A Novel of Mithgar


Dennis L. McKiernan - Author

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ISBN 9781101165621 | 544 pages | 01 May 2002 | Roc | 18 - AND UP
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A thousand years before the Winter War, Elgo, prince of the Vanadurin, killed the Dragon Sleeth and returned home with the fabulous wealth from the dead beast’s lair. But there was more in the bounty than gems and gold, for the treasure was cursed, and in time it brought death to noble and peasant, war between Man and Dwarf, strife and destruction beyond reckoning.

Now, generations later, as the conflict continues, the great Dragon Black Kalgalath, in league with the Wizard Andrak, appears to avenge Sleeth’s death and claim the Dragon-cursed hoard. Against this unholy alliance, two sworn enemies set forth to find a legendary long-lost weapon: a warhammer of incalculable power that may be the only hope of victory. But neither the Warrior Maiden Elyn nor the Dwarf Thork is prepared for the dangers awaiting them on this quest....

Chapter 1


Year’s Long Night, 3E8

[Centuries Past]

Sleeth’s great yellow eyes slid open; behind crystalline membranes, long slitted pupils expanded wide in the ebon darkness. His great forked tongue flicked in and out, tasting the blackness of the cavern: Empty. Dire spume dripped from wicked fangs, and where it struck, froth sizzled and popped, and rock dissolved. Sleeth’s juices ran high, for he was ravenously hungry, yet this night he would not seek to fill his belly: he was after other prey.

Heaving his great bulk upward, Sleeth ponderously slid forward, long claws grasping stone, powerful legs propelling him toward the exit from the lair. Faint light shone ‘round the bend before him, and Sleeth approached it with caution even though he knew that the glimmer came from Moon and stars, for Sleeth suffered the Ban, and to step into sunlight was to step unto Death.

Year’s Long Night had fallen, and Sleeth pressed his snout out into the clear, frigid, winter air. Around him, the ice-clad peaks of the bleak Gronfangs stabbed upward, as if trying to impale the glittering stars upon the jagged mountain crests. Sleeth glanced at the spangle above: night was but an hour old--more than enough time remained.

Slithering out from the den, Sleeth crossed the wide foreledge, fetching up against its precipitous lip. Stone fell sheer before him, plummeting down into the black depths far below. Silvery moonlight streamed through black pinnacles behind, pale beams splashing iridescently up lapping scales--armored hide, virtually indestructible. Great muscles rippled and bunched, and with a roar that struck and clapped along the frozen crags, Sleeth leapt into the air, vast leathery pinions beating upward into the crystal sky, climbing toward the stars.

Circling, spiraling, up and up he flew, till he was high above the clawing peaks. And then he arrowed westward, into the angle of Gron, wings hammering across the night.

‘Ware, Folk of Mithgar, a Dragon comes.

Chapter 2


Late summer, 3E1602

[The Present]

Again the panic-stricken squeal of a terrified steed rang out, filling the sudden silence, yet the tall, thickset marsh reeds blocked Elyn’s view, and she could not see more than a few feet ahead. Too, her vision was hampered by long shadows cast by the setting Sun. She was still some unknown distance from the far edge of Khalian Mire, and had not time for distractions; for this was a place of dire repute, and sheneeded to be beyond the eastern marge ere full darkness fell, else she would be stranded here within these malevolent environs. Yet this sounded like a horseling in distress, and she was Vanadurin.

Gripping the saber she had instinctively drawn at the sound of the scream, Elyn leaned forward, ducking below long grey strands of a foul moss adrip from the lifeless branches of a nearby dead cypress that twisted up out of the clutching mire. “Hup, Wind,” she whispered to the mare, lightly touching her heels to the grey’s flanks, gently urging the mount ahead. And in the marsh about her, all the chirruping and neeking and breeking had stopped, as if the startled dwellers waited with bated breath to see what terror was afoot. Only the incessant cloud of gnats and mosquitos and biting flies that swarmed about her head and shoulders seemed unaffected, their blood-hunger now and then driving one or two out of the horde and in through the pungent fumes of the gyllsweed to land biting on her or the horse. These Elyn had managed to ignore as, fully alert, her attention was locked ahead.

Slowly the grey stepping forward, and again the terrified squeal sounded, and Wind could not supress a gentle Whuff!

Now the reeds began to thin, and from the fore came the slosh of an animal thrashing in a quag. Too, there came “Kruk! Dok, praug, dok!”--the sound of a gravelly voice venting oaths.

Gradually the rushses thinned, and Elyn found herself on the edge of a small slough, perhaps thirty feet across. And there near the center floundered a terror-stricken pony; and behind, mired up to his chest, struggling and cursing--Elyn’s eyes narrowed in a sudden rush of hatred--thrashed a Dwarf!

As Wind stepped forth from the reeds, suddenly the pony stoppped its struggling. The Dwarf looked up, and his gaze locked with Elyn’s, his eyes narrowing--just as hers had--at the sight of this tall, fair, leather-clad, steel-helmed, green-eyed, copper-haired Woman!

Steadily the twilighted deppened. Long, tense moments fled as they staredin loathing at one another, either saying a word.

Should I, can I, rescue one of Them? Elyn’s emotions churned, her mind in turmoil. But as her hand strayed toward the rope at her saddle--

“Think not to help me, Woman, for I’d sooner sink down through this quaghole to Neddra itself, than to be aided by a Rider.” In his mouth the words Woman and Rider sounded as oaths, and hostility glared forth from the Dwarf’s shadowed eyes, his gaze still locked with hers.

Sheathing her saber, Elyn flicked Wind’s reins, turning to go. Faugh! I was a fool to have ever considered saving a Dwarf in the first place. But just as the mare started fetching about, the pony began to thrash again, grunting snorting, eyes rolling in terror. Grinding her teeth, Elyn swung Wind back once more, loosening the rope as she did so. “I cannot let a steed die by my neglect, Dwarf; I am Vanadurin.” Now it was Elyn whose mouth formed an oath, as she spoke the word Dwarf.

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