Monday, January 13, 2020

Rulers of Ull: Ulzhak the Golden

Welcome again sages of Greyhawk knowledge. Delleb has tasked me with learning and documenting all things concerning the paltry land of Ull. This is the second installment of Rulers of Ull, where I recount the lore on the many Orakhans of Ull from throughout the centuries. Before you continue on, be sure to read my first article on Kuchakar the Dragon Slayer. If you are caught up, then for your reading pleasure, here is another heroic tale (Ull has heroes too) from 750 years before Kuchakar was Orakhan: The Saga of Ulzhak the Golden.

Ulzhak "The Golden" 
Orakhan of Ull from 2387 to 2420 BH (-272 to -239 CY)
(CN male human fighter 16)

Ulzhak the Golden, known for his long blond hair, gilded lamellar armor and a magical golden scimitar, is a name still sung by the minstrels of the Baklunish West. Few rulers of Ull have a greater lineage than Ulzhak. He is the son of Buhul the Warlike, defender of Ull's frontiers, grandson of Khuzhan the Builder who crafted the mesa-capital Ulakand, and great grandson of Ulaghai Ora Khan the revered founder of Ull. Ulzhak's saga starts as most do, during his childhood. 

A Prodigy is Born

Ulzhak was born an ordinary Uli boy, with dark hair and vicious temper. Among the women in Buhul's tribe however, it was commonly said that the orakhan's son was gifted with heroic awareness. Most notably, in his second winter, little Ulzhak caught and strangled a stirge that flew into his yurt. Though his sleeping mother and other attendants perished in the swarming attack, Ulzhak remained unharmed. As the boy grew, now raised by his sisters and aunts, he became preternaturally calm and began to exhibit an adept sense of sight, hearing and smell. Remarkably he broke his first horse before he was strong enough to string a bow. Eventually Ulzhak's phenomenal skills attracted the notice of his busy father. 

At age eleven, Ulzhak proudly rode at the side of his father training with hardened warriors loyal to the orakhan. Buhul the Warlike was a restless leader, always away from Ulakand and on the offensive against Ull's many perceived enemies. Unfortunately, this violent lifestyle brought aging Buhul Orakhan to his demise during a victorious battle on the Plains of the Paynims. Returning to Ulakand still too young and inexperienced, Ulzhak was now orakhan, but by tradition he was assisted and advised by his eldest uncles. One uncle was a fierce yet wise fighter, while the other was a scheming yet masterful horseman. They would both continue to train and raise Ulzhak to manhood, shielding him from many khanate intrigues. By the time Ulzhak turned nineteen, he embodied the traits of both his mentoring uncles and his ability to rule was no longer disputed by the Khanate Council who also found the new Orakhan exceedingly insightful and charismatic. Ulzhak however, had the blood of Buhul in him, thus he felt an ancestral urge to prove himself beyond the safety of Ulakand.

A New Threat Emerges

Ulzhak began to ride in force with his royal warband and tested his martial prowess against his fathers' enemies at home and abroad, yet his uncles never let him stray far from Ull's territory. Then during one fateful council meeting, at age twenty-one, the young Orakhan was brought news that both his elder uncles fell in battle against an incursion of vicious ogres from the Ulsprue Mountains. Worse, the invading ogres claimed to be incited by an enigmatic Lord of the Ogre-Magi. Amidst the Khanate Council's furious debate over this outrage, Ulzhak, without delay, discreetly departed Ulakand along with a detachment of his most trusted guards and entered the Ulsprues to personally face this new threat to his land.

Through intimidation and guile against every ogre he encountered, Ulzhak ventured deeper and higher into the mountains. The farther he ascended to look down upon his familiar plains, the Orakhan began to wonder if he was being intentionally lured to his doom. Finally Ulzhak and his surviving band reached a summit and found a hidden palace, old and carved into the surrounding rock. Here, they faced giants and demons alike, leering and laughing at their approach. The guards fled in terror and were chased down, but Ulzhak was undaunted and went alone into a great hall to stand before the imposing Lord of the Ogre-Magi. Naively, the young ruler assumed he would be facing a brute, but in reality this new threat was wise, cunning and possessing of an arcane intelligence. 

A Deal is Struck

It is said that instead of violence, Ulzhak and the Lord of the Ogre-Magi sat facing each other and engaged in a battle of wits and willpower, with the host treating his youthful counterpart with cultured hospitality befitting his station. Impressed with Ulzhak, the Lord of the Ogre-Magi made an accord with the Orakhan of Ull. The Orakhan was granted access to certain timberlands and silver mines in the highlands provided that the people of Ull would not war or interfere with the giant-kin of the Ulsprues. To seal the accord and reward him for his bravery, the Ogre-Magi presented to the young Orakhan the magical scimitar, Ganchabar, forged on another plane and said to be sharp enough to slice through metal and bone with ease. The Lord of the Ogre-Magi warned the foolhardy youth, should the bearer of Ganchabar break the treaty, then a great curse would befall him. Holding the scimitar aloft for the first time, Ulzhak's hair and armor instantly and irrevocably turned gold.

 A Golden Age in Ull

Ulzhak the Golden's triumphant return to Ulakand was heralded with awe and celebration by the assembled khanates. The Orakhan had brought the ogre incursions to an end and opened new sources of wealth to the Uli. Despite whispers of a pact with demons, the Orakhan now fearlessly ruled Ull, riding at the fore of a relentless horde and Ganchabar would become the gleaming golden symbol on Ull's battle standards. Years passed and still in his prime, Ulzhak the Golden had many adventures and won dozens of battles on the vast plains, yet the treaty with the ogres remained true. Indeed, many tribes gladly started to render aid to the Uli in procuring the riches of the mountains. As his legend grew, Ulzhak became more like his father Buhul the Warlike, exceeding him in every way possible. This confidence and power eroded his finer qualities, making the Orakhan spoiled and cruel to any who stood in his way, be they friend or foe. It is said even the sultan of Zeif gave up all attempts to pursue his interests into the realm of the indomitable Golden Maned Khan. 

A Divine Quest

As Fate would have it, one night on the frontier of the Ulsprues, the Orakhan hiked alone while his horde rested following a successful skirmish with the Paynims over water rights. It was high-summer and the Wadi Khijar was running drier than usual. Worse, many of Ull's lesser streams were suddenly fouled and unable to sustain their herds. Under the twin moons, at the edge of a pure spring, the golden warrior encountered a demure woman standing in a clear pool with fish swirling about her feet. Though the peoples of Ull had long abandoned their ancient religions, Geshtai, goddess of lakes and wells was one deity that was still held in reverence. Awed by her divine radiance, the ruler of Ull knelt by the waterside and heeded her troubling news; a monster called Korokhor was responsible for polluting the waters of Ull and though Geshtai did her best to purify the damage it wrought, she needed a hero to slay the menace.     

Ulzhak could not refuse her divine quest. Again he felt the weight of his ancestors calling on him to save his people; and so entering the pool with Geshtai, he was transported far away to a sludgy, smelly stream bed, where the imposing five-headed Ettin, Korokhor vomited its poison into the waters. Ulzhak was familiar with giant-kin, but nothing as twisted as this demon. Ganchabar shone as he advanced, causing Korokhor's many eyes to squint and grasp blindly at the golden hero. The skill and speed of the Orakhan brought the monster to its knees, even as it purged acidic filth and ichor in all directions, damaging Ulzhak's golden armor and blistering his skin in the process. Mighty Ganchabar was unaffected by the filth of Korokhor however, and as Ulzhak labored to sever the monster's heads one by one, vile trolls and other nameless creatures spawned from its lifeless husk and slinked away into the lightless depths. 

Redemption and Consequences

Ulzhak would not revel in his victory for he now knew that the despoiling monster was sent by the treacherous Lord of the Ogre-Magi. Returning to his army, the Orakhan of Ull brought grisly proof of his dire encounter and then turned the wrathful host toward the Ulsprues. Following mountain trails he last saw in his youth, Ulzhak swept aside howling demons and gibbering giants in their path until he again reached the ancient palace. This time wielding Ganchabar, there would be no negotiation. The Golden-Maned Khan drove the frightened Lord of the Ogre-Magi and his remaining minions from their lofty domain, but not before the voice of the Ogre-Mage could be heard echoing on the wind, invoking the curse he vowed long ago would come to Ulzhak if he ever interfered. While his men searched and looted the palace, Ulzhak gazed out to the horizon and pondered his doom. Little did the Orakhan know then, that the curse would actually be on his family line.

Ulzhak the Golden ruled Ull for thirty three years in total. Though the Orakhan was renowned and respected, because of this fame, Ulzhak's own family became foolish, haughty and thus despised by the khanates. Indeed, Ulzhak's eldest son, Durske the Unlucky would prove to be the least trusted, as his kin began to die in a series of mysterious accidents. The line of Ulaghai Ora-Khan would never recover. Meanwhile, the deserted palace of the ogre-magi lord was settled by followers of Zuoken and became the esteemed Falla-nil Monastery.
Upon his death, the body of Ulzhak the Golden was interred in the Great Catacombs of the Ulakand Mesa, but the magic scimitar Ganchabar vanished never to be seen again. 

The search has continued for hundreds of years. Most who seek the golden scimitar remain sure it is buried within the vast mesa, or was perhaps stolen back by the vengeful Lord of the Ogre-Magi. Some claim Ganchabar was hid by Geshtai at the bottom of a stream, or is perhaps guarded by the monks of Zuoken who have no use for such a blade, but may yet deliver it again to a new hero that is as worthy as Ulzhak the Golden.


casl Entertainment said...

Once again, you prove your status as the Ullmaster! This is just awesome material, Mike! :D

Anonymous said...

Absolutely agree with Carlos—excellent excellent stuff. You should write & DM some Ull adventures at Garycon . . .

Mike Bridges said...

Carlos: Thanks man! This piece would've been out months ago, but I wanted to do art for it. Only had one I was happy with though. Overall enjoyed this article.

JC: Ull adventures. Now there is one thing I've never done outside my game table. I like lore, but writing crunch is not my thing. If I were to do a story, I'd love to use Abi Dalzim or something involving ogres like this tale.