25

Sealed in Blood

Glome had awaited his time, and the opportunity had come. For days he had watched the leaders of the thanes succumb, one after another, to the strange new ideas brought forward by the outlander strangers who called themselves Hylar. He knew why the thanes’ chiefs were so malleable. It was because they were afraid of these new dwarves.

But Glome was not afraid of them. He had seen them fight, and he knew that a headlong attack in force was not the way to defeat them. But such an attack was rarely his way. Strong and brutal, devious and opportunistic, Glome the Assassin had risen to power among the Theiwar because he did not take foolish chances. His chance here, he knew, would be to catch the Hylar unwary and wipe out their leadership.

The opportunity came when the Hylar chieftain, satisfied that the foolish covenant between the leaders of the clans was a solemn pact, dismissed his soldiers and sent them off to bring the rest of the Hylar people to this cavern.

To the crafty mind of Glome, it was the height of stupidity, that the Hylar chieftain so trusted in a thing as fragile as a promise. Promises, to Glome, were simply things said to lull an antagonist long enough to strike him. He could hardly believe it when he saw the mounted guards of the Hylar vanish into the Daewar’s tunnel, followed in force by the footmen, carrying construction tools, and then saw Colin Stonetooth wandering along the lake shore accompanied only by his ten bodyguards.

For a moment, he suspected a trap. But it was no trap. The Hylar trusted those he had dealt with and had left himself undefended. It took only minutes for Glome to rally and place his supporters, and it was Glome himself who launched the attack and saw his javelin pierce the light breastplate of the Hylar chief. Then, by the hundreds, the rebels fell upon the bodyguards and bore them down.

For long minutes, the scene at the lakeshore was noise and confusion as attackers climbed over one another for a chance to use their weapons. Then at Glome’s roar of command the rebels backed away and stared at the huge pile of dead and dying dwarves. There were a hundred or more of them, piled like twitching dolls on the place where the Hylar bodyguard had gone down. But even as they stared at the pile of bodies, the pile shifted. It surged upward, corpses rolling away, and a half-dozen dripping Hylar shields protruded above it. In a moment, the shields had warriors behind them, a tight ring of armor on a hill of death, and those rebels who were close enough felt the sting of whistling blades from among the shields.

In a panic, the attackers fell back. Some turned to run, but Glome’s shout stopped them. “Attack!” he ordered. “They are only a few! Cut them down! Bring out the body of their chief!”

It was easier said than done. By threes and fives, rebel dwarves charged the Hylar defense, and by threes and fives they fell, adding to the carnage.

Still, the numbers were overwhelming. A Hylar guard went down with an axe in his back. Another fell to sword cuts and another to a thrown hammer. Glome heard distant shouts and saw dwarves coming from everywhere — Theiwar, Daergar, Klar, and, beyond them, bright ranks of Daewar.

Only one Hylar remained now, standing among the dead, turning this way and that, his sword and shield as blood red as the piled death at his feet. It was the one called Jerem Longslate, the one known as First of the Ten.

Two Theiwar rebels rushed him, one from each side, their dark Daergar blades swinging. He seemed barely to move, but one of the attackers thudded into the cutting edge of his shield while the other’s sword flew from his grasp, twirling upward, then fell back upon its owner, point first.

Missiles whined around him, caroming off his shield, helm, and gauntlets, yet still he stood. Shouting crowds of covenant dwarves were closing rapidly on the throng of rebels. With a curse, Glome grabbed one of his own fighters by the back of the neck and charged the lone Hylar, thrusting his follower ahead of him like a shield. At the last instant, he flung the rebel forward upon the Hylar’s sword, ducked, and rolled beneath him, stabbing upward.

It was over then, and, as Jerem Longslate fell, Glome the Assassin kicked and rummaged among the bleeding bodies until he found the Hylar chief, Colin Stonetooth. The Hylar was dead, still carrying Glome’s javelin in his breast. With a heave, Glome lifted the body and held it high above his head, turning to face the dwarves rushing toward him from the digs.

“The Hylar is dead!” he shouted. “See! He is dead! He who made you betray the old ways is gone, and the pact is broken!”

While Glome’s followers crowded around him, wide-eyed, the thousands from the digs crowded them, pressing forward to see what was going on, yet holding back from the dripping blades of the rebels.

“I have saved you all from the outsider!” Glome shouted. “I, Glome, have freed you! The covenant is done! Kal-Thax is restored to its rightful owners!”

The crowds surged as more new arrivals pressed in, stunned faces gawking at the scene before them. Glome thought he saw awe and respect in those faces, and he began to gloat. He had done it! He had won! “See me!” he shouted. “I am Glome! I am Theiwar, and I am Daewar, and I am Daergar, and I am Klar! I am your savior! I have killed the Hylar! Kneel before me! Kneel and call me king!”

Still holding the lifeless, blood-drenched body of the Hylar chieftain above his head, Glome turned slowly, letting them all see. He turned and hesitated. Slide Tolec stood before him, staring at him with stunned eyes. “Kneel before me, Slide Tolec of the Theiwar!” Glome demanded. “Kneel, and I may have mercy upon you.”

“Glome,” the Theiwar said. “Glome, what have you done?”

“I have killed the Hylar,” Glome repeated. “The false covenant is broken.”

“Broken?” Slide shook his head, slowly. “You have broken nothing, Glome, except a pledge. You were Theiwar once. I am Theiwar, and I gave my pledge. You have broken it.”

Behind him, Glome heard another voice, hollow and angry. “And mine!” Glome turned to stare at the featureless mask of Vog Ironface.

“And mine!” another voice called, from where a large crowd of Daewar had gathered. “I gave the bond of the forge, murderer. The pledge of Olim Goldbuckle.”

Now crowding toward the assassin were a large group of wild Klar, with Bole Trune in the lead, brandishing a heavy club.

“People of Kal-Thax!” Glome shouted, desperation in his voice. “Your leaders have betrayed you! The outlander Hylar led them in false directions! Cast them aside and support me! I will be your king!”

Many in the crowd hesitated, unsure of what to do, their sheer numbers blocking those who pressed toward Glome and his band. Then from the lake’s edge a dusty Daewar delver, his working hammer still in his hand, shouted, “Look! Look at the water!”

Those near him turned. From the stacked bodies at Glome’s feet, blood had flowed downward to the water’s edge — Daewar blood mingling with Theiwar blood, Theiwar with Daergar, Daergar with Klar, and all of them with Hylar — and as the runnels of gore reached the lapping water of Urkhan’s Sea, the water turned pink, then red, the stain spreading outward from the bank.

Nearly a hundred yards it spread, then the waters there seemed to roil upward, like a rising tide. The surface broke, and a figure arose from it, to stand as though suspended just above its surface. A tattered, pained figure with white hair and whiskers outlining a sad, ancient face. As though walking on the ground, though its feet were inches above the lake’s surface, the apparition made its way toward the shore as dwarves scattered and backed away ahead of it. When it was at the shoreline, it sagged tiredly, leaning upon its twin-tined spear, and raised a hand, palm forward. Its fingers opened and exposed a fourteen-pointed amulet.

In a voice that was like the winds in the tunnels, it said, “The covenant was forged by fire and tempered by water. Now it is sealed by blood.” The phantom lowered its hand and straightened. Raising its spear, it pointed the tines directly at Glome, who stood transfixed, still holding the dead Hylar chieftain above his head. “You, Glome. Do you know now that you have completed the thing you thought to undo? Until this hour, Thorbardin was only a promise. Now Thorbardin lives.”

The figure turned away and was gone. All along the shoreline, eyes wide with awe stared where it had been, then turned. Growls erupted here and there in the crowd and became a roar of anger as mobs of dwarves — all kinds of dwarves, armed with hammers, chisels, stones, or whatever was at hand — surged toward the cluster of rebels surrounding Glome.

With a cry, Glome dropped the body of Colin Stonetooth and retreated, pushing through his pressed followers, heading for the dimness of the tunnel that led to the first warren. “Hold them back,” he screamed at his followers. “Defend! I order you to defend!”

Confused and frightened, the rebels milled about, some facing the oncoming horde, some trying to run. For a moment, it seemed they would hold where they were, wielding swords and lances against the motley tools of the mob. But a path opened through the mob, and a solid mass of Daewar warriors charged through. Gem Bluesleeve’s Golden Hammer had arrived from New Daebardin.

The rebels turned, separated, and fled in panic, thousands of howling dwarves on their heels.

In dark shadows near the warren tunnel, Glome the Assassin lay hidden as the chase went by, then crept upward to the cleft where the tunnel began. Behind him, diminishing in various directions, were the sounds of conflict — of his rebels being run down by an enraged mob. But that didn’t really matter to him. All he wanted was a place to hide, a means of escape. He was almost at the cleft when a lone figure stepped from the shadows to face him.

“I know you, Glome,” Slide Tolec said coldly. “I knew where you would be.”

Slide knew Glome too well to give him a chance to strike. Even before the assassin could raise his sword, the Theiwar chieftain lunged at him, and the axe he swung nearly cut Glome in two.

Some of the rebels made it as far as the Theiwar digs before they were cut down. Others fell at the lake’s edge, and others beneath the jutting cliffs that blocked the northwest shore. A hundred or more of them, rallied by the best among them, made a stand at a place that had no name and were methodically cut to pieces there by Daewar footmen, Daergar swordsmen, Theiwar blades, and Klar stone axes.

Two former Daewar, hunted down in the first warren later, were disarmed and chained by Gem Bluesleeve’s guard. From somewhere, delvers brought little silver bat-bells and hung them from the prisoners’ chains. From a distance, the Daewar watched as a rampaging tractor worm located the source of the sound and smashed at it until the bells no longer sounded.

Olim Goldbuckle himself went to the road tunnel to meet the returning Hylar, and Willen Ironmaul and Tera Sharn saw a thing there that no living dwarf had ever seen. The prince of the Daewar of Kal-Thax had tears on his cheeks as he told them what had occurred.

On a bright winter morning, the bodies of Colin Stonetooth and the Ten were carried in solemn procession along the great corridor that was the source of winds, and the winds seemed to hush their whispers as the drums of the Hylar beat a requiem.

They were buried with great honor in the deep, walled canyon that the Theiwar had always called Deadfall. But as Olim Goldbuckle called upon Reorx and all the other gods to recognize and honor those being buried there, he gave the place a new name.

From that day forward, the place would be known as the Valley of the Thanes.

And high above, all around the crests of the great walls of the valley, lifeless figures dangled from iron spikes. The bodies of Glome and his followers had been taken out of Thorbardin and given to Cale Greeneye and his Neidar adventurers. It was Cale’s tribute to his father, that the bodies of his murderers be hung where their lifeless eyes could look down upon what they had done, and from where — when their bones decayed and fell from the spikes — they would be lost among the rubble of the cliffs.

For a time, Tera Sharn’s grief at her father’s death kept her to her quarters, and Willen Ironmaul stalked the Hylar digs, hard-eyed and lonely, tormented by guilt that he had not been there when his chieftain — his beloved wife’s own father — needed him. Yet the time of grieving eventually passed, and the two were together again. Still, at times Willen caught her eyes upon him, brooding and speculative, deep with thoughts she was not ready to share.

In a way, the death of Colin Stonetooth had bonded the clans closer, as though the bloody, senseless act of Glome and his followers stood as an example of everything evil and pointless about the old ways, when tribal rivalries had overshadowed all other interests. Now Daewar, Theiwar, Daergar, and Klar had fought shoulder to shoulder against enemies from within, and they saw one another with wiser eyes.

Still, it was as though the heart had gone out of Thorbardin. Colin Stonetooth had been that heart. Now the thanes went about their delvings grimly and separately, each tribe progressing at its own rate as they tried to build homes within the great cavern of the underground sea. The Daewar delved rapidly, but to no great depth. The Theiwar hollowed out lairs that were little more than caves within caves, and the Daergar stayed to the dark places, unwilling to come near to anyone else.

The population of Thorbardin had grown greatly as Einar from the outside came to join this or that clan, but the increased numbers of dwarves only made food scarce, as no real systems of production and trade had yet been perfected.

Then, on a morning when the sun of Krynn shone radiant down the quartz veins and the subterranean lake sparkled with its light, a sound arose that brought people from their labors and their lairs. The Hylar drums were singing again, that same quickening, pulsing beat that they had played before on the slopes of Cloudseeker. The music the Hylar named Call to Balladine.

The drums were muffled, here deep beneath the mountains, but every ear in Thorbardin heard the call and most responded. By the thousands, following the lake shore, they went to see what was going on.

The table of seven sides was erected again on the scrubbed stone of that same shore where Colin Stonetooth had died, and behind it waited a dozen Hylar drummers and Olim Goldbuckle, Prince of the Daewar. When the thane leaders were present, Olim asked them solemnly to take the seats they had claimed before. When they were seated, Tera Sharn came to stand at her father’s place at the seventh side. With Willen Ironmaul at her shoulder, seeming to tower over her, she gazed silently at one and then another of the four chieftains gathered at the table. When her gaze rested on Olim Goldbuckle she asked, “You ordered the drums?”

“It is how the thanes were first called.” The Daewar shrugged, his blond whiskers glowing in the subdued light. “I thought it appropriate, and the drummers agreed. We have things to discuss at this table, and now we are assembled.” He glanced around. “Well, most of us are.”

The Aghar were absent this time, because the entire tribe had wandered off somewhere and had not yet been found. And most of the Einar had retired to their valleys to prepare for spring.

But the Daewar prince was there, and Slide Tolec, with Vog Ironface of the Daergar, and the Klar leader, Bole Trune. The Hylar drums had called, and they had responded. With wide, dark eyes as wise as her father’s, Tera Sharn regarded them one by one. Then she asked, “You … all of you … avenged my father. Why?”

There was silence for a moment, then Olim Goldbuckle said, “It was not vengeance. We joined to keep the peace of the covenant.”

“Glome and his followers would have brought chaos upon Thorbardin.” Slide Tolec nodded. “In Kal-Thax, we have seen the face of chaos. We have despised one another and have paid the price for it.”

“The Hylar, your father,” Vog rumbled, “brought wisdom here.”

“I see,” Tera said. “And now my father is gone.”

“Which is why we are here at this table today,” Olim said. “Who will lead the Hylar now?”

Behind Tera, Willen Ironmaul said proudly, “Our people have asked my wife to take her father’s place.”

“You, and not your brother?” Vog raised his mask, looking at the young dwarf woman curiously. Even to his Daergar eyes her beauty was obvious, as apparent as the fullness of her belly. “Your Hylar would follow a female chief?”

“My brother Cale Greeneye favors the open sky above his head,” Tera said. “He is Neidar and has no wish to lead. He has told our people that.”

“What have you told your people?” Olim asked.

“I have given them no answer,” she said. “Though I have thought about the matter.” She hesitated, collecting her thoughts, then said, “Colin Stonetooth, my father, was a wise person. He looked always ahead, and never back. And because of that wisdom, he made a mistake … twice. He trusted the right people, seeing the path ahead, but he failed to see the wrong ones behind. At Thorin, which is now Thoradin, it was humans who betrayed him.”

A resonant growl came from Vog’s mask, but Tera raised a small hand. “Not all humans,” she said. “Those my father trusted as friends were — as much as they could be — true friends. But others were not. And then here, where we found others of our own kind, he trusted. He trusted and was blind to the enemies who stalked him.”

“As we all were,” Olim nodded.

“I am my father’s daughter,” Tera said. “His blood is my blood, and his ways my ways. Sooner or later I would make the same mistakes he made, because I see as he saw. Therefore I will propose another for chieftain of the Hylar, but I believe I would like for each of you to approve before I do.”

They stared at her blankly. “Why ask us?” Slide Tolec tilted his head. “Each thane in Thorbardin is independent. The Covenant is clear about that.”

“So it is,” she agreed. “But there is much to do here if Thorbardin as my father envisioned it — and as each of you envision it — is to be built. Old differences among the clans must be recognized, and different ways respected, but the Council of Thanes must act as one on matters of the future. To do things which have never been done before, all must work together. This Council alone can make that occur. Therefore I ask your approval before I say to my people that my husband, Willen Ironmaul, should be their chief.”

Behind her, Willen’s mouth dropped open. “Me? Tera, I am no chief! I’m just a soldier. I wouldn’t know how to …”

Tera looked around at him and slipped her hand into his. “No one is a chief until the time comes to lead,” she said.

Slowly, a grin spread across Olim Goldbuckle’s wide face, parting his golden whiskers. “You are your father’s daughter,” he said. “I wonder if your Hylar suspect how fortunate they are.”

“I would welcome Willen Ironmaul to this table,” Slide Tolec said solemnly. “I know as well as anyone that being chief comes of necessity more than by design.”

Vog Ironface hesitated, then raised his mask. Glinting ferret eyes in a face that sloped like a fox’s studied the big Hylar guardsman, and he nodded. “I have seen you fight,” Vog said. “There is more to your strategies than strength and precision. There is something unseen. What is it?”

“It is order.” Willen shrugged. “The teacher who taught us how to fight also taught us why and when. He said that skills without honor — which I think is nothing more than order of the heart — are like a forge without fire.”

“Honor is order?” the Daergar mused. “Order of the heart. Interesting. Wisdom” — he glanced at Tera — “and honor. Willen Ironmaul, Vog Ironface will welcome you to this table.”

“As will I,” Olim Goldbuckle chuckled. “Maybe some order of the heart is what is needed to get us all moving forward again.”

At the far side, Bole Trune rose to his feet, drew his cudgel, and placed it on the table before him. Then he turned to Willen Ironmaul. “Klar have trusted Hylar,” he rumbled. “Bole Trune trusts you.”

A few days later the muffled drums said that Willen Ironmaul had been named chieftain of Thane Hylar of Thorbardin. And in the song of the drums was a resonance that echoed in the hearts of dwarves of all the thanes, quickening their steps as they worked. Purpose, they felt, had been restored.

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