The Crystal Shard 30. The Battle of Icewind Dale

The Crystal Shard 30. The Battle of Icewind Dale

The people of Bryn Shander heard the fighting out on the field, but it wasn’t until the lightening of full dawn that they could see what was happening. They cheered the dwarves wildly and were amazed when the barbarians crashed into Kessell’s ranks, hacking down goblins with gleeful abandon.

Cassius and Glensather, in their customary positions upon the wall, pondered the unexpected turn of events, undecided as to whether or not they should release their forces into the fray.

“Barbarians?” gawked Glensather. “Are they our friends or foes?”

“They kill orcs,” Cassius answered. “They are friends!”

Out on Maer Dualdon, Kemp and the others also heard the clang of battle, though they couldn’t see who was involved. Even more confusing, a second fight had begun, this one to the southwest, in the town of Bremen. Had the men of Bryn Shander come out and attacked? Or was Akar Kessell’s force destroying itself around him?

Then Cryshal-Tirith suddenly fell dark, its once glassy and vibrant sides taking on an opaque, deathly stillness.

“Regis,” muttered Cassius, sensing the tower’s loss of power. “If ever a hero we had!”

The tower shuddered and shook. Great cracks appeared over the length of its walls. Then it broke apart.

The monster army looked on in horrified disbelief as the bastion of the wizard they had come to worship as a god came crashing down.

The horns in Bryn Shander began to blow. Kemp’s people cheered wildly and rushed for the oars. Jensin Brent’s forward scouts signaled back the startling news to the fleet on Lac Dinneshere, who in turn relayed the message to Redwaters. Throughout the temporary sanctuaries that hid the routed people of Ten-Towns came the same command.

“Charge!”

The army assembled inside the great gates of Bryn Shander’s wall poured out of the courtyard and onto the field. The fleets of Caer-Konig and Caer-Dineval on Lac Dinneshere and Good Mead and Dougan’s Hole in the south lifted their sails to catch the east wind and raced across the lakes. The four fleets assembled on Maer Dualdon rowed hard, bucking that same wind in their haste to get revenge.

In a whirlwind rush of chaos and surprise, the final Battle of Icewind Dale had begun.

* * *

Regis rolled out of the way as the embattled creatures tumbled past again, claws and fangs tearing and ripping in a desperate struggle. Normally, Guenhwyvar would have had little trouble dispatching the helldog, but in its weakened state, the cat found itself fighting for its life. The hound’s hot breath seared black fur; its great fangs bit into muscled neck.

Regis wanted to help the cat, but he couldn’t even get close enough to kick at its foe. Why had Drizzt run off so abruptly?

Guenhwyvar felt its neck being crushed by the powerful maw. The cat rolled, its greater weight taking the dog over with it. But the hold of the canine jaws was not broken. Dizziness swept over the cat from lack of air. It began to send its mind back across the planes, to its true home, though it lamented having failed its master in his time of need.

Then the tower went dark. The startled hellhound relaxed its grip slightly, and Guenhwyvar was quick to seize the opportunity. The cat planted its paws against the dog’s ribs and shoved free of the grasp, rolling away into the blackness.

The helldog scanned for its foe, but the panther’s powers of stealth were beyond even the considerable awareness of its keen senses. Then the dog saw a second quarry. A single bound took it to Regis.

Guenhwyvar was playing a game that it knew better, now. The panther was a creature of the night, a predator that struck from the blackness and killed before its prey even sensed its presence. The helldog crouched for a strike at Regis, then dropped as the panther landed heavily upon its back, claws raking deeply into the rust-colored hide.

The dog yelped only once before the killing fangs found its neck.

Mirrors cracked and shattered. A sudden hole in the floor swallowed Kessell’s throne. Blocks of crystalline rubble began falling all about as the tower shuddered in its final death throes. Screams from the harem chamber below told Regis that a similar scene of destruction was common throughout the structure. He was gladdened when he saw Guenhwyvar dispatch the helldog, but he understood the futility of the cat’s heroics. They had nowhere to run, no escape from the death of Cryshal-Tirith.

Regis called Guenhwyvar to his side.

He couldn’t see the cat’s body in the blackness, but he saw the eyes, intent upon him and circling around, as though the cat was stalking him. “What?” the halfling balked in astonishment, wondering if the stress and the wounds the dog had inflicted upon Guenhwyvar had driven the cat into madness.

A chunk of wall crashed right beside him, sending him sprawling to the floor. He saw the cat’s eyes rise high into the air; Guenhwyvar had sprung.

Dust choked him, and he felt the final collapse of the crystal tower begin. Then came a deeper darkness as the black cat engulfed him.

* * *

Drizzt felt himself falling.

The light was too bright, he couldn’t see. He heard nothing, not even the sound of air rushing by. Yet he knew for certain that he was falling.

And then the light dimmed in a gray mist, as though he were passing through a cloud. It all seemed so dreamlike, so completely unreal. He couldn’t recall how he had gotten into this position. He couldn’t recall his own name.

Then he dropped into a deep pile of snow and knew that he was not dreaming. He heard the howl of the wind and felt its freezing bite. He tried to stand and get a better idea of his surroundings.

And then he heard, far away and below, the screams of the raging battle. He remembered Cryshal-Tirith, remembered where he had been. There could only be one answer.

He was on top of Kelvin’s Cairn.

* * *

The soldiers of Bryn Shander and Easthaven, fighting arm in arm with Cassius and Glensather at their head, charged down the sloping hill and drove hard into the confused ranks of goblins. The two spokesmen had a particular goal in mind: They wanted to cut through the ranks of monsters and link up with Bruenor’s charges. On the wall a few moments before, they had seen the barbarians attempting the same strategy, and they figured that if all three armies could be brought together in flanking support, their slim chances would be greatly improved.

The goblins gave way to the assault. In their absolute dismay and surprise at the sudden turn of events, the monsters were unable to organize any semblance of a defensive line.

When the four fleets on Maer Dualdon landed just north of the ruins of Targos, they encountered the same disorganized and disoriented resistance. Kemp and the other leaders had figured that they could easily gain a foothold on the land, but their main concern was that the large goblin forces occupying Termalaine would sweep down behind them if they pushed in from the beach and cut off their only escape route.

They needn’t have worried, though. In the first stages of the battle, the goblins in Termalaine had indeed rushed out with every intention of supporting their wizard. But then Cryshal-Tirith had tumbled down. The goblins were already skeptical, having heard rumors throughout the night that Kessell had dispatched a large force to wipe out the Orcs of the Severed Tongue in the conquered city of Bremen. And when they saw the tower, the pinnacle of Kessell’s strength, crash down in ruins, they had reconsidered their alternatives, weighing the consequences of the choices before them. They fled back to the north and the safety of the open plain.

* * *

Blowing snow added to the heavy veil atop the mountain. Drizzt kept his eyes down, but he could hardly see his own feet as he determinedly placed one in front of the other. He still held the magical scimitar, and it glowed a pale light, as though it approved of the frigid temperatures.

The drow’s numbing body begged him to start down the mountain, and yet he was moving farther along the high face, to one of the adjacent peaks. The wind carried a disturbing sound to his ears – the cackle of insane laughter.

And then he saw the blurred form of the wizard, leaning out over the southern precipice, trying to catch a glimpse of what was happening on the battlefield below.

“Kessell!” Drizzt shouted. He saw the form shift abruptly and knew that the wizard had heard him, even through the howl of the wind. “In the name of the people of Ten-Towns, I demand that you surrender to me! Quickly, now, lest this unrelenting breath of winter freeze us where we stand!”

Kessell sneered. “You still do not understand what it is you face, do you?” he asked in amazement. “Do you truly believe that you have won this battle?”

“How the people below fare I do not yet know,” Drizzt answered. “But you are defeated! Your tower is destroyed, Kessell, and without it you are but a minor trickster!” He continued moving while they talked and was now only a few feet from the wizard, though his opponent was still a mere black blur in a gray field.

“Do you wish to know how they fare, Drow?” Kessell asked. “Then look! Witness the fall of Ten-Towns!” He reached under his cloak and pulled out a shining object – a crystal shard. The clouds seemed to recoil from it. The wind halted within the wide radius of its influence. Drizzt could see its incredible power. The drow felt the blood returning to his numbed hands in the light of the crystal. Then the gray veil was burned away, and the sky before them was clear.

“The tower destroyed?” Kessell mocked. “You have broken just one of Crenshinibon’s countless images! A sack of flour? To defeat the most powerful relic in the world? Look down upon the foolish men who dare to oppose me!”

The battlefield was spread wide before the drow. He could see the white, wind-filled sails of the boats of Caer-Dineval and Caer-Konig as they neared the western banks of Lac Dinneshere.

In the south, the fleets of Good Mead and Dougan’s Hole had already docked. The sailors met no initial resistance, and even now were forming up for an inland strike. The goblins and orcs that had formed the southern half of Kessell’s ring had not witnessed the fall of Cryshal-Tirith. Though they sensed the loss of power and guidance, and as many of them remained where they were or deserted their comrades and fled as rushed around Bryn Shander’s hill to join in the battle.

Kemp’s troops were also ashore, shoving off cautiously from the beaches with a wary eye to the north. This group had landed into the thickest concentration of Kessell’s forces, but also into the area that was under the shadow of the tower, where the fall of Cryshal-Tirith had been the most disheartening. The fishermen found more goblins interested in running away than ones intent on a fight.

In the center of the field, where the heaviest fighting was taking place, the men of Ten-Towns and their allies also seemed to be faring well. The barbarians had nearly joined with the dwarves. Spurred by the might of Wulfgar’s hammer and the unrivaled courage of Bruenor, the two forces were tearing apart all that stood between them. And they would soon become even more formidable, for Cassius and Glensather were close by and moving in at a steady pace.

“By the tale my eyes tell me, your army does not fare well,” Drizzt retorted. “The ‘foolish’ men of Ten-Towns are not defeated yet!”

Kessell raised the crystal shard high above him, its light flaring to an even greater level of power. Down on the battlefield, even at the great distance, the combatants understood at once the resurgence of the powerful presence they had known as Cryshal-Tirith. Human, dwarf, and goblinalike, even those locked in mortal combat, paused for a second to look at the beacon on the mountain. The monsters, sensing the return of their god, cheered wildly and abandoned their heretofore defensive posture. Encouraged by the glorious reappearance of Kessell, they pressed the attack with savage fury.

“You see how my mere presence incites them!” Kessell boasted proudly.

But Drizzt wasn’t paying attention – to the wizard or the battle below. He was standing in puddles of water now from snow melting under the warmth of the shining relic. He was intent on a noise that his keen ears had caught among the clatter of the distant fighting. A rumble of protest from the frozen peaks of Kelvin’s Cairn.

“Behold the glory of Akar Kessell!” the wizard cried, his voice magnified to deafening proportions by the power of the relic he held. “How easy it shall be for me to destroy the boats on the lake below!”

Drizzt realized that Kessell, in his arrogant disregard for the dangers growing around him, was making a flagrant mistake. All that he had to do was delay the wizard from taking any decisive actions for the next few moments. Reflexively, he grabbed the dagger at the back of his belt and flung it at Kessell, though he knew that Kessell was joined in some perverted symbiosis with Crenshinibon and that the small weapon had no chance of hitting its mark. The drow was hoping to distract and anger the wizard to divert his fury away from the battlefield.

The dagger sped through the air. Drizzt turned and ran.

A thin beam shot out from Crenshinibon and melted the weapon before it found its mark, but Kessell was outraged. “You should bow down before me!” he screamed at Drizzt. “Blasphemous dog, you have earned the distinction of being my first victim of the day!” He swung the shard away from the ledge to point it at the fleeing drow. But as he spun he sank, suddenly up to his knees in the melting snow.

Then he, too, heard the angry rumbles of the mountain.

Drizzt broke free of the relic’s sphere of influence and without hesitating to look back, he ran, putting as much distance between himself and the southern face of Kelvin’s Cairn as he could.

Immersed up to his chest now, Kessell struggled to get free of the watery snow. He called upon the power of Crenshinibon again, but his concentration wavered under the intense stress of impending doom.

Akar Kessell felt weak again for the first time in years. Not the Tyrant of Icewind Dale, but the bumbling apprentice who had murdered his teacher.

As if the crystal shard had rejected him.

Then the entire side of the mountain’s snow cap fell. The rumble shook the land for many miles around. Men and orcs, goblins and even ogres, were thrown to the ground.

Kessell clutched the shard close to him when he began to fall. But Crenshinibon burned his hands, pushed him away. Kessell had failed too many times. The relic would no longer accept him as its wielder.

Kessell screamed when he felt the shard slipping through his fingers. His shriek, though, was drowned out by the thunder of the avalanche. The cold darkness of snow closed around him, falling, tumbling with him on the descent. Kessell desperately believed that if he still held the crystal shard, he could survive even this. Small comfort when he settled onto a lower peak of Kelvin’s Cairn.

And half of the mountain’s cap landed on top of him.

* * *

The monster army had seen their god fall again. The thread that had incited their momentum quickly began to unravel. But in the time that Kessell had reappeared, some measure of coordinating activity had taken place. Two frost giants, the only remaining true giants in the wizard’s entire army, had taken command. They called the elite ogre guard to their side and then called for the orc and goblin tribes to gather around them and follow their lead.

Still, the dismay of the army was obvious. Tribal rivalries that had been buried under the iron-fisted domination of Akar Kessell resurfaced in the form of blatant mistrust. Only fear of their enemies kept them fighting, and only fear of the giants held them in line beside the other tribes.

“Well met, Bruenor!” Wulfgar sang out, splattering another goblin head, as the barbarian horde finally broke through to the dwarves.

“An’ to yerself, boy!” the dwarf replied, burying his axe into the chest of his own opponent. “Time’s almost passed that ye got back! I thought that I’d have to kill yer share o’ the scum, too!”

Wulfgar’s attention was elsewhere, though. He had discovered the two giants commanding the force. “Frost giants,” he told Bruenor, directing the dwarf’s gaze to the ring of ogres. “They are all that hold the tribes together!”

“Better sport!” Bruenor laughed. “Lead on!”

And so, with his principle attendants and Bruenor beside him, the young king started smashing a path through the goblin ranks.

The ogres crowded in front of their newfound commanders to block the barbarian’s path.

Wulfgar was close enough by then.

Aegis-Fang whistled past the ogre ranks and took one of the giants in the head, dropping it lifeless to the ground. The other, gawking in disbelief that a human had been able to deliver such a deadly blow against one of its kind from such a distance, hesitated for only a brief moment before it fled the battle.

Undaunted, the vicious ogres charged in on Wulfgar’s group, pushing them back. But Wulfgar was satisfied, and he willingly gave ground before the press, anxious to rejoin the bulk of the human and dwarven army.

Bruenor wasn’t so willing, though. This was the type of chaotic fighting that he most enjoyed. He disappeared under the long legs of the leading line of ogres and moved, unseen in the dust and confusion, among their ranks.

From the corner of his eye, Wulfgar saw the dwarf’s odd departure. “Where are you off to?” he shouted after him, but battle-hungry Bruenor couldn’t hear the call and wouldn’t have heeded it anyway.

Wulfgar couldn’t view the flight of the wild dwarf, but he could approximate Bruenor’s position, or at least where the dwarf had just been, as ogre after ogre doubled over in surprised agony, clutching a knee, hamstring, or groin.

Above all of the commotion, those orcs and goblins who weren’t engaged in direct combat kept a watchful eye on Kelvin’s Cairn, awaiting the second resurgence.

But, settled now on the lower slopes of the mountain, there was only snow.

* * *

Lusting for revenge, the fighting men of Caer-Konig and Caer-Dineval brought their ships in under full sail, sliding them up recklessly onto the sands of the shallows to avoid the delays of mooring in deeper waters. They leaped from the boats and splashed ashore, rushing into the battle with a fearless frenzy that drove their opponents away.

Once they had established themselves on the land, Jensin Brent brought them together in a tight formation and turned them south. The spokesman heard the fighting far off in that direction and knew that the men of Good Mead and Dougan’s Hole were cutting a swath north to join up with his men. His plan was to meet them on the Eastway and then drive westward toward Bryn Shander with his reinforced numbers.

Many of the goblins on this side of the city had long since fled, and many more had gone northwest to the ruins of Cryshal-Tirith and the main fighting. The army of Lac Dinneshere made good speed toward their goal. They reached the road with few losses and dug in to wait for the southerners.

* * *

Kemp watched anxiously for the signal from the lone ship sailing on the waters of Maer Dualdon. The spokesman from Targos, appointed commander of the forces of the four cities of the lake, had moved cautiously thus far for fear of a heavy assault from the north. He held his men in check, allowing them to fight only the monsters that came to them, though this conservative stance, with the sounds of raging battle howling across the field, was tearing at his adventurous heart.

As the minutes had dragged along with no sign of goblin reinforcements, the spokesman had sent a small schooner to run up the coastline and find out what was delaying the occupying force in Termalaine.

Then he spied the white sails gliding into view. Riding high upon the small ship’s bow was the signal flag that Kemp had most desired but least expected: The red banner of the catch, though in this instance, it signaled that Termalaine was clear and the goblins were fleeing northward.

Kemp ran to the highest spot he could find, his face flushed with a vengeful desire. “Break the line, boys!” he shouted to his men. “Cut me a swath to the city on the hill! Let Cassius come back and find us sitting on the doorstep of his town!”

They shouted wildly with every step, men who had lost homes and kin and seen their cities burned out from under them. Many of them had nothing left to lose. All that they could hope to gain was a small taste of bitter satisfaction.

* * *

The battle raged for the remainder of the morning. Man and monster alike lifting swords and spears that seemed to have doubled their weight. Yet exhaustion, though it slowed their reflexes, did nothing to temper the anger that burned in the blood of every combatant.

The battlelines grew indistinguishable as the fighting wore on, with troops getting hopelessly separated from their commanders. In many places, goblins and orcs fought against each other, unable, even with a common foe so readily available, to sublimate their long-standing hatred for the rival tribes. A thick cloud of dust enveloped the heaviest concentrations of fighting; the dizzying clamor of steel grating on steel, swords banging against shields, and the expanding screams of death, agony, and victory degenerated the structured clash into an all out brawl.

The sole exception was the group of battle-seasoned dwarves. Their ranks did not waver or disintegrate in the least, though Bruenor had not yet returned to them after his strange exit.

The dwarves provided a solid platform for the barbarians to strike from and for Wulfgar and his small group to mark for their return. The young king was back among the ranks of his men just as Cassius and his force linked up. The spokesman and Wulfgar exchanged intent stares, neither certain of where he stood with the other. Both were wise enough to trust fully in their alliance for the present, though. Both understood that intelligent foes put aside their differences in the face of a greater enemy.

Supporting each other would be the only advantage that the newly banded allies enjoyed. Together, they outnumbered and could overwhelm any individual orc or goblin tribe they faced. And since the goblin tribes would not work in unison, each group had no external support on its flanks. Wulfgar and Cassius, following and supporting each other’s movements, sent out defensive spurs of warriors to hold off perimeter groups, while the main force of the combined army blasted through one tribe at a time.

Though his troops had cut down better than ten goblins for every man they had lost, Cassius was truly concerned. Thousands of the monsters had not even come in contact with the humans or raised a weapon yet, and his men were nearly dropping with fatigue. He had to get them back to the city. He let the dwarves lead the way.

Wulfgar, also apprehensive about his warriors’ ability to maintain their pace, and knowing that there was no other escape route, instructed his men to follow Cassius and the dwarves. This was a gamble, for the barbarian king wasn’t even certain that the people of Bryn Shander would let his warriors into the city.

Kemp’s force had made impressive initial headway in their charge to the slopes of the principle city, but as they neared their goal, they ran up against heavier and more desperate concentrations of humanoids. Barely a hundred yards from the hill, they were bogged down and fighting on all sides.

The armies rolling in from the east had done better. Their rush down the Eastway had met with little resistance, and they were the first to reach the hill. They had sailed madly across the breadth of the lakes and ran and fought all the way across the plain, yet Jensin Brent, the lone surviving spokesman of the original four, for Schermont and the two from the southern cities had fallen on the Eastway, would not let them rest. He clearly heard the heated battle and knew that the brave men in the northern fields, facing the mass of Kessell’s army, needed any support they could get.

Yet when the spokesman led his troops around the final bend to the city’s north gate, they froze in their tracks and looked upon the spectacle of the most brutal battle they had ever seen or even heard of in exaggerated tales. Combatants battled atop the hacked bodies of the fallen, fighters who had somehow lost their weapons bit and scratched at their opponents.

Brent surmised at once that Cassius and his large force would be able to make it back to the city on their own. The armies of Maer Dualdon, though, were in a tight spot.

“To the west!” he cried to his men as he charged toward the trapped force. A new surge of adrenalin sent the weary army in full flight to the rescue of their comrades. On orders from Brent, they came down off of the slopes in a long, side-by-side line, but when they reached the battlefield, only the middle group continued forward. The groups at the ends of the formation collapsed into the middle, and the whole force had soon formed a wedge, its tip breaking all the way through the monsters to reach Kemp’s embattled armies.

Kemp’s men eagerly accepted the lifeline, and the united force was soon able to retreat to the northern face of the hill. The last stragglers stumbled in at the same time as the army of Cassius, Wulfgar’s barbarians, and the dwarves broke free of the closest ranks of goblins and climbed the open ground of the hill.

Now, with the humans and dwarves joined as one force, the goblins moved in tentatively. Their losses had been staggering. No giants or ogres remained, and several entire tribes of goblins and orcs lay dead. Cryshal-Tirith was a pile of blackened rubble, and Akar Kessell was buried in a frozen grave.

The men on Bryn Shander’s hill were battered and wobbly with exhaustion, yet the grim set of their jaws told the remaining monsters unequivocally that they would fight on to their last breath. They had backed into the final corner, there would be no further retreat.

Doubts crept into the mind of every goblin and orc that remained to carry on the war. Though their numbers were still probably sufficient to complete the task, many more of them would yet fall before the fierce men of Ten-Towns and their deadly allies would be put down. Even then, which of the surviving tribes would claim victory? Without the guidance of the wizard, the survivors of the battle would certainly be hard-pressed to fairly divide the spoils without further fighting.

The Battle of Icewind Dale had not followed the course that Akar Kessell had promised.