Sunday, July 1, 2012

Chapter Twenty-Four


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 69,000 words Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1991. All rights reserved.

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The rain had just begun to fall when Sir Gildegarde Brisbane II fled from Farchrist Castle after his banishment and humiliation. He was lost, he knew that, and his decision had already been made, but before he went through with his desperate plans, he ran into the City Below the Castle for a final errand. He ran through the streets like a lost soul, tears mixing with the rainwater on his face. When he arrived at the house, he knocked and waited politely, feeling too ashamed and too filthy to go barging in anywhere. Amanda answered the door, and when Brisbane saw her, he almost forgot his plans and fell sobbing at her feet. But he steeled himself and kept his words short. He made only three statements. First, he said what the King had done to him. Second, he warned Amanda to flee the city before anyone caught wind of the scandal. Third, he told her he loved her. Brisbane then turned and fled into the night. It was the last time my mother ever saw my father.

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Brisbane regained consciousness face down on the north bank of the Mystic River. He sputtered some water out of his lungs, pain lancing through his chest, and tried to lift his face out of the river mud. A rough hand pushed his head back down into the wet earth and a croaking voice sounded out in a language he did not recognize. Somebody was perched on top of him, driving a heavy knee into the small of his back and furiously tying his wrists together with some kind of cord. Brisbane was too dazed to do much of anything, just beginning to remember his plunge from the stone hand of Grecolus, into the mountain lake, and over the waterfall. The person on top of him soon had his hands secured behind his back and cruelly dragged him to his feet by pulling up on his fastened arms.

Through the river mud that must have covered his face, Brisbane saw who his captors were and where it was he had been captured. They were orks, six of them, much like the eight he and his friends had killed so far down the river so long ago. They were rough and brutish-looking, all over six feet tall and all clad in mismatched sets of black chain and platemail. Their pink pig-noses stuck out from their ugly faces like trophies and their small, up-thrusting tusks glistened with saliva. Each had a black shield decorated with a single red eye. Beyond them, Brisbane could see his surroundings and he recognized them. He must have floated unconscious down the river for quite some distance. They stood nearly in front of the cave where Brisbane and his companions had fought the ettins.

The ork holding him from behind pushed Brisbane down to his knees and stood painfully on the backs of his ankles. Brisbane cried out and, as he knelt there immobilized, the other five orks wrestled his chainmail poncho off over his head. He had lost his shield and his helmet somewhere in the river, but he was relieved to see Angelika was still strapped to his side.

His armor removed from him, the cutting of a few leather straps required to get it past his bound hands, one of the orks threw the heavy mesh over his shoulder like a blanket and another one, the largest one, stepped forward and began to undo the buckle that held Angelika to Brisbane’s belt. Brisbane fought to twist away from his captors, but the ork behind him stomped on his feet and lifted his arms to a painful elevation. Before he could do anything about it, the largest ork had taken Angelika from him and held her, still in her scabbard, out in front of himself.

For a moment, Brisbane was sure his brain was going to explode, sending gray shrapnel out of his ears and bursting his eyeballs. The sheer and utter rage he felt at having Angelika taken from him burned through him like fire and with unknown and superhuman strength, he leapt up, throwing the ork who had been standing on his ankles back into the water, and snapped the cords holding his wrists behind his back like pieces of dry kindling.

His hands were around the throat of the ork who held Angelika in a flash and Brisbane drove him to the ground, choking off his air supply as Angelika fell unnoticed to the earth.

“She’s mine!” Brisbane screamed, his voice discordant to sane ears, as he dug his fingers deep into the ork’s neck until he was certain, with a kind of giddy glee, that the ork’s skin would break and he would be able to tear vein after vein out of his neck, snapping them like guitar strings tuned too tightly.

The other orks were upon him in a moment and combined they could not drag Brisbane off their leader, the ork who had dared to touch Angelika, the unholy beast who had tried to foul that enchanted blade.

Brisbane began to laugh as he watched the ork’s eyes roll back into his head, a sickening, wailing scream that only sounded like a laugh to his own ears. The other five orks were still struggling to pull Brisbane’s hands away from their leader’s throat. They had made little progress and Brisbane began to beat the back of the ork’s head against the hard earth along the river bank.

Suddenly, a great weight came down on the back of Brisbane’s neck and he collapsed onto his victim. He swam in and out of consciousness for a moment and then jerked back to reality when he was rolled over onto his back next to the ork he had attacked. The ork who had been standing on his ankles, the one Brisbane had thrown into the river, stood dripping over him with his short, thick sword raised over his head. Just as Brisbane was sure the ork was going to bring the blade down to finish him, the ork paused, the sword frozen over his head and his eyes wide in amazement. The fight had suddenly gone out of him, and Brisbane could not fathom why he was not being killed.

Sunlight winked at him from something on his chest. In the struggle, the small silver pentacle medallion he wore around his neck had worked its way out from underneath his tunic and now lay sparkling against his chest. This is what had transfixed the ork.

Brisbane did not have the chance to take advantage of the lull. Just as he realized the cause of the ork’s hesitance, the ork dropped his sword to his side and shouted out a single word to his companions. Brisbane did not understand the word, it must have been in the ork’s own twisted tongue, but it sounded like “groo-mack.”

The remaining orks were on him in an instant. They quickly flipped him over and began to retie his hands together at the wrists, this time much more tightly and restricting, and they violently stuffed an awful-tasting gag into his mouth.

Brisbane fought as much as he could, but there was something different now. The spirit that had possessed him had passed out of his body. The ork he had strangled lay unmoving beside him. If Brisbane had killed him, he might have been the last creature Brisbane would ever kill. Before long, Brisbane was tightly tied and gagged, and completely at the mercy of the orks.

Having incapacitated their prisoner again, the orks went over to check on their fallen leader. They crudely tested his vital signs and then stood up and moved away. It was obvious there was nothing to be done. The ork was dead.

The ork who had been standing on Brisbane’s ankles, the one who had recaptured Brisbane, went over to the fallen leader and began to remove any valuables the dead ork had carried. Brisbane watched him, still laying on his stomach beside the running Mystic, as the ork removed the leader’s sword and shield from the ork’s dead grasp. He also took a small sack that had been tied at his waist. He then stood up and nodded to his companions. The four of them came over and picked up the body, each grabbing a limb, and then carried him over to the river and threw him in. The armor-laden corpse sank quickly to the bottom.

The four orks came back to what Brisbane presumed was their new leader. He barked an order at them and they wrestled Brisbane roughly to his feet. They held him up in front of their leader, and he looked Brisbane over dubiously.

Brisbane looked the ork over in turn. He tried not to let his fear show in his eyes or in his posture, but it was not easy. Brisbane was terrified. He had been taken captive by a party of orks and any animosity they might have had for him certainly had not been lessened by his strangling one of their number. Brisbane reflected on that now and had a hard time believing he had actually done it. The memory of his rage was like a dream, quickly fading and soon forgotten. It was just that when the ork had touched Angelika—

The ork. He was still staring Brisbane up and down and Brisbane became acutely aware of his own presence and surroundings. His chest hurt—every time Brisbane took a breath it felt like he was fanning a fire—and his vision was still popping with black spots from the blow he had received on the back of the neck. For the first time since he had regained consciousness, he realized it had stopped raining. The ork facing him was a huge creature, an inch or two shorter than himself, but easily massing just as much. The face of an ork was so different from that of a human Brisbane could only guess at which facial expressions denoted with emotions, but he felt he could be sure that this evil, flesh-eating monster was horrificly mad at him. This knowledge did nothing to assuage his trepidation about the length of his future in the hands of these creatures.

But there was his medallion. It had given the ork pause and had kept him from killing Brisbane. And even now, Brisbane thought he saw, around the eyes, a latent measure of fear in the ork’s face. What did the pentacle symbol mean to these orks? Brisbane did not know. In human society, it was the mark of a wizard, a mystical force-shaper in some eyes, a servant of Damaleous in others. It obviously meant something to these orks as well, and that something, whatever it was, had kept Brisbane alive so far.

The ork said something in his own language and the others gave some short laughs. Brisbane kept his eyes on their new leader and, as he spoke, Brisbane saw his sharp teeth were a mass of twisted and overlapping ivories. A name came unbidden to Brisbane’s mind, Snaggletooth, and in his thoughts, that became how he began to refer to the new leader of the party of orks.

Snaggletooth said something else to the others and then went over to where Angelika lay on the river bank. Brisbane’s muscles tightened against the bonds that held him as the ork picked up his sword and examined the scabbard closely. The scabbard was an ordinary one, but the emerald in the base of Angelika’s pommel told any observer that the blade inside was something special. Snaggletooth returned to stand in front of Brisbane with Angelika in his claw-like hands. Brisbane felt the insane rage begin to build up inside him again, pushing his heart up into his throat.

No, young Brisbane. They will kill you this time.

It was Angelika. Her sweet and seductive voice quenched his fire immediately. Brisbane became strangely calm in the grasps of the other orks. He felt like he could melt right through them if he had to.

But Angelika, Brisbane thought, reaching out for his sword’s consciousness. I will not let them touch you. It’s wrong. It’s…it’s…

Sacrilege. I know, Brisbane. But worry not. Their kind cannot use me. This one will not even be able to draw me from my scabbard.

Indeed, Brisbane watched as Snaggletooth tugged on the hilt of the sword, trying to free it from the metal scabbard. The ork’s muscles were straining, but Angelika would not come loose.

Angelika! Brisbane’s thoughts were crying. I cannot bear this separation from you. Make him give you back to me. Do something!

I cannot, Brisbane. I have no control over his kind. But neither do they have control over me. Be patient. I promise, our conquest of evil is not finished. Be strong and be true, and soon we will be rejoined.


Brisbane. Vengeance will be ours. They shall be vanquished.

Angelika, I need you. I…I…

I know, young Brisbane. I know. Keep me in your thoughts and I will never be far away.

Snaggletooth snapped at Brisbane in an angry tone of voice. Brisbane shrugged his shoulders. He could not understand the ork’s language. Snaggletooth punched him suddenly in the solar plexus and Brisbane doubled over in pain. The orks holding him forcefully straightened him back up.

I can’t understand you, you stupid pighead bastard!

Snaggletooth barked another order at his subordinates and Brisbane was shoved off in the direction of the ettins’ cave. They started to move towards it, Snaggletooth leading, followed by Brisbane and the four orks, one of whom kept a firm grip on the bonds that held Brisbane’s wrists together. Snaggletooth still held onto the scabbarded Angelika, carrying her in his hand while his own sword was belted at his side. He had given the ex-leader’s sword and shield to his men, but had kept the sack to himself. Brisbane could only assume it contained some gold or something of some other value. All the orks had similar sacks, but the ex-leader’s was by far the fullest.

The procession entered the cave, losing the benefit of sunlight, and were swallowed by consuming darkness. Brisbane was instantly blinded and he unconsciously slowed his pace. He was rewarded with a shove from behind. Evidently, the orks had no trouble seeing in the dark.

Something nagged at Brisbane as they made their way deeper and deeper into the cave. Something was amiss. In a moment he had it. When he had been here last, in the battle with the ettins, Roystnof had lit the cave up with one of his light spells.

ROYSTNOF! The memory of his friend and the rest of his companions came flooding in on him like a deluge. Where were they now? Still at the top of that mountain? Fighting with that strange bird-monster? How much time had passed since he had fallen off that hand? Would his friends ever be able to find him?

Tears welled up in his eyes as he realized he didn’t know the answers to any of these questions. An unwanted feeling came up in his heart, a feeling he would never see any of them again, and as soon as it appeared, the feeling nestled into his heart like a certainty. He could logically argue against it, but it would never do any good. Down deep, he would always know better.

But he had to put it aside for the moment, lest he break down in front of Snaggletooth and his goons, and Brisbane swore to himself he would never let that happen. His eyes had begun to adjust to the darkness of the cave and he could now see they had entered the large chamber where the ettins had been sleeping. He could see their huge forms amidst the boulders that cluttered the floor, tacky with their own blood. The smell of their deaths hung heavy in the air and it made Brisbane sick to his stomach.

What happened to Roystnof’s light spell? The question nagged him like a shrewish wife. There were two possibilities, he knew, one of which he clung to like a life line and the other he tried to ignore like a punished child. His hope lay in the easy answer, that Roystnof had dispelled the magical luminance after they had left the cave and Brisbane had not noticed him do it. It was entirely possible. Brisbane had not been paying much attention and Roystnof was one of the last ones out of the cave. And it was logical, Roystnof would not have wanted to leave any evidence they had been there in case the ettins had any friends around. His fear, on the other hand, was that something had happened to Roystnof. He remembered Dantrius insisting that Roystnof’s magic lantern would cease to function after the wizard’s death. Suppose Roystnof had been killed in the inevitable battle with the bird-monster after Brisbane had taken his plunge? After all, Roystnof hadn’t dispelled his magic light in the basement of the shrine where Brisbane had killed the demon.

The orks brought Brisbane to a halt in the center of the slaughtered ettins. Snaggletooth came up to Brisbane, close enough so Brisbane could see his features in the dark cave. The ork surveyed the carnage around them and then returned his gaze to Brisbane.

Does he think I did this? Brisbane thought. Brisbane had done most of it, but that didn’t mean Snaggletooth had to know. Brisbane remembered Roystnof saying ettins were somehow related to orks. Suppose these ettins had been friends of these orks? Just another reason for them to hate him. Brisbane was not sure how much protection his medallion offered, but he wasn’t too interested in finding out.

Snaggletooth began to say something but cut himself off. He shook his head in frustration and Brisbane smiled inwardly at Snaggletooth’s language barrier. He was sure the ork wanted to question him about the death of the ettins, but was unable to because he could not make himself understandable to Brisbane.

Snaggletooth’s reaction to this realization was, again, to punch Brisbane in the gut. This one hurt much more than the first one had, and Brisbane screamed into his gag. The ork said something to his goons and Brisbane was dragged off to one side of the cavern.

Brisbane reached out to Angelika, who Snaggletooth still carried in his hand. Help me, Angelika. I need you.

Her voice answered immediately. There is nothing I can do until I am once again in your hands. Be strong. That time will come.

How do you know?

I know.

A light dawned in Brisbane’s head. Angelika, do you know if Roystnof is still alive?

This I cannot say.

Brisbane and the orks were tucked away in one of the rough corners of the ettins’ cave. Snaggletooth separated himself from the others and stood, with arms outstretched, in front of the rough stone wall. A silence fell among the other orks and Brisbane’s interest immediately perked up. Something was about to happen.

Snaggletooth, his arms still outstretched, beckoning to the stone wall, said one word in his strange orkish tongue. Ursh-low. Brisbane heard it distinctly. He had no idea what it meant, but he was sure that was what Snaggletooth had said.

There was a grinding noise in the cave, like stone being scraped against stone, and before Brisbane’s dark-adjusted eyes, the section of the wall Snaggletooth was standing before began to swing open like a door.

It was a door. A secret door like the one Shortwhiskers had found at the entrance of the temple or at the end of that endless tunnel. Except this door wasn’t opened by pushing on a certain spot slow, steady, and right into the wall. This secret door was opened with a word. A magic word. Ursh-low. Open sesame.

Magic? Did Snaggletooth and the orks have their own type of magic? What else could they do? In all the rumors Brisbane had heard about orks, none of them ever said anything about them having magical powers. They were reputed to be insanely evil, maliciously cruel monsters who attacked without fear or quarter, but they were not supposed to be wizards. Brisbane wondered if he shouldn’t try to forget everything he had ever heard about orks.

The section of wall had opened all the way to reveal a pitch black tunnel leading down into the very bowels of the Crimson Mountains. Snaggletooth turned to look at Brisbane and there was a definite smile on his lips. It spread out under his pig nose like a wound and revealed nearly all of his snaggled teeth. It made him look like a demon out of some hellish nightmare.

Brisbane decided he was not going to be taken into that dark tunnel. To hells with that idea. Once that door shut behind them—with a dull, hollow thump, like the dropping of a coffin lid, Brisbane was sure—the little light they received from the cave’s entrance would be gone and Brisbane would be lost in a world of darkness with only five angry orks as his guides. Well, he was not going to let that happen. Brisbane let his legs go slack and he sat down hard on the floor of the cave.

The orks bunched up around him, grumbling at him and poking him with their stiff fingers. Brisbane tried to ignore them. He crossed his legs and bowed his head. Snaggletooth broke his way through his men and stood in front of the sitting human.

Brisbane stared at the ork’s feet, housed in worn boots and blackly present in the darkness. Go to the hells, Snaggletooth. I’m not moving. Quicker than Brisbane would have thought possible, Snaggletooth’s right foot swung up and hit Brisbane right in the face. His head rocked and he rolled over onto his back. Pain lit up the area around him and Brisbane was sure the ork had caved his face in. The other orks brought Brisbane to his feet and he offered up no resistance.

Snaggletooth put his face back into Brisbane’s and shouted something, evidently not caring that Brisbane could not understand him. Brisbane knew the punch was coming before it landed, but somehow, it still took his internal organs by surprise. A broken face and now something ruptured in his gut. This rebellion tactic certainly had its attractions.

Brisbane was pushed, wheezing for breath and bleeding from the cheek, into the dark tunnel behind the advancing form of Snaggletooth. The four other orks followed behind, one with his hands clamped firmly on the bonds that secured Brisbane’s arms behind his back.

Brisbane cried out to Angelika, searching for any kind of solace she might be able to offer.

Be strong, young Brisbane. Our time will come.

The secret stone door shut behind them, dropping the small group into the gloom of utter blackness. Brisbane was wrong. When it shut, it sounded more like a prison door than a coffin lid.

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