Balgash Toseka

An Agrikan Ordeal Ritual

by Aaron Kavli

Introduction and History

Balgash Toseka (“Holy Brands of Balgashang”) is an ancient ritual used as a trial by ordeal by the Hierarchy of Eternal Flame and many of its clerical and fighting orders. It is most often used to try heresy cases, but it may also be used to try other crimes, particularly when a credible or important personage (usually a church official) claims wrongdoing with no proof.

Balgash Toseka is sometimes used to settle other disputes as well, but mortal combat is ingrained into the beliefs of the church and such combats are by far the normal tool for settling other issues.

This particular ordeal is practiced by many diverse orders within the Hierarchy of Eternal Flame. Travellers to eastern Lythia have reported its practice among Agrikan sects there as well. These facts leading many to believe that this practice has its foundation in the very roots of the Agrikan religion, even though there is no mention of it in the Balefire Chronicle.

Procedure for the Ordeal

The ritual is performed by heating a branding iron called a Balgash, the tip of which is shaped like Balgashang (or, occasionally, Gashang or another appropriate symbol), till it is bright red. The accused has his right forearm strapped into a leather sleeve which is secured in some way as to make the accused's arm immobile. The ranking priest present then holds the brand to the accused's flesh through a hole cut in the leather sleeve. The priest holds the brand while he chants "Our fiery lord's justice" in Surikal eight times. If the accused cries out or tries to pull free before the eighth repetition of the chant, he is deemed guilty. Death is the usual sentence.

If the accused refrains from crying out or pulling away, then he is deemed to have withstood the scrutiny of the purifying flame. He is found innocent and bears the mark of the Balgash Toseka as a badge of honor to show he has found favor in Agrik's eyes. He is then blessed with holy oil, and no action or word regarding that accusation is allowed thereafter.

If the ordeal was initiated for a crime other than heresy (e.g. cowardice or thievery) the person who has just passed the Balgash Toseka has the right to challenge his accuser to mortal combat after his wound has healed. Depending on the original accuser's status or other circumstance (Agrik forbid that, though found innocent, he was actually guilty!) this right may or may not be acted upon.

Some members have been know to have many Balgash Toseka brands. Guilkin of Thinsa, the renknowned champion, was purported to have no less than eight brands upon him at his funeral in 644 TR. But even if a person is found innocent, the experience is typically painful enough to keep him from ever (again) engaging in transgressions of the sort that he was accused of.

Description of a Balgash Toseka in Azeryan, 512 TR

The following is an excerpt from the journal of an early 6th century TR Apersuphur from Lysara named Bakhadur of Ramesh. Like most Agrikan priests, Bakhadur uses Shanashra Ahnemakaral, the Agrikan church calendar for dating events. The events described in the following entry took place on 10 Agrazhar 512 according to the Tuzyn Reckoning of dates:

“Today, being the third day in the month of Naidurlas, in the second year of the two hundred and fifty-second octade by the Reckoning of the Days Since the Prophet of Flame, saw a bit of the Warlord's chaos. Kemelras Zarchus accused a man by the name of Hoshun of Locos. Hoshun, being an Ulankh traveling from a southern region, participated in the Feast of Balefire ceremonies two days past. Kemelras Zarchus claims to have found Hoshun's performance lacking, and that he made a mockery of the ceremony and lord Agrik himself.”

“I saw Hoshun's performance and he mightily slew his foe, and with great skill. I personally observed no fault in this worthy Ulankh's ceremony to the Lord of Squalor, but I am no Kemelras and took no issue on the matter. But I have heard whispers that there is fire between these two from days past.”

“Hoshun was set to trial by the Balgash Toseka. When the fire was set upon his flesh by Kemelras Zarchus, he flinched not. And even though Kemelras Zarchus counted his chants too slowly in my mind, this warrior stood more still than the mountains staring into his accuser's eyes. In the end he was vindicated by the holy flame! I knew he would be, the fire and strength in his eyes told me what the outcome would be. Surely Agrik would favor such a man.”

“Ulankh Hoshun refused any aid from our temple and quit us without a further word and treaded back from whence he came. I do not blame him. Though after tonight I must question in my mind Kemelras Zarchus and his devotion. It has been years since he has taken mace up in his own defense, relying too much on his champion.”

It should be noted that other records show that two years later Ulankh Hoshun of Locos returned and claimed his right to challenge Kemelras Zarchus to mortal combat. He petitioned and accused Zarchus of being a coward. Zarchus, being at a time of disfavor with the rest of the clergy, had no choice but to accept the challenge personally. He was slain almost instantly.

Balgash Toseka, a Hârnic variation (701 TR)

A notable variant of the Balgash Toseka for non-trial purposes was developed by the Order of Herpa the Mace in 701 TR. Early that year, a Meketa of the Red Shadows of Herpa, Jelden of Kilner, fell from his horse and died during a hunting trip near Menekai. His death left a long-simmering intraorderial feud unresolved. Jelden had let the feud brew mostly for his own amusement, but when he died, a bloody and violent power struggle ensued among several Haragki under his command.

After some manoevring, a Telmen named Lucyn suceeded Jelden. But he died shortly thereafter in a mortal challenge. For months, challenges and assassinations caused the bloody reins of power to slip from hand to hand, leaving the order increasingly short on officers. Finally the order;s Akarata, Bazrik of Keperk, petitioned the Herpa the Mace Senesharil, Agron of Delenes, for assistance. It was widely assumed that the problem would have been solved if Bazrik had used his authority to resolve the situation personally rather than letting the Haragki fight it out amongst themselves.

The Senesharil rode from Golotha to Menekai to settle the situation. Upon arriving, he called out the two main contenders, Haragki Ashell of Cootak and Haragki Lennerk of Toll. He then directed his servants to bring forth a metal stand in the shape of Balgashang's impregnable walls, a double-ended Balgash, and two leather cords. Agron tied a cord to the right elbow of each contender. He then fitted the Balgash securely across the miniature Balgashang. Agron placed his hands upon the Balgash Toseka and began to chant an ancient ritual. As he chanted, the ends of the Balgash Toseka began to glow a bright red. He then bade the two to grasp the other's cord and spoke:

“Each of you shall hold the other's cord while the Balgash judges your flesh, judges your right to rule, judges your might and worthiness. The first to let go shall be deemed lacking in the eyes of Agrik. The victor will proudly wear the mark of Herpa showing your rightful office.”

The two clasped the others cord and pulled their forearms to the searing Balgash. Agron chanted prayers to Agrik as flesh sizzled, and charred. After several minutes of agony, Lennerk of Toll cried out and let go. Agron proclaimed Ashell of Cootak the new Meketa and anointed him with holy oil. Agron then bade that Lennerk and Akarata Bazrik be bound in shackles. He then turned to Ashell and spoke.

“Ashell of Cootak, Meketa of the Holy Warriors of the Red Shadows of Herpa, as ranking officer, you are now charged with your first duty. You must deal justice to these two. Lennerk of Toll is guilty of falsely claiming the right a position of which he was unworthy. The sentence is death.”

“Akarata Bazrik of Keperk is guilty of cowardice, of failing in his duties to offer strong leadership to the warriors in his charge, and of being unable to solve problems in his ranks. The sentence is death. Meteka Ashell, carry out the sentences of these two weaklings so that they may be dealt with by the Warlord anon.”

In spite of the pain of his left arm, Meteka Ashell smashed both of their skulls with two mighty blows of his mace, dispatching their souls to Balgashang . The Senesharil, smiling cruelly in approval, immediately chose him to replace Bazrik as the new Akarata of the order.

Since then, violent feuds for succession have been few within the Red Shadows (except, of course for the events surrounding the schism of 714 TR that resulted in the creation of the Eight Demons and the Cohorts of Gashang).

Now, supporters or claimants are not allowed to raise weapons in the issue when matters of officerial succession in dispute, but are required to defer the Akarata (or, if there is no Akarata, to the Senesharil of Herpa the Mace). If the Akarata has no favorite or is undecided, the Balgash Toseka is used to determine the outcome. The loser is not necessarily killed, though he often is. And fortunately for the order, more competent Akaratai than Bazrik have held power since.

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Page last updated on July 29, 2002 by Jim Chokey.