The Crystal Shard 8. Bloody Fields

The Crystal Shard 8. Bloody Fields

The horde entered the mouth of Bremen’s Run just before midday. They longed to announce their glorious charge with a song of war, but they understood that a certain degree of stealth was vital to the ultimate success of deBernezan’s battle plan.

deBernezan was comforted by the familiar sight of sails dotting the waters of Maer Dualdon as he jogged beside King Haalfdane. The surprise would be complete, he believed, and then with ironic amusement he noted that some of the ships already flew the red flags of the catch. “More wealth for the victors,” he hissed under his breath. The barbarians had still not begun their song when the Tribe of the Bear split away from the main group and headed toward Termalaine, though the cloud of dust that followed their run would have told a wary observer that something out of the ordinary was happening. They rolled on toward Bryn Shander and cried out their first cheer when the pennant of the principle city came into sight.

The combined forces of the four towns of Maer Dualdon lay hidden in Termalaine. Their goal was to strike fast and hard at the small tribe that attacked the city, overrunning them as quickly as possible, then charge to the aid of Bryn Shander, trapping the rest of the horde between the two armies. Kemp of Targos was in command of this operation, but he had conceded the first blow to Agorwal, spokesman of the home city.

Torches set the first buildings of the city ablaze as Haalfdane’s wild army rushed in. Termalaine was second only to Targos among the nine fishing villages in population, but it was a sprawling, uncluttered town, with houses spread out over a large area and wide avenues running between them. Its people had retained their privacy and a measure of breathing room, giving the town an air of solitude that belied its numbers. Still, deBernezan sensed that the streets seemed unusually deserted. He mentioned his concern to the barbarian king at his side, though Haalfdane assured him that the rats had gone into hiding at the approach of the Bear.

“Pull them out of their holes and burn their houses!” the barbarian king roared. “Let the fishermen on the lake hear the cries of their women and see the smoke of their burning town!”

But then an arrow thudded into Haalfdane’s chest, burying itself deep within his flesh and biting through, tearing into his heart. The shocked barbarian looked down in horror at the vibrating shaft, though he couldn’t even utter a final cry before the blackness of death closed in around him.

With his ashwood bow, Agorwal of Termalaine had silenced the king of the Tribe of the Bear. And, on signal from Agorwal’s strike, the four armies of Maer Dualdon sprang to life.

They leaped from the rooftops of every building, from the alleys and doorways of every street. Against the ferocious assault of the multitude, the confused and stunned barbarians realized immediately that their battle would soon be at an end. Many were cut down before they could even ready their weapons.

Some of the battle-hardened invaders managed to form into small groups, but the people of Ten-Towns, fighting for their homes and the lives of their loved ones and armed with crafted weapons and shields forged by dwarven smiths, pressed in immediately. Fearlessly, the defenders bore the remaining invaders down under the weight of their greater numbers.

In an alley on the edge of Termalaine, Regis dove behind the concealment of a small cart as two fleeing barbarians passed by. The halfling fought with a personal dilemma: He didn’t want to be labeled a coward, but he had no intention of jumping into the battle of big folk. When the danger had passed, he walked back around the cart and tried to figure out his next move.

Suddenly a dark-haired man, a member of Ten-Towns’ Militia, Regis supposed, entered the alley and spotted the halfling. Regis knew that his little game of hiding was over, the time had come for him to make his stand. “Two of the scum just passed this way,” he called boldly to the dark-haired southerner. “Come, if we’re quick we can catch them yet!”

deBernezan had different plans, though. In a desperate attempt to save his own life, he had decided to slip down one alley and emerge from another as a member of the Ten-Towns force. He had no intention of leaving any witnesses to his treachery. Steadily he walked toward Regis, his slender sword at the ready.

Regis sensed that the mannerisms of the closing man weren’t quite right. “Who are you?” he asked, though he somehow expected no reply. He thought that he knew nearly everyone in the city, though he didn’t believe that he had ever seen this man before. Already, he had the uncomfortable suspicion that this was the traitor Drizzt had described to Bruenor. “How come I didn’t see you come in with the others earli…”

deBernezan thrust his sword at the halfling’s eye. Regis, dexterous and ever-alert, managed to lurch out of the way, though the blade scratched the side of his head and the momentum of his dodge sent him spinning to the ground. With an unemotional, disturbingly cold-blooded calm, the darkhaired man closed in again.

Regis scrambled to his feet and backed away, step for step with his assailant. But then he bumped up against the side of the small cart. deBernezan advanced methodically. The halfling had nowhere left to run.

Desperate, Regis pulled the ruby pendant from under his waistcoat. “Please don’t kill me,” he pleaded, holding the sparkling stone out by its chain and letting it dance seductively. “If you let me live, I’ll give you this and show you where you can find many more!” Regis was encouraged by deBernezan’s slight hesitation at the sight of the stone. “Surely, it’s a beautiful cut and worth a dragon’s hoard of gold!”

deBernezan kept his sword out in front of him, but Regis counted as the seconds passed and the dark-haired man did not blink. The halfling’s left hand, began to steady, while his right, concealed behind his back, clasped firmly onto the handle of the small but heavy mace crafted for him personally by Bruenor.

“Come, look closer,” Regis suggested softly. deBernezan, firmly under the spell of the sparkling stone, stooped low to better examine its fascinating dance of light.

“This isn’t really fair,” Regis lamented aloud, confident that deBernezan was oblivious to anything he might say at that moment. He cracked the spiked ball of the mace onto the back of the bending man’s head.

Regis eyed the result of his dirty work and shrugged absently. He had only done what was necessary.

The sounds of the battle in the street rang closer to his alley sanctuary and dispelled his contemplation. Again the halfling acted on instinct. He crawled under the body of his felled enemy, then twisted around underneath to make it look as if he had gone down under the weight of the larger man. When he inspected the damage of deBernezan’s initial thrust, he was glad that he hadn’t lost his ear. He hoped that his wound was serious enough to give credence to this image of a death struggle.

* * *

The main host of the barbarian force reached the long, low hill that led up to Bryn Shander unaware of what had befallen their comrades in Termalaine. Here they split again, with Heafstaag leading the Tribe of the Elk around the eastern side of the hill and Beorg taking the rest of the horde straight toward the walled city. Now they took up their song of battle, hoping to further unnerve the shocked and terrified people of Ten-Towns.

But behind the wall of Bryn Shander was a very different scene than the barbarians imagined. The army of the city, along with the forces of Caer-Konig and Caer-Dineval, sat ready with bows and spears and buckets of hot oil.

In a dark twist of irony, the Tribe of the Elk, out of sight of the front wall of the city, took up a cheer when the first screams of death rang out on the hill, thinking the victims to be the unprepared people of Ten-Towns. A few seconds later, as Heafstaag led his men around the easternmost bend in the hill, they too met with disaster. The armies of Good Mead and Dougan’s Hole were firmly dug in and waiting, and the barbarians were hard-pressed before they even knew what had hit them.

After the first few moments of confusion, though, Heafstaag managed to regain control of the situation. These warriors had been through many battles together, seasoned fighting men who knew no fear. Even with the losses of the initial attack, they were not outnumbered by the force before them, and Heafstaag was confident that he could overrun the fishermen quickly and still get his men into position.

But then, shouting as they came, the army of Easthaven charged down the Eastway and pressed the barbarians on their left flank. And Heafstaag, still unshaken, had just ordered his men to make the proper adjustments to protect against the new foe when ninety battle-hardened and heavily armored dwarves tore into them from behind. The grimfaced dwarven host attacked in a wedge formation with Bruenor as its deadly tip. They cut into the Tribe of the Elk, felling barbarians like a low-swinging scythe through tall grass.

The barbarians fought bravely, and many fishermen died on the eastern slopes of Bryn Shander. But the Tribe of the Elk was outnumbered and out-flanked, and barbarian blood ran freer than the blood of their foes. Heafstaag worked wildly to rally his men, but all semblance of formation and order disintegrated around him. To his worst horror and disgrace, the giant king realized that every one of his warriors would die on this field if they didn’t find a way to escape the ring of enemies and flee back to the safety of the tundra.

Heafstaag himself, who had never before retreated in battle, led the desperate break. He and as many warriors as he could gather together rushed around the dwarven host, seeking a route between them and the army of Easthaven. Most of the tribesmen were cut down by the blades of Bruenor’s people, but some managed to break free of the ring and bolt away toward Kelvin’s Cairn.

Heafstaag got through the gauntlet, killing two dwarves as he passed, but suddenly the giant king was engulfed in an impenetrable globe of absolute blackness. He dove headlong through it and emerged back into the light only to find himself face to face with a dark elf.

* * *

Bruenor had seven notches to put on his axe-handle and he bore down on number eight, a tall, gangly barbarian youth, too young even to show any stubble on his tanned face, but bearing the standard of the Tribe of the Elk with the composure of an experienced warrior. Bruenor curiously considered the engaging stare and calm visage as he closed in on the youth. It surprised him that he did not find the savage fire of barbarian bloodlust contorting the youth’s features, but rather an observant, understanding depth. The dwarf found himself truly lamenting having to kill one so young and unusual, and his pity caused him to hesitate slightly as the two joined battle.

Ferocious as his heritage dictated, though, the youth showed no fear, and Bruenor’s hesitation had given him the first swing. With deadly accuracy, he slammed his standard pole down onto his foe, snapping it in half. The amazingly powerful blow dented Bruenor’s helm and jolted the dwarf into a short bounce. Tough as the mountain stone he mined, Bruenor put his hands on his hips and glared up at the barbarian, who nearly dropped his weapon, so shocked was he that the dwarf still stood.

“Silly boy,” Bruenor growled as he cut the youth’s legs out from under him. “Ain’t ye never been told not to hit a dwarf on the head?” The youth desperately tried to regain his footing, but Bruenor slammed an iron shield into his face.

“Eight!” roared the dwarf as he stormed away in search of number nine. But he looked back for a moment over his shoulder to consider the fallen youth, shaking his head at the waste of one so tall and straight, with intelligent eyes to match his physical prowess, a combination uncommon among the wild and ferocious natives of Icewind Dale.

* * *

Heafstaag’s rage doubled when he recognized his newest opponent as a drow elf. “Sorcerous dog!” he bellowed, raising his huge axe high into the sky.

Even as he spoke, Drizzt flicked a finger and purple flames limned the tall barbarian from head to toe. Heafstaag roared in horror at the magical fire, though the flames did not burn his skin. Drizzt bore in, his two scimitars whirling and jabbing, thrusting high and low too quickly for the barbarian king to deflect both.

Blood trickled from many small wounds, but Heafstaag seemed able to shake off the punctures of the slender scimitars as no more than a discomfort. The great axe arced down, and though Drizzt was able to deflect its path, the effort numbed his arm. Again the barbarian swung his axe. This time Drizzt was able to spin out of its killing sweep, and the completion of the drow’s rotation left the overbalanced Heafstaag stumbling and open to a counter. Drizzt didn’t hesitate, driving one of his blades deep into the barbarian king’s side.

Heafstaag howled in agony and launched a backhand swing in retaliation. Drizzt thought his last thrust to be fatal, and his surprise was total when the flat head of Heafstaag’s axe smashed into his ribs and launched him through the air. The barbarian charged quickly after, meaning to finish this dangerous opponent before he could regain his footing.

But Drizzt was as nimble as a cat. He landed in a roll and came up to meet Heafstaag’s charge with one of his scimitars firmly set. His axe helplessly poised above his head, the surprised barbarian couldn’t stop his momentum before he impaled his belly on the wicked point. Still, he glared at the drow and began to swing his axe. Already convinced of the superhuman strength of the barbarian, Drizzt had kept up his guard this time. He knifed his second blade just under the first, opening the lower part of Heafstaag’s abdomen from hip to hip.

Heafstaag’s axe fell harmlessly to the ground as he grabbed at the wound, desperately trying to keep his belly from spilling out. His huge head lolled from side to side, the world spun about him, and he felt himself endlessly falling.

Several other tribesmen, in full flight and with dwarves hot on their heels, came by at that moment and caught their king before he hit the ground. So great was their dedication to Heafstaag that two of them lifted him and carried him away while the others turned to face the coming tide of dwarves, knowing that they would certainly be cut down, but hoping only to give their comrades enough time to bear their king to safety.

Drizzt rolled away from the barbarians and leaped to his feet, meaning to give chase to the two who bore Heafstaag. He had a sickening feeling that the terrible king would survive even the last grievous wounds, and he was determined to finish the job. But when he rose, he, too, found the world spinning. The side of his cloak was stained with his own blood, and he suddenly found it difficult to catch his breath. The blazing midday sun burned into his night eyes, and he was lathered in sweat.

Drizzt collapsed into darkness.

* * *

The three armies waiting behind Bryn Shander’s wall had quickly dispatched the first line of invaders and then driven the remaining barbarian host halfway back down the hill. Undaunted and thinking that time would play in their favor, the ferocious horde had regrouped around Beorg and begun a steady, cautious march back toward the city.

When the barbarians heard the charge coming up the eastern slope, they assumed that Heafstaag had finished his battle on the side of the hill, had learned of the resistance at the front gate, and was returning to help them smash into the city. Then Beorg spotted tribesmen fleeing to the north toward Icewind Pass, the stretch of ground opposite Bremen’s Run that passed between Lac Dinneshere and the western side of Kelvin’s Cairn. The king of the Tribe of the Wolf knew that his people were in trouble. Offering no explanation beyond the promised thrust of the tip of his spear to any who questioned his orders, Beorg started to turn his men around to head away from the city, hoping to regroup with Haalfdane and the Tribe of the Bear and salvage as many of his people as he could.

Before he had even completed the reversal of the march, he found Kemp and the four armies of Maer Dualdon behind him, their deep ranks barely thinned by the slaughter in Termalaine. Over the wall came the armies of Bryn Shander, Caer-Konig, and Caer-Dineval, and around the hill came Bruenor, leading the dwarven clan and the last three armies of Ten-Towns.

Beorg ordered his men into a tight circle. “Tempos is watching!” he yelled at them. “Make him proud of his people!”

Nearly eight hundred barbarians remained, and they fought with the confidence of the blessing of their god. They held their formation for almost an hour, singing and dying, before the lines broke down and chaos erupted.

Less than fifty escaped with their lives.

* * *

After the final blows had at last been swung, the exhausted warriors of Ten-Towns set about the grim task of sorting out their losses. More than five hundred of their companions had been killed and two hundred more would eventually die of their wounds, yet the toll wasn’t heavy considering the two thousand barbarians who lay dead in the streets of Termalaine and on the slopes of Bryn Shander.

Many heroes had been made that day, and Bruenor, though anxious to get back to the eastern battlefields to search for missing companions, paused for a long moment as the last of them was carried in glory up the hill to Bryn Shander.

“Rumblebelly?” exclaimed the dwarf.

“The name is Regis,” the halfling retorted from his high perch, proudly folding his arms across his chest.

“Respect, good dwarf,” said one of the men carrying Regis. “In single combat Spokesman Regis of Lonelywood slew the traitor that brought the horde upon us, though he was wickedly injured in the battle!”

Bruenor snorted in amusement as the procession passed. “There’s more to that tale than what’s been told, I’ll wager!” he chuckled to his equally amused companions. “Or I’m a bearded gnome!”

* * *

Kemp of Targos and one of his lieutenants were the first to come upon the fallen form of Drizzt Do’Urden. Kemp prodded the dark elf with the toe of his blood-stained boot, drawing a semiconscious groan in response.

“He lives,” Kemp said to his lieutenant with an amused smile. “A pity.” He kicked the injured drow again, this time with more enthusiasm. The other man laughed in approval and lifted his own foot to join in the fun.

Suddenly, a mailed fist slammed into Kemp’s kidney with enough force to carry the spokesman over Drizzt and send him bouncing down the long decline of the hill. His lieutenant whirled around, conveniently ducking low to receive Bruenor’s second swing square in the face.

“One for yerself, too!” the enraged dwarf growled as he felt the man’s nose shatter under his blow.

Cassius of Bryn Shander, viewing the incident from higher up on the hill, screamed in anger and rushed down the slope toward Bruenor. “You should be taught some diplomacy!” he scolded.

“Stand where y’ are, son of a swamp pig!” was Bruenor’s threatening response. “Ye owe the drow yer stinkin’ lives and homes,” he roared to all around who could hear him, “and ye treat him as vermin!”

“‘Ware your words, dwarf!” retorted Cassius, tentatively grabbing at his sword hilt. The dwarves formed a line around their leader, and Cassius’s men gathered around him.

Then a third voice sounded clearly. “‘Ware your own, Cassius,” warned Agorwal of Termalaine. “I would have done the same thing to Kemp if I was possessed of the courage of the dwarf!” He pointed to the north. “The sky is clear,” he yelled. “Yet were it not for the drow, it would be filled with the smoke of burning Termalaine!” The spokesman from Termalaine and his companions moved over to join Bruenor’s line. Two of the men gently lifted Drizzt from the ground.

“Fear not for your friend, valiant dwarf,” said Agorwal. “He will be well tended in my city. Never again shall I, or my fellow men of Termalaine, prejudge him by the color of his skin and the reputation of his kin!”

Cassius was outraged. “Remove your soldiers from the grounds of Bryn Shander!” he screamed at Agorwal, but it was an empty threat, for the men of Termalaine were already departing.

Satisfied that the drow was in safe hands, Bruenor and his clan moved on to search the rest of the battleground.

“I’ll not forget this!” Kemp yelled at him from far down the hill.

Bruenor spat at the spokesman from Targos and continued on unshaken.

And so it went that the alliance of the people of Ten-Towns lasted only as long as their common enemy.