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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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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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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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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