the Ghorral

The following story is a work in progress, one I plan on submitting to trade magazines once finished. Since it could be weeks or even months before I get everything just the way I want it, I thought I would go ahead and share with you and get your reaction. Who knows? Maybe you will have ideas to improve things. The story breaks up into two parts, with Part 1 today and Part 2 tomorrow.

A Note on pronunciation:

One of the things I hate is when you are reading a story and have no idea how to pronounce the names and place. Since every story I've ever written was meant to be read aloud, I offer this pronunciation guide and quick cast overview

in case it might help:


Lord General Jarret (JAR-ett ) Rusk – Commander of the King's Army in the Eastern Realm

Lord Captain Jak Naerl (nair-ell) – a young officer, newly promoted to Lord Captain

Lord Captain Matten (ma-TEEN) D'Arcy (dar-see) – the longest serving Lord Captain in the army

Lord Captain Kerr (kur) Jamest (jaim-est) – royal advisor from the King's court
Calyn (cal-ENN) – General Rusk's aide

Xenanth (zen-ANTH) – the capitol of the Realm

the Ghorral (gore-ull, rhymes with oral, floral, quarrel or moral) – the Enemy

and now, enjoy our story


My Lord, you must kill the Ghorral. We may never have an opportunity like this again.”

Lord General Jarret Rusk looked over at Lord Captain Jak Naerl, the man's eyes burning almost feverishly with conviction. The other Lord Captains all thought their newest and youngest member brash and impulsive, but Naerl was the only one to have faced the Ghorral in the field, the only one to have faced the Ghorral and lived to tell about it, and that carried weight too.

General Rusk shifted his gaze to Lord Captain Matten D'Arcy, by far the oldest and most experienced of Captain in the Legion. That was not necessarily a compliment. With more courage Captain D'Arcy would have made General years ago. Why, the old man had been a soldier almost twenty years the day Rusk joined the King's Legions. Even back then D'Arcy was assiduous in his duties, never one to break protocol in the slightest, and his response was no surprise now.

My Lord, no matter how tempting the situation, we simply cannot break the rules of Parlay. Do that, and we lose who and what we are. Forgive me my Lord, but if we do that, we become more like the Ghorral himself.”

General Rusk almost grimaced in spite of himself. He looked to the third Lord standing there, Kerr Jamest. Lord Jamest was the royal advisor, straight from the King's own court in Xenanth, and he always played the political angles. Jamest's usual approach was to seem to agree with everyone, and he did not disappoint.

My Lord, as you well know, the rules of Parlay are older than the Kingdom itself, and as close to sacrosanct as a fighting man is likely to get. To allow the leaders of two armies to meet in truce and discuss terms has saved countless lives over the millennia, and we would not be much of a civilization if we dropped that.”

Jamest paused, as if his next thought just now occurred to him. The consummate diplomat. “On the other hand, from just the little time I have spent out here in the East I can see the impact the mere mention of the Ghorral brings. Certainly from my time back in Xenanth, I can say with complete assurance that his majesty is most vexed with the continued presence of the Ghorral. Some of the lower ranks of the court have even taken to calling him the 'Scourge of the East,' and whisper that he cannot be killed. The Ghorral's death might have a propagandistic effect that equals or even surpasses the military one, which is considerable itself I understand, and would almost certainly outweigh any disapprobation breaking custom might bring in the King's eyes”

Jarret Rusk blinked. Jamest used flowery words, and often hid behind them, until a man thought he heard promises Jamest never gave. It was true enough, though, that both courses of action brought risk. It would not sit well at the Lord General's Council of War if Rusk broke the rules of Parlay, and who knew what the court might make of it, no matter what Jamest hinted at.

But this was the Ghorral.

Jarret Rusk sighed inwardly, letting none of it show on his face. The Ghorral had been a thorn in the King's side for almost a dozen years, and the very reason Rusk was here now. There was not a Captain with time served in the Eastern Realm who did have at least one story of some epic military feat the Ghorral had pulled off.

The Ghorral was a living legend, so much so that more than once Rusk had openly wondered whether the name was anathema, a totem used to inspire fear and terror in the soldiers of the Realm.

It was true that more than a few new recruits found first duty in the Eastern Realm, too inexperienced to know to avoid the place, and not enough seniority to do anything about once they learned.

More than once Rusk had been in the field as a Lieutenant and even as a Captain and seen the effect the Ghorral could have on the soldiers. His name would rip through the ranks like wild brushfire, the seeds of fear planted wherever they were sown.

Unfortunately, Rusk had also seen why the reputation existed in the first place, and he had to admit the Ghorral had earned respect as much as any of his own men. More so. A Lieutenant would never enter the field with fewer than five squads, usually a full company. A Lord Captain would have an entire regiment behind him. (Or usually in front of him. Not many men lived long enough to make Lord Captain who did not figure out a leader needed to see the front to be effective, but could not command from it.)

The Ghorral had...bits and pieces at best. Some of the hill folk, tired of the King taking a third of all they could harvest. Whatever men lived up in the mountains, now more animal than man. Perhaps a few from the Realm proper who found the King's grip on his people too much like a yoke.

There could not be much more than that. Yet with those meager forces, and armed with only such weapons as they could craft themselves or steal off the dead the Ghorral led his men—and sometimes women too, if you could believe all the stories—unflinchingly into battle.

Never directly into battle, of course; the Legion was the finest trained army in the world. No, the Ghorral loved to strike at the army's flanks without warning, only to melt into the mountains when chased. And they dared not chase too far, for another favorite tactic was to wait in ambush for some wayward company that wandered too far off course. Then the Ghorral would fall on the enemy, like a mountain falling on a man, so a song went the smallfolk liked to sing. (And some of his own soldiers too, around a campfire with a mug of ale when they thought their commanders were not listening.)

The songs were not that far off. Rusk had on more than one occasion seen the aftermath of a battle the Ghorral had been a part of. Such devastation. Such total slaughter. Disheartening was not even in it.

A small motion brought General Rusk out of his reverie. His aide Calyn had something to say, but would never presume to interrupt Lord Captains, let alone when his Lord General sought consultation. The boy was self-effacing, too much so, but he had a powerful mind on him, and often saw what others did not. Some officers would not even admit the enlisted men could think, but Jarret Rusk was not such a man. Only a fool ignored wise counsel.

Rusk looked over at his aide, and making it seem his idea, commanded. “Legionman Calyn, I would know your thoughts.”

Three sets of eyes turned in unison to stare at the boy, Captain Naerl's glittering with hate, while Lord Jamest looked, if anything, considering. Calyn swallowed visibly under the weight of such gaze, but he'd been ordered by his commander.

My Lord, as to whether or not the extraordinary step of breaking Parlay should be taken I have nothing to say. It is not my place to think about such things as should only trouble Lords.” He swallowed again, and then went on. “My Lord, perhaps we should consider why the Ghorral has made this offer of Parlay. I have only been serving a short time, but my understanding is that we have never received any communication from the Ghorral before.” A short nervous laugh, and Calyn finished almost in a rush. “To hear the other lads tell it, no one has even seen the Ghorral before!”

Now all gazes went to Jak Naerl, who looked both proud and defensive at the same time. Jak had survived a battle with the Ghorral, and this earned him much honor in the eyes of the men, perhaps even led to the promotion. The truth held somewhat less glory.

Rusk had the story out of the man the first day he arrived. After all, the army was out here to defeat the Ghorral, and Rusk turned away no one's help. It took ten minutes before Captain Naerl admitted he had never actually seen the Ghorral, and it took a direct order to find out why: the man had been knocked unconscious at the beginning of battle, and left for dead. No shame in that, but Rusk understood why Captain Naerl would not want that information spread around.

Naerl looked reluctant, but spoke. “I have not laid eyes on the Ghorral, nor has anyone I know of. I do not know why he would offer Parlay here, but who can know the mind of a savage? We need to focus on our opportunity, and take this step. My Lord, we could end the war with one stroke.” He paused, and looked cunning. “My Lord, if it is the other generals that worry you, let me do the deed. You can say afterwards I acted without orders, and no shame will come to you.”

General Rusk gave the man a withering look. In icy tones he said, “Captain, you are new to the position, so let me give you a bit of advice: a Lord is responsible for what he does. What he orders he himself has done, whether or not he holds the sword.” If anything, Rusk's voice became harder. “And if you're going to kill a man, flouting all custom and tradition, you damn well better be willing to do it yourself.”

Forgive me, my Lord, I meant no offense. I was simply overcome with the opportunity to do so much good in one single stroke, and I forgot myself.” Naerl looked at the floor, properly chastened. Or maybe it was an act. The man would do anything to get his way.

Lord Jamest cleared his throat: “My Lord, your aide's thought brings to my mind another point:if we do not know what the Ghorral looks like, how will we know we even have the right man?”

Rusk did not need the slight flicker in his aide's eyes to know this was one point he hoped the Captains came up with themselves. To voice one thought no one else had might be tolerated. Voicing two could be hazardous. Everyone seemed to consider this latest question. Captain D'Arcy used the opportunity to press his side anew.

“My Lord, this is all the more reason for caution, to hear what the Ghorral has to say. If we kill the wrong man by mistake, it will only inflame the small folk, while exposing us as Oath-breakers. And this does not even begin to answer how we are to speak to the Ghorral if and when he arrives.”

Lord Jamest looked surprised for the first time, but Rusk knew to what D'Arcy referred. Part of the Ghorral's legend was that he refused to speak the Common Tongue. Most said he could not, although the reason for that ranged from the Ghorral being an uncultured savage all the way to some who said he was not even human. Rusk had even heard a tale back in Xenanth once from an old Mage who claimed that the Ghorral was the last of a race who lived long ago up in the Mountains, a race called Ghorral. The Mage went on to say that this ancient race spoke an Older Tongue, and would never deign to learn the Common Tongue now spoken in the Realm.

General Rusk saw his aide make another unobtrusive hand motion, but this time he knew the answer as well. “Whether he can't or simply won't speak our language, I've heard it said the Ghorral always speaks through an interpreter. I do not think we will have a problem there.”

Captain Naerl's eyes flickered at this, and Rusk looked at the man inquiringly. “That explains something,” Naerl said uncomfortably. “When my Command was ambushed by the Ghorral's people I heard a shout that went something like 'The Ghorral comes! The Ghorral comes! May your guts liquefy in fear at his mighty presence!'”

Naerl said this as if remembering, and his voice took on conviction as he finished, as if still on the battlefield. He continued, shrugging, “I always thought the Ghorral was just referring to himself in the third person.”

That brought laughter all around, and even Calyn's mouth twitched in a near smile. Jak Naerl struggled for a moment, his neck flushing slightly, but then gave over and joined in the laughter. He might be all right, after some seasoning.

Every man had his opinion, but the General knew the decision fell to him. In many ways, this was why there were generals in the first place. And much uncertainty. But something had to be done.

My Lords, this is what we are going to do.....”

Up tomorrow: Part 2


tiff said...

Hmmmm,I see a trojan horse in this tale's future....

Is its name Calyn?

Dragon said...

I'm looking forward to part 2!