Bad King Urgrain and the Merchants

This story originally appeard in C4 Anthology, the convention booklet from Convulsion: The Next Generation

Bad King Urgrain was known as Gold-Hoarder, but he was never satisfied with his wealth.

When merchants from the Gersini clan came from the coast with heavily laden mules, Bad King Urgrain confiscated their goods. When the merchants protested, Bad King Urgrain took the fine clothes right off their backs and drove them from his tula.

The next season, another caravan from the Gersini clan arrived. They were warier than the first merchants, but Bad King Urgrain put them off their guard by showering them with gifts he'd taken from the first caravan. Then he robbed them, took back his gifts, and had his thralls put their goods in his treasury.

Andrin, the Gersini herald, came to complain. Bad King Urgrain snatched the sacred hazel branch from Andrin the Herald, and tossed it in the fire. "Now you are not a herald," said Bad King Urgrain, and he drew his sword and slew Andrin. The hazel branch flared up, and the flames caught the roof of Bad King Urgrain's hall on fire. The hall burned down, and the fire spread to the treasury. It burned to the ground. And Bad King Urgrain's favorite cat died in the fire, too.

After that, no more caravans came to the Urgraini.

It was not many seasons before Bad King Urgrain's cattle began to sicken. He called in his cattle loans, but his clients' cows were unhealthy, too. Askula Blue-Cheese, his Uralda priestess, told him, "Bad King Urgrain, all of our herds are sick. They have no salt to lick, and they pine for the taste of the sea on their tongues."

"You are not fit to raise goats! Give them salt!" Bad King Urgrain yelled in her face.

"We have no more salt. The Gersini traders have not brought us any."

"Well, no matter," said Bad King Urgrain. "We can always eat pork."

"Our pork has all spoiled because we had no salt to preserve it."

Bad King Urgrain sprang from his seat and declared, "These salt-hoarders have gone too far. The Gersini will pay for this!"

So he raised the fyrd and marched south, toward the sea. They met the Gersini at the Red Deer Meadow. But the Urgraini had so few cattle by now that Bad King Urgrain decided not to sacrifice to Humakt before the battle. The Gersini had their way on the battlefield, taking many captives. Bad King Urgrain turned and headed home without even negotiating for their ransom.

Among the Urgraini was a man named Utharl son of Usdolan. He had a thrall named Varlath, who had been taken from the Gersini many years before. Varlath was a big man, cheerful and hard-working. But he missed his clan. Utharl told him, "I will free you if you bring a cart load of salt to my stead." Varlath answered, "I want my freedom more than anything. I swear by Humakt I will do this."

So Varlath went home to the Gersini. At first they didn't recognize him, but then he was welcomed back and given a great feast. Varlath stood up before his whole clan and said he would not forswear his oath. "I will go back to Utharl of the Urgraini with a cart of salt."

His sister Varla said, "Do not go back to the Urgraini! We will never see you again!"

"He may have been a thrall-master, but Utharl is a good man, and I gave him my word. I will bring him salt for his family and his herds."

So the chief of the Gersini, Bernaff the Ring-Maker himself, gave Varlath the salt, a cart, and a fine horse to speed his journey back. Varlath returned to Utharl's stead. "Utharl, I bring you salt for your family and your herds."

Utharl replied, "Indeed you have, and before Orlanth, I name you a free man."

But Bad King Urgrain had seen the fine horse, and wanted it. When the king arrived at Utharl's stead, and learned that Varlath was the rider, he said, "No thrall of this clan may ride!" He took the horse, and wouldn't let Varlath leave.

Utharl protested, "But Bad King Urgrain, I have freed him by the laws of Orlanth."

"I am the only law around here," said Bad King Urgrain, "and since you are so concerned about this thrall's welfare, you will be a thrall, too, and work beside him." And so it was.

Needless to say, Utharl was none too happy with the way things had turned out. He tried talking to the other thralls about escape. At first, they didn't trust him -- he'd been a master -- but they did trust Varlath, who'd been one of them. Utharl and Varlath together talked to every thrall of the clan. Late one night, after Bad King Urgrain was asleep, they all ran away. When Bad King Urgrain woke up and found out what had happened, he ordered his thanes to bring them back. But his thanes discovered that Utharl and Varlath had stolen their swords and spears. None of them wanted to face those two unarmed, so the thralls made it to the Gersini clan.

And that is how Bad King Urgrain lost his thralls.

Copyright ©1997 David Dunham. Last updated 21 Jun 01.

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