The Circles - Book Seven - Chapter 10

The Circles - Book Seven - Land of Treachery
Chapter Ten
The Noble Art of Kinslaying
Written by Angmar

Alone and unguarded, King Thaguzgoth strolled through the winding, dimly lit tunnels which led to the very heart of the cavern. There, in the murky darkness, Prince Ashpar had his lair. Here and there, a torch upon the cave wall cut through the gloom, but they were few and far between. Stalagmites cast bizarre shadows in the dim light, twisted shapes which resembled faceless figures of darkness, shades of the primeval night. Occasionally water dripped down one of the fang-like stalactites, echoing loudly when it splashed onto the cave floor. Silence rang like a chorus of bells, heavy and oppressive. Even the King, who had been a cave dweller all his life, felt a little apprehensive as he journeyed down these well-traveled paths.

When King Thaguzgoth reached Ashpar's quarters, the Prince was taken by surprise, for seldom did the King call upon his son. Wondering at this new turn of events and contemplating how he could use it to his best advantage, the Prince quickly composed himself, becoming the paragon of goblin dignity, almost elvish in grace and charm.

"Welcome, my lord. I am honored by your visit." The Prince inclined his head slightly, motioning for his father to take a seat at the table. "To what do I owe this honor?" Sitting across from the King, Ashpar looked at his father inquisitively, interlacing his fingers before him.

"Prince Ashpar," the King shifted somewhat uncomfortably, "what I have to say does not come easily for me. My younger son lies dead because I have committed a grave offense. When I changed the law of succession and named Prince Shakop as my heir, I broke tradition established long ages ago. The Council of Ancestors has deemed it fit to punish me by taking Shakop's life. My joy has been turned to sorrow, and now I must drink the bitter dregs of regret!" Holding his head in his hands, he wailed and keened pitifully.

His expression grave, Ashpar looked at his father. "You know the law... The word of the ancestors is immutable, and we defy them only at our peril."

"Oh, my son, my son!" King Thaguzgoth sobbed loudly. "I have sacrificed to the spirits of the dead, but nothing gives me peace! I fear that I am cursed! I have broken the sacred codes of tradition. By rights, the Elder Ones could have claimed my life, but instead they torture me with sorrow!" Stricken with guilt, he began tearing at his hair.

Prince Ashpar rose from his chair and walked behind his father, clasping his uninjured shoulder comfortingly. "Your anger at me was justified, my lord, for I dishonored you in front of the court."

"Still, my son, it was wrong of me to banish you, humiliating you before our subjects. This was a grave error, unacceptable to the ancestors." His brow furrowed with remorse, King Thaguzgoth looked up to his son. "The Shaman has consulted the sacred bustard bones, the auguries and astrological charts, and he sees dire things for all of us if I do not mitigate the wrath of the elder spirits. One by one, my offspring will be destroyed by some unlucky chance unless I can appease them. Shaman Dûshatâr tells me that I must first make my peace with you, for you are their chosen." An anguished expression upon his face, King Thaguzgoth rose to his feet, his lips trembling. Falling to his knees in front of the Prince, he clasped his hands in the gesture of the supplicant and begged the younger goblin for mercy. "I will do anything, my son! Concede my crown to you, anything at all!"

"My father, I cannot allow you to do this!" Prince Ashpar protested. "I have walked this earth but a few years, and could never hope to rule in the stead of my elders!" Reaching down, he helped his father to stand. As they embraced, the King's massive girth shook with racking sobs. The Prince could not have asked for such good fortune! The Shaman had basically delivered his father into his hands!

King Thaguzgoth looked with bleary eyes into his son's face. "Let no grievance ever come between us," he exclaimed emphatically. "May there always be peace between father and son!"

"My lord, to show you that my loyalty is beyond question, I want to pledge my vows of fealty to you again." He dropped to one knee before the King, who smiled broadly at his son's obeisance. "My sword, my honor and my life, I dedicate to you and the clan. Should I ever forswear it, may the spirits take me to the pale land!" His face grave, Prince Ashpar kissed the ring upon his father's extended hand. With the Prince's head bent, his father could not see the smug look that flickered in his eyes.

King Thaguzgoth beamed with pride. "I accept your oath. Now rise, Ashpar, Crown Prince of Kafakudraûg Clan. Your youthful impetuosity is forgiven. As the Shaman suggested, I have already signed the documents rescinding the change in succession. Now you and your heirs after you will be kings of the Kafakudraûg." Clasping his son's shoulders, the King helped him to his feet.

"My lord, I propose that we make a toast to our renewed bonds of friendship and loyalty," the Prince suggested, his manner earnest and sincere. The old fool was playing into his hands, he thought deviously.

"An excellent idea, my son." The King wiped his eyes with the edge of his mantle. "A toast to the forging of new bonds and strengthening of the old!"

"My lord, only my best wine will serve for this purpose. It is a very good vintage of date wine that my men recently confiscated from the desert dwellers." Prince Ashpar smiled at his father before walking over to a small cupboard. Taking out a decanter of wine, he stood with his back to his father as he filled two goblets and placed them on a tray. The King never saw the small vial of poison that his son slipped into one of the goblets. "Your Majesty, I am sure you will appreciate this unique vintage. It is a complex, regal wine, perfect for a king." He placed the tray on the table and gave his sire a goblet, taking the other for himself. The two goblins looked into each others' eyes for a moment before the Prince raised his goblet in salute. "To our pact, and to the success our combined efforts will bring to the tribe!"

King Thaguzgoth clinked his goblet against that of his son. "To a stronger confederation and overwhelming success in the next raid against the Great One's caravans!" Watching each other, the two goblins drank deeply of the stolen brew. The King was in an expansive, forgiving mood, and his eyes twinkled as they recalled a story from his son's youth. "Do you remember the time that you and your fellows broke into the wine cellar, beat up the servants, and stole all the wine?"

"Your Majesty, that is something I would rather not remember, but, aye, I do remember the occasion quite well," Prince Ashpar chuckled, a sheepish look in his eyes. "You quickly guessed that I was the culprit, but my dam pled my innocence and begged you to show mercy." As he slowly sipped his wine, he noticed that his father's goblet was almost empty. Without asking, the Prince poured his father another drink.

"This wine certainly has a unique flavor," the King remarked approvingly. "I must have a bottle of it for my own cellar." As he was looking at his son, his head began to ache with a throbbing fury. Setting the goblet down on the table, he clutched his temples.

"Is something wrong, Father?" Prince Ashpar gasped in alarm.

"No, my son. I am -- fine." The King's usually ruddy face was suffused with a ghastly pallor, and he broke out into a sweat. "I just feel a bit nauseous, that's all." He chuckled weakly, gingerly touching his stomach. "Perhaps I drank the wine too quickly." His heart seemed to be racing in his chest, thundering against his ribs like a drum. He was surprised that wine could have such an effect upon a goblin well-seasoned in debauchery. Those nomads must have developed quite a potent draught which could knock you off your props if you weren't accustomed to it!

"I could contact the healers if you think anything serious is troubling you," Prince Ashpar suggested solicitously.

"No, no, my son. I am quite all right. Let an old one remember a humorous tale from the past without interruption." He gulped down the saliva which rose in his mouth, and worried that perhaps the nausea would become so great that he would retch. He tried to ignore the sensations, for brooding upon a bellyache always made it worse. "You were adamant in your innocence, maintaining that some unknown party had stolen the wine." The torchlight reflected off the sheen of sweat which was oozing from the King's forehead. He was beginning to wonder if he was coming down with some fever, or the ague.

"My lord, as you recall, you had the confession beaten out of me. The Captain of the Guard whipped me until my bony little legs bled." The Prince smiled, bearing his pearly fangs. "And then, my lord, your anger turned to my dam and you beat her yourself for having taken my part."

"My son, it was only a light beating," the King shrugged absently. "I never meant to do her great harm, only a few love taps." Feeling unsteady and addled, he put a shaky hand to his throbbing head. Suddenly it seemed that his legs were wobbly beneath him, weak and slow to respond to his commands.

"My sire, you did not kill her that time. It was only later that you had her strangled when you suspected she was having an affair with one of your officials," the Prince growled, his ears flattening back along the sides of his head. Even before the King had murdered his mother, Ashpar had hated him, and with each year, the hatred had only burnt hotter.

"We will speak of this no more, my son. The memories are too painful." King Thaguzgoth reached out and gripped the table, his hand trembling. "I - I must sit down."

"Yes, my lord, sit down." The Prince stepped back from his father, a cold smile upon his face. "I just refilled your goblet. Perhaps the wine will relieve your distress."

"Aye, perhaps that might help." King Thaguzgoth reached for the goblet, but his shaky hand knocked it aside, spilling the contents upon the table. His whole body trembling as though he had the ague, the King collapsed heavily in the chair. "Perhaps you should call the healers, my son. I - I do not think I am well."

"Mazauk!" Prince Ashpar clapped his hands loudly. "Fetch the healers! His Majesty is ill!"

The head of the Prince's bodyguard stepped out of an adjoining chamber. "Yes, my lord. I will summon them at once." A sly smile upon his face, Mazauk turned and hurried from the Prince's hall.

"Prince Ashpar," the King gasped, "my legs feel so cold... so weak. I do not think I can make it on my own to my bed chamber."

"Do not fret, Father." The Prince put his hand upon the King's shoulder and looked into his eyes. "Soon you will be past all pain and the chill will be forgotten."

King Thaguzgoth's eyes widened in alarm. "What did you put in my draught?"

"Oh, just a little something to help you sleep." The Prince grinned ghoulishly.

"What?!" the King cried, drool oozing out of the corners of his mouth. "You have poisoned me!" His frightened eyes, filled with helpless anger and the pain of betrayal, bored into those of his son. He reached up to grip Ashpar's forearm, but his cold, numb fingers limply slid away. "Damn you! What kind of wretch are you, to poison your own father?"

"You killed my mother!" Prince Ashpar growled, his voice low and animalistic. "What mercy should I show you?"

"You are my... son..." The old king tried to grope for his dagger, but he could no longer feel his hand.

"Looking for this, Father?" The Prince smirked as he deftly pulled the dagger from the sheath. He held the blade up, watching it glitter in the torchlight. "You shall carry it with you into the afterlife, for you will be buried with it. Your hands are weak and clumsy; that means that it will not be long now."

"Curse you!" Thaguzgoth hissed. A cold as chilling and penetrating as a driving blizzard had crept from his lower limbs to his torso and arms, and now each breath was more difficult than the last. "You had your brother murdered, too, didn't you?"

"Of course, I had him killed. The dog would have usurped my throne, and I cannot allow such traitors to live, can I?" Prince Ashpar shrugged. "You should not be surprised, my father. Kinslaying is in our blood; after all, we are descended from the Elves, and did they not refine murdering their kin into an art?" He threw back his head and laughed, his eyes glittering with malicious triumph.

"You are mad," King Thaguzgoth choked out weakly, each word a torture.

"Sleep forever, my king," Prince Ashpar purred. "When you see him in the Land of the Dead, give my regards to my brother, Prince Shakop. Tell him that my rightful throne will never be usurped." He reached down and ran his finger over his father's quivering lips. "Tell him that he will soon be joined by the rest of our brothers, for as soon as I take the throne, I will have them poisoned, and blame the deed upon your most loyal and trusted advisors. Neither of you will ever want for company, for I will have them all executed for murder." The Prince chuckled maliciously, relishing in the horrified expression upon his father's face. He caressed his father's cheek until the old king gave a gurgling gasp, sighed, and closed his eyes.

Prince Ashpar looked up from the unconscious form of King Thaguzgoth and saw Mazauk hold the door open for Shaman Dûshatâr, who passed through the portal in stately dignity. The Prince nodded to Mazauk and another guard, who stood at the doorway. "Guards, as you can see, my noble father is ill. Take him to my own couch, where the Shaman may treat him, and then wait at the doorway until I call you."

"Well done, Prince Ashpar." A cruel smile curled the Shaman's pallid lips. Gliding soundlessly across the floor, he looked down at King Thaguzgoth's body. After the guards had carried the old king away, he turned to look at Prince Ashpar. "What was done had to be done," Dûshatâr intoned gravely. "There was no other choice - except to sit back and watch our people slaughtered - the Kafakudraûg as well as the Zaboth and Pazul. The Great Eye already looks upon the Kafakudraûg with disfavor, and if the late king had been allowed to resume his raids upon the caravans, the Lord of Middle-earth would have spared no one in His divine wrath."

"I had my own reasons for killing them both," Prince Ashpar growled. "How dare my father rob me of my rightful title! My brother was a drunkard and an idiot, hardly fit to be in charge of cleaning chamber pots, much less ruling a kingdom!" He shook his head, his fangs bared. "No, he did not deserve to be king."

"You are a far better choice... Your Majesty." The Shaman bowed his head in approval. "And if you stray far from my designs," he thought darkly, "you will suffer the same fate as your father." When the weight of overseeing a whole kingdom lay on his shoulders, he did not have time to be sentimental. The tribe came first, and that was his true loyalty.

The Prince walked back to his throne and sat down with a heavy sigh. "Now I must call the folk to assembly and inform them of the tragedy of my father's death." He looked to the Shaman, feigning deep sorrow. "A grievous pity indeed that the poison on the assassin's arrow was not discovered in time. Perhaps an antidote could have been found."

The Shaman walked over to stand in front of the Prince. "Because of King Thaguzgoth's great size and virility, the effects of the toxin did not become manifest until it was too late. Though I have many skills, I cannot raise the dead," Dûshatâr stated flatly.

"Since two of our clan's nobility now lie dead, the mourning period must be long to observe their esteemed memories." A devious smile curled over the Prince's lips. "And to prevent the idiotic raid my late father had planned from taking place."

"The raid must be prevented at all costs." The Shaman struck the floor with his staff. "Spies are everywhere, and if any word of your father's proposed raid should reach Lugbûrz, all of us are doomed."

"Most august seer, at the funeral assembly tomorrow, I will announce that the plans for any raid have been canceled and that this kingdom desires only peace with the Great Eye. That should nip any warmongering in the bud, and remind the people of Who rules this land. Now, my noble Shaman, the hour grows late, and I must determine the words I will use to announce my father's tragic death at the hands of the assassin Durraiz."

"My lord, I will be at your side when you appear before the people, as I ever was at your father's and his father before him. Now I need to meditate. For this I must be alone, so that I may pray before your father's body and beg the ancestors to guide the soul of our venerated King to the Land of the Dead. Perhaps it would be prudent to dedicate a shrine to his memory."

"An excellent idea, noble Shaman. It will be done as you have suggested. Now I will leave you to your ceremonies," the Prince replied.

The Shaman inclined his head as the new king rose from his seat, and after signaling to his bodyguard, walked from the chamber. "Let us hope that Ashpar is a good king," Dûshatâr thought darkly. "If he does not hold the welfare of the tribe as his highest goal, he will meet the same fate as his father, and his father before him."

***

It was around the middle of August when the mourning period for Prince Shakop and King Thaguzgoth came to an end. The Mordorian caravan which had been slated to be raided by the late king had long since reached its destination. Its drivers were never aware of what had almost befallen their cargo, and it was just as well, both for them and the Sand Orcs, who would have been slaughtered by Sauron's forces for their perfidy. A great feast had been called in the Kafakudraûg cave, for Prince Ashpar was to be crowned as king and take his place upon the stone throne of their people. In the days preceding the glorious occasion, scouting parties had searched far and wide for game to grace the well-worn tables.

Among the quarry was a magnificent goat, standing three feet tall at the shoulders. The buck had a set of long, curving horns that would be the envy of any sportsman, and the new king ordered that the head be stuffed and then mounted, another prize to be added to the gallery of animal, orc and human heads in the great hall. Owing to the special significance of the day, Shaman Dûshatâr had laid claim to the entrails of the procured game for the purposes of divination. He was overjoyed when he discovered that the goat's entrails contained a bezoar stone, revered for its use in magic.

At the very moment that the shaman sliced open the bezoar goat's stomach and found the priceless magic stone, another magician - though by no means of the caliber of Dûshatâr - suddenly felt an agonizing pain rip across his stomach. Moaning, Aziru put aside his book of alchemy and, clutching his middle, hobbled over to his medicine cabinet. There, bent over double and biting back bile, he reached for an earthenware jar of dried ginger. Another sharp pain hit him in the gut, and he called for his slave boy Hibiz to brew him a pot of ginger tea. After sipping the hot brew, he pondered the pain and wondered if his misery had some mystical cause. Then the realization hit him, that horrible, cruel realization, comparable to the feeling that a far greater Wizard had experienced when He beheld the vision of His great Ring being claimed by an impostor at the very Cracks of Doom.

Moaning even louder, Aziru mumbled, "The bezoar stone... someone has stolen my magic pearl!" As another wave of nausea hit him, his psychic sense told him that the stone was lost, lost forever!


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