Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Bron V

Something had changed.
    Bron's orders that no one should speak of Swindon's miraculous recovery or of the spring were being followed, at least whenever he was near. He hadn't expected them to not talk about it at all once they were gathered around their campfires at night. He only wanted to try to stem the exaggeration of the tale and not have it spread too far.
    Although, how one should exaggerate what truly happened, Bron didn't know. Swindon's head had been bashed in and now he was back in the fighting pit training hard and beating most of his brothers in arms. That was one of the things that bothered him. One of the reasons he had asked Rud to come to his office.
    The soldier stood before him at attention, his head dangerously close to the low ceiling. Bron himself needed to stoop occasionally where the top half of the room was unevenly cut from the mountain. He scowled uneasily and tapped on the flask that was stationed on his desk. The flask that now only held a quarter of a cup of the spring's water.
    "At ease, soldier. I want to know what the men have been saying about this." Bron indicated the flask once more, a sharp pain shooting up his still recovering arm.
    "I only hear an occasional murmur here and there, sir. After I relayed your orders not to speak of it most men kept their mouths shut about it when I joined them at the fire." Rud shifted his stance to something more comfortable, but still his legs and shoulders were rigged as if clenched tight.
    "I expected as much. Tell me, the last time we spoke you said that you felt more healthy than ever, has that changed? Have you noticed anything unnatural since?"
    "No, sir. Still as healthy as can be." A smile flickered across Rud's lips.
    Bron looked his man up and down and frowned inwardly. Rud was putting on a show, he had answered on the spot, but something in his tone told Bron that he wasn't telling him everything. The only question was what was he hiding and how could Bron figure out what it was?
    "What about your strength? Have you noticed being stronger or faster than before?" Rud's smile slipped, only for a second, but it slipped.
    Swindon had become a much stronger fighter than he had been before his accident, why shouldn't the same be the case for Rud?
    "I may have noticed a slight increase in strength. Like I said, I feel fitter than ever. I don't train much with the others, so I haven't paid much attention to any such changes." A bead of sweat formed on his brow.
    Not only had Swindon become a better fighter, but Bron had noticed a change in his personality as well. He had become more reckless and violent. When he beat others while fighting he often left his opponents with more than just a few scrapes and bruises. Nothing serious had happened yet, but Bron had the bad feeling it might.
    "And what do you know about the disappearance of Adam of Merryton?" Rud's eyes widened, betraying his calm demeanor. As Bron had suspected, he wasn't prepared for this question and was caught off guard.
    Adam had recently disappeared and his brother Podd was often found together with Swindon, showing the same signs of heightened aggression and physical prowess. Bron knew of only two men who had drunk water from the spring, but he supposed Podd may have as well and if that was the case, Swindon and Rud would most likely know about it.
    "I'd only heard that he'd gone missing. No more, sir." More pearls of sweat started to build at the top of Rud's hairline. He wiped the sweat from his brow with his right hand, bringing it to rest on the pommel of his sword.
    "You seem tense. Is there something you're not telling me?" Bron watched the cords in Rud's neck stand out as the man clenched his jaw. For the first time during the conversation, Bron wasn't sure what to expect. He wanted to pressure the man, but Rud's calm behavior from only moments ago had crumbled, rapidly turning into something angry with every second that went by.
    Before Bron could comprehend what was going on, Rud tore his sword from his scabbard, only to have the pommel jam against the low ceiling, the lower third of the blade still stuck in its sheath. The growl erupting from Rud's clenched teeth resembled that of a wild animal as he abandoned drawing his sword and leaped toward Bron over his desk.
    Though surprised, Bron acted instinctively, hefting the desk upward. As everything tumbled down, the solid wooden surface smacked Rud in the face, giving Bron enough time to unsheathe his dagger and ready himself for Rud's next assault. A dull throbbing went through his arm, but adrenaline was forcing away the pain.
    Why Rud was attacking him, he didn't know. That he would continue to do so, Bron was certain.
    Rud had been knocked to the ground by the desk, but quickly scrambled back to his feet, nose dripping blood everywhere. Even though Bron was armed Rud came at him with a will, arms stretched out to grab for Bron's neck, leaving his stomach and chest unguarded.
    Bron hesitated only a second, Rud was still one of his men and he didn't want to kill anyone if he didn't have to, but the wildness in the man's eyes convinced him of what needed to be done. Before Rud could get his hands near him, Bron slipped under them, ramming the freshly sharpened dagger into Rud's side.
    Rud clutched at air, his upper body slumping over Bron's shoulder like a dead deer being brought back to camp after a hunt. Bron took two steps back, expecting the man to fall, but Rud amazingly stayed on his feet. He lifted his head, eyes focused on Bron, with a smile spreading over his blood smeared lips. His right hand crossed over to the hilt of Bron's dagger sticking out of his left side. Grunting, he pulled the bloody blade out inch by inch.
    Bron thought the man was barely able to stand, let alone wield a weapon, but he was wrong on both counts. Rud jumped at him with surprising speed and rammed Bron's own dagger into his chest. Pain shot through him, making every muscle in his body seize up. The blade had slid through his ribs digging deep into his right lung. He struggled for breath, spitting blood in Rud's face as he croaked, "Why?"
    Rud blinked. Then he looked down at his hand, slick with his own blood and Bron's. He pulled the dagger from his captain's chest, making Bron howl in pain, his body shuddering.
    "I'm sorry it came to this." Rud let the blade clatter to the floor and drew breath through clenched teeth as he straightened. He held his bleeding side and then quickly pulled his flask from his belt and took a sip. He sighed with relief and looked down at Bron, a renewed twinkle of vigor in his eyes. "But you gave me no choice. You were asking too many questions that would have led you back to that spring. My spring. Goodbye Captain Bron."
    With those last words Rud went to Bron's belt and undid his keys, he was helpless to do anything as more and more blood seeped from his chest and every breath became harder than the last. Rud stepped over the overturned desk and left the office, shutting and locking the door behind him, leaving Bron for dead.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Dax III

'The early riser chooses his path!'
    That was a saying Dax had learned from the Elves. One of many wisdoms he remembered from his time with those so different from his own kind. Their philosophies on life were often focused on patience and understanding.
    Unlike elves, Dax did not have more than a century of living and thus patience wasn't always easy, but he had been patient. It was what Kruzz had needed, for his path would not be easy. But now, patience had run its course.
    The sun was rising on the horizon, giving the sky an orange glow, but all Dax could see was the flap to the shaman's hut, where Kruzz still lay. Today, he told himself, would be different. He had been patient as long as he could be. Now, he had to get the brood back on his feet or it would be too late.
    Dax took a deep breath to find his center, then shoved the flap aside and entered the hut. Kruzz was still lying on the slab of rock, asleep. The shaman, Vorg, lay a few feet away on the ground under some furs. Dax would not be needing his help today.
    He went to stand over the brood and watched. Kruzz's brow was furrowed, tusks bared as he tossed his head from left to right. It was a fitful and restless sleep. Dax's gaze slid over the young orc's body and stopped at the sight of the stump where his left arm ended. It was well bandaged and probably healing at a good rate. The rest of his body was covered by a fur.
    Dax lifted the cover from Kruzz's legs. As he had feared, their light green color was turning pale. Their strength was ebbing away and the longer it took for the brood to get back on his feet the harder it would be to get them back to their former strength.
    Dax sighed, but he knew what he had to do. It was not the Elvish way that he had been taught, but the Orcish way that was in his blood. He tossed the fur from Kruzz's body and pulled on his good arm, bringing the brood upright with a jolt.
    "Ahhh! What are you doing?" Kruzz jerked to wakefulness.
    Vorg stirred in the corner, but when his eyes were no longer clouded from sleep and he saw what was happening, he only nodded and lay back down.
    "I'm doing what needs to be done to get you on your path." Dax heaved the young orc onto his shoulder.
    "What path? There's no path for me. Let me down!" Kruzz struggled feebly. He didn't have the strength to stop Dax.
    Dax stepped out of the hut with Kruzz pummeling his back with his good arm. He ignored it. Kruzz showing some spirit, displaying a will to fight was the whole point of this endeavor. Without saying another word Dax strode forward through the settlement to the fighting pit where he had recently fought Ragnur.
    Kruzz's wailing continued, but Dax shut the brood's cries from his mind. He crossed to the middle of the arena and set Kruzz onto his feet. Either his legs or his will could not hold him and he fell on his backside. It didn't matter. He would be getting up soon enough or never again.
    "What are we doing here? Take me back to the shaman!" Kruzz's whining was turning into outrage. That was good.
    Dax remained silent and walked to the edge of the arena where he retrieved two staves. He tossed one to the broken orc sitting on the ground. It bounced once and rolled the rest of the way to Kruzz's feet.
    "What am I supposed to do with that? I can't fight." He kicked the staff away.
    The rage of a moment before gave way to despair. Dax saw the shift of emotions clearly. Where once the brood had been confident in his abilities, knowing he would conquer the world, now he lacked all self-esteem. It was time to force some of it back.
    Dax began to circle the youth, twirling his staff in his hands all the while. Every three seconds he'd tap the end of the staff on the ground with a thud. Kruzz remained impassive as Dax set the beat. Now he would have to make the brood listen.
    "You are an orc." Thud. "Orcs are warriors." Thud. "They fight no matter what!" Thud. "But you have given up." Thud. "So what does that make you?"
    Instead of thudding the staff on the ground he jabbed Kruzz in the chest. Not hard, rather in a goading manner to make his anger flare up. The brood only gasped in surprise.
    "I'm nothing!" Kruzz shoved the staff from his chest, but Dax brought it back with force.
    The staff took the brood under his chin, knocking his upright torso toward the ground. Kruzz cried out, catching himself with his right arm. Blood dripped from his mouth to the dirt and as he returned to his sitting position his eyes darted at Dax filled with rage.
    "Another insolent remark and you will regret it even more." Dax bared his tusks in a snarl.
    He had to be tough now. Had to be strong and superior, ignore his friend's trembling and his hate. Dax could think of no other way to draw the youth from the edge of desolation. He resumed his circling and carelessly twirled the staff once more.
    "A grunt has proven his strength." Thud. "He has fought and prevailed." Thud. "He will fight again to protect his tribe." Thud. "You have proven yourself, have fought and prevailed." Thud. "But you would not protect your tribe." Thud. "You say you cannot fight."
    Another jab to the chest. A fire burned in Kruzz's eyes, tusks raised in defiance. Dax knew and feared the brood's thoughts, "I can't fight!" But they remained unspoken, maybe out of fear or respect of being beaten again. When no further response came, Dax continued walking around him.
    "A brood is as reckless as a berserker." Thud. "As thickheaded as a rock." Thud. "And when he's hurt he cries and gives up, running to a mother." Thud. "That's what you are to me, Kruzz. A brood!"
    A final jab that would break or make him. Dax shut his eyes, not knowing what the next step would be. If Kruzz gave up, there was no more he could do. The staff shot toward his chest and stopped.
    Dax opened his eyes, he felt resistance where there had been none before. Over the tip of the staff he saw Kruzz holding its end with his right hand. It hadn't touched his chest. Now Dax saw his eyes and knew he had succeeded. The rage and fire was there and sullen defiance had turned into action. All of this, Dax realized in a second, but it still didn't give him enough time to react.
    Kruzz shoved the staff back into Dax's face with such force it snapped his head back. Blood dripped from his nose as he grinned.
    "I went on the Hunt! I fought and I proved my strength! I am not a broodling anymore!" Kruzz bent his knees and got onto his feet with some effort. He was still shorter than Dax, but he swore the young grunt had grown since last he stood.
    "Good!" Dax wiped the blood from his face and went to pick up the other staff. "Then show me what you can do and I'll teach you whatever you think you can't do."
    Dax tossed the staff and Kruzz caught it in his right hand, ready to start anew.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Serah IV

Serah entered her quarters to rest for an hour as the Princess would be doing the same. Although the girl was full of vigor when it came to watching John in the training yard, Serah had noticed her health decline ever more. Each day, the climb up the rampart stairs became a little more strenuous. Each day, the Princess ate a little less.
    It was Serah's job to take care of the girl, but how could she deny her what she wanted. She had tried of course, but not letting the Princess go see John made her sulk and the drained expression on her face had finally convinced Serah that if it made her happy it was the best thing to do.
    A quiet knock at her door pulled her out of her contemplation. The knock had a specific rhythm that told Serah there was a secret messenger at the door. She detested the word spy, rather referring to them as messengers of secrets in her mind. There were things that some people at court did not care to have her know. It was better to have a way of knowing these things, thus her employ of secret messengers.
    Serah rushed over and knocked her own rhythm, saying the coast was clear. She waited a second and then a small bit of folded paper was slid under the door into her room. She picked it up and opened it, wondering what news had been kept from her this time.

The spring is real. It has been found, but the Captain is keeping it a secret.

Serah couldn't believe it. She had always thought the King's insistence upon searching for the magical spring was a fool's errand. But it wasn't, it had been found. Though why Captain Bron had not informed the King she did not know. Did he want to use the the spring for his own ambitions? Did he not care about the Princess's health?
    Serah could not sit idly by, something needed to be done. The King must surely have his own messengers that would have told him by now. She needed to know what he planned to do and give him counsel if necessary. If it had to do with the Princess, it had to do with her.
    Serah quickly changed into more presentable clothing for the King. After fixing the loose strands of hair back into her bun she was ready and went straight to his chambers. On arrival she looked at the two guards in front of the King's chamber and frowned. She did not recognize either of them.
    Their grim expressions did not brighten as she made to enter. She could not help worrying about the fact that they did not try to stop her or even question her. It was possible that they knew who she was, but that thought was not comforting either, since she did not know them.
    Serah made a mental note to herself to have her messengers find out who was newly appointed to the King's Guard. She knew that many experienced men had been transferred to the new battalion to fight the Orcs, but she did not like having men in the palace that she did not know. She liked it even less that those men were guarding the King.
    Serah bustled into the chamber interrupting Commander Arenson mid sentence. Arenson turned on her with a scowl, while King Theowen's eyes shone at the sight of her.
    "Ah, Serah. I'm glad you've come. They've found the spring. It's real and it will save my darling."
    Before she could say something Arenson coughed loudly for attention.
    "As I was saying, my King. We cannot know for sure that all we have heard is true. I've still had no word from Captain Bron, which worries me. Why has he not informed me about this wonderful discovery that we have all been waiting for?"
    Serah was not fond of the commander, but she could not disagree with his train of thought.
    "I too, was concerned about that. To my knowledge, Captain Bron has been a loyal servant to the throne, but who knows. The power of the spring might have corrupted him. Maybe he saw a chance to keep its discovery a secret and profit from it on his own."
    If Arenson had been offended by her view of one of his captains, he did not show it. On the contrary, he agreed with her. Serah wondered what that said about him as a commander, if he did not trust his captains.
    "We have to proceed cautiously, for we do not know what awaits us when my men should arrive at the camp. If Bron is hiding the knowledge of the spring and betraying you, my King, by doing so. Then he might react with violence if we come to fetch some of its water for the Princess."
     King Theowen stood tall as ever, but his narrow shoulders slumped at his commander's words. Serah had her own doubts about Captain Bron's actions, but hearing his own commander echo those thoughts was quite disheartening. She could imagine what was going through the King's mind, but was surprised when he raised his head and she saw fire in his eyes.
    "Commander, no matter what the cost, we need the water from that spring. I want you to send your best men to gather it. If there is any opposition from Captain Bron or his men, then do what you must. Those are your King's orders. Understand?"
    Arenson's eyes widened at each word the King jabbed at him, but his voice did not quaver when he responded. "Yes, my King."
    King Theowen turned to Serah, the steel in his voice still menacing. "You came to see what would be done. Now you know. As always, my daughter comes first."
    The fiery glare was once more pointed at Commander Arenson and then without another word the King left his chamber to find a more private place. Serah imagined him going to his bedchamber to sit at a desk and ponder the hard decisions he must make.
    Not unlike the King, Serah also had hard choices to make to protect the Princess. It might hurt the girl now, but it would be better for her health. The young girl's mind had been much too focused on John of late and seeing him daily was draining her strength.
    "Commander, if I could make a suggestion as to which group to send to the spring. I know you have much faith in Captain Jason March and his men, but he seems such a valuable asset to the Kingdom. The Princess and I have been watching Guardian Morrison and his men of late and he seems more than capable to take care of any problems Captain Bron and his men might present."
    To be honest, Serah thought Jason March was an asshole and although decent with a sword, not much of a leader. The only reason why he was rising in the ranks was his family name. Guardian Morrison on the other hand was an excellent fighter and she could tell that his men truly were in good hands.
    Morrison and his men, including John, would safely get the water from the spring to heal the Princess. While she would no longer be able to watch John in the training yard daily, giving her much needed rest.
    This was for the best, even if the Princess would not see it that way.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Zir III

Zir lay in the high grass on a small hill. He had a clear view of what had been the battlefield. The many dead humans were being carried off and buried. The dead Orcs of which there were too many were left lying in the mud.
    He had warned Gwarr and things had turned out badly, but there was more to come. The damp earth in his hands pulsed as he thought about the war. The Earth agreed. Its warning still stood. This war needed to be stopped.
    Zir slowly scooted backwards so as not to be seen by any human scouts. Out of sight, he scrambled down the hill. He would be going west where Gwarr and his survivors had gone, back to the Brogdah Clan's encampment, but he'd move on.
    Zir knew he would not be welcomed by Gwarr the way he was before the battle. His presence would only remind him of his losses and if Zir knew Gwarr, he'd also be planning his revenge. Gwarr would start seeking allies throughout the clans to gather a mighty Orc horde. He'd be doing the exact opposite of what Zir was trying to do.
    As he walked through the fields, Zir pondered his next destination. Orcs were a tough breed. As Gwarr had said, they were made for war, but Zir knew that they could do more than just fight. There were ways of living peacefully, they had had a relative peace for over a century. Sure there had been the occasional confrontation with humans and Elves, not to forgot the constant struggles between clans, but for Orc standards it had been a relative peace.
    The sun began its descent, leaving the sky a dark red, mirroring the blood that had been spilled in the day's battle, before turning purple. As the sun sunk behind the horizon the stars began to sparkle in the sky. Zir looked up in wonder at Nature's beauty as he continued on his way. Where he was going, he still did not know.
    His feet began to tire and his wandering mind was going in circles. He still did not know which clan to go to, who would be willing to help in his endeavors to end this war before it truly began. The darkness was bringing a chill with it, convincing Zir of finding a place to put his head down for the night.
    He would have preferred a cave and maybe a fire to keep him warm, but he was seeking guidance. Where better to ask for a sign than under the night sky. Zir searched for higher ground so that he might be closer to the stars, but the only hill he could find was dominated by a dead tree, seemingly struck by lightning not too long ago.
    Zir sought to be surrounded by life wherever he went, sleeping under a dead tree was not something he relished, but who was he to ignore nature's whims. He wanted a hill, nature delivered. Maybe the tree itself was already a sign of this war and how it will scar the earth.
    He could be wrong though. Maybe he was just searching for signs so vigorously that he saw them where there were none. It could just be a hill with a dead tree. It did not matter. He was weary and needed to rest. So, even though it was not the kind of surrounding he preferred this would be the place where he would lay down his head.
    A cool breeze blew over the hill. Zir had a cloak of woven long grass, but it was not quite enough to stave off the chill. His thoughts wandered some more, before he came to a fitful sleep.

Lightning struck from above, the earth under his feet torn asunder. A deep chasm split the world in two, its long tendril snaking always forward through the land all the way to the Blacktop Mountains. a terrible roar came from the giant slab of rock as it trembled and cracked. It did not split, but from its summit a clear blue spring blossomed. The water cascaded down the mountainside with beautiful serenity, until halfway down it transformed into a thick black mass.
    The black goo slid down the mountain much slower, but seemed to be getting more at an alarming rate. When it reached the grass below the mountain it spread like a flood covering all life beneath a blanket of black sludge.
     Zir watched on as the settlement that had belonged to the Griklog Clan swarmed with humans. They were oblivious to the blackness oozing towards them, going about their daily business. Zir wanted to shut his eyes, but he couldn't, was forced to watch.
    Through the blackness a stream of the crystalline water from the spring above burst forth and flooded the settlement. The humans grew in size and vigor, only to be consumed by the black sludge as everything else.
    This disease grew over the land, its tendrils reaching so far as the human capital. Zir panicked, realizing the dire situation Zirayus and its people were in, but he could do nothing. In desperation he searched the land until he discovered a flicker of light. It came from the Turak Clan settlement. He didn't know what or who shone in the distance, but it was a wisp of hope to grab onto.

Zir awoke with the rising sun. A new day, a new path to follow. He did not know what expected him at the Turak Clan, but he had asked for a sign and nature had sent him one. It was a long way to the settlement, but Zir had plenty to ponder on after that most unsettling dream.
    After carving some bark from the tree and planting an acorn a few feet away, Zir went on his way to grasp that flicker of hope that was on the horizon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Damien IV

Damien lay on a lumpy bedroll in his tent, hating his duties as Chancellor after a bone wearying day. The small village of Greyfield had been full of panic. They knew about the Orc army heading their way, making most inhabitants want to flee.
    Damien tried to calm the townkeeper, telling him that their own army would crush the Orc invaders, but that didn't do much to appease the townsfolk. He spent hours talking, assuring them that the King would protect them.
    He did his best to pretend like he cared for their safety, convincing them that General Tarrik would defeat the Orcs in battle. While hoping Tarrik would do no such thing, since it would dramatically alter Damien's plans for the kingdom.
    Actually, he couldn't care less what happened to the people of Greyfield. They did little for the revenue of the kingdom and all Damien wanted was to make sure that they wouldn't flee to the capital as refugees, like so many other villages had already done.
    King Theowen was too accommodating to his subjects. The capital was overflowing with mouths to feed and once Damien's plans came to fruition he would take care of that problem, but for now, it would just have to do to keep as many people as possible in their small villages, far away from the city. Even if the Orcs ended up slaughtering them, there were always more citizens of Thecia in the south.
    A cough sounded outside of his sanctuary.
    Damien sighed, getting up onto his feet.
    "Come in!"
    "Excuse me, Chancellor. I thought you would want to hear the news from the battlefield. General Tarrik's sent an envoy to deliver the good news." Damien's attendant was elated by the report.
    Good news was not what Damien had been hoping for. Tarrik was competent enough, but he still didn't think he would have been able to defeat the Orcs in open battle. Maybe the beasts had underestimated the King's army and had been foolish, overconfident.
    "Send him in!" Damien let himself drop into the only chair in his tent, mulling over what this victory meant for his plans. A jug of water was placed on a table next to him. He took a swig and waited for the envoy, already trying to figure out his next move.
    A young man came in, bearing a sealed letter.
    "Lord Chancellor, sir. I bring great news. General Tarrik has defeated the Orc army heading this way. We took some prisoners and many were slain." The soldier spoke with excitement and pride.
    Damien noted that he said some and many, not all. That meant some had fled. He forced a smile on his lips, as it was expected of him when such "good" news was delivered. He raised his hand, gesturing for the report. "And our own casualties?"
    The young man's smile faded. "We suffered quite heavy losses, my Lord. The Orcs charged the infantry, pushing them back almost to breaking. The Guardian Torren arrived with the cavalry just in time to crush their advance and drive them off."
    Finally some good news, Damien thought. With many men killed or wounded he couldn't turn the victory into a defeat in the mind of those that mattered, but he could remind them what success had cost them. King Theowen's reckless behavior in starting the war and sending an unprepared army to clash with the Orcs will be remembered at his wake.
    Damien broke the seal of the report and scanned its content. "What's this about a prisoner that escaped from the Orcs before the battle?"
    "He was shot down before he reached the protection of the front line. He's alive, but seriously wounded. A giant of a man, I think he might pull through." Some of the envoy's cheery nature returned.
    "He might have gathered important information during his captivity. Have Tarrik send him to me once he's in a good enough condition, if he survives that is." Damien wondered what it must have been like to be in the clutches of those monsters. How long had the man been suffering under their harsh treatment?
    Damien shook off the thought and raised an eyebrow at the envoy. "Anything else to report?"
    The soldier stood at attention with renewed pride. "No, my Lord Chancellor."
    "Good! Then ride back to Tarrik and congratulate him. Have another envoy sent out to the King, he will be glad to hear of the victory. Also, have that envoy bring news to Commander Arensen. He should consider promoting Guardian Torren to Captain, it's quite possible that man's cavalry charge saved the army and all of northern Thecia."
    "Yes, my Lord." The young man left the tent with a quick stride.
    Damien took another swig from the jug, wishing it were a fine southern wine. His plans were drawing to a close and he wished to savor it. It wouldn't be long until Damien could give the signal for King Theowen's assassination.
    It would look like an accident of course, the King's personal guard would see to it. Then only the young, sickly princess would stand in his way and the throne, but not for long. Her health was never in good standings and the loss of her father would surely break her. Who else would she have to guide her and the kingdom, but the trustworthy Chancellor? At least, until she followed her father into the grave.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Skard II

Skard let fly another arrow, one of two dozen raining down on the humans. He had watched with mixed feelings as the first wave rained down around the Giant. Skard still held a grudge against him for winning their fight, but he also respected him after returning his axe. Death by a hail of arrows was not what he deserved.
    The last he had seen of the Giant was him on his knees before the oncoming human army swarmed over him. A third volley of arrows fell upon them, picking off a couple with screams of pain being swallowed by the din of the charge. Most of the arrows were blocked by their shields. The Brogdah Clan didn't have too many archers and there were a lot more humans coming at them than they could shoot.
    It was too late now anyway. Dropping the bow where he stood, Skard kneeled down to pick up his axe. The leather grip felt good in his hands. It felt right. He added his voice to the guttural chanting of the front line.
    The humans were close now, they'd crash into their line in less than thirty seconds, but that was not the Orc way. The Brogdah Clan would not sit and cower behind a wall of their comrades. The Brogdah Clan would do what they did best.
    Skard tightened his grip on his axe and yelled, rushing toward the oncoming humans. What had once been more than one hundred shouting, raging, charging humans, prepared to kill a clan half their size, suddenly turned into a chaotic rabble of those with the passion for war, who fought, and those useless sacks of flesh who fell to the axes and swords of the Orcs.
    Skard reveled in the action of it. He swung his axe with both hands, removing limbs and lives. He had already killed at least three before he found himself facing an actual warrior. The human was well armored with a long blade covered in scarlet Orc blood.
    Who had he killed? How many had he wounded? Did it matter?
    No!
    Skard would show him what Orcs were made of. He would show everyone how to deal with that kind of human. Letting out a deep growl he leaped at his foe.
    Skard's axe lashed out in an arc, barely passing over the human's head as he ducked. The human swiped his blade over the back of Skard's leg. The metal biting through leather and flesh. Skard stumbled, crying out in pain, but did not dare fall to the ground.
    Though it hurt like hell, he kicked out with his wounded leg, knocking the human into the dirt. The axe came down with a spray of blood as it sunk into the human's chest. Not even his armor protected him from the force of that blow.
    Skard raised his tusks triumphantly and roared. All around him lay the human wounded, the dying and their dead. His brothers and sisters were victorious, their calls echoing his own success. The surviving humans fled toward the other half of their army, all the way across the field. The reinforcements should have joined the fight sooner if they hoped to win against the Orcs. It was too late now. Now they cowered behind their shields waiting for their defeated comrades to return.
    Sweat and blood dripped from Skard's chin, he hadn't noticed until now that the cut over his ear had reopened during the fight. He struggled through the mass of bodies underfoot, pain searing through his leg with every step. He saw more Orcs scattered among the dead than he had expected. His friend, Borkin, who he had known since they were little broods, lay among them. Jaw clenched shut, Skard moved on.
    Gwarr was a bloody sight to behold, but there were no wounds that Skard could see. Their elder was a rallying point and everyone was slowly making their way, looting the dead while they passed. Mexta stood next to him, a nasty cut spilling blood over half her face. Other than that and the evil eye she was giving Gwarr, she looked unharmed.
    The blaring of a war horn made Skard turn. He was surprised that the humans would want to resume the battle after having lost so many, but then realized that the noise didn't come from across the field to the east. It came from the north, still quite a bit away, but dust could be seen rising from trampled ground. The cavalry was coming and the humans who were defeated a moment ago shouted with renewed vigor.
    Without hesitation, Gwarr's roar signaled the attack. Their elder charged forward, the clan at his heels. Skard stumbled over the fallen, his wounded leg troubling him until the battle rage took hold of him, taking his pain, storing it for after the battle when it would return tenfold. The charging Orcs left the dead behind them, reaching the clear field, where only a few dead humans lay, having been killed by arrows. The Giant was surely face down in the grass here somewhere.
    The Brogdah Clan neared the human front line. Skard could see their faces. They were scared at the sight of the battle enraged Orcs, looking north toward their saviors. The cavalry wasn't there yet though, this was their chance to tear apart the demoralized troops before they arrived.
    Orcs screamed in pain and anger as they slammed into the human's shield wall. Spears jabbed at them, but the wooden and metal shields were not enough to stop the oncoming behemoths that were the Orcs. Skard's axe tore through a shield - breaking it into two halves - and cleaving into its owner.
    Again the humans outnumbered the Orcs, but they were terrified by their brute strength. Skard saw it in their eyes as he swung his axe with glee. Though the humans had more than twice their number they began to fall back. He respected the fact that they did not outright flee and was glad, for it meant that more remained to be slaughtered.
    Another human blocked his path, better than the others. He parried Skard's blows or dodged when he could. The young grunt wearied at being thwarted. He even tried to bait the human giving him an opening, but the coward would not take a risk. Fighting continued all around them, humans and Orcs shouting their pain and rage.
    As Skard took a breath before starting a new assault on his opponent, the blowing of the horn resounded, but much closer than before. Too close. To the north the cavalry crashed into the battle. Orcs had positioned themselves to stop the onslaught, but there were too many riders, breaking through their ranks and tearing them to pieces.
    A sudden motion drew him back to his foe, the human finally going on the offensive. Skard growled, knocking the sword aside, taking the shield to his face. Slightly dazed, his instincts took over, slipping his axe behind the human's legs, pulling them out from under him.
    Skard lifted his battleaxe to give the finishing blow to the human cowering under his shield, the gallop of a horse barely audible in his triumphant state. A sword slashed across his back, followed by the horse's shoulder and rider's knee.
    Skard stumbled, dropping his axe. Pain from his earlier leg wound shot upward, bringing him to his knees. The human he had been about to kill now stood over him, sword arm raised. Riders galloped past them, swarming over the battlefield. A riderless horse was the last thing Skard saw before it crashed into him.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Big John III

Big John was breathing hard, sweating and wishing for rest. Though now was not the time. The King's army was on the move. He heard the horn blowing and could hear the clatter of men marching, but he dared not turn around to see.
    Mexta stood dazed, a deep gash in her brow covered the right side of her face in blood, but he could not underestimate her. One wrong move and she would make him pay. His sword had fallen to the ground behind her and she was still holding on to her axe.
    Blinking away the blood, she took a step forward. She only had eyes for him, not aware of the Orcs around her scattering, readying for war. Their fight was forgotten for all, but her.
    Following her lead, Big John took a step back. With her step, Mexta's head drifted off to the side, making her stumble to his left. She caught herself with a growl, shaking her head back and forth.
    Big John knew what a mailed fist to the head could do. His left hand still ached, but it had been his only option after having lost his sword. He was still faced with the problem that he was unarmed and Mexta was, but at least she was no longer fresh to the fight.
    What was once a circular fighting pit had quickly turned into an open space as the Orcs started to build ranks to fight the oncoming army. Big John could see Gwarr out of the corner of his eye. The Orc Elder had drawn his great sword, shouting commands. Though he scanned the formations of his clan, he also kept an eye on Big John and Mexta.
    Big John mouthed the words "I will not die" for courage, his eyes darting toward his sword. Mexta's imbalance had moved her far enough away so that he could go for it. He had no time to hesitate, his movements brought Mexta to action. She swung her axe, bringing it down into the soft earth with a thud.
    Big John was not only strong, but also fast. In Mexta's rocked state he was quicker than her axe, diving under it to grasp his sword. Coming back up on to his feet with a roll, he placed the tip of his blade at Mexta's throat.
    She drew in a sharp breath. Her left eye, clear of blood, tried to focus on him, pupil swinging from left to right as if seeing two of him. Her hands, still wrapped around the haft of her axe, let go as her shoulders sagged in defeat.
    "Do it."
    Big John held the sword tight, putting pressure on Mexta's skin. Blood welled up and dripped from the edge of the blade. He eased off the pressure, flicking his gaze toward Gwarr.
    "I will not die here! Let me go and she lives."
    Gwarr turned his full attention toward them, grunting. "Leave the sword and go. Run!"
    Mexta hissed as the blade dropped to the ground, turning toward her leader. "You let him dishonor me like this?"
    Big John did not waste time by listening to more. This was his chance, the only chance he would get. Gwarr had allowed him to leave, the King's army was rushing toward the Orc ranks, everyone would have eyes for the battle, not for him.
    His heart pounded as he ran for the safety of the King's ranks. He heard men shout at the sight of him. They did not slow their charge, but they recognized him as their own. He would be able to let them pass and would be safe behind their lines. More than one hundred men would be between him and the Orcs.
    The weight of his armor burdened him. He didn't know how much longer he could run like this. Thankfully, he was getting closer and closer to the safety of the King's men. As soon as he was passed them he could slow down and remove the heavy chainmail and plate armor.
    The second half of the King's army still stood on the other side of the field, making a slower advance. They would surely be able to take him in before they joined the fray. He couldn't keep his mind from wandering as he ran, thinking about the strategy his kinsmen were using to engage. Having reinforcements was good, but most if not all of these men had never fought Orcs before. The more they outnumbered them the better, in his opinion.
    The thoughts worried him, wondering about the outcome of the battle. How safe would he be if the King's men were defeated. Would he just end up back in a fighting pit, surviving one day to the next by defeating anyone pitted against him or would they just kill him straight away.
    He told himself that he would not die. That he would make it out of here and would see Small John again. All these things going through his mind helped his body cope with the strain of running. He was almost at the oncoming line of King's men when he heard the familiar sound of bows twanging. The army slowed, shields being raised. Big John dared not look back, so all he saw was the face of one of the King's men. He was young and reminded him of Small John. Not as tall, but full of energy.
    Big John watched the young man's demeanor change from an angrily charging warrior to a worried, helpless onlooker. That's when the first arrows fell around him. Some arrows sank into wooden shields with a thunk, others buried themselves in the ground and two found Big John's back.