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Gwandor Saga



The Saga of the Gwandorlings - 62

"I got him for 50% off!"

- Argrath re. Ethilrist

"I'm sure Harrek will be reasonable"

- Kamoar

When Harrek came back to the Council he brought two of his companions with him. Gunda, called The Guilty, was a warrior woman from the far west. She was one of his Captains of Battle leading the left wing flotillas. Keener Than was a strange, skinny man. He stood as tall as Dragonfriend and his grip was as strong as Sigmund's. He wore western clothing. Now, it happened that Keener Than has once served Sir Ethilrist as his Keeper of the Hound.

Kallyr spake of Harrek's plan to plunder Muse Roost. "This plan is reckless and dangerous," she said. "It leaves us open to attack and retribution." With that, she forbid any of the Free Army to aid in the expedition.

"Right!" exclaimed Harrek. "Who else is coming?"

Dragonfriend told the Council that he was going. Maniskisson said that he was going and that the Luminous Stallion King had agreed to send help as well. "I have convinced him to allow us passage." Whitebull claimed not to have any troops available though it was more likely that he did not wish to go against the wishes of Kallyr. Venharlsson declined to leave Old Wind.

Gunda, lounging in the corner, had spent the entire conference eyeing Whitebull. "Bull-boy," she sneered. "What say you and I go somewhere and find out if you're hung like your name."

Kallyr started, "Excuse me?"

"What?" asked Whitebull.

"Let's fuck," Gunda retorted. "Don't worry," she said when Whitebull glanced at Kallyr in dismay, "the red-haired bitch can join in. Might be fun!"

Harrek laughed uproariously on seeing the expression on Kallyr's face. "Let's have a bitch fight!"

Maniskisson commented on the inappropriate comments and how they didn't have time to be fighting among themselves. "That's why I should be the king," he said to general disinterest.

"Yeah, unhuh," grunted Harrek. Whitebull and Kallyr stormed from the room. Gunda smiled at the room, "I'll get him in bed, don't worry."

And so the raiding party rode from Boldhome and fared down the King's Road to Duck Point. They crossed the Stream and then the Creek-Stream and climbed over the Ten Ridges. In Richpost they met with the Grazer King.

Now there was a man, Orgol Yavorsson who was a Wind Lord of Yavor Thunderous. Orgol lead five-score huscarls called the Yavori, or the Lightning Spears, and harried the Lunar occupiers with the best of them. His name was known across the Pass and Tatius the Bright was said to have offered five-hundred cows and land in Tarsh for his capture.

Thirty-seven hundred raiders crossed the Dragonspine through Beladrin Pass. Dragonfriend rode with three hundreds. Harrek rode with five hundreds of his wolf pirates. Orgol rode with his Yavori. Maniskisson had three hundreds of his warbanders. The Grazer king rode with five hundreds of his warband and the mustered strength of four clans - two thousands of grazer horse warriors. Keener Than rode with his own band of some fifty warriors of all races.

As they rode or camped on the journey, Keener Than told his tale. His Sartari was very rough but his tale was easily understood. Keener Than has been a slave, entrusted with the care and training of Ethilrist's hound until he escaped. He claimed to have served the Count for over seven-score and ten years. He told about his time in Hell with Ethilrist and how they had found, battled and tamed the Hound of Zeral. He spoke of his time as a wizard in Ethilrist's Order of Damnation - many of Argrath's warband cringed at the close proximity of a meldek [1]. Finally, said so casually that many missed it, he said that the Hound would obey him over anybody else, including Ethilrist.

Dragonfriend and the raid leaders reviewed what they knew of the Black Horse Troop. There were fifty-five hundreds of them under arms. The Companions had received news that Ethilrist has ridden into the Empire with six of the seven horse troops to fight for the Satrap of Darjiin. Keener Than estimated that there would twenty-five hundreds left in the County.

Keener Than then described Muse Roost itself. He told how it had walls forty feet tall and stood atop deep catacombs leading into the Underworld. It had all of the modern, western, defences including bastions, portcullises and murder holes. He told how the castle had taken ten years to complete and was built to be impregnable.

"How are we going to get in then?" whined Maniskisson. Keener Than replied that he had a key.

Through all of this, the listeners determined that Keener Than harboured a raging hatred for Ethilrist.

Harrek cheerily rode by, playing keep away with a flask of Dinacoli summer wine, and ensured that everybody knew the gold, gems and silver in the castle were his. He had no interest in any other plunder from the keep.

As the raiders neared the borders of Black Horse County Harrek called a halt and gathered the captains and kings to him. He told them that the gatehouse of the city needed to be seized by a small band that then needed to hold it until the rest of the raiders could arrive. It would be a difficult task for the gatehouse was a mighty fortress and well garrisoned by the hardy foot soldiers of Ethilrist's army. Dragonfriend suggested hiding a small band in a hay wagon and approaching the gate that way. He then volunteered his Companions for the task.

At the border of the County, those with god's eyes could see the interlocking sorcerous wards that Ethilrist's wizards had spent eighty years weaving over all. Dragonfriend sent Kamoar and his killers into the nearest village to defile the church and the altar and thus break the border wards without setting them off. Kamoar successfully avoided the wardings and entered the village breaking the meldek's protective spells.

When Dragonfriend rode up, Kamoar had the inhabitants lined up in the square in front of their church. There were two hundreds of them and the village wizard stood trembling in fear and anger. His name was Artarox and he refused to help when Argrath threatened his flock and then his very soul. "You foreign demons are intrinsically dishonourable and you will kill us all either way." After Artarox was drowned in night soil, Maniskisson declared that he would take the villagers as one of his shares in the raid's booty. His exiles, obviously experienced at it, quickly bound the dazed villages and a score of his warriors led the coffle back into the Grazelands.

Keener Than adopted the priest's mantle while twenty of his men dressed as peasants. The Companions and fifty of Argrath's weaponthanes hid in the village's hay wagons. When all was ready, Keener Than led the convoy out of the village and down the track to Muse Roost.

It should be said that the guards before the city gates were much like guards anywhere. If you looked and acted like you belonged somewhere then they will generally ignore the fact that you really shouldn't be there. The guards were kneeling before a lowly village priest, kissing his ring of office, before they had a chance to wonder why he was leading a convoy of hay wagons into the keep in the middle of the night.

As the massive gates swung open Keener Than chanted harshly and jerked his hand towards the guards; both fell down on the spot and choked to death. The Companions shouted in victory and stormed the gate keep. The towering fortress, five-score feet in height, was quickly secured, its garrison slain in the sleep or slaughtered unarmoured in the corridors.

Gudny called an umbroli to him and sent it to Harrek bearing the news of their success but the people of Muse Roost were no strangers to war or courage and the city quickly awoke with the clangour of arms. Soon, the Companions could see movement in the square before the keep and the great stone building Keener Than named the Cathedral of the Atroxic Church. Dozens of robed figures gathered to it, defended by the mustering of the only Black Horse Troop in the city. All could feel the gathering magic within the Cathedral and the stone streets, with their tightly packed western houses, disgorged into the square a growing force of Atroxic soldiers armed with halberd and fitted with fine mail.

And so it was that a knight rode forth on a massive demon charger. "Surrender in the name of Sir Ethilrist! You have no chance of survival otherwise." Argrath made a curt reply, "no," and the knight rode away followed by the jeers of the warband.

Before the cathedral, which was much like the ones the Companions had seen in Nochet and Jansholm, the priests and acolytes began building a large bonfire. They stood around it and chanted in their foul language. A fiery figure began to form in the flames.

"They call a salamander," spake Gudny. "Aid me with my magic." With that the storm lord threw off his clothes and stood sky-clad in the centre of the roof. The Companions and their followers gathered about and joined Gudny in his ritual to summon a rainstorm. The priests below showed no sign of having noticed the gathering storm magic until the clouds burst and Ohorlanth's rains crashed down upon them. Their fire flickered and the chant wavered. Then they recovered and the fires surged skyward once more before Gudny scattered them with a sizzling thunderbolt and snuffed the elemental with the torrential rainfall.

Keener Than smiled approvingly. "That was well done." He went on to say how that had only been the cathedral's first effort. "There were only three-score liturgists around the fire. Another two-hundreds should gather within the hour."

A half-hour passed and then the very air about the raiders shuddered and a feeling of despair nagged at their hearts. "It happens," spake Keener Than. "They open Hell's Gate. The Hound comes."

And then it was there before them.

The Hound reminded the Companions of the fighting dogs of Tarsh, the pit bulls. It stood taller than five men at the shoulder and was five and twenty ells in length.

The Hound passed through the town. Any building that was in its way was crushed and any citizen that it spied was eaten. The arrows and magics of the Companions had no effect on this demon. With a small leap the hound reached the battlements of the gate-tower. It held to the side of the stone-walls and stuck its head over the top - the Companions prepared to die.

What happened then surprised one and all within that city's walls. Keener Than smiled and stepped up before the Hound. He spoke to it and patted its nose. The Hound shifted and sniffed the man. It licked Keener Than and then flipped its head about and one floppy ear ended up inside out. The mighty tail wagged and several houses collapsed from the casual blows. Keener Than climbed onto its nose and spoke to it again. He pointed at the cathedral and then jumped back onto the tower.

To the horror of the watching Atroxi, the hound leapt from the tower and charged into the Cathedral. Screams came from within, the stained glass shattered and wizards were spied leaping from the windows.

Keener Than smiled happily and related this, "I told my puppy to shit on their altar." The gathered raiders felt a surge in magic within the temple and then nothing. Keener Than opinioned that the Hound had been forced back into Hell.

At that point, the gathered host of Muse Roost made its way through secondary gates and passed down the road leading back the way the Companions had come. Within an hour the shattered host returned with Harrek in pursuit. The Companions felt odd to be grateful for the appearance of Harrek but with his presence the Atroxi abandoned hope of defending the city and evacuated, leaving it to the mercies of the raiders.

And so Harrek and the other raiders plundered Muse Roost. When they left the next day, they had one hundred and fifty wagons in tow and many slaves. Harrek took for himself all of the gold and silver and the gems that were to be found. Maniskisson and the Grazers took for themselves the slaves. Dragonfriend took the scrolls, tomes and artefacts from Ethilrist's deepest vaults. Long was the Plunder of the Roost remembered by the skalds of Dragon Pass for Ethilrist had horded much for many years and had received great bounty for his mercenary wars. The Companions gained great honour from the telling of their tale and great wealth to gift their followers with.

The prisoners all spake of Ethilrist's imminent return and that the Atroxic Church would have its vengeance.

Now Argrath called his greatest Sage, Wyrmquil, to him in Boldhome and showed him the artefacts gained from the raid. "Much of this is strange to me," he replied. He gathered it up and told Argrath that he would investigate what secrets were locked within.

Harrek resumed him interrupted carousing with his pirates and Boldhome shook with their revels.

1630

Sacred time passed with great rituals to strengthen the kingdom lead by good Queen Kallyr and her loyal Argraths.

In Sea Season there came a man to Boldhome, named Sir Treth of the Valley. Treth was a knight in the Black Horse Troop and was clad from foot to crown in black armour that seemed to churn under the sun - some sort of hell metal. With him were nine riders and a liturgist of the Black Horse Order. Sir Treth had come with "words for the Dragonlord."

Argrath greeted the knight well and brought him into his hall. Treth said "Good-day" but refused to sit or accept guesting. "My lord desirest his book, that thee hast taken from him and would speak with you about it." Argrath agreed to meet with Ethilrist and it was decided that they would speak before the gates of Glasswall. Wyrmquill indeed noted that the Companions had taken the multiple volumes of Ethilrists history of the Black Horse Troop during their plundering. The hero had been working on it for centuries and counted it as his most precious possession.

And so it came to be that the rains of late Sea Season found Argrath sitting in his booth with Ethilrist on his right and his Companions sitting in his left. The count's Hell Riders, seven of the most potent wizard-knights of his Order of Damnation, sat to his right.

Agrath and the count negotiated over the return of his book. Argrath's sages had already copied much that was useful from the cumbersome tome and the Dragonfriend had no compunction over returning it, "But thou must make it worth mine time," he told Ethilrist. Ethilrist replied thusly, "When mine contract with the Emperor expires I will offer you the right of first refusal for my services." Argrath asked when the contract was to expire and learned that a further score of years remained. Argrath replied that he respected Ethilrist's unwillingness to break his contract but spake, "that is not enough." He went on to demand a concession on the contract terms, "I will pay one in two of your normal fee." Ethilrist replied correctly but said that was impossible. "Perhaps three in four." Argrath was a canny man and though he was wealthy - perhaps wealthier than Kallyr herself, he was as frugal as the Druish. "One in two for three years and then full price after that." Ethilrist agreed and replied, "now thou hast only to live these next score of years to collect on your deal-making!"

After the knights departed Argrath spoke with Wyrmquill again. The sage was verily dancing with glee. Much of the plunder was very ancient and many of the artefacts held great power.

Gudny visited his friend Kazokang of the Sazdorf. The troll trader bade him "Good-day" and they spoke of this and that and generally traded news of the world. Gudny sought after any need the trolls had that Argrath could supply in return for military aid but Kazokang spake that they were doing well and needed nothing more. He reminded Gudny that the Sazdorf had never interfered in Sartari matters and that his queen had no intention of beginning.

Fire Season found the Argraths gathered again in Boldhome. Kallyr spake her desire for the kingdom to take war into Tarsh. Dragonfriend agreed that this was the time to do so. Fazzursson told how his people were ready to rise against the king. "Harvar has the only mobile forces as the royal troops are busy holding the people down." Dragonfriend reminded the council of the supplies he had been collecting over the last year to feed the army.

That night, at a banquet in Kallyr's palace, Gunda got roaring drunk. She staggered up to Kallyr and her husband and grabbed Whitebull by the crotch. Kallyr flew into a rage and struck her across the face. Gunda drew her knife and the two warrior-women danced Humakt's dance. There was a flash of arms and Kallyr straightened from her crouch. Gunda stared at her in shock as her life's blood ran in a torrent from her slashed throat. Kallyr waited for the corpse to hit the floor before cutting of the head and kicking it into the fire. Dragonfriend tried to catch the head first but only managed to gather the charred remnants.

"Oh shite," spake Whitebull. Kallyr looked about the room, "This is my problem. All of you stay out of it." A roaring erupted from afar, like a drunken bear. There came a crunching noise like cracking stone from outside the doors of the palace hall. She turned to Whitebull and Dragonfriend, "Stay out of this. I will die if I have to but neither of you needs perish for me."

With that, Harrek came through the doors, literally. He spied Gunda's body on the floor and her burnt head in Dragonfriend's hands and demanded to know what had happened.

Kallyr calmly replied that Gunda had moved on her man and that Kallyr had killed her in a knife fight. Harrek replied thusly, "That isn't funny." He turned and then spun around decapitating the queen. He crushed her skull between his fists and tore her heart from her chest. "Now that was funny!" he declared.

Whitebull went berserk in grief. He tried to wrestle with Harrek and then drew his sword. He smote the Bear and stared in shock when his blade bent from the blow.

Harrek absently backhanded him across the room and the ruler of Prax fell brokenly to the floor. He turned to Dragonfriend and directed that he accompany him. Harrek strode from the hall and out of the palace. He stopped before Sartar's Flame. He squeezed her heart into the roaring fire, which burst to the heavens like a beacon of ire and declared that he was the new King of Sartar. Dragonfriend gaped and protested. "You have a problem with me as king?" Argrath replied that he did not but that being King involved much tedious work and toil and wouldn't Harrek much prefer to carouse in the bars? He spoke of the boredom of the throne and the duty involved, "Thou hast become the protector and law-bringer for the cottars and the thanes." Harrek yawned and tapped his foot as Argrath went on. When he grew tired of those sage words of advice he cuffed Argrath across the face and then strode the twenty paces to where the Dragonlord had landed. "Anything more?" Argrath wisely kept his council to himself.

The Wolf Pirates proceeded to plunder Boldhome and slay the allies and friends of Kallyr who made protest at her death and anyone else who happened to be in the path of their drunken fury. Gunda was well loved among their hard-bitten crews and they cared nothing for the people they had caroused with but hours before. Harrek eventually stopped the fighting when Dragonfriend pointed out that his men were destroying the property of his kingdom.

Whitebull, broken but not dead, spent several weeks in his palace being nursed by the healers. Dragonfriend made his way to his friend's sickbed and Whitebull spake thusly, "I am faring to my old home in Pavis. I don't want to be near him when vengeance is a dream. It is up to you to watch over Sartar but I will hear your call should you need me."

Sharpsword's only comment was that Harrek would eventually get bored and leave. Kallyr's death elicited a shrug from him.

Two hundreds of Kallyr's followers joined Dragonfriend's warband. For the most part, her Vingans returned to the Kheldon.

Harrek declared that it was "Good to be King" and called for celebration at his taking the throne. The tribal Kings, knowing of his reputation, acceded to his demands and gave their reluctant loyalty.

It came to pass that when he sobered up, he summoned his "Loyal Lords", the Argraths to his hall. Harrek sat slouching on his high seat. He gnawed on some nameless piece of meat. He told them that Kallyr had missed the news. He waved a message at them and told how Kallyr appeared to have an extensive network of contacts in the Empire. These contacts had sent tales of woe to the queen. It seemed that the imperial demoness, JarEel the Razoress, had raised a host on her own initiative and was faring to Sartar with many thousands of spears. Harrek was greatly pleased by this turn of events as it would relieve the impending boredom. He turned to Dragonfriend, "Yer the warlord right?" Dragonfriend stated that he was. "Git me a big army to watch while I kick this lunar bitch's ass." He took another bite out of his haunch and looked around at the Argraths. "I'm finished with you. Fuck off!"

The Argrath's gathered in Dragonfriend's palace and spoke of the future. Venharlsson reaffirmed his loyalty to the kingdom. Maniskisson complained. "I should have been the king," he stated. Dragonfriend suggested that he could fight Harrek for the throne but the coward claimed that he'd never do anything that base, "Fight a barbarian?" he sneered.

When Dragonfriend approached Whitebull, the lord of Prax refused to send any troops, not even to help his friend. "I hope JarEel slays him though I fear Sartar's fate if that were to happen, for none of us can stand against her." He wished them all luck though. Dragonfriend asked Whitebull to consider the good of Sartar and to send troops to help the kingdom, not the king. Whitebull agreed that he would think on the matter.

Harrek called the Argraths again and stated that he was tired of fighting in the hills and wanted to take the army into Tarsh. "We'll kill that Harvar bastard and rape the lunar bitch!"




[1] Meldek - Heortling word for a wizard or sorcerer.

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November 4, 2001

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