(Full Circle Justice)
Verminard arrived in the mid of the night outside the walls of Fryktholde and remembered the last time he saw the place. The night before that, he’d been wholly human and thinking that his lot in life was looking bright. He gnashed his mandibles and dripped venom in abject, impotent anger. Had he not been powerlessly under Doden’s spell there would be a reckoning. His plan was to stay alive until that day, the irony being, while he was in his present condition, all he truly longed for was death. For now he was compelled to go to Doden and discover whatever it was the mage wanted, and so he scrabbled over the walls and bellowed the name of ‘Doden’ to herald his arrival.
Stewing in his chamber and steeped in thought, Doden’s reverie was interrupted by a groveling trull named Shlubb. He shuffled up to the seated mage and stuttered, “B-b-beggin’ yer pardon, m’lord…”
Doden waited and when it became apparent that no further information was forthcoming without some kind of abusive stimulus, he begrudgingly acquiesced. “Well? Speak up, you miserable, stinking toad. Out with it!”
The trull scrambled forward and sunk to his knees, wringing his hands, “T-t-there’s a monster dem-m-manding an aud-d-dience, m’lord.”
“Monster? Make sense, damn you,” The mage fumed.
The trull’s voice raised a few keys and he blurted, “He’s killed the guard, Gus Greasewaller, and is p-presently consuming him…”
Doden jumped to his feet and grabbed his staff, which had been leaning against his throne. “Show him in, fool, post haste…NOW!” Doden realized it could only be Verminard. Shlubb fairly ran from the throne chamber. Doden waited…and waited. He was losing patience when he heard the approaching clack-click-clack-click of eight chitin-armored legs scrabbling on the flags of the hallway leading to his chamber. Suddenly the doors flew open to crash against wall, jarring their moorings.
“What would you have of me, mage?” Verminard hissed. The fact that he was not announced by Shlubb as per protocol was not lost on Doden.
“So good to see you too, my old friend.” Doden quipped. He levitated and glided to the center of the chamber motioning with a skeletal hand for the spider to approach. “Do not become used to helping yourself to my servants, Verminard. I’ll forgive these two. I owe you that. But there are limits to my generosity.”
Verminard clacked into the room to within feet of the dark lord. Doden was startled by how rapidly he traversed the distance and had to hold himself in check so as not to exhibit it, but Verminard sensed an alien nervousness and reveled in it. He slowly circled Doden growling low in his throat. “Three,” Verminard corrected. “You forget the one I took on the night I left. I asked what you want of me. Did you summon me from my sleep to toy with me?”
Doden would not be intimidated, so he raised his staff and brought it crashing down on the flags. A blinding light filled the chamber and he demanded, “Present yourself before me with the respect due me, or I will reconsider any small kindness I may have been planning.”
As much as he desired it, Verminard could not resist, so he did as he was commanded. He waited breathing heavily, all eight cold, staring eyes focused intently on his old colleague, runnels of venom streaming down his neck. The hatred was palpable.
“I brought you here to offer you a proposition. A chance for you to return to what you once were and enjoy all the power that represents. I offer you a leadership position in my conquest of all Norgeve and if we are successful here, all of the Earthlands will follow. To be once again, a man. A very, very powerful man. What would you do for that?”
“Why…why now? Why after all these years that I have suffered and longed for a death that would not come? What so spurs your magnanimity that you would offer this? Why now?”
Doden inched closer and lowered his voice. “Because now is the time. Because the fruit of all my planning is ripe. Just north of Krawnholde is an army of Goblins and they require only leadership. You are that leadership. This task would be best served in your present form. They are possessed by a demon that I control and have no wills of their own. They will be putty in your hands.”
“How can you expect me to trust you?” Verminard asked.
“I don’t expect any such thing, Verminard. But what have you to lose? The fact of the matter is this; there is only so much I can do. I am powerful in the extreme. That much you know. But I am not omnipotent and I need a worthy partner in this to help coordinate things. Everything must come together with precision. In order for this to succeed, subjugating the rest of the Earthlands will be essential to keep control or we will be at constant war. The peace between Ongerlund, Gernham and Norgeve is tenuous at best and will not be strengthened by this coup. No one man, regardless of how powerful, can rule it all. I betrayed you in a time of desperation and I have had years to rue it. I could force you to do this. You know that. I will if I have to, but it serves us both in the long run to have you do this of your own free will. You must know that I am right. Think pragmatically. I will have to restore you to your natural form, for no race of natural beings would follow you as you are. Help me in this, old friend and you will be rewarded beyond your fondest dreams.”
“It galls me to admit that you are right.” Said Verminard. “I have no choice and I have nothing to lose. I don’t know how you expect me to trust you, but I will tell you this, If you betray me again, you had better kill me because, so help me, I will not rest until you are toppled. I will find a way to weaken you, which I suspect, without my aid, is a forgone conclusion. I will have nothing but time. When I do find the chink in your armor,I will crush you, I will feast on you…slowly and keep you alive through it for long indeed. I have a promise from you that I cannot trust. Now you have my promise that you can count on.”
Doden smiled and the effect was chilling. “Time has not dulled your wits, Verminard. Now come, let me bring you up to speed. We’ve much to discuss.”
Verminard stayed at Frykholde for three days and in that time, Doden turned a blind eye to his source of nourishment. The one stipulation was that officers were off limits. He got quite an education and was surprised at the level of confidence Doden reposed in him. He was shocked by some of the covert intelligence the mage disclosed. “I need Krawnholde taken, immediately, if not sooner.” Doden said. “The trulls are getting sloppy with inaction and they are dropping like flies for some reason. Sickness and death is decimating their ranks and I have no answer for the cause. I suspect that gathered in numbers, they are simply a counter productive race. They are patently careless and their hygiene is deplorable. They are stupid beyond measure, filthy and self-destructive in the extreme, but it goes much deeper than that I am certain. Even slugs have the instinct for self-preservation. I need to get them focused. Krawnholde is but the staging point. Yes, it is the seat of power, but there will be crucial battles of important strategic towns and villages thereafter to secure all of the land. Once Krawnholde falls, the dark and light elves will be childsplay. They would never stand together in any concerted resistance. I suspect the Svartalfar will even rush to our aegis in the hope of survival. We’ve seen absolutely no mobilization of militia, which I fully expected in response to the siege and I’ve heard nothing from my draugs so I suspect this Guntarsen whelp is either dead or deep in hiding, but until I know for sure, he is a wildcard. Prohesies are such nebulous things. I fully expected to see confirmation of any fulfillment by now but I never discount such things completely.”
“I will visit Krawnholde as a doppelganger as soon as you are in place. It will be a smokescreen for you to breach the walls and compromise their defenses by opening one or both gates. You must be swift and above all, discreet. Once those gates are breached, Krawnholde is finished within the hour. I know that Blothe has a healthy complement of his mercenary army within the walls. They are said to be seasoned and well trained. Regardless, the goblins will effortlessly sweep away any resistance once inside. It is why I leave you in your present form. No goblin and certainly no trull can scale those sheer walls. You are the only one who can manage this feat.”
The night Verminard left he was actually charged and somewhat encouraged. Within two weeks he was briefing the enraptured horde of goblins and as Doden has promised, there was no resistance at all. Not one iota of recognition that their new general and supreme leader was a huge man/spider hybrid. They were like an army of puppets. He simply arrived on the scene, announced that he was the new boss and they formed up obediently awaiting instructions. This was almost too easy, but Doden had promised exactly thus. Maybe he could trust the dark lord after all.
Verminard’s instructions were simple and explicit. “Once the gates are open rush in. Kill everything living within the fortress and await further instructions.”
The night Verminard had left Fryktholde, two weeks previous, Ooga, the acting high general of the trull army, was rudely awakened by an astral visitation from Doden and informed that if he did not have his rabble in respectable order and at full attention by his next contact, there would be a spot of honor reserved for him within the infamous worm pit. Ooga immediately convened a meeting of all of his captains, informed them of Doden’s threat and assured them that he would not be suffering that fate alone, so they had best “Get this puking horde of walking turds in line or else.”
It took a monumental effort and many “examples” to whip the army into line. Literally. The army had come down with some malady that had them passing out, vomiting, losing control of their bowels and exhibiting behaviors extreme even for trulls. Any soldiers that could not answer muster the following morning were scourged. Many of them died and their bodies were consigned to the nightly pyres of trulls dead from the sickness, but despite the devastation that pervaded the ranks, they were at attention and ready for war on the evening of Verminard’s intended assault.
The preamble to this raid would be a negotiation of sorts. Doden was certainly not one to waste potential resources. Tonight’s gambit would be one he’d planned long ago. He’d originally planned to do exactly what he would be doing this evening but realized that if his ploy failed it would mean a long, drawn out bloody siege. That meant either breaching the gates, which were wonders of defensive architecture consisting of ironwood and steel reinforced gates One opened in, one opened out, and two portcullises of the same materials. This construction was copied at both north and south vantages of the bastion. The bailey, should either of these gates be compromised, was an archer’s dream, an expansive killing field. The wall was lined with several tiers that could be easily controlled by the defenders through narrow stairways and afforded good field of view for any competent archer.
Doden was never a warior, but he was a shrewd strategist. He’d seen the serious chink in his plans from the start. He needed a proficient team of engineers to see to the breaching of the walls by either tunneling beneath them or constructing efficient siege machines to surmount them. He’d often pined, “Would that it were as easy as casting a spell and waving my hand.” Certain logistics, however, required logistic solutions. The walls were hundreds of feet high, so going over them was out of the question. That left tunneling, but that method meant he would need to employ either Men or Elves or, preferably Dwarves, but as of yet, he’d been unsuccessful in getting any of these races to do his dirty work. Every time he’d abducted any specimens of these races they seemed to prefer death to betrayal. An odd lot indeed. Trulls, on the other hand, were easy to enslave. They had no scruples or high standards and almost begged to be pressed into servitude. But, while they were mighty individual specimens, they were all but uncontrollable, and this had long been his problem. Simply put, he needed a catalyst. This was where Verminard came in. In this one individual, he realized the fix to every problem. He was the one creature that could scale walls of any dimension. He was fearless, for he had nothing to lose, and he was mighty and deadly. But more importantly, he was bound to Doden’s will and could not misbehave. He was the one common denominator in this equation that could topple the entire opposition.
Court was in session, for what it was worth. Blothe had been sure to carry on an illusion of decorum, intent on projecting the illusion that he and his entourage of military might, had everything under control. Of course everyone trapped within the bastion had long ago given up hope and knew situations for exactly what they were. By some miracle, there were still sufficient, albeit sparse, provisions, most of which were now greedily coveted by Blothe and his inner circle.
The mendacity of this particular carriage of pomp and circumstance was interrupted by a blinding light that captured everyone’s attention and suddenly, there was an image of Doden, arms flung wide. The image he projected was lager than life, for affect.
“I believe you know me, Doden bellowed.”Pretend not that this is untrue.”
Doden appeared in full regalia and accoutrements, in his best attire and gleaming gold crown, for the effect of impression.
“I bid you listen to reason.” He announced in a flash of blinding light. He’d appeared in the middle of what was thought to be a covert and desperate meeting of Blothe’s most trusted commanders.
The gathered throng were not only willing to listen to reason, but were more than ready to concede defeat and throw over Blothe.
When Doden explained exactly what their options were and what the price of resistance would bring, it was almost a done deal. What Doden had not counted upon was the valiant Lord Carrigan. This was a warrior on the wrong side of the conflict from the start.
Blothe ran to Doden’s doppelganger and began kissing the hems of his robes. “Yes, yes, yes… anything, but save us…save me…spare me.
Carrigan laughed. “Doden, anyone who’s had their head anywhere but up their arse, must know that you have been our bane from the start. I do not wonder at finding you here now. Wizards have always disgusted me” He drew his sword. He kicked the king sprawling onto his face and screamed, “Take this blubbering soul and do with him what you will, I am a man of action an…”
Doden dismissed him with a negligible flick of his wrist and the honorable general, a life-long servant to the crown, dissolved in a flash of silvery particles and was seen no more. That action actually cost Doden considerable power, but was well worth it.
By this time, with an uncanny sense of chronological coordination Verminard had already scaled the north wall carrying several goblin warriors to aid him, dispatched the guards, and compromised the north wall and gate. Once the Goblin army flooded through the north gate, it was only a matter of moments before the same fate befell the southern gate and the mighty bastion that had withstood the threats of centuries and a current sustained siege of months, was now the property of Doden the dark lord. The archers and legionnaires loyal to Lord Carrigan put up a valiant fight, but with the gates breached, all was hopeless and each died a hero’s death that would never be recorded or memorialized in song. They would instead, be forgotten or spoken of as anathema. This chronicler wishes to set the record straight.
Doden now sat at the throne of Norgeve and when the erstwhile king was brought to him, he smiled down on him and said, “You, my friend, are now an enigma. I should probably just kill you, but I am loath to do so. I’m sure that you play a very unusual part in this saga yet.”
He glared down at the simpering ex-king and said to his guards, “Starve him. He’s too fat.”
Blothe was led away, as fate would have it, to the very same cell that saw the suicide of one Gretchen Ramdallen.