Friday, October 23, 2015

Rud II

A group of his brothers in arms were huddled around a cooking fire. They had caught a rabbit and were making stew. An awkward silence hung in the air as they all waited for the rabbit meat to become nice and tender. After Rud had told them not to talk about Swindon and the miracle water from the spring, a hush fell over them whenever he was near.
    It wasn't that he was disliked. They still talked to him. It was just that no one was supposed to talk about what was on everyone's mind. Him having been the one to spread the news of what Captain Bron had commanded meant that they made sure to follow the orders in his presence.
    Rud got up and stretched.
    "What're you doin'?" Erwin, who sat on the log next to him, looked up.
    "Going for a walk. Not in the mood for stew."
    "'Tis better than army rations. When's last time you ate somethin' good?"
    "Don't know, but I'm just not hungry at the moment."
    Rud waved to the lads and they grunted their goodbyes. Now that he was gone they might start talking in hushed tones, but Captain Bron couldn't expect him to always be there to put a stop to such things. He had more important things to do.
    He headed off towards camp, but as soon as he was out of sight he swerved toward the mountain side. It was going to be a long run, but he'd get to the spring and back before morning.
    He had lied to Erwin. He was hungry, but not for food. He hadn't wanted food, water or even ale ever since he took that sip from the spring. All he wanted now was more.
    He had waited a night and a day since Swindon's injury and he could wait no longer. His clothing was drenched in sweat from running, but he was in good shape and kept going. There was no need for breaks, he kept breathing strong. At this pace he would make it there a lot faster than expected.
    Three fresh graves marked the spot of the secret entry to the path. Rud came to a halt, not even needing to catch his breath. The rest of the path should be followed at a slower pace. There were many rocks and pebbles that could make you lose your footing, but Rud had no time to spare. He ran through the narrow canyon that wound through the mountains to the cave.
    His knuckles and knees were bruised from slipping several times, but he barely felt it. Once he had taken another sip from the spring the wounds would heal instantly. He entered the cave and expected to be dazzled by the springs eerie light, but instead he was surprised to see a torch and three of his comrades sprawling near the edge of the lake.
    Recognizing the bald patch on the side of  Swindon's head, he dashed over to help. With Swindon were two young brothers, Podd and Adam. All three were lying on the ground, wincing in pain with every shallow breath they took. Their faces pale, eyes unable to focus on Rud as he inspected them. Only Swindon saw him and began to mouth something.
    "What happened to you?" Rud brought his ear close to Swindon's dry lips. His breath was fowl as it wheezed from his lungs.
    "Drank... from... lake."
    Rud understood immediately. They hadn't taken the small boat to get water from the spring. They all drank from the edge of the lake. The effects were obviously quite different from those of the spring itself.
    "Don't worry. The spring water will help. It must."
    Rud got up, took every man's water flask, emptied them and then dragged the small boat that Captain Bron had left behind into the water. It wasn't going to be easy maneuvering the thing on his own, but he felt strong. Each stroke of the paddles brought him closer to the spring.
    What if the spring could not help them? The three graves in front of the mountains slipped into his thoughts, a shiver running up his spine. It had to help. It was water sent straight from the Gods. If it could not save them, nothing would.
    The trickle grew louder behind his back and he knew that he was almost there. He stopped rowing and turned to see the boat slide through the dark waters of the lake into the crystalline clear blue of the spring.
    He held up each flask, one at a time, to fill them all to the brim. The leak between the planks was worse than on his last trip, the bottom of the boat slowly filling with more and more water. It was time to get back to shore. He turned the boat around and started to slowly feel the strength leech from his arms. The black water splashed onto his scraped knees and the abrasions on his hands. Rud started to wonder if he would make it back to shore.
    In an act of desperation he grabbed one of the flasks and took a quick swig. The sensation of power returned and the slight wounds he had suffered closed up. The black water no longer mixed with his blood, allowing him to row on in full strength.
    With a thud the boat reached the shore. Quickly jumping out of the boat, Rud ran to his fallen comrades. Adam was no longer breathing, while Podd's struggled breathes sounded like a death rattle. Swindon was the only one who had managed to bring himself into a sitting position, but his breathing wasn't much better than Podd's.
    Rud gave Podd the first sip and jumped over to Swindon. They both regained their color and breathed with renewed strength almost in an instant. After that he tried dribbling some water down Adam's throat, but no matter how much he hoped for it to help, the boy was dead.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Grim IV

"He needs to get up and move around, dammit!" Grim shoved the flap to Dax's hut aside and entered.
    "Hello Grim. What can I do for you? Dax sat on an old tree stump, reading a piece of parchment he had unfurled in his hand.
    "Kruzz is as stubborn as a rock. Hell, he's a mountain. How am I supposed to get him back on his feet if he ignores me, sits there, does nothing and ends up yelling at me, telling me to leave." Grim paced back and forth in the small hut, gesturing wildly with his hands.
    Dax sighed and rolled up the parchment. "You must understand that the brood is still going through a period of shock. I agree, he should be moving around. It's not good for his muscles to be still all the time, making it harder for him to move once he does, but that's his choice. For now we must give him time."
    "Brood. You always call him that. He killed that huge beast, he's a grunt now and he should act like one." Grim's fist slammed down on a wooden chest. The pine split from the impact. He barely felt it.
    Dax stared at his broken chest with surprise. "I understand that you're upset and want to help him. You're letting your anger out to compensate the frustration of not getting through to him. Let's go outside and talk where you can't break anymore of my things."
    "I don't want to talk to you anymore. All you do is talk. Talk, talk, talk. You never get anything done." Grim turned and stormed out of the hut. He needed to cool off. He was seething with anger the way when battle rage was upon him.
    He didn't realize it immediately, but he was on his way to Worg's hut, his elder. Some deep anchored feeling of trustworthy guidance must have led him there. Every Orc grew up knowing that the elder was the wisest grunt in the settlement. If you had something troubling you, you could always turn to him.
    Yargol was guarding the hut and stood menacingly in front of the flap. He held out his hand for Grim to stop and usually he would have. Any other day he would have respected the elder's privacy and the guards task to protect the elder, but not today.
    Grim slapped Yargol's hand aside and backhandedly knocked his fist in his face. Yargol stumbled out of the way not knowing what hit him. Stepping through the flap, Grim found himself standing behind Traglok who was having an audience with Elder Worg.
    Both turned around as Yargol dashed through the flap shouting, spear poised at Grim's throat. Yargol's eyes darted from Grim to Worg. Worg's surprised look turned sour, tusks raised. He shook his head and pointed for Yargol to leave. He did so grudgingly, fire burning in his eyes as he watched Grim before leaving the hut.
    "Grim. What do we owe this surprise visit to?" Worg sounded tired. The disappointing look he had given Grim at his interruption had faded to drooping tusks and heavy jowls. He was old and he looked it.
    Grim wondered if he had been right to come here. From the look of him Worg didn't have it in him to give advice. The attack on his settlement had rattled the old grunt and Kruzz's injury had given him the rest. He was broken.
    "I came..." Grim didn't know what he had come for. Advice? For what? Worg wasn't handling Kruzz's situation any better than he was.
    "It doesn't matter what you came for. It matters that you're here." Traglok interrupted. "Grim, you and I have had our differences, but at heart we're both warriors."
    Grim wasn't too sure about Traglok being much of a warrior, but he was glad that he had spoken, giving him more time to think.
    "Worg, when we left our settlement at the Blacktop Mountains you pronounced me as our leader in battle. So far we've only run. I can't take it any longer. We need to fight back. Those bloody humans killed our mothers and our broods. I say it's time that we get our revenge."
    Worg shook his head back and forth gently. If it was possible, he looked even older than before. "Go. Do what you must. Less than a week ago I would have stopped you. I would have told you what to do and you would have listened, but not anymore. I don't have the energy to stop you. Lead those that will follow you and get your revenge, Traglok. I will not stand in your way."
    Worg sat down on the ground, cross-legged, defeated.
    Traglok grinned and turned to Grim. "Are you with me? We could use a fighter like you." After the attack on their home Traglok had said pretty much the opposite. They had fought about who should lead the Clan in an attack. Grim had been enraged, full of fury and had wanted to avenge those he had seen slain, immediately.
    Now though, he was relieved that Traglok had been given command. He wouldn't want that burden on his shoulders. Telling others to do horrible things in war wasn't easy, but being told to do so by your commander didn't make doing them any easier. Grim's anger had almost put him in a position of command, something he had been running from over the last few years.
    His thoughts about Kruzz still had his blood boiling and the prospect of crushing some human skulls was tempting, but reason won out. Grim would not let his anger drag him back to a place where he didn't want to be? "I don't think so, Traglok."
    Traglok shrugged and exited the tent, leaving Grim and Worg alone. "So if you didn't come here to support him, then why did you come?" Worg patted the ground, beckoning Grim to take a seat.
    With reason came some sort of peace. He still felt the frustration, but the uncontrollable rage had dissolved. He still wasn't sure if the old grunt would be able to help him, but where was the harm in letting him try? Grim could think of none and sat down. "I'm troubled, Elder."
    "Aren't we all? Is it the young grunt that's gnawing on your conscience the way he is on mine?" Worg's lips twitched into a sad smile as Grim nodded. "Life throws many obstacles in our way and we must find the best solution to each problem. I've lived for a long time and I've overcome many rivers and boulders in my path, but how to deal with a grunt that does not want to get better. That's new for me too."
    Grim's tusks sank. As expected, he would find no answers here. He shifted and started to get up, but was stopped by Worg's hand on his knee.
    "It's new for the both of us and together we will find a way. It can take some time, but with dedication we will get Kruzz back on his feet. I don't know how, but by Nature's Will, I know that we'll succeed."