The Saga of the Gwandorlings - 80
And so Warwyrm Dragonfriend ferried the Army of Dragon Pass over the Black Eel River. His hosts brushed aside the mercenary Pentan scouts of the Lunar-king Ingkotarm and established an armed camp on the north bank. Under the brilliant organisational abilities of the Warwyrm the crossing went without mishap and in little more than two days all 40,000 troops, their supplies and the mules to carry them were over the river.
Two other things the Warwyrm did before crossing the river with the host: He summoned the Deathsword Lothar and the Storm Hero Sigmund - they who he had sent away the day before - back to the host. "There will be mighty battles soon and I would that you two were here rather than in Balazar." In their place, Argrath directed General Whitebull to fare into Balazar with his guard and both regiments of the Bush Children horsemen. "You are to be an aide to General Kamoar," he told Argrath Whitebull.
The host busked north across the Dog Plains with the Isildon River on their left and made their way to the city of Yantastos which was now the border between Holay and Imther. Argrath was soon to see what his scouts had reported, that the city was a-flame and its walls were thrown down. The fields were burned and the people and animals fled. The bridge over the river was also thrown down. It seemed that the Sairdites were scorching the earth before the advancing Argrathi.
The Dragonfriend's scouts brought word that the army of Saird was faring directly to Hortugarth and, in fact, was nearly there. It seemed that King Ingkotarm had departed Mirins Cross the same day that the Argrathi crossed the Black Eel and was force marching his host to the north and east.
The High King Maniskisson ordered Yantastos to be rebuilt and equipped as a depot for the army. Warwyrm Dragonfriend estimated that he could rebuild the bridge over the Isildon in two weeks and the High King agreed that it should be done.
Dark Season was heralded by a bitter wind and a flurry of light snow. Argrath's Grazer scouts could not penetrate the Pentan screen before Hortugarth and the Luminous Stallion King; Jandetin the Avenger, could say little more than that there was a large, armed encampment around the city. Jandetin opinioned that the camp was only partially occupied and could hold many more men.
Argrath called his Captains about him and set Sigmund Stormblade the task of espying the city further - Bronwyn Fallenstead having returned, unnoticed, to the south and had no new word to share.
And so it was that Sigmund summoned his breath and stepped upon it, whereupon he fared among the valindi-clouds until he came to the city and saw what a hawk might. He saw that the city's fortifications had been improved with the crumbling walls reported by Bronwyn replaced with finely cut stones and fresh mortar. The city-beyond-the-walls had been enclosed in an earthen rampart and half of the marked-out encampments were indeed empty. Within the city itself Sigmund could see warbanners from the Kingdom of Imther and the traitor-princess of northern Holay. Sigmund counted nye upon twelve thousands of troops within the city.
Argrath said that King Ingkotarm and the hosts of Saird would reach Hortugarth in another week.
Now the Warwyrm spoke again with the High King about Hortugarth. "We cannot attack the city as it is now and the Sairdites know it. Any demonstration would be futile. Ingkotarm has made a very good march, fast and well organised. The Sairdites about the city are encamped in scattered cantons as though they do not expect to be attacked and they are ready to march out at a moment's notice." Dragonfriend went on to say that the enemy had fortified Gold Ford, where the army planned on crossing the Isildon. "There are three thousands of spear behind an earthen rampart and ditch warding the ford. However, the enemy is in Hortugarth as we wished and there is no need for a demonstration." The High King agreed and said that they would use the bridge at Yantastos cross the Isildon. "We will attack in the spring."
We needs tell now how Argrath Venharlsson had begun building a Temple of the Reaching Storm in Fyllich Kwan. At this time High King Maniskisson came to Venharlsson and asked him to pause in his work on the temple and to summon the harshest valindi-storms that he could and to bury the Dog Plains and freeze the Sairdite host at Hortugarth through the winter. Venharlsson said that he would do what he could.
To this day the peoples of Hortugarth speak of that winter, the winter where the snows never stopped and ice daemons danced in the rafters and only the greatest sacrifices kept the hearth-goddesses warm.
Then Maniskisson turned back to Dragonfriend and directed him to busk back into Holay. "I want you to organise the queendom for war and to integrate it into all of our efforts. I know that none can surpass you at this task and the host here will not be moving through the winter." Dragonfriend reluctantly agreed for he was not pleased to be leaving the host while they were in the field.
Our tale now turns to the Zalador Hills in Aggar. On a hillside some ten miles west of the last battle site, the Summer and Winter tribes once again came together for the raven-dance. The week before heralds from Lunar Warlord Sandor Redsword had met with Djarn the Voice - Argrath Stormchaser's herald - and they had arranged the battle site and date.
We should mention here that High King Stormchaser had sent Sharpsword back to the dringi for more warriors when he learned of the new Winter advance for he suspected some dire trick from the Lunars. Argrath Sharpsword returned with 15 more jolanti, including a most ancient shaman. "You owe me a favour," he spake to the King. "I owe it gladly as thou art among the best of men," was how Gudny responded.
The Summer host with Argrath Sharpsword and lead by the High King arrived first and made their preparations. The gathered Ernaldan godyr of Aggar concealed the dringi under the battlefield while the warbands among the Righteous Wind prepared great magical rituals. Gudny arrayed his forces with Urog Ox-Breaker commanding the left, Sota Lamplighter in the centre and Sharpsword in the place of honour on the right. The dringi were to rise up beneath the Lunar regiments and the Aggari would unleash their magic and charge into the confusion.
The armies met under the half-moon and things immediately went wrong for Gudny. The jolanti stood up when the Lunar skirmish-line passed overhead and then the Aggari line immediately charged but the Lunar host was too far away to be attacked. With the jolanti rampaging across the battlefield the Lunars sounded the retreat and made to withdraw from the field.
King Gudny led his 800-man flying host over the battlefield and struck at Sandor's bodyguard - the Redswords. The three disciples, Gudny, Norulf and Utgaard all struck at Sandor himself and dealt the enemy commander his death. So awesome were their blows that little was left of the corpse. The Redswords fought with great courage but were largely destroyed while the rest of the lunar host withdrew in good order.
When the fallen were tallied, some 15 of every hundred lowlanders lay on the bloody field while the highlanders had suffered no significant losses. One dringi complained that he had been slightly chipped when he stepped on a shieldburg, quashing a score of thanes.
High King Argrath led his host in pursuit of the Lunars and chased them right into the city of Eneal. Most of the jolanti went home heavy in gifts from the High King Stormchaser.
It was about now that Bronwyn Fallenstead fared west and passed into Aggar. He spoke briefly with Argrath Stormchaser - for there was little warmth between them - and then passed on to the City of 10,000 Magicians where he spoke with the leaders about all things draconic and sought recruits to the Argrathi cause.
There fared a band of riders north from Furthest to Fillichet and then onto Fyllich Kwan and finally to Yantastos. They arrived on a bleak day; full of killing winds and those that saw them cringed from their fearsome aura. There were five of them and their visage was as cold as an iron sword. They were garbed about in black and grey and girt with finely wrought tunics of ring-mail. Hard-used shields hung from their saddles and their hardy ponies bore the wild look of the half-mad. Three riders wore the devices of Hu while two wore that of Kargan; all wore the crossed blades of their lord, Lothar Deathbringer. Their leader was a small man, short in stature but who sat tall in his saddle. His name was Grinning-Rjasl and he wore the terrifying war-mask of Lothar's Ten-Thanes - having won his position by defeated six and twenty taller men in hard-fought duels. He bore a great sword across his back that was nearly as long as he and wielded it like none other.
Grinning-Rjasl brought word from Furthest that the King Fazzursson of Tarsh was refusing to pay the High King's tolls around Furthest. These were the tolls that the Warwyrm had granted to Lothar to finance his raven-battalion. Rjasl spoke of Lothar's followers slain by Argrath Fazzursson's men, though they slew three for every one of their own that fell. The Ten-Thane spoke further of raiders and bandits striking the roads of Tarsh, they would fall upon one of Lothar's toll-stations and then toll passer-bys themselves. "Vorgrenal the Keen-Minded says that the raiders came from clans that are very loyal to the King Fazzursson," spake Rjasl.
At this news Lothar gathered his grim warband and rode from Yantastos to have words with Argrath Law-Breaker - as he now named Fazzursson. With him rode Sigmund Stormblade who had reasons of his own to want words with King Fazzursson . High King Maniskisson made no effort to stop them nor to question their going. When word reached the Warwyrm he was vexed but knew that this was an honour-quest.
In Harmony Week, Prince Whitebull came to Trillus and spoke with Kamoar Shadowstalker of the goings on in Balazar. With the new forces brought with Whitebull, Kamoar meant to fare back to Dykene and siege it through the winter. Whitebull agreed that would be the best path and they set out to do just that with their combined host numbering some three thousands of spear and horse.
With Dykene invested Kamoar set Whitebull the task of directing the siege while he gathered energies and followers for a magical assault. Argrath Whitebull spoke of the difficulties they would face taking the citadel. "The lower bailey will fall with ease - the walls can be assaulted and the gate can be burst. The upper citadel will be much more difficult. We will have to ramp the walls." Kamoar accepted Whitebull's wise words for he new little of siege-craft.
Now Kamoar sent word around Balazar that he wished to summon Votank - the dog-ancestor of all Balazarings - to help liberate his people from foreign rule. He called on shamans from across the land to join him and aid in his summoning. So great was his fame and so well known his prowess, most of the shamans in the land heeded his call.
Next, Kamoar and his shamans set about summoning all of the spirits that they could. They summoned roach spirits and weevil spirits from the depths of a trollish underworld. They summoned rat spirits and they summoned mice spirits. All of these spirits were unleashed into the city to ravage the defender's food-stocks. Kamoar summoned termite spirits and in the night he bound the fetishes to the city's gates so that the spirits would eat the barriers from the inside. Soon the city was overrun with vermin and could do little in the face of the ethereal onslaught.
Now as the winter deepened Argrath Stormchaser laid siege to the city of Eneal. He knew that the defenders were well provisioned but he could float supplies down the river and so his host was well provisioned itself. Gudny set the three dringi who had remained with his host after the last battle to gathering large stones that they could use to smash the walls.
The Red-King sent an emissary to speak with Gudny. The warrior rode from the city on a Sylilan war-charger and rather familiar looking armour. When he raised his Yanafali war-mask Gudny saw that it was none other than Sandor Redsword. Gudny spake thusly: "You seem to have an unnaturally fierce grip on the mortal plane. How is it that you are still among the living?" Sandor replied that he had ridden with the Crimson Elites in the battle and one of his lieutenants had worn his armour and ridden under Sandor's banner. "It was a nice tactic though," the brushie taunted. Sandor then went on to ask if Gudny's intention was to siege Eneal - it was - and suggested that he shouldn't. "I am rather an expert in these matters," replied Sandor, "and I know that you cannot succeed." At that the parley broke up and Sandor returned to the city.
We needs now describe the city of Eneal. Eneal was built around an ancient Vingkotling hillfort. The old city was inside the ancient walls, shaped like a storm rune and carved from the very earth upon which it rested. The Provincial Overseer had added fortified towers to the walls and a citadel at the inner-most point. A steep slope and a deep ditch separated these walls from the outer city. The outer city was warded by walls to the height of six men, some fifteen ells. Towers strengthened the walls, 20 ells high spaced every 100 ells. The entire city stood atop a rocky outcrop alongside the Zalador River.
King Argrath gathered his storm magicians and they lashed the city with bitter storms that soaked through everything. They had little significant affect on the city for the Church Militant had a large temple there and it was well defended. Argrath had ditches dug before the city gates and had his Hedkoranthi warband smash the docks. When the dringi had collected a pile of rocks larger than a chieftain's hall Stormchaser ordered them to smash the city wall. Now we are actually doing a disservice to our readers by naming these as rocks. The jolanti had collected a pile of boulders that each massed over 40 stone - some were 50 stone . Even the largest boulder could be thrown over 300 ells by the smallest jolanti.
In Fillichet, Argrath Dragonfriend was working at studying the queendom's resources and peoples. His famous charisma and inarguable justice overcame all local resistance to what changes he did implement. He was also finding time for the first time in years to relax. The only minor problem that he came across was with Pentans raiding the north across the frozen rivers. Argrath sent five score of his Storm Dragon Guards to organise the local militia. "Deal with it," he told their captain, Brod Grimaxe.
Around Dykene, the winter grew fierce and Kamoar's troops grew hungry. Whitebull reduced the men to half-rations. Kamoar's foraging parties were raided by the local clansmen - loyal to their besieged king - and by hawk-riders from the citadel.
One day a band of Kamoar's foragers fared into the camp half-dead from having run for three days to reach him. Kamoar bade them rest and sate them down in his pavilion. He had hot mead and warm porridge brought for them and called for Prince Whitebull and Gettig Kingsvoice to join them. Then he bade them tell their tale.
The scouts were led by Angtus Far-seeker and it was he who told this tale. Angtus spoke of a host of aldrymani issuing from the Elder Wilds. He described some two thousands of green aldrymani with oaken tower shields, copper armour and axes. He named some four thousands of brown aldrymani with the dreaded elvish bows. He spoke of some five hundreds of aldrymani riding unicorns and a further five hundreds of horse archers bearing the runes of Yelmalio. "They are moving quickly," spake Angtus, "and will be here within the week."
Kamoar turned to Gettig and spake thusly: "You are a learned man and our King Dragonfriend sent you out here for your diplomacy. I would that you busked yourself forth, found this aldrymani host and learned their intentions." Gettig agreed and took horse immediately.
Gettig found the elf-host and spoke with their leader, one Airoloin Greatbow. It seemed that the aldrymani had been summoned to fulfil ancient treaties made with the Kingdom of Saird to fight Alakoring Elf-foe. "We march to throw down Argrath Elf-breaker and all of his allies." 
It was the day after Gettig brought this news back to Dykene that Kamoar received word from King Trayvus' steward in Elkoi. Three nights before, the city had been taken by the gold-girt soldiers of the Pentaverate. It was said that Ogunjar Straight-Arm led the assault himself and that he had several thousands of hoplites with him.
That very night Kamoar's rituals were completed and he stepped into the Spirit Realm. He loped across the Dog Plain and found where Votank rested. Kamoar asked the spirit what aid it would provide and what advice it had. This is what the spirit said: "When the pack is attacked by the bear, the pack runs. The pack waits for the bear to grow old and then attacks."
Kamoar spoke with Argrath Whitebull and King Trayvus. They decided to break the host into raiding bands and to scatter across the clanlands of Balazar. The largest band, made up of the Bovakite Light Foot was to remain with Kamoar and Whitebull and would withdraw into the South Woods.
Kamoar received word that Trillus had fallen to Ogunjar without a fight.
Kaztorz Lead-sword had been an Uz champion in Helikiv. When Lothar Zoraksbane proved the superiority and pureness of Humakt by slaying the Queen's Champion, Kaztorz severed his links to his people, his clan and even to his Mother. He abandoned the mace and took up the sword of the god of death. Since then Kaztorz had proven himself a mighty warrior and a devoted servant of Truth. He earned a place as one of Lothar's Hundred-Thanes and was accounted among the more fearsome of the Disciple's followers.
Now Lothar came to his keep outside Furthest and spoke grim words with his thanes. Kaztorz Lead-sword gave unto Lothar a letter that Argrath Law-breaker had sent.
Lothar had cause to wonder what could have possessed Argrath to issue so many insults in so short a letter. "I will seek this nithling in Dunstop," spake the Deathlord.
As Lothar made his preparations to fare forth his thane Hadding brought word that Argrath Law-breaker rode on the Dunstop Road. "He rides with five score huscarls and makes for Fyllich Kwan to speak with the High King. He brushed past your toll stations and slew the collectors."
Well, this was the last provocation. Lothar rode out with Sigmund and ten score of his deaththanes at his back and came upon Fazzursson north of Furthest. "Onjur, King of Tarsh, you are an oath-breaker and murderer. You owe the High King tolls for using his roads and you owe me blood-price for the thanes you have slain."
The King replied thusly: "Lothar, I didn't know you were back in Tarsh. Your men are bandits taking tolls from my royal servants when they should not be. And you have not paid your religious taxes for operating a temple in my kingdom."
Lothar spake: "The tolls are levied by the High King Maniskisson and the High King's servants are exempt. Yours are not. Pay thy tolls and the blood-price for my thanes and you may pass." Fazzursson replied that Lothar must pay the religious tax and ordered him to stand aside. Lothar replied with a cold, "Pay the toll!"
Fazzursson spake: "Stand aside. This is my land and I will pay no toll while I am in it."
Lothar replied: "It is my duty to Humakt to collect the tolls as directed by the High King and his Warwyrm. I am not moving until those tolls are collected. As for your taxes, my temple is subject to no law nor any levy but those of Humakt." Fazzursson ordered Lothar to stand aside and named him a bandit. The King stepped his horse forward. "I serve Humakt and answer to no man," replied Lothar. Fazzursson replied that he was the King of Tarsh and no man could defy him. He urged his horse forward again.
That was when Lothar first drew upon the most awesome power of Death. His eyes glowed black, his skin grew paler and grass for thirty ells about shrivelled and died. Argrath's war-stallion dropped to the roadway and was dead on the spot.
The king was wroth. "You killed my horse. How dare you!" There was a hush among the warbands when Argrath drew his battle blade and screamed at Lothar, "Stand aside!"
Lothar remained unmoving. "Sheath thy blade!"
Fazzursson screamed back, "I don't listen to orders from Dragonfriend's lackeys!" Lothar still didn't move and repeated his command. Argrath shouted, "Stand aside!" and held his sword towards Lothar. "You owe me weregeld for that horse. It was an Esrolian destrier." He stepped forward again and Lothar finally reacted.
The Deathlord's blades leapt from their sheaths with a grim exultation. Fazzursson's warband reached for their blades while Lothar's turned dangerous eyes upon them. With nary a word, Lothar attacked the king. With a miraculous parry Fazzursson stopped Lothar's attack. He taunted the humakti and stepped in to launch his own attack. Lothar squatted down on his heals and struck the king in the legs. As Fazzursson staggered back, Lothar stood and struck him seven more times spinning on his heel and striking him with both blades, again and again. The king fell to the roadway bleeding and stared up at Death as Lothar stepped over him and severed his head with a negligent swing of his blade.
A swordbrother ran up and mounted Fazzursson's head atop Lothar's Raven-banner while the Deathlord stared at the muttering housecarls. Their captain rode forth and said these words: "It was a fair duel and you gave my lord plenty of opportunity not to fight you, Lothar Kingslayer. However there will be weregeld for this and there will be consequences." With that, the huscarls gathered the headless corpse and turned for Dunstop.
Lothar mounted the head over the gates to his citadel.
And so it came to pass that the aldrymani host pursued Kamoar into the South Woods and were close upon his heels. King Trayvus' clansmen spake of six or seven thousands of Pentaverate soldiers holding the three citadels. Kamoar's scouts brought word of a band of trolls in the woods ahead. They spoke of hundreds of uzdo and enlo with many dressed in red.
Kamoar raced ahead to speak with the trolls. They were led by Degash Stomper-Eater, a shaman and mother. Degash told how her band had come to kill aldrymani and that they had been following the elf host since it had left the Elder Wilds. "We don't go in there," she said. It appeared that this was the first time since the Second Age  that an aldrymani host had come out of the wilds. Degash had some five hundred uzdo and one thousand enlo, many of the frenzied worshippers of Zorak Zoran.
With the arrival of Storm Season High King Stormchaser's preparations were complete and he ordered the assault on Eneal. He turned to his captains and said these words: "Sack it."
The dringi hurled their boulders at the southern wall where it was closest to the Church Militant and smashed it down in a day.
Then Urog Ox-Breaker led his Skanthi into the city behind the rampaging jolanti. His was the honour of first attack and his was the largest share of the sack. The Skanthi were to seize the Church Militant and throw down their altars and idols. Sota Lamplighter led his phalangites through next and his was the task of warding the attackers from any sally from the inner fortresses. Gudny led the Righteous Wind over the walls and attacked the defenders of the breach from the sides.
The fighting was heavy but the defenders could not stand with the ferocious Skanthi before them and the fanatical Righteous Wind behind. Urog smashed through their lines at the head of the Skanthi wedge. King Stormchaser walked down the main street unassailable in the centre of a raging tornado slaying all that would offer resistance; most of the warriors surrendered to the Stormking while the rest fled into the Old City. In little time the temple had been thrown down and the city's wytr was suppressed. The Provincial Castle and the Round Keep surrendered shortly after.
A chieftain of the Skanthi came to Gudny where he stood studying the inner walls. With him was Gwaerida Roadlayer, High Priestess of the Provincial Church and daughter of the Satrap of Sylila. "I am your hostage and am at your mercy," she said to the High King. She offered her parole and asked to stay in her palace, "but your men are sacking it. How barbarous." Gudny thought briefly and accepted her parole. "I will set aside a wing of the palace for all of the prisoners to be kept in. You will have a suite of rooms and your servants." Gwaerida seemed put-out at the enforced proximity to "commoners," as she called them but accepted.
Gudny called on the defenders in the old city to surrender for they could not have more than a few weeks of supplies left to them, packed inside the walls as they were. Sandor laughed at the King and replied that the rebels were doomed.
Without the protection of the Provincial Church the upper city froze solid under the relentless lashing of the gathered stormpriests. "I want their food frozen; I want their water frozen; I want it too cold to sleep on that hilltop," spake the High King. And so it was. The winds howled and stole the men's breath while Valind's daughters strode the night and bestowed their deadly kisses upon the hapless defenders.
Gudny sent a herald to Jillaro with word of his hostage.
In Balazar Kamoar sat in ambush for the aldrymani host. He chose a wooded hillside that was dominated by giant oaks and dotted with boulders. He set his warband in the shadows below the crest with the setting sun at their backs and had Degash's warriors arrayed to either side. The woodfolk spied the hulking trolls before the ambush was triggered but were too late to avoid it altogether. With screams of abuse and hatred the Uz thundered down the hillside with flames dancing on their arms and armour. There followed a ferocious slaughter with over five hundreds of brown elves slain. When aldrymani reinforcements drew nye Kamoar pulled his host over the crest and deeper into the woods.
Degash told Kamoar that Zorak Zoran was pleased and that it had been a good fight. She then told Kamoar that they had completed their sacred duty to kill elves and would now fare back to their homes. She thanked him for helping them in their quest and gruffly refused to remain and aid him in his battles.
The Aldrymani host withdrew to Trillus and then passed on into Imther in the direction of the Elf Sea, leaving the citadels of Balazaar in the hands of the Pentaverate and their few allies among the clans. Ogunjar ruled from Elkoi.
With the help of the most powerful shamans in Balazar, Kamoar summoned Votank into the Mundane world and readied him to serve his descendants. Word of his deed spread through Balazar and resistance to Ogunjar's occupation strengthened.
High King Maniskisson fared about Tarsh and spoke at the things in each tribe. He suggested that Anstad of Dunstop should be the new King of Tarsh and gained the agreement of the Armsmen.
Now the High King sent word that he would like to speak with Lothar Deathbringer in the palace in Furthest. He also summoned the Fazzurites of Dunstop. The High King asked Lothar to justify the killing of his under-king. Lothar replied curtly: "He drew a blade on me. I am bound not to refuse any challenge." The Fazzurites agreed that Fazzursson had drawn on Lothar but they still demanded weregeld for his death.
This was Maniskisson's judgement: "The duel was just and the killing fair. All the same you have deprived me of a valuable thane and the people of Tarsh of an industrious king. Servants of the Kingdom of Tarsh will not pay any tolls to your collectors until they have used 10,000 gold guilders worth of travel. That is the weregeld for the King of Tarsh. Your temple will begin paying the King's Religious taxes.
Lothar had a large influx of new recruits and initiates when news of the King-slaying got out.
With the arrival of spring Anstad of Dunstop was crowned King of Tarsh. He remained long enough to appoint his ring and then returned to Yantastos to take up his place in the army.
High King Maniskisson said that this was the year the Argrathi would crush the Sairdites and he led the army north from Yantastos. A day's march from Hortugarth the armies clashed in an encounter battle that saw the vanguard of the Army of Dragon Pass victorious and King Ingkotarm's scattered forces hastily withdrew from the field. The Army of Dragon Pass pursued the Sairdites to Hortugarth and then followed them across the Isildon towards Ulatel's Leap. King Maniskisson could not turn King Ingkotarm's flank and could not bring him to battle as he retreated in good order. King Maniskisson left a screen before Hortugarth to cover the garrison there.
In Aggar High King Stormchaser secured all of the lowlands except the old city of Eneal where cannibalism and disease arrived among the besieged.
The aldrymani army disappeared into the wilds while Ogunjar's hosts secured all three citadels of Balazar and colonists from the Pentaverate began to appear in the clanlands. Kamoar's guerrilla war wreaked havoc among the hoplites and horsemen of Yelmalio but could not face them in open battle.
Now there came to Kamoar's woodland camp a mostali named Steelforge DiamondAxe. He was a sturdy warrior and smith and was girt with all-encasing armour made of something he called diamond-steel. "Mine own invention," he said.
We should mention here that Steelforge was a true Mostali, just as old as Isildirian. He had been serving the World Machine since before the God's War and was labouring mightily to repair it once more.
Steelforge spoke of Kamoar and his troubles and said that he could help. Kamoar asked if this was in the Scheduled but Steelforge brushed that aside, "no matter. I help you." "How," asked Kamoar. "Many axes. Axes with dwarves," was the reply. "Price?" "None." "How many?" "Enough." "When?" "Soon." With that, Steelforge DiamondAxe turned to leave. He paused and said: "There is one thing that you may do. Take word to your leader on our behalf. The council that was broken must be reforged. Mostali fix many things but not this." Kamoar agreed and Steelforge went his own way after saying that his host would arrive in three weeks.
There was a man named Torgreth of Gaelingston then living in Fillichet. Torgreth was an old man and walked with a cane though he was still proud and had sharp eyes and a sharper tongue. Torgreth was once a commander in the Provincial Overseer's hosts and had served Queen Karsalla's mother as the Warlord of Holay. He had studied at the War College in Jillaro and even spent a season in the hell-pit of Alkoth. Torgreth led armies fighting in Aggar and Balazar; he fought against Pelandan rebels and Pentan raiders. He was a favoured servant of Queen Karsalla and loyal to her throne though he still made sacrifice to Yanafal Tarnils.
Through the winter and on into the spring the Warwyrm Dragonfriend studied war - tactics, strategy and logistics - from Torgreth of Gaelingston. The Queen Karsalla studied along with him.
Word came to the Argraths that the Oslir River was swelling and shifting above Bostok. There was some strange magical affect causing the water to rise like a wall, as though an invisible dam stood across the river - but the damn was gathering water on the downstream side. If the dam were to burst, it appeared that the flood would flow up the river and roll across Holay and the Aggari lowlands. Divinations and magical investigations revealed that the Empire had turned the Oslir River against the Argrathi and were preparing a devastating counter-stroke.
Argrath Stormchaser sent word to the other Argraths that he would confront this challenge himself as Orlanth had confronted the dragon Aroka and Alakoring had confronted the Diamond Storm Dragon .
Gudny found a sacred dolmen at the joining of the Zalador and Oslir Rivers, just outside the city of Verdar. He decided that he would enact his ritual there and that was where Oslira, the river dragon would be defeated. He summoned his Storm-thanes and sent word to his blood-brother, Sigmund, that he would like his support.
Now Gudny spent a week making his preparations until the goddess Oslira burst north along the river. Gudny stood atop the Dolmen and readied himself. He swelled in strength and size and was glowing with so much magic that it was painful to behold him. Sigmund stood among Gudny's picked champions arrayed behind him to defend him from the spirits and daemons of the river while the gathered priest-bands stood on the walls of Verdar where they offered their devoted support to the Stormlord.
Oslira roared up the river spilling over the banks and washing away villages and small towns. An army of river folk - minor gods and incarnated heroes - rode the crest of the attacking goddess. There were giant river squid, humanoid figures with the heads of fish, eels and crocodiles. There were leaping catfish and writhing water snakes. The godlings moved to attack Gudny and were in turn attacked by Sigmund and the other picked champions. Sigmund hurled thunderstones at any godling that came too close to his brother. Three heroes of the Oslir died and their worshippers - empowering their godlings - died with them.
A great serpent leapt from the top of the river and flew over the defenders. It lunged at Sigmund and drove the Hedkoring to the earth. Sigmund struck back with a mighty blow of his lightning sword. The serpent struck again smiting Sigmund so hard that he was driven to his waist into the muddy earth. Sigmund leapt from the ground, flew over the serpent's head and landed on its back striking down with his blazing sword. The flickering blade struck upon the serpent's neck severing it from the body and the water demon fell down and died on that spot .
Now the goddess fell upon Gudny where he stood placidly awaiting her. He was engulfed by the waves and the two incarnated gods fought. Gudny hurled lightning and thunder into the goddess' eyes and she reared higher over him, driving him hard onto the rock below. Then Gudny opened his bag of winds and released Black Cloud into the middle of the flood. There was an explosion of storm winds and thunderous retorts from under the waves and the waters dissipated and Oslira quickly receded. So strongly had Oslira press upon Argrath Stormchaser that his footprints were driven into the stone and it was ever after known as Argrath's Stone.
Wave after wave of river daemons had been beaten back by the combined strength of Utguard, Norolf and Sigmund - though Norolf lay close to death's cleft. The city of Verdar was flooded up the walls and the priest-bands were soaked through by river mud.
Gudny lead his thanes in pursuit of the fleeing river spirits and scores were captured including one daughter of Oslira herself. Now this naiad was quite comely to look at and lacked any clothing all. She seemed entirely smitten by Gudny and suggestively announced that she was his to do with as he wished. Gudny greeted her well but bade her be free and do as she chose - for he would not take liberties with a hostage. The goddess looked tearfully at him and then bade him farewell before she vanished below the waves.
Prince Orgovalt of Aldachur sent word to his King Dragonfriend that the Colymar and the Malani were warring. "The Colymar are the stronger and should come out victorious," spake the messenger. It was said that Maniskisson had sanctioned the conflict.
At about this time High King Maniskisson tricked Ingkotarm with a rapid withdrawal followed by a forced march that put his host behind the Sairdite army. Maniskisson's scouts reported that the Sairdites appeared confused at this turn of events. But then King Ingkotarm escaped by tying burning torches to the horns of a large herd of cattle and running it across the plains. The Army of Dragon Pass pursued through the night while the Sairdite host busked south towards Mirins Cross.
When High King Stormchaser returned to Eneal he found that the city had fallen. It seemed that the defenders had known about the planned flood and expected the deluge to sweep the besiegers away. Rascius was found dead on his throne with a gilt encrusted scimitar thrust through his chest. Sandor Redsword was not found, nor was the royal treasury and many artefacts of power.
One more thing resulted from to Oslira's coming that was to later prove disastrous for the Kingdom of Dragon Pass. The floodwaters flowing up the Black Eel River sank the entire fleet of barges at Fyllich Kwan. Warwyrm Dragonfriend sent instructions to begin rebuilding the vessels as quickly as possible.
In Balazar Kamoar received word from the Greatway Dwarves. It happened that some aide to Steelforge DiamondAxe had translated human time measurements incorrectly and the host would take a few weeks more before it was readied. Kamoar was invited to visit the mountain fastness and he agreed. There he saw iron dwarves - innumerable - readying for battle. He saw pikemen, axemen and others armed with thundersticks.
Queen Karsalla invited King Dragonfriend to her summer retreat on the east side of Lake Invarness. Princess Inkarne and Queen Voydag were also invited. There the Queen feted Dragonfriend and feasted him royally. She introduced him to what she called a "well engineered, imperial designed, bath-house." He was washed, scrubbed, dried and massaged by highly skilled serving girls.
At feast one night, one radiantly beautiful servant stood up before Queen Karsalla. She held her left hand up and a moon-beam fell upon it through the window. A glittering silver scimitar appeared in her grasp and she cut the queen's head off in one fluid motion. Across the room scimitars and daggers were pulled from beneath robes and the servants began to slaughter the gathered nobility of Holay.
King Dragonfriend quickly took stock of the situation and wisely grabbed his betrothed, Inkarne, and leapt onto the Mastakos road. He fared to Fillichet, gave the child into the keeping of her guards and returned to the melee across the lake. He immediately recognised the Queen's assassin as JarEel the Razoress - supposedly dead these many years since the Battle of Heroes.
Queen Voydag lunged at JarEel with a blade. She squatted under JarEel's stroke and stabbed the godling in the leg. JarEel spun about and struck Voydag upon the shoulder and her blade passed on into the Throatslicer's torso and struck her dead on the spot.
Around the room JarEel's champions were throwing off their serving garb and butchering their way through the Queen Karsalla's guards. A red-man assailed Argrath. Dragonfriend hurled him across the room and into JarEel's path. Argrath shouted at the defenders to flee, he snatched Voydag's corpse and stepped back onto the Mastakos Road faring once anon into Fillichet.
In the palace of Holay, Argrath summoned the Chalana Arroy Healer and asked her to quest after Voydag's spirit. The priestess looked at the fallen queen and wrinkled her nose: "A Devoldan Bandage Roller? No. She is a disgusting excuse for a healer who kills people 'for mercy'. I will not aid her."
King Argrath replied thusly: "If she has no mercy, you do. Show your superiority to her by sharing your famed mercy." The healer reluctantly agreed and Argrath noted that he would be making a substantial donative to her temple. The healer looked severely at Argrath. "I will do what I can for this murderer but I lay this doom upon you. For every person that she kills in an act of her 'mercy' you will pay the White Lady five cows." Argrath agreed.
Well Argrath fared back to the summer retreat and the healers set to praying over Voydag. In time they managed to bring her soul back to her body. The Death-sickness lay heavy on her.
In the summer palace Argrath spoke with the survivors and took stock of the losses. A stable boy told him that a moonboat had appeared over the hall, loaded the attackers and all of their casualties and then vanished again. Von Heartstopper, Argrath's swordthane estimated the attacker's strength at three score. Nine of the Storm Dragon Guard lay dead and Argrath sent the heads of all ten of his great trolls back to Cragspider for replacement - though they did slay fifteen Bloodswords before they fell.
In the coming days Argrath received word that Fyllich Kwan had fallen with very few survivors left behind. JarEel had manifested in the city's temple district and fought Argrath Venharlsson in a battle that had shattered the core of the city before finally slaying the Storm Lord. A large fleet sailed up the Black Eel and disgorged a host of Lunar Tarshite Exiles and Orayan mercenaries who seized the city and threw down the works on the Temple of the Reaching Storm.
There came to Massassakar a man named Jordan Poormansson. Jordan was a councillor of the Satrap Pardidas of Sylila and he was in Massassakar to negotiate the ransom for the Satrap's daughter, Gwaerida Roadlayer. The High King greeted him well and bade him be seated at the guest seat next to his own. That night he guested Jordan and come morning they spoke of Gwaerida. After several hours of negotiating, the Satrap - and thus his sons in the Provincial Government - acknowledged Argrath Stormchaser as the King of Aggar and they recognised the borders of Aggar as they now existed. The Satrap offered a peace treaty with Aggar but Stormchaser declined saying that he could not deny his friends and allies his support in their actions. "However, I have no intention of carrying war to Saird." So they agreed to a cessation of hostilities and then to a normalisation of trade. Finally, the Sylilans offered three thousands of cows in tribute. King Stormchaser demanded five thousands and wanted it in trade goods, ore and livestock and Jordan agreed.
Argrath Dragonfriend settled matters in Fillichet and then busked himself to Saird. He found the Army of Dragon Pass near the city of Yoran. The High King Maniskisson greeted the Warwyrm warmly and stated: "Good news! We have them; the Sairdites have turned at bay." The Warwyrm quickly sobered the High King with his telling of events in Holay and with the fall of Fyllich Kwan. The High King was dismayed: "Two Argrath's in a season; that is foul news." He went on to say that the army must defeat the Sairdites now or King Ingkotarm would hound their withdrawal from the Dog Plains.
Now a band of Grazer riders made their way to where the kings were discussing and brought foul word. They told how the Army of Sylila was at their rear and marching fast. It would reach that spot within a day and was led by General of Sylila and son of the Satrap, Pardidas Ironsides himself. It seemed that in a cunning series of marches and sailings his host had boated from Dara-Ni to Jillaro then along the Daughter's Road to Hilton in Imther with magical speed. From Imther they force-marched to meet with the army of Elder Wilds aldryami to arrive at the rear of the Army of Dragon Pass. They opined that this new host numbered between thirty and fifty thousands, including the elite forces of Sylila. The High King realised that he had been played by a master strategist but vowed to make the best of it and deal the enemy a grievous blow before he retreated.
The Argraths began issuing orders. With Dragonfriend's able advice, Maniskisson decided that a reinforced screen would pin the Sairdites while the main host turned to smash the Sylilans. "The Sairdite army is plagued by desertion and confused. We must hold the Sairdites while defeating the Sylilans to gain enough time to withdraw. Our only other option is to flee through the Baying Hills and break up the host."
Argrath Dragonfriend sent word to Fillichet for his guard to strip the royal treasury and to take the crown-princess Inkarne along with her servants to Stone Storm Keep. Argrath's Moving-thane, Trizm Skyfoot took Inkarne and her foot-woman onto the Mastakos roads and fared to Argrath's fortress in the Stormreach Mountains.
And so the Warwyrm asked the Sword of Sartar, Argrath Sharpsword, to command the rear-guard and to pin the Sairdites. Dragonfriend assigned his fastest moving forces to Sharpsword's host as they would have to flee long and hard when the time came. The Sword's host included Kuchile's Men - 450 horse archers from the High Guard, the Yarandros Chargers - 500 heavy horse and both regiments of the Dragon's Wings - 900 medium horse. There were Magan's Greys - 400 horse, the Bullocks - 400 bison riders and the Elmal Husband cavalry from Esrolia. Finally, there were the Dragon's Eyes - 900 light infantry, the City Foot medium infantry, the Orenerian Light horse from Holay, the Grand Company spears and the Fillichet Braves. All tallied there were some 8,000 men.
Then the main host turned north east to face the advancing Sylilans.
Warwyrm Dragonfriend chose to fight just east of the town of Yoran. He chose a field on the edge of the Baying Hills with burned farms to the front and left. Behind him was a small copse of trees. From a nearby hilltop he watched the Sylilans advance across the fields and shake out into battle order.
When the host espied the Sylilans all were dismayed. There were nearer to 60,000 enemies arrayed against them. Dragonfriend's joyful words carried over the host: "We'll just need to kill three foemen each before we can go home." His words raised the army's courage and the soldiers fell to boasting of their coming feats.
This is how the Warwyrm arrayed his host: Queen Nerestina commanded the left; King Anstad the right; High King Maniskisson and the Warwyrm Dragonfriend stood in the centre. For the first time in several years the Dragonfriend was without guard or bodythane as he had left all behind in Fillichet when he made his way north. Dragonfriend arrayed his centre in great depth and placed his best regiments there for he knew that he could not win this battle outright but could only hope to shatter the Sylilan army long enough for his host to withdraw in good order without a strenuous pursuit. His strengthened centre was designed to rupture the Sylilan line and disarray his enemy.
Dragonfriend and his Companions prepared their own magics for the battle.
When the hosts came together the Argrathi skirmishes pushed the Sylilans back onto their own advancing regiments. On the right Sigmund's Breakers of Jelmir slung volley after volley of exploding thunderstones into the advancing ranks of highlanders causing terrible loss among the upland Sylilans. The Argrathi highlanders and other infantry easily held their line against the disrupted Ulrendi and Rist hillmen though the enemy began to move further into the hills to flank the Argrathi.
Disaster struck on the left. The glittering array of knights and the green Pounder's regiment saw that the enemy's advancing cavalry were not human - they bore the heads of goats, sheep, horses and other beasts. The obvious savagery and monstrosity of their foes unnerved these warriors - warriors who had never seen a broo before. The affect on the knight's horses was even worse. Challenged by their ultimate predator, the horses fought to flee. Most of the cavalry was carried from the field by their panicked mounts. The rest fled with their companions. Queen Nerestina, also a neophyte to chaos, lost her nerve and fled the field. Most of the left wing broke and followed her.
The High King Maniskisson ground his teeth, gathered his reserves and moved to the left in person.
In the centre there was a cry of dismay among the Sylilan ranks as Death came to them. Striding at the head a black wedge of sword-brothers with his raven-banner aflutter over him, Lothar the Deathbringer clove his way like a primal force. So powerful were the magics that Lothar manifested, the very earth groaned at his passing and otherwise lightly wounded men fell down dead when he passed. No blade could touch him and no shaft could mark him. He killed with a gaze and entire ranks fell before his deadly onslaught .
Aethyn Stone-Face was a great champion among the Galloglas, the hardened warrior caste of Sylila. Nine and twenty foes had fallen to his great axe and among the entire band there were none that would face him. Aethyn forced his way through the seething ranks of his friends and followers to finally stand before Lothar. "Deathman," he called out. "I've-" and that was all he managed to say as Lothar clove him in twain from brow to waist and stepped over the unnoticed corpse.
Fighting at Lothar's side was Sigmund Stormblade. The thunder of his blows and the lighting blade of his sword dismayed those who sought to escape the Deathlord. With woad glowing brilliant blue in the gathering storm shadows and killing bolts dancing on his blade Sigmund hewed his way through the stubborn Galloglas.
General Ironsides saw the onset of the Argrathi centre and though well satisfied with the progress of his right wing, he feared a breakthrough would cut his army in two. With great professional calm he ordered his heavy infantry reserves into the battle and directed his right to swing around the Argrathi centre, ceasing pursuit of Nerestina's shattered flank.
Behind the two manifesting heroes strode the relentless pikes of seven phalangites driving their way ever deeper into the Sylilan host but the merely mortal soldiers of the Argrathi could not keep pace with the speed and power of the heroes who led them and Lothar soon drove far ahead of his troops with only his elite boon companions and Sigmund beside him.
A great magical battle raged over the battlefield as the priests on both sides fought for supremacy, neither gaining the upper hand, though the Sylilan magicians were startled and dismayed at the power and organisation of the Argrathi magics which were far greater than they had ever seen in a barbarian army.
Now the Warwyrm activated his own prepared magics. He stepped onto Mastakos' Chariot and rode over the battlefield. He alit - unnoticed - behind the gathered Sylilan magicians. There, Argrath arrayed the three dragon staves he had been gifted in Ralios and summoned forth the host of crested dragonewts who had sacrificed themselves into his service.
Try, if you can, to imaging the surprise that Argrath felt when he got 3,000, not crested dragonewts, but beaked warriors.
Argrath pointed out the nearby magicians to the dragonewts and watched with pleasure as they butchered their way through the ranks of priests and wizards. In short minutes the Sylilan magical union was slain. Pardidas Ironsides turned his Iron Band, four thousands of his elite guard, to fight the dragonewts that had erupted into his rear and was himself sore beset by them but was a disciple of the War Bear of Sylila and soon stood atop a heap of slain dragonkind.
The Warwyrm mounted his chariot and rode again to his post beside the High King who had formed a new line refusing the left of the Argrahi centre and was trying to rally Nerestina's shattered troops. The attacking broo had been identified as mercenaries from Dorastor and the Knights of St Taurox, hastily pulled from the right, had halted them at great cost. Once Dragonfriend stepped down Maniskisson said to him: "We are done with. Our left collapses. Sharpsword sent word that the Sairdites are not disordered at all. They attacked with full strength and drove our rearguard back." The High King went on to say that the centre had been halted, "Thy thanes Sigmund and Lothar continue to advance but none other may tread the path that they take. We must try to withdraw." Maniskisson told how he would take the Sun Dome Phalanxes and what knights that he could muster and would hold the left flank. "I leave it to you my loyal Warwyrm to get our army out."
With that Maniskisson mounted and rode to the left with his horns sounding and his banner aloft. Dragonfriend paused long enough to watch Queen Nerestina - recovered from her panic - lead a charge into the broo and fall beneath her banner. On the right, Anstad held firm and Dragonfriend organised the host to swing back, pivoting on the right.
Then there were the sounds of many horns, the thunder of a dreadful charge and the Cafol Red Lancers smashed into the High King's band. Dragonfriend could see Maniskisson hewing mightily about him until his foes lay about him in heaps and his bodyguard bled their last to protect him but then saw his banner fall and the High King disappear under a fresh wave of foes. Then he saw Maniskisson's gilt helm atop an enemy lance and the cry went up, "the High King is fallen!" and a moan of dismay rose from the Army of Dragon Pass at his loss.
Sharpsword rode up with the survivors of his host and told that the Pentan riders were not in Northern Holay but had fallen on his flank. "The enemy has played the High King. They played him the whole way in." He relayed the sad news that Jandetin the Avenger, Luminous Stallion King of the Grazers, had fallen to his Pentan foes after a terrible battle with their Khanguard. His sacrifice had covered the retreat of Sharpsword's forces.
With the able assistance of the Sword of Sartar, Warwyrm Dragonfriend adroitly withdrew the survivors into the Baying Hills. He personally led the rearguard and laid fearsome blows about him when the Sylilans pressed too close.
Before he stepped off of a nearby hill the Dragonfriend watched the last beaked dragonewt fall to the Iron Band and he watched those veteran soldiers turn to a blood-misted maelstrom in the centre of the field. He watched the three regiments of Sun Dome Templars surrender and hoped that they would be treated as mercenaries and ransomed.
In the centre of that maelstrom Lothar and Sigmund still advanced, tireless in their butchery. Both paused and looked about. "There comes a strong magic," spake Lothar. Sigmund pointed out the advancing banners of the Iron Band and the fleeing banners of the Argrathi. "Me thinks that it is time for us to fare into yon hills." And so the two turned their path to the east and carved their way into the next regiment before the survivors split to allow their passage.
When the host reached Yantastos there was but 1 in 2 soldiers remaining. Dragonfriend told how the Sairdites marched to the south and Fyllich Kwan was still held against them. He spoke of the Sylilans at their back and that the only way for the host to flee further was into Balazar, "though I fear that there is no way for us to return to our lands now." Sharpsword spake of friends and ways in the Rockwoods and that he could get the host back into Dragon Pass.
And so the Army of Dragon Pass marched east for Balazar with the army of Saird and Sylila hot on their heels.
Sigmund's father had been slain by Fazzur during the invasion of Sartar
and Sigmund had sworn blood-vengeance upon the entire family.
2 March 2003