Location: Rhokii Mountains
Time: AO 295
Before I move the story forward with Hacktor, I wanted to add a little more color commentary about his father and this time I’ll take you inside Baldur’s mind. Oh don’t worry, Hacktor Derkillez is still the star of the show, but since some rather nasty stuff happens to his father, I thought it might benefit you to know a little backstory about him first – so you won’t feel so bad when old Baldur The Bold bites the dust. And if you’re wondering how I knew his thoughts – remember, for those who had a penchant for the ‘dark side’ I could easily tap into their minds. YOU are lucky I no longer possess this ability – I’m sure you have quite a few skeletons in your closet too.
The king’s library at Rhokki Pass was filled with every copy of The Drokka Kroniklz — all original editions — as well as rare and priceless books from throughout the underworld — and even a few from distant cities that laced the far reaches of TerrVerde above. Yet tonight it was empty — save for a father and his son. They sat together trying to reconnect a relationship that had started out so well when the son was young, but that had derailed when the child was taken away during his most formative years — taken away without his father’s blessing.
I wonder if Hacktor knows how much I tried to resist Mirkir? Kon-Herr Drokka Baldur III thought as he looked at the man his son had become. Does he know I nearly laid down my crown to keep him by my side? Yet Mirkir was always one step ahead — making it impossible for me to abdicate without ruining Hacktor’s future too.
As the time for Hacktor’s return to court had grown near, Baldur found himself both excited and scared. Baldur had been on the throne now for over sixty years, but he wasn’t ready to give it up yet. Hacktor is coming to replace me — perhaps not right away, but it’s inevitable. He knows it as well as I.
Despite his emotions, Baldur, now eighty-five yet still hale and sharp, had gone out of his way to make sure his oldest son’s arrival home would be both memorable and welcoming. It was a blow to Bran and perhaps Hecla as well, but those personal slights could not be avoided; the old king desperately wanted Hacktor feel good about coming back to Rhokki Pass and he meant to do everything in his power to make that happen. And so, extravagant feasts were held for a week in Hacktor’s honor. A throne, nearly as grand as Baldur’s own, was added to the dais in The Hall of the Double Axes. Hacktor was even invited to sit at the king’s right hand as Baldur held court and welcomed gifts from the world over — to be lavished upon Hacktor. He’d invited his son to a council meeting and given him a spot on high council itself. And most importantly of all, Baldur had formally recognized Hacktor as his heir on the very day of his arrival.
Yet in spite of all his efforts, as Baldur sat with Hacktor in the library tonight he honestly had no idea how his son felt about him.
Did I do enough to show him I love him? That I want him here? That I need him by my side? Baldur sank deeper into his chair, studying Hacktor. The prince was dressed in a smoke colored tunic, with a charcoal cape pinned by a tiny golden axe, jet-black stockings, and heavy military-style black boots. He looks like a general from a story book sitting before me. What happened to the boy that Mirkir took from me?
For a moment, Baldur got lost in thought – remembering the time when Hacktor and his twin Hecla were still toddlers. Those were good years. We three loved each other. We were happy. Together we could have conquered the world (1).
All this and more raced through Baldur’s mind as he looked at his beloved son. Yet the tallow had barely started burning before Hacktor broached a subject that Baldur was hoping he would avoid — War. Specifically, Hacktor was recommending that he be authorized by the king to lead an army to the Overworld in order to anex The Blackwood Forest.
Eighteen winters is but a drop in the waters of life, son. Baldur shuddered. I pray Mirikir and Haraclez have not filled your mind with their zealous lies so much that you can no longer recognize true wisdom. Yet to Hacktor he replied with a guarded question, “My son, why go to war over wood?”
Hacktor was sideswiped by Baldur’s inquiry. “Wood?” The prince stammered. “WOOD? With all due respect, sire, we’re not talking about just wood, we’re talking about Blackwood — the very lifeblood of our people.” (2).
“The Drokka Kroniklz are filled with countless tomes that detail the history of our people before there was this need for Blackwood.” Baldur calmly replied. “And yet our ancestors still survived.”
“Survived, but not thrived.” Hacktor countered. “Father, do I have to remind you that we live inside the bowels of the earth? Blackwood is not just a source for fuel, it provides for the most vital part of our daily needs — light, warmth, cooking fire, and the list goes on. Why not a single part of our lives is not touched by it anymore.”
“Let me ask you — what did our forefathers like Ajax do without Blackwood? Isn’t he still your hero? And yet Ajax didn’t have blackwood, did he?”
“Pah! Forget about Ajax, sire. Why must you be so difficult? You know as well as I that our people made do with whatever was available back then. Be it coal, moss, or one of the other natural resources from the deep depths.” Hacktor was annoyed. “But surely you see how the opportunity to use blackwood changed the game for us? Come now, you can’t deny the massive benefits of blackwood — it’s easier to burn, gives off little smoke, doesn’t throw sparks — obviously very important for controlling dangerous fires within our close confines — and just one small log lasts nearly a full day.”
“Indeed, those are nice luxuries to have.” Baldur agreed.
“Your entire life is luxury, father. Why are you being so difficult? You know as well as I that blackwood is not just a luxury for our citizens, it is a basic necessity. And one which I mean to secure control of.”
“Interesting. But for the small stand of blackwood trees that line our main gates, last I heard it was the Derkka who controlled the majority of the blackwood.” (3).
“For now.” Hacktor grumbled. “And only because those slavers live in the overworld and Blackwood Forest is in their lands. Yet I tell you we’ve been under their domination long enough. It needs to change and I will be the one to do it.”
“And what says Mirkir to all of this?”
Hacktor’s voice was wary, “He agrees with me.”
“And The Council?”
“It’s YOUR Council!” Hacktor didn’t fall for his father’s trap.
Well at least he’s got a bit of smarts to him, Baldur’s grizzled gray beard covered a smile, “Son, I appreciate your input. And as time goes on I hope you will come to realize that I am going to make every effort to ensure you have a strong voice on the council. No, strike that, let me say it differently — I want you to know that you will help me decide how to run this kingdom. We shall rule together and your voice will be heard. But on this matter, I ask you to stand by me and take a little time to see how things really are. Now that you are out from under Mirkir’s thumb, I mean to show you what the real world is like. I think you’ll see soon enough that our trade agreements with the Derkka, excuse me ‘our rivals’ as you called them, are actually just fine. More than fine actually. Son, we’ve made tremendous strides in improving the lives of Drokka’s everywhere. There is no more need for war. No famine. No poverty. The people are happy, our merchants are enjoying new trade agreements, and even our royal family has prospered like never before. The kingdom is richer than it’s ever been — and one day it will all be yours, Hacktor.” (4)
Meanwhile, Hacktor’s ire was growing the more his father spoke. “It’s all an illusion, sire. Why can’t any of you see what’s really happening? The trade imbalance is growing — and not in our favor. The more our people rely on blackwood — and that reliance is deepening — the more we become subject to the whims of the Derkka. Are you so blind?” (5)
At that Baldur finally got upset. “Beware who you are talking to, Prince Hacktor.”
“Alas, I meant no insult. I just…” The young knight backtracked before risking it all by revealing, “Sire, I need you to know something — I have spoken to the gods at the Well of Wyzdom! The Spirit encouraged me to take action now by leading our armies into The World Above and exterminating those Derkka terrorists in their own nests!” And before Baldur could process what his son was saying, Hacktor continued, “Don’t you see — we can finally gain control of The Blackwoods, and perhaps even destroy Marduk Garrick too. Think how grateful the world will be to m-, er, to US!”
My god, Rhokki, can it really be this bad? Has Mirkir poisoned my son’s mind this much? Baldur took a moment before replying, “Hacktor, never forget that The Spirit ONLY counsels war. Is that really all that you want? Is that what you think the people want? I’d caution you to look at The Spirit’s prophecies for what they are — they only ever lead to heartbreak and misfortune.” (6)
Hacktor sat with his mouth agape as Baldur surmised, He’s trying to process the heresy I just committed in his presence. And before his son could speak, The King continued. “There is more to life than war. There is more to wisdom than The Spirit of the Well. Every Kon-Herr has been tempted by The Spirit, but few have the power to resist. I did and it has made all the difference. And I’m telling you, out of love, that you too must resist the fruit The Spirit offers — for it can only lead to your doom.”
“But…what about…” Hacktor struggled, “The Blackwoods?”
“Blackwoods be damned!” Baldur grated. “Yes, The Blackwoods are important to us, but they’re not worth going to war over. Perhaps our people have come to rely on that resource too much and instead need to just use the gifts Lord Rhokii has provided to us in the deep depths.” (7)
“Pah!” Hacktor recovered his character – unable to listen to his father’s pacifist ideas any longer. “Sire, you are Baldur the Bold, the Kon-Herr of the Rhokii’s, and the high king of all the Drokka! You can make a NEW tradition. Why not turn the tables on The Marduk and his Derkka and make war on them instead?”
“I don’t know what Mirkir and Haraclez told you, my son, but War is a tragic event and there are no ‘winners.’ I won’t argue that we must defend ourselves when attacked, and this we do with a vengeance. Yet to go to foreign lands and make war upon our rivals, yes even the Derkka, that, Hacktor, is to embrace evil. For if we do so, what makes us any different than our enemy?”
“The faith requires that one day we exterminate the Derrka.” Hacktor was not to be denied. “You know as well as I that The Ragnarok will never arrive until our enemies are vanquished from this world.”
“Are you so anxious for the end of the world to arrive?” Baldur countered. He’s as bad as Mirkir – only Hacktor has the passion of youth behind his words as well.
“Do you pay so little attention to the commands of your god?” Hacktor rose from his chair in anger, getting ready to storm off.
At that Baldur’s own hackles were raised, but he placed a hand on his son’s arm to stop him. Sooner or later I’m going to have to show him that I am the king still. Perhaps I’ve been too nice to Hacktor. “I think we’ve said all we can for tonight.” And then standing toe to toe with a son who towered over him, Baldur warned, “You may go now, Prince Hacktor.”
Hacktor’s green eyes flashed with a fire Baldur had ne’er seen before. For a moment the king thought his son was about to strike him, yet Hacktor got control of his emotions, straightened his shoulders, and with the briefest of head nods, he turned and walked away.
The next time he may not leave so easily. How long before he dares challenge me in public? Needless to say, Baldur feared that moment would arrive all too soon (8).
- OK, I realize that so far Baldur sounds like a pretty swell guy – cares about his son, would have given up the crown to protect him, yada, yada, yada. Rest assured, Baldur’s demons will reveal themselves soon enough. First off, you might be wondering why Baldur is so old and yet has such young children – I can explain that one. The fact is that I helped Baldur come to the throne when he was just 22, and he married a very fertile preteen named Vilma (Hacktor’s mother) less than a year later. However Baldur caused me a bit of trouble by not always listening to the advice I gave him – more on that later — as a result I made he and Vilma barren. With his wife unable to produce an heir and his advisors strongly encouraging him to divorce her and remarry in order to protect the future of the throne, Baldur and Vilma’s early years were strained. Luckily for the king I didn’t completely abandoning him (it would have set my own plans back a bit) – instead I blessed his every political move and further secured his grip on the throne. Eventually I needed to advance my own plans so I blessed Baldur and Vilma with children at last — inspiring Mirkir with glorious visions about Baldur’s offspring (and leading Mirkir to believe he’d be able to use them for his own designs). Mirkir was so excited that he even left Iztak and travelled to Rhokii Pass to tell Baldur the good news. But things didn’t go quite as planned – first off the then 68-year old Baldur laughed at Mirkir’s suggestions that he and his elderly wife would bear children (the king had long since come to accept his lineage would die with him). Baldur’s disbelief embarrassed Mirkir so much that he levied a secret curse on the king. That curse materialized as follows – Baldur’s wife Vilma died in childbirth – leaving the old man with twins: Hacktor and Hecla. Worse yet, at least in Baldur’s mind, Hacktor turned out to be a Balkery (a fact the king desperately wanted to keep under wraps because it’s discovery would mean he’d lose his firstborn son to Mirkir – which of course is exactly what happened.
- This was hardly true. As I mentioned before, the Drokka had become rich beyond compare because they controlled the East-West trade route, but what they didn’t yet control was the Blackwood Forests – the de facto gold mines of their times. Many, like Hacktor, suffered from an intense greed to change this – but not Baldur.
- This was quite true – nearly 95% of all blackwood was located in Gor – lands under the control of the Derks since both clans first migrated to TerrVerde nearly eight centuries ago.
- Here perhaps a few words of explanation are in order. The fact is that everything Baldur said was true – at least on the surface. I’ll let you in on a little secret – I was the one who helped Baldur rise to power. Oh he doesn’t know it was me directly and that’s just fine because Baldur too was but a pawn in my game. If you’ll recall, when I returned from Illusia (back in AO 225), I’d been gone for about a century – prior to my leaving (in AO 125) the Drokka’s society had been prospering – expanding throughout the Rhokii’s, winning war after war against the Derkka, and growing fat and happy off their control to the East-West trade route. But something changed while I was gone — Rhokii deserted them and Gwar started joining the Derkka on the battlefield. Fortune turned a fickle face on the Drokka – for the next 60 years they lost countless wars, wasting vast sums of money in the process, and their population even started to decline. Fearful that Gwar might even attack Rhokii Pass (not realizing the God of War was too afraid to actually do that), to protect the future of their clan, the Drokka established new kingdoms at Duzarez (the southern tip of The Rhokii’s) and even sent a group all the way to the Akka Mountains (in the far away lands of Northeastern TerrVerde). Rhokii’s absence, Gwar’s trepidation to seal the deal, and the Drokka’s decline, all provided an invitation for me to use the situation to my advantage. The long story short is that I became the ‘spirit’ behind The Well of Wyzdom – the sacred oracle that allegedly spoke to The Wyze Ones. Prior to my taking over this job, there wasn’t a real ‘Spirit of the Well” – (like so many false religions throughout the history of man) Wyze Ones of the past simply made up whatever they wanted the spirit to say in order to control the people. Imagine if you will then the shock that Mirkir the Wyze must have felt when a real spirit starting talking to him! Oh I stroked his ego and told him that it was because of his true faith that he was able to hear The Spirit, but in reality Mirkir was just another pawn. I had Mirkir ‘discover’ Baldur and help him become Kon-Herr during a power vacuum at the time (back in AO 230). Although he was the son of a war-hero general (Brega) who’d tried unsuccessfully to make a play for the throne himself, Baldur had no special qualities to speak of – however with the backing of the Drokka high priest, and no clear cut suitor for the throne to stop him, the 22 year old Baldur was installed as high king. At first, rivals didn’t fear him — in fact they probably thought they could use the boy as a pawn to advance their own designs – but little did they know someone (aka ME) was already doing so. My goal with Baldur was simple – take down the Drokka from the inside out by decaying all that they held most sacred: their power, their wealth, and their pride. Via Mirkir’s guidance, Baldur was able to communicate with the spirit of The Well of Wyzdom too – that’s where I directed Baldur on a host of topics: helping him advance trade agreements, build a harem, marry a Derkka princess, etc. I even had him do the unthinkable – avoid war in favor of peace (something no prior Kon-Herr would ever have imagined). As part of this latter strategy, I also had Baldur relax the guidelines related to The Siq Towers – transforming these once impenetrable military gates (that protected the crucial western gates of Rhokii Pass) into giant trading outposts that offered housing and offices to commerce representatives from all over TerrVerde — to include Derks as well (talk about letting the fox into the hen house, huh?). Witnessing these affronts, Mirkir eventually grew to hate Baldur — for Mirkir was a hard core nationalist (and I continued to stoke that fire within him). Not surprisingly Mirkir wanted to remove Baldur from power, but because I made Baldur successful at every turn, Baldur’s ‘magic touch’ soon won over even his harshest critics — leaving Mirkir powerless to oppose the king (as The Spirit, I counseled Mirkir to be patient and threw him a bone by promising to keep him alive until a new Drokka messiah figure emerged). The result – during Baldur’s reign the Drokka became richer than ever before, more corrupt than ever (a natural byproduct of wealth among humans), and less skilled at battle (that’s what happens when you don’t practice). Their armies shrank, their weapon-smiths lost their skills (well at least most of them did), and the people lost their thirst for blood. Yet all the while the clans around the Drokka continued to advance their skills. Finally, after more than half a century of this, I was ready to advance my plans further – enter Hacktor. Throw a birth mark on the elderly king’s first born kid, secretly bring it to the attention of the high priest, connect the heir with the cult leader, brainwash them both, and you have the makings of a revolt. Works every time. And now I was finally ready to unleash it.
- Now it was Hacktor’s turn to be correct – I’d worked hard to make sure blackwood became viewed as ‘a necessity’ among the Drokka. Again, you humans often confuse ‘needs’ with ‘wants’ – and I used that to my advantage here too.
- Some thanks that is! Baldur, old boy, did you forget that The Spirit guided you at every turn?!?
- Ingrate! Rhokii didn’t give you these gifts, fool, it was me! Now you see why I needed to get rid of Baldur the Bashful!
- At least he was smart enough to know that much.