Tuesday, 29 July 2014
The False Moon War: Chapter 18
to Title and Contents
Chapter 18. The Mountains of Mourn
After the defeat of the dark fleet, the Maw's Jaws sailed uneventfully slipped uneventfully to the east of Ulthuan on her way to the Northern Great Ocean.
Although Welhung Thunderloin had succeeded in his primary mission, the acquisition of the slann for his wife, Hellun, it was considered bad luck and poor economics for an ogre ship to return to port with an empty hold. Hellun would not give birth until a sacrifice was made to the Great Maw. Welhung's harried kitchen staff could attempt to satisfy her whims in the interim.
In the process of filling her cavernous hold the ogre vessel terrorized the islands and hinterland from Norsca to Araby. The raiders would put ashore, ransack cheerfully and cast off again before effective resistance could be mounted. One does not simply repel an ogre war party with anything less than an army.
By the time the Maw's Jaws groaned around Southlands Cape and entered the Sea of Dread, she was already wallowing low in the water. After raiding her way up the coastline of Ind, she was close to going under.
The hardest part of the voyage was the passage of the Scalded Delta of the River Ruin. The sluggish waters wound through shifting channels and stinking mats of grey reeds. With such a convoluted route, and many false turns, it was impossible to make way under sail. The crew had to pole the vessel along using her great sweeps. Eventually they left the foetid marshes behind and made sail to Pigbarter.
To call Pigbarter a city, would have been to call a Skaven slave courageous. The settlement was permanent, in the sense that its location did not change, but the inhabitants were in a constant state of flux. No one claimed this armpit as home. Certainly no one expended any effort on civic works or beautification projects.
Pigbarter straddled the River Ruin and the Southern Spice Route which linked the Old World with Ind, Grand Cathay and beyond. The trading hub was nominally under the protection of the Ogre Kingdoms. A mutually beneficial relationship had been established with the nomadic traders which rarely involved wholesale slaughter and looting.
For the Ogres, Pigbarter provided a market for their captured slaves and beasts, and a source of ceramics, silver and spices. As long as the ogre crews had ready access to vast quantities of food and drink while their captains haggled, they rarely did more than smash up the dock area.
Welhung ordered the Maw's Jaws be dragged ashore and dry docked. He converted the remnant of the Naggarothii captives into condiments and cheap tableware, and arranged hire of a number of large wagons to supplement his freight capacity. He did not tarry, because his love awaited him in the broad pass between Fire Mouth volcano and Over-tyrant Golgfag's tribal lands, far to the north.
The River Ruin was navigable as far north as Greasus Goldtooth's kingdom, but the hazards of the river were legendary. Whatever didn't eat you usually charged exorbitant taxes. There was no way to sail past the cannons of Black Fortress without paying the steep toll. Greasus himself would take a large slice of pie when travellers reached his holdings.
West of Pigbarter the caravan route curved sharply north to the Sentinels. The inhabitants of this ancient fortress were as greedy as King Greasus and somewhat less trustworthy.
Although not the fastest or easiest route, striking out across the Dark Lands presented a course with few significant natural barriers and no tolls. An ogre force the size of Wellhung's had little to fear from the nomadic greenskins of that area, and the necromantic sorcerers and chaos dwarves tended not to move out of the territories they had established, and were thus easily avoided.
During the hard months of raiding the crew's attitude towards their Lucky Chef, Caneghem, went from grudging respect to adoration. That he had saved the ship and crew from certain destruction was a secondary consideration. It was what he could do in the kitchen which garnered their praise.
On the open sea, his culinary creativeness was hampered by seasickness and a monotonous supply of ingredients. Whenever the Maw's Jaws made landfall, Caneghem shone.
Wherever the raiders camped, a palatial kitchen tent was set up. The little skink was placed on a raised platform so that he could see over the brims of the huge pots that bubbled around him. Swarms of gnoblar kitchen hands hung on his words, and scribes recorded them. It seemed he could do no wrong.
An encounter in the citrus grove of a Bretonnian noble could have ended badly when glittering knights galloped into view. This potential disaster was turned into gastronomic triumph with the creation of the recipe, Duke a l'Orange.
Later, the ogres crossed swords with an undead host north-east of Tilea. The outcome was uncertain, because undead forces are very tough. However, under Caneghem's inspiring leadership, the tenderizing blows of ogre clubs and three days of broiling, the ensuing Ghoulash was tender and delicious.
In similar fashion, the ogre's palates were enlivened by such delicacies as Chicken Kislev, Quiche Loren, Ghorgonzola, and Altdorf Salad. This last recipe is similar to traditional green-skin salad, but it also contains Imperial Flagellants. The nuts give it a delicious crunch.
Welhung's convoy eventually snaked its way out of the Dark Lands and ascended the unimaginatively named "Pass to the East" above the Lake of Eyes valley. At a natural chokepoint the way was barred by a stone wall guarded by a garrison of ogre troops.
Welhung strode up to the bristling defences with his honour guard of Ironguts. A stout warden shouted the traditional challenge, "Who goes there? Friend or Food?"
Argsplat bellowed the traditional reply, "It's me, you gormless 'alfwit! Open the gate!"
The iron bound portcullis creaked upwards and the caravan trundled through. From his perch on Welhung's wain, Caneghem thought the yawning gate with its fringe of spikes looked ominously like a ravenous mouth.
Welhung and Argsplat watched the wagons rumble through the shadow of the gate.
"These ones are mine," the Irongut captain declared as he hooked a chest and large bag of loot from bed of the last wain.
"So, next raiding season?" Welhung enquired gruffly.
"Maybe not. I'm thinking about retiring. My Dam is needing more 'elp around the 'ouse, what with her not 'aving any arms or legs, and all."
The ogre tyrant clasped Argsplat's left wrist. "Maw's blessings. I'll get you transferred to the wall guards. The ironguts 'ere could use some extra 'ands....sorry. An extra 'and. They look weak."
Welhung eyed the border guards critically. They were looking thin. Their hides hung slackly from their bones, and he fancied that he could see the occasional rib. In comparison, the ogres of the war party were plump and in peak condition.
As the convoy rumbled further along the Path to the East, it dwindled in size as each raider took his share of plunder and drifted back to his home and family. By the time Welhung halted in the courtyard of his large villa, he was left with a single overloaded wagon driven by his faithful lieutenant, Rodekhil Offaleater. The young bull rhinox which drew the wagon stamped nervously as Rodekhil vaulted off the board and retreated twenty paces.
Welhung was finally home. He tramped up to the door of his villa and flung wide the door. " 'Ello?" he called uncertainly.
There was a piercing squeal, "Daddy's 'ome!" followed by a stampede of heavy feet. Welhung spread his arms wide to block the doorway and braced himself as his offspring thundered toward him. Try as he might, he was unable to intercept a single child for a hug. Like so many enormous greased piglets, the whole mob slipped past him and swarmed the wagon.
Shaking his head affectionately, the proud father mounted the stairs in search of his wife. He entered a darkened chamber on the second floor.
"IS THAT YOU, CUPCAKE?" Every crow and vulture within a league of the ear shredding voice took to the air in alarm as the sound reverberated around the mountains. In the higher peaks, devastating avalanches were triggered.
Welhung threw open the curtains, located his beloved and squeezed her hand. It felt weak and thin. Despite her advanced pregnancy, it seemed that she had lost weight in the months since he had last seen her, and her voice seemed terribly weak.
"I've brought you the slann, my sweet," he said, his voice tremulous with concern.
"NAH. I'M NOT 'UNGRY."
Now Welhung was really worried. He studied her slack face and was about to speak when he was interrupted by a high pitched squeal, followed by the staccato patter of fleshy feet. One of his brood rushed, wailing, into the room and seized his leg. He enveloped the child in an embrace. "What is it? What 'ave you hurt?"
The infant paused momentarily and pointed at her mouth before burying her face in her father's thigh again. There was another distressed squeal, and another child pattered in and latched onto his other leg. A third scream emanated from outside the villa. Welhung went to the window to investigate as quickly as his encumbered legs could carry him.
The wagon was destroyed. Durable items were scattered far and wide about the courtyard. Edible goods had already been devoured. The young bull rhinox, still in its traces, had been reduced to a heap of gnawed bones.
Welhung arrived at the window just in time to see one of his young attempting to take a large chomp out of the Lucky Chef who was standing miserably in the ruins of the wagon.
Black sparks flared from the skink priest's skin as the magical ward from the Pendant of Khaeleth protected him from the infant's teeth. The child reeled back with a squeal, hands clamped over a stinging mouth and eyes wide and brimming with tears.
Seconds later, an older boy managed to clamber up onto Taisteslaikck'ken's palanquin, intending to sample space frog. The result was even more spectacular. A rainbow of glowing energies erupted and hurled the lad back ten paces.
"Rodekhil!" Welhung called to his lieutenant who was lurking in the shadows of the gate. "Take that pair round to the scullery. They can't stay 'ere."
Rodekhil nodded acquiescence and pushed the floating throne around the back of the villa with two fingertips. Caneghem trotted to keep up. The ogre whistled tunelessly as he went. No doubt his master had intended for the cold bloods to be delivered as ingredients, but Rodekhil had a cunning plan. The scheme required the skink to stay out of the frying pan. He would go into the fire instead.
The Ogre Kingdoms were a loose confederation in uneasy equilibrium. Each noble house had a long and proud history. Each felt it had claim to the overlord-ship of its peers. The Ogre Over-Tyrant at this time was the fierce Marbutt Hurrtz father of none other than Wellhung's bride, Hellun of Troyarg.
Tyrant Marbutt believed he had a plan to keep hold of the reins of power. If he kept his thralls focused on external foes, and on their bellies, there would be no change to the status quo. He was right and wrong at the same time. His plan was sound, and effective. It was just that, despite appearances, it was not HIS plan. The real powers behind the throne were the kitchens.
The ogres might plan their affairs and prosecute war against their enemies. Exactly what they were up to was all but irrelevant to the High Chefs of their kitchens.
The Chef's of the noble ogre houses wielded significant influence, but the facts that tenure was permanent and that the clients were voracious ogres who would devour just about anything, led to a degree of slackness among the high chefs.
For example, the High Chef to the Over-Tyrant was of such advanced years that his tastebuds were just about burnt out. To get any sensation from them at all he needed to add excessive amounts of chilli pepper to every recipe. An occasional spicy dish is good for the soul, but after sixty-seven years the palate yearns for a change. Also, Over-Tyrant Marbutt Hurrtz had found the fare to have painful after effects, and his "throne" room was shunned by his subjects.
Welhung's own High Chef, originally a captive from Swedia, would gibber incomprehensively and produce disturbing, and sometimes dangerous, experimental dishes.
Rodekhil Offaleater was a good deal more astute than he looked. During his brief time back in the kingdom with his lord, he had seen that the ogre populace was failing. From babe to crone, the people were starving, but yet they did not hunger.
Through neglect or design, the Great Kitchens had obviously failed to nourish the ogre kingdoms. He doubted that the ogres, in their weakened state, could now stand against an external threat.
Rodekhil saw that the members of Welhung's warband were hale and plump. He reasoned that the lucky chef was responsible for their good condition. Perhaps he could assume the role of High Chef if a vacancy opened.
The ogre considered how he might facilitate the succession process without the finger of blame turning upon himself. After a while he came up with the perfect solution.
If the Swedian Chef were found strangled, everyone would blame his spaghetti bolognaise.