Day 16 - The Ghorral (part 2)






continues from part 1




THE PLAYERS

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

Lord Captain Jak Naerl (NAIR-el) – 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 Kerr (kur) Jamest (Jay-mest) – 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

Nephilim (neh-fil-em) – the Ghorral's interpreter

Arkel (ar-kel) – King of the Realm

and now, enjoy the conclusion to our story









THE GHORRAL (PART II)


The guards in Lord General Jarret Rusk's tent looked nervous, fingering swords, shifting stances, one even biting his lip, but the simple truth was that the officers were too nervous themselves to call the guards down. Rusk had been involved in a score of Parlays, and they were always tense affairs, with the possibility of treachery ever hanging in the air.

This time it was not just Parlay causing sweat on palms, but who was about to come through the tent flap. This was the Ghorral! The stuff of legend, of nightmares, a spectre no man in the King's Legion had ever seen.

No living man.

Thoughts of treachery were part of it too. Could the Ghorral be planning a ruse, a trick to get into this tent just to wreak havoc? Could the Ghorral break Parlay?Why not? Thought Rusk. He'd not be the only one contemplating it.

The plan was simple, as any effective plan had to be. A series of questions, culled from the collective knowledge of General Rusk's officers, serving to see if they actually had their man. That was important. Killing the Ghorral might have dangerous repercussions, but slaying the wrong man was worse than folly.

That was part of it. As for the rest...

No one had liked the plan, but all saw the need, once Rusk explained it. Whether or not to kill the Ghoral was a large decision, and not one to be made lightly. Rusk knew almost immediately upon hearing the offer that he would gather as much information as possible before unsheathing his sword. He also knew that would be impossible while carrying on the forms and formalities of Parlay.

Which is why someone else needed to be him.

There was only one real choice, although Jak Naerl had gone so far as to volunteer, as if that would not give them away on the instant. Truth be told, Captain Matten D'Arcy looked much more the part of a Lord General, with his tall straight back, hard sinewy build, silver hair and clear eyes even approaching his 73rd name day. Anyone could be forgiven for thinking him the King's man out here in the Eastern Realm.

The plan left Rusk armed, which was all to the good, for any killing would come from his own sword Mountain Slayer. The name made Jarret Rusk smile, recalling the gift on his 10th name day. It was man's sword, but Jarret was too keen on using it in the practice yards to wait until his full growth. To compensate for the largeness Jarret had to swing the blade in huge arcs, a sight so comical one of the other boys commented it looked like he was trying to slay mountains. Impulsively Jarret took that as his sword's name, stoutly telling all who would hear he would slay mountains, one day.

Perhaps that day had come.

The guards at the tent flap stirred, and Jarret Rusk knew the time was upon them.  For the first time since campaigning as a raw recruit Rusk knew fear, knew it deep in his gut. He kept his fact impassive, but it was an effort not to caress his own sword for comfort.

The tent opened, and Captain Naerl entered, followed by...a man. A god. One look at him and there was no doubt.

The Ghorral.

He stood seven and a half feet if he was an inch. Flaming red hair flowed halfway down the Ghorral's back, with a beard halfway down his front. Muscles bulged everywhere, straining at the boiled leather that covered him from head to toe. Around his shoulders was a bear skin, and from the size of it Rusk would have liked to seen that bear alive. More than all his other larger-than-life features were the Ghorral's eyes. Black as obsidian, they drank in the light.

The man—and General Rusk was sure now, upon full gaze that it was a man, though any soldier could be forgiven for thinking otherwise—had no visible weapon, but he did not need one. Just standing there the Ghorral gave off menace in waves, like an over-stoked oven. Rusk kept his hands at his sides but others in the tent eased swords from scabbards almost unconsciously.

At close quarters like this swords might be almost more a hindrance than a help, and Jarret Rusk realized with cold certainty that if he wanted, the Ghorral might be able to kill them all without a weapon of any kind.

The Ghorral was a weapon, just standing there.

Captain Naerl cleared his throat and spoke to the Ghoral. “May I present His Majesty King Arkel's anointed Commander in the Eastern Realm, Lord General Jarret Rusk.”

A short man standing behind the Ghorral spoke in a strange tongue up to the Giant, and Rusk realized with a start he had completely missed the entrance of the interpreter. He looked to be one of the hill folk, plainly garbed in what was probably the best clothes he owned. Standing next to the Ghorral the man looked like a child.

After the words were spoken the interpreter turned to Matten D'Arcy and and said, “My Lord, you have the privilege to be facing the Scourge of the East, the Titan of the Mountains and Emperor of all where there is sky...the Ghorral.”

Matten D'Arcy looked a touch nervous himself, but with a steady voice, answered. “Please tell...the Ghorral that we are pleased he offered Parlay. However, we must be sure it is really him. We need a few answers that only the Ghorral would know before we are certain he indeed has the right to speak for...his army.”

The interpreter relayed this information, and the Ghorral's face flushed an angry red, almost the same shade as hair and beard. The Ghorral glared at D'Arcy, and Rusk admired the man's fortitude not to take an involuntary step back. Under that piercing gaze Jarret Rusk was not sure he could have done the same.

The Ghorral shouted a few words in that strange tongue, his hands flying all over as he shook with anger. The shouting went on for over two minutes, a harangue in any language. Finally the Ghorral finished with a shake of his finger, which the interpreter took without flinching. The man turned back to D'Arcy and said succinctly, “The Ghorral is not pleased.”

Captain D'Arcy seemed at a loss and Rusk wondered if he needed to speak when Kerr Jamest stepped up and spread his hands openly in a conciliatory gesture. He said, “I am Lord Kerr Jamest, King Arkel's personal ambassador to the East. May I ask your name?”

When the interpreter had given that information he said, “I am called Nephilim, my Lord.”

Rusk's aide Calyn twitched at that name, and Rusk sorely wished there was opportunity to mine the lad's knowledge, but Jamest was speaking again. “Nephilim, yes, would you please humbly apologize to the Ghorral for us. There is no wish to offend, but surely he can understand that after twelve years where no one has ever seen him the Army would be unsure. No one is calling the Ghorral's credibility into question, not at all, but most of our enemies are known by sight, where as the Ghorral is only known to the Army—and back at Xenanth, to the entire court, I might add—by his fearsome reputation. Please also add that when I return to Xenanth I will be very pleased to tell quite a few young ladies that the Ghorral is more of a man than even the legends imagined.”

There had been a slight shift in the the Ghorral's stance when Jamest mentioned the ladies, and Rusk was now positive that the interpreter was just for show. He hoped the other men took note of this and watched how and what they said. Rusk saw Calyn look at him, and nodded almost imperceptibly to say he understood.

Once Jamest's flowery words were interpreted the Ghorral grunted and spoke just a few words. Nephilim considered for a moment, and then said, “My Lords, the Ghorral grudgingly accedes to this request of yours. He would like to point out that he has never seen you, but asks no proof of your right to command your Army. The Ghorral further wishes me to remind you all that Parlay is a revered custom, and going against it could truly offend the gods. Nonetheless the Ghorral says that if it will put your mind at ease ask any questions you need to be sure you know what you are doing.”

That cut a little too close to the bone, and some of the guards swallowed at the idea of offending the gods, but Captain D'Arcy took up his task immediately and began with the inquiry. The questions mostly dealt with battles the Ghorral had taken part in, times and places. Rusk realized this Nephilim could know all of that too, if he'd been serving the Ghorral long, and ruefully wished he had set up an option to forgo the questions. It put the Ghorral on the defensive, which they didn't need. Then again, maybe it would push the man off balance just enough to give Rusk an insight as to what he should do.

In short order the questions were asked and everyone satisfied. Lord Jamest had another flowery speech of apology where he managed to compliment the Ghorral several times, and even imply obliquely that if the Ghorral were to surrender the King might marry him to one of those fine ladies of the court.

This hint was so veiled that who knew if this Nephilim even caught it, and what the Ghorral might make of it if the message translated intact. In any event the Ghorral obviously meant to get down to business. He ticked off four fingers as he emphatically drove the points home with his man, and Nephilim translated for them all.

The Ghorral wishes to tell you why he has offered Parlay. It is not from a place of weakness, for as you all well know the Ghorral has never lost a battle. But rather, the Ghorral is the ruler of the hill dwellers and people of the mountains, and responsible for them just as you are to your soldiers. And unlike most of your Lords, the Ghorral actually cares about his smallfolk, and so to avoid further bloodshed and destruction of his people's lands, the Ghorral makes this offer:

Withdraw your troops and go back to the King's Realm. The East is no longer a part of it. The Ghorral claims the land all the way to the Borren Marshes. He does not actually claim the Marsh itself, but says that can be a buffer between the two lands, so there is no misunderstanding.

Furthermore, reparations must be paid from King Arkel for all the crops stolen from the hill dwellers. We have an accounting of how much it is, and fair market price is to be determined, based on the most favorable prices to the Hill Dwellers, whether that be the prices when the crops were taken or now. Once this has been rectified the Ghorral says that the people of the Realm are welcome to trade with his people, and buy such crops and ore from the mountains as they have need.”

Nephilim stopped speaking but started when the Ghorral motioned him.

Oh, one other thing. To ensure the withdrawal of the army is peaceful, the Ghorral requires Lord Kerr Jamest to come with us as hostage as well as the King's nephew. I am afraid I do not know his name, but my understanding is that man is a Lieutenant. Surely you would know.”

Captain D'Arcy looked almost poleaxed, and Rusk couldn't much blame him. When he heard the Ghorral offered Parlay Rusk had tried to imagine what the man might want. It seemed too much to hope a simple end to hostilities. Rusk mused that that Ghorral might ask to be Warden of the East, at least as an opening gambit. But this! The Ghorral might as well ask for Rusk's head! If General Rusk returned to Xenanth with those terms he would lose his head.

The King would be furious. He would send the entire Army out here to deal with the “usurper,” leaving the rest of the Realm unprotected. Suddenly Rusk's eyes narrowed. Was it possible the Ghorral was in contact with other enemies at the Realm's borders? A conspiracy to draw all the attention East to destroy the Realm?   

Others might not have the exact same thoughts, but they clearly were thinking along similar lines. After the deafening silence that followed Nephilim making the Ghorral's demands it seemed everyone started talking at once. Jak Naerl was gesturing angrily and Kerr Jamest was trying to plead with the small man how impossible the plan was. Even D'Arcy was affected by the mood.

The Ghorral was taking all three of them in, plainly not happy, but at the same time almost proud of the uproar he was causing. All of his attention was on the three men, especially Naerl, who seemed about ready to draw his own sword, Jarret Rusk realized this was his chance.

That he could not let the Ghorral leave here was clear. The plan was madness, and obviously the giant could not be reasoned with. Rusk started slowly easing his sword from the scabbard, trying not to make a sound.

Calyn saw what Rusk was doing and immediately sprang into action. Rushing to the Ghorral he fell down upon his knees and started crying out, “Oh great Ghorral! Oh great Ghorral! You are the true king. Please let me be a loyal subject!”

Calyn pulled a sack of gold from his waist and emptied the pouch at the Ghorral's feet, bowing low and prostrate. Nephilim seemed at a loss with who or what to interpret, and the Ghorral lost his angry stare, looking more than a little amused. 

Rusk had the sword free and was moving before he could think about what he was doing. Straight through the back should do the trick, but the Ghorral was so behemoth..what if it didn't kill him?

Jarret Rusk ran two steps and leaped up, like he was that ten year old boy in the practice yards, and swung Mountain Slayer in a great arc. The blade proved true as the Ghorral's head came off in one clean shot, falling to the floor next to Calyn with a thud.

Blood splattered everywhere, staining canvas and men without distinction. The Ghorral's headless body stood there for a moment longer, as if the man refused to believe he was dead, and then fell ponderously to the floor with a great crash, and ever still more blood. It soaked into the bear skin, and out onto the ground.

I will have to replace this tent. And odd thought, after what had just happened, but sometimes that's the way of it.

Rusk's actions had taken everyone by surprise. All but Nephilim knew what could be coming, but the plan had been to wait until the very end. Still, they recovered quickly.

Kerr Jamest took of his cloak and replaced it with a fresh one, dabbing the blood out of his hair best he could. A smile bloomed on Captain Naerl's face, and he made no move to remove the blood, as if it was his own deed. Matten D'Arcy pursed his lips slightly, but immediately began directing guards to remove the corpse and clean up as best they could.

Poor Calyn, who had acted so spontaneously to aid his commander turned on the ground to stare at the severed head, only inches away from him. He seemed not to realize he was covered in blood and gore.

As for Nephilim, he just stared at the headless body of the Ghorral, as if his salvation was lost forever. He muttered something in that strange tongue, sounded almost like a prayer, and pulled small dagger from his coat. Holding it in both hands he plunged it into his stomach.

Naerl recovered first and dove at the man just as the blade moved. The result was that the dagger only entered Nephilim's side, and put a gash in Captain Naerl's arm as well. By then everyone was moving and the blade grasped out of the man's hands.

He made no move to fight, just sat there, staring at nothing. Rusk had both men seen to—neither cut was deep enough to do serious injury, and then called Nephilim to him.

I am Lord General Jarret Rusk.” Nephilim blinked, and then smiled bitterly.

My Lord, you will forgive me, but the Ghorral had more honor in one finger than all of you put together.”

That well may be be, Nephilim, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  It it is any consolation to you, know that such an action would not have been considered if the Ghorral as not such an fearsome enemy. Like him, like you, I wish to see no more people die than necessary, whether it be my own troops or the hill folk. It very well may be we can come to some accommodation for payment. You have my word I will try when I return to Xenanth.”

It was not likely, but Rusk would try. He was touched by the courage of these people in spite of himself.

With your leader gone this war need not continue. You can kill yourself in grief in you would like, but not until you have delivered my terms. Tell your people to lay down arms and return to their homes. All who do so in the next 3 days will not be taken prisoner, and no further punishment will be inflicted. Anyone who remains will be destroyed.”

General Rusk looked at Nephilim, trying to get through. “As a leader you have to make choices that are sometimes distasteful, and I bear the responsibility for that.  I regret not being able to defeat such a mighty warrior in the field, but I have to look out for the whole Realm, not just my sense of fairness. Some day you may understand that.”

Nephilim nodded, but his eyes seemed listless, dead. Rusk ordered Captain Naerl to accompany the man back to his camp, to make sure the message got delivered.  It might be dangerous, with the Ghorral not returning, but Rusk knew Naerl would leap at the opportunity to prove his valor. Then he turned to Matten D'Arcy.

Gather all the Lord Captains, and you too, Lord Jamest. We must plan for all eventualities come morning.”

Kerr Jamest grimaced. “Could we not at least find a different, less used tent?”

No.” Jarret Rusk's voice was hard, the voice of a Lord General. “There is not a tent big enough for all of us, and besides, the least we owe that man is to sit here, to take in what we have done, to remember the Ghorral for what he was.”

***

Lord Captain Jak Naerl led Nephilim back to his own camp. The blood had dried on their clothes quickly in the cold, but each footprint still left dark red traces in the snow.

The two were silent for long minutes, and finally Nephilim spoke, his voice flat. “Seal the tent shut when you return, and burn it to the ground, along with everyone in it. That should leave you in command, and tomorrow you are to lead the entire Army to the Khyber Pass. Any scouts you send, make sure they are inexperienced. I will take care of the rest.”

“It will be done.” Jak Naerl's voice was soft, but rang with conviction. They had reached the edge of the woods. Nephilim paused at the tree line.

Oh, and Jak? Make sure you are at the very rear. I would not want to come down on you by accident.”

Naerl rubbed his head, where a faint bump still existed from their first encounter.    “I learned my lesson from last time. To lead you must see the front, but you cannot command from it. A lesson well learned, my Emperor.”

The Ghorral winked at Captain Naerl, and walked into the forest without a backward glance.





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1 comment:

jadriana said...

This was so good - not the ending I was expecting at all!