The Crystal Shard Epilogue part three

The Crystal Shard Epilogue part three

All along the hill, the fishermen of Ten-Towns moved among their fallen enemies, looting the barbarians of what small wealth they possessed and putting the sword to the unfortunate ones who were not quite dead.

Yet amid the carnage of the bloody scene, a finger of mercy was to be found. A man from Good Mead rolled the limp form of an unconscious young barbarian over onto its back, preparing to finish the job with his dagger. Bruenor came upon them then and, recognizing the youth as the standard bearer who had dented his helmet, stayed the fisherman’s thrust. “Don’t kill ‘im. He’s nothing but a boy, and he can’t have known truly what he an’ his people did.”

“Bah,” huffed the fisherman. “What mercy would these dogs have shown to our children, I ask you? He’s half in the grave anyway.”

“Still I ask ye to let him be!” Bruenor growled, his axe bouncing impatiently against his shoulder. “In fact, I insist!”

The fisherman returned the dwarf’s scowl, but he had witnessed Bruenor’s proficiency in battle and thought the better of pushing him too far. With a disgusted sigh, he headed off around the hill to find less protected victims.

The boy stirred on the grass and moaned.

“So ye’ve a bit of life left in ye yet,” said Bruenor. He knelt beside the lad’s head and lifted it by the hair to meet his eyes. “Hear me well, boy. I saved yer life here – why, I’m not quite knowin’ – but don’t ye think ye’ve been pardoned by the people of Ten-Towns. I want ye to see the misery yer people have brung. Maybe killing is in yer blood, and if it is, then let the fisherman’s blade end ye here and now! But I’m feelin’ there’s more to ye, and ye’ll have the time to show me right.

“Ye’re to serve me and me people in our mines for five years and a day to prove yourself worthy of life and freedom.”

Bruenor saw that the youth had slumped back into unconsciousness. “Never mind,” he muttered. “Ye’ll hear me well before all’s done, be sure o’ that!” He moved to drop the head back to the grass, but laid it down gently instead.

Onlookers to the spectacle of the gruff dwarf showing kindness to the barbarian youth were indeed startled, but none could guess the implications of what they had witnessed. Bruenor himself, for all of his assumptions of this barbarian’s character, could not have foreseen that this boy, Wulfgar, would grow into the man who would reshape this harsh region of the tundra.

* * *

Far to the south, in a wide pass among the towering peaks of the Spine of the World, Akar Kessell languished in the soft life that Crenshinibon had provided for him. His goblin slaves had captured yet another female from a merchant caravan for him to play with, but now something else had caught his eye. Smoke, rising into the empty sky from the direction of Ten-Towns.

“Barbarians,” Kessell guessed. He had heard rumors that the tribes were gathering when he and the wizards from Luskan had been visiting Easthaven. But it didn’t matter to him, and why should it? He had all that he needed right here in Cryshal-Tirith and had no desire to travel anywhere else.

No desires that were wrought of his own will.

Crenshinibon was a relic that was truly alive in its magic. And part of its life was the desire to conquer and command. The crystal shard was not content with an existence in a desolate mountain range, where the only servants were lowly goblins. It wanted more. It wanted power.

Kessell’s own subconscious recollections of Ten-Towns when he had spotted the column of smoke had stirred the relic’s hunger, so it now used the same empathetic power of suggestion on Kessell.

A sudden image grasped at the wizard’s deepest needs. He saw himself seated on a throne in Bryn Shander, immeasurably wealthy and respected by all in his court. He imagined the response from the Hosttower of the Arcane in Luskan when the mages there, especially Eldulac and Dendybar, learned of Akar Kessell, Lord of Ten-Towns and Ruler of all Icewind Dale! Would they offer him a robe in their puny order then?

Despite Kessell’s true enjoyment of the leisurely existence he had found, the thought appealed to him. He let his mind continue through the fantasy, exploring the paths that he might take to accomplish such an ambitious goal.

He ruled out trying to dominate the fisherfolk as he had dominated this goblin tribe, for even the least intelligent of the goblins had held out against his imposing will for quite a long time. And when any of these had gotten away from the immediate area of the tower, they regained their ability to determine their own actions and had fled into the mountains. No, simple domination would not work against the humans.

Kessell pondered using the power that he felt pulsing within the structure of Cryshal-Tirith, destructive forces beyond anything he had ever heard of, even in the Hosttower. This would help, but it wouldn’t be enough. Even the strength of Crenshinibon was limited, requiring lengths of time under the sun to gather new power to replace expended energy. Furthermore, in Ten-Towns there were too many people too widely scattered to be corralled by a single sphere of influence, and Kessell didn’t want to destroy them all. Goblins were convenient, but the wizard longed to have humans bowing before him, real men like the ones who had persecuted him for all of his life.

For all of his life before he had gained the shard.

His ponderings eventually led him inevitably down the same line of reasoning. He would need an army.

He considered the goblins he presently commanded. Fanatically devoted to his every wish, they would (in fact, several had) gladly die for him. Yet even they weren’t nearly numerous enough to engulf the wide region of the three lakes with any semblance of strength.

And then an evil thought, again covertly insinuated into his will by the crystal shard, came upon the wizard. “How many holes and caves,” Kessell cried aloud, “are there in this vast and rugged mountain range? And how many goblins, ogres, even trolls and giants, do they harbor?” The beginnings of a devious vision took shape in his mind. He saw himself at the head of a huge goblin and giant army, sweeping across the plains, unstoppable and irresistable.

How he would make men tremble!

He lay back on a soft pillow and called for the new harem girl. He had another game in mind, one that had also come to him in a strange dream; it called for her to beg and whimper, and finally, to die. The wizard decided, though, that he would certainly consider the possibilities of lordship over Ten-Towns that had opened wide before him. But there was no need to hurry; he had time. The goblins could always find him another plaything.

Crenshinibon, too, seemed to be at peace. It had placed the seed within Kessell’s mind, a seed that it knew would germinate into a plan of conquest. But, like Kessell, the relic had no need for haste.

The crystal shard had waited ten thousand years to return to life and see this opportunity of power flicker again. It could wait a few more.