The Great Gray Land of Thar - Part Three

The Great Gray Land of Thar - Part Three: Rumors, Mysteries and Legends

Being an ancient land once inhabited by a prosperous ogre kingdom, Thar has attracted its share of legends and rumors. While most of them can be dismissed as the ravings of wine-besotted caravan trash, there are those tales, confirmed by contemporary writings and reliable witnesses, that may be true. Most of these revolve around the lost ogre kingdom and its ruler.

The Lost Kingdom

There is abundant evidence that the ogres of Thar once ruled a prosperous kingdom. While this probably comes as a shock to most outsiders, who think of ogres as being somewhat less than civilized, the signs of the lost kingdom and its inhabitants are overwhelming.

My caravan friends never tired of telling tales about the kingdom, and since there was no real way to distinguish fact from fancy, I will relate them all in relatively chronological order.

It is said that Thar was once home to numerous chaotic and uncivilized ogre tribes. These tribes preyed ceaselessly on each other, and on the orcs, goblins, and trolls who also inhabited the region.

This state of affairs persisted for centuries, with the inhabitants thinking little of it. The Great Gray Land of Thar was considered worthless wilderness by the human and elf kingdoms of the region. Although the dwarves dug mines in the West Galena Mountains, the area was generally ignored and, on the whole, its inhabitants were left to their own devices.

Over the years, small kingdoms rose and fell, with individual ogre or orc warlords gaining prominence for a time before being crushed by rivals or assassinated by pretenders. It was not until the first Tharkul emerged to become monarch of the region that things finally changed.

Tales told by both humans and ogres focus on a lone ogre warrior, either cast out from his tribe or the last survivor of a massacre. The warrior's name was Vorbyx. As he crawled through the wilderness, and at the end of his strength, he came upon the tomb of an ancient ogre chieftain. As he prayed to Vaprak for strength, Vorbyx was confronted with the shade of the departed chieftain. Being a brave ogre, Vorbyx challenged the spirit to battle, though his strength was almost gone.

The chieftain's spirit was pleased by this display of ogre nobility, and gave Vorbyx a mighty weapon - a war hammer of gigantic size that only he among all ogres could lift. With this weapon, Vorbyx emerged from the tomb and set out on a course of conquest, eventually uniting all the ogres of Thar and enslaving all the orcs. (The orcs disagree with this last part, of course.)

It is said that Vorbyx's hammer also granted him unusual intelligence and enlightenment. Under his rule, the ogres transformed Thar into a single kingdom, building cities, hollowing out underground networks for storage, transportation, and habitations. The clerics of Vaprak gained unusual powers, the sign of a true blessing from the ogre gods. It is even suggested that the ogre clerics were the equal of human priests in power.

Many wicked deeds were attributed to the ogres of Thar, including the destruction of the dwarven colonies in the West Galena Mountains, disturbing the dragons of the region to the point that they raided surrounding human lands, and even uniting the forces of the region to destroy the human citadel of Northkeep.

Of course, it wasn't long before the ogres' evil came to the attention of the peoples of the surrounding lands, and an army representing several nations was formed and sent to punish the inhabitants of Thar. The ogres claim that they were invaded by covetous humans who wanted to steal their gold, naturally. For myself, I'm sure that the ogres offered provocations enough, for they seem to have engaged in evil and destructive acts just for the fun of it.

This invasion, which ended inconclusively, was only the first of many. Humans refer to the numerous raids, campaigns, sieges, and battles of the period as the Ogre Wars. The ogres call them the Bandit Wars, seeing the humans as marauding thieves interested in sacking Thar for its riches.

Whatever they are called, the wars lasted for half a century, and ended with the complete collapse of the ogre kingdom. The final stroke against the ogres occurred when the human hero Beldoran slew Tharkul Maulog in single combat. Vorbyx's Hammer seems to have availed Maulog little, for in the end its powers deserted him. The ogres believe that this was because Vaprak was punishing his children for growing decadent and arrogant, and there may be some truth in this.

The history of the region since this time I have already covered. The region's legends and secrets are under consideration here, and they are almost entirely associated with the lost kingdom and its riches.

Thar's Secrets

The ogres see the collapse of their kingdom as both a punishment and a test sent by the stern yet benevolent god, Vaprak. They believe that a day will come when the ogres are once again united under a Tharkul. Then, the ogres claim, will be a time of vengeance for the injustices visited upon them by the human "bandits."

The sign of the Tharkul's return that the ogres await will be the recovery of Vorbyx's Hammer, lost in the final battle with Beldoran. This gigantic weapon, larger than a large human, can only be lifted and wielded by an ogre of proven bravery and strength. Any ogre who possesses the hammer (and can prove that it is authentic) will certainly be acclaimed Tharkul by the ogres of the region. All the ogres would bend their efforts, then, to the rebuilding of the ogre kingdom. Given the region's remoteness and the minimal power of humans in the region, a united ogre kingdom could become a significant force.

Many tales are also told of the Tharkul's palace, a bizarre collection of cylindrical buildings and flying bridges, with extensive underground passages and chambers. The prosperity of the ogre kingdom brought many riches to the Tharkul, and the ogres say the location of his palace has long since been forgotten.

Tons of gold and many powerful enchanted items are said to be inside the walls of the Tharkul's palace, but the ogres also claim that Vaprak sent many monstrous guardians to protect the treasure, in anticipation of the reunification of the ogre kingdom. When the kingdom is restored, ogres say, the location of the palace will be revealed and its treasures will go to make the ogre kingdom powerful and influential again.

Enchanted items rumored to be hidden in the palace include the Tharkul's Armor, a suit of enchanted plate armor built for an ogre or ogre-sized creature; Tharkul's Mount, a dragon-shaped crystalline beast said to be virtually indestructible; and the Books of Vaprak, volumes said to allow humanoids to gain magical and clerical power far greater than that normally possible.

Legends of the Orcs The orcs claim that they too controlled powerful kingdoms in years gone by. The ogres were not their masters, the orcs say, but their allies, with the orcs serving as faithful and brave mercenaries. After the ogre kingdom fell, of course, the orcs sought to regain the territory their god Gruumsh promised would be theirs. The orcs laid claim to large tracts of territory formerly belonging to the ogres, and enslaved the few goblin tribes living in the region.

Like the ogres, the orcs look forward to a day when a single charismatic leader will unite them into a single powerful nation. Some even say that this event will be concurrent with the discovery of Vorbyx's Hammer. Although they currently fight bitterly with the ogres, many orcs would be only too willing to unite with their former enemies to create a potent new alliance.

The notion that orcs and ogres might ally is a disturbing notion to many, for both possess potent magic and efficient military machines. Should this ever happen, Glister will certainly come under immediate attack, as the city has long been seen as a thorn in the side of both ogre and orc. The various cities of the Ride and the Dragonspines might also be threatened.

Of course, the threat would also shadow Zhentil Keep and its crew of deviant troublemakers, so I guess every cloud has a silver lining. However, widespread death of innocents, and destruction of their property, might be too high a price to pay just so the Zhentarim should be "taken care of" by the united Thar humanoids. And more's the pity.

Elminster's Ecologies