from THE UNDERGOD
FARCHRIST TALES - BOOK THREE
Speculative FictionApproximately 69,000 words Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1991. All rights reserved.
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Amanda took my father’s advice to leave the City Beneath the Castle. She left the very next day, after the body had been found and as the town began to buzz about the possible scandals and reasons for the death of one of their finest. She heard many rumors, some of which were shockingly close to the truth and others that could only have been made up by a madman. It was a warm sunny day when my mother fled from the city of her birth to seek anonymity in one of the smaller hamlets of the Farchrist Empire. She took everything she could pack onto one stubborn mule she had bought from a family friend for three silver pieces and headed out on the North Road. She spent a night in Ladysmith, but decided it was too close to home, and moved on the next day on the East Road. The next town was a small one called Scalt and, as she rode through it, she saw a sign in the window of a small tavern. She tied her mule to the hitching post, took down the sign, and went into The Quarter Pony to start a new life.
+ + +
Brisbane was kicked awake by Snaggletooth a few minutes after dawn. The ork grumbled at him and roughly helped him to his feet. The night on the ground had left him even more stiff and sore, and he could still feel the tautness in his face that could only be swelling. The orks had either already eaten breakfast or had skipped that meal because they were all packed and ready to continue on their journey. Within thirty seconds of being kicked awake, Brisbane was back in his position in the line-up, fighting with the rope that connected his feet to match the tireless pace of the orks. He did not remember the dream he had the night before.
He was miserable in the early morning sun. He felt terrible, his entire body one massive ache with small regions of flaring pain, one in his stomach, another in his face, and the last in the small of his back, where Snaggletooth had delivered a particularly swift kick. His hands had gone numb again and his twisted shoulders were beginning to develop a numbness of their own. He felt like he was choking on his gag and the rag in his mouth had lost all of its moisture during the night. It now tasted like dust.
But his physical misery was nothing compared to his mental anguish. Brisbane simply did not see how he was going to survive another day of the forced march. His hunger had returned with the morning, but unlike the sunrise, it seemed larger than it had been the day before. Knowing the orks, he could expect no food until they camped again for another night, and his stomach complained loudly that was much too far away. The hunger left him strapped of all his energy, and he wondered how much longer he would be able to shamble along like a zombie freshly returned from the grave.
For the first time he found himself wondering why he hadn’t just died when he plunged over the falls above the lost temple of Grecolus. The thought entered his head for the first time and it was quickly followed by the angry, and yet somehow still pacifying, voice of Angelika.
No! Do not entertain such thoughts, Brisbane. You and I are destined for better things.
He raised his head and fixed his reddened eyes on his sword, still being carried in the eternal clutches of Snaggletooth.
Angelika, he thought. I just don’t know how much farther I can go.
There’s not much farther to go, Brisbane. Our journey will end today.
It will? How much farther is it? How do you know?
It helped Brisbane a little. Today. If he could stay up just for today. Sometime today the hell would end. It was enough to keep his mind pushing his body ever onward. It did not ease his pain like, say, a healthy rub of Stargazer’s healing ointment—oh dear Grecolus, do you remember that stuff, it was in your former life, you spread some on Roystnof’s back after the attack of the ogres and the bruises faded a little right before your very eyes, do you remember that, Gil, can you remember that—might have, but it allowed him to endure the pain for a little while longer. He did not concern himself with where he was going to be and what was going to happen to him when he got there. He didn’t care. He only knew that before he had been lost in an eternity of one foot in front of the other, and now, there was the promise that this eternity wasn’t an eternity after all. It was just a long time. He knew because Angelika had told him so.
And so he was able to push on. He drove his body to the point of exhaustion, and then he drove it a little farther. He had to stay up just for today. Today this madness would end.
Snaggletooth and the other orks did not notice any superhuman effort coming from their prisoner. They knew where they were going and how long it would take to get there. The human was just extra baggage. They were glad he had given them as little trouble as he had. They were only concerned about getting home, and when they got there, the big human with the star around his neck would no longer be their responsibility. For them, it would be feast, drink, and old stories around a hot fire.
Brisbane did not care how she knew it, but Angelika had been right. His forced march ended that day. It was in the afternoon, far past noon but still early enough not to be troubled with finding a place to camp for the night. The sounds of bustle and activity could be heard from a long way off, but Brisbane was walking in a stupor of deaf ears, and he had no idea they were approaching the orkish settlement until he was brought to a halt by the ork holding onto his dead arms.
He looked up. He saw Snaggletooth had stopped and he was talking to an ork he had never seen before. This new one was also dressed in a mismatched set of black armor and he carried a shield with a large red eye painted upon it. He had a sword belted at his side and in his free hand was the leash of a dog, the breed of which Brisbane had never seen before.
It was a large animal, about as high as the ork’s waist at the shoulder with fur speckled in black, gray, and white like the fine grains of sand on a beach. It had a short snout and tall ears. Its eyes were bright orange and its teeth glistened white, wet with spittle. The dog was sitting at attention beside its ork master, growling deep in its throat.
Snaggletooth and the Dogmaster were exchanging what sounded like pleasantries in their brackish language. Brisbane wasn’t really paying attention to the sounds of their speech, but he seemed somehow attuned to the word groo-mack and, at its mention, he saw the Dogmaster begin to look him over suspiciously.
Snaggletooth then held Angelika up for the Dogmaster’s examination but he did not give the weapon to the ork. Talking all the while, Snaggletooth pointed out the large emerald in the base of Angelika’s pommel and then tried unsuccessfully to draw her from her scabbard. From a forgotten place deep inside of him, Brisbane’s wrath began to build at the sight of the ork handling the sword, but Angelika’s voice quickly echoed in his brain and calmed the tremors.
Snaggletooth and the Dogmaster talked for a little while longer and then the Dogmaster walked his dog down the length of their line, stopping beside each person to let the dog sniff them over. The dog approached Brisbane first, still growling low in its throat. Under other circumstances, he might have been embarrassed when the dog came up to him and sniffed at his crotch, but in his present condition, he just added it to the list of his personal tragedies since he had left his friends. Some of the orks laughed when the Dogmaster had to forcefully pull the animal away from Brisbane.
The other orks extended their hands before the dog got close enough to invade their private areas. The dog reacted favorably to each of the orks and, after the initial sniffing had been taken care of, each ork gave the dog a friendly pat on the head. The Dogmaster then returned to the head of the line and Snaggletooth slapped him on the back, barking out what could only have been a warm goodbye. Brisbane was shoved forward again.
The party continued over the rise of another hill and Brisbane thought about what he had just experienced. It had obviously been some sort of checkpoint, to control the flow in and out of wherever it was they were going. That was interesting in itself, that the orks would be organized enough to post and maintain such a patrol. It was the kind of thing that required strong leadership to work properly. It was the kind of thing one would expect to find around a fortification like Farchrist Castle, but it was a bit remarkable to find it out here in the wastes of the Windcrest Hills among a group of orks. But what really caught his attention was the dog, and more directly, the Dogmaster.
The domestication of animals was something Brisbane was sure most people would have put past the ability of an ork. Most people thought of orks as little more than animals themselves. But the Dogmaster had definite control over his animal. He remembered the way the dog had sat, seemingly at attention, while its master chatted with Snaggletooth about him and Angelika. That dog had not just been domesticated; it had been trained, probably to do much more than to sniff at the genitals of strangers. At every turn, Brisbane was seeing that these orks were much more than most people thought they were. He decided most people were full of shit.
The small group topped the hill they were climbing and started down its other side. Brisbane saw ahead of him, sprawled in a short valley amidst a high group of rocky hills, the large extent of the ork settlement.
It seemed to have little organization. There were a few ramshackle buildings scattered over the village, the most notable being what was obviously a kennel of some sort, giving its function away by the barks of dozens of fenced-in dogs. Figures moved randomly around the settlement, concentrated the thickest around the buildings. The settlement seemed to grow more dense as it neared the sheer side of the hill on the opposite side of the compound. The hill appeared to have been cut off by some mechanical means and a large cave mouth had been dug into it. Periodically, figures moved in and out of this cave mouth, and he could only assume the orks had some sort of underground complex in there.
As he was marched down the hill and into the settlement itself, Brisbane lost sight of his overview of the area and began to see more and more detail. Most of the orks moving about were dressed in ordinary, if dirty, clothing, but a few among their ranks wore the typical set of black ork armor. Of those in regular clothes, females were by far more numerous than males. They looked a lot like their male counterparts, big and solidly built, having snouts and tusks smaller than those of the males and less hair around their faces and necks. But they were most easily distinguished from the males by the large pair of breasts each of them seemed to have, pushing out the fabric of their dirty tunics. As Brisbane looked around, he did not see a single female with anything near to what would be considered normal for a human female. Some were almost freakish in their proportions.
Nearly all the females were engaged in some kind of handiwork. Mending clothes, preserving meat, or cleaning weapons, they all seemed to have some task to perform. Each of them also seemed to have a small litter of orkish children dancing around them, making a good deal of noise and doing their best to turn the attention of the females away from their work. As Brisbane was led through the settlement, the children paused in their activities to watch him walk by, their eyes wide with avid interest, only to lapse back into their foolishness after Brisbane had passed.
He also saw a number of small tents scattered between the few buildings. Their front flaps were open but he saw almost no one sitting inside any of them. The day was warm, and Brisbane figured they would stay empty until nightfall, when it would be necessary to put all the unruly children to bed.
His impression of the settlement as a whole was one of order amidst chaos. Out here in the wilderness the orks had obviously carried on a productive society for some time. There seemed to be no logic in the layout of the area—buildings, tents, and people scattered any which way—but in the actions of the men and women he had witnessed so far, Brisbane could see each ork had a job to do in their society and each ork did that job well.
These perceptions did not rattle off in his head like a lecture in sociology, he was in much too much physical distress for that. But the inklings of them were there, tugging away at the fringes of his conscious thoughts, reinforcing his idea that these orks were much more than anyone had given them credit for being.
After marching Brisbane through the center of the village, Snaggletooth stopped him when they arrived within a hundred feet of the cave mouth Brisbane had seen from the distance. There were many more armored orks in this area, all of them male and all of them carrying shields with the red eye symbol. Lined up next to the cave mouth, radiating out away from the small cliff face, were a row of structures that, from the distance, Brisbane had thought were just another group of run-down buildings. They were not. They were familiar for he had seen such things dozens of times in his life, but they seemed out of place here in the ork settlement. They were circus wagons.
There were five of them, lined up like a train, the hitchings for a team of horses laying uselessly on the ground and extending under the raised floor of each one’s neighbor. They were not the happy, colorful models, the ones used to transport the circus people from town to town in relative comfort. They were instead the ones used to transport dangerous animals, constructed of heavy wood with two walls of thick iron bars to cage the animal apart from innocent onlookers. They were not derelicts. They were being used by the orks to cage animals, and those animals were human beings.
Brisbane suddenly began to fight against his bonds and his captors. The ork who had control of him from behind, Brisbane thought it was Floppy, held firmly onto him and cruelly twisted his arms, forcing him toward the circus wagon closest to the cave mouth. Had Brisbane been rested and healthy, he might have been able to wrench himself free from Floppy’s grasp, but in his weakened condition, it was no contest. He was pushed steadily and painfully forward.
Snaggletooth took a key off a hook driven into the wood of the wagon and opened the padlocked door on its front. There was a small window in this door, guarded by small iron bars, which must have once been used by the circus masters to look in on their animals. When Snaggletooth had the door open, Floppy wrestled Brisbane up a step or two and drove him into the circus wagon.
The floor was covered with dirty straw and he stumbled face first into it. Before he could rise to his feet, Brisbane heard the door shut behind him and the locking of the padlock. Snaggletooth came around to the side of the wagon and he waved the key mockingly in front of Brisbane’s swollen face. The ork then clipped it to a ring at his belt and then, with Floppy and Half-Pint and the other two orks in his charge, disappeared into the cave mouth.
The other orks in black armor who stood around the area each looked Brisbane over for a while, but they kept their distance and did not pester him. They muttered amongst themselves, but their voices were low and, even if he could have understood their language, he would not have heard what they said. Brisbane tried to ignore them as he mentally went over his situation.
It did not look good. Here he was, hurt, tied, and gagged, locked in a circus wagon deep inside an ork encampment. He did not know where his friends were and he could expect no help from them. The only orks he knew by sight were the ones who had captured him, and they thought he was some kind of wizard. They had gone into the cave with his sword, surely to report to their superiors, and he did not know when they were coming back and who they would bring with them.
That was the down side. If there was any up side at all, Brisbane supposed it would be that he was still alive. The orks had beaten and starved him, but they had taken great pains to capture and bring him here alive. They obviously wanted something from him, and as long as Brisbane withheld it, he would retain his life if not his freedom. The problem was he did not know what the orks wanted.
His thoughts suddenly turned to those of the other people here in the orkish prison. He was alone in his wagon, but he had seen other humans in the other cars. He wished he could remove his gag so he could talk to them, so he could gain some kind of solace in the company of misery, but with his hands tied behind his back, it was impossible. Who were they? How had they been captured? What were the orks doing with them? Did the orks eat them as Shortwhiskers had said? Use them as slaves? Had any of them ever escaped? Could any of them help him? He had so many questions and so few answers.
Some of the orks still watched him, but they did not approach or try to communicate with him, and Brisbane soon found himself with little else to do besides wait. He tried to make himself comfortable in the dirty straw, but his injuries and hunger made it difficult. How did this ever happen to him? It seemed that one moment he had been standing in the hand of Grecolus, looking into the nest at the two eggs and the dead ork, and the next he was being tied up with Snaggletooth on his back. The attack of the bird-monster had been so swift he barely remembered it happening. Its dark shape had appeared like a vision, slammed into him, and knocked him from his perch in less than a second. The fall to the lake and over the falls was a wet smear on his memory, and somewhere along the way he had lost consciousness. It was terrifying to think his life could change so drastically in such a short period of time. It was as if he had no choice at all.
Brisbane did not know what was going to happen to him but Angelika had promised they would have their revenge on these orks if he would be patient and be strong. Well, he intended to do just that. In his position, Angelika’s promise was better than no promise at all, and Brisbane clung to it like a lifeline, a line to what his life had once been. If any part of it was up to him at all, he was going to get his old life back.
And so he sat there in the dirty straw, being patient and being strong, waiting for something to happen which he could control. He didn’t know how long he was going to have to wait in order to get his chance, but at that moment, he was ready to wait until the end of time.
Brisbane sat in his prison for about an hour before the orks took more than a passing notice of him. A group of the armored orks with the red eye shields began to gather in front of his wagon. They remained a respectable distance from him, but they were obviously waiting for something to happen.
That something was the re-emergence of Snaggletooth from the cave. The ork came striding out in the daylight—without Angelika, he left Angelika somewhere in that cave—followed by another ork whose appearance and dress were like nothing Brisbane had ever seen before. He was small for an ork, a little smaller than Half-Pint, and was dressed not in black armor or dirty rags, but in rich red robes. They flowed down the length of him with small sashes and belts of white to hold the many folds in place. He wore a small pointed cap between his two pig ears and his face and hair were immaculately clean. The ork wore a black patch over his left eye. Both the new ork and Snaggletooth came forward and stood directly in front of Brisbane’s cage.
The new ork, Brisbane being too shocked at his appearance to think up a name for him, studied Brisbane for many long minutes and then turned to Snaggletooth and muttered a few sentences to him. Snaggletooth nodded his head and slowly backed away from the new ork, stopping just before the gathered group of his black-armored comrades.
The new ork took a step closer to Brisbane’s wagon and planted his fists on his hips, pushing several folds of his robes away from his feet. He fixed his single eye on Brisbane’s face and, for the first time, Brisbane noticed the ork’s eye was red.
“Well now,” the ork said. “What do we have here? A wizard?”
It took Brisbane a moment to realize the ork had spoken in the common tongue, and not his orkish language. His teeth and lips gave the words a guttural accent, but they were understandable. Brisbane tried to say something to the ork but only mumbles could get past his gag.
The ork held up a placating hand. “No, no, please don’t try to say anything. You’ll just embarrass yourself. We know how to handle hostile prisoners, regardless of their personal powers.”
The ork had quite a command of the common tongue. No simple animal here. Brisbane saw his hopes of early escape slip down another notch. These orks were sharp.
“Personally,” the ork went on, “I don’t believe He-Who-Watches would grant the power to a member of a race as weak as yours, but as others have said, it is better to be safe than sorry.”
The ork then went silent and bowed his head. He raised his arms and began to growl in the back of his throat. At first, Brisbane could distinguish no difference between the growls of the ork and those of the dog they had met at the perimeter of the settlement. But as he listened more closely, he began to hear familiar tones and syllables in the ork’s low speech. It wasn’t common tongue and it didn’t sound like the orkish he had heard since his capture, and yet it was still familiar. It was—
With a shock Brisbane realized where he had heard some of the ork’s strange words before. He had heard Roystnof use them in his magical disciplines. The ork was casting a spell. Brisbane listened more carefully. He could only understand a fraction of the words, either due to his inexperience with magic or the ork’s harsh pronunciation.
But magic words were exacting. They had to be pronounced perfectly or they would not function. Indeed, the words Brisbane could understand were uttered correctly, so he had to assume the ork was using many words unfamiliar to him. It might even be a completely different kind of magic, like Roystnof had said Dantrius’ was. Brisbane began to get very nervous about just what may happen to him.
The ork was soon finished with his spell and he lowered his arms and raised his head. Brisbane looked at himself and his surroundings. He could discern no difference in him or them. The ork signaled to Snaggletooth and he came up to the front of Brisbane’s cage and drew his sharp knife.
“If you will turn around and slip your hands through the bars,” the robed ork said to Brisbane, “Vrak will now sever your bonds.”
Brisbane slowly did as he was told. Snaggletooth—Vrak, his real name is Vrak—slipped his knife between his wrists and, with one quick pull, cut the straps that had bound them together. Brisbane quickly moved away from the bars and began to massage his numb and swollen hands.
Vrak moved back to stand next to the robed ork, who Brisbane’s mind began to call Wizard.
“You may also remove your gag,” Wizard said to him. “It no longer matters. Any powers you might possess have been neutralized.”
Brisbane forced his aching fingers, rising from their comas with the flow of blood back into them, to undo the knot behind his head and he spat his gag out onto the floor.
“Wha—” he croaked, his voice failing him on his first attempt to use it. “What do you mean, neutralized?”
Some of the orks behind Wizard and Vrak seemed to shrink away from the scene and their mumbles grew louder.
Wizard looked at Brisbane as if he was an animal to be trained. “This is the first and last question I will answer for you. I have cast a spell over your cage so no magic will work there. If you really do have the mark of He-Who-Watches, I encourage you to attempt to call forth your power.”
Brisbane did nothing.
Wizard smiled. “I thought not. Tomorrow, you will answer my questions.” He turned with a flourish and went back into the cave with Vrak right on his heels.
Brisbane rubbed his aching hands and tried to ignore the group of orks who did not disperse with Wizard’s exit.