- "In the elder ages when the world was young, elves and dwarfs lived in peace and prosperity. Dwarfs are great craftsmen, lords of the under deeps, artificers beyond compare. Elves are peerless mages, masters of the dragons, creatures of the sky and air. During the time of High King Snorri Whitebeard and Prince Malekith, these two great races were at the pinnacle of their strength. But such power and dominion could not last."
"Fell forces now gather against elves and dwarfs. Malekith, embittered by his maiming in the Flame of Asuryan, seeks to destroy them both but still darker powers are also at work. Already strained, disharmony sours relations between them until only enmity remains. Treachery is inevitable, a terrible act that can only result in one outcome... War."
- —Extract from the Book The War of Vengeance, also known as The Great Betrayal.
The War of the Beard, as known to the Elves, but also known as the War of Vengeance by the Dwarfs and the War of the Ancients by Humans, refers to a devastating, world-spanning conflict which erupted 2,000 years before the birth of Sigmar Heldenhammer, waged between the Dwarfs of the Worlds Edge Mountains and the High Elves of Ulthuan and her colonies. The Dwarfs were led by their High King, Gotrek Starbreaker, the High Elves by their Phoenix King, Caledor II, who fell in battle during the final climax of the war.
The war left both races severely devastated; Phoenix King Caledor II was slain in single combat by High King Gotrek Starbreaker, and the crown of the Phoenix King was taken from his corpse by the High King as recompense for Caledor's murder of his son and future High King, Snorri Halfhand. Though the Dwarfs were originally victorious, the war left them dangerously weakened, and they were in no position to effectively combat the Greenskin and Skaven incursions that were soon to follow. Along with the death of their Phoenix King, the devastating defeats of the High Elves by Dwarfish hands and the following invasions led by the Dark Elves led to Ulthuan recalling all remaining High Elves within the Old World -- both soldiers and civilians alike -- in order to defend the heartland from the return of Witch King Malekith. Though many left, those who remained felt little loyalty to Ulthuan and remained in the now independent colonies, becoming the Wood Elves of Athel Loren. With exceptions in the Worlds Edge Mountains and Ulthuan, Dwarfs and Elves, once mighty and imperious, were thus reduced to mere shadows of their former glory, and much lingering resentment remains between the Sons and Daughters of Grungni and the Scions of Asuryan.
Though it was the Elves that took the most losses during the course of the War, in the aftermath of the Phoenix King's defeat and death by the hands of Gotrek Starbreaker, once the Throngs and Armies of the Dwarfs returned to their mountain kingdoms in celebration of their victory, a great cataclysm ensued that rocked the very foundations of the Worlds Edge Mountains. None knew the true reason for such an event, but the resulting earthquakes and volcanic activities forced the Mountain Kingdoms into near-complete isolation, as the surface began to grow blackened by ash and fire, and large sections of the Underway of the Dwarfs were rocked into ruins. Though it had many names, the Dwarfs of Old knew this Age in their history as the Time of Woes.
Long ago, before the time of Sigmar and Gilles le Breton, during their Age of Discovery, the High Elves had allied with many races; among them were the Dwarfs. Already a great civilization when they first made contact with the Asur, the combination of cultures increased the stature of both races. Dwarfs were well versed in the secrets of ancient runes and made the finest weapons in the world, of which many were gifted to the Princes and Dragonlords of the Asur. The Elves taught the Dwarfs how to enchant items on their own and of arts, such as literature and poetry. Trade between the races flourished, Elven silk and steel were much valued by the Dawi, and Dwarf armour, weaponry and alcohol became a common sight in Ulthuan. The fortress of Sith Rionnasc'namishathir was established at the mouth of what is now the River Reik (present-day Marienburg). Other colonies, such as the mighty city of Tor Alessi (present-day L'Anguille in Bretonnia) were also founded.
In the Age of Strife and the tragic civil war called the Sundering, the Phoenix King Caledor I steered the High Elves through their time of turbulence, after the murder of the previous King Bel Shanaar by Malekith, the son of the first King Aenarion. However, as long as Malekith and his followers still lived there would be no peace. After his defeat at the Marches of Maledor and the exile of the Dark Elves to the cold land of Naggaroth, the Witch King hatched a plan, creating a spark that would become an inferno.
In the Imperial Year -2005 IC, several Druchii raiding parties were dispatched in secret to the Old World with the intention of causing as much strife and unrest between the High Elves and Dwarfs as possible. The Dark Elves achieved this by posing as Asur who were ambushing trading caravans, cheating Dawi merchants out of goods and razing several smaller settlements to the ground (the most notable of these being Zakbar Varf). This led to the tighter strictures on Dwarfen trade routes, harsher sanctions on Elves trespassing into Dwarf territory and ultimately the reckoning of many grudges against the Asur responsible.
The First Signs of War
The High King Gotrek Starbreaker stalwartly tried to avert conflict. Unaware of the civil war that had just taken place within Ulthuan, due to the Elves' refusal to speak of it, Starbreaker sent messengers to the Elves demanding to know the reason for the attacks and why the Phoenix King did little to resolve the crisis. The reply was immediate and uncompromising: if Gotrek wanted recompense he should come to the High Elf capital of Lothern, and beg for it. The Dwarfs were outraged, but Starbreaker attempted again to cool the temper of his Kings, and in -1997 IC sent his best ambassadors and Reckoners, led by Forek Grimbok, to Ulthuan to raise the issue with Caledor II (son of Caledor the Conqueror). When the envoy arrived many Elves realized how serious the claim was, the Phoenix King's advisors among them.
Caledor II recklessly denied the charges against him and the Asur, and refused to even investigate the origin of the attacks. When Grimbok demanded once again that if the Elven court could not discover who of their number was responsible for instigating the unrest then the Court themselves would be held accountable, Caledor became uncontrollably angry at Grimbok. Fearing for his reputation, Caledor ordered that Grimbok be shaved off his beard and expelled from Ulthuan, gravely insulting him, the High King and the whole Dwarf race by extension. Grimbok returned home, humiliated but with purpose. Starbreaker, upon learning the terrible truth, immediately ordered the forges and armouries to begin preparing for war. Grimbok himself later became a Slayer due to the shame the incident placed upon him.
After mustering for almost a year, Dawi throngs marched to war on the Elves, drawing troops from the far ends of the Dwarfen realm. Ironbreakers of Karaz-a-Karak marched with Longbeards of Karak Azgal, Slayers from Karak Kadrin marched with Hammerers of Ekrund. Upon reaching Tor Alessi, Gotrek made an oath that he would extract recompense either in gold or blood from the High Elves or he would shave his beard. With a desire to avenge their injured pride, the Dwarfs were not about to let their King break his promise. Upon hearing of the assault on Tor Alessi, Caledor was outraged and ordered his generals to send an enormous fleet to relieve the city. The force that left Ulthuan was truly huge, dwarfing any navy before or since, and though the Council of Princes was worried that this would leave their lands undefended, Caledor was determined.
Elves and Dwarfs fought bitterly until in -1974 IC Caledor slew the Dwarf Prince Snorri Halfhand after Snorri challenged him to single combat. Being tired of slaughter, and wishing to reduce their losses, the Elves then retreated. Seeking revenge for his cousin’s death Morgrim Baugrim led the forces that pursued the Elves. For many years the Asur retreated until they decided to stand and fight at Oeragor (-1968 IC). When the lines met, rivers of blood flowed and hundreds on each side lost their lives until Lord Imladrik, the prince commanding the High Elf main army, was slain in single combat by Morgrim and the Elves retreated once again, this time leaderless.
Morgrim was crowned a hero and he continued to capture through the Elven towns and cities across the Old World, notably razing the city Athe Maraya in -1948 IC. The heroes Lord Salendor of Tor Achare and Brok Stonefist of Karak Azul, who had previously fought many great battles, eventually lost both their lives in the doomed city, crushed by the burning crumbling towers. The Dwarfs were quite unlike any foe the Elves had ever faced, refusing to give up even when doom or defeat was assured for them. The war became a stalemate, the mountain fortresses of the Dwarfs were unassailable and the Dawi laid siege to Tor Alessi thirteen times, but unable to penetrate the city's walls. Much of Athel Loren was destroyed as the war continued for another 450 years.
The Battle of the Three Towers
In the year -1560 IC, at the fourteenth and final siege of Tor Alessi (later called "The Battle of the Three Towers"), for over a hundred days Dawi engines of war (at that time, the Dwarfs had not discovered black powder) attacked the city's mighty walls and when it proved fruitless, they instead focused upon destroying the finely constructed towers. Eventually, the Dwarfs gained entrance to the fortress and Gotrek finally confronted Caledor at the heart of the city, where the pair duelled for three days on end, not stopping or disengaging for a second. Finally, when Caledor began to tire, Starbreaker disarmed him, broke his sword with the Rune-axe of Grimnir, and cast the Phoenix King to his knees. Pleading for his life, Caledor swore to surrender and sued for peace; however, Starbreaker not only saw that the King did not intend to keep his oath if his life was spared, but he also knew mercy was not his to give, only justice, executing him on the spot. As a final recompense, demanded so many years ago, Starbreaker took the Phoenix Crown from Caledor's head and declared the war to be ended.
The remaining Asur briefly considered the impossible task of besieging Karaz-a-Karak in order to reclaim the Crown but by this time Malekith's plan had come to fruition and the Druchii had launched a titanic invasion of Ulthuan, their legions of warriors raising the ancient sunken city of Anlec from the depths of the Great Ocean.
- "We scourged them from the forests and drove them from the lands. After that who were we to trade with? Commerce between our races had been the source of much wealth, tainted though it was. Worse, the cost in lives was much worse than the cost to our merchants. The finest warriors of three generations fell in that bitter struggle.... While we had warred with our faithless allies, the dark gathered its strength. We were weary of war when the black mountains belched forth their clouds of ash. The sky was overcast and the sun hid its face. Our crops died and our cattle sickened. Our people had returned to the safety of their cities; and from the very heart of our realm, from the place we imagined ourselves strongest, our foes burst forth."
With her armies depleted from the war against the Dwarfs and caught in complete surprise by the Dark Elves' invasion, Ulthuan ordered that all the Asur, soldier, civilian and otherwise retreat from the Old World to defend the Asur homeland while warning those that remained on the mainland would not be protected by Ulthuan. Though many left, those that felt they had little loyalty to Ulthuan chose to remain in their Old World colonies and travelled to the Forest of Athel Loren for protection, and became the Wood Elves.
The Dwarfs, though victorious, were left dangerously weakened, and unable to successfully combat Greenskin and Skaven incursions. This weakening allowed the Skaven to unleash a great catastrophe upon the Mountain Kingdoms in what is known by the Dwarfs as the Time of Woes.
Another Phoenix Crown was made to replace the first crown, which remained in the great treasure hoard of Karaz-a-Karak. The fortress of Sith Rionnasc'namishashir ("Star Gem of the Sea in Eltharin"), was flooded and dismantled brick by brick in -1502, marking the last result of the Betrayal between Elves and Dwarfs. Although some (mainly Elves) gainsay them, the Dwarfs claim to this day that they won the war. However the war cost both sides hundreds of thousands of lives along with cities, fortresses, mountains of treasure, and a powerful ally in each other. Neither side ever reached such heights of greatness ever again
- 1: War of Vengeance Trilogy