The Rogue Prince [Finale] – X: The Cult of Sauron

by Aug 9, 2010Stories

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Nearly one month had passed since the last sons of the House of Sakun, Amur and Lasran, set out from the recently captured garrison of Torask. Even as he had rode, Amur Suladan thought of the passing journey, and after escaping the clutches of the border-forts of Harad began to doubt if he would ever return to his homeland of Amrun. But such thoughts and sour theories were but small voices in his head against the resounding desire to achieve his vengeance at Abrakan, the Golden City of Near Harad.
Once thought dead, Amur’s half-sister Adazra was indeed alive, but the apparent reason for the fall of all Lurmsakun and the deaths of the rest of his family and people was her dark ambition. Out of the shadows of doubt his estranged, but close half-brother Lasran had revealed this information to him, along with the fact that she was now a foul Cultist of Sauron, and a mistress of the venomous Hasharin assassin, Venmal Javitakh, a former associate of his old companion Iaman Raukazan and the puppeteer behind their ill-fated venture to Adunaphel’s ziggurat. Here, at Abrakan, the rumoured location of their Cult’s base, they would both suffer greatly in atonement for Suladan’s anguish.
Sat like a bloated leech upon the crossing of the far Amrun and Harad Roads, the Golden City was both enticing and deadly, an open invitation for the merchant, the buyer and those with ambition, but a threat to those who would steal from her hoard. Exacting this were the Merchant Guard of the Golden King, sternly watching over the shining spires and stout walls – indeed, the city had never fallen since their creation after the disastrous plundering of the Variags in centuries past.
With unflinching readiness, Amur and Lasran came before the open golden gates of the city, where they were brought to a halt by one of this order. He bore a shining trinket upon his shoulder that signified he was an officer among them, though he could only be but a few years older than Amur.
‘Halt, travellers, and state your purpose in Abrakan!’ he greeted.
‘We are men from the eastern land of Amrun, disowned from our kingdom of Lurmsakun by the troubles of the Variags,’ Lasran spoke calmly. ‘Yet we come to your famed city on urgent business.’
‘Oh?’ the guard intoned, genuinely interested in these two renegades. ‘And what business is it that you seek? To start a new life away from war? If you have ambition enough, any man could be as rich as a king here!’
‘It is not the base pleasure of wealth that we seek,’ Amur now spoke with a little less courtesy, ‘but vengeance. Would you care to have a word with us privately – in exchange for a little wealth, of course.’
The guard frowned thoughtfully at Suladan. ‘I too believe that money is base, though necessary in such times, yet I will refuse your payment – I will speak with you for the good company alone, for I see a brave direness in your speech.’
‘We thank you greatly,’ said Lasran as they trotted into the city with the guard at their side. Even so close to the gates, the streets were active with a hive of stalls and sellers, going about their lives like a hive of insects. ‘I am Lasran, and this is Amur, my half-brother,’ he continued, both of them dismounting.
‘And I am Gutharic,’ spoke the Merchant Guard. ‘Do not be afraid to speak your piece here – there is far too much activity here for anything to be eavesdropped.’
Amur came a little closer to Gutharic’s ear. ‘We seek the Cult of Sauron.’
For a moment Gutharic froze, either in terror or in surprise, but then frowned, whispering, ‘Aye, something festers at the heart of this city other than greed, men of Amrun. The Golden King has been searching for their location for many years, but even his bribing cannot loosen the tongues of any who know of it – such is their fanatical loyalty. But why would you seek such a fell group?’
‘Vengeance,’ Amur replied. ‘Two of the Cultists have more blood on their hands than you could know – most of it the blood of those whom I have known and loved.’
Gutharic bowed his head solemnly before returning his gaze. ‘Then I can but give you condolence for whatever loss they have inflicted upon you. But I cannot help you any further – I too have been seeking them for a long time, for they also owe me much that coin cannot repay. Yet know that if you do find any trace of them, you have the full support of I and all of the Merchant Guard of the Golden King.’
‘As you have ours,’ answered the two half-brothers, bowing respectfully before leading their horses into the dense city streets, where any passing stranger could know of the Cult, or seek the demise of its enemies. One such figure saw them pass and guessed at what they had spoken to the Guard, before vanishing into the crowds to inform her fellows.

The travellers had picked a more secretive establishment to stay at during their search though Abrakan. After stabling their horses, the half-brothers ascended to their chamber.
‘We must be careful in our search, Amur,’ Lasran said. ‘We do not know who could be connected to the Cult; though I would guess they have much influence across the entire city, many eyes ever alert and many ears ever restless.’
‘Very well,’ he replied, ‘but that does not mean we should not be thorough in our search. We shall find them, Lasran.’
To this he nodded resolutely. ‘I will start with the men at the inn downstairs. Such places are always a hive of information.’
Lasran exited the room as Amur moved to the small window opposite the door. He looked down at the jostling people below, and in every face he looked upon, suspicion grew in his mind. Yet in the trail of his thoughts, he heard a movement, ever so slight, to his rear. At once he grasped his scimitar and wheeled around viciously – but his weapon was blocked by a long, barbed knife. Holding it was a hooded and balaclava-clad form, but even with just his eyes on show Suladan immediately recognised him, despite the seven years had passed since the ambush in the forests of Dharan-sar.
‘You!’ cried Amur as they held their blades. ‘You spineless cur! You were the one that slew Raukazan!’
To Suladan’s surprise, the Hasharin retreated backwards, sheathing his knife and standing against the door. ‘Such names are flattering, Amur Suladan, but you may instead call me Kharid Drozhna.’
‘Do not be coy with me, snake!’ snarled Amur, barely restraining his sword. ‘You slew my friend – worse, you slew him through treachery! And speaking of the matter, where is the faithless Belzagar?’
Drozhna pulled down his veil, which Amur remarked at, for Raukazan had told him that the Hasharii were never permitted to show their faces outside of their hidden stronghold. ‘I hope this is a sign for you to know how genuine I am being, my friend,’ he said. Suladan almost struck him when he spoke the word ‘friend’, but there was a strange tone of believability, and reason in his words. ‘It was but a task my superiors ordered me to do, and I performed it, as would any good soldier. As for Belzagar, I cannot say for certain, but I hear he is rising in the hierarchies of Umbar.’
‘And so traitors become rewarded with the favour of Lords,’ sneered Amur hatefully. ‘Such as it is.’
Drozhna smiled grimly, before turning to the door and opening it. ‘I hope you do not mind, but I have company with me.’ Another Hasharin walked into the room, and too took off the veil, but to Suladan’s surprise he saw it was in fact a woman.
‘Are the Hasharii now so corrupt even their most fundamental rules are no longer acknowledged?’ he asked.
‘Only for those with the benefit of power, or connection,’ she said. ‘But I am known only as the man whose identity I stole – Talvir Vashnir. I saw you enter the city earlier today.’
Amur’s thought went back to Lasran’s comment about their being eyes and spies everywhere, but she continued. ‘To solidify the point that we are being genuine, I will tell you that I am the daughter of Venmal Javitakh -‘
At that name Suladan’s patience gave way and he leapt towards them, his scimitar striking towards her, but Drozhna automatically parried the attack, still speaking calmly, ‘Please, Amur, let her finish.’
It took all of Amur’s control to step backwards, though he did not sheathe his blade. ‘I can only apologise that my father’s name is a pain to your ears,’ Vashnir continued, ‘yet I am not his daughter alone. My mother is named Adazra; I am your half-sister’s daughter.’
This time Suladan showed no rage. He was simply too shocked to make any expression; but then, to the Hasharii’s surprise, he laughed sardonically. ‘And so it comes to pass that the House of Sakun is cast into the dregs of assassins! Woe be the day that my father was betrayed. And where is she now? Where is my accursed sister?’
‘She still lives and works with us, rest assured,’ Drozhna spoke. ‘Though we cannot reconcile the hurts of the past, Amur, perhaps we can instead help you in your future. You are a great man, and even here stories have spread of your brave exploits at Solendon and your battles against the barbarism of Surakaris. Though you are an enemy of both the Hasharii and the Cult, respect is still allowed to you.’
Suladan made no remark, and so Vashnir continued. ‘Know that we barely hold ourselves among the Hasharii any longer, but are more servants of the Great Lord, whose war against our true enemies in the north is fast approaching. Such a conflict will see much glory and honour at stake, and those who come to grasp it will reap the benefits of eternal heroism. What we have come to offer, kinsman, is that we can help to make you lead the forefront of that army, not only in the name of Sauron, but in your own!’
Amur paused for a moment. Though all that these snakes said was instantly rejected from his system, there was no higher goal that he could dream of than to forge himself into one of the great heroes of legend.
Drozhna caught the doubt in his mind, and swiftly acted upon it. ‘I see that you shall have trouble deciding upon this offer of indoctrination into our Cult. Do not think, however, of the negative assets attached to this word, simply think of it as a league, or a council, or a scheme of those who seek only to achieve their ambitions. We shall be summoning a gathering tonight which you are more than welcome to join – perhaps once you see us, you shall know your decision. One of us shall return to collect you here tonight.’
Before Suladan knew whether he himself would agree, the two Hasharii – or rather, cultists, vanished through the door, leaving him in deep thought. Would he truly trade in all his moralities and inhibitions for the chance of the greatest glory and honour in the South? Indeed, what price was too great for a man’s highest dream? Amur moved to the window once again, and where before he saw the street-people as hidden enemies, he now saw them as his subjects, his army, conquering fresh lands and carving his name into the foundations of history. Perhaps after the war with the North-lands he could return victorious, and reclaim Amrun from Surakaris, and perhaps take Umbar, and all of Khand, and lands far and wide where he would alone be King. He thought again of the old teaching of Valakar – ‘True honour is found more in forgiveness than in vengeance’, and in that moment finally knew what he had meant when he had said that; that honour and righteousness could not be achieved by a straight and narrow path, but through compromise. Before the sun would set into night, Suladan knew that through the waning of the day he would have much to muse upon.

All was dark when the Cult sent for Amur. He was waiting outside the inn, staring despondently into the blackened streets, when a hooded figure emerged from the shadows to address him. When he approached, Suladan knew it not to be Drozhna or Vashnir, this Hasharii had an older, darker knowledge and confidence about him; and he recognised him from many years ago, though he had heard more of this man than he had seen of him first-hand.
‘Good evening, Amur Sakun. I am Venmal Javitakh.’
‘Do not dare to speak the name of the house of my father again;’ said Amur calmly, but with threat, ‘the House that you sacked and pillaged with wanton abandon.’
‘Come,’ Javitakh whispered, choosing to ignore this. ‘The avaricious grip of the Golden King tightens with every day. We must go at once.’
Suladan walked the deathly quiet streets with the Hasharin slowly and steadily, his mind weighing his footsteps down. Javitakh, however, had no intention to leave this fly in peace as they travelled, and sought to pick off a few wings before they arrived at their destination.
‘You travelled with my old fellow novice in your youth, did you not?’ he spoke.
‘You know full well I did,’ retorted Amur with a slight snarl. ‘I was there when you attacked us at Gadirkarn.’
‘Ah yes,’ said Javitakh wi!@#$lly with a smile. ‘When I sent you all on your little quest. I never asked how that went…’
‘Not well, but not well for you either. As I remember, I destroyed the artifacts and so you never achieved your goal of merging the Cult and the Hasharii,’ Suladan spoke with confidence now, but Javitakh did not flinch. ‘Iaman Raukazan was always better than you will ever be.’
‘Better?’ smirked Javitakh. ‘Better in what way? I truly doubt that, especially since his head rests on a stake before the Altar of the Shadow Queen whilst I am still alive and healthy.’
‘Cowards and traitors often are,’ Amur finished.

Soon they came to an empty house in the less populous regions of the city, though two guardsmen protected it. These, however, were not in the uniform of the Merchant Guard, but in black cloaks, wielding spears of dull silver.
Javitakh spoke a password to the two guardsmen, but it was a foul language Suladan had never heard before. The spears slackened, and Javitakh thrust open the doors. Amur did not hesitate before following him through.
The building seemed to be possessed by one of high standing, though as they passed inside, all the walls and cloths were furnished to a dark shade, and all seemed older than they at first appeared. Javitakh’s movements about the building showed to Suladan that he had been here many times before, and after moving through several dim rooms, they came to a sizeable portrait of an ancient king draped in splendour.
‘Who is that?’ asked Amur.
Javitakh sneered at his apparent lack of historical knowledge. ‘This is Ar-Pharazon, the last King of Numenor. He hangs here because he reminds us that no man, no matter how high or mighty, can overthrow the mastery of Sauron.’
With that he plucked the portrait from the wall, although he had said even his apparent master’s name with carelessness. When the painting was removed a hidden stairway was revealed spiralling downwards and Javitakh, taking a flaming brand, began moving down as Suladan followed him below.
After a relatively short walk, Amur found that they had led into what seemed to be a small room, a foyer of sorts, and on the opposite wall to the staircase stood a large, black iron gate, and above it, both entrancing and menacing, hung the emblem of a great eye.
Javitakh casually lurched open the iron doors, and they passed into a great subterranean hall devoid of outer sunlight. Yet, long lines of fire had run down the sides of the floor, burning on the extreme left and right from deep slits carved into the stone and filled with oil, though it seemed as if the flames sprung from the very hells of the earth. Figures stood in militant-like lines across the room, as if they were a force organising for battle, and they all draped themselves in the shadows of the long black robes and cloaks they wore. Upon the walls and supporting columns were portrayed many emblems and depictions, but one theme dominated them all – the same eye that gazed unhindered from the entrance; the same eye that Suladan had seen carved throughout the ziggurat of Adunaphel so many years ago. At the end of the chamber was a raised dais, curtained by a swathe of unadorned black veils, but they were pulled back to reveal a great iron throne that seethed with unwholesomeness, which seemed to be the twin of the throne of the Shadow Queen he had seen in the ziggurat. Yet she did not sit there; instead before it stood Drozhna, and Vashnir, and several others whom, if Amur knew the politics and rulers of Harad better, would have been shocked to have seen there. But he had eyes for only one of the chief cultists who stood amongst them – a tall woman, her eyes framed by blackness and her face ever ready to twist into contempt. There Adazra Sakun stood, the half-sister that had betrayed all of Lurmsakun to the death. Suladan’s head resounded hurtfully at her presence.
He was led to the foot of the dais, walking patiently between the ordered cultists, and Javitakh took his place beside the chiefs, standing beside Adazra. Amur saw that there was no true love between them, and that Vashnir was just the offspring of their uncontrolled lust.
‘All have been gathered,’ spoke Adazra, seeming to barely register her younger half-brother’s presence. ‘Let the council commence. Our first, and direst, issue that must be addressed is the coming war of our master against the hated stone-lands.’
‘The Hasharii’s involvement in the war is still unsure,’ interjected Drozhna suddenly. ‘The new head of our order, the Black Scorpion, is Sumnem Vhyghor, my old master, and he is a very incalculable character. I can only presume he will feign loyalty to the Council of Umbar by sending several agents into the war whilst attempting to overthrow them, but I cannot even say this for sure. I truly do not know whether he works for his ambition or his sadism – he is a worthy foe indeed.’
‘A foe you failed to assassinate,’ jeered Javitakh. ‘If not for your failure I could have become the Myr Unghal, and the Hasharii’s loyalty would no longer become an issue.’
‘Nevertheless,’ retorted Drozhna angrily, ‘they remain one. But now we stand with the issue of who we should design to lead the Haradrim to war. The Lords of Umbar will undoubtedly desire a champion whom the people can look up to, but who is controllable to their will; and the petty tribes-people would never follow a Hasharin or a captain of Umbar. But if we ensure this champion is in our league, our domination in the South will fast come to fruit. This is why today I have summoned before us the hero of Solendon, Amur Suladan of Amrun.’
Many voices murmured, but above them all was Adazra’s. ‘Yet how can we be sure that he is worthy of our trust?’
‘Because,’ Amur answered, ‘like you, my sister, I have discovered that our ambitions can only be achieved by compromise. If glory can be found by working with those whom I would usually name my enemies, so be it.’
Adazra stared at Amur searchingly, but what thoughts circled in her head none could say. ‘Very well,’ said Drozhna, ‘then if none have an objection, we shall initiate Amur Suladan into our Cult -‘
Suddenly a great clang resounded through the chamber and a clamour of voices and footsteps echoed like the onrush of a storm. Amur was left with much to plan after Drozhna and Vashnir departed his room at the inn. First he had to inform Lasran to follow him to the secret meeting of the Cult, who would then have to inform Gutharic and the Merchant Guard with all haste. As the many warriors of the Golden King now flooded the chamber of the cultists, Suladan drew his scimitar in defiance against Vashnir, Drozhna, Adazra, Javitakh and all the other cultists assembled as he watched shock wash over their faces like a tide.
‘You were wrong, Javitakh,’ Suladan cried. ‘One man can overthrow the mastery of cursed Sauron!’
Instantly Drozhna leapt upon him as the charge of gold crushed into the lines of black. Many cultists were thrown down before many had even registered their peril, but each was a deadly warrior in their own right, and the attackers still had a hard fight ahead of them; for the wolf is most dangerous when cornered. But ever in the vanguard of the Merchant Guard fought Lasran, cleaving a way to his brother’s side, his face fair and fell with wrath.
Burning in the back of both Drozhna and Suladan’s minds was their fight years ago in the forests of Dharan-sar, and their inability to end the other back then. The slashing blades of the Hasharin twirled and struck here and there like a rampant bout of lightning, but the keen scimitar of the rogue prince kept the attacks at bay. Yet despite the zealous rage of the cultists, the numbers and the ambush of the Guard had been too swift, and soon many were fleeing for the iron door, though few could cut their way through the many warriors that stood in their path. Drozhna’s eyes flickered to the exit, and with a flash he was away, knowing ruefully that his vengeance would have to wait against the odds stacked before him. Suladan wheeled to hurl a threat at him, but did not have time as the hoarse scream of his half-sister brought him back into the combat.
‘Surakaris could never finish the job of killing you and your disgusting mother,’ Adazra spat even as she duelled. ‘Never send a Variag to do a cultist’s job.’
‘Why, Adazra?’ screamed Amur. ‘Why did the Cult have an interest in Amrun? Why did you sell out all of your people?’
‘Because Javitakh asked me too,’ she smiled, half playfully, half scornfully. But even as she made to strike again, she stopped short, and noticed the wound emanating from her stomach. As she dropped to the floor, Amur noticed the figure standing behind her, holding his sword and staring with unbridled anger at his fallen foe.
‘Our vengeance is achieved,’ said Lasran.
‘As is mine,’ shouted Javitakh as he cut his dagger down Lasran’s back and leapt through the chaos, seeking his escape.
Suladan’s world went slower in that moment. The fleeing figures of Drozhna, Vashnir and Javitakh were lost on him, as was the encroaching victory of the Merchant Guard, hacking the writhing fallen of the cultists as they lay. All was a grey blur about the dying form of his brother, whom he moved to support with his arms, but his face was still struck with shock.
‘We did it, Amur,’ whispered Lasran through his dying breaths. ‘We slew her. At last the ghosts of our family, and our people, can be at peace.’
‘But Javitakh escaped,’ said Amur, the thought moving his shock into sudden anger. ‘And the Variags still occupy Lurmsakun. How can they be at peace whilst they still live?’
‘They shall be dealt with, in due time, of that I am sure,’ calmed Lasran. ‘But remember not to let your vengeance consume you, as it has so done to me.’
‘Yes, brother. True honour is found more in forgiveness than in vengeance,’ quoted Suladan.
‘But vengeance seems to be your lot, for now, at least. Now I go to meet our brothers Adulam and Jeldhun, and my mother Hyulra, and your mother Jerra, and our noble father, King Varnam. You carry now all the hopes of the House of Sakun upon you, Amur Suladan – and may they carry you to greatness!’
With that Lasran died in his arms, and at last Amur’s anger turned to sadness. Now he was truly the last of his family – alone, outcast and exiled in a hostile world. But he would not cry externally; his face was now too hardened against such grieves, and his tears long since spent, though the finding and sudden departure of his dearest sibling was the hardest yet to bear.

The chamber of the Cult of Sauron was splattered with the blood of the fallen. No quarter had been given to the plague of cultists that had festered down here, and none had been asked for. Those that escaped the slaughter could not be counted on more than two hands, but several of the chief members had unfortunately done so. As Amur waded through the ruination of the field despondently, Gutharic hailed him, pulling his golden spear from one of the chief cultists whom had not been so lucky.
‘The disease is ridden, thanks to you!’ he cried victoriously, yet this victory left only a sour taste in Amur’s mouth.
‘For now,’ he said with no emotion. ‘Serpent’s tails can grow back if their heads are not cut off, despite those who have spilt their blood to attempt to do so.’
Gutharic saw the meaning in his voice, and only then did he see the fallen body of Lasran and bowed solemnly. ‘I am truly sorry for your loss. He was a good man; and I do not think his death was in vain.’
‘As do I,’ Amur retorted glumly. ‘But more could be achieved from it. Kharid Drozhna, Venmal Javitakh and Talvir Vashnir have all escaped.’
‘They will run out of room to run, eventually,’ Gutharic said, sheathing his blade. ‘You however, have no need to do so, as I deem you have done all your life. For your great help, housing and wealth shall be rewarded to you here.’
‘I thank you, Gutharic. You too are a good man. Though I take your offer with still wet hands of crimson, I do not desire to stay here long. I still have many tasks that seek my notice.’
Gutharic nodded and left Suladan with his thoughts. Separated from all whom he cared for, he now sought to return to Arysis and aid Haran in the war against the Khands, where war was less complicated by cults and assassins and politics. But he knew now, with his nemeses still abroad, that his fate would now be tied to them, and their land of Harad. Lasran had spoken true – for now, vengeance was his lot, and the memory of Valakar would have to forgive him for that. But the weight of the cares and the troubles of those whom he had lost upon the way were tied to him still; Varnam, Halatakh, Jerra, Valakar, Raukazan, and now Lasran, and Suladan would be cursed before he failed them. Though it seemed the future could take him anywhere on its strange threads and designs, Amur knew one thing; that his destiny was to be carved by himself, alone.

The story of Suladan will continue in ‘The Helm and the Sword’.
Coming next – ‘The Lineage of Amroth’


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Found in Home 5 Reading Room 5 Stories 5 The Rogue Prince [Finale] – X: The Cult of Sauron

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