“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 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.
Continue reading “Hammer and the Anvil”
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”
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”
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”
“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”
For ten days the elves of Enstad sang mournful chants and recited ancient lays over the tomb of Triserron. On the eleventh day, the Perfect Flower shed her mourner’s garments, immersed herself in the pool of Hanali Celanil, donned a shirt of mithril, and took her seat on the Blossoming Throne. For a full day and a night, she sat silent, staring unseeing, cold-eyed, terrible, and fearsome to behold, and none dared speak nor enter her presence nor take leave of her.
The Crown of Triserron
While Enstad mourned the loss, brave deeds transpired beneath the mountains. A warrior called Dothmar, wielder of the great sword Concluder, rose up to avenge the Prince Triserron who was, in fact, his mother’s brother. He considered himself a defender of the balance, but he hated orcs, and he refused to countenance such insult to olven dignity. “Who will follow me into the holes under the mountains?” he asked. Continue reading “The Queen’s Wrath”
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”