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.