Hope you guys like running in circles with barely anything happening, because this chapter is mainly about politics! Yay? Also, knowing the names of the seven demon princes and which cardinal sin belongs to them may prove useful here, but it’s necessary.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
Chapter 5: First cracks
Amon looks at the three orcs in front of him, all three on their knees and in chains. Two of them are looking at the ground in front of them without as much of a puff, only the third was looking him in the eye. If it wasn’t beneath him to descend the stairs and be standing on the same tiles as the prisoner, Amon would’ve struck the orc for such insolence.
But that would’ve been wasted effort.
‘I, Amon the third, Grand Duke of Park and current patriarch of the Koning bloodline, shall now come to a verdict and declare the punishment for your crimes.’ He says.
Silence reigns the court room as everyone is waiting for his next words.
‘You three orcs,’ Amon says, neither deigning the orcs worthy of saying their names nor remembering these names, ‘Have been found wandering within the borders of Park. While neither of you have been connected to acts of raiding or plundering, the Dukedom of Park states that any orc setting foot on these lands are in violation of our laws.’
‘That’s hogwash! Firewell is territory of the Wild tribe!’ The defiant orc shouts.
‘Silence!’ Amon shouts. One of the armoured knights strikes the defiant orc up the back of his head with a metal fist to shut him up.
‘You walked on grasslands. Even if you were unaware of the current balance of the Firewell dispute, that would be enough ground to disclaim your pleas based upon ignorance!’ Amon says. ‘Not knowing the laws of a country is no excuse for breaking them!’
‘If the laws of your country are in direct violation with the Alliance treaties, it is!’ The defiant orc is struck again, Amon needn’t even order it this time.
‘How typical that you Wilds would remember the laws of the Allegiance when it benefits you.’ Amon says loathingly.
‘I told you, I’m not part of that tribe of savages! I’m a traveller here for the Mysterious scorch festival! Our tribe is not at war with your kingdom!’
‘Are you claiming that I’m not intelligent enough to remember your words, orc?’ Amon says. ‘You pleaded that before, but gave no proof for such claims. Therefore it has been dismissed.’
‘You can’t…! Hrmpfh!’ With a single gesture from Amon, the guard gags the defiant orc.
Amon sighs and returns to his throne. He shouldn’t show such weakness in his court, but starting a war with a tribe from the Allegiance would be even more problematic. The moment he sits down, his advisors walk to his side to give advice once more.
‘Why have you returned to your throne after proclaiming you reached your judgement, sire?’ General Beelze asks. ‘One should not be able to sway your mind once it’s been made up.’
‘Indeed, your will should reign supreme in your court and in your lands.’ Viceroy Asmodeus says.
‘Why would you even hesitate to execute these filthy savages? House Koning is just in its actions against these invaders. If you choose to change your mind, choose to execute the other two as well, not to spare that orc whose insolence already warrants his death.’ Lucy says.
With his sister’s statement finishing their collective plea, the faction in favour of war with the orcs grows silent waiting for his response. Amon expected as much, they got what they wanted at the end of the last discussion and weren’t eager to lose that moral victory.
‘We can’t risk it, if this orc is speaking the truth and you do end up executing a member of a tribe we’re not at war with, we could turn the entire Allegiance against us.’ Ser Belphegor says. ‘Even the orc tribes of other countries have no problems with our laws because it’s turned against the Wild tribe, but if their people were to be harmed by it…’
‘No need to break our heads about it. The Wild tribe will make a big fuss of it either way, even if he is one of them they’ll see no problem claiming otherwise. There’s no need to give them more kindling for their lies and deceit.’ Baron Leviathan says.
‘The last thing we need in times like these is another war. Who knows when the blight shall reach these lands?’ Kristal, the ambassador of Frühling village says.
Amon listens to these arguments of the pro-peace faction with a straight face betraying none of this thoughts or feelings as well. He glances over to his last advisor, but as expected treasurer Mammon refrains from giving his opinion on the matter. Not when peace and war are both profitable to him.
The advisors wait in silence for Amon to speak, none but Mammon allowed to say another word until he speaks.
‘I care not for the orc nor do I seek to change my judgement. However, I fear that there are too many factors of uncertainty.’ Amon says. ‘There are indeed many pilgrims from other lands in the area right now, though the Wilds would see no qualms with using that to their advantage sending spies into our lands.’
‘I do not ask for you to repeat your opinions. I only ask the answers to three questions. First: Was the Firewell part of the Wild’s territory during last year’s festival?’
Most of the advisors remain silent, for it was a complicated question. Firewell was a mana pool that both the Dukedom of Park and the Wild tribe claimed as theirs.
Considering its position, the grasslands surrounding it and the fact that the Wilds controlled two mana pools further inland, it was self-explanatory that Firewell belonged to Park. However, the Wilds had claimed otherwise for generations based upon rumours that the humans would be using the same wind magic as the elves to prevent the desert from claiming the pool. Based upon these lies, many times did their armies fight over the pool.
And these skirmishes were chaotic. Dominion of the pool could switch daily when both sides had amassed their armies, and more often than not would both sides be claiming control without knowing whose armies had prevailed the latest battle.
Where the true wars between Park and the Wilds were years in between, there were few months where none died over the pool. It was a centre of death and carnage and only by stationing well over two hundred men there had Amon managed to keep it his’ these last three weeks.
Which was problematic. While Park had a stable supply of mana water from the two elven villages, Firewell was still an important source of power to keep the many gears of his city turning. And the import of this water from other places was expensive, even before many sellers started disappearing to the blight.
Worst of all, Amon knew that the Wilds were only fighting over the pool to keep the conflict going.
‘Wait, I believe I remember!’ General Beelze says. ‘The Wilds always get more protective of the pool around the festival, so their larger force didn’t retreat when we approached. Yes, that was a fine battle, one were many orcs were slain!’
‘We won, so we were in control of the pool this date last year. I remember, for that was the day we slayed Baoc the Axe, one of Thallal’s most ruthless lieutenants who…’ Beelze says, only to be interrupted by Amon before his tale would stray any further from the topic.
‘Thank you, general. Second question; is there anyone nearby who could verify or disclaim the orc’s identity?’ Amon asks.
‘Unfortunately the ambassadors of the Allegiance left last week, and there are no orcs with arranged legitimation to tread upon your lands for another 6 months, sire.’ Sir Belphegor says. ‘There may be merchants around with experience trading with orcs, but we all know that the words of a Goblin merchant are even less reliable than those of a Wild. Not if bribery is involved.’
‘His clothes are too common for their origins to be identified, but his axe bears many resemblances to those used by the Wilds. However, the salt that he was carrying came from the sea rather than the endless salt desert.’ Mammon says. ‘Considering how cheap desert salt is around here, it’s almost impossible to find sea salt in these regions. The Wilds may be cunning enough to give him such salt for exactly that reason though.’
‘So we have no way to tell if he’s a Wild or not?’ Amon says. His advisors remain silent.
Amon sighs. ‘Third question: What are the chances of war if our judgement is wrong?’
‘Like I said, the Allegiance only tolerates our racist laws because they’re aimed at an even more problematic country.’ Ser Belphegor says. ‘If we execute…’
‘Even if the orc is truly from another tribe, he’s neither important nor can anyone prove he made it to these lands.’ Viceroy Asmodeus interrupts. ‘Long pilgrimages were already dangerous before, in times with the Immortals popping up everywhere it’s even more likely that he met his demise on the road. And that’s if he’s from another tribe to begin with.’
‘Indeed, he’s not even a shaman.’ Lucy says. ‘Even if he’s from another tribe we can lob his head off without much hassle.’
‘We can’t be talking about ending sentient life so easily!’ Kristal says.
Amon raises his hand to silence the advisors. ‘We’re running in circles, as none of you are planning to change opinion. I only want to hear the opinion of the neutral party here before I make my final judgement. Treasurer?’
Mammon remains silent for a second. ‘The Viceroy and the Duchess speak true, this orc has little status if he is a pilgrim. The Allegiance will have to overlook this occasion if they want to keep their trade network intact and our stream of gifts supplies to continue. Not even the orc’s pride will allow them to declare war upon you when they are struggling against the Blight. Chances of a negative outcome are negligible.’
‘It is decided then.’ Amon stands up.
‘For the two orcs who were caught walking our lands, you are sentenced to fight on the frontlines of the Blight war raging in Sanctuary. You shall be added to the group scheduled to depart at the next full moon, and be detained until then.’ Amon says. As expected of orcs from the Nihilist tribe, they barely even respond with a solemn nod to this statement.
‘As for the Wild one who bared his axe when my troops apprehended him and showed signs of hostility before surrendering, you will be executed tomorrow. In respect to your traditions, your execution will be held at 12:00 once the sun shines upon you. If the clouds obstruct the sun the execution will be delayed, but for no more than three days.’ Amon says.
The gagged orc tries to shout something, but the guard already grabbed him by the neck and hoists him away. The two Nihilists stand up and obediently follow.
‘Hmpf, damn Nihilists.’ Amon says. They were easily captured and didn’t resist when detained or traded to the Allegiance as cannon fodder, but their lack of spirit had been one of the biggest issues in finding allies against the Wilds. No soldier considered these people a worthy foe, and saw no glory in fighting them.
Not unless there was a Wild one with a whip behind them. Those Nihilists could get extreme when surrender was no option, and many had spread tales of Nihilists fighting despite losing an arm of being on fire when their overlords were breathing down their necks. Even the Dust were preferable over such extreme behaviours, at least their fighting spirit was consistently mediocre.
Well, it wasn’t as if there were many nobles looking for a mortal on mortal war these days.
He’d still take a hundred Nihilists over a single Wild one, though.
‘Hurry up, will ya?’
‘Relax, relax. The storm is at least 15 minutes away.’
Babo looks annoyed at Grik, who waves away any worry about the several miles tall wave of death approach them.
‘Say, what do you think of the new guy? The one who’ll be joining us tomorrow?’
‘The merc? Jonn, wasn’t it? How would I know what I’ll think of him? Haven’t met him yet.’
‘Come on, you’ve seen him. You’ve heard of him. You’ve got no first impression?’
‘He’s not a Wild, so that’s a plus. And I’ve heard he’s got some actual fighting experience, though not much. Still better than most of us.’
Babo looks at the large mass of sand hurling their way, blurring the horizon and being just moments away from blocking out the sun itself. How Grik could predict how long this massive force of nature would take before reaching them was still a mystery to him, it felt like it was just mere minutes before it would reach the wall. But Grik had proven his predicting skills many times before.
[i]‘Heh, got that right. Too bad he’s not a Dust like us though. And he’s actually got a respectable name, unlike ours. It would’ve been kinda funny if he had a Goblin-esk name too, wouldn’t it?’
‘My name isn’t a Goblin’s.’
‘Whatever. So, you’re sure those slaves aren’t going to make it?’
‘The ones we saw? Nah, they’ll never beat the sandstorm here. I’d say the storm hits ‘em about four minutes before the first reaches the wall, they’ll be sand beamed all the way to the bone.’
‘Besides, these conditions are exceptional. We’re not supposed to risk the wolves nor the wall facing a sandstorm to stop just a few slaves, much less our lives. So we shouldn’t even lower the Ramp if there were a hundred slaves inbound.’
‘And you think Garesh shares that opinion?’
‘I’d be worried if the slaves stood a chance of surviving this. In fact, I’m more worried about the lack of booze at the Lo hideout, you’re grumpy when you’re sober.’
‘Make a run for the Gate if you think you’ll make it.’
‘I would’ve, half an hour ago. But someone thought we wouldn’t make it and insisted we’d weather the storm in that damn mountain shack.’
Babo and Grik continue their banter walking towards the mountain foot. Behind them the small figures continue walking towards the wall with the great winds of sand in tow.
Grik was right, they never made it to the wall in time. The sandstorm struck the immortals a hundred yards before the Impaled and each grain of salt acted as a little grinding stone on their skin, tearing it away. The strong wind in their back only made the undead accelerate though.
Three of the undead Goblins were stopped by the Impaled, stuck on the spikes that normally only created bottlenecks. Four more fell when the storm hit them and were quickly buried underneath a thick layer of sand. However, two undead goblins and the only undead elf of the group were blown past the Impaled and easily scaled the Wall using the Ramp.
As expected of Immortals, they didn’t stop there. Where any mortal would’ve hidden behind the wall until the storm would blow over, the three zombies continued walking towards civilisation.
Ushor asked one of the nearby soldiers if they’d seen where Thallal was, and sighed when he heard that the chieftain still hadn’t left his tent. Such a bad sport, just like his father.
Bored, Ushor looked at Grrsh. The old, almost ancient, shaman didn’t respond. Ushor always wondered whether the elder shaman could still see with those glazed over eyes, or if he was truly judging purely from sound. A question he’d never known, not when Grrsh couldn’t answer in anything but grunts and gestures. The latter of which were getting more sparse every year.
Ushor looked at the contestants waiting in line. He understood the impatience they showed, this wasn’t the first recess today nor was it the longest. He briefly wondered how much more impatient they’d be if they knew of the sand storm coming in. No doubt the festival would have to be postponed once that happened.
If only he and Grrsh could do this without Thallal, it would be so much easier and fairer. But it was tradition and Ushor knew what hell he’d unleash if he were to ever stray from tradition. It was his single strongest argument against Thallal’s almost absolute word of law and one of the few reasons why he had some sovereignty around here unlike the other orc leaders.
No, if he were ever to create a precedent of breaking with traditions, Thallal would never let him hear the end of it. Ushor sighed again and steeled his resolve to wait for Thallal’s return.
‘I know, Grrsh. I want to get this over with as well.’