The Fall of Old Arangoth
This article describes the fall of old Arangoth. See the History of Arangoth for a full list
Dorn and Sarphe
King Dorn and Queen Sarphe had three sons who survived to adulthood: their names were Arlok, Oryan and Ware. The king and queen had many other children besides these, but some of them lived only a few days, and others grew sickly and dropped off just as they were learning to speak or climb on horseback or fence -- all of which things your average Prince of Arangoth learned at about the same age. The three princes had the best tutors to be found in all of Arangoth or the surrounding lands, hand-picked by the king and queen themselves. From them the youths learned swordsmanship and wrestling; they learned all the languages of the races over which their family ruled; they learned the do's and dont's of statecraft and everything that was known about other realms both near and far; they learned to ride on horseback and dragonback and various other exotic species of back; and they learned courtly manners and dancing and how to play several musical instruments apiece. And, as they grew from boys into young men, they were indeed the handsomest and most cultured lads to be met with in Arangoth or anywhere else.
Now Arlok, who was the eldest of the three, had reached an age at which he began to take an interest in the pretty daughters of the Arangothian noble families who lingered about the court, and his brothers were not far behind him in years. King Dorn observed that Prince Arlok's learning in statecraft and languages was slackening off as the lad began to spend all his free time chatting with various charming girls in the gardens and particularly the hedge-maze adjoining the court. Arlok's skills at riding and swordfighting and courtly behavior did admittedly improve, but only in public and in the company of the young women he hoped to impress by his prowess; whenever he was alone learning a lesson with his tutors, he was disinterested and careless.
Said King Dorn to his wife Queen Sarphe one day, "Look at the sorry way the boy is shaping up! Last year at this time Arlok was happy to spend hours on end deploying his pewter knights and staging open battles in the princely sandbox -- good, useful training for the defense of Arangoth. Now those shameless sirens at the court have turned his head a full three hundred sixty degrees so that his brains are spilling out one by one. And mark my words, his brothers will soon be just as addled in the cranium as he is. This will not do."
"Dear," retorted Queen Sarphe, "you were just the same as he is when you were his age, and you seem to have turned out well enough."
King Dorn went on, not listening to his wife: "This will not do. Arlok needs to learn why these things he's being taught are important, and he has to learn this through experience. Apparently hearing things from his tutors all these years has not been enough. I am going to send him out to rule one of the far provinces of the kingdom where he can govern as though he were already king. That way he will see what a serious affair it is to be a prince, and then he'll stop wasting his time with these silly court coquettes."
Queen Sarphe frowned at this: "Was I a silly court coquette?"
Again King Dorn continued without responding. "And yet we've had such bad luck getting children to live long enough to eat without dribbling -- it might not be enough to send Arlok out to do this, since he might well catch a chronic catarrh, or inflammation of the lungs, or the pox the way he's going. No, I'll send out Oryan and Ware to rule far-off provinces as well. Arangoth is a vast land, with many provinces, and anyway it's been many years since I've been able to keep track of what's been going on so far away from home. Now, where shall I send each of them?"
The Princes Sent Forth
After much deep pondering, King Dorn sent Arlok to the far northwest of the kingdom, the region known as Outer Arangoth, where the old fortress of Kayern still remained in ruins from the time of the --- war with the ---. Oryan he sent far to the southwest to the seaside province of Arania, which had been conquered during the ---. And Ware he sent out to the wooded province of Elgaria. These regions had been conquered by Arangoth during that golden age when the kingdom's armies had striven to make themselves masters of the whole world. But since that time the kings of Arangoth had paid little attention to places so far distant from the walls of their pleasant court. Instead, the royal family had long since entrusted the rule of these lands to that gallant band of knights known as the Order of the Beady Eye. These knights had once done their job well, treating their subjects with fairness and seeking to increase the prosperity of peasant and villager alike. But they had gradually ceased being that gallant fighting guild which extended the borders of Arangoth in every direction with their daring forays. Ill-intentioned men joined the Order of the Beady Eye not to defend Arangoth but to fill their pockets with gold. Soon the once-noble order had become little more than a gang of thieves, extorting money from villages that would pay and burning those that could not. But every year the knights in their remote fiefdoms sent their reports to King Dorn, feigning that all was well; and along with their reports they sent cartloads dripping with silver and gold in payment of the royal taxes, so King Dorn chose to trust them.
When King Dorn's three sons arrived in their three assigned provinces, the knights of the Order of the Beady Eye at first tried to cover up their many years of corruption and evildoing. They met the convoys of royal carriages as soon as they entered the far-off fiefdoms, and they made sure that the princes went straight to the splendid knightly provincial mansions without seeing too much by the wayside. Then the knights tried to seduce them with wine and delicious food and beautiful dancers and swift horses.
But King Dorn had judged Prince Arlok and his brothers too hastily when he had lambasted them for learning nothing from their years of expensive schooling. After indulging themselves in the lap of luxury for a week or so, the princes each got down to brass tacks and followed what they had learned as the first rule of statecraft: listen to the people! They set up tables outside the knights' mansions and had the peasants and villagers bring forward their grievances -- and what lists of grievances there were! The knights of the Order of the Beady Eye had been illegally collecting three or four times the taxes they sent to the royal court and using the money to line their own pockets. They had been running their hounds and horses a-hunting through the peasants' fields, ruining the crops. They had been making unwilling servants out of the strong peasant lads and mistresses out of the pretty peasant girls. They had regularly been getting drunk and wreaking havoc in the villages and towns, leaving many of the king's subjects dead and many others maimed. They had not spent any of the money that had been sent to them on building up the fortresses on the borders of Arangoth, as they had been ordered by King Dorn and by kings before him. Instead, they had simply been holding gargantuan banquets for weeks on end which had left the once-imposing knights with nothing but imposing paunches. It was a stunning tragedy of which the three princes came to learn, and each of them vowed that this evil-hearted misrule had to come to an end, and quickly.
Prince Ware had not been in the forests of Elgaria for many days when the King of Rondis himself came to him to beg him to lower the enormous tribute his kingdom was being forced to pay Arangoth every year. It was ruining his people, he protested, and unless the Arangothians could be content with a little less cash, innocent Rondissians would soon starve. In fact, neither Prince Ware nor his father had never heard of this tribute, which the local knights of the Order of the Beady Eye had been extorting for themselves. He promised that no tribute would ever be demanded from Rondis again, and ordered twenty sacks of golden coins given to the Rondissians in compensation for what had been taken illegally. Similar things happened in the places whither his brothers had been sent: let us now turn to the northwest.
Arlok in Outer Arangoth
Sitting in the shade of old Kayern fortress, Prince Arlok had his white-haired secretary write down the peasants' stories, one by one, wearing out many a goose-quill, veritable oceans of ink, and whole flocks of sheep for vellum. Day after day he listened as more and more of the king's subjects took courage and came forth with their terrible stories. "Copy down exactly what they say," he told the faithful secretary who had once taught him to write, "even if it makes your blood boil to hear it. For I want my father's blood to boil when he reads these lists, and I want him to know what has gone on in his name and in the names of his ancestors. And then I want him to seize the courage to do something about it." The knights watched from the windows of the mansion as the prince spent his days recording their crimes and misdeeds. Some of them were penitent and swore they would follow the straight and narrow path from then on. Others gritted their teeth and prepared to face the worst once the king should decide upon a punishment terrible enough to match their disservice. But another group, and by far the largest, sharpened their swords and laughed whenever Prince Arlok's name came up in conversation: "He thinks he's a strong man, but he'll soon find out who the real strong men are."
Finally, after many weeks, Prince Arlok sent the long scroll containing the list of knightly crimes with the secretary back to his father, King Dorn, at the royal court. And then he summoned all the knights of the Order of the Beady Eye who were living in Outer Arangoth to meet at Kayern, with one week's notice. When the week had passed, he had them all line up before him in their glittering ceremonial uniforms for an inspection. "You all look very nice, and I see not a tarnished buckle among the lot of you," the prince told them, "but how have you behaved yourselves?" He then beckoned forth a group of trembling peasants and villagers and had them approach him one by one.
The first was an old man with a beard so long it reached to his knees; he hobbled along with a crooked cane, for he was missing his left foot. "Why are you missing your foot, peasant?" asked the prince. The peasant pointed to one of the knights standing smugly nearby and explained, "He came to my cottage and demanded something to eat. I had no food, even for myself, so he cut off my foot, saying he'd make a meal of that if I had nothing else to give him -- but then he merely fed it to his dogs and went on his way." The prince nodded and gestured towards the knight, saying, "Do with him as you will." The old man nodded and hobbled over to the knight, giving him one good thwack across the knees with his crooked cane -- and then he returned, limping, to the crowd. The knight winced slightly when the old man hit him with the cane, but then he started laughing, and so did the rest of the knights.
The next person to come forward was a young man who walked up to the prince with his hands bandaged. "What are those bandages doing on your hands, townsman?" asked the prince. The townsman said, "Two weeks ago the knights had a drinking bout in an inn I owned, and they began to get rowdy and insulted the other patrons and the servants. I told them to leave, and they did, but not before they had set the whole inn afire. My hands were burned putting the fire out, you see." The prince nodded and gestured towards the knights, saying, "Do with them as you will." The man scratched his head for a moment and then answered, "Have them pay me the money I will need to repair my inn -- that's all I want." The knights laughed amongst themselves, seeing that they would be facing little in the way of vengeance from these people, and they soon had a sizeable bag of gold together to give the man with the bandaged hands. His wife carried it away for them, since he himself was quite unable to carry anything.
The next person to come forward was a young woman who walked up to the prince carrying a babe in her arms. "Whose child is that, peasant?" asked the prince. She replied, "The girl-child is mine, but her father is Sir Alard Swanticler there, Knight of the Order of the Beady Eye, who begat her in a field near Lichen Knoll." "Was this with your consent?" queried the prince. "Oh no," she said; "and he didn't exactly ask the leave of the thirty-seven other maidens of Lichen Knoll who have since borne him children either." The prince nodded and gestured towards Sir Alard Swanticler, saying, "Do with him as you will." The girl shook her head, protesting: "What can a lass like me, without so much as a butter-knife to wield, do to avenge myself against such a swine as him?" "Quite right," said Prince Arlok; and he himself walked over and without batting an eye buried his own sword in Sir Alard Swanticler's enormous gut. Before the rest of the knights could jump to the aid of their skewered fellow, Prince Arlok was already upon the back of his rearing black charger, blade high in the air, shouting: "You will every one of you receive the wages of your crimes -- every one of you -- when I have met with my father the king!"
Prince Arlok spurred his charger forth into the mountains away from Kayern and Outer Arangoth, but as he approached the pass through the mountains he met a sight that slowed him to a dead halt. To wit: he came upon a wide valley in which several targets had been set up for the practice of archery, and as he drew near to the targets he saw that they had been made out of the vellum scrolls he had sent out not long before inscribed with the details of the crimes committed by the knights. Nearby he found the slain body of his old secretary left out for the vultures. The prince paused for long enough to dig a grave for the corpse of his childhood tutor as he blinked back the tears from his eyes. Then he returned to the saddle of his lively black charger and was about to press onwards to the mountain pass when he heard the muted, distant sound of mourning and wailing from behind him. He doubled back to see what had happened, departing slightly from the main road, and ever so cautiously he returned to the environs of Kayern. There were no knights of the Order of the Beady Eye to be seen, but on the field where they had been assembled not half an hour before there lay dozens of corpses belonging to peasants and villagers who had dared to speak out against the knights' barbarity.
"Why did you spur us on to speak out against them, and then abandon us to their fury?" cried one woman, kneeling amongst the bodies. "You're worse than they are!" shouted a now one-eyed man in a hoarse voice, shaking his fist at the prince. Arlok had to admit he had been rather too interested in making a dramatic exit than in protecting the king's subjects. "I'm sorry," he said softly; "from now on I will concentrate only on doing what makes sense, and not on what just happens to be flashy. But I promise you that once I reach my father's court you will never have need to fear the knights again." The kneeling woman laughed hysterically: "Ha! Ha, I say! We'll all be dead by then! The knights said they'd be back soon enough and then they'd finish off the slaughtering and the maiming and the raping, and by the way that's just the sort of promise they're very good about keeping!" Prince Arlok frowned. "I'm sorry to hear that," he commiserated: "but can you tell me whence they meant they'd be back?" "Oh yes," replied the woman: "back from heading you off at the pass, and then beheading you."
This news naturally caused Prince Arlok considerable alarm, which he showed by shaking like a leaf. "That's not good," he commented once he had regained his composure; "maybe you can tell me of another pass through the mountains?" "No," said the woman, "but you might find your way over the mountains if you have great patience, fortitude and stamina." "Well, I do," replied Prince Arlok, "and I can take one other person with me out of here upon the back of my powerful black charger. I wish I could save you all from unutterable horrors at the hands of the vengeful knights, but sadly I cannot at the moment, and I suggest the rest of you run for the hills until my father sends his royal army, which he surely will." There were countless hands raised and innumerable volunteers, all with pleading eyes and pathos-ridden voices. Prince Arlok finally narrowed his choice down to two: either a grizzled old mountaineer who had been leading goats over the perilous peaks and ridges for decades, or else the young peasant mother from near Lichen Knoll whose story had led the prince to eviscerate Sir Alard Swanticler. He finally opted for the girl, since he could take along her child without adding much weight to his charger's load, which would mean saving two people instead of just one; and besides that, she was cuter. Her name, he learned as they began the steep ascension of the escarpment near Kayern, was Moll Friskey. Her father had been hunted down for sport by some knights with dogs, and her mother had been forced to work in the kitchens of one of the knightly mansions until one night she had collapsed from exhaustion into a cauldron of chowder and had wound up being served at table with the next morning's breakfast. Such stories were all too common in those terrible times.
Prince Arlok, Moll Friskey and the baby girl did succeed in making their way over the mountains, although they had a rough time of it and at one point resorted to eating Arlok's prized charger to keep from starving. After about two weeks they descended into Arangoth proper, footsore and bedraggled, and then made their way, all three of them, to the royal palace. Prince Arlok had little to explain, for his brothers Oryan and Ware had returned several days before and brought with them their own lists of the grievances of the peasants and villagers of the outlying provinces. King Dorn and Queen Sarphe summoned their three sons together into the innermost sanctum of the palace, along with Ambodarg Larkspin (the chancellor), the five members of the trusted Arangothian Royal Privy Council, and Moll Friskey.
"It is with great sorrow," said King Dorn, "that I have learned of the true state of things in the outlying regions of Arangoth. Because my ancestors had long trusted in the upright character of the members of the guild known as the Order of the Beady Eye, I too trusted them, and I am horrified to see how terribly they have besmirched the honor of our royal house." At this, Moll Friskey piped up: "You should be!" "And I am," continued King Dorn, "and I herewith humble myself before those multitudes whom the knights have wronged in my name" -- he bent over and kissed Moll Friskey's crude peasant sandals, first the left one, then the right. Moll snorted: "Oh, very good. You kiss my feet and that is supposed to make up for the suffering of thousands of innocents -- the hunting down of my father, and the serving up of my mother in her own soup? And for all I know you have a foot fetish anyway! No, sire -- it won't wash." Ambodarg Larkspin -- the Royal chancellor, resplendent in his luxurious dark velvet robes, the golden chains of state hanging about his neck -- turned pale and murmured, "The King of Arangoth is not to be spoken to in such a fashion, young lady!" But King Dorn rose and nodded: "Listen to what I propose to do. I propose to dissolve the guild known as the Order of the Beady Eye -- it shall exist no longer, and as soon as my sons and I can hand-pick enough honest and willing men to do the job I shall send each of them out with an army to subdue the knights and reestablish good order and justice in Outer Arangoth, and in Arania, and in Elgaria. The former knights can be employed here at court for minor duties in the chancery and kitchens -- that will do for them." Moll looked at the king skeptically. "You mean to tell me," she asked slyly, "that there's not going to be any Order of the Beady Eye any more, not anywhere?" "That's right," said the king. "Well -- that'll be a good start," acknowledged Moll, "if you can do it." "I am the king," said King Dorn proudly, "and my decree shall make it so. But in order for us to have enough time to pick good men to carry out the reorganization, I must bind all of you to utmost secrecy for now -- do not breathe a word of my plans to a living soul!" And they all swore as the king asked them.
King Dorn had sworn his sons and chief advisors not to "breathe a word" of his plans to a living soul. However, he had said nothing about writing, and Tintran Dollitrog, one of the five members of the trusted Arangothian Royal Privy Council, was the brother of Sir Klephtan Dollitrog, who had just become Grand Master of the Order of the Beady Eye at the age of twenty. So it was that the news of King Dorn's intentions was leaked to the knights -- and remember, Sir Klephtan suspected that his father Sir Aritz had been murdered by King Dorn years before, and had not simply died in a freak hunting accident, so there was that score to be settled too. Sir Klephtan now summoned the leaders of all the contingents of the condemned order from their stations far and wide across the land to an isolated lodge in the Ruthmarna foothills. Traditionally they had gathered only once a year, upon the holiday known as the Midyear Festival which falls on the sixteenth day of the month of the same name; but now it was the month of Frost Fall with winter lurking at the threshold. Thus this was a highly irregular meeting and, if generally known about, would have occasioned great suspicion. The participants were therefore instructed to cover their tracks carefully, some saying they were going on lengthy hunting excursions, others speaking of far-off weddings that had to be attended, and yet others claiming they were sailing south to Myst Island for their health. "Fellow knights of the Order of the Beady Eye," said Sir Klephtan once they were all together, "it is time to question where our loyalties lie. You have all heard what happened to Sir Alard Swanticler not long ago. Now it appears our Order has even worse things to fear. I have it on good authority that King Dorn is planning to dissolve our ancient organization and to send his sons out with armies to destroy us all! You know how much we value our unique lifestyle. What other knighthood, what other guild, could provide us all with the sheer wealth and creature comforts we enjoy? If such fringe benefits mean anything to you, my friends, then stand behind me as I declare I won't put up with being cast aside like a squeezed-out lemon after all the Order has done for Arangoth! If King Dorn wants to attack the Beady Eye, then I say the Beady Eye should attack King Dorn first. The Beady Eye Never Blinks!" There was much debate, but finally all were unanimous: they would seize control of the border fortresses in the early spring before any action could be taken against them. Then they would converge upon the center of Arangoth proper, overthrowing King Dorn and proclaiming their Order the supreme authority in the land.
In the meantime, strict secrecy was upheld in the royal court about what the king was planning and what his three sons had seen on the outskirts of the kingdom. There were, however, plenty of rumors in circulation. It has already been noted that, shortly before his departure for Kayern and Outer Arangoth, the young Prince Arlok had started showing a keen interest in the company of the pretty girls from noble families who resided about his father's court. It should also be noted that they, virtually all of them, had simultaneously taken an interest in him. Hardly a female scion of an Arangothian noble lineage was there who did not chronically sigh and weep into her pillow late at night thinking about the handsome prince, and hardly a one was there who did not wake up in the morning cheered only by the hope that she might snare his attention for a few precious moments during the day. Infatuation with Prince Arlok was such a commonplace thing that it might be said to have constituted an epidemic disease. A good many of those afflicted had thrown themselves from tall towers or into moats when their adored Arlok went away to Kayern, but most had simply dug in for the long haul, practicing their curtsies in the mirror and vying with each other for the best cosmetics from Rhydin and the most alluring perfumes from Tollor.
The Slaughter in the Maze
When Prince Arlok returned some time later, and when he brought Moll Friskey with him -- with a baby girl in tow -- and when, moreoever, not a word was said about what had happened in Kayern, or who Moll was, or why Arlok and his brothers had returned; well, they all leapt to their own conclusions. Moll, obviously a mere peasant girl, had clearly bewitched Prince Arlok, seducing him through underhanded means; and without a doubt the wretched baby was Arlok's as well. The fact that Prince Arlok had only been gone something like two months, rather than the ten or so which their suspicions would seem to have required, only confirmed in their minds that Moll had to be some sort of enchantress. What was all the secrecy about, and why had Prince Arlok and his brothers returned? Presumably the royal family was sitting around debating whether -- horror of horrors! -- the prince could marry this commoner wench whose child he had fathered -- whether he could still become king if he did so -- and so on, and so forth, and eep! Some of the "court coquettes" sat around waiting for the dreadful news of the engagement, while others began to bat their eyelashes at Prince Oryan (who would be the heir to the throne if Arlok were not, and who was pleased with all the attention). But there was one group, more hardened in heart than most, those who rather than pining and sighing had actually schemed to get the prince for themselves through trying to disfigure their rivals, substituting acids for their costly rose water, slandering them and ruining their good names with vicious gossip. It was hardly to be conceived that these persons might collaborate, for there was nothing they hated on this earth more than they hated each other. But now they resolved to settle their differences temporarily and to act together in unison in order that they might realize a single goal: to destroy Moll Friskey, and her little baby girl too.
The truth of the matter was that Prince Arlok cared little for the affections of the feisty peasant girl Moll; among other things, Arlok was bitter about having lost his beautiful black charger in the mountains to feed her and her child; and besides, he had grown up surrounded by snobbish nobles and their prejudices against the common folk had etched themselves indelibly onto the bedrock of his own mind. And so, although the two of them had indeed cuddled together for warmth at night in the high peaks during their perilous climb up the jagged cliffs out of Kayern, once he was back in the capital and in his own element Prince Arlok had little interest in the uncultured Moll, who fumbled her way through court etiquette as well as she was able. Instead, his heart had finally singled out a young woman of noble extraction, the of-course-beautiful Melinxa Swanneck, to be his mate; and King Dorn approved his choice, but pledged them not to reveal their engagement till after the peril of the Order of the Beady Eye had passed so that their marriage could be solemnized and celebrated in a fitting manner. And so yet another element was added to the stew of secrecy simmering in Arangoth.
As an undisputed member of the caste of "court coquettes," Melinxa knew everything about the plot underway to murder Moll and her baby girl. At first she thought the cunning plans were terribly funny, because of course she knew the truth: that the conspirators had no reason to envy Moll, but every reason to envy herself, Melinxa, the prince's real affianced. In any case, she doubted whether the conspirators would ever have the courage to put their plans into action. But it became clear that they were indeed going to go through with what they had resolved. Melinxa became terrified: should she tell them the truth, and keep them from killing the blameless peasant and her daughter, maybe redirecting their wrath against herself instead? Or should she tell Prince Arlok about the plot and risk not being believed, or being condemned as herself part of the conspiracy, maybe to death, or else losing the hard-won affection of the prince himself? Trusting in his love for her, she finally decided to reveal everything to her beloved. The plot was this: that upon Heart Day, the sixteenth of the month of Sun's Dawn, they would all invite Moll and her child to join them for a picnic in the hedge-maze next to the royal court before going together to sing the legend of the lovers to their gathered families and friends as is traditional on that date. Whenever Moll should appear, they would surround her and strangle her with a silken cord, and then fling her body into Song Deep, where they would tearfully announce that she had drowned; and her baby girl they would feed to a pair of ravenous wolves, so that there would be nothing left. It was not a very elaborate plot, but they were sure it would work against so simple a girl as Moll. Melinxa for her part was supposed to supply the wolves.
And so at the appointed time the girls of the court gathered in the hedge-maze while their friends and relatives dined at court upon boar and venison in eager anticipation of the festivities of the day. They waited for Moll to arrive, growing bored and lounging about on their blankets in the midmorning sunlight. "Where is Melinxa with the wolves?" asked one. The others were not sure, and thought that perhaps she was delaying bringing them out so that their wild voices would not frighten poor Moll away from the place. But finally they heard the sound of barking and yipping from not far away and increasing in volume at every moment. This would be Melinxa, they thought, and up they looked to greet her. But in fact what had happened was this: Prince Arlok and Melinxa had ordered the entrance to the hedge-garden blocked up and then had released dozens upon dozens of hungry wolves into the vast and labyrinthine maze. For the conspiring girls there was no escape, and all of them were torn to pieces and devoured by the animals.
The terrible shrieks from the maze caused the Arangothian nobles to leap up from their Heart Day banquet and rush out to see what was happening. Prince Arlok and Melinxa met them at the entrance to the maze and explained the crime the girls had been plotting while the royal animal-keeper was hastily rounding up the wolves and led them off, tame as lapdogs, back to the royal zoo. The nobles were not interested in the details of the plot but instead rushed into the maze, aghast to find their daughters and sisters torn to shreds, some recognizable only from bloodied articles of clothing or jewelry. Amongst the commoners of Arangoth there was then much talk in the fields and alehouses as to whether Prince Arlok's treatment of the girls had been too brutal, and opinions varied, though peasants were inclined to empathize with Moll, who was like them, rather than with the arrogant daughters of the aristocracy. But almost every noble family of Arangoth lost a member on that day, and although the families were horrified to learn what their girls had been planning to do, still they were shocked deeply at how Prince Arlok had dealt with them. Each family took its losses very personally, and in the heartlands of central Arangoth the great noblemen began to find fault with the rule of the royal family -- nitpicky things which they had overlooked before, but which after the Slaughter in the Maze seemed inexcusable. And so the seeds of a rebellion began to be sown there too in the souls of the noblemen of Arangoth.
Conspiracy and Assassination
Come spring, the knights of the Order of the Beady Eye rose up as they had vowed to do, and they seized control of the fortifications on the outskirts of Arangoth proper; that is, the part of the kingdom that had always been ruled directly by the king. They then began to advance towards the center of Arangoth, fighting their way through the mountain passes to the lush farmland surrounding Song Deep, upon the banks of which the capital stood in all its magnificence. But the knights had overestimated their strength. The Arangothian royal army pushed them back towards the passes from whence they had come, rallying behind their brave generals; and before long the two sides had reached a precarious stalemate. The war between King Dorn and the Order of the Beady Eye raged throughout the summer, the ebb and tide of the fronts giving neither the royals nor the rebels a clear victory. By the end of the summer, the knights began to lose the foothold they had gained in early spring, and just as winter was setting in, and there could be no more fighting during the season, they suffered several terrible setbacks. They began to fear that all was lost, and they began to dread what would happen to them as a result of their treacherous rebellion. And so they met together and decided to seek the help of a shadowy and fearsome wizard-hermit known as Gadpisi of the Black Lagoon. He cackled with disdain of the knights' offers to pay him for his services, saying he would happily take on so ambitious a project just for the fun of it. "You want to sweep your foes from the face of the earth, and wipe out all resistance forever?" he asked. "Then give me the word and I will begin opening every transdimensional portal known to me or to anyone else, sending the forces of darkness from a thousand universes down upon the armies of Arangoth. Or is that too drastic for you? Are you afraid you won't be able to harness such fearsome powers?" The knights of the Order of the Beady Eye did not know whether the wizard-hermit was nuts or what, but something in his eye made them believe he was quite capable of doing what he proposed. And so they told him to await their signal.
At the same time, back at the royal court, the conspiracy of the Arangothian nobles was hatched from its evil little egg. As long as the rebellion of the knights of the Order of the Beady Eye had seemed like a real threat to the kingdom, the nobles had stood valiantly behind the king, but now that it seemed certain that the royal army would win the laurels of victory, they began in earnest to plot their revenge for the Slaughter in the Maze. They hired a famed assassin from foreign parts named Arenielth, and to her they gave instructions that she should come to a banquet to be held upon King Dorn's birthday and give the king a dagger in the heart as a birthday present. At the same time they wrote letters to the rebellious knights of the Order of the Beady Eye. To them they offered a complete amnesty for what they had done in return for an end to the civil war. And to Sir Klephtan Dollitrog they made an even more stunning offer: as soon as King Dorn should lie dying in a pool of blood at the birthday feast, they proposed to declare Sir Klephtan the new King of Arangoth. This they promised in part because they were unable to agree upon one of themselves to become king, and in part to win back the loyalty of the Beady Eye leadership.
When Sir Klephtan received this letter he was at first skeptical and suspected that the whole thing was a ruse to entice him into a cowardly trap. But his spies (and he had many spies at the royal court) vouched for the sincerity of the letter, and so he determined to take the noblemen up on their offer. He went in disguise to the court, in order to be on hand when the time came for the noblemen to proclaim him their new king. And so the banquet came about. King Dorn in fact knew that something unpleasant was being planned, for he had many counter-spies, but he was unable to learn any details of the scheme. He called his sons to him and told them to gather together all the royal treasures and to be ready to flee the country at a moment's notice; and for safety's sake he forbade them from attending his birthday banquet.
But the assassin Arenielth was late in arriving at the feast. Growing impatient as the hour passed when she had been scheduled to burst in upon the place with her accomplices, the noblemen began to worry that all their plans might fall through. Finally, whispering among themselves, they decided that they would simply have to carry out the murder themselves. And so a dozen of them surrounded the king and, after proposing a toast, they each plunged a sword or dagger into the hapless monarch, who instantly fell dead to the floor. In this manner the reign of King Dorn came to an end. Above a gate among the old court buildings by Song Deep one can find engraved the letters AEIOU, which once stood for the royal motto: Arangoth Excells In Onerous Undertakings. But legend has it to the contrary that this inscription represents the last words of King Dorn: "Aeiou!"
Court servants swiftly informed the three princes of what had happened, and within moments of the murder they had fled the place in their separate carriages. Prince Ware, of whom we will have more to say shortly, fled abroad with his family from the harbor at Drache to found the town of Alysia, taking with him the Stone of Concord. Prince Arlok took with him the royal crown and seal, for he was the eldest, and with his beautiful bride Melinxa he high-tailed it overland towards Kayern and the forests of Outer Arangoth. Prince Oryan took with him the contents of the royal archive, with all its splendid manuscripts and treaties and title deeds to royal lands -- these filled several large carts, which had to be securely covered, for it was raining heavily at the time of the princes' departure, a terrible storm with lightning crashing down in all directions. He accompanied the carts by land as far as they could go, which was to Aran Keep. Finding amidst the old papers the title-deed to an island off the coast of Griffons Aerie which had been given to his family as the dowry of a long-dead princess, Prince Oryan fitted out a warship and had the royal archives loaded into it. On this ship he fled to this island, which was hardly defended at all by anyone; and, showing the inhabitants his title deed, he claimed it as his new residence and married the daughter of the chief of the place in order to secure his ownership; in return, he gave up his place in the succession to the throne of Arangoth. The island is known as the Isle of Summers Winter, because it is always winter on half of the island and summer on the other half; it is also known as Rin. After the death of Oryan, he was succeeded as king of the island by his eldest son, Meridian, who still rules there today, though in relative poverty, for it is not a wealthy place. Thus it was that the three sons of King Dorn scattered to the three corners of the world along with the families of the nobles who had not joined in the rebellion and all the royal treasures and regalia.
But let us return to the scene of King Dorn's birthday banquet: as soon as the poor monarch was dead, Sir Klephtan Dollitrog revealed his identity and was loudly proclaimed the new King of Arangoth. The noblemen scoured the royal treasury but could not find the crown (which Prince Arlok had taken), so they pulled the crown from the marble statue of King Tagran and solemnly placed that on Sir Klephtan's head. Then they carried him about the place, laughing and singing, with shouts of "Long Live the King!" While they were celebrating in this way, the assassin Arenielth came late upon the scene with her comrades-in-arms. Now, along with the chestful of gold and gems which she had been paid in advance for the assassination, Arenielth had received only instructions that she was to kill the "King of Arangoth." Seeing Sir Klephtan wearing a royal crown and being paraded about to a chorus of "Long Live the King," she understandably concluded that he was her intended mark. So, in the twinkling of an eye, she and her companions crept forward amidst the shadows of the hall and fell upon Sir Klephtan, Arenielth herself garrotting him whilst her companions skewered him with a half-dozen blades. With that ended the fifteen-minute reign of the usurper king, Sir Klephtan Dollitrog. Arenielth, learning of her error, left in a huff and was forever after the laughing-stock of the community of assassins.
This mistake, while it certainly ridded Arangoth of an arch-traitor, was nevertheless disastrous in its consequences. When the Knights of the Beady Eye heard that their Grand Master had been killed by an assassin hired by the Arangothian noblemen, they concluded that the offer had indeed been a trap, and they swore to obtain vengeance. So they went ahead with their postponed scheme of last resort, sending word to the wizard-hermit Gadpisi to carry out his insane plan of opening every last transdimensional portal and overwhelming Inner Arangoth with whatever forces of darkness might flood from them. And Gadpisi did just that.
The forces of darkness swept across the kingdom like a cloud of locusts inside a whirlwind wrapped in a tidal wave. The knights, and even Gadpisi himself who had summoned them, were completely unable to control them once they had been unleashed. They destroyed both the nobles and the knights without discrimination, and they terrified the peasants for several months, scattering their flocks and withering their crops. Calves were born with two or three heads, and the sun was swallowed up for weeks at a time by writhing gray clouds shaped like dragons. Not a day passed without torrential rains and thunder and lightning, and every single bird left Arangoth for other climes. But then -- bit by bit -- the forces of darkness dissipated, spreading out and drifting away into odd corners and cracks all over the face of the earth. In their wake they left the lands of the Arangothian crown stunned and bewildered -- not to mention kingless. Those who witnessed these terrible things say that nothing less than Menxruk's army itself had ravaged the land.
The Assi of the Nie Valley, controlled for over a century by the Order of the Beady Eye and the Rondissians, regained their independence and fought a protracted war with the Kingdom of Rondis. Many centuries before, the Rondissian kingdom had extended from the mouth of the River Nie to the Desert of Vernor, but the expansion of the Assi from the south had driven them slowly but surely out of the lowlands and into the Vale of Rondis, deep in the Kanemara [or Connemara] Mountains. Now, we are told, "the Assi reasoned that they could successfully invade and claim the fertile Vale of Rondis for their own. It was the ideal place for the expansion of the ever-growing tribes." Nestramari of Thorvasi and Desiteri of Kintassi were the Assi leaders who drove toward the Rondissian capital, Rondisa, hoping to arrive before news of the invasion could precede them. They reached Rondisa, but only by winter [probably of the year 416], and when they settled in for a siege a column of Rondissian knights managed to cut off their lines of supply and eventually to drive them back. The Rondissian counteroffensive into Assi territories, probably led by Sir HawkEye Darbingray, was eventually stopped at Than'Arturkmei (Clear-Spring Holding). The war drew on for eight years, until around 424, with merchants from Taranor [a.k.a. Telemenx] supplying both sides with arms and egging them on to continue fighting. Then "the Rondissian Court learned of the treachery of Telemenx. Rondis repeatedly tried to send messengers and diplomats with overtures of peace [to the Assi], but most of the border strongholds had been destroyed and they had no success in contacting any of the Assi kings. As a result to this day Rondis is viewed as an enemy of the Assi and with much hatred." This account comes principally from the writings of the Assi specialist Serisious Blendwythe, of the Arangothian Royal University, written during early 468.
As to Rondis, it cut itself off from the outside world as much as possible after the disaster of 415. The following is one of our few sources for this period: "In the reclusive land of Rondis, a second son for the House of Darbingray was born to Lady LaManda and Sir HawkEye. OneStab's first cries were soon quieted in his mother's nestling arms. His stunning sapphire blue eyes opened to greet the proud faces of his dear parents. Sir Hawkeye, a first generation knight and hero of the Assi/Rondis wars, gripped the hand of his enchanting wife. LaManda soothed her new son while the stars looked favorably down from above. OneStab grew into a skilled squire. By the age of seven he was widely recognized at the best in all Rondis. His brother's sword was ever polished to mirror finish, his armor clean and perfectly clad, most importantly, the family's crest upon his shield was maintained in perfect color and exacting detail. OneStab relished his work, unfortunately, it wasn't enough. A prominent figure in the land, Sir Hawkeye was often invited to functions at the Rondissian Court. During a particularly boring ball (boring for twelve-year-old's anyway) OneStab befriended Prince SaDita. Soon after, OneStab accepted an invitation to live in the Palace. There, alongside his royal friend, he was educated in warfare, swordplay, politics, dance, art, and language. Dedicated and true, when the time came for the Prince to wed, OneStab became one of the first Rondissians to venture beyond its borders." We read later on that: "Prince Sadita (childhood friend of Sir One-stab) was for many years the heir apparent to the Rondissian throne. However, he had made it clear he intended to continue Rondis' isolation from the rest of the world. A powerful party of Rondissian noblemen who wanted to reintegrate Rondis into the international sphere therefore murdered him roughly five years ago [i.e., 463] when his father, King Akika, was on his deathbed. The throne therefore passed to Sadita's uncle, the now-reigning King Rakisa. Rakisa has done his best to open up Rondis to the outside world, though he has not been very successful because Rondis is so difficult to reach. He has also been unsuccessful in his quest to find a foreign princess to marry, perhaps because Rondis is so incredibly isolated and living there would mean sacrificing most of one's family and friends."
Arangoth itself was without a king for an interregnum of fifty years (415-465). The capital city of Tagrana was completely abandoned and lies in ruins to this day. In Northern Arangoth, around Song Deep, we read that: "After the murder of the King and the flight of the royal family, one of the Magnates was elected for life by the Diet as the Palatine or Royal Lieutenant of Inner Arangoth. The first man elected to this office was Ambodarg Larkspin, who had been King Dorn's chancellor. Upon Ambodarg's death, his son Perlim Larkspin was elected Palatine in his place, an office which he has currently [in 468] held for twenty-one years." But certainly most of the kingdom fell into a state of anarchy. In Ruthmarna, we are told: "With the collapse of the Old Kingdom, the dwarves of Ruthmarna regained their ancient independence for a brief period, but they proved unable to defend themselves reliably against bandits who flourished after the old Arangothian police disappeared. For about half a century Ruthmarna fell into a state of anarchy, the old villages along the road resembling nothing so much as towns in the Wild West. Each village established a degree of vigilante justice, and bandits who were caught were generally thrown to their deaths from various precipices. The most fearsome bandit of all was Tatarn-ul-Tarrath (Tatarn-of-the-horn) who for a while had control of several of the villages, kept most of the dwarvish miners enslaved, and burned Thraxeti Kerrat to the ground after his romantic overtures were spurned by a girl native to that village (whom he abducted anyway; she was the mother of his daughter Tarla). Tatarn-ul-Tarrath was captured and thrown to his death by a vigilante group from Quarpodar about fifteen years ago [i.e., 453], and since then his band's power has diminished somewhat, though it has continued to be a problem under Tatarn's ruthless successors, his daughter Tarla Nixkenixe and his brother Norpovath Quar. They still control some of the less-accessible mines and call themselves the Riders of the Horn (Sangliodaloth-ul-Tarrath) after Tatarn's horn, their most prized relic."
As mentioned above, Prince Ware, son of Dorn, resettled with a great many refugees in a farming town to which he gave the name Alysia. This place lies at the mouth of the River Hingilak in a region of Aslar which had previously been only sparsely-inhabited; today, its population is mostly of Arangothian ancestry--this also includes the land around Agenor Castle. Prince Ware took with him his wife and his son, who was named Forban. Forban dwelt there in Alysia his whole life and later took a wife from among the Arangothian noble families who had fled during the war, a woman by the name of Marias. To Forban and Marias were born two daughters, Alysia and Narisa.
Now, before he died, Prince Ware gave to his son Forban the golden reliquary containing the Stone of Concord. "My son," he said as Forban and his wife Marias knelt beside his deathbed, "as long as this stone is gone from Arangoth, turmoil and strife will fill the kingdom with unhappiness. My brother Prince Arlok took the royal seal and the crown; and my brother Prince Oryan took with him the royal library and archives with all the treaties and all the charter deeds to the royal properties. But, my son, the Stone of Concord is by far the most important of the treasures of the Kings of Arangoth, for it is this stone that was first granted to our royal family generations ago, and it is this stone that is said to have kept the people loyal to the royal order put in place for their own good and protection against the forces of darkness."
"Will our family ever return to Arangoth to take back what is ours by right?" asked Forban.
"We will return -- not you, but the generation after you will return and will rule again," prophesied Ware. "But you must never look upon the throne of Arangoth as something that is our family's possession by right. Rather, it is a great privilege long granted to our bloodline in return for just rule and honest judgment in the courts and on the battlefield. The crown means nothing without steady devotion to justice and right. The archives and manuscripts are but the skins of long-dead sheep scrawled over with ink and mean nothing without an intelligent mind. And even the Stone of Concord, ancient and revered though it may be, is nothing but a pebble without a good and honest heart."
After old Ware had passed away and been buried, Forban looked at the golden reliquary containing the Stone of Concord and frowned, for it had been knocked about and battered during the flight from Arangoth and was missing some of the gemstones which had decorated its lid. Therefore, after procrastinating for a number of years, he took the reliquary to a Gypsy metalworker to repair it, agreeing on a price for the work. When Forban went back a week later to collect the reliquary, the Gypsy told him that the repairs would cost three times as much as the price they had agreed upon; there had been more damage to the artifact than he had initially thought. Forban refused to pay a copper more than had been agreed upon, and so the Gypsy refused to return the reliquary to him. That night Forban and some of his companions stole into the Gypsy encampment planning to take the reliquary by force, but instead Forban was killed in a scuffle, and the Gypsies decamped to leave Alysia, taking the reliquary and the Stone of Concord with them. Ware's daughter Alysia vowed to avenge her father and set out to find the Gypsies who had killed him, but it is said she was not successful, and that the Gypsies outnumbered her and killed her too. Once she had ascended into the heavens, the story goes, she was unable to find her father there: they insisted that it was not yet the time for her to rejoin her ancestors and her family. And so she returned to the world below, wandering through Rhydin and other lands, aimless and rootless, derailed from the fate that old Ware's prophecy had written for her. Nor did she understand why she had not been permitted to remain in the heavens with her family; and thus, recognizing in herself the plight of a fallen angel, and no longer recalling the name her father had given her, she adopted the name Angelsin.