Chapter 2
Bitter Sacrifice

AT 1079 (AZ 1451) - Spring
The Shade's Forest, The Darklands

Orguz should have known better than to think Urgill acted on her own. Her mad quest was not entirely her own will. It was all a part of a larger plot by her father, Orguz's son Prince Orgun, to foment rebellion against the rule of the Monarch Lich. It was gross folly and like most follies, short-lived.
Orgun was betrayed by cowards in his ranks and now he was dragged before Orguz in chains by the Monarch Lich's servants. Because of the gravity of Orgun's offense, it was Sir Caligo himself who personally marched his dread army to the forest to surround it. There would be no escape.
"You must choose, King of the Kobaloi," Sir Caligo declared. "The rebels and their families will be put to death or else your entire kingdom will be decimated. Male and female, young and old, without regard for innocence or guilt, one in every ten will be put to the sword. Decide."
It was a cruel choice but not a difficult one. No matter how much it grieved him, Orguz knew what had to be done.
"It is better that a few should die for the sake of the people," Orguz said. "More so when the guilt is upon their heads."
"Father!"
Orgun was fierce and wild-eyed. He would have been the kind of king their people admire most, but now was not the time for such kings. Now was the time for kings who could bear the yoke and all the shame that came with it. Orgun was fortunate to be spared when he fought alongside Orgrin all those years ago. Had he truly learned nothing since then?
"My son, why did you have to be so foolish?"
The question enraged Orgun, who struggled against his chains and spat back, "Why do you have to be such a coward, Father? Because of you, the line of kings dies with me!"
Sadly, Orguz shook his head.
"No, my son, it dies with me."
The King's Grove was abuzz with hushed mutterings. It would have been far more raucous were it not for the great fear instilled in them by the dread Sir Caligo. Ordinarily, females were expected to keep silence in the King's Grove and preferably be unseen as well as unheard, but customs count for little to a desperate mother.
On her knees, clutching at Orguz's garments, Urgonna pleaded, "My King, do not do this! Spare our son!"
Though it felt as if his heart would burst within his chest, Orguz did not let his wife's pleas nor fatherly affection sway him. He knew what had to be done to spare his people greater calamity.
"I cannot, Urgonna," he replied in a low and measured tone. "Orgun has sealed his fate."
"Will you kill Urginn as well? She is with child! And what of her little ones?"
Urginn would share her father's fate, just as her little ones would share her fate. The judgment for Orgun's crime was upon all his issue. It was either that or see every household be grieved just as he would be grieved. No, as King it was his duty to bear all the grief and loss himself. Though he would take the blame, it was all too clear where the guilt truly lay.
"Orgun knew the Monarch Lich's cruelty."
Yes, Orgun knew. It was a great part of what drove him, even though he had to know his striving would have all been in vain. Surely he knew. How could he not? He could not possibly have been so blind.
Either Urgonna did not understand Orguz's reasoning or it simply did not matter to her. When it was clear her pleas would not avail her, she stopped clinging to him and rose up. In her eyes was the same fierce defiance that burned in the eyes of her condemned son.
"I will not see my son killed to sate that monster's thirst for blood!"
Urgonna drew her honor-knife. At first, Orguz thought she meant to stab him with it. If his death could save his son and their people, he would have gladly let her bury the blade in his breast, but that was not what she did. Instead, in the manner of the Urghin faced with dishonor, she slashed open her own neck, the blood spraying the old King as she fell backwards.
"Urgonna!"
His cry could do nothing for her. With his stiff joints, he could not even stoop down by his wife's side as the life poured out of her. All he could do was lean on his staff to watch her final moments. He could not even shed a tear for her sake.
Orgun, on the other hand, wailed loudly for his mother, struggling ever more violently against his chains, but he was held fast in place. Orguz would have like to at least give him the chance to hold her, but nothing could be done.
To a couple nearby thralls, he said, "Take her. She will join Prince Orgun's household on their pyre." He then raised his voice to speak to the entire assembly, saying, "We will not defile the King's Grove with traitor's blood. To the Red Hill."
The Red Hill was so named because it was stained with the blood of countless hundreds over the years. Orguz was slow to put any to death. save the very worst, but most kings seemed to make daily sport of it. How many clans were exterminated over the years, from eldest ancient to newborn babe? Not even the gods could count them.
It was the duty of the King to mete out justice himself, but Orguz was too old and frail to do so himself and there was perhaps no Org who would do the task. Instead there was Trolwer named Dar Gweh who had both the strength and the stone-heartedness perform any execution, any at all, even the King's own son and heir, the apple of his father's eye and the hope of their people.
Sir Caligo's men handed Orgun over to some thralls who assisted in the bloody work of the execution. They held his chains tight but at a distance, well clear of the swing of Dar Gweh's poleaxe, as he thought nothing of cutting down a careless thrall who got in the way of his work.
The few rebels who were taken alive were also being brought to the hill and the households of all Orgun's company were being rounded up to face judgment. Orguz did not intend to wait for all of them to be gathered in one place. The hunt could go on for days, after all.
Cracking his staff on a stone jutting out from the crest of the hill, Orguz called the assembly to order as he pronounced the sentence.
"Orgun, son of Orguz, you are charged with treason and revolt against our King of Kings, His Majesty the Monarch Lich. For your crime, you are sentenced to die, you and all your household. May the gods have mercy on you."
Defiant to the end, Orgun shouted to the assembly, "My father buys you another day as slaves with our lives, but I would have won you your freedom!"
This spurred fresh mumblings among the assembly, but Orguz rebuked him, saying, "You speak foolishly, my son, just as you have acted foolishly and now bereave your father and have driven your mother to her death."
Faced with imminent death and the ruin of all his ambitions, Orgun raged all the more.
"Whatever days you have left will be cursed, old one! Your are not my father! I am not your son! A thousand curses be on you! A--"
Dar Gweh cut off Orgun's words along with his head. Despite all his years, Orguz could never accept how sudden and terrible death was, even though he had seen it time and time and time again.
"He should have been the last, not the first," Sir Caligo said. "You should have made him see the full cost of his rebellion."
"I am not so cruel as your master," Orguz replied. "His Majesty will have his blood sacrifice for the life of my people. It should be enough."
"It will suffice," Sir Caligo said, "but I will be here to see it through, lest weakness should overcome you before the end." He paused for a moment before adding, "I cannot say if your people are fortunate or not to have a king so tender-hearted as you."
Orguz had no answer for him. Was Orgun's rebellion the result of his father's own weakness? Because he did not rule with fear and the sword, did Orguz make himself distant from the hearts of his warlike people? What more could he hope to do? The bloody deeds of this day would not yield any answers.