Thursday, August 10, 2017

Rud III

    Rud wiped his hands on his trouser leg, damp earth rubbing into the cloth. The three graves in front of him now held four bodies and a key. Swindon and Podd had wanted to bring Adam back to camp on the night that Rud had saved them, but he had known that there would be too many questions.
    The questions had come anyway and Bron had paid the price for asking them. For now, Rud kept Bron's demise a secret, letting the rumor spread that he was sick and didn't want to be disturbed. Not even Swindon and Podd knew the truth.
    Rud couldn't help wondering if Bron had been right to worry about the spring and the water's effects. Had he overreacted by killing him? No. It had to be done. Bron would have gotten in the way. He would have had the authority to seal off the spring and let no one near it if he thought it was a danger to others.
    It was no danger though, Rud knew. It was water sent from the Gods that would give every man the strength and vitality they needed to fight the Orcs. Rud was sure of it, just as he knew that he was the one who would have to spread the Gods' gift.
    Boots scraping the ground of the path to the spring pulled Rud from his thoughts. Swindon and Podd appeared as if from the rock itself. The twilight of dawn making the entrance to the path even more difficult to spot.
    They were both carrying a barrel on their shoulder, the added strength of the spring water making it an easy task. "Two barrels filled with the finest water there ever was." Podd placed his barrel on the grave his brother was sharing with a key and one of the men they had first found in the cavern.
    "So, where should we hide them." Swindon put his barrel down as well and turned, undoing his trousers laces. "I think it should be close enough to camp for us to be able to refill our flasks when we need to, but disguised so they aren't easy to find. In a bush or something like that." He said while taking a piss on one of the other graves.
    "Actually, we won't be hiding them. We'll be exchanging them with the current water barrels of the camp." Rud smiled.
    Podd's jaw dropped and Swindon turned back to them, spraying Podd's boots. "Watch where you point that thing or I'll cut it off!" Podd's hand moved toward his blade in an instant, white knuckles clenched around its grip.
    "Calm down!" Swindon said as he pulled his pants up and laced them shut. "What do you mean, Rud? You want everyone to drink from the spring?"
    Rud was still eyeing Podd with his flushed cheeks. Had Bron been right to worry? Yes. But it had to be done. "We need more men like us, Swindon. Men who can be cut down and keep on fighting. The conflict with the Orcs is getting worse. Soon it will be a full-blown war. This is only the beginning of what needs to be done for us to be victorious."
    Podd still had his hand on his weapon, but his fingers were starting to relax. "I can see the benefit in that, but what about the Captain?"
    "He's sick. Everyone will have had some water before he's back on his feet and when he has a drink himself he'll be as good as new and will see why we need to use the spring to our advantage." The lie came with ease.
    Swindon pondered this for a moment, but nodded his assent in the end. The three of them went back to camp and made sure that the two barrels were lined up to be used as the day's drinking water. They had agreed to let the spring water spread through camp naturally without anyone making a connection to them immediately. Once everyone or almost everyone had taken a sip, then Rud would inform them of what it was they were drinking.
    As the camp stirred and slowly came to life in the morning light, Swindon and Podd went to the training grounds to keep at their regular routine. The lack of a good night's sleep was nothing to them after having had their fill of the spring's water.
    Rud was making his way through camp as he noticed some heated activity near the mine's entrance. His heart pounded in his chest. Bron had been discovered, it couldn't be anything else, he was certain. Rud retraced his steps mentally to be sure there were no clues leading to his guilt.
    With a calm he did not feel, he made his way to Bron's office. Hushed words were spoken between the guards on duty. They didn't seem to know what to do. At Rud's arrival he saw fear in one man's eyes and relief in the other. A spare glance let him see the door of the office, it was open and was marked by dried blood.
    The fearful guard turned away, not making further eye contact with Rud, while the other cleared his throat to speak, but couldn't utter a word. Rud made a show of seeing the door and widening his eyes in shock. "What happened here?"
    The relieved guard finally managed to speak. "We don't know. There's a lot of blood. It's everywhere. We found the office like this at first light and didn't know what to do. The door was open and there was so much blood."
    "Is Captain Bron alright?" Rud hoped his concern sounded genuine, although the guards seemed so flustered they probably wouldn't realize he was faking it.
    "I don't know. He's not there and we haven't been able to find him anywhere else in camp. He's gone."
    "Gone?"

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Kruzz VI

It no longer hurt as much to walk around. The first couple of days his legs had screamed at him for every step he made. Kruzz cursed them for their weakness and then himself for having let himself slip down the path of defeat. But most of all he cursed the loss of his arm.
    He sometimes woke in the middle of the night and felt it tingle from his fingertips all the way up to his elbow, but when he tried to massage some life into his limb with his right hand he grasped at nothing but air. He cursed his mind for not understanding that his arm was gone.
    As he neared the fighting pit in the early dawn, he saw grunts of the Griklog Clan, his clan, get ready for war. Traglok was taking all the grunts of their clan that would follow him to go kill humans. Maybe they would be able to take back the mines and their camp, maybe not. Either way, Kruzz yearned to go with them, but as he had been before, not as he was now. He cursed them all for leaving him behind.
    "Morning, Kruzz. How's the cursing going?" Grim stood in the middle of the pit, wooden sword in hand and a shield on the ground next to him. Dax sat next to him cross-legged with two staves resting on his knees, scowling.
    "It's going well enough." A slight tug at the side of his mouth almost turned into a smile. A reflex of old that he did try to suppress, but the bitterness came rushing up inside him, drawing his lips back into a grim line.
    "I still don't think it's the proper thing to do. Sure, anger can have its uses, that's how I got him up on his feet again, but now I think it would be better for him to be more focused on better things. Let him get back to full strength with positivity and serenity." Dax raised his eyebrows and tusks in unison, looking at Kruzz hopefully.
    Kruzz knew he meant well, but Grim's suggestion helped more than he would let on. Grim had told him to curse everything that annoyed him, deny none of his emotions, just let them reign free. It was the Orc way and anger would fuel his determination. Grim was sure that it was what he needed most and Kruzz couldn't deny the strength he took from it.
    "I think you're just moping around, because I suggested something and it's working." Grim flipped the shield up from the ground and caught it in his free hand, laughing out loud. "Your not always the smartest, you know."
    Dax stood up and tossed Kruzz a staff, "I'm quite capable of conceding my own short comings, Grim. I'm just inclined to believe otherwise and think a different tack would be the wiser course."
    Kruzz wanted to curse Dax for his weird way of saying things and for always thinking that he knew everything better, but he didn't. Dax had helped him when he needed it most and he wouldn't be standing here, once again with staff in hand if it weren't for him.
    Keeping silent, Kruzz began to go through the motions with the staff. Dax had shown him a routine of movement that helped you focus and strengthen your body and sense for balance. Balance was something he needed most. When fighting, actually when moving in general - Dax had explained - the body had to move in certain patterns to stay balanced. Two feet standing apart, knees bent and arms spread brought you into a simple balanced position, but if you were missing an arm, you ended up with too much weight on one side. Shifting your stance and bring more weight on the opposite leg could bring you back into a balanced state.
    Kruzz cursed inwardly every time he felt himself wobble, struggling to stay on his mark, but he was getting better at it. His body was learning what to do and began to compensate for the weight differential on its own. The more he moved, the more he learned.
    "You warmed up and ready?" Dax tapped his staff on the ground three times.
    Kruzz twisted out of the routine movements he had been taught and spun his staff at Dax in response. The older grunt parried and tried to knock Kruzz off balance by pushing harder and harder. Kruzz stopped putting pressure on his staff and let himself get pushed back, spinning his body to the side to let Dax pass him.
    "Good!" Grim shouted as Kruzz jumped aside from one of Dax's blows. "Your opponents will always think you are weaker, because you're missing an arm, but strength isn't everything."
    Dax caught a swing of Kruzz's staff right before it touched his temple. Kruzz leveraged his weight to pressed against Dax's staff to no avail.
    Dax grabbed his staff with two hands and held against the pressure. "Trying to match your opponents strength when they have two arms against your one is futile. Unless you are significantly stronger you will lose balance and..."
    With little effort he shoved Kruzz aside, but Kruzz used Dax's shove to spin around and whack his staff against Dax's shin.
    "And will have to use the fact that your opponent underestimates you to your advantage." Grim finished for him, tusks spread wide."
    Kruzz felt his lips twitch and settle back into a line. It wasn't every day Grim could beat Dax with words, but it wasn't enough to fully break through Kruzz's shell. Not even the added bonus of Dax jumping up and down from the blow to his shin helped.
    The first bout in a best of five against Dax went to him. So far he had always lost three to one or less. He was starting off on a good foot today and he had made sure that Dax only had one good foot left.
    Kruzz lost two in a row, won the fourth and again lost the last match. Although he didn't beat Dax, he felt as if he had improved and that was all that mattered. He knew that Dax was still holding back, giving him time to adapt to his deficiencies, as he called it. Kruzz cursed himself for letting Dax take it easy on him, but he could accept it, for he knew that Grim would not.
    So far he had never scored a hit on Grim. Kruzz did not curse himself for that. It was his challenge. At the moment, everything he had to do and learn was a challenge, but beating Grim was the challenge above all others. It was only made harder by having to wield a staff against sword and shield, but he would learn to wield others weapons with one hand too when the time was ripe.
    Grim was as tough as ever, blocking every swipe of Kruzz's staff with shield or sword. He mostly stayed on the defensive to let Kruzz try to get in some strikes at first, but at some point he would switch into an aggressive stance and Kruzz would find himself hard-pressed trying to back away or block incoming attacks.
    It was their third bout, Kruzz having lost two. He spun with his staff, Grim parrying the strike to his right side with his sword. Kruzz used the pressure of the parry to pivot the staff and strike left, which Grim caught on his shield. Kruzz backed away a step and turned as if to try another spin attack. It was a feint. Instead of following through he sprung forward with the staff slicing through the air, going for Grim's left side again.
    Kruzz's own left side was wide open with no arm to protect himself. Grim's sword lashed out to thump against Kruzz's ribs with it's dull edge. Kruzz felt the pain and gasped, but also felt his staff slide along the rim of Grim's shield and thump against something hard.
    "Ouch!" Grim shook his head, a red spot at his temple marked where the staff had hit him. "You got me."
    "You got me first." Kruzz had dropped his staff to rub at his side. "But I did get you right after. It doesn't count, but it's improvement." And then he smiled.

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.