At times the sound of the ethereal voices seemed to draw close, as if the singers stood outside her cottage window, but at other times, the voices sounded far and distant. Kristryd tried to make out the words. The archaic forms were beyond her level of fluency. Nevertheless, the potent enchantments lulled her into trance-like waking dreams in which she seemed to see the characters, the deeds, and the scenes described by the silver voices rising and falling on the night air.
Of Gruumsh and Larethian
“It is the story of Gruumsh and his wars with the gods,” the old lore master explained. “We’ve been hearing it retold nearly every night.” For the whole ten-day lamentation, the eerie keening melodies of Sehanine’s priestesses kept Kristryd and Bagbag mesmerized, hushed, and reverent.
“You understand the words of their poetry?” Kristryd asked her tutor.
“Nay daughter, not scarcely half of it, but I know the tale as it’s told in Enstad. Not like the version told by our priests. Here in Enstad, gods know, they have their own telling.”
“I would know it if you can tell it,” Kristryd said with a dreamy sigh. Though she could not make out the words, the olven songs stirred her heart with a sad and mournful pining she could neither express nor explain. Some wistful nostalgia in the melody tugged at her. It made her heart melancholy … but wasn’t it a sweet and beautiful sorrow?
Bagbag explained, “The elves of Enstad say their city is the birthplace of their people—the very place where the elven god battled the One-Eyed (may Moradin smite him) and their war came to its grisly conclusion. You know the tale?” Continue reading “The Lay of Larethian”
“Trolls! A wall of trolls block the way!” the rider shouted as he urged his horse forward. The druid furrowed up his brow and squinted down the narrow choke point of the mountain pass. He could see horse and rider galloping hard, but he could not make out the words. “What alarm is this?” the stoic priest of the Old Faith asked of the olven prince at his side. The scout’s warning could not be heard by human ears at such a distance from the party, but keen are the ears of the elves.
The Prince Triserron reigned his steed back and called a halt to the caravan at whose head he rode. He fixed his eyes upon the advancing rider. “To arms! Ready weapons! Secure the animals,” the noble prince ordered. He turned in the saddle to survey the company that followed after him: two dozen folk of Celene, servants with wains and pack animals, a half-dozen gnomes, a score of mountaineers, and several of them hardened rangers from the County of Ulek. Moreover, a powerful druid on loan from the pataline walked at his side.
“Well?” The druid asked.
“Your ranger rides nigh. He shouts into the wind a warning of trolls,” the prince replied without concern.
The druid cocked his head to incline his ear in the direction of the horseman. “Less than a day’s ride from Courwood! Beory’s Abundant Bosom! Why fuss over a few scragglings?”
The prince nodded. “Just the same, I will hear the scout’s reports.” The stallion on which Triserron sat snorted and cantered sideways nervously. Continue reading “Druid’s Defile”
The wind in her face stole away her breath. Kristryd plummeted, freefalling through darkness. Dizzy with terror, she felt her stomach lurch as she dropped from some great height. From where have I have a fallen? she wondered. She could not remember. The melodious call of a horn came to her, faintly, as if carried on the wind from a great distance. The sound of it pulled her from the dream and roused her before she struck the ground. She woke abruptly, gasping for breath.
A Horn in the Night
Only the light of the handmaiden moon and the starry sky shone through the open window, but dwarves have keen eyes, and they can see in the dark as well as most peoples can see by light of a lamp. Kristryd looked about the small cottage. Nothing amiss. In the other room of the cosh, she could hear trueheaded Bagbag snoring heavily. Did I hear the call of a horn or was that the dream? she asked herself. Or was it just old Bagbag’s snores? As if in reply to the unspoken queries, she heard again the blare of a resonant horn calling in the woods–and merry glad voices too. The horn this time sounded nearer. She rose from her bed in the guest-cosh and gazed through the small open window. Most of the night had already passed. The grove shone dimly under the pale light of Celene. A fine fragrance of cool mountain air chased the sleep from her head and seemed to beck her into the night. After such a frightening dream, she had no aim to return to her sleep. So long as I am already awake, why shouldn’t I walk a bit under light of the moon? she asked herself. She pulled on her soft boots, wrapped herself in a shawl, and went out into the night. Continue reading “The Fey Mysteries”
“Here we are,” Bagbag stated matter-of-fact as he and Kristryd and all their retinue crossed over the stone-arch bridge that spanned the splashing Handmaiden. “I’ve not set foot in this place since before you were born, but nothing has changed,” the old wizard observed. He punctuated the observation with a snort and a wrinkling of the nose to indicate his distaste. Still he straightened his sorcerous hat and smoothed his coat as if to make himself more presentable. Indeed, Bagbag knew that many eyes were now fixed upon their small party, even if those watching remained unseen. The heavy-laden mountain dwarves glanced about fearfully, uncertain of their safety amidst so much fey devilshine. They drew together in a tight clutch and kept their weapons at the ready.
Ignoring the apprehensions of her afterlings, Kristryd breathed deeply to take in the rich scents of the kingdom. Wood smoke from bakers’ ovens carried the sweet and nutty aroma of elf bread on the morning chill. Frankincense, myrrh, and the fragrance of flowers mingled with the peaty scent of the fallen roanwood leaves that carpeted the ground beneath her feet. The princess cocked her head to better fill her ears with the morning music. The occasional piping of unseen pipers, the gentle strings of lute and dulcimer, and the melodic chirp and trill of songbirds all blended together as if in chorus. In the distance, almost imperceptible, the rising and falling of perfect crystal voices, locked in ethereal harmonies, never ceased. Her eyes too took their fill of delights. The perfect architecture, naturally integrated into the roanwood-covered slopes of the foothills, making it appear as if no one lived there at all. She searched all around for some solid pattern to make sense of the city’s layout, but the whole of it seemed as random as the forest floor. Yet, somehow, she sensed symmetry like the petals of a flower. Continue reading “Her Fey Majesty”
The urgent toll of bells roused Kristryd from sleep. Blinking in the darkness of her bedchamber, she called for a light. A servant girl hurried in bearing a single candle and busied herself kindling the lamps. Their illumination quickly cast the shadows from the room, but the light did not dispel the confusion or uncertainties. “Why toll the bells of Dengar?” Kristryd demanded of the servant, but the girl could only reply anxiously, “I know not my lady!”
The ringing clamor continued. “Alarm! Alarm!” the bells seemed to warn. The blare of horns could be heard too, faintly at first, but soon answered by nearer trumpeting.
“Bring me a gown!” Kristryd commanded the maidservant. As she pulled the garment over her head, she caught the scent of smoke in the air, not smoke of candle nor lamp, but rather the acrid sooty smell of consuming fire. “Has a dragon come upon us?” she asked the servant girl. “I smell smoke.”
“I known not my lady,” the girl repeated innocently.
Young Pegli erupted through the bedchamber door, half dressed in armor, fumbling with the straps, chain links, and clasps. “Mother! Goblins have entered the lower halls! All the lower city is ablaze!”
“Clangeddin’s Hammer!” Kristryd exclaimed in dismay. Then noting that her youngest son intended to join the fray, she added quickly, “You shall stay here, by my side to defend me. Let the warriors drive back the foe.”
“I too am a warrior of Dengar!” Pegli insisted. His injured tone of voice betrayed wounded dignity. “Help me fit this armor.” Continue reading “The Stolen Anvil”
Another arrow clattered and skittered along the stones. Face down on the ground, Bagbag moaned piteously to himself. Crooking his arm up around to his back, his fingers closed on the shaft and fletching of orcish barb. He tugged gently to see if he might pull the barb free, but the pain made him cry out and writhe involuntarily. Abandoning that effort, he dragged himself under cover of a nearby boulder, propped himself up, and forced himself to focus on his craft. His lips moved to mutter the words of a spell. Of a sudden, a flash of lightning sprang from the wounded wizard’s hands and struck against the higher rock on which two orcish archers perched. At the same instant, a crack of thunder echoed up and down the ravine. A half dozen dazed orcs staggered out from the rocks where the lightning had struck. Kristryd sprang to the charge, leveling her spear and thrusting her way back up the steep ascent with all the strength and resolve of her father’s noble blood. The orcs stumbled about, blinded by the lightning and deafened by the thunder. They did not see her coming. The point of her spear caught the first one under the ribs. Her shield shattered a second and sent him tumbling to the stones below. Unseen arrows leapt from Bagbag’s hands, and two more orcs fell dead at her feet. Continue reading “Early Allies”
After the winter rains ceased, the old wizard announced that he would make yet another trip back to the court at Gyrax and on to his home at Khundrakar. Kristryd declared, “This time I shall come with you, for half a century has passed since I have seen my father and my brothers or looked upon the halls of my childhood.”
During Bagbag’s frequent absences, Kristryd pined for conversation with her mentor, tutor, ward, and trueheaded friend. She kept herself busy enough with matters of court, overseeing the education of her three sons, and conducting herself according to the pleasantries and protocols of dwarven aristocracy, but in Bagbag’s absence, she felt alone among the thick-headed mountain dwarves. She often wished she had never left her father’s halls in Ulek.
Bagbag shook his head emphatically, “Nay my lady. Unless Thane Evrast grants an escort. The roads are safe no longer, and all the ways through the mountains fraught with peril.”
“I know the perils well,” Kristryd rejoined. “I need no escort.” In truth, she knew that Thane Evrast would not provide her an escort, for she had often begged it of him, but the old king guarded over his widowed daughter-in-law jealously. Continue reading “Ways Fraught with Peril”
The Prince of Ulek bade his daughter farewell and set a tiara upon her dark curls. He kissed her forehead. Tears streaked down his cheeks and moistened his beard before he released her from his arms. Four stout lads lifted her on a litter which they carried all the distance to the Duchy of Ulek. All that way, old Bagbag paced alongside on foot.
Duke Gallowagn of Ulek, the high elf lord over those lands, welcomed Kristryd and her party to Tringlee and entertained the dwarves in grand style.[i] Indeed, he bade them eat from his own table.
When they had set aside desire for food and drink, conversation turned to matters of politics and news of realms. “I am much amazed,” Kristryd said to the duke, “That you, being an elf, have shown such grace to us.” She spoke in the olven tongue, a mark of her learning in Keoland and old Bagbag’s tutelage.
“Your warder can tell you that I am an old friend of your father,” the wise elf lord replied in the dwur tongue. Then switching back to Olven, he declared, “In Lothromenoron, we are a broadminded people, accepting the many peaceably and with mutual goodwill.”
“Lothromenoron,” Kristryd repeated thoughtfully in Olven. The name spoke of long-ago fairy-tale days. The new name of the territory, “The Duchy of Ulek,” had little meaning to the ancient elf lord.[ii] “What of your neighbors in the mountains? Are you also broadminded toward the dwur in Dengar and Gilmorack?” Kristryd asked.
“Your highness, it is my fond hope,” the duke replied, “That you yourself shall become an ambassador of good will between our peoples. We all hope that this marriage marks an end to the old blood feud which has far too long endured.” Continue reading “The Wedding of Kristryd Olinsdotter”
There was a dwarf named Olinstaad from the house of Corond, born in the city of Gyrax on the Bay of Adirole. His father was Morgiz and his mother was called Anesia, and both of them were noble dwur of the old blood of Balnorhak.[i] They kept an estate on the river that flows between Eastpass and Oakhollow where they had lived for so many centuries that the river took its name from them, and no one remembers if it had ever had a different name. In those days, the remote mountains belonged to the old dwur kingdoms, but the lowlands and the mountain passes belonged to the Lion Throne of Niole Dra.
The blood of Olinstaad came from no insignificant place. The noble House Corond boasted close ties of kinship with the dwur of Irongate, and, in his youth, Olinstaad twice crossed the Azure Sea by way of sailing ship to visit those far-off lands. A noble and affluent dwarf, he made a name for himself as a roguish hero of great strength Continue reading “Ehlonna’s Blessing”
Something wicked flickered into view. It flashed and pulsed in bursts of flame, smoke, and light that leapt up from the burning coals in the scryer’s pot. Gretyll, the eldest of the three sisters and most powerful of the three, cast another handful of smoke-raising herb onto the hot coals as Hedvyg, the youngest of the three sisters, completed the recitation of the incantation. Gunhyld, the middling sister and ever the excitable of the three, cackled and keaked, “I can see her! It’s working! I see the face of a human woman!”
“Fonkin! Be silent!” Gretyll scolded. She tossed on a third handful of smoke-raising herb and the figure formed more fully in the haze—a woman beautiful by any standard, even in the eyes of the dwarf sisters. The lovely form seemed to be made of smoke and flame, yet somehow, almost solid and corporeal. Flowing dark hair undulated and writhed as if alive in motion with the rising heat from the burning coals, and imperious lips hardened into a sneer. Those lips moved in concert with a voice that came as if from beyond Oerth, “Kneel before me.” Continue reading “Something Wicked”