Location: Rhokii Pass…and beyond
The very next day after Hacktor’s Coronation (1), the new king made good on this promise to start a war with the Derkka.
And so began The War of The Ghast.
Leaving Hecla at the capital to manage his affairs, Hacktor took an army and ventured out…To The World Above.
Initially, when Hacktor and his men came upon their rivals, the Derkka were caught unprepared (2). Therefore, when Hacktor brought war to the lands of Gor, he met with little resistance and his armies enjoyed many early victories.
Even with the Derkka did manage to put up a fight – there were no match for Hacktor’s force. Despite only having a handful of ghasts to fight with, even those few made a difference in the fighting – filling the Drokka with confidence and the Derkka with fear. More importantly, the charismatic Hacktor had the magic of the real Ghast on his side – and the confidence to match – thus the enigmatic Kon-Herr’s army proved unstoppable in battle – each time gaining a bit more ground and moving further up and further in to the great Blackwood Forest.
After every victory, young Hacktor roared out a challenge to his retreating enemies, “Tell your master Garrick that Hacktor Derkillez is waiting! For I am The Ghastwielder and none can defeat me!”
Now for all his success on the battlefield, King Hacktor soon discovered that his goals were going to take longer to accomplish than he’d anticipated. Although he’d won many victories during the summer and early fall of AO 299, as a chill crept into the air, Hacktor was forced to retreat with most of his forces to winter with them back in the safety of the Rhokii’s – leaving the Derkka injured, but far from defeated.
Alone in his chambers with the beautiful Hecla, Hacktor held his sister in his arms as the pair rested after a rather furious round of lovemaking. Then it was that the king lamented, “My men are weak. Those who don’t have ghasts are nigh worthless, for so lacking is their confidence.”
With her head on Hacktor’s chest, Hecla dreamily replied, “It’s no better here at home, love.”
“What do you mean, my queen?”
Hecla sighed as she lifted her head to explain, “You need more ghasts. Everybody knows this. Yet Hef Fastuz drags his feet with each order we send to him – claiming you can’t rush greatness. Meanwhile, Monty has been pestering me with a concern about the war’s impact on trade. He says that both our exports and imports are…constrained – his word (3). He proposed we lesson the impact by doing something with the coins. I believe he called it ea-“
“What do I care about trade or money?” Hacktor interrupted. “Tell me more about the ghast production?”
For a moment Hecla’s ire rose, for with Hacktor so often gone from court, the queen wasn’t used to having her words so easily dismissed. Taking a breath, she gave her lover a warning looked and measured her reply. “You’ll have your blades, Hacktor – for I took it upon myself to make some decisions. Hef may be our best weapons-smith, but reliance on him alone was a limiting factor. I knew that if anything should happen to the old hermit, we’d have major problems if he was to remain our sole source of your ghasts. Therefore I told Monty to commission every smith in the mountains to make your ghasts.” Here Hecla paused to see if Hacktor would dare to challenge her initiatives. When the man smiled, Hecla continued with pride, “Monty now has his smiths working night and day to meet your quotas. And Monty knows that if he falls short, it will be his hide on the line.”
Hacktor continued to grin, stroking Hecla’s hair and relishing the fact that his sister’s win-at-all-costs passion rivaled his own. “Well done, my beloved. You are wise and beautiful.” And the king’s hands trailed a slow line down Hecla’s back as he continued. “It doesn’t matter to me who makes the ghasts. And frankly, I don’t even care how good the weapons are. I just need the men to believe their weapons are like mine. When they see what mine can do, they’ll believe they can do great things too.”
“But I’m assuming their weapons pale in comparison to your weapon?” Hecla laughed, seductively trailing her hand slowly down Hacktor’s chest. “ALL your weapons…”
A candlemark later, the royal couple were again resting – their passions once more sated. Then it was the Hacktor continued his complaints, “Victory is assured, my queen. Regardless of what weapons my army has, right now we have more than enough men and resources to destroy our rivals. Quite frankly the Derkka’s armies are pitiful, and they’re are certainly no match for my Ghast. Yes, Victory is a certainty – we merely have to go out there again and take it.”
Hacktor’s words sent a chill down Hecla’s back. Not daring to lift her head, the queen could only whisper, “When do you leave next, my lord?” And she held her breath, fearful of the answer she knew her lover would give.
“Not soon enough,” Hacktor grumbled, his mind already lost in far away lands.
Over the course of the winter, as Hacktor anxiously waited for the thaws to arrive that would allow his armies to travel again, two things of note happened – both involved the ever colorful Monty Redstone.
First off, after many attempts to get a meeting with the king, the flamboyant Coinmaster was finally able to get Hacktor’s approval for a secret project Monty claimed was absolutely necessary to ensure that Kon-Herr would have all the money he needed to finance his military operations. Specifically Monty got the king’s approval to allow the Coinmaster to decrease the purity of both the Drokkma and the Drokkette (the official coins of the realm) (4).
Secondly, (and far more important from Hacktor’s point of view) Monty’s guilds delivered nearly three thousand ghasts to Hactor’s army – meaning the Kon-Herr’s forces were armed to the teeth with fearsome looking blades.
Giddy with delight, when the spring fighting season finally arrived, Hacktor Derkillez led his forces out of Rhokki Pass and through The Byways — off to their what they all felt was certain victory!
Despite the ghasts (real or fake), and despite Hacktor’s perceived invincibility (5), still, the new king had much to learn about the strategy required to lead successful offensive campaigns in faraway foreign lands. As none of his generals could help him (6), this took time — much time.
In addition, although the Derkka armies (comprised many of the Common goblins from the countrysides) weren’t skilled warriors, even still they put up a fight – therefore many of Hacktor’s men perished in the fighting – this naturally caused a dwindling of the king’s military resources.
Meanwhile, the first negative effects of Monty’s money minting began to be felt at home – numerous trading partners from Eastern TerrVerde ended their relationships with Drokka merchants and those partners that remained soon recognized the lower purity of the Drokkma and Drokkette (by their diminished weights) and thus demanded more coins to pay for their goods. This put a strain on the Drokka merchants guilds and they passed the added ‘pressure’ along to the Drokka public in the form of higher prices.
To combat this problem Monty simply minted more coins…and thereby did he place the Drokka on an path towards economic doom.
Over time then, the effects of Hacktor’s war and Monty’s money supply caused the Drokka people to continually see higher and higher prices for the basic staples of their life — as livestock, textiles, bread, and everything else became more expensive.
In fact, a decade soon passed like this – and the Drokka people suffered, often remembering with nostalgia the happier times they enjoyed under Kon-Herr Baldur — although none dare speak such words in public, for all knew of Hacktor’s fierce temper.
Ten years of fighting.
Ten years of death.
Yet in all that time, never once did Hacktor gain complete control of The Blackwoods, nor could he find The Marduk Garrick of The Golden Hand.
Because the Kon-Herr spent more time on the battlefield than at court, he was only ever vaguely aware of his people’s plight. Although even had he known of it, it’s doubtful he would have cared, for Hacktor was more focused on his own troubles – while the king enjoyed making war, it had long became clear to him that he wasn’t going to be able to exterminate The Derkka people as easily as he had once imagined — or that The Spirit of The Well had led him to believe (7). Thus, the glorious homecoming parades celebrating his final dominance of his people’s hated rivals continued to elude him – and that was a bit of a downer for Hacktor.
Yet things only got worse — eventually The Drokka people were so victimized by inflated prices that they began to openly complain – organizing protests at the various capitals of their kingdoms and threatening to stop sending their boys off to battle.
It was all Hecla and Monty could do to keep the Drokka people in line, especially since some of the louder voices of the angry populace began spreading a rumor that Hacktor didn’t actually want to ‘win’ his war, but was instead trying to prolong it indefinitely – the protesters claiming that King Hacktor was using the war to secretly fill the royal coffers.
As the dissidents became more organized, they became louder – raising their voice throughout the Eight Kingdoms. Thus when Hacktor next returned home, he was surprised to hear of see his people so upset.
However rather than listen to his people’s concerns, the king exploded with anger and he commanded his Secret Servants to round up anyone suspected of spreading such slander. Refusing to listen to the family’s of those Drokka protesters he imprisoned, King Hacktor instead organized a public display for their executions.
With The High Priest Mirkir overseeing the event, Hacktor stood on the gallows in front of the doomed men. The king spoke with passion, raising his voice over the cacophony of the openly angry crowd before him, “When I began this war, did I not warn of you that The Drokka who opens the door must be ready for what stands behind it?”
The crowd only grumbled louder in reply.
Exasperated, Hacktor roared, “Yes, I have opened the Door of War. But unlike you I have always been ready for any enemy that waited for me. I’ve done it not for any riches, but instead for the glory it will bring our people. For you! After all, my people, what do I care for riches?” And here Hacktor threw out handfuls of glittering new Drokkettes to the crowd.
The people scrambled like rabid dogs, tearing each other throats to get to the silver coins (8). Meanwhile, men planted in the crowd in advance by Monty began to cheer their thanks the Kon-Herr’s generosity, trying to drown out the stubborn protestors — yet with little success.
Hacktor’s pride latched on to the small praise he heard, “I fight with my heart and soul. I fight for Rhokki and the Drokka people. Fear not the Ragnarok!”
“For Rhokii is our God!” A handful of people replied, even as many others booed or remained silent.
Before Hacktor could explode at the affront, Mirkir laid a hand on his shoulder and stepped forward. “Rest assured that I see those of you who are causing a problem today. So does our Lord Rhokki. And so do the king’s guards. You shall all eat the fruits of your labors” The Wyze One’s warning, quickly silenced the crowd. “The Ragnarok is coming. You can choose to join Hacktor and I in bringing it forward, or you can join Baal and his minions in the fires. It’s your choice and you can only make it once. Never forget that.”
In the end, the slanderers were executed, neither to cheers nor jeers, although there were many tears, however one thing was shared by all in common — for King Haktor and his people all left the event in a foul mood – with everyone believing they were unappreciated.
For his part, Hacktor left the royal court the next day – spending the rest of that winter at the now rebuilt Siq Towers. Preferring the company of the guards there even over Queen Hecla – for so obsessed was the king with his war.
Now, what Hacktor didn’t know when he gave that ill-omened speech is that his wealth (as controlled by Hecla) actually had increased… in fact quite dramatically — for Monty’s money minting over the past decade have proven to be an incredibly effective vehicle for ‘transferring wealth’ – in this case, from the common people to the central government… and to those that controlled the government (i.e. Hecla and Monty).
When Monty put more of the 90% copper Drokkettes into the economy, the royal coffers swelled even more dramatically – it therefore became increasingly difficult to hide this growth in capital from the eyes of the public — especially since the price of fresh bread had soared so high that it was a luxury few family’s could afford.
The people’s protests grew and grew – much to the annoyance of Hecla.
With King Hacktor ever away at war, Queen Hecla had long since become the de facto ruler of The Drokka. Having lived as a royal her entire life, Hecla had no special attachment to the common people of her clan. Sheltered as she was inside the palace, the queen only ever heard the inklings of complaints from her advisors – yet she was annoyed to hear of anything less than full praise for her reign.
The idea of talking to the protesters had never occurred to Hecla, nor was she ever compelled to ‘walk the streets’ to see for herself any of the ill-effects that Hacktor’s war and Monty’s money minting were causing the general population.
“Let them eat cake.” The queen laughed whenever one of her advisors brought up the growing unrest. (9)
Yet as the years went by, even Hecla grew tired of the constant wailing outside the palace. The queen put Monty on the spot at the next Council Meeting, “Come up with a solution or I’ll have General Heraclez and the Secret Servants start chopping off heads to quiet the crowds.”
The Coinmaster paled at the thought of violence within the mountains – not necessarily because Monty cared about the people, but mainly because he didn’t want to have to deal with yet another firebrand in the delicate economy he was ever trying to manipulate. The flabby, yet ever fashionable, windbag therefore advised, “It’s merely a perception problem, my queen. Give me a month and I’ll solve it.”
Yet despite his confidence in public, Monty was ill-at-ease in private. Unable to change course on his Drokkma Easing project, he knew his options were limited. Scrambling to come up with yet another kingdom-saving, he ultimately decided on dispatching minions of bribed Drokka scribes to every kingdom of the Rhokkis – commissioning them to give stump speeches in public forums that cast a positive light on the monarchy . In addition to casting the blame elsewhere, the overarching theme of all Monty’s minions’ talks was to call upon the people to act like their ancestors did during times of war — i.e. to tighten their belts and ‘do their part’ to contribute key rations that would help ‘their boys’ finally win the war and come home for good…soon. (10) In a lesser publicized move, Monty also nationalized the Blackwood Trade, gaining the Queen’s approval to created a new branch of government called The Blackwood Importation Office or BIO — for the benefit of the people, of course (11).
For her part, (in spite of Monty’s propaganda), the Queen still had Heraclez’s SS guards round up anyone who was suspected of disloyalty to the crown, preferring to tackle the issue on two fronts.
Unfortunately for the Drokka people, things only got worse – and Monty’s Blackwood Importation Office became a new source of complaints by protesters – for despite the increased supply of Blackwood (as a result of Hacktor’s success at gaining more and more control of Blackwood Forest), the government’s promise to use the BIO to control the price of this all-important commodity hadn’t proven true – instead , Drokka people only ever saw the price of Blackwood go in one direction – UP!
To combat this problem, Monty recruited more of the Drokka’s Intelligentsia to help him ‘educate’ the people – sending highly respected scholars (12) throughout the mountains. Armed them with ‘unbiased’ reports that detailed the economics of the situation in ‘simple’ terms that anyone could understand, Monty’s scholars ‘proved’ that the Importation Office was in fact ‘stabilizing the price’ of Blackwood and that any rise in prices was in fact the result of ever-increasing costs to transport Blackwood — that transportation being adversely affected by the nefarious actions of the Derrka goblins who continually raided the Drokka merchants. Thereby did Monty’s propaganda men show that the BIO was not only protecting the price of Blackwood, but also protecting the distribution of this hard-to-acquire commodity.
This plan worked sufficiently enough to keep down noise – at least at the main kingdom (although Heraclez’ secret police also aided in that endeavor) – all of which made Hecla happy.
“Ah, Monty, you are a genius!” Queen Hecla giggled on day, lounging with a glass of wine in a bath filled with as much emeralds and rubies as it had water. Hecla was opening displaying her body to the Coinmaster (although she had no intention of letting him actually touch her). “Your methods are complex but the results are amazing!”
Trying to control his lecherous gaze, Monty’s jowls jiggled with a mixture of lust and embarrassment as he stuttered. “Th-thank you, m-my queen. Let the rabble complain. After all the needs of the state must come first, right?” Never one to pass up an opportunity, Monty then took a step towards the alluring Hecla, yet the queen’s sudden frown stopped the man in his tracks. Therefore he took his leave with a simple, “My queen.”
For her part, Hecla took another sip of her ultra expensive wine and sighed, “Ah, men are so simple – could this game be any easier?”
For his part, Hacktor cared little about how much gold he had in the bank. In fact, had anyone asked him at the time, he’d have given an honest answer if he replied he had no idea. Unfortunately for the king, it wasn’t just the common folk who began to turn against his long war. With no end in sight, Hacktor began to hear rumblings from his army too.
The problem among the men was simple — while Hacktor never suffered more than a scratch in battle, lots of young men in his armies perished. Yes, the glittering Ghast won the day wherever Hacktor fought, but he was losing men at an alarming rate. Furthermore, King Hacktor was but one man — even with his magical weapon, he couldn’t wipe out all of The Derk by himself. He needed the other Herr generals to win their battles too — often they did, but just as often they did not – ghasts or no ghasts.
More importantly, during every battle, more Drokka’s died – more young men never came back to their families.
And so the Herr’s got frustrated — grumbling about tradition, defense-first, and questioning the strategy of fighting in The World Above. Whenever Hacktor heard such words, he scoffed at the counsel, and instead had the generals push their armies further into the Forsaken Lands.
It didn’t help matters that the aged scribe Grak (13) continually begged Hacktor to visit him in Chaldrea so that what he claimed was secret wisdom that he had recently uncovered. Hacktor dismissed Grak’s requests out of hand — often throwing the scribe’s missives in the trash without breaking the seal — for the now grizzled king had no time to be bothered with outdated prophecies and other assorted mumbo jumbo.
In spite of all his problems, Hacktor was NOT weary of his crown.
He didn’t let all the naysayers bring him down. He had his war. He was married to Hecla and she was on top of the world whenever he came back to court. And in Hacktor’s mind, his people had never been closer to accomplishing the goal Rhokii had entrusted to them – namely wiping Mittengarten clean of the cursed that was The Derkka.
Most importantly, on the battlefield, Hacktor continued to enjoy personal success – now fully convinced he was invincible, he no longer just called for Garrick of the Derkka, but advanced his boasting to include the gods.
“Go! Run you vile spawn. Tell your masters that Hacktor Derkillez is waiting!” He screamed, waving The Ghast on high. “Summon Nektar. Call upon Mighty Gwar. Cast a spell for Hekubuz. It matters not to me. Yet, tell them if they do not come soon, I will come looking for them! For I am The Ghastwielder and not even a god can stop me now.” (14)
That foolish remark was the beginning of Hacktor’s fall…
- See Chapter 14 – The Coming of the King
- It should be noted that, after the destruction of the Siq, the Derkka Parliament and The Grand Marduk handsomely rewarded The Priory’s top officials for their bravery in carrying out the plot. (Mind you the top echelon of The Priory had little to do with actual plot to take down The Siq – they just collected the monetary rewards for it). With the fall of the Twin Towers, the Marduk and his Parliament at Babel fully expected the Drokka to retaliate and began to prepare their defenses, but when six months past and no counterattack occurred, the Babelonians finally concluded that King Baldur’s pacifistic agenda for the last 70 years had destroyed the Drokka’s militaristic mindset. For a brief time then, Derkka Parliament toyed with the idea of attacking their rivals (naturally with an army of expendable ‘Common’ Derk). Had they actually done so, the Derkka may have overwhelmed the Drokka – for recall that, after Baldur’s death, the Drokka people were in a panic. However, in the end, The Marduk overruled his Parliament and decided against war – averring that he didn’t want to waste his men fighting a war war in the ‘rat holes’ of the Rhokki’s and pointing out that he had no desire to annex the Drokka’s territory – which he foolishly called ‘worthless underground caves’ (ah, ever hear of natural resources?). Instead the Babelonions forgot about the Drokka and invested their energy into their favorite business – there was still a lot of money to be made in the Skin Mask industry and as all humans know MONEY is an easy distraction.
- A few words on Monty Redstone. After the former head of the merchant guilds (Thork Drivingstone) took his life in the aftermath of Baldur’s death, Monty volunteered to oversee the guild operations (mainly because he saw an opportunity to line his own pockets). When Hactor took the throne, he chose to keep Monty in this dual role (Coinmaster and Merchant Guild Leader) – first off because Monty was efficient in his work, and secondly because Hacktor wanted to drive Monty into the ground, little caring if all the extra work sent him to an early grave. Yet for his part, Monty proved surprisingly resilient (as the quest for money gave in untold energy!). It should be noted, however, that Monty’s concern about Hacktor’s war having a negative impact on trade was a warning sign – one that Hacktor foolishly chose to overlook. Yet Monty was all too aware that, the longer Hacktor’s war dragged on, the more difficulty Monty’s merchants would face. Since a drastic drop in both imports and exports was a big threat to not only Hacktor’s royal coffers, but also Monty’s personal ones, the Coinmaster was feverish to find a solution.
- Ever since their adoption as the official (and only) Coins of the Realm by the great Kon-Herr Drokka Volzung centuries ago, the Drokkma and the Drokkette were always 1 gram of gold and 5 grams of silver respectively. Drokka Coinmasters historically viciously protected both their coins’ appearance and purity and this quality control made the Drokkma and the Drokkette the currency of choice on the continent of TerrVerde, preferred the ‘world over’ by traders everywhere. However, Hacktor’s war spending began to drain the royal coffers faster than the taxes on the Drokka merchants now limited trade returns were filling them. Monty would have liked to have minted more silver and gold coins to finance Hacktor’s spending, however with so many of the Drokka men fighting Hacktor’s wars, there were less and less men working the gold and silver mines and therefore it was becoming increasingly difficult for Monty’s mint operations to acquire enough of the precious metals to make new coins. Monty’s solution to this problem was to both unique and (seemingly) ingenious. To wit: Monty had his mint produce coins that looked like real Drokkma and Drokkettes but were in fact made with more of a readily available metal like copper and less of the precious ones. Monty called his plan Drokkma Easing, but you’ll probably recognize it as your modern day Quantitative Easing. In fact, Monty Redstone was the first human in your history to invent the concept. While a dissertation on the concept of Drokkma Easing is obviously beyond the scope of our discussion, the takeaway is that Monty’s plan allowed the Coinmaster to keep King Hacktor happy by making sure the Kon-Herr had the capital required for his wars – and as a side benefit it allowed Monty to become fabulously wealthy. Oh it’s true that there were going to be some unintended consequences of all this ‘new’ money and that neither Monty, nor Hacktor, nor the Drokka people were prepared for these perils, but as those were future consequences, nobody cared about the risks at the time. Monty kept the money flowing for everyone and that’s all that mattered.
- Actually Hacktor was quite safe — so long as he held The Ghast and battled against another mortal.
- Because, despite their decades of ‘military’ experience, none of them alive at the time had actually fought in a real war – since Baldur had prevented any major conflicts from occuring for nearly 70 years.
- Actually that is incorrect – to be fair to me, I never did give Hacktor a specific time frame on how long it would take him to fulfill his destiny.
- The people didn’t know (and were so desperate they probably would not have cared) that these new coins were even more diluted by Monty’s mint than ever before. Hacktor didn’t know this either (although it’s doubtful he would have cared either). In reality thought, the Drokkettes the king tossed out had very little silver in them – in fact they were over 90% copper and merely had a silver coating, thus making them nearly worthless.
- It’s true that Queen Hecla was certainly smart enough that she could easily have understand the people’s plight if she cared to do so, but Hecla purposefully chose a different path. Given that her personal standard of living had very much improved since Hacktor had taken the crown, Hecla only felt annoyed with her people’s disconnect.
- Monty’s scribes explained to the populace that the royal coffers were not growing because of any intentional ‘war machine’ economy nor because of the Drokka’s new and improved coins (although the latter was in fact a lie). Instead Monty had his intelligentsia show countless charts ‘proving’ that wars were actually very expensive to finance and that all the Drokkma’s the king had were in fact needed to pay for his army’s supplies that continued to cost more and more because of the demand for higher prices by the Drokka’s trading partners (this was in fact true).
- The BIO came about as a result of Monty’s propaganda machine – during their anti-protest speeches, Monty had his army of ‘influencers’ continually hint upon a somewhat obscure and never fully explained theory that the people’s plight had more to do with the intricacies of The Blackwood Trade and not the King’s war or his wealth (rather conveniently no mention was made of Monty’s wealth). The speakers therefore often floated out the idea that the central government should perhaps take over control the Blackwood Trade (and remove it from the free-trade merchants) in order to not only manage the still ever-growing Drokka’s demand for Blackwood, but also to keep prices under control. When nobody (besides the merchants) protested a nationalization of the Blackwood Trade (since they had far more pressing problems to deal with), Monty set up an Importation Office and sold the idea to the merchant leaders at a secret meeting of The Guilds. As The Coinmaster explained to the upper echelon of the Drokka Traders, “We’ll use The I.O. to oversee Blackwood imports – ensuring that top tier businessmen like yourselves have access to the spoils of Hacktor’s great war!” What Monty didn’t tell his merchants, nor the Drokka people, nor even Queen Hecla, is that his I.O. was using two sets of ledgers – one that was shown to the public and one that was known only to Monty. (Two sets of accounting books? Yet another first by Monty Redstone – the world’s first financial baron). It was upon this second ledger that the I.O. was secreting charging a hidden tax on Blackwood imports. Naturally Monty didn’t keep his promise to ‘share the wealth’ and instead used the BIO’s secret taxes (and his continued minting operation) to make himself richer than even the royal family – a fact he kept well hidden from Queen Hecla.
- Read: totally biased, very well compensated sell-outs.
- Baldur’s trusted amanuensis, whom Hacktor had forced into ‘retirement’ by sending him back to Chaldea – the ‘capital’ of all things Scribe-related.
- Hacktor got a bit full of himself, don’t you think?