The Bloodaxe Saga Book Three: Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine
(A Rune Awakening)

The Dwarves, the Dark elves and Light elves, while not particularly fond of each other’s company, had developed a begrudging mutual respect during their time at Fjellhiem and because of the dangers of the road in these unsure times, and knowing that there was safety in numbers, they decided to band together for their travel to their respective homes. They decided on skirting the Leilighet Plain keeping to the game trails at the edge of Ormwood for the safety it would afford. It would make travel a bit slower and the distance would be greater than if they’d cut straight across the plain but it was worth the time. If they’d been caught out on the plain by a sizable trull raiding party, it could turn out disastrous and keeping to the war plans and timeline decided upon at the war council was paramount.

The plan was to ride together as far as the Orming Road deep within Craggsdeep Forest and then split up to strike out for their respective homes to gather all available forces and to join up again in two weeks time at Craggsdeep. From there they would join forces with the larger force from Fjellhiem and Fam Moor at the Mouth, a narrowing strip of low foothills that separated the Valley Heldahl and Leilihget Plain. This area would provide the perfect staging point for their assault on the forces arrayed against Krawnholde. The low hills were easily navigable while providing cover for what would obviously prove to be an army numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Of course the runners, during the weeks ahead, would have their work cut out for them.

“It rankles to hide from those stinking trulls”, complained Gronn, as he rode his pony in the procession, absentmindedly sharpening the blade of his dagger.

King Tallen laughed, “You’d rather run into a party of those ‘stinking trulls’ a thousand strong out in the open, I suppose.” Gronn just shot him a look of annoyance. “Relax,” Tallen continued, “you’ll get your share of killing. I’ll even save some of my share for you if that will please you.”

At this, even the dour Dwarf king grinned, shook his head and said, “Well, it rankles nonetheless.”

All this went completely unnoticed by Prince Tallor and Drizzit who’d become inseparable over the months at Fjellhiem. Drizzit was growing increasingly more concerned because she believed that she saw the problems inherent in their burgeoning mutual feelings for each other and she believed that Tallor did not. To add to that, while they were obviously falling in love, they had not even so much as kissed yet, aside from the occasional stolen cheek-peck, in a futile effort to keep their affection for each other on the down-low. Truth be told, it was obvious to everyone except for perhaps the more doltish of the Dwarves. She was also worried that she was neglecting her duties as an acolyte and not expressing the proper amount of austerity that the gravity of the approaching war demanded. They had purposely kept things light and it seemed to her that this tactic was even compounding the problem. She felt guilt at their growing attraction. She’d determined, before they left Fjellhiem, that she would address the problem on the long ride home. Now seemed as good a time as any. She pulled back on the reins ever so lightly letting her mount lag back and Tallor did the same looking at her, sensing that something was pending. Finally she reached over and put her hand on his.

“Tallor”, she asked, “where do you see this going?”

The prince smiled sheepishly and joked, “Well I think we’re going as far as the Orming Road together and then splitting up for home.”

She got serious and said, “Very funny. You know what I meant…”

Tallor pulled his horse to a halt and grabbed Drizzit’s reins watching the rest of the column draw away. He lowered his voice. “Yes, I know what you meant, and I don’t have an answer for you. If you meant, ‘do I love you’, the answer is, ‘yes, deeply’. But, Drizzit, I may be young, but I’m pretty quick on the uptake and the severity of what we are about to face is monumental, and the gravity is not lost on me. I have never been in war. We can’t think of ourselves right now. I would be remiss in my duties to my people and if I have our future, yours and mine, foremost in my mind, I will be less effective in battle. This is no gala joust for a purse. Everything rides on this. I must be honest with you…I am frightened.” He noticed an almost imperceptible moisture cloud her eyes over and hastened to do damage control. “Dearest, I say that because I want nothing more than to survive and come home to you. I wish to spend my life with you and…”

Drizzit smiled and put her finger gently over his lips, “You needn’t say it. Dare not tempt the Norns. I was afraid we were not thinking enough about the seriousness of upcoming events and now I can see that if anyone was remiss, it was only myself. I know what we are to face and we risk much. We all do. You are truly a prince, my prince, and know that I love you too. If we survive this, our roadblocks will still be substantial. We are of different races, antagonistic races at that. You are royalty, I am no…” Now it was Tallor’s turn to shush her.

“You leave that to me. If I purport myself well in this conflict, I will have enough clout and bargaining power to handle any opposition. My father is a stern but loving king and father. He is fair in his judgment and it is not as if there is any arranged marriage in the offing. My worst fear is that King Ganzul will object to the racial difference and forbid it. It would, after all be a high profile union. You asked where I see this going. I have actually given it much thought. That you have now expressed yourself to me galvanizes my plans to survive and marry you, if you’ll have me.” At this the acolyte, demurred and smiled. “I know your parents are dead but I have every intention of formally asking both Ganzul and Mistress Wendlyn for your hand and courting you properly and with all due respect and decorum.”

“My,” she said, “you have given it thought, haven’t you?” They leaned in and kissed for the first time. It was tender and long and both came away emotionally intoxicated.

Up ahead, Prince Ty-a’leer noticed that he’d not seen his brother for some time and turned in his saddle. At that very moment Wendlyn pulled her shawl from her shoulders, pulling it wide and lifting it over her head effectively blocking his view of the couple. “Eyes front, sonny,” she said, smiling. The prince returned her smile and hastened his mount’s gait.

At that very moment Hora and Nora, the Dwarf conjoined twin witches, who had to ride in a specially made cart, began a mournful keening, “The runes…Aiee! The runes”

“Uh oh…” said Gronn, “That can’t be good.”

What the witches had sensed was the sudden death of Stern and all the pain accompanying his demise, but what really set them off was the realization that there was a troupe of draugar involved, and it was their macabre joy at the task that emotionally pummeled them. They’d seen it as the ancient runes Doden had used to raise and animate the draugs as well as visions of the draugs themselves engaged in the horrific acts perpetrated on the hapless Drakedahler. Each of the monsters brandished a different rune of power burnt into the putrefying flesh of their chests. To most of the population of the Earthlands, draugar were a superstition and their existence was believed by only the few versed in the arcane arts. Such were Hora and Nora. Their news did not sit well with the party and was scoffed at by some.

It took some time for the twins to come out of their trance and recover enough for them to relate the importance of their vision. When they spoke it was in two voices saying the exact same thing. Tallor found it particularly eerie and unsettling.

“ The cursed runes…they wear the cursed runes. The unclean number…the unholy number is thirteen. The draugar are the unholy. The draugar are the unclean,” the sisters chimed in unison. “The draugar turn the tides…pitch the fight. Oh, woe to us and to our plight. Evil magic into the fray. Born of hatred…born of dismay.” They fussed a bit and promptly passed out. As the stunned group looked on, mouths agape, the sisters suddenly stirred one last time before swooning into a coma that they would not recover from. Again, in their eerie unison way, they suddenly screeched, “Krawnholde falls and is lost…” Nothing further was ever heard from the pair. Wendly dismounted and rushed to their cart joined by Drizzit. “My word!” Exclaimed Wendlyn, “I believe they’ve had a stroke.” They were dead within the week without regaining consciousness regardless of Wendlyn’s ministrations.

It was a riddle certainly, but Wendlyn knew all too well the meaning and when she explained it, there was an unmistakable air of panic and urgency.

“Can this be true?” asked Ganzul. Wendlyn simply nodded.

Tallon said, “Well, now our worst fears are confirmed. We are up against the most malignant source of magic there is. All the more reason we must harden our resolve. Now, it would appear that we are up against not only a large and formidable host, but now, the strength of Krawnholde itself. Dire news indeed.”

“Then let us make haste.” Said Ganzul. “Mount up and double time.”

The remainder of the journey was a somber one. Drizzit and Tallor rode in silence. Both felt sick at heart.

The Bloodaxe Saga Book Three: Chapter Nine

George Yesthal

Brodheadsville, United States

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