The 300 mile trek to Lykthiem, the Light Elves’ seat of power, while not an overly-arduous one, did take a fair toll on the ancient Wendlyn. Despite her bravado in the king’s chambers, Wendlyn did make good use of the sedan chair. She often cursed her infirmaties, but was thankful just the same.
Now she and her party stood on the southern slopes of a line of low, rolling hills to the north of Idunwood. “Drizzit,” she said gesturing to her acolyte.
Drizzit was beautiful by anyone’s standards. Long, fine silver-white hair that hung to her waist (which was now put up in a purposely businesslike bun). Skin the color of burnished mahogany, she was tall even for an elf. She was perceived as rubenesque by elfin standards, but to the artistic human eye, she was walking perfection. Her most alluring feature, however, was her eyes. An opalescent gold, it was the feature most commented upon by those having just met her. Those keen eyes were now trained on the landscape to the south.
“Tell me, dear”, said Wendlyn, who silently cursed yet another infirmity, “Your eyes are better than mine. What do you see there?
“It would appear to be the spires of some distant bastion, rising above the forest canopy,” Drizzit answered.
“Good, that is our destination, come.” Wedlyn started off down the slope forsaking the sedan chair for the moment.
Following the north bank of the Great Gobbler River (so named for the turkeys common to the woods at its banks as much as its killer rapids far to the north), they soon found themselves at the gates of Lykthiem. It was a sight from fantasy: Immaculate and flawlessly constructed with the ethereal in mind. Graceful flying buttresses spanned the river and alabaster-like spires soared skyward. Ornate sculptures and bas reliefs could be seen everywhere
Suffice to say that, despite all the aesthetics, their reception was less than cordial.
With the exception of Wendlyn, who was shown deference to her age and dignitary status, the whole group was taken into custody, bound and each escorted by four guards, to a waiting area where they were obliged to wait for hours without so much as water to drink.
Finally the chamberlain came to see to them. He immediately removed their bonds saying, “Forgive the harsh measures, but the younger generation of our soldiers has never seen one Svatralfar in their lives, let alone a whole group such as yours. I’m afraid they’ve been reared to tales of ‘the evil drow’ to the north.”
The use of the racial epithet, drow , elicited scowls from all but Wendlyn, who said, “Let us dispense with attitudes of the past. We have much bigger fish to fry this day. We need to be granted an audience with King Tallen immediately and we’ve no time for the customary courtly protocol of impedance.”
‘Begging your pardo…umm. Forgive me, my name is Andrian; yours is?”
“Wendlyn,” she responded extending her hand.
“Wendlyn, an immediate audience is a most unusual request. I’m afraid I simply must insist that you provide me with some viable reason for such a side-step.”
Wendlyn signaled for one of her porters to bring forth a bag from which she extracted a lethal looking sickle sword. She handed it to Andrian saying, “We found it just off the Orming Road. You recognize its make, I’m sure.”
The chamberlain examined the weapon and said, “The significance of this is…?“
“There are five thousand more where that came from.”
Andrian’s eyes widened. “Follow me,” he said.
The great hall, more cathedral-like, was mostly an open-air affair where mighty oaks and graceful poplars thrust their heads through the ceiling. The far end was rooved over but today Tallen could be seen walking among the trees with shafts of sunlight pouring down and highlighting swirling motes of pollen.
“Please wait to be announced,” said Andrian and entered, leaving the party in the portico.
Wendlyn turned, “No one speaks but me, is that understood?” she asserted. The whole company nodded.
Moments later Andrian returned saying, “This way please.”
“My king; Dame Wendlyn of the Svartalfar, and party,” said Andrian and promptly departed.
Tallen nodded and Wendlyn curtseyed. Tallen was inspecting the trull blade which Andrian had turned over to him. “A Dark Elf bearing a trull blade can’t be good news, Dame Wendlyn, if you’ll forgive my candor.” said the Elf king.
“No argument from me, Your Highness,” said Wendlyn. “The fact is I bear grave news indeed.”
“We shall speak in a moment, but first I would wager that your party is in need of food and drink?”
Wendlyn smiled and nodded, “Thank you, Your Highness,” she said knowing that the ploy was a courteous way of ensuring that they spoke one on one. When the rest of the party was led away, Tallen led Wendlyn to his own table which was very well accoutered with sumptuous fare. He pulled out a chair for her and poured wine. Sitting at the head of the table he said, “So, what is the dire news, Madame?”
“An army of over five thousand trulls took passage through Ormwood via the Orming road a week ago, without so much as a ‘by your leave’. Our party was overtaken by one of our own runners yesterday and I was given this.” She produced a scroll of parchment from within her robes and passed it to the king.
Tallen unrolled it and read aloud: Dame Wendlyn, the trull horde has laid waste the valley and farmsteads of Heldahl. They have sealed off Dundermann Pass and currently lay siege to Krawnholde. Wishes for your safe and fruitful journey, Ganzul; King.
Tallen re-rolled the scroll and handed it back to Wendlyn. “And exactly what would it take for you to count your journey ‘fruitful’, Dame Wendlyn?”
“I have come here seeking an alliance. We Svartalfar have niether the numbers nor the military might to address this threat. Ganzul is, himself, with the Dwarves as we speak.”
The king’s brows raised. “Truly? The King of the Svartalfar acting as envoy. He must be very concerned, indeed.”
Wendlyn nodded, “With good cause, wouldn’t you say? Surely you can see that the trulls won’t stop at Krawnholde. They will take every kingdom that they can, getting stronger with every victory. But that is not what concerns me the most.”
At this Tallen leaned in close and asked, “What exactly does concern you most?”
Wendlyn mirrored the king’s movement , leaning in as well. “You must know that trulls are not inherently possessed of the single-mindedness that this campaign requires. There is someone else behind this and I ware the power that such control must take.”
There was a commotion at the entrance arch to the great hall. “Stand aside fools.” said a loud individual pushing, his way past the door guards and into the great hall. “I’ve heard there are drow within the keep, father.” He slowed as Wendlyn turned and he got his first ever look at a ‘drow’.
“Please forgive my impetuous son’s manners,” Tallen apologized. “His mother’s leniency, not mine, I assure you. Dame Wendlyn, allow me to present my son, Prince Tallor.” Wendlyn rose and curtseyed. The prince, a very bright shade of crimson, bowed and said. “I fear I’ve not made a very good impression.”
Wendlyn smiled at his discomfiture and said, “Pay it no mind, lad. I’ve grown a very thick skin over the years. Besides, it’s what comes of separatism between races, and I’ll be the first to own my races’ share of guilt on that count.”
The prince grimaced. “I’ve been told all my life that Svartalfar are cold-hearted, uncaring and most of all unforgiving. I fear you’ve been turned into the bogey that chases bad children to bed at night. You won’t eat me, will you?”
“Tallor!” gasped the king, aghast.
Wendlyn waved away his concern saying, “Your father has fed me well, else you might be in trouble.” To the king she said, “Honestly, the humor is a tonic. The truth is I was concerned that this would all go badly. Thank you for receiving me so congenially.”
The king inhaled deeply and sighed, “We’ll see how ‘congenially’ you’re received when I convene my council on this matter,” said Tallen.
Tallor knitted his brow, “What matter?”
Dverghallen was often called ‘the hall of the mountain king’. It was the ancestral home of the Dwarf Kings from time immemorial. Carved into the living rock of the mountains to the north of the mining community of Skerry, Dverghallen was the pride of the Dwarf race and rightly so. It was an engineering marvel rivaled only by the snow white edifice of Lykthiem. It extended into the mountain for miles. The only entrance or egress was the mighty Dverghallen gate. Today Grimmen and his crew of twelve guarded that gate.
“If you weren’t the king of the infernal drow himself, I’d split ya in two where ya stand. Ye’ve got a damnable gall showing yer face around here, I’ll tell ya that.” said Grimmen brandishing a very lethal looking axe. “Now turn around and get ye gone.”
“The devil, I will,” said Ganzul. He fingered his own scimitar and glowered down at the haughty guard “I’ve come a very long way to see King Gronn and I mean to do just that. I’ve urgent business with him that concerns all our survival. Can you imagine Gronn finding out when it’s too late that a warning stood right at his door and you turned that warning away. I daresay you will never see the light of day again, and if indeed we are all still alive, I will come visit you in your cell as often as I can to laugh in your face. Now…send word to your king that I await.”
Grimmen ran his fingers through his beard and eyed Ganzul’s company warily. “Alright, alright…don’t get yer skivvies up yer arse. I’ll see what I can do.” He turned, strode through the access door and slammed it shut. About half an hour later he emerged saying “You’re in luck today, drow. The king’s in a pardoning mood. He’ll see ya.” He wagged his finger at Ganzul, “But just you. The rest of your rabble stays here.”
Ganzul completely lost control at this. “Listen, you self righteous, arrogant little piece of shyte, I’m going to see your king with my entourage and you are going to lead us there. I daresay that there are enough of your dull-witted kindred inside to mow us all down if we get out of hand. And if I happen to be so disposed I may just overlook your rudeness and forget to lodge a formal complaint when I do see Gronn.” He leaned over so that they were face to face and barked, “Now move.”
“Oh, very well,” Grimmen huffed. “Follow me, but be quiet.” In way of adding a final insult, he didn’t have the portcullis raised but made the party of twenty duck through the dwarf-sized access door, while he stood with a self-satisfied smirk on his ruddy face. The walk to throne room was a long one and the interior of Dverghallen was a bustling storm of activity. Everywhere were dwarf men and women involved in all manner of business; pushing carts loaded with sundry items, carrying parcels. Children ran to and fro laughing and yelling.
Terridor leaned in close to his king and whispered, “Put’s one in mind of an anthill doesn’t it?” Ganzul just smiled in response.
Finally, they reached their destination. There was no formal announcement or introduction. Grimmen simply jerked his thumb in the party’s direction and spat, “Okay, here they are.” At that he spun and hustled from the room.
Gronn was seated on a high throne and gnawing on an apple, doing his best to look disinterested. In actuality his curiosity at the reason for this unexpected visit was eating him alive. “Approach,” he said, offhandedly.
Ganzul and Terridor did as instructed, leaving the rest of their party behind. “Greetings, Gronn,” said Ganzul.
“So, the black rats come out of their hole, eh?” said Gronn. “Why?”
“Good to see you too,” Ganzul said, with a wry grin.
“Can you give me one good reason why I should greet you with open arms?”
“Gronn, our people have never been cozy bedfellows, but there is no cause for animosity between you and I.”
“No?” Gronn rose and, throwing his apple to the floor, descended the dais to stand before his guests, hands on his hips. “When my people were besieged by Goblins, did we receive one bit of help from our neighbors to the north? No. We were shut in for months and almost starved. It was only an act of desperation that made us victorious. We fought our way out and lost many stout lads in the process. Where were the Dark Elves then, I ask you?”
“The Dwarves’ reputation for holding a grudge is certainly well deserved. The incident you refer to happened in our grandsire’s time. You and I were barely lads at the time. If the Dwarves would have sent word to the Svartalfar, we may have sent aid. I can’t speak for my dead grandsire, but I…”
“Bah,” Gronn interrupted. “Were you not listening? We could not get word out. The great gate is the only way out. And don’t tell me that you had no word of our situation.”
“Then perhaps a rearward bolt hole is in order.“ Ganzul waved his hands, realizing he was digressing. “The point is moot, Gronn,” he said. “Did any of the other races come to your aid? No. Why do you single us out?”
“Did I say I’m singling anyone out? You are here, so I am addressing you.” Gronn turned and went back to his throne, glaring at the two before him. “So, to the point. Why are you here?”
“Trulls? What about ‘em?”
“They’ve gathered an army,” said Ganzul. “Five thousand strong, that I know of. There may be more.”
“Why bring this to my door? Have they attacked Craggsdeep?”
Ganzul could see that he now had Gronn’s attention. “No. But they have pillaged the valley of Heldahl and laid siege to Krawnholde. Dundermann Pass is bottled up tighter than a bug’s arse.”
“Hmph! Can’t say that I’m choked up with pity for Blothe, the overstuffed mama‘s boy.” Gronn was now on his feet and approaching a large map of Norgeve on the wall.
“Agreed,” said Ganzul, “but I think you can see the ramifications.”
“Yeah, unfortunately.” said Gronn. “Five thousand, you say? That’s not the biggest army we’ve ever faced.”
“Come now. That’s just bravado talking. I think it’s safe to say that none of us, as a solitary race, is ready to take on such numbers. And remember; that is all that I personally am aware of. There may be many more.”
“So, what are you suggesting?”
“An alliance, said Ganzul. “Not just of Dwarves and Svartalfar. I have sent envoys to every sovereignty and community of any size., even Fjellhiem. In fact I suggest that when we convene a high council to address this threat, that it be at Fjellhiem. We need to put our petty differences aside and pull together in this, or we may all pay dearly.”
Gronn put his hands behind his back and paced the floor for some time before he spoke. “Well, I’m sure not happy about it. I daresay the Dwarf dukes will not be either. I guess we have to take it seriously though. Trulls! Of all the buggered luck.”
“Or lack thereof,” said Terridor.
(Uncertain Futures: Skoal)
After calling the group from their hiding place in the hallway of the keep, Arnaald hastily introduced them to the dragon. He turned and said to Algar, “It would seem we have another caller. I’ll leave you to whatever protocol you generally follow. He’s a Svartalfar.” Algar raised his eyebrows and shuffled away to put this new visitor through the usual identification process.
Algar was naturally suspicious of the Svartalfar. His own people had occasionally warred with them, and generally there was a feud temperament between the races. This feeling had spanned generations. Nevertheless, Algar was the consummate diplomat. He would never let personal bias be the reason to turn someone away. Also he was extremely curious as to what would bring this Dark Elf to the gates of Fjellhiem.
Grendeveer answered all the questions truthfully but tersely. When asked to state his business, however, he drawled, “Det iss invoormayshun vor der Sverdmester allawn.”
By this time Arnaald was standing beside Algar. He put his hand on Algar’s arm. “Algar, if you don’t mind,” To Grendeveer he spoke the knight‘s own language, “Sir, I am a wizard. Your exotic accent is making it hard for us to understand you. If you don’t mind, I can cast a spell of clarification. It will help all of us immensely.
Grendeveer thought for a moment, then said. “Wery vell. Doo vhat yoo vill.”
Moments later Grendeveer was walking through the raised portcullis. He bowed deeply to the group. Then he noticed Faracayne.
“Whoa! Nobody told me you had a dragon,” he said.
“’Had a dragon, indeed!” said Faracayne, “No one has a dragon. Do I seem the piddling puppy to you? If anything a dragon has YOU…for breakfast.” This was punctuated by a vent of steam through his nostrils.
Arnaald intervened, “Grendeveer, may I introduce Faracayne?”
Grendeveer bowed, “A pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“The pleasure’s all yours, I’m sure,” sneered the dragon. Arnaald’s caustic glare was not wasted on Faracayne. He rolled his eyes. “Sorry.”
Grendeveer turned to Briar and handed him a scroll, saying, “From King Ganzul.”
Briar unfurled the scroll and read aloud, ‘Honored Sverdmester,’ “That’s me.” ‘I send my trusted and worthy emissary to you with urgent news. Grendeveer is a singularly loyal and courageous warrior. I am loath to put into script the news that Grendeveer bares to you. I know without question, that were he waylaid and tortured for the message, the information would die with him. Believe all that he tells you. Until we meet, I remain yours cordially. Ganzul, King.
Briar took Grendeveer’s forearm in the time-honored warrior’s greeting saying, “Well, sir, you come with high honors. Come. Share your news at a friendly table and a warm fire.”
In the great hall, proper introductions were made and all retired to the table which was still loaded down with the evenings’ victuals and grog.
“Master Briar,” said Grendeveer, “a force of some five thousand trulls recently made their way through our kingdom of Ormwood. They did not pay a proper tithe and littered the trail at ere they went. I have recently been informed that they sacked Heldahl and stormed the keep of Krawnholde. Gentlemen, something obviously needs to be done. My king has sent envoys to all the large communities and kingdoms. He suggests that the impending high council be held here because of Fjellhiem’s history of neutrality and central locality. The fact is he has taken the liberty of naming this as the meeting place in all his messages, and has instructed me to offer his humble apology if it is unacceptable. You are a renowned warrior, Sverdmester. I think you can see the urgency with which My king has acted.”
“I can, indeed,” said Briar. “Grendeveer, the norns have been pulling those of us you see here, together to a purpose hitherto unknown to us. Garr’s village of Josdahl was sacked and burned by trulls almost a year ago. This started the wheels of our alliance in motion. Until now, it has been our small company that felt the inevitability of some confrontation with the trulls. It would seem now that indeed, the whole of our lands and people are affected. As far as whether it is acceptable to convene here, Why, I would have suggested it. It will be good to have a proper complement of fighting men in the old stronghold again”
Here Garr chimed in. “I should think that many of the communities that have been sent these messages, are comprised of farming folk or fishermen. They may be stout-hearted folk, but I’ll wager they could benefit greatly from the military training they could receive here. We certainly have the room. They have as much to lose as anyone and I’ll bet that most would jump at the chance for the training.”
Bromar leaned toward Tykk and whispered, “Lad’s thinking’ like a leader already.”
Arnaald had removed a tapestry and unshuttered the large window that opened onto the castle bailey so that Faracayne could be privy to the meeting in the great hall. He had been listening to what was being said, with one eye on the dragon. Now the dragon spoke. “The mage has asked if I would ally myself with your cause. It would appear that this is my cause as well. Dragons are not exempt from trull mischief. Invading trulls is a malady that can only spread like a cancer. I would like to offer my services if they are still welcome.” At this everyone agreed with much gusto of cheers and raised glasses. To Grendeveer he said, “I will be honest with you, sir, I have never been fond of your kind. That is something I must work on if we are to be allies. I fear we got off to a slow start. You have my apology, if you will accept it.”
“An apology from a dragon,” said Grendeveer, shaking his head in disbelief. “This is a red letter day for me. I do indeed accept it.
“Well,” said Tykk, “unless you two are going to seal it with a kiss, I’d like to propose a toast.” Everyone stood and raised a glass. “War is never a cause for celebration. Helmut and I will attest to that.” Helmut nodded. “But, just look about us…races that have long stood aloof and apart if not outright antagonists, have come together in a very noble common cause. With war comes death. I daresay that before this is over some of us will be suckin’ down Odin’s mead in the halls of Valhalla. It is to our fellowship that I drink. Luck, my friends and Skoal.
“Skoal!” echoed all, and drained their cups.
It was a full autumn moon coloring the landscape silver that found Briar and Arnaald strolling the midnight ramparts, puffing pipes and steeped in conversation.
“It’s peculiar how dire times bring folks close and sow the seeds of great undertakings. It is the very thing that distinguishes us from such races as trulls, ogres, goblins and the like.” Arnaald drew a deep draught of crisp evening air and continued.
“Tykk’s toast was a bittersweet truth. Some of us will not see the end of this thing. I have been ready to take what comes for an age now. It is the young ones that concern me most. They are the future and must be protected as much as it is within our power to do so. And yet we train them for war. Life is a series of ironic jests, is it not, my friend?”
Briar puffed and thought on it for some time and finally replied, “It seems that it is not how long we live but simply how we live. I can tell you this; it is purpose that defines us. For years now I have led a peaceful life. I’ve not lacked much or longed for much…except…purpose. I thought I might die looking to my laurels. No, whatever these younguns will face, this is a bright time; a time of unity and bonds formed that I daresay will shape this world. Some of us will die, yes, but those who survive will mold the future. I know what it is to live a life that seemed devoid of purpose. It is empty. These young ones have purpose in spades, though it may indeed take some of them. Therein lies the irony, my old friend.”
Arnaald smiled. “Spoken like a true warrior, Sir Flynn. Or…have you just a little bit of wizard in you, hmm?” Briar just smiled. Long into the night they smoked their long-stemmed pipes and blew wisps of fragrant smoke over the ramparts. The smoke drifted north toward uncertain futures.