Monday, March 30, 2015

Small John II

    There was another knock. Serah obviously wouldn't go away. He got up from his bed and unlocked the door.
    "I knew you were there. Why did you make me wait so long, boy?" Serah looked up at him with a sour face.
    "I'm sorry, Serah. I just didn't feel like doing much today. I feel like..."
    Serah stomped past him into his room. "I don't care what you feel like. One does not keep the Princess waiting. Now you can't go to the Princess like that, you look a mess. Comb your hair and I'll get you some clothes."
    Small John sighed and did as he was told. Serah began to rummage through his drawers, pulling things out one at a time, huffing at everything that wasn't clean. He didn't want her to yell at him again, but he also couldn't hold his tongue any longer.
    "I know I shouldn't have locked myself in." Small John yanked the comb through his hair to get the knots out.
    "That's right. There's no good reason to keep a Princess waiting." Serah had already found a good pair of pants, but was struggling to find a stainless shirt. "You should at least let the maids come in here to clean your clothes."
    "I know. I know. It's just that lately I've been feeling like I'm not being true to myself. "He put the comb on the dresser and turned to face Serah. "I enjoy spending time with Wendy. I really do. But she lives in a completely different world. I don't belong here. And I just feel like I have to be something that I'm not in front of her." Tears began to sting his eyes. "And that's all that I have, because if I look back. If I remember what I've lost. Then I... I..."
    "Oh dearie." Serah dropped the dirty clothes she was holding and pulled Small John into her arms. "You poor thing, you. I know it's hard. We all have lost people dear to us at some time or another. It's as bad as it gets for you of course, but don't worry, my boy. Don't worry. The sun will shine another day."
    He felt the small, plump woman pat his back. He knelt down to her so that she could reach over his shoulders. It was an awkward position, but it was comforting nonetheless. It felt good to be held, to be understood.
    "It's just that." Small John sniffed, even though his snot was surely already on Serah's clothes. "I spend so much time with Wendy that I don't have much time for myself. For my thoughts. Sometimes I drift off while we sit together and I remember what my life used to be like. Then... then it hits me all over again. They're all gone. And there's nothing I can do. They were slaughtered by Orcs and I'm here. As far away from those beasts as possible. Safe, in the castle." A big sob left his lungs. "It's just not fair. It's not right."
    Serah squeezed him tight and held on to him for a moment longer. When she pulled herself away he felt all alone again. "Now I don't know if I can be of much help. If you like we can sit and talk every once in a while. You definitely shouldn't speak to the Princess about any of this. It would be too distressing for the poor girl. It was right of you to keep this for yourself. At least in front of her."
    "Thank you, Serah. I just think I needed to let it out. I've been keeping all of this locked inside for too long. I just wish there was something I can do. Something to make things right. So that I don't feel like such a coward. A useless boy, hiding in the castle."
    A spark came to Serah's eyes. She looked him up and down and began to smile. "You know what? There might be something you could do. Not just for your lost ones, for your family and friends. You could be of service to the whole kingdom. You're a strong and tall lad. You could join the new battalion. You could go out to fight the Orcs."
    Small John wiped his nose on his sleeve. She was right. He had never thought of joining the King's army before, but maybe that was where he belonged. Maybe that was the place where he would find a purpose and would be able to avenge his village. "But what about Wendy?"
    Serah smiled. "She might worry about you, but she will understand. She might even like the idea of you in a suit of armor." She chuckled.
    What did she mean by that? He thought about Wendy and knew he would miss spending time with her, but he never belonged in her company either. This felt right. This would let him be true to himself. "I'll do it. How can I join?"
    "Calm down, my boy. Calm down. Let us first get you ready to visit the Princess. Then I will talk to the Commander and will get you a spot in the battalion. There's no way he would give up the chance of getting a young strapping lad like you under his command." She picked up the least dirty clothes she could find and shoved them in his hands. "Now go get dressed. The Princess is waiting."

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Kruzz IV

Kruzz was led into the forest. Elder Worg was guiding him. He seemed to be following a path, but to Kruzz everything looked the same.
    Worg stopped and turned to face him. "Give me your right hand."
    Kruzz obliged, taking his spear into his left hand to free his right. Worg unsheathed a knife and slid the blade across Kruzz's palm. He knew it was coming and tried not to flinch, but Worg's smooth, quick actions surprised him. He bit his lip to not utter his pain. Blood began to spill from the wound.
    "Place your hand on every fifth tree that we pass. This will be the guide for your animal. Some brood's have predators that follow them and some have easy prey for them to kill. Now is the time for you to hope and wish for one or the other." Worg chuckled. "Though it may make no difference. In the end the animal will choose you."
    He turned around again and continued leading the way. Kruzz marked every fifth tree that he passed. It stung, placing the open wound on the bark of the trees, but as his heart pounded faster and faster, pain seemed to become meaningless. His mind was more focused on what Worg had said. Did he wish for an easy Hunt like Dax's owl? Or did he want a dangerous fight against some predator like Grim's bear?
    He worried that if he had to fight a bear he would lose. Grim had been older and bigger when he had gone on the Hunt. Kruzz was the youngest brood in generations, maybe ever. Was he even capable of defeating any predator in this forest? Maybe it would be best to hope for easy prey.
    He didn't like where his thoughts were going. He wanted to be a strong grunt like Grim. To prove his strength he should have to fight something dangerous. The grip on his spear tightened. He would not be afraid to fight whatever animal chose him. No matter what it was. Dax said there was a deeper meaning to every Hunt. If it was easy prey or a dangerous predator, it did not matter. It was meant to be, either way.
    They had been traveling for some time and Kruzz was starting to get a better sense of their surroundings. It seemed to him that they were walking in circles. Sure enough, he saw one of his bloody hand prints on a tree nearby. Their circles were becoming smaller and smaller.
    Worg stopped and raised his arm, pointing to the right. "You must walk this part alone. I can go no closer."
    "What must I do?" Kruzz felt unease in his stomach. It was time. He was about to face his destiny. He hoped he was ready.
    "Walk through here. There is a clearing nearby with a rock. Make your mark on it. Then sit and wait. Your animal will find you." With that said, Worg left. Not the way they came, in circles, but straight out through the forest, away from the clearing.
    Kruzz walked past the last few trees and entered the clearing. The rock was big and covered with old bloody prints. He placed his own hand on it and then climbed on top. He sat down cross-legged and placed the spear over his knees, wincing as he squeezed the shaft with his right hand.
    Then, he waited. The forest was quiet. He had never heard nature be this quiet. He worried and waited some more. What animal would come to find him? Would he make the kill easily? Was his bleeding hand going to be a distraction?
    It seemed like he had been waiting for a long time. He still hadn't heard a single sound from an animal nearby. His mind had circled his worries as often as he had circled the clearing. This was probably the time most broods would decide to get up and go find their prey themselves. Should he do the same?
    What Dax had said about meaning was starting to sink in. What if the action of getting up and searching for your prey was what led you to a predator, because you are like a predator, going on the hunt? And what if sitting here, waiting for prey, let's the easy prey come to you, because you don't look like a threat?
    If that was the case, maybe it was up to him what kind of animal chose him. The question was, what kind of animal did he want? As his mind eased into these thoughts the decision was taken from him. A hare jumped out of the forest and rushed into a small bush.
    A hare? That was going to be the animal of his Hunt? Kruzz got up on his feet and stepped off the rock with a sigh.  He flipped the spear in his hand to be able to throw it. The wound stung with every movement.
    Kruzz neared the bush carefully. One step after the other. The hare was probably frozen in shock, trying not to move so that it wouldn't be seen, but Kruzz knew it was there. He took another step and felt the ground shake beneath him.
    Before he knew what had happened, there was a loud roar as the earth underneath the bush was torn open. A big grey beast with at least six limbs that looked like a nightmare version of a caterpillar was sticking out of a hole in the ground, where the bush had been. The hare lay twitching in its maw.
    Kruzz gulped. His hand tightened on his spear, the pain forgotten. The beast's sharp teeth crunched down on the hare. It was devoured instantly. The creature's insect eyes now focused on Kruzz and another roar escaped its throat.
    Kruzz would have stood still and become its second meal, if his instincts hadn't kicked in. He lunged to the side as the beast's head shot forward and buried itself in the ground where he had been standing.
    As the rest of its body left one hole to go through the other, Kruzz was shocked to see several more pairs of limbs. All with sharp claws that could probably cut through stone and could easily pierce through him. The thought made him falter. He should run. Get away from that beast as quickly as possible.
    He couldn't though. This was his Hunt. The beast chose him and he would have to kill it to become a grunt. To prove his strength and worth. Kruzz resisted the urge to run and tried to think instead. How could he defeat a beast that was crawling through the earth?
    The earth shook and Kruzz jumped aside as the beast burrowed through the grass where he had been just a second before. It knew where he had been standing even though it couldn't see him. The creature dove straight at him again with an earsplitting roar. This time Kruzz tried to stab it with his spear while dodging.
    The spear slid into the monster's flesh as if it were made out of jelly. Kruzz landed in the dirt with a grunt and looked at his spear. It was covered in a white goo that smelled like rotten eggs. The creature screeched in pain and instead of diving back into the ground it turned and lunged at him again.
    Kruzz was still on his back and could only try to roll aside. The beast rushed past him and sliced across his left arm with one of its claws. Kruzz cried out in pain as it disappeared down the hole it came out of.
    The wound in his arm was deep and bleeding heavily. He couldn't stay on the ground though. The beast would come back up any second. He had to think of something. He remembered Grim's Hunt and that he climbed a tree. His arm was burning but he would have to do the same.
    He quickly found a good tree to climb and threw his spear up with force so that it would bite into the wood. Then he used only his right arm to climb. So far the ground did not shake and the beast did not come out of the earth. He was up in the tree and had his spear back in hand. Now, all he had to do was wait.
    The forest was silent. No birds, no more hares. It was just him and the beast. What was it waiting for? Did it know that he was prepared? Did it feel his footsteps on the ground and know that he was in the tree?
    The pain in his arm wasn't getting any better and he could feel his body weakening. His heart was still pounding strong, but he was bleeding a lot. How long could he play this waiting game before he would lose consciousness? He had to do something.
    He pulled off one of his boots and chucked it at the ground with his good arm. He hoped that would be enough to get its attention. He waited and wished that it would come. Time seemed to drag out into an eternity. He lost all hope and didn't know what else to do. Maybe the beast had left after being wounded.
    The tree shuddered as a rumbling went through the forest ground. The monster broke through the surface and devoured his boot. Its back was turned towards Kruzz and he did not hesitate to take his chance. He jumped from the tree onto the back of its head and rammed his spear through its soft skin as deep as it would go.
    The beast shuddered and screeched. Its limbs twitched and it scrabbled towards a hole in the ground. Kruzz held on tight and pulled out his spear to ram it in once again. And again. And again. Until the creature stopped moving completely.
    His Hunt was over.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Kruzz III

"What was your Hunt like?" Kruzz was sharpening the tip of his spear. It was almost time.
    Grim laughed out loud and gave him a slap on the back.
    "Oh, it was glorious. I stalked the forest for my prey." He held his own spear in both hands and looked from left to right as if he was doing it all over again. "The elder told me to sit and wait. He said that the animal would chose me and that it would come. I waited for about five minutes until I could stand it no longer."
    Dax chuckled. "I'm amazed you even managed to wait that long. Many broods are impatient and go out to find their destiny." He smiled and put a hand on Kruzz's shoulder. "But those who wait are rewarded with easy success. Why go out to search for your prey when you know it will come to you?"
    "For the hunt!" Grim growled. "You make it very hard for me to like you. I was impressed like all the others to see you fight, but you speak of the Hunt as if it were nothing important. It's a great ritual that determines your worth as a warrior. The lust for blood presses you onwards to find your prey. That is the Orc way. That is how it should be." Grim crossed his arms as if that settled the matter.
    "I believe the ritual has merit. It is an important day for a brood to prove his strength to his peers and to be accepted into the ranks of warriors, but I also believe it has its flaws. For most Orcs do not understand the true meaning of the ritual and its spiritual context. You for instance might think that I was a weakling, since the prey I found - or should I say that found me - was an owl."
    "An owl?" Grim barked with laughter. He bent over and slapped his knee. "Dax, the slayer of owls!" He continued to laugh and didn't stop, even when Dax continued speaking.
    "An owl is an old sign for wisdom. The ritual pointed out a very different kind of strength within me. It did not determine that I was a weak warrior. You yourself said that you were impressed by my skill. The animal that chooses to be your prey says a lot more about your true nature than just your capabilities as a warrior."
    "Of course you say that. Your prey was an owl." Grim couldn't stop laughing.
    "What was your animal?" Kruzz looked at the strong Orc with big eyes. Dax was smart and there may be truth to what he said, but killing an owl was not what Kruzz had imagined when he thought about the Hunt.
    "It was a bear." Grim's laughter subsided and he once again played the part of the hunter, jabbing his spear into the air. "It was big and fierce. When I found it, it stepped up onto its hind legs and roared with fury."
    Kruzz could imagine what it must have been like. He wondered how he would hold his own against a bear. "And what did you do?"
    "I roared right back into its face." Grim laughed aloud. "And then I charged. It swiped me aside with a big swing of its claws, breaking my spear in half. I didn't know what to do then, but I had to react fast, because the bear was on the attack. It charged, so I jumped up to a tree branch. The bear crashed into the tree below and I dropped on its back. We wrestled until I got ahold of the tip of my spear that was lying on the ground and I jabbed it into the bear's eye."
    Grim was on the ground after having rolled around imitating the wrestling match with the bear. Now that was the kind of Hunt Kruzz had imagined. He had respected Grim for his strength and the fighting skills he had shown against the humans, but this tale made Kruzz look up to him in a new light. Grim wasn't just a grunt. He was a beast of an Orc. Stronger than a bear. And that was when he was younger, just of age for the hunt. By now, he must have grown even stronger. Especially, since he did so much hard work in the mines.
    "Quite the challenge." Dax stroked his chin with his fingers. "I think I know what your Hunt means."
    "I know exactly what it means. It means I'm stronger than a bear. That's all that matters."
    "If that's all that matters you should be a renowned warrior. Not many grunts can boast of their Hunt having involved a bear. Especially, fighting that bear bare handed, because of a broken spear. No, no, no. There is more meaning in your story. You're right of course, it shows lots of strength."
    Grim gave a satisfied grunt.
    "But the symbolism of the bear entails more than strength. It's also a sign for leadership."
    Grim guffawed. "You mean to tell me I should be a great leader. An elder of one of the war clans, like Gwarr?"
    "On the contrary." Dax's eyes widened as he understood. "The fact that you wrestled the bear and had such a strenuous fight leads me to believe that you are anti-authority. I think the bear means that you are capable of being a great leader, but something inside you is against leadership. That is why you became part of the new settlement near the mines. You have a warrior's appetite for blood and you have the skill to fight, but you still did not choose to become a warrior."
    Kruzz furrowed his brow, trying to understand. Grim was speechless. Everything Dax had said was confusing, especially the way he said it, but some of it rang true. Grim had always been a lazy worker. It had been well known in the settlement that he would always get up late and would not listen when given orders.
    Dax smiled and seemed satisfied with his explanation. He used the following silence to add some more 'wisdom', as he would call it. "Like I said, I think you have it in you to become a great leader. You just have to defeat whatever it is inside you that is stopping you. You've already defeated a bear, so why not defeat that as well?"
    Grim grabbed his spear and growled. "Stop your stupid drivel and stick your bow where the sun don't shine." Grim huffed and left their circle. Kruzz wondered what had made him so made.
    "What did I say?" Dax shrugged. "Well, looks like it's time. Elder Worg is coming to get you."
    Kruzz stiffened. What would his future bring? He visualized Grim's fight against the bear and then Dax waiting for his owl. There was no way to know until it happened. He would have to go and figure it out.
    His Hunt was about to begin.