The war of the three kings it was called, fourty years after the start of the Second Blight War. And like all wars it begins with a single death.
In the province named ‘The Guardians’ in honour of the three large mountains, a province known for it’s red trees and the blue gum found in the mountains, the human kingdom of Redstead was at war with itself.
The first king was Anthor II, the true heir of Redstead, a ambitious young man whose passion often got the better of him but otherwise a good man. The second was his stepmother Ariel, the wood elven queen of the realm of Summerhurst whose beauty and magical voice enchanted all around her. And of course the upstart Fafnir the bastard who also wished the crown.
The previous high king, King Anthor, had united the realm of men, elves and dwarves who previously all feuded with one another in his lifetime against the Blight at the start of the Second Blight War. Under his wise guidance, political manoeuvres and bravery the province of the Guardians and Redstead itself was at peace and the Blight was pushed out.
He had a human wife at first who gave him a strong son named Anthor II but sadly she died five years before her husband. In the final two years of his life Anthor I fell in love and married the wood elven queen Ariel and united the two realms. Many elves came to find residence in Redstead and many humans found a place in the enchanted woods of Summerhurst. Although all seemed well, there were rumours at court.
The king’s advisors claimed Ariel had more sway with the king and often his commands favoured the elven folk of Summerhurst. Some say her magical voice had taken control of the king’s mind and he was but a puppet to her whims. The king’s dwarven allies voiced concern and slowly became more and more alienated at court until a disastrous banquet where the Queen mocked the dwarven ambassador’s beard.
The first seeds of the future war were sown.
The king was a month dying when an announcement was made and a week before the king died his will was altered. When he would pass it would be Ariel who would become Regent Queen and rule over Redstead until she would deem the young Anthor II to be ready for the crown.
Although the younger Anthor was but a youth of sixteen, he was no fool. When his father passed the following week, Anthor II fled Redstead for the city of Bards Plain under the cover of night. He claimed moments after his father died, when his body was still warm, the Queen had send her assassins after him and he would’ve been dead were it not for Duke Rontir of Bards Plain. After he was crowned at the church in Bards Plain and married the Duke’s daughter, the young king declared war on his stepmother to reclaim his kingdom.
As the two monarchs began their way, a third party entered the mix. Fafnir the bastard prince of Crimson Stone claimed to be the illegitimate son of Anthor I and a milkmaid during the war against the Blight twenty years prior. Although his claim was tenuous at best he did have support from the dwarf lords who remembered Ariel’s words well and Anthor II’s inaction to aid them. Along with dwarven warriors, goblin mercenaries and others who were caught in the conflict between the two other kings, Fafnir led a army of misfits and criminals.
The war lasted for many years and just as many mercenaries and foreign forces were requested by all three kings from outside the province such as ‘The Wrekers’ from Park, Wizards from the Iron Citadel, Dawnfort Knights and even Orc warbands from distant Oasis.
One such group was a cannon crew that came from the northern province of Sanctuary from the city of Twilight Hill. Queen Ariel hired the best gunners the province had to offer, for all dwarven guns had the same crew from the smelting of the weapon, to the tests to the actual entire use of the gun.
The gunners in question were the ‘Lead Belchers’ led by Foreman Harkan Frondson.
The world shook as the cannon belched it’s deadly cargo upon the enemy below. A moment later the world shook once more as the cannonball hit it’s target, a group of knights. Despite their speed, the ball smashed through their number like it was following their every move and feint. It bespoke more of the crew’ skill with the gun than the actual weapon but the gun itself was a beautifully made piece of destruction.
The wheels,axle and supports were made of oak, the muzzle of the gun sculpted out of strong steel but painted gold. It was shaped like the maw of a dragon, it’s eyes carved from red diamonds with it’s noise that served as the firing mechanism.
It was the size of a large troll and It took several men to carry each cannon ball to refill the gun. The gun was a hungry beast who enjoyed a lot of gunpowder, a expensive treat that rewarded the Lead Belchers with deadly results for their enemies.
A crew of dwarven miners rushed as they reloaded the massive gun as others fired their blunderbusses to the encroaching knights. The few who remained after the initial hit were further whittled down by dwarven bullets before they crashed into the spearmen who made quick work of them.
“Good shot, men!” Harkan smiled as his men cheered. At sixty winters he was still a young dwarf but already the hard life of a mercenary was wearing on him. Several scars adorned his face and he had lost a finger in a malfunction with the gun. He turned to see his creation, the Dragon’s Maw. It was a hungry beast but it was his way up in the world. He would feed it steel and fire and in turn he would deliver death upon those who needed killing.
They’ve been fighting for Queen Ariel for a month and this was their third battle. Anthor II had convinced the local giants to join his banner and were making mincemeat of Ariel’s human and elven soldiers. Although the Treemen did their best, nothing could best the pure rage that a giant could harness. That was until Hurkan and the Lead Belchers blew off the chief giant’s head with a well aimed shot and had been sniping any giant since. The enemy must’ve heard about them because after the second battle plenty of the fast moving knights or spider riders were rushing to face the gun before it could’ve been fired. Thankfully dwarven pick axes and Ariel’s other forces made sure no damage fell upon the Dragon’s Maw or it’s crew.
The Queen herself came to see the cannon after the battle for Rich Plain and gave her approval of the gun.
Hurkan smiled a bit when he remembered the beautiful wood elven queen. She had long flowing blonde hair, a musical voice. Her dress was green like the forest but it was very comfortable to be able to walk and ride on a horse with. It also left some strategic places above her bosom and midriff barely covered which stirred some unbidden thoughts in the young dwarf’s head. As she was thanking the dwarves her sky blue eyes were fixed on his, as if she knew what he was thinking. With a blush he thanked the Queen and went back to making sure the gun was ready to be moved.
“Queen Ariel will be praise the day she signed our contracts!” Torr, one of his younger engineers with brown doe eyes and a small beard that only reached his shoulders, replied with a smile.
A larger dwarf with a voice of a avalanche grumbled as he loaded in the steel ball." She better, these balls don’t come cheap. Dread finding the bloody things afterward…"
“It’s that or waste more coin on steel to forge new balls.” Torr replied as he shovelled powder in the ignition chamber." Don’t see why you’re complaining, you’re not the one cleaning up the damn things off blood and dirt and shite…“
Hurkan could not help but smirk.” Do you wish to swap roles, Torr? I would love to see you pick up one of those." he pointed at one of the big cannonballs, roughly the height of a big hound and the size of two ale barrels smashed together.
The younger dwarf quickly shook his head." Naye, ta…"
“Foreman!” a gnome shouted as he looked through his binoculars." Tree friends incoming along with Woodland Assassins. Anthor’s forces are falling back! The day is ours!"
“Very well!” Hurkan replied." Fire a few more rounds after those Anthor dogs. Rondo, call out the co-ordinates."
“Aye-aye, Foreman!” his crew replied as Rondo the gnome called out the directions for the gun to fire it’s deadly cargo on the enemy.
More cheers came when their fellow soldiers came up to thank them. Before the Dragon’s Maw Ariel’s men lacked the raw support only a dragon or a giant could provide and in turn had saved quite a few lives. Although some of their elven officers hated to resorting to dwarven technology they so far had ignored the Lead Belchers, seeing them as nothing more but mercenaries.
That was until after the battle when a courier specifically came for Hurkan.
After the battle, like every battle, the crew of the gun repaired any damages that came up during the battle and checked every mechanism at least twice. The gunpowder was counted and men on ponies came back with cannonballs they could find on the field of battle. Hurkan gave out the usual orders to his men and allowed the quartermaster to open up a keg of ale. When he saw the messenger he went out to meet her as the crew turned to their duties.
“The Queen has asked just for you, Lord Hurkan.” the elven woman said." She wants to thank you for your services."
“Oh…just me?” Hurkan raised his brow. He turned to his crew who were busy fixing the Dragon’s Maw and cleaning up the cannonballs for the gun. A laborious and long work where the entre crew was needed, including the foreman. The dwarf was about to decline when he remembered those sky blue eyes and the enticing smile.
“Aye, i’ll go see her.” he agreed and left with the messenger without informing the crew.
He was brought to the elven queen’s tent, a large green pavilion covered in beautiful flowers.
As he entered he saw the Queen was attended by her handmaidens and some of the treemen. There were others as well who served as her council and war leaders but none were human.
She was seated upon a large pillow as see-through blinds covered her and her closest of handmaidens. Harps were playing in the background as quiet muttering in the elves’ musical tongue sounded through the tent.
Hurkan had heard rumours that Ariel had taken over the human kingdom by illicit means but to go as oblique and not have any humans in her sphere of influence was very telling.
Those thoughts went away when the Queen laid her eyes on him.
“Lord Hurkan!” her smile seemed to lighten the room." The hero of the battle!“
The dwarf ignored the frowns from the other elven lords as he took off his miner’s cap.” I only did my job, your highness." He bowed his head.
She snapped her fingers. As if it was rehearsed before, everyone save the treemen and two handmaidens left the room in a synchronised fashion.
“Tell me, Lord Hurkan…” she leant forward." Tell me of your big gun." She gave a wicked grin with a mischievous wink.
He blushed, she fully knew what she was saying." The Dragon’s Maw is my prized creation, your highness, I spend seven years building it with my crew."
“Seven years?” she sounded interested.
He nodded. “It can shoot up to thirty kilometres away with pinpoint accuracy.”
“Oh really…” she offered a seat next to her. His legs moved by themselves as the dwarf sat next to her.
For an hour she listened to Hurkan’s explanation of the gun. How it loaded, the rough weight of it, the cost for it’s monthly maintenance and anything that he could take from his memory. For a moment he was relieved she did not seem to be advancing towards him.
His heart skipped a beat when her lovely hand was on his leg.
“Lord Hurkan…” she strayed his beard, her voice soothing him." Your gun is so strong and powerful, it fits it has a strong man for it’s owner…"
“I’m glad you think so, your majesty…” he replied." But I am no Lord…i’m just a Foreman." And also very married, he kept to himself.
“Oh, we should do something about that…” she cooed and pulled him closer." I need your help. Fafnir is moving south towards Redstead."
“Oh that’s…bad.” the foreman replied, feeling stupid for saying it.
“It is.” she agreed." But I need to advance to stop my stepson before he throws the whole realm into chaos…but I also need a …" she slid her hands into the dwarf’s tunic, unbuttoning it one bit at a time." Strong, virile man to lead the defence against Fafnir. You do this and not only will you be made Lord. You and your men can retire. You’ll be given lands and riches. Only if you do this one thing for me. Don’t you agree?"
“That sounds…like a good idea.” he agreed as she continued her ministrations.
He couldn’t resist as he took off his tunic. her finger on his hairy chest." My man with a big…BIG…gun.“
She leant in close, her lips on his.
He returned the kiss, his hands on her hips. He tried to stop and pulled back.” No…no, I’m married…"
The Queen grinned and pushed him down. She sat on top of the dwarf and began to move with him in her passion. If she heard her protests she did not reply to them.
“Don’t disappoint your Queen…” she gasped as she let her own passion take over. His thoughts of his wife long gone, Hurkan hungrily joined his Queen’s passion.
In those moments when lust took over his mind, his wife and crew buried behind a title and lust.
If he had a moment to think, he would’ve known it was a trap.
The Dragon’s Maw was attached to a human general with little experience along with mostly human troops who were just fresh of the training yard.
As they marched to meet the Bastard Prince’s forces, Torr spoke what everyone else was thinking.
“We’re the expendable force.“
Hurkan frowned.” Keep it to yourself, Torr.” He tried to convince himself he was not expendable.
The Queen chose him and his crew specifically to hold off Fafnir and the Maw had proven itself time and again. They would get the title, the lands and the riches.
And who knew maybe his on-going relationship with the Queen would become more permanent.
Those were his last thoughts when a goblin arrow struck him in the head.
A ambush from above laid waste to the army. The general fled as the few pockets of resistance were quickly overrun. The Lead Belchers were one of those pockets but all to soon they to fell to goblin blades.
It was over in less than half an hour.
The prisoners were rounded up as the dead were piled up. A one-eyed dwarven overseer doused the corpse pile with oil before he threw a torch on it. He had fought the Blight before, he did not want to risk an outbreak in this stage of the war. He made a prayer to God that he would look after these poor lot. It was obvious these men were used as a roadblock to hold off the inevitable siege of Summerhurst by a few more hours. Perhaps it also served as to separate the loyal from the disloyal. He shook his head, there were things such as the Blight and worse in Alundria and here he was fighting for a crown he nor his people had a stake in.
“Captain Grimgi!” one of the goblin mercenaries called him." Come see this!“
The dwarf sighed annoyed, for he hated working with goblins, but he began to smile when he saw the big gun. The goblins were still busy dragging one of the bigger dwarves away as another was pilfering through a dead gnome’s pockets.
The goblin from before looked to his officer.“What shall we do with it, boss? It’s going to be a bitch to move with that broken axle.”
“It will.” Captain Grimgi agreed.” But it will be worth it…" he placed his hand on the still smooth steel snout of the golden dragon." So very worth it." He turned to the goblin." Gather some men and a ox, I want this moved now before nightfall!"
It took a few hours but the Captain’s wish came true as the gun was moved along towards camp with prisoners in tow. An human officer, one of Duke Rontir’s men, looked over the process as the gun was pushed along." A fine catch, Grimgi…you want to keep it?“
The dwarf nodded.” Aye, it’ll be a fine addition for when we will siege Summerhurst.“
The rider rubbed his chin.” Very well, thought of a name?"
“Oh aye.” Grimgi smirked." I got one. Gonna name it after my daughter, Hella. Hella’s Wrath"