2.7 – The Price of Wood

Location: The Rhokii Mountains
Time: AO 295

Bureaucracy – don’t we all love it? Our leaders inevitably claim they are acting in our best interest, but in reality, it’s just their own pockets they want to line, right? Case in point, The Drokka Grand Council – an organization I inspired Baldur to create.


“Sire, Garrick’s prime minister has said the price per log is going to increase this spring – she claims the transportation costs of Blackwood on their end are rising so we have to pay more.”

The speaker was Monty Redstone, The Coinmaster General for the realm, and a member of the Baldur’s grand council — the group that helped the Kon-Herr Drokka manage the kingdom. Monty was a short blob of a man (1), and yet the middle-aged man with bushy red hair and shaggy beard was one of Baldur’s most trusted advisers and dearest friends. Yet I’ve never convinced him to tone down the attire. Baldur couldn’t help but smile at his friend’s always-colorful garb — today it was a tunic so red it made his hair seem almost brown, along with a wide-brimmed ranger’s hat that sported a handful of eagle’s feathers around the crown.

The king was about to reply to Monty’s latest news but it was Hacktor, the newest member of the group, who spoke up first, “Excuse me, sir, but did you say she? Am I to understand that we are taking orders from a woman slaver now?” And the prince sat back in his chair with arms crossed in disgust.

“And what’s wrong with a woman of power, dear brother?” Hacktor’s sister Hecla replied with ice in her voice. Although the only woman at the table, Hecla had been a member of the council for over a year — eagerly accepting Baldur’s invitation to learn the workings of the realm. She was Hacktor’s twin, yet they looked nothing alike: Hacktor was well over five feet tall and broad of shoulder (2), while Hecla was nearly a foot shorter but lean and lithe. Dressed in a purple robe which hugged her curves and still able to forego the veil that most women her age wore, Hecla was the desire of every eligible bachelor in the kingdom — yet so far none had captured her eye. As it was, she looked her brother full on and waited for his reply (3).

“It’s not proper for a woman to command, Hecla, and you know it.”

“I thought you were a history buff, brother, did you forget about Kon-Herra Kath–”

“That’s enough.” Baldor broke in, embarrassed at the scene his children were causing. I didn’t invite them here to engage in childish squabbles. “If you have something constructive to say, please do so, otherwise be silent at my council.”

“Who is this Derkka wench that speaks on behalf of The Golden Hand?” Hacktor snarled. “Enlighten me please.”

“Her name isn’t important, my prince. What matters is that she is the prime minister for the Drokka Parliament – the real power in Gor.” The military commander at Hacktor’s right spoke up. As the brother of Bane, Herr of Kel-de-Kaba, Ortwin Strongbow was a few fingers shorter than Baldur but the little man had long served as Baldur’s lead general at Rhokki Pass (4). I know I can count on him if the hour ever comes. Balder nodded at his general, the latter dressed today, as always, in his military blacks, along with his ever present good luck charm on display — an old-timer’s boiled leather breastplate with the Fist of Rhokki carved into the chest (5). “Surely you know that the Grand Marduk is only a figurehead now that diplomacy is the name of the game. It’s the Derkka’s Parliament that decides their fate now.”

“And ours too, eh?” Hacktor added, he too dressed in the black colors of the Drokka army but with a velvet cape lined with ermine at this back.

Thankfully Hacktor hasn’t tried to carry a weapon to the council chambers…yet. Baldur mused. He looks fearsome enough already — see how he towers over Ortwin and the rest of us here.

“Be that as it may,” Baldur commented, “what are our options?”

“We can pay the extra prices if need be, my king.” Monty offered, the flesh around his jowls jiggling with each word. “Derkka trade agents have always dealt fairly with us and it’s been a few years since she’s increased the price of blackwood.”

“Aye. If truth be told, sire, the shopkeeps have already taken multiple price increases of their own each of the previous two winters.” Admitted Thork Drivingstone. The master mason was chief of the merchant’s guild and the voice of the various Drokka traders who conducted commerce throughout the realm. Although he held an elected post, Baldur couldn’t remember who the previous man in his position was, for Thork had served Baldur’s father in the same capacity as well. In addition, while Thork was at least twenty years the king’s senior, somehow he looked younger than Baldur, for the mason’s well-oiled black hair and beard didn’t show a single gray hair. Always dressed in the latest finery, Thork was the picture of good taste and was nothing if not distinguished. “I think the guilds have expected this for some time so there is room in the profits to account for increased prices.” (6)

“Shall I enter this in the records?” Grak, the king’s personal scribe, asked. As always he wore a simple brown robe with a long but thin golden chain around his neck — the mark of his position. And while Baldur hated the fact that Grak, like all the scribes of Chaldea, wore the same outfit (7) he’d long since given up trying to update Grak’s look. Let Mirkir think he controls the man, I know Grak is on my side.

While others at the table were nodding and waiting for the king to speak up, Baldur saw Hacktor shaking his head in disgust. “Do you have something to say, son?”

The big man frowned so deep the gold bands of his oiled beard nearly touched, “I thought I was at a DROKKA council meeting, not a children’s play date.” And before any could reply to this offense, the prince continued, “So that’s it? We are just going to keep our tail between our legs and let the Derrka steal our wealth?”

“What does your vast experience in international trade tell us to do?” Hecla taunted.

“As I told you, Prince Hacktor,” Baldur worked hard to hide the embarrassment from his voice, “your voice will always be heard. So what do you suggest?” Although I already know the answer.

Hacktor’s shoulders were ramrod straight as always, “The Derrka can’t raise the price of an asset they no longer control. Let me lead our army into the outerworld and I promise you I’ll take control of Blackwood Forest for once and all.”

Monty and Thork were immediately aghast at the thought (8). Meanwhile Ortwin looked sick — although Baldur couldn’t tell if his general was embarrassed that he had not at least considered the subject or if he was afraid at the prospect. And Hecla? Well she just laughed — once, full on in her brother’s direction. There will be trouble between these two before the day is out. The king surmised.

“Son, I appreciate your offer,” Baldur chose his words carefully. I don’t want to embarrass him. “It’s certainly something to consider.” The other men at the table were now more appalled than ever after hearing the king’s words. Do they think I’m going mad? Baldur wondered, before continuing, “Well, what say this council? Is war a viable option for us? I’d like to hear from each in turn. Monty, let’s start with you.”

“Sire? I, -er, what?” Monty stammered, running a hand down his blood-red tunic and trying to catch his breath. “With all due respect to the idea, it’s, ah, not for me.” (9)

“My king. My prince. Lady Hecla.” Thork, next in line, spoke up to save Monty from further embarrassment. “I’ve been a part of this council for over fifty years. If I may, please allow me to share some perspective. I remember the military campaigns of the great Brega Derkillez, Baldur’s father, and a powerful Kon-Herr in his own right (10). Brega, first of his name, accomplished much to be proud of, yet our borders were always in a state of flux and our international trade was nigh non-existent. The people were not happy. Yet all that changed when Baldur took the throne. For decades now this council has worked hard to build a bridge of peace with the Overworld kingdoms. I know the idea was controversial at first — even I had my doubts. And while it hasn’t been easy, the fact is that we’ve finally reached a time when the fruits of our labor are here to be enjoyed. The increase in commerce is like nothing our kingdoms have ever known. We are prosperous now! The Overworld wants our goods. The people are happy. My fear is that a war, even one for blackwood, would only serve to upset the delicate balance that is world trade. Thus, the real question — at least from the merchants’ point of view — is: would the savings we enjoy from controlling the blackwood make up for the loss of income and the cost of financing a military operation? And most importantly, would the people really be better off?” (11)

Hacktor was about to speak up, but the king jumped in first, “We appreciate the perspective, Thork.” Then to Hacktor, “Please, son, let’s allow everybody to have their say in turn, then we’ll open the table for comments.” And Baldur looked at Ortwin, nodding.

Removing his helm, the little general looked to Hacktor, “It’s true that the king’s army has not been called into service much during most of your father’s reign, Prince Hacktor, but that’s doesn’t mean we aren’t ready.” And touching a hand to his chest plate he added, “I will gladly serve by your side…if the need is there.”

That’s why I admire the man. Baldur smiled, knowing he could count on his general in any situation, yet hoping he would never have to.

Balder turned to his daughter, “Princess Hecla, what say you?”

The maid in purple chuckled, “Hacktor, surely you realize this is just to placate you, right? I mean, this is literally your first time at the council so it’s not like anybody would actually trust your input yet.” When Hacktor rose at the insult with eyes flashing, she added, “Oh sit down, you big lout. Worse insults than that will be thrown at you and if you can’t take a little joke then you’ll never be Kon-Herr. Yes, take your seat again. Good. Now as for the question at hand, I see no reason to rock the boat. Let the Derkka feel like they have control of the blackwood if it makes them happy, what should it matter to us? But I wouldn’t go to war over it.”

“Dear sister,” Hacktor mocked, “You do realize that the Derkka are not just giving it to us, right? You know we have to pay them for the blackwood?”

“That’s how business is done, yes. But let me ask you — if we did control the forest, who’s going to volunteer to live in the outerworld to protect it?” Hecla could see that her brother hadn’t thought that far ahead. “It’s one thing to win some glory on the battlefield and then come back to the palace, but if you are successful — and I’m sure you will be — you’ll be forcing our men to live indefinitely… out there. Not to mention the additional workers that will also need to live out there to process the wood. Not to mention the people involved in transportation — who will also have to live out there. Not to mention the–”

“I think we get the picture, Princess.” Baldur stopped her. She’s nothing if not perceptive. “These are valid concerns. Prince Hacktor, how do you respond?”

Hacktor was glowering in his chair, yet clearly at a loss. “I…ah…” He began to stammer, then finally he banged a hand on the table, “These trifles are besides the point; there are others who can figure out these minor details. My plan is sound. Furthermore, let me ask all of you a question — does not the faith require us to do all in our power to destroy our enemies? And yet it seems to me you would rather make friends instead? What would Rhokki say to this?”

I was afraid he would go there. Baldur pursed his lips, yet before he could say anything it was the scribe who spoke up.

Raising his quill, Grak advised, “I believe this is my area of expertise. There can be little doubt that the history of our people — at least in the period After Oz is concerned — has always been one of war. After all, was it not Ajax himself who invented War for the Drokka? Indeed. And yes, Hacktor obviously is correct when he speaks of Lord Rhokii’s charge that we must do all in our power to destroy our enemies — for lo, The Ragnarok — our final battle with Baal — can never come until we first clear Mittengarten of the foul folk…” (12)

As Grak continued to speak, Baldur could see that most of his advisors did not like where Grak was going, but there was one member who drank in every word of the scribe as if it was sweet honey — Hacktor. The prince’s face showed a growing admiration for Grak — for it seemed that the scribe’s eloquent words were speaking in Hacktor’s place. And yet my son has no idea what’s about to happen next. He doesn’t realize that Hecla spoke the truth — this meeting has all been a farce — for Hacktor’s benefit. Perhaps one day, when you understand the game of politics a little better, you will realize that the king never asks a question he doesn’t already know the answer too. And he doesn’t invite people to join his council he can’t control. For a moment Baldur almost let a grin show, but the salt and pepper of his beard covered it well and he refocused his attention on Grak.

“…and yet Rhokii never did say we had to accomplish our goal by a certain deadline. Which is rather interesting.” Grak offered. “This much I can tell you and then I will leave it up to my king to decide — The Kroniklz are filled with nigh uncounted periods of war — and untold deaths. Yet there have been very few instances of prolonged peace — and the time we live in now is actually the first of both peace AND prosperity. Thus, I say that to answer the question of whether war is the right decision, you must first answer this — are you all ready to see this era end?” And Grak lowered his eyes back to his page so as to take further notes.

For his part, Hacktor’s face went from victory to defeat in the span of the scribes final words. Let’s see if he will take his licks like a man? Baldur observed before asking, “My prince, do you have anything else to add before I call for the vote?”

Hacktor looked long at each member of the council, before stopping with Baldur. He’s definitely wondering if I am gaming him. The king surmised. Yet in the end, the prince merely shook his head and grunted under his breath.

The vote itself was not a surprise — five to one in favor of peace. Baldur himself did not vote — after all the purpose of the council was not to decide the fate of the kingdom, it was to provide input for the king to consider — it was the Kon-Herr who reserved the right to do as he pleased whether the council agreed or not. In that regard, I suppose Hacktor could perhaps hold out hope that I may still side with him? Yet looking at his son, Baldur knew Hacktor wasn’t that naive.

It was thus a matter of course when Baldur advised, “At this time I find no reason to change our course. Advise the merchants of the new prices yet since Thork has said they have already taken their price increases, I expect no negative impact upon our citizens. Tell The Parliament we accept their offer.” And he nodded to the scribe.

“It has been written, now let it be done.” Grak advised, using the sacred reply whenever a king gave a command which was captured in The Kroniklz (13).


Nektar’s Notes

  1. Monty, although barely four feet tall, was nearly 25 stones of flesh that jiggled with his every move.
  2. Hacktor was a true giant of a Drokka.
  3. Personally I was quite fond of Hecla, in addition to her beauty, she had a strong will — one I used to serve my purposes.
  4. Ortwin’s years of service under the king had required little need for military activity due to Baldur’s success in building peaceful trade agreements with their Overworld rival, but Ortwin still took pride in his position and kept both himself and his garrisons in tip-top shape.
  5. Ortwin daily glossed his leathers to a high sheen – to include his boots and half-helm.
  6. Ah, the world of high commerce – it’s always the little man who suffers, eh?
  7. One which had its roots deep in the past of the Drokka religion.
  8. Monty and Thork both knew that a war would cost money neither wanted to spend – yet that was only because Baldur had killed the commercial war machine decades past – had that not been the case, they’d have eagerly lined their pockets with war – as men throughout history always have.
  9. Years of high living had made the man soft – particularly a war that offered him no profit potential.
  10. This is actually not true – Brega I was little more than a passing Kon-Herr during a troubled time. He was a general who made a play for the throne, briefly held it, and then lost it to a rival. Barely a footnote in The Kroniklz.
  11. Blah, blah, blah – trust me, if Thork had been in position to make some gold off Hacktor’s war, he’d have sung a different tune. They all do.
  12. I always love ghost stories, don’t you? Yet this, like all the others, had little truth in it since most of the Drokka’s faith was little more than a collection of made up mysteries – like every other religion you humans have come up with.
  13. Politics – the same here are everywhere: secret meetings which line the pockets of the rich at the expense of the poor. Need I say more?
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