the Warlords of Chaos
by Robin Gordon
DEATH OF THE HOSTAGES
Copyright Robin Gordon, 1993/2004
As they went Oggi the Dwarf walked with Jellybean and Frobisher, while the Lady Doria walked with Amphibolas.
"I fear you may never trust our Dwarvish guest," said she.
"I fear not, Lady."
"Yet you must admit that it would not have been chivalrous on our part to have left him to the Orcs."
"I admit it, Lady, and perhaps it would have been better if I had requested him to accompany us as our guest and allow himself to be blindfolded when we came to the secret ways. It is too late for that, and, whether for good or for ill, he must learn them."
"Why do you distrust the Elves?" Jellybean asked Oggi.
"They do not trust us, for one thing," said the Dwarf. "They blame us for the coming of the Warlords. They say we opened the portal. For another: they treacherously killed Hollin, son of Ollin, and took from his body the Belt of Bollin, which is our greatest heirloom, and have hidden it from us."
"Excuse me," put in Frobisher, "but I'm getting rather confused with all these Hollins and Bollins and Mollins."
"There are no Mollins," grumbled Oggi, "but I suppose to strangers it must seem confusing, though it's quite simple really. My grandfather, Dwollin, King of Dwarves, had three sons, Ollin, Goggi and Neggin. Ollin, the eldest, became King after him, and was called King under the Grey Mountains. My father, Goggi, founded a new Dwarvish kingdom and was called King under the Red Cliff."
"Where the Orcs are now?" asked Jellybean.
"Curse the foul creatures," growled the Dwarf. "They drove us out, and we had to go back to the Grey Mountains. Ollin was killed in battle with the Orcs. His son, Hollin was killed by the Elves, so Goggi became King of Dwarves, though little good it did him. Orcs came and drove us from the Grey Mountains, and now we have only one last stronghold: the Lone Mountain."
"So you're a prince?" said Jellybean.
"I would have been King under the Red Cliff when my time came," answered Oggi, "that's why I came to spy out the land - and to find out what the Elves mean to do with the Belt of Bollin."
"What is the Belt of Bollin?" Jellybean asked.
"It is our greatest heirloom. It is a belt, or harness, made of duril!"
Jellybean recognised the peculiar emphasis the Dwarf put on that last word. Mr Williams often spoke with the same tone. It meant: everybody knows this, or, if they don't, they must have been asleep all through the last lesson.
"I'm sorry," said Jellybean, "but we don't have any duril on our world, so we don't know what it is."
"No duril!" cried the Dwarf. "What sort of a world is it that you children of Men come from? Have you gold? Silver? Diamonds? Rubies? Copper? Iron?"
"Oh yes," said Frobisher, "we've got all those."
"But no duril?"
"No," said Frobisher.
"Duril," said the Dwarf, is the most precious metal of all. It is light, lighter than aluminium, but stronger than steel. It's gleam is like silver, or white gold, and, like gold, it never tarnishes. It can be found only in the deepest mines, right down at the roots of the mountains, where ancient, evil things lurk in eternal darkness, and even the Dwarves have little enough of it. The Belt of Bollin was made entirely of duril, and its worth is incalculable. It is of immense antiquity and is said to have been made by Bollin the Strong who killed the Great Dragon and founded the first Dwarvish kingdom. Since that far off time it has always been worn by the eldest son of the King."
"I see," said Frobisher, "or, at least, I think I do. This Hollin who was killed by the Elves, was the eldest son of King Ollin, and should have been King."
Oggi sighed. "He was the second son of Ollin, son of Dwollin, King under the Grey Mountains," he said, "but he should be King of Dwarves now."
"But what about his brother?" demanded Jellybean.
"We will not speak of him," said Oggi curtly. "He is lost to us."
* * * * *
His Most Puissant and Gracious Majesty, Vendendros Quebnopollondrax Iltuvinophoros, King of the Elves and Lord of the Forests and Plains of Iltuvion, was angry and far from gracious. His handsome face was creased with fury, and his usually musical voice was loud and slightly off-key. He was, as Jellybean and Frobisher saw at once, not merely eggy, waxy or breezy, but in a super-colossal radioactive smeg.
"Why?" he demanded testily. "Why was a Dwarf permitted to walk unbound and unblindfolded through the secret ways. Isn't it enough, Amphibolas, that you bring these two aliens from who-knows-where into our most secret stronghold without betraying our secrets to the Dwarves, who, for all we know, are probably in league with the Orcs, or even the Warlords themselves. What, in Heaven's name, are we to do with him now? What are we to do with all of them?"
"I say we should kill them, Your Majesty," said an elderly Elvish councillor. "As long as any of them live, our security is at risk. We could all be murdered in our sleep. Kill them, I say."
"Kill them?" thundered the King. "How can we kill them? They have committed no crime."
"Perhaps not yet," murmured the councillor, "but is it lawful for enemy aliens to prowl and spy in the King's domains?"
"I am no spy!" bellowed Oggi.
"Will Your Majesty permit such discourtesy?" murmured the councillor. "Put them in the dungeons while the Council of the Elves decides their fate."
"Well, I think that's jolly unfair!" Frobisher burst out suddenly. "First of all we're invited in as honoured guests, and then we're punished for coming! Well, you've got a spivish ozard idea of fair play!"
"We cannot kill them, or throw them in the dungeons," said Amphibolas. "They are here as our guests. I have given my word as an Elvish captain that they will be well treated."
"It seems that Amphibolas has betrayed us," murmured the councillor. "His loyalty is no longer to our gracious King but to his new friends. He too, perhaps, should pay the penalty."
"Then, Brimarbos, you will have to execute me too," declared the Lady Doria, "for it was I who ordered Amphibolas to bring the Dwarf as a guest and not a prisoner."
"It is like the old tale of the first Elves in Paradise," sneered the councillor, "The woman it was gave it to me and persuaded me to eat. And what of the serpent?"
"Your sneers are out of place here, Brimarbos," said the Lady Doria coldly. "It was not Amphibolas who made an excuse. It was I who said I gave the order."
Here she turned to the King. "And I had good reason, noble Father," she said. "Will you not hear our story?"
"I will hear it, Daughter," replied the King, "for even in this time of great peril, it behoves us ever to be just."
* * * * *
"It saddens me," said the King quietly, "to hear that there is a portal between our world and yours. It means that, when they have completed the devastation of Iltuvion and killed or enslaved our people, the Warlords of Chaos will be able to move their creatures to your world and begin their destructive wars again."
"If we could find it again," suggested Jellybean, "perhaps we could destroy it."
"A portal cannot be destroyed," answered the King. "What they are we know not, but they are part of the deepest structure of the Universe. They connect different worlds, different dimensions of the one great reality, and they do not belong in any one world. Their essence is outside space and time."
"Then," said Jellybean with a frown of determination, "the Orcs must be driven out of your world and back to their own!"
The King sighed. "Ah, the confidence of youth," he said sadly. "It was the Dwarves that opened up the portal. It was their greed for duril. They mined deep under the mountains, and many ancient and evil things they disturbed, and fought and destroyed. Yet still they delved, deeper and deeper, until, at last, they broke through into an immense subterranean cavern. There the portal from the Orcworld was. The greed of the Dwarves opened the way for them, and up they came."
"But the Dwarves can't be blamed for that!" cried Jellybean. "You said yourself that the portals have always existed. The Dwarves didn't make it, they just stumbled into it by accident, like we did."
"Maybe, maybe," said the King. "You are young and do not understand the politics of our world. There is worse to come. The greed of the Dwarves was bad enough, but what of their treachery? I made an alliance with the Dwarvish King, Ollin, and, because there had been many misunderstandings between us and our peoples mistrusted one another, we exchanged hostages as sureties for our good faith.
"Our hostage was my nephew, the noble Prince Vigonas, who took with him the Jewel of Ilirion, the most ancient and precious heirloom of our people, handed down through our family from the time of Ilirion the Fair, first Queen of the Elves in Iltuvion - and this precious thing was stolen by the Dwarves!"
"But I don't understand," said Frobisher. "If the Jewel was so precious, why did you let it go out of your palace?"
"Especially to the Dwarves, when you don't trust them?" added Jellybean.
"I trusted Ollin, their King," said King Vendendros, "and never would I have believed such treachery possible except among Orcs. Vigonas was given the Jewel to keep him safe. It is mounted on a thin chain of duril, and when its bearer turns the mount and places it inside his clothes so that the Jewel itself touches his breast, he becomes invisible. Vigonas did many mighty deeds in battle, and was feared by the Orcs of the Grey Mountains more than any other warrior, for he slew unseen and could never be attacked. With him to aid them the Dwarves were able to fight back against the Orcs, despite their huge numbers. But when the Dwarvish hostage, Hollin, was slain in battle, the Dwarves treacherously murdered Prince Vigonas and stole the Jewel of Ilirion."
"But they didn't!" cried Jellybean. "Vigonas was killed in battle, and, when the Dwarves found his body, the Jewel was gone."
"So says your friend, the Dwarf Oggi," observed king Vendendros bitterly, "but how could Orcs kill an invisible warrior?"
"Well, it only takes one arrow to kill someone," said Jellybean, " and there must have been thousands of arrows flying about on that battlefield."
"Yes," put in Frobisher, "a stray arrow, not even aimed at him - like King Harold at the Battle of Hastings."
"And the Jewel could have fallen out of his clothes as he died," said Jellybean.
"Or prowling Orcs might have stumbled over his invisible body and sniffed and fumbled around until they found the Jewel," said Frobisher.
"What you say could be true," admitted the King, "but my people will never believe it. Their hatred for the Dwarves goes too deep."
"But don't you see? That's what the Warlords of Chaos want," said Jellybean. "While Elves and Dwarves are at each other's throats, they can do just whatever they like."
"My father says," announced Frobisher, "that you should never let the sun set on your anger."
"Your father is wise, Jeremy Frobisher," replied the King, "but what are we to do?"
"Ask Oggi," said Jellybean.
"Ask a Dwarf?!"
"He'll tell the truth," said Jellybean. "He was furious when Amphibolas said he'd have to be a prisoner, but he came along with us because the Lady Doria asked him. He'd do anything for her. Get her to ask him."
"Very well," said the King.
* * * * *
Oggi was brought in and he told of the death of Vigonas. It was as Jellybean and Frobisher had guessed. Orcs came pouring from the Grey Mountains, from the halls of the Dwarves which they had taken for their own. The Dwarves came from the Lone Mountain to meet them, axe against scimitar and morning star. Before the armies clashed they exchanged storms of arrows and many Orcs and Dwarves fell dead in the first charge. Then it was Orc against Dwarf, or rather five or six Orcs against each Dwarf, five or six curved blades or swinging, spiked mace-heads against well-honed battle-axes. The Dwarves were slowly beaten back, but an invisible presence evened the odds, and Orcs, where they assailed the Dwarves most fiercely, would fall dead at the thrust of an unseen sword. Still more fell to the shoals of arrows that rained on the battlefield, for wild, maddened Orcs, up on the slopes and cliffs above, were letting fly with their bows at random, killing friend and foe alike. When the Dwarves eventually retreated to their stronghold the Elflord was not with them. Nor was he active among the triumphant Orcs outside. They looted and burned the Dwarvish farmsteads undisturbed.
The following day search parties of Dwarves combed the battlefield and brought back for burial the bodies of their fallen comrades, now bereft of weapons and armour, and often of boots, breeches and jerkins, all stolen by the Orcs. Sprawled near a massive rocky outcrop split with caves and fissures they came upon the body of Vigonas, still fully clothed and armoured and with his sword still in his hand. Only two things were missing: his small dagger with its sheath, and the Jewel of Ilirion.
"We took him back to the Lone Mountain," said Oggi, "and there we buried him in a royal tomb next to Ollin, King of Dwarves; and my father, Goggi, will lie next to him when his time comes."
"So," said the Elfking, "Ollin too is dead."
"Alas," replied Oggi, "Ollin is dead, and Goggi, son of Dwollin is King of Dwarves."
"Then," said King Vendendros, "when Goggi, son of Dwollin, lies in his tomb, Oggi, son of Goggi, will be King of Dwarves. What brings so noble a guest to the land of the Elves, alone and unaccompanied?"
"It is the way of the Dwarves to seek solitude from time to time," said Oggi. "Often our people have gone alone to explore the underground passages beneath the mountains, and in this way many of our most important discoveries have been made. Now the subterranean ways are infested with Orcs and Scorpionids and closed to us. If you were to visit the Lone Mountain you would not wonder that we often long for solitude, for within its narrow bounds are confined all the surviving Dwarves of the Red Cliff and the Grey mountains."
"But why here," insisted the King.
"Two reasons, Your Majesty," replied the Dwarf. "To explore the Red Cliff and see if there is any hope that we may retake our old home, and to discover the truth of Hollin's death and what became of the Belt of Bollin."
"What do the Dwarves say of Hollin's death?"
"That he was murdered by Elves," replied Oggi. "They say that if he wore the Belt of Bollin he would have been invincible, for that belt is made of duril. If it is worn over chainmail it imparts to the mail its own hardness - and a paperthin sheet of duril will turn aside the strongest spear."
"Alas that he did not also have a helm of duril!" said King Vendendros. "No doughtier or more valiant warrior fought in the Elvish host. He was at my side in the last battle. Our Elvish bowmen slew the oncoming Orcs in hundreds, yet still they came, hundreds upon hundreds, down from the Red Cliff, and drove us back towards the river. We defended ourselves with swords against their slashing scimitars, and I myself killed many of the foul creatures that day. Yet, however many I slew, Hollin overtopped my score. Tireless he was, and the song of his battle-axe as it swung in his hands, and the clash of its head on the helms of the Orcs, rang like music in our ears, a call to deeds of ever greater valour. Orc blade and morning-star glanced off his mailcoat. Deathblow on deathblow bounced off his armour, till an Orc spear glanced off his breastplate and pierced him through the cheek so that he fell dying at my side. By then we had reached the Ford of Assic, and the Orcs, who had not seen the river before, fell back and let us pass over unhindered.
"So we brought him back, and we buried him in the green wood at the heart of our realm, where lie the Elven kings of old. He was a valiant warrior."
"Alas!" cried Oggi. "Now I learn the truth, and I see how wrong we were to believe false rumours. It is as these two Children of Men have said: the Warlords have deceived us. But, my Lord King, there is one matter of which you have not told me: what became of the Belt of Bollin?"
"It is safe," said the King. "We were planning how best to send it back to the Dwarves when the news came - the false news - that they had killed Vigonas and taken for themselves the Jewel of Ilirion. It shall be returned to you."
"Oh wizzo!" cried Frobisher.
"The coolness is terrific, my esteemed Frobisher!"
"It appears that the Children of Men approve," observed the King with amusement.
"You bet!" said Jellybean.
"It's a superdelectable, smash-on, luscious scheme," added Frobisher.
"Then," said King Vendendros, "perhaps the Children of Men should be appointed Companions of the Belt to help escort our royal guest and his heirloom back to the Kingdom of the Dwarves. With them will go also Amphibolas, for, though he does not love Dwarves, yet he has been a faithful friend to you - and under his command a score of warriors."
"Nay," quoth the Dwarf, "if we cannot send an army then let us not send a score, for two or three may travel unobserved while a company may draw more attention than it has strength to meet."
"It shall be as you wish," said the King. Choose your companions."
"Your Majesty has already named them," replied Oggi. "If he will consent to come I should be honoured to have Amphibolas - and the Children of Men, though young in years, are wise in stratagems, and entertaining companions. Had we Dwarves such academies of learning as this Bunbury of theirs I do not know what would become of us: we would either rule the whole world of Tuvi or collapse in helpless laughter. Besides someone other than I should bear the Belt of Bollin. A Prince of the Dwarves should receive such an heirloom only from the hands of the King his father. If you will agree, Your Majesty, let it be carried by Jellybean until we reach the Lone Mountain."
Thus was the Company of the Belt of Bollin formed: Oggi, son of Goggi, Prince of Dwarves and rightful bearer of the Belt; Jellybean to bear the Belt and keep it safe; Frobisher, his companion and brother in arms; and Amphibolas, captain of the Elves.
"I am greatly honoured," said Amphibolas, when the quest was explained to him, "yet I am puzzled. I was no friend to Oggi son of Goggi, and would have brought him here, bound and blindfolded, as a prisoner."
Oggi laughed. "Had I found a wandering Elf in the land of the Dwarves I should have taken him to the Lone Mountain as a prisoner - and, if he would not consent to come alive, then I should have carried his corpse to the King. Such would have been my duty, just as it was yours."
* * * * *
Early the next morning the Dwarvish prince, the Elflord and the two boys set off on their mission. Scouts went ahead, slipping silently through the forest, and came back to report that the Ford of Assic was clear of Orcs.
The companions came to the river without mishap. It flowed, broad and shallow across a sandy bed, and a clearly marked way along a spit of gravel took them, almost dryshod, across most of its width. The deepest channel they waded did not reach to the boys' knees, and the water flowed gently, with no treacherous currents.
Amphibolas scanned the far bank anxiously. "I can scarcely believe that even Orcs would be so stupid as not to keep watch on the ford," he said, but so it proved. They crossed the river unmolested and set off across the boulder-strewn rocky desert.
It was near the battered hulk of the stricken Arachnoid that the Orcs came upon them - by chance it seemed. Had they been less stupid they might have crept up unseen. Being Orcs they let out bloodthirsty howls the moment they set eyes on their prey, and that gave the company a chance to run. Amphibolas, like all Elves, could easily outdistance any Orc and run tirelessly for many leagues. Jellybean, though not as swift or as tireless, was one of the best runners at Bunbury Court. Frobisher was a hopeless flounderer, last in every race, and, even spurred by terror, could not keep ahead of the advancing Orcs. Oggi, though his endurance was as great as any Elf's, was not built for speed.
"Go on!" he roared. "Go on! Take the Belt to my father and tell him how Frobi and I died - with Orcish blood upon our blades."
"Oh gosh!" wailed Frobisher.
"Come, friend Frobi!" called Oggi. "The two of us can hold this narrow passage long enough to let our companions escape."
He drew his axe and turned.
"No!" yelled Jellybean. "Go on! We'll fix 'em. Rope, Amphibolas! Trip-rope!."
"On! On!" shouted Amphibolas to Oggi and Frobisher. "Don't argue or we're all lost."
Oggi hesitated. Frobisher grabbed his arm and pulled. Amphibolas and Jellybean shot out of the passage and turned, one right, one left. Oggi and Frobisher stumbled out into the bright sunlight. Oggi saw a rope pass from Amphibolas to Jellybean and he laughed.
Round the corner came Orcs, Snotrag in the lead, howling in triumph, behind him his horde of stinking, snarling Orcs, gleaming in their metal armour, brandishing their maces and morning-stars, their spears and their scimitars, and waving like flags on two long poles the trophies they had taken from the Things they so detested: Jellybean's and Frobisher's jeans.
"Come on!" wailed Frobisher.
Oggi smiled grimly. "Not too fast," he said, and, clutching at Frobisher as if for support, he began to limp as if wounded and in terror.
A screech of delight arose from the pursuing Orcs, and they bounded forward in ungovernable fury. Their prey was almost within their grasp. A wounded Dwarf and an enfeebled Thing could never outrun Snotrag the Great and his troops.
But then, just as Snotrag hurled himself out of the defile, something caught his legs and he fell flat on his ugly face. His howling horde came crashing and rolling on top of him.
More howls rose then as spiky maces gouged at Orcish flesh and falling scimitars and jagged spears pierced Orcish armour, cut Orcish hands and jabbed at Orcish bottoms.
The wounded Dwarf and his companion ran off with surprising speed, were joined by two other figures, and disappeared before the entangled Orcs could sort themselves out. Orc raged at Orc. Each blamed the other, and all blamed their leader. Only Snotrag, with sand in his eyes and mouth, and blood streaming from his flattened nose, vowed vengeance on the fleeing enemy.
"We'll get vem Fings," he snarled, "an' we'll cut off veir 'eads an' stick 'em on poles!"
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