part 2 of 3
by Joe Jackson
“Montague, what is this nonsense you’re sputtering?” Josiah demanded irritably, still half
in the stupor of sleep even as the other generals and advisors gathered with him. “You went and
spoke to the Maurkim on your own? Did you get him to tell you anything?”
“Yes, Sire. He told me a great deal, so I must ask: Were some of our men sent into the
mountains to attack the gnolls?” Montague asked again, trying to avoid showing irritation and
getting himself into further trouble. It was bad enough he’d woken everyone up well before
dawn, but to have to deliver the news that this may have all been their own doing was not going
to sit well with the prince or his advisors and other generals.
Josiah stared at him, then glanced at Henry Gajaec. There was no mistaking the sudden
redness of the man’s cheeks, but the prince simply let forth a wispy chuckle. “Have you ever
been up in the mountains, General? There are chunks of gold the size of your eye just lying in
the rivers up there, and I’ve been told the mountain itself is full of even more.”
“Gold?!” Montague shouted. “This was all over gold?”
“Do not interrupt me again, or you’ll find yourself in a cell just like our other guests.”
The general settled down at that and bowed his head apologetically, so the prince continued, “I
sent some of our men to scout the gnolls’ positions, to see how difficult it might be to convince
them to… relocate elsewhere. Honestly, slaughtering them would probably have been the wiser
course of action, but I do like to be merciful where it can be helped…”
It took a great deal of effort not to snort at that, and Montague hid the disdain in his eyes
with another submissive bow of the head. “I suspect the men you sent went too far for the time
being, though, Your Highness. If what the Maurkim has said is true, our men killed his wife and
child. That’s what precipitated all this.”
Josiah nodded as though the weight of it was finally starting to sink in. “Ah, well. If we
want to take their mountains from them, I suppose this was inevitable.”
Montague hesitated. For a moment, it all seemed so clear. This man was proving to be a
liar and a vicious human being, just as the Maurkim said. All of Josiah’s victories, both on the
battlefields and the streets of Kashimy’s cities suddenly dimmed a bit. All of his work set to
uniting his father’s kingdom in the wake of the king’s unexpected heart failure was suddenly
under threat by the same man who’d accomplished it. For Josiah to displace or slaughter a
people – even an admittedly savage and somewhat stupid people such as the gnolls – over gold
The wealth of a nation is its people and their interdependence, their neighborly attitude,
their willingness not to die for each other, but to live for each other.
The words of Montague’s grandfather rang in his mind and his soul. The decision warred
within him; did he tell the prince of what he’d figured out, and what was to come? Or did he
stay silent and let destruction come to the royal line, that the nation might retain its righteousness
and start anew in the wake of the coming war?
“Your Highness, I believe we should go speak with the Maurkim again right away. We
are still running out of time,” he offered, a compromise between the warring factions in his soul.
“I believe I can now convince him to tell us what is coming.”
“That would be quite something,” the prince said with a smirk before he turned a look of
contempt toward his advisors, “considering those who can speak the language of the savages
can’t even tell me what his silly title means.”
“I think I know what it means now, Sire, but let him be the one to say so.”
Josiah turned a cool gaze his way, but then gestured for Montague to lead. “Let us go
and see him again, then. Guard, have the creature strapped to the Inquisitor’s Square by the time
I reach the dungeon.”
“Right away, Your Highness,” he said, rushing from the room like a man afraid he might
end up strapped to it himself if he took too long.
~ * ~ * ~
Not only was the Maurkim strapped to the Inquisitor’s Square when they arrived, but
Wendra was chained to the outer wall of the room as well, and the prince’s inquisitor was
heating up several blades and prods in a glowing brazier.
“Not a word, Montague. You promised me answers, now either deliver them or we will
all be watching this gnoll writhe in agony,” the prince said.
“Don’t hurt him!” Wendra called.
“Woman, shut your mouth or you, too, will suffer every injury we visit upon your flea
ridden lover. You had numerous opportunities to end this conflict every night when this creature
went to sleep in your presence. Not only did you let him live, you gave him comfort and aided
him in his invasion. You are just as guilty as he is. Montague, proceed.”
The Maurkim looked at Montague and gave the barest of nods. The general fought with
his desire to let the gnoll’s plan play out and enjoy the satisfaction of watching the prince’s line
fall. But that would be treasonous; he had to at least do his duty. If it turned out to be too late or
of no consequence, he would get what he ultimately wanted anyway.
“The dragon, the wolf, the hawk, and the serpent,” he said at last.
The Maurkim held Montague’s stare for a minute and then managed a smile despite his
battered state. “Ah, one among you has figured it out at last,” he said. “As I said, it truly is a
shame you do not wear the crown.”
There was no time to react. Josiah grabbed one of the smoldering prods in the brazier
and stabbed the gnoll under the ribs on his right side. The Maurkim gasped, the breath getting
stuck in his lungs such that he couldn’t even scream. The horrid smell of singed hair and flesh
wafted through the air, and Montague could only watch as the creature worked to process the
pain, get it under control.
It took nearly a minute, but after huffing to try to catch his breath, the gnoll glared at the
prince and shouted, “I am Maurkim!”
“What does that mean?” Josiah roared back. “For the love of the gods, how can not one
man, woman, or child tell me what that means?”
“Ask… him,” the gnoll said, jerking his head toward Montague and then wincing as his
right side erupted in pain again.
“General? Explain, immediately.”
“The dragon, the wolf, the hawk, and the serpent,” he repeated. “Look to the spirits of
“What, are the gnolls nature-tappers? Are they sending animals after us? We have had
eyes on the dragon’s lair for years; it still has yet to even rumble in its sleep. It is not coming to
the aid of this savage.”
Montague sighed. “No, Sire. Not the fire lizard or the animals; the kingdoms of the
west. Do you not remember the pennants that flew the last time your father met with the
neighboring kings from the west? From the Kesashoi came the dragon pennant; from the
Facroix came the wolf banner; from the Olorushi came the hawk pennant; and from the Eshinal
came the serpent flag.”
Josiah laughed outright. “And you… you think they will come to fight for this savage?”
“I am Maurkim,” the gnoll said again, his weight beginning to sag. The prince had surely
hit his liver or something else vital, and his time was growing short.
“Say that again and I will cut off your manhood and stuff it down your throat.”
“He was explaining to me when we spoke last night, Sire,” Montague said, drawing a
look of murderous outrage from his prince. “He said… said he’d been gone for a year when he
came back and found we’d killed his family.” He turned back to the gnoll. “You went to the
western kingdoms, didn’t you?”
The gnoll managed to look up at Montague again and smile. “Yes. For the last several
years, each of them has sent people into the mountains to look for resources or expand their
borders. They found the gold in our rivers, too. And so, I went to them with gifts, asking for
peace, offering them the bounties of our land if they but left us in peace and offered us what we
needed in trade. In order to secure that peace, I helped bring them all together with each other in
peace as well, that none would feel they were getting a lesser bargain or being cheated by their
neighbors. To enrich all of them would be to give them less reason to covet each other’s things
and lands; there is more than enough for all our peoples to share.”
The Maurkim looked at the prince with contempt. “It was the humans, your highness,
who declared me the king of my people, and treated me as such. As their ally. As their friend.”
“Let him go, Sire,” Henry Gajaec said hastily. “If we kill him, the western kingdoms will
Josiah looked lost for the first time Montague could ever remember. “This was your plan
all along?” the prince muttered.
“I am Maurkim, human. Now I go to my ancestors, and you go to your death at the hands
of my friends, my people’s allies. But your people will know freedom from the viciousness of
your bloodline. Prosperity will return to these lands when you and your family are gone from it.
You took my family, now I take yours. As I said, I never wished to bring harm to your people,
only to destroy your kingdom.” He looked down at the wound under his ribs. “And you have
sealed your fate.”
“Get me a healer, immediately!” Josiah shoved General Staurich toward the exit.
“It is too late, human. I can already hear the voices of my ancestors, of my wife and
daughter waiting for me to join them.”
“Send emissaries to the western kingdoms… we must turn this story to our benefit,” the
prince said, regaining control of his panic. Henry Gajaec stared at him, incredulous. “Have you
forgotten how to speak our language now, too? Yes, I made a mistake, but I will not sit idly by
and let this kingdom be destroyed over the lives of three gnolls…”
“That won’t work,” Montague said, drawing everyone’s attention. The gnoll fought to
keep his head up, to hold the general’s stare, but he was slipping away. “You left the evidence at
your home, didn’t you?”
The Maurkim smiled. “I did. Ambassadors from our new allies… my friends… were to
meet me at my home… oh, a few weeks past. By now, they have returned to their kingdoms
with news of what you have done. There will be no tricking them, pathetic prince. And when
these men here tell your people of what you have done… how long and how hard do you think
they will fight for you? I had doubts on that myself, but after last night… I think despite your
own nature, the men under you are men of honor. I suspect they may just deliver you up to your
western enemies without a drop of blood being shed.”
Josiah clenched and unclenched his fists, his mind working through any possible solution
to the mess he’d brought upon himself. At last, he picked up one of the heated blades and fury
crossed his features. “What does Maurkim mean? Tell me now, or–”
“You will kill me? That is already inevitable, human. But I will tell you. Maurkim is a
sacrifice… the sacrifice of a fattened calf to mark the consummation of an alliance or treaty.
When you murdered my family and set me on this path, I became Maurkim. Now my people
will know peace, the only kingdom that threatened us soon to meet its downfall at the hands of
our allies. This is a sacrifice I make gladly… to protect my people, to go to the family you took
from me, and to guide my people from beyond as an ancestor spirit.”
The gnoll’s brow came low. “I must ask, prince: what awaits you when the armies of the
west come and take your life? Do your gods look favorably on those who murder for the sake of
gold? Do they venerate those who kill women and children to further selfish causes? Or are the
next several months going to be…” He gasped, but forced another breath. “Or are the next
months to be but a glimpse of what awaits you in the hereafter?”
The blade slipped under his ribs in the center, and the gnoll’s legs gave way, his weight
sagging in the bonds of the Inquisitor’s Square as his life was snuffed out. Over to the right,
Wendra screamed before breaking down into a sobbing pile of limbs and rags.
“There is still a way out of this, Your Highness,” Montague said, and the prince turned
and waited for his suggestion. Montague glanced toward the other two generals and then Henry
Gajaec. At their nods, he drove his fist across the prince’s jaw. “Now, your highness… we
make you a Maurkim.”
—- legal —-
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