Location: Hecla’s apartments, Rhokii Pass
Time: AO 295
Gawain is gone. At first Hecla did not believe it when her informants told her as much, but there could be no denying that fact now. Not after the council meeting.
This is going to be a nightmare. Hecla sighed, leaning forward in her bath to allow Jakki to scrub her back — the young handmaid was sitting behind the princess in the bath yet the tub was large enough to accommodate a couple more people had Hecla so desired. Jakki is enough. She’s a good servant — quiet and attentive.
The water was warm so Hecla relaxed into the sudsy bubbles, easing away the troubles of the day. She knew Jakki would pleasure her if she so desired it, but she wasn’t interested in that right now. She also didn’t want to think about the implications of what Baldur losing Gawain may mean for her personally. Something tells me I’ll find out soon enough — whether I want to or not.
Memories of today’s meeting intruded into her thoughts. Despite the council’s lengthy discussion — which included only sparse details from Baldur about the situation — Hecla still didn’t know why Gawain had left.
However, one thing was certain: all agreed that it was a mistake to let the Derkka princess go and that she must be stopped before she could return to her family’s home in Babel.
That much is true — for if Gawain returns in distress and claims that she was abused by Baldur, the Marduk will most certainly use that as an excuse for war against us. It’s all rather ironic, eh? Hacktor may get his war after all – and with Baldur as the cause! Hecla knew it was dark humor to be sure — especially since she didn’t know if her father had indeed done anything wrong where Gawain was concerned — yet whatever the cause of the foreign woman’s distress, the fact was that she had fled, and even now Gawain was racing back to Babel via the Drokka Byways with her maids and eunuch guards.
But it’s barely been a day, surely she’s still underground. Most importantly she’s got at least another day till she reaches The Siq. Hecla knew that last point was the linchpin to the council’s plans.
It wasn’t hard for the group to agree on stopping Gawain, but the same could not be said for their decision on just what to do with the runaway queen once they secured her. Baldur wanted to call a national emergency and use that as an excuse to close the gates in order to stop Gawain. The process would have been easy enough, for even with Gawain’s head start, Baldur merely had to command that the signal fires atop the mountain be lit, and once they were, the guards at The Siq (and the other passes) would close the gates as a precaution – until they received a command to do otherwise. All visitors then would be stopped: both coming and going. That would allow the king to send a party to retrieve his wayward queen at his leisure.
Unfortunately this plan was flawed. The merchants’ leader Thork was the first to advise Baldur that he think twice before instituting such a plan. Thork had no problem with stopping Gawain, but he advised that it would be unwise to use the national emergency system as the means for doing so, since such an event would spook the merchants and cause them to raise their prices due to the perceived uncertainty in the market (1) — unexpectedly higher prices would then cause the people to panic and that in turn would cause further instability in the kingdom.
Baldur had no choice but to agree that Thork was right. Hecla recalled as she stretched her arms and ran them through the warm bath water. Then she giggled as she thought about the paymaster’s suggestion — Monty wanted to just buy Gawain off and send her away to live in Mersia! On the surface it may have sounded absurd, but once Helca realized fat Monty was serious, and then heard his reasoning, she was nearly convinced herself. After all, what girl would not want to live a life of luxury in Daytaxia (2) — the most famous city in the world? Yet Hecla wasn’t surprised to see the Kon-Herr nix that idea too — for she knew her father was dead set on not only stopping Gawain from going back home, but more importantly on keeping her with him.
She also wasn’t surprised at her brother’s plan: Hacktor of course recommended a preemptive strike against the Derkka — suggesting they turn the entire matter around on Gawain and use that as an excuse for war. As could be expected, the prince’s idea was quickly shot down.
Yet I still think Hacktor will have the last laugh on all of them. Hecla mused.
In the end, it was Hecla herself who played the winning hand. Although now I wonder why I opened my mouth in the first place? Her idea was simple — they would indeed have The Siq’s gates closed — although not because of any national emergency, instead they would simply say it was because of ‘unexpected, but necessary, maintenance.’ With Gawain detained, Hecla would then lead a secret team to retrieve the Derkka princess and bring her back to the palace — willingly or not.
The council quickly agreed.
And now I have to leave upon the morrow. Oh joy. Hecla sighed, “Dearest Jakki, why must life be so complicated?” And the princess reached a hand behind her to touch her maid’s soft fingers that were massaging her shoulders.
“I wish I knew, Princess. Perhaps we should say a prayer to the gods?” Jakki replied in her ever gentle voice..
“Ha, I doubt they would even listen.”
“Hush, Princess, you mustn’t say such things. What if they should hear you?”
Hecla turned around to look at her doe-eyed servant. Jakki had seen only twelve winters and was obviously still naive to the ways of the world, yet Hecla valued her friendship nonetheless. Like so many of the servants in the palace, she had no idea what family had offered Jakki up, but she’d tried to remind herself many times over to find out so she could personally thank them. Although raven-haired Jakki was flat-chested as a board, Hecla found her beautiful, and often sat with her for hours at the looking glass table — painting her face, setting her hair just so, and teaching her how to kiss a boy properly, among other things.
“Jakki, do you really believe there is a god?” Hecla asked.
The maid’s face was aghast and she put a hand protectively over Hecla’s lips. “Gods. You mean gods, my future queen. Please don’t tempt them to curse you, lest they just might. Mother Kalyzpo. Father Rhokki, the great He Who Has No Name, Mezmer–”
“I know their names as well as you, my sweet, I just don’t think they exist.”
“But how can you say that?”
“I could just as easily ask why you believe in them? After all, don’t you ever wonder why the gods are so fickle?” And before the maid could answer, the princess spoke on — perhaps talking more to herself than the girl. “If they exist, why don’t they ever answer? Surely they could do whatever any of us ask… if they wanted to? After all they are gods, right? Yet if they are so powerful, why do they have to use us as pawns? Why do they allow us to suffer so if they love us so much? Is it necessary that we mutilate each other in war? That thousands die when the earth quakes or there isn’t enough food? That so many are slaves while a chosen few enjoy the spoils? For that matter why must we even die at all? Can’t the gods use their power to stop death? Tell me, why does one man stab another on a dark road? Why does a baby die in its mother arms? Why does a father ra–” Yet here Hecla fell silent and laid her head upon Jakki’s shoulder (3).
The maid was silent for a time, running her fingers gently through Hecla’s wavy brown locks. At last Jakki responded, her voice barely above a whisper, “Not all the gods are… good.”
The princess opened her eyes at that, yet kept her head upon the girls shoulder. It feels too good to move. Why can’t we just stay here forever?
It wasn’t that what Jakki said was news to Hecla; obviously the princess knew more about the Drokka religion than her servant girl and that there were a pantheon of gods on both sides. Yes, Hecla well knew the names of the supposed ‘evil’ gods (4). And she also knew that there were some men who worshiped these ‘evil’ deities as gods of goodness, while portraying the Drokka’s chosen ones as the purveyors of evil deeds.
It’s all in your perspective. Hecla smiled, before asking Jakki gently, “Whether a man or a god, what makes someone good? Is it the deeds they do, the promises they make, nay the promises they keep? Or is it something else?”
The girl was at a loss, “My princess, they are the gods.” As if that simple statement explained it all. “Who are we to question them?” (5)
The slave’s last statement hit a nerve for Hecla, “The immortals need our praise in order to even be gods, so whether I be a princess or a slave, if a god wants MY praise then I have the right to question them all I want.” Hecla poured out her thoughts. “I’ll grant you that there are gods that delight in evil things — although I sometimes wonder whether ALL the gods enjoy evil. But, let’s just talk about the gods we Drokka worship — the ones we call ‘good.’ Why does Rhokki want us to destroy other men? Mirkir and his priests tell us that war is holy. They make so many rules that we must follow if we are to worship the gods correctly. They imprison us with their religion — putting themselves between us and the gods and claiming that only they can speak with the immortals — driving a wedge between us, always forcing us to follow their decrees. And yet, I ask you, why? If it’s so basic to the fabric of life to love our gods, why must it be so hard? Why do we need so many rules? How can the gods allow this? Do they even care?” (6)
As for Jakki, she didn’t answer Hecla this time, leaving the two women to sit in the bath and ponder individually.
But by now the water was turning cold — much like Hecla’s heart. Gods or no, it’s time for me to act.
Later the night, Hecla was alone in her bedroom. Despite the extra quilts on the bed and the blackwood fire that crackled in the hearth, Hecla could not get warm. I should have had Jakki stay with me tonight.
Yet even as she said it, she knew it would have been wrong. It would only cause trouble for her. He’s coming. I just know it.
The thought made Hecla afraid.
It had been nearly fours years since the man who’d first raped her over a decade ago had last been in her bed. Although Hecla had enjoyed a happy (if sheltered) childhood with her brother at her side, after Hacktor was taken away to Itzak, everything changed for the princess — from the time she was eight until the time she was fourteen, Hecla had been repeatedly abused by a secret tormentor — and despite her station in society (or perhaps because of it) Hecla knew she could never tell anyone about her ordeals.
And so the abuse continued.
But then Hecla turned 14 — and her world changed again.
Now by all accounts, Hecla was a fair maiden in every sense of the word at that age, for she was in full bloom as a young woman (complete with all the curves Drokka men most desired). Yet sadly for her, Hecla was unable to enjoy looking in the mirror and she missed out on that rite of passage that most girls her age derive so much pleasure from — for Hecla feared her beauty, believing it only enticed her tormentor more. Yet there was little Hecla could do to conceal her good looks (7).
As it turned out, Hecla didn’t have to worry — in spite of his regular ‘scheduled’ visits in the past, Hecla’s abuser abruptly stopped coming. Unfortunately, Hecla had little time to enjoy her new reality — for it was around the same time that the Derkka Princess Gawain first arrived in Rhokii Pass — and instantly became a hated rival (8).
Meanwhile, having reached sexual maturity, yet suddenly without a partner (no matter how reviled), young Hecla didn’t have to look far to find willing replacements. Everything was of course kept on the down lo so that the princess could continue to protect her public perception, but the fact is that Hecla had secretly been with a host of other men during her teenage years (9).
And yet the one man she wanted most had always eluded her heart – both then and now. Even though Hacktor had recently returned to court, and despite Hecla’s best efforts to win him over, still her beloved resisted.
And now with Gawain’s disappearance, things had just gone from bad to worse again – Hecla now feared her abuser would be the next man in her bed – regardless of what she wanted. And yet he is not Hacktor. Never was. Never will be.
Hecla prayed that she was wrong. She prayed that it would be Hacktor who came tonight and not the one who she loathed. Yet she had little faith that her prayers would be answered. Why should the gods suddenly start listening now? They’ve never answered my prayers before.
Although she didn’t mention it to Jakki earlier, Hecla was no stranger to prayer — nor to the gods, all of them. As a young girl, raised in the Drokka religion, she’d dutifully prayed to Mother Kalypzo and Father Rhokki. Although they didn’t necessarily seem to listen all that much, since her childhood had been good, Hecla wasn’t troubled about it back then. But even before she’d had the chance to flower, just when the world seemed to be so promising, then it was that her beloved twin Hacktor was torn away from her by Mirkir. Yet even worse than that loss was the abuse that followed.
Suddenly alone and afraid, surrounded by uncaring half-brothers and sisters who envied her hereditary position, Hecla began to pray with all her might that her miseries might end. When Kalypzo and Rhokii wouldn’t listen, she dared pray to the great creator He Who Has No Name — yet He apparently didn’t have any ears either because He never answered Hecla’s pleas. After that, the princess tried a handful of other supposedly good-natured gods she’d occasionally heard foreigners talk about, including Mannah, Mezmeriza, and Saint Enok– but again it was to no avail.
As her loneliness grew, Hecla pleaded to Father Kane – the patriarch of their people who supposedly abandoned their forefathers in order to choose a life of loneliness himself. Surely of all the gods Father Kane would commiserate with me, she thought at the time. She even contemplated killing herself in order to redeem Father Kane from his everlasting sin — if only he would give her a sign.
Yet the wind was her only reply.
Eventually the abuse grew worse, and in her desperation Hecla began offering prayers to the gods of evil — since it was surely they who took pleasure in her troubles. She asked the goddess of lust Hekubuz to stop her tormentor from visiting her in the night. She prayed to dread Zar to have the man killed in battle — should one ever occur. She even asked Shedu Mazai, the god of death, to come take him away. Still nothing worked (10).
In the end, Hecla went so far as to offer to sell her soul to the Dark Lord Baal — willing to accept an eternity of torment with him and his daemons — if only he would kill her tormentor. And still – nothing (11).
Abandoned by all, Hecla’s torment continued.
Three things resulted from all this — Hecla’s heart became cold and calculating, she lost compassion for others, and she hated her rapist more than anything in the world.
She was ready to do anything to make it stop — anything — even to include killing a king! (12)
Committed to taking action, to ending her tortures before they had a chance to begin again, Hecla wrapped herself in her covers and clung with all her might to a small dagger, even as her mind clung to a single thought, my father is coming again for me tonight, but this time it will be different…
- “Perceived” Uncertainty – I love how the businessmen who control the markets blame the uninformed public when price panics start — after all it’s the supposedly ‘in-the-know’ businessmen who not only control those prices but who also control the media information that leads to the public’s perceptions in the first place! These real market movers know exactly what’s happening before it happens – and ultimately they get rich either way. The story has never changed for as long as I’ve observed your kind. As for Thork, if he had enough time to put plans in place to profit from the uncertainty, trust me he’d have recommended differently.
- Mersia’s capital city. This region in southeastern TerrVerde was the most cosmopolitan of its day – its overall wealth may not have exceeded the combined fortunes of all eight of the Drokka kingdoms together, but it probably came close. Additionally, Mersia’s was concentrated into a smaller region with Daytaxia as the centerpiece – this, combined with the Mersian kings’ historical penchant for being ostentatious, had given this kingdom its reputation and fame.
- As I said before Hecla was supremely perceptive. Although most of you fools didn’t understand the game I was running on your people, Hecla had enough sense to peek behind the curtain and wasn’t afraid to ask some tough questions. Oh I didn’t intend to give her any answers, mind you, but I always found it amusing when a mortal like Hecla started making inquiries like this – so few of you ever did.
- In the Drokka religion, these were the supposed ‘evil’ gods: Baal (my alter ego), Zar (aka Gwar aka Samyaza), Shedu Mazai (their name for me!), and Hekubuz (aka Inanna). According to The Kroniklz these were our rumored powers — Hekubuz was the goddess of lust, Zar the god of war, and myself as Shedu Mazai was their bringer of death, while (my) Baal (supposedly) ruled over all of the evil godlings from Ragnarok (the underworld that was below Kawkawzuz).
- I adored Jakki for her blind faith – the world needs more of her kind.
- I told you Hecla was smart. Unfortunately for her, she was too smart for her own good – this kind of knowledge is what eventually led to her doom.
- Beauty always finds the light regardless of man’s efforts to hide it — such was the case with Hecla Derkillez.
- Hecla never put two and two together back then. This was surprising to me at the time – for all her smarts, I would have figured Hecla would have figured out the connection between herself and Gawain. I guess that just speaks to the scars the abuse left on her psyche.
- Although Hecla’s ‘other’ men were all of her own choosing — she used them to satisfy her own sexual appetites while also trying to make sense of her world and testing her ‘talents’ for navigating through it.
- By the way, I did hear Hecla’s prayers – but like all my friends, I chose not to listen – for it served my purposes to have Hecla suffer at the time.
- Here again, I heard Hecla – after all the Baal she prayed to was my alter ego. Alas for poor Hecla, I chose silence over action. Sometimes pawns must suffer…and die…to serve their masters.
- And that’s when I knew she was ready to change the world. What’s that? You don’t think Hecla was in a position of power to make a difference? Oh yea of little vision. Don’t you know the truth yet? Haven’t you guessed who Hecla’s abuse was yet? It’s not hard. You merely have to look at the princess’s face to know the truth. Who did Hecla fear so much? Why her father Baldur of course. Like so many ‘great and powerful’ men throughout history, the mighty Drokka king had been abusing his daughter for years. Baldur was the reason why so many of Hecla’s nights were cold and full of terror. And soon Baldur would pay for his crimes.