“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.”
Continue reading “The Battle of Riechsvale”
“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”
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.”
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.
Continue reading “Bagbag’s Troubles”
The officers gave Kristryd the stirrup and bade her take a place behind the rider’s saddle. Dwarves prefer not to ride on mounts, not even ponies or pack horses. A helmed cavalry officer peered down at her from atop the hippogriff, “This noble beast on which you are to be carried is called Emolasmairim. She has borne none upon her wings except me.”
The Elite Cavalry
The officer extended a hand to the dwarfess as she put foot to the stirrup. “I am Darrion, captain of the queen’s cavalry. Wrap your arms fast around my waste. Lean with me when I lean, but not overmuch to the left or right,” the rider told her as he hoisted her up to the back of the hippogriff. Kristryd shifted about behind the saddle, gripping the beast between her knees and wrapping her arms around the armored waste of the cavalry officer. Emolas spread her great wings and flapped them thrice as if testing the air before leaping into a full gallop. Kristryd had once ridden a horse while at school in Keoland, but on that occasion, only at a slow trot, led by lead-rope in the hand of a squire around a track. That experience terrified her enough. Now she hurtled forward through the air, the wind whipping all about her and snatching away her breath. Her legs clamped the hippogriff tightly and her arms held the rider fast. The beast moved in spanning leaps, landing talons first, then launching again from hoofs behind, faster than she might have supposed. The terror increased when she realized that her mount charged full speed and headlong toward the edge of a precipice. To her left and to her right thundered along the rest of Celene’s elite cavalry, all galloping wildly toward the cliff’s edge. For a moment she launched weightlessness, and her stomach dropped. Then she felt the lift of the great wings as they beat against the air, and Emolas climbed toward the mountains. Continue reading “Declarations, Councils, and War”
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”
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”