Location: The Drokka Byways
Time: AO 295
“Ah, how I love the sound of the drums echoing through the caverns!” Hecla cavorted with her crew as the group trotted their ponies beside coach that held a royal prisoner inside (1). “It’s my celebration song!”
The cavalcade of men that rode beside her were all smiles – taking turns laughing with the princess and shouting insults at their captives.
And yet, in spite of Hecla’s happy outward demeanor, what the Drokka princess didn’t say was that the drums also matched the pounding that was occurring inside her head. As it turned out, Hecla’s fears about Baldur were valid — her father had paid her a visit with evil on his mind on the very night she suspected he would. And while Hecla had been prepared to use deadly force to keep Baldur at bay, unfortunately for the drokkina, she’d lost her nerve when the king came upon her — fear had gripped the young woman and she could do naught with her dagger but hand it over to Baldur when he’d held out his hand. After that she’d submitted to her father’s will and let herself be ravished by him (2).
For his part Baldur was more brutal with Hecla than ever before – treating her worse than the most used whore from the filthiest slums. Hecla endured it all, remembered it all, and allowed it all to burn into her psyche (3).
Only after her tormentor left did Hecla’s fear dissipate – at which point she’d destroyed her bedroom in between cycles of abject despair and uncontrollable rage – wondering the entire time why her night terror had so controlled her (4) – vowing again to do something about it in the light of day.
And do something Hecla had – racing out of Rhokii Pass the next day with an escort of Ortwin’s Secret Servants – intent on tracking down Gawain and bringing her back to the palace...in pieces if need be.
Yet the would-be escapee had put up little fight when at last Hecla and her guards had tracked them down. It had taken three days longer than planned for Hecla’s crew to locate Gawain’s party because Baldur’s beloved whore had instructed her crew to take the back roads of The Byways — only to get themselves hopelessly lost. Without food or water, Gawain and her people were all too happy when they saw what they thought was a rescue party.
“She’s a bigger fool than I thought” Hecla had joked with the King’s Secret Servants when they found the Derk escapees. “Did Gawain actually think she could escape Baldur? Ha, my father was never going to let her go.” But to herself the princess had lamented, Alas, he never lets anyone go.
Although it had taken longer than estimated for Hecla and the SS Guards to locate Gawain, in truth, there was never any worry on Hecla’s part that they wouldn’t find Baldur’s bride. After all, even though The Byways offered a nigh uncountable number of pathways in every direction, Hecla had the advantage of knowing Gawain’s goal (5).
It was originally assumed by Ortwin’s men that Gawain would flee along the main byway — for that was the fastest way out of Rhokii Pass…and the safest. And yet all the initial searches led to naught.
This caused Hecla to be frustrated – and she berated her men for their failure at the time. The SS lead guard had flogged his men, forcing them to scour the side roads too (6).
Yet for anyone who’d travelled these lesser-known paths, it was a journey not without risks – for while the Drokka had built a masterwork of roads throughout their kingdom, some were more travel friendly than others and unlike some of the more popular routes, the one Gawain’s party had chosen was sparse of conveniences; it was largely just a military road to and from the western border — roughly finished and little tended, the path was strewn with boulders, bumps, and debris — all of which surely must have victimized Gawain’s party if they’d been travelling at breakneck speed. And obviously they had been – as evidenced by the fact that one of her eunuchs had a broken ankle when they found them, and both wheels on Gawain’s rikpull were broken.
“You had no chance of navigating The Byways.” The SS Commander had spat at the foundlings when they first found them.
“Stupid of you to have e’en tried.” Another guard had chimed in, manhandling one of the eunuchs. “By Baal, e’en we get lost out here sometimes. And we ain’t cursed mongrels like you fools.”
Hecla had looked the other way while her men continued mistreating the Derk servants, before they forced Gawain and her maid into the coach. While that was going on, Hecla let the soldier’s thought run through her mind, I wonder, should I let myself get lost in The Byways? Could I escape Baldur that way? Yet she quickly dismissed the idea. I’m no coward. I’ll never solve my problems that way.
Changing her focus, Hecla had glared at her Derk rival, now in the coach, “I’ll give you some credit, Royal Slut — at least you had the brains to figure out a few things in the time you were with us.”
When the forlorn Gawain didn’t reply and the SS guards didn’t seem to understand, Hecla had explained, “She knew that, given my father’s focus on trade instead of war, and his repeated efforts to reduce the size of the our armies, they’d run little risk of meeting anyone on this path.”
“Indeed, my Princess.” The commander had concurred. “And yet, their attempts to be sneaky almost cost them their lives.”
Hecla had laughed at that, “Perhaps we should have left them all to rot!” (7)
All of that had occurred hours earlier. Now the entire party (save the dead eunuchs) was back on the way to Rhokii Pass. Hecla and the guards continued joking at Gawain’s expense, yet for her part the Derkka princess never replied to their banter. Eyes hollow from crying and exhausted by her failed escape attempt, Baldur’s beloved had apparently resigned herself to her fate — yet even in her despair, Gawain looked extraordinarily beautiful – and Hecla hated her for it!
How can that woman always look so gorgeous? Hecla was flummoxed at the thought, unable to stop herself from looking her rival’s way more often than she cared to admit. Even Gawain’s maid looks amazing. Every Derkka woman does. For that matter, even their men are all handsome. What is it about their people that they so outclass us? It can’t just be because they live outside – for Gawain and her crew have lived here with us for over four years and show no ill effects. It can’t be the food for the same reason – they’ve eaten what we eat. So what is it? Are we Drokka cursed or something? (8)
Hecla new nothing of Gawain’s little beauty secret — that magical aura called The Glamour. As a result, she continued to stare at Gawain in her coach, hating the Derkka princess for her beauty – a beauty that was still on display even now, when Gawain was terrified for her life.
Then it was that something rather horrifying happened. Of a sudden, Gawain screamed, “I can’t take it anymore!” And she began scratching at the flesh that covered her face – and pulling it off!
Hecla pulled back her pony in shock, and numerous guards laughed at the scene that was taking place before them, yet Gawain’s maid Willa quickly pulled the curtain closed, commanding, “My lady, you mustn’t do such a thing!”
“Is everything all right in there?” Hecla was annoyed, yet curious, and rode her pony close again.
“Yes, yes, we’re fine,” Willa hurriedly replied, trying to muffle Gawain’s continued screams.
One of the guards made a show of himself around the coach, “Baldur’s whore is probably just excited about the prospect of seeing him again. Ooh. Ahh.”
Amused at the prospect, Hecla replied, “Yes, let her enjoy the thought.”
On this occasion Hecla was far off the mark, for had the Drokka maiden taken the time to open the curtain she’d have seen a gruesome scene inside the coach. As it turned out, Gawain actually had ripped off her own face – or at least the skin mask that covered it (9).
After pulling the mask away, the Derkka princess had thrown it on the floor of the carriage — Willa picked it up and tried to give it back to Gawain, while at the same time trying to avoid seeing Gawain’s true face.
“I don’t want it.” Gawain cried inside the coach, slapping the piece of floppy flesh out of her maid’s hand.
“I don’t understand, my love,” Willa whispered, trying to protect her mistress’ privacy. “Is something wrong with this one?” And here the maid subconsciously touched the mask that covered her own face, while still trying trying to get Gawain to put her mask back on (10).
For her part Hecla had no idea about Gawain’s deformity — that disease of the flesh that plagued her maid Willa, her guards, and every other Derkka — therefore she knew nothing about Gawain’s mask (11).
Hecla also didn’t know that Gawain actually had a facial mask for every day of the week (12), as well as a varied assortment of different skins for other parts of her body – one for her left hand that provided back the two middle fingers she’d been born without, one for her right buttock, and another for her hollowed out right thigh. Additionally there the miscellaneous ones that covered a whole host of skin tags, folds, and stubborn wrinkles all over Gawain’s body (13). What Hecla never knew, was that Gawain desperately wanted to hide her deformity — in her entire life, none save her nurse maids and perhaps her mother very early on had ever seen Gawain’s true appearance. But that changed when Baldur saw her true self in the Mersian Mirror (14).
So while Hecla thought that Gawain was just upset about being captured, or perhaps about the prospect of being taken back to Baldur and having to endure some foul treatment, what she didn’t know was that Gawain was really upset because the king knew her secret (15) — Baldur had seen enough to know that Gawain was not who he thought she was (16).
And so we come to something else that Hecla was wrong about – she thought that she was bringing Gawain back to her father to reunite them as a couple — but what Hecla didn’t know was that Baldur no longer had any desire for Gawain.
Instead the king had a new object of infatuation — or rather he wanted to rekindle an old flame — and that was none other than Helca herself.
- Sorry to disappoint you, but it wasn’t King Baldur that Hecla was transporting at a prisoner.
- And now let’s pause for a few more insights on Baldur. Do you hate him yet? Was he a loving father? A beast? Or both? Just what happened to the man? Recall that Baldur became king at 22 and he married the young Vilma less than a year later. In spite of my help (or was it because of it?) Baldur’s early reign was tenuous at best – it didn’t help matters that he and Vilma were unable to produce an heir. Unlike other kings – and in spite of the repeated recommendations of his own cabinet — Baldur refused to put Vilma aside and remarry, for Baldur simply loved Vilma too much. As his reign continued — and the Drokka prospered because of it — Baldur and Vilma’s love continued to grow. Without heirs, it began to be assumed by the people that Baldur’s line would begin and end with he alone — although his rivals (what few that remained after fifty-some years) were happy about this, most of the people were disappointed (the sheep usually are). However as I mentioned before, when Baldur was 68 I blessed he and Vilma with a child – twins to be exact (Hacktor and Hecla). Unfortunately I also allowed Mirkir’s curse to come to fruition — causing Vilma to die in childbirth because of Baldur’s insult at The Wyze One’s expense. That was the beginning of Baldur’s ‘turning.’ Prior to this, he’d been relatively tame (which is to say he had a host of daily vices, was as corrupt as most other men of power, and had no qualms about stabbing business partners in the back if it suited him), but he’d always resisted taking that true ‘next step’ into Evilhood. Even after I took Vilma from him, still Baldur tried to resist my calls to the Dark Side – choosing to spend all his time with this young children and showering them with love instead of throwing himself into the pits of debauchery that would have been easily accessible to him (like most of the other ‘leading’ men among the Drokka clans). Hacktor and Hecla’s early childhood had been a time of great peace for the elderly Baldur and he was content in spite of the loss of Vilma. Even after Baldur remarried (when the twins were 5) and had more children, still he remained relatively tame – yes I (as The Spirit) was later able to convince him to start building a harem (what 71 year-old man wouldn’t want that?), but even then Baldur kept himself on the straight and narrow as far as Hecla was concerned. Thankfully I reached Baldur’s tipping point when I had Mirkir take Hacktor away — that was the straw that broke Baldur’s back (or at least his happiness). It was shortly after Hacktor left that the 78 year old Baldur first showed up in his young daughter’s bedroom at night (Surprise! Daddy’s here!). Baldur’s molestation of Hecla began when the girl was only 8 years old and continued for years. Although he hated himself for it, the king was unable to stop the abuse. Had Psychology existed back then, and had a Drokka shrink attended to Baldur, he would have concluded that the king’s action were evidence of the broken man he had become and a misogynistic yet wayward attempt to get back at Mirkir — the man Baldur still blamed for the loss of Vilma and now for the loss of his first born son. Hecla fell into Baldur’s hands simply because she was there, because she was available to him, and because he loved her deeply (why is it you humans always hurt the ones you love the most?). Thus Baldur abused Hecla –and it destroyed him. He became an emotional wreck for it (which was good for me because it made him easier to fiddle with) and good for his advisers (who recognized the opportunity to steal from Baldur’s coffers and line their pockets a bit). It wasn’t until Gawain came along that Baldur stopped ‘seeing’ Hecla. During the years that the Derkka princess captured Baldur’s eye (because of my magic ‘Glamour’ – check out Note 8 below for more on this), the king left Hecla alone. Yet as soon as Gawain was gone, Baldur (now 84) went right back to his daughter’s bed — taking out his anger on the (no longer) innocent girl. So, was Baldur evil? In a word ‘yes.’
- Baldur’s foul nature threatened to destroy Hecla too — consider her case: once a happy princess without a care in the world. Never having known her mother, Hecla was once content with just Hacktor and Baldur as her primary companions as a girl. Yet when Hacktor left, she felt betrayed – at eight she couldn’t process that her twin had no choice in the matter. Imagine how she felt when her father (who did have a choice!) also betrayed her? Both of the men in her life failed her – at least in her mind. In the end, she grew to hate her father. And yet despite Hacktor’s abandonment, Hecla’s faith in her twin only grew over the years of their separation – to the point that the princess vowed to rule the world with her brother – or die trying.
- OK, I’ll admit I may have had a bit to do with Hecla’s crippling fear regarding Baldur — perhaps I cast a few fear trinkets her way. But it was all with a purpose. It was time to push Hecla over the edge. She may have thought she was ready for action the night before, but I knew she needed more. Now, at last, she was ready. Now at last, the die was cast – there could be no turning back…
- The Derkka princess could only be aiming for The Siq — the gateway to the west, the way to her homelands.
- Besides the main byway there were many subterranean roads that led to The Siq from the royal palace as well as all the other Drokka realms beneath the mountains
- Rather than take them prisoner, Hecla’s men had dispatched with Gawain’s eunuchs at the capture site and simply tossed their bodies with the remains of the wrecked cart at the side of the road. There’s something to be said for travelling light, eh?
- Hecla’s innate ability to ‘read between the lines’ was again on display — for there was indeed a curse at play that concerned the Derkka’s beauty and the Drokka’s lack of it. But it wasn’t Hecla’s people that were cursed. The reason the Drokka were ugly was simply because you humans always have been an ugly bunch. Don’t blame that on me. You’re born ugly and, despite your best efforts, you die ugly. The Drokka’s lifestyle only made things worse – centuries of living below ground had not only made them squat, but their poor diet, lack of exposure to the life-giving sun, and the fact that they were typically gluttons only added to their people’s overall disgustingness. For her part Hecla was a bit of an exception — in spite of being a Drokka, she was actually quite beautiful, therefore it’s no wonder she was the most sought after maiden in the eight kingdoms. But I digress. As far as a curse goes, it was actually the Derkka people who were marked. The Derkka priests called it Baal’s Curse. What neither Hecla nor any of the Drokka knew was that the Derkka had a legend — long ago the All Powerful One god they called Baal (which you’ll recall was one of my alter egos) had cursed the Derkka for allegedly paying homage to ‘other gods.’ As my Baal reminded his people at the time, ‘I am a jealous god. You shall have no other gods besides me. Lest you forget, my curse shall always remind you.’ Now whether that prior affront was real or imagined who can say? But what was very real, was the result of Baal’s plague — for it caused terrible deformities among the entire Derkka people. After generations of supplication to Baal (and a promise to worship him as their sole god), my Baal relented his wrath towards Derk’s people – yet even then the god’s forgiveness was tempered. Rather than actually cure them of their disease, I chose a different path. First I conducted some genetic experiments with the Derkka people that lived in their capital city of Babel – I crossed some of them with a handful of Amorosi I’d captured and thereby introduced the Amorosi traits into the Derkka gene pool. Things didn’t quite work out as I’d planned – oh it’s true certain Amorosi characteristics became hereditary in those Derkka who lived in Babel, and those clans of Derk soon became leaner, taller, and slightly more beautiful (read: less ugly) than their more ‘Common’ brethren from the countrysides, but even these so-called “Babel Derkka” were still grotesque, goblin-like creatures. However, I was intrigued by fact that the Babel Derk also grew more intelligent than the rest of their clans. Over time the men of Babel built their city into quite an empire. Wanting to test their intelligence, I decided to toy with them a bit – appearing to them as the “Son of Baal” figure of their religion (whom they named Nektar), I offered them a unique solution – one I called The Glamour — a magical aura that I cast over the Derkka of Babel. The Glamour caused everyone who was not from the city of Babel to see the men and women of Babel as the most beautiful people in the world. At first the people of Babel were delighted and they praised Nektar for his help. Unfortunately they quickly discovered there was a bit of a catch — for when these “Babelonions” looked at their own reflections, they saw the truth of their appearance, and knew they were still ugly. When the Derkka forefathers complained about this oversight to their father god Baal, my Baal advised them their ability to see the truth of their appearance was in fact intentional. “Be grateful that I have allowed Nektar to give you this much.” The evil godling warned. “And never forget your sin – else what awaits you next will be even worse.” Ok, OK, I know what you’re thinking – if Baal is one of my alter egos, wasn’t I playing both sides of the fence? The answer is YES. That’s obvious. But that’s what makes the game so much fun, neh?
- Oh, you don’t know about Derkka Skin Masks? Well, they were quite an incredible invention by my intelligent Babelonions. As I told you already, because of The Glamour, anyone else who beheld a Babelonion like Gawain would consider her beautiful beyond compare, however the the people of Babel could not escape the torment of seeing their own ghastly appearance. Tired of looking at their personal deformities, my clever Babelonions invented skin masks – pieces of flesh designed to cover their flaws. It was thus ‘only’ the skin mask over her face that Gawain had ripped away and not her real flesh. (Sorry to disappoint you).
- The mask Gawain wore covered her face from neck to forehead, attached with an adhesive substance called kolla at the hairline, around her ears, and various other spots. It had been expertly crafted to allow for Gawain’s lips to fit through perfectly, for the molded nose to sit properly, and for her eyes to see through unfettered.
- What’s that – you want to know more about these skin masks? Did all Derkka wear them? The answer to the latter question is NO – for the less intelligent “Common” Derk who lived outside of Babel (and who the Babelonions had stopped intermingling with) had long since accepted their deformities and happily wallowed in their ugliness. Yet, like the rest of the Babelonions, who had that touch of the Amorosi beauty in their blood, Gawain worked hard to enhance her appearance and hide her deformities. The Derkka princess used all the standard wares that both the men and women of her day employed to hide their shame – vermillion for her cheeks, kohl for her eyes, mulberry juice for her lips, along with a host of lesser products. In fact, the use of artificial coverings was big business among the people of Babel, as rich and poor alike did everything they could to look beautiful — for despite their misshapen faces and bodies (or perhaps because of them) the way a person looked was ironically of utmost importance in their culture. (As you can see, little has changed with your kind – even back then, appearance was everything). But it was the skin mask industry that became the height of commerce among the Babelonions – some of the most powerful men in Babel, and even a handful of the Derkka Parliament, were individuals who had made their fortunes from the skin mask trade. As you can guess, the poor people in their society were at a disadvantage and the poorest of the poor simply wore veils to hide their shame. Yet such had never been a worry for Gawain — like others in the ranks of Babel’s high society, the wealth of her family had always given her access to the best options available to alter her appearance – and even better than cosmetics was the use of a skin mask – for while makeup colored over deformities, a mask actually made them disappear! As a result, the Babelonions used masks not only for their faces but also other parts of their bodies as well. And yet, nothing in life comes without a price – in the case of skin masks, what nobody talked about it was the pernicious little fact concerning their creation – the skin used to make them had to be harvested from somewhere…or rather from somebody. Most masks were made from skin that was taken from the recently deceased via a procedure in which a Derkka surgeon would remove the upper layers of the dead person’s skin and then preserve that raw material in natron for later use. Afterwards various (and mysterious) treatments were performed upon the materials to keep them supple and flexible, so they’d be able to withstand the wear and tear of daily use, and then the skins were sold at mask shops throughout the city. Yet the masks used by Gawain were not made in such a common-place manner. For all of Gawain’s were custom masks — hers were made with living flesh — harvested from girls of similar appearance while they were still alive. Now lest you think that this was appalling, understand that, at the time of their creation for Gawain, when word first went out that the princess was seeking a new mask, girls from all over Gor had volunteered for the honor (read: they had been volunteered by their families in exchange for a pretty price). Naturally the Skin Barons advertised this as the ultimate honor – the chance to be famous by having your face worn by a royal- and naturally the poor of Derkka society clamored to be first in line for this great opportunity. (I wonder, would YOU volunteer for this? Laugh if you must, yet here is yet another example of the wisdom I’ve been trying to teach you, my readers. The poor are merely the pawns of the rich – at every level. Nay, the poor are less than pawns even, they are naught but meat for the slaughter, coins for the machine, cogs in the system). And what a beautiful system is was!
- A luxury that bordered on the extreme since most Babelonions were lucky if they had just one or two.
- While Gawain may not have needed that many masks, it was a luxury she could afford. (And if one could afford something, why not have it, right? Isn’t that the philosophy so many of you currently practice too?) Did Gawain ever wonder about the many girls who had died giving up their skins for her? Did she ever wonder how many there were? Did it really matter to her? No.
- Yes Gawain was wearing her skin masks but did that didn’t help. For a Mirror from Mersia never lies — it even overcame my Glamour spell. Although this this flaw in the system was something I had intended all along – for surely you realize that the ‘situation’ that happened between Baldur and Gawain was no mere accident, right? I mean surely you are smart enough to know by now that this was but yet another string in my web, eh?
- Oh the Drokka king may not have seen all of Gawain’s sagging wrinkles because of the skin masks, but he’d seen enough. There were some things which no skin, no matter how fresh it was, could hide — the saggy flesh of the body, the mishappen limbs, the protruding…
- The most beautiful women in the world. Instead Baldur saw the flabby bag of bones he’d been making love to the past few years – and it sickened him. And then sent him back to Hecla (unfortunately for her).