you done?” Pegli asked wide-eyed and wary.

 “How many does Hroth bring to the field?” Kristryd asked the spy.

“All of them!” the half-orc promised.

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Back from the Dead

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Forty-One

Thomas Kelly

The Lortmil Queen and her elven travelling companions turned aside from the road to avoid the siege of Hagthar still underway. “I have neither time nor strength of arms for such an entanglement now. Let the men of Veluna hold their own border,” she sighed. The detour took them east to Dorob Kilthduum where dwelt Gilvgola, the Sacred Heart of Berronar. The priestess had only just returned from her summer rounds, arriving back at the dwarven fort she called home on time for the moon of Brewfest. The corpulent priestess welcomed Kristryd as one might welcome a dear departed friend when found alive in a happy dream. The priestess offered up festival sacrifices of thanksgivings in addition to those of the holy day.

At the conclusion of the festivities, Kristryd sought counsel of Gilvgola, “I have taken a foolish oath in the names of Moradin, Berronar, and all the gods of my fathers. I spoke in haste and under sway of passion. I would now renounce my oath and have it annulled.”

The Sacred Heart smiled with pity upon Olinstaad’s daughter but shook her head resolutely. “If I had the power to annul oaths, I would be powerful indeed! You have sworn in the name of our Father and Mother. The matter remains between you and the gods. Who is Gilvgola to absolve you or annul your obligations?”

“By Berronar’s beard!” Kristryd cursed bitterly. “Then I have no recourse but to continue this hateful affair! If you cannot free me from this burden, you must help me carry it. Come with me to Gilmorack, you and all your best warriors too. The tide turned against us at Riechsvale. We must move with alacrity or lose all the stones for which we have labored these many years.”

The Sacred Heart gave thought before replying. “Already the castellan has sent away what axes we can spare. Already our young dwarves have fought for you, and many have fallen on faraway fields. Scarcely enough of us remain here to defend these walls or hold these lands about us. Even now Urgush lays siege to Hagthar, a few days march from here.”

“Yet you will come with me,” Kristryd insisted emphatically. “Ask Berronar, seek an oracle, fast and pray, divine what signs you must, but come with me you will! Mother! I need the gods with me if I am to satisfy the debt, and I need you beside me too.”

The Sacred Heart inquired of Berronar. The auguries were good. At the conclusion of the festival, Kristryd left Dorob Kilthduum with Gilvgola and the remaining warriors of that place, several hundred strong.

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Heroes of the Fey Kingdom

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Forty

Thomas Kelly

The Lortmil Queen carefully folded the garments of Esmerin and packed them away in her sack. She girded herself in her mithril armor and strapped her sword to her side, and pulled a red travelling cloak overtop. Slinging the sack over her shoulder, she set off toward Courwood. Not long had she walked before passing the burnt ruin of Defile’s End. The blackened and broken stones made her shudder. She offered prayers for the fallen.

Edda’s New Riddle

A few miles further brought her to the cairn that sheltered the bones of the Prince Consort’s host. Like a wight clambering out from a tomb, a wild-haired and wild-eyed elfess climbed from behind the stones and leapt up on top of the cairn. She wore only a loose-fitting hair cloak bound at the waist by a thin leather belt. “Hail, Queen of the Lortmil Mountains,” Edda saluted. “What now for Kristryd Olinsdotter?”

“Edda!” Kristryd exclaimed as she recovered from the start. “I am almost glad to see you. Have you more riddles for me?”

“Just this one,” Edda replied. “How did the Red Fang orcs know to waylay the Prince Consort at this place?”

“I imagine they fell upon him as a random act of savage banditry, not unlike a dozen’s dozen that occur in these mountains every year.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps you are right,” Edda feigned a naiveté that belied her words.

“I feel as if we have had this conversation before Edda. If you know something more, you might say so.” Kristryd grew impatient and rested her hand upon the hilt of her sword where it hung at her belt.

The wild elf continued, “The Grand Court whispered about the People of the Testing. Some said that we plotted against the life of the Prince Consort.”

“I don’t understand your pitchkettle riddles Edda.”

“Perhaps you have not heard that the queen’s dandy led a strike deep beneath the mountains. They say that the third time is the magic. This time the fastaal made good on his oaths. None of the Red Fang orcs remain in the bowl, though many begged for their lives.”

“That’s good news to my ears.”

“Is it? The fastaal persuaded the unhappy survivors to spill the true tale of the ambush. They said an old dwurwife hired their tribe for the deed. She paid them in horse’s flesh.”

A stab of fear plunged into Kristryd’s heart.

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Esmerin

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Thirty-Nine

Thomas Kelly

A soft mattress in a clean, well-lit place. Sunlight poured in through a round window. Beside the bed stood a small chair and desk. From pegs on the far wall hung a coat of glimmering mithril armor. Next to it, a short sword, still in its scabbard.

Kristryd passed her hands over her body, but she felt no wounds. On the desk beside the bed she found her personal belongings, including her comb and her silver-framed mirror. What was the last thing she remembered? A stab in the back, a blow to the head, a slow tumble into darkness. “How came I to this place?” she asked aloud as she sat up in the bed. “Where is this place?”

“How did you come here?” Alton Chubb Quickbread came through the open doorway into Kristryd’s room. He waved his hands above is head dramatically as he explained, “Your big griff carried you here. Upset all the eagles too. They were screaming at each other, swooping around, but your horse-bird set you down in the town square. They told me, ‘Alton, you will never believe what just happened. A big blonke hippogriff carried the broken body of pretty dwarfess, all dressed in mithril armor, and laid her down right in the center of town.’ I didn’t need to be told twice. I knew it could only be you, my fairhead.”

“You healed my wounds?”

“I also made muffins!” the halfling boasted.

“Is this Prinzfield?” Kristryd asked, swinging her legs out of the bed.

Alton shook his head. “You’re not in Prinzfield, my lady.”

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Siege of Castle Hagthar

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The Hateful Wars: Chapter Thirty-Eight

Thomas Kelly

“Now the rats flee as the ship sinks,” Urgush remarked to himself. Tidings of the battle of Riechsvale had travelled quickly through the mountains. “Gather around me,” the half-blood summoned the leaders of those few clans that yet remained under his sway. He tried to imagine how Hroth might rally their hearts if he were present. He chose his words accordingly. “Hear what I will say. I won’t wait here to be buggered by bearded dwur boys and frolicking olvin ass-lickers.” He lifted his eyes reverently in the direction of the distant Yatils even though they remained far out of sight from where he stood on the high slopes of the northern Lortmils. “Am I not the servant of the great witch? Time to leave these stinking dwur-shit holes and join her fight against those putz-sucking Perrenlanders. Then we will eat and drink without fear, and she will feed us the flesh of men!”

With inspiring words like this, he rallied those tribes and clans that remained yet loyal to him. Urgush gathered up the treasure of gemstones he had stolen from the treasuries of Dengar. He loaded the precious cargo on wagons with many other treasures, indeed, all the treasures of his tribe and those beneath him—a lovedrury to place before the archmagis.

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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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