Thursday, October 25, 2012


“In life the hardest thing of all is to live and not tell lies… and… not believe in one’s own lies, yes, yes, precisely that!”
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Devils (Stepan Trofimovich)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Inner Circle by T. C. Boyle

I think this is my least favorite Boyle novel so far. It’s still a great read, but it’s a different kind of novel than all the other Boyle books I’ve read.

First, let’s mention the prose. It’s mature and sharp, but it lacks that rollicking flow that so permeates most of Boyle’s work. And I was ready for that thrilling ride. I had my pen in hand this time, ready to underline every precisely turned phrase, confident that there would be more than could reasonably be counted, and that I would be stuck picking some at random as a representative sample.

But there weren’t that many. “I was lonely, bored to tears, masturbating twice a day in my attic room that was like a sweatbox in a penal institution” comes on page 4, but the next one, “Unfortunately, it was insulated about as thoroughly as an orange crate…” doesn’t show up until page 33, and then, it’s a wait until page 76 for “…her mouth drawn down to nothing, a slash, a telltale crack in the porcelain shell of her shining, martyred face.” Eventually, I put the pen down, disappointed that it wasn’t getting more use.

I took me a while to realize what the problem was. The novel is in the first person and Boyle’s narrator, John Milk, just doesn’t have the traditional Boyle flamboyance in him. The New York Times review of the book called Milk as bland as his name, and that’s pretty much true. Maybe it is something Boyle did purposely, but the lack of his traditional flair really called my attention to Milk’s voice. The fact that he is supposedly speaking the novel extemporaneously into a tape recorder made the occasional flourishes not welcome but actually out of place. Add that to the fact that Milk is a stutterer—stumbling over his words whenever he quotes himself directly. (Who would do that, by the way? I stutter, but not when speaking into a tape recorder, except when I am repeating words I actually said. Then I recreate the stutter I used at the time.) The whole thing just kind of falls in on itself.

Still, there are moments when Boyle—and I do mean Boyle, not Milk—puts you directly in the scene, and sends chills up and down your spine. In case you didn’t know, the sex researcher Alfred Kinsey is a major character in this book—called Prok, as in Professor K, and he’s Milk’s employer, mentor and sometimes sex partner—and Milk, along with several other assistants, help Kinsey collect sexual histories from tens of thousands of people. There’s one scene where they secretly arrange to meet a subject that falls well outside the bell curve of normal sexual behavior. He’s called Mr. X, and he shares with Milk and the others some evidence of his exploits.

The photographs—there were a hundred or more—had the most immediate effect. I remember one in particular, which showed only the hand of an adult, with its outsized fingers, manipulating the genitalia of an infant—a boy, with a tiny, twig-like erection—and the look on the infant’s face, its eyes unfocused, mouth open, hands groping at nothing, and the sensation it gave me. I felt myself go cold all over, as if I were still in the bathtub, standing rigid beneath the icy shower. I glanced at Corcoran, whose face showed nothing, and then at Prok, who studied the photograph a moment and pronounced it “Very interesting, very interesting indeed.” He leaned in close to me to point out the detail, and said, “You see, Milk, here is definite proof of infantile sexuality, and whether it’s an anomaly or not, of course, is yet to be demonstrated statistically—”

It is exactly this kind of clinical detachment that subsumes the novel and attracts Milk. I’ve written before about how most of Boyle’s work seems to focus on the contrasts and commonalities between two primary characters—whether they are Ned Rise and Mungo Park or Will Lightbody and Charlie Ossining. Well, in The Inner Circle, the two contrasting characters are both Milk—Milk’s basic human nature and the aspiring ideal he has of himself. And it is the clinical standards of detachment that Prok introduces to him that puts these characters into conflict with one another.

I don’t suppose it will come as a surprise if I told you I had trouble concentrating on my work that day. As much as I tried to fight them down, I was prey to my emotions—stupidly, I know. Falsely. Anachronistically. I kept telling myself I was a sexologist, that I had a career and a future and a new outlook altogether, that I was liberated from all those petty, Judeo-Christian constraints that had done such damage over the centuries, but it was no good. I was hurt. I was jealous. I presented my ordinary face to Prok and, through the doorway and across the expanse of the inner room, to Corcoran, but I was seething inside, burning, violent and deranged with the gall of my own inadequacy and failure—my own sins—and I kept seeing the stooped demeaning figure of the cuckold in the commedia dell’arte no matter how hard I tried to dismiss it. I stared at Corcoran when he wasn’t looking. I studied the way he scratched at his chin or tapped the pencil idly on the surface of the blotting pad as if he were knocking out the drumbeat to some private rhapsody. Kill him! a voice screamed in my head. Get up now and kill him!

Corcoran has slept with Milk’s wife. It’s something that Prok encouraged, a freedom not enjoyed by the tormented specimens they study. But Milk can’t accept it. There is something immovable within him that is jealous and horrified by the idea, even though he is welcome to sleep with any woman or man in their entourage.

The device lends a kind of lurid fascination to the entire novel. You don’t quite know what Prok is going to expect his henchmen to do next, and whether Milk will do it with self-abandon or self-abuse. In the end, it is his wife Doris that stands out as the incorruptible ideal, although it is not the hedonistic kind of which Prok would approve. She, and not Milk, is the agent of volition within the novel, and that makes for a strange and sometimes surreal ride.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Attention Deficit Democracy by Jim Bovard

Another one of those libertarian-leaning books. And like Who Killed the Constitution?, this one leaves me rethinking much of what I once thought about the country I live in.

Bovard has two main observations to make. The first is that, despite popular opinion to the contrary, “we the people” are not in control of our government.

In 1693, William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, wrote what could be the motto for modern American government. “Let the people think they govern, and they will be governed.” Rulers endlessly assure people that they are in charge—while creating agency after agency, program after program that people can neither comprehend nor control. Americans’ political thinking is becoming akin to the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance—a series of bromides that sink into the mind and stifle independent, critical thought.

It wasn’t always this way. Early in our nation’s history, the majority of people were suspicious of federal power, and actively worked to curtail it.

Wariness toward government was one of the most important bulwarks of American freedom. Representative government worked partly because people were skeptical of congressmen, presidents, and government officials across the board.

But Bovard says that all began to change in the 1900s, and really accelerated during the New Deal, when “government was placed on a pedestal.”

And it seems that the people most enamored with government are the people in the government itself. There is one vignette, about the publication by the Harvard University Press of a book titled Why People Don’t Trust Government, that is quite revealing.

Britain’s Times Higher Education Supplement published an interview with Joseph Nye, the book’s senior editor and dean of the Kennedy School. The Times reported that “the book, and its subject matter, are being taken seriously in the highest political circles on both sides of the Atlantic. Nye was among a group of American experts led by Hillary Clinton who recently came to Britain for a seminar on the book attended by, among others, Tony Blair, who left clutching a copy.” The book—and Nye’s move from the Clinton administration to Harvard—was prompted by the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Nye explained: “I was preoccupied that people could become so anti-government that they were capable of an act like that.” Why People Don’t Trust Government had no mention of Waco. Nye lamented: “All the evidence is that government and politicians are at least as honest as they were in the past, but that isn’t the impression people are getting.” Three days after the interview was published, a Washington Post banner headline heralded the start of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Monica Lewinsky is not a troubling as what happened at Waco, but the point is well made. The people in government and their academic colleagues sit there and scratch their heads, wondering why the people don’t trust them, while scandal after scandal pours out of Washington. It’s frankly laughable that they can be both so educated and so blind. Bovard sums it up well.

The tone of disbelief in Why People Don’t Trust Government is at times almost comical. Harvard professor Gary Orren wrote: “The public has not only lost faith in the ability of government to solve problems, but it has actually come to believe that government involvement will just make matters worse.”

But it’s not all fun and games. This lack of trust in government has a darker side, and I’m not talking about blowing up buildings or other acts of domestic terrorism. Bovard also quotes Gary Wills, from A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government.

Many people find themselves surprised at the sympathy they can feel for even outrageous opponents of government—as was demonstrated when popular support blossomed for the anti-government forces holed up with David Koresh at Waco, Texas, or with Randy Weaver, who defied the FBI at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. … But the real victims of our fear are not those faced with such extreme action. … The real victims are millions of poor or shelterless or medically indigent who have been told, over the years, that they must lack care or life support in the name of their very own freedom. Better for them to starve than to be enslaved by “big government.” That is the real cost of our anti-government values.

This makes me think of much of the modern Republican Party, comprised of low and middle-income white America, who stand to lose more than they stand to gain by fighting for the rhetorical liberty that so many false Republican prophets proclaim during their stump speeches.

Loss of control over lawmakers and the resulting increase in distrusting government is, I think, an observable phenomenon, but Bovard’s second observation is more sinister. It is that our perception of democracy as a grand liberating force is flawed, and that this perception, or misperception, is directly responsible for our enslavement. Bovard puts it this way:

The issue is not whether democracy is good or evil, but that seeing democracy as an absolute good open the gates to great evil.


The more people who believe democracy is failsafe, the more likely it will fail. Attention Deficit Democracy produces the attitudes, ignorance, and arrogance that pave the way to political collapse.

I find it to be a persuasive argument. The thought that Who Killed the Constitution? exposed me to—that a government that is responsible for policing itself will inevitably drift towards at best cronyism and at worst tyranny—seems equally applicable to democracies as much as other forms of government. Why would they offer any special protection?

So what does Bovard prescribe for this malaise? I’m not sure he’s clear on that, but it is in his Conclusion that he comes closest to issuing a call to action.

It is time to de-sacralize democracy. Being crowned a winner by the Electoral College does not give one American the right to dispose of all other Americans’ lives and liberties. If we want a new birth of freedom, we must cease glorifying oppressive political machinery. Most of what the government does has little or nothing to do with “the will of the people.” The combination of ignorant voters and conniving politicians is far more likely to ruin than rescue this nation. In the same way that our forefathers in the 1770s refused to be grabbed off the streets and pressed into His Majesty’s navy, so today’s Americans must cease permitting politicians to impose one scheme and fraud after another.

It’s an appealing message for me, but I am not sure how practical it is. Most Americans are uninterested in politics and the activities of politicians. Those that are interested are lost (I think) in an ideological battle between a Left and a Right that increasingly have more in common than the small issues that separate them. I do agree with Bovard when he writes:

The sin of most political activists today is that they want to be anti-conservative or anti-liberal, anti-Republican or anti-Democratic, without being anti-Leviathan.

What is a liberty-minded individual to do? The central message of Bovard’s book is a powerful one.

We must recognize that mankind has not yet devised stable, lasting institutions that can safeguard rights without spawning oppression.

I used to think we had. I used to think—and was taught—that America was that stable and lasting institution. But, increasingly, I am no longer sure.

+ + +

Much of this book reads like a series of loosely connected essays. Bovard’s focus on the two main observations I describe above comprise only a portion of the text. The balance is a cavalcade of libertarian tropes.

The government always lies us into war:

Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990 provided a challenge for the first Bush administration to get Americans mobilized. In September 1990, the Pentagon announced that up to a quarter million Iraqi troops were near the border of Saudi Arabia, threatening to give Saddam Hussein a stranglehold on one of the world’s most important oil sources. The Pentagon based its claim on satellite images that it refused to disclose. One American paper, the St. Petersburg Times, purchased two Soviet satellite “images taken of that same area at the same time that revealed that there were no Iraqi troops ‘near the Saudi border—just empty desert.’” Jean Heller, the journalist who broke the story, commented, “That [Iraqi buildup] was the whole justification for Bush sending troops in there, and it just didn’t exist.” Even a decade after the first Gulf War, the Pentagon refused to disclose the secret photos that justified sending half a million American troops into harm’ way.

Bovard goes into some depth on this general theme, quoting some people throughout history who observed how governments convince their citizens to go to war. Here’s author Randolph Bourne after the United States entered World War I:

Government, with no mandate from the people, without consultation of the people, conducts all the negotiations, the backing and filling, the menaces and explanations, which slowly bring it into collision with some other Government, and gently and irresistibly slides the country into war. For the benefit of proud and haughty citizens, it is fortified with a list of the intolerable insults which have been hurled toward us by the other nations; for the benefit of the liberal and beneficent, it had a convincing set of moral purposes which our going to war will achieve; for the ambitious and aggressive classes, it can gently whisper of a bigger role in the destiny of the world.

And here’s an interesting exchange between Hermann Goering and an interviewer during his Nuremberg trial:

Goering: “Of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. … But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along.”

Interviewer: “There is one difference. In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

Goering: “Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

It’s almost as if there is a science to this—to taking a nation to war. And, if that’s so, are we fools to think that our leaders aren’t students of that science?

Here’s another trope, that the priorities of government are surreal:

In the spring of 2005, Congress showed vastly more enthusiasm for investigating steroid use by baseball players than torture by the U.S. government. Congressmen were more concerned about the sanctity of home run records than they were about the CIA or military interrogators killing innocent people. IN August 2005, the House Government Reform Committee opened a perjury investigation of a baseball player who had testified to the committee that he did not use steroids but tested positive for steroid use a few months later. Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) piously announced that “we have a obligation to look at this.” Perhaps this obligation to scrutinize private misconduct is the flipside of their obligation to ignore government atrocities.

And a thing I plan to use in future arguments:

For those who continue to fail to understand how American actions abroad can motivate foreigners to hate our government, Bovard offers one of the most compelling “shoe on the other foot” examples I’ve come across.

Many Americans have remained oblivious to the impact that the Abu Ghraib photos and other torture reports have on foreigners. How would Americans have responded if the roles had been reversed? Consider the case of Jessica Lynch, the 20-year-old blond, blue-eyed, attractive West Virginian Army supply clerk captured after her supply convoy was attacked during the invasion of Iraq. The Pentagon and the Washington Post trumpeted grossly deceptive accounts of her capture and rescue that were later exposed as frauds (and which Lynch disavowed). What if Americans had seen photos of Lynch with blood running from cuts on her thighs, cowering before attack dogs lurching at her? What if Americans saw photos of a hooded Lynch with wires attached to her body, looking like she was awaiting electrocution? What if Americans saw videos of Lynch screaming as she was being assaulted by Iraqi captors? Such evidence would likely have swayed millions of Americans to support dropping nuclear bomb on Iraq. And yet many Americans refuse to recognize how similar evidence inflames Arabs’ attitudes towards the United States.

And some things that I just didn’t know.

The Abu Ghraib photos were only the tip of the iceberg. Far more incriminating photos and videos of abuses existed, which Pentagon officials revealed in a slide show for members of Congress. However, the Bush administration slapped a national security classification on almost all of the photos and videos not already acquired by the media. Rumsfeld told Congress that the undisclosed material showed “acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel, and inhuman.” Highlights included “American soldiers beating one prisoner almost to death, apparently raping a female prisoner, acting inappropriately with a dead body, a taping Iraqi guards raping young boys,” according to NBC News. Suppressing this evidence enabled the Bush administration to persuade many people that the scandal was actually far narrower than the facts would later show.

Finally, in the course of his book, Bovard time and again gives me new perspective on issues I had long thought were settled. For example, we’re taught in school that, early in our nation’s history, the right to vote has reserved only for white men who owned property. That has always struck me as short-sighted and archaic. But read this:

In the era of the Founders, few things were more dreaded than “dependency”—not being one’s own man, not having a truly independent will because of reliance on someone or something else to survive. One of the glories of America was the possibility that common people could become self-reliant with hard work and discipline. John Philip Reid summarized eighteenth-century political thinking: “Property was independence; lack of property was servility, even servitude. … A man without independent wealth could easily be bought and bribed. A man of property has a will of his own.” This was part of the reason why many of the states initially required a property qualification for voters. Sir William Blackstone, whose work on the English constitution profoundly influenced Americans, observed that a property qualification for suffrage was necessary because if the property-less “had votes, they would be tempted to dispose of them under some undue influence or other.” Thomas Jefferson warned: “Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.”

This is a view I have never taken before, and certainly never have been offered before. Depriving certain citizens of the right to vote still may not be the proper course of action, but knowing that the motivation for the property qualification was maintaining an independent electorate rather than racism changes the view of the problem.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Chapter Twenty-Seven


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

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The owner of The Quarter Pony was a middle-aged man by the name of Otis Parkinson and he hired my mother, Amanda, scant minutes after she entered the tavern. The job was that of a waitress, called serving wench in some circles, and came with a room in the back of the tavern, one meal a day, and a small salary. Some men in Otis’s place may have hired the young Amanda out of desire for her beauty, and then tried to abuse their position when she became dependent upon them. But not Otis Parkinson. He was a good man of Grecolus and hired her simply because she was in need and he needed the help. If someone had told him that day he would wind up married to the young girl, he would have laughed in their face. At that time, he did not know my mother was pregnant, he did not know her child would be a boy, and he did not know he would raise me as he would his own son.

+   +   +

Night fell over the ork encampment slowly, oozing into the blue sky like molasses. Brisbane was free of his bonds but still a prisoner in the circus wagon. The party of orks had finally left him alone, losing interest in his inactivity and moving onto more stimulating pastimes.

Brisbane was thankful for their departure. He hated their eyes boring into him as they seemed to do, but this relief was lost among his infinity of worries. His hunger, his pain, his fear, they were old worries but they still packed a punch. The worst was that he could do nothing about any of them, and he had to take them in like unwanted visitors and try to make them comfortable. The orks were in control of him and he would not eat until they fed him, would not lose his pain until they stopped hurting him, and would not conquer his fear until he escaped them. He sat himself in one of the far corners of the wagon and tried not to give up hope.

Revenge, Angelika had promised. Revenge. But now even Angelika was gone, lost somewhere in the orkish cave and Brisbane wondered if he would ever wield her again. He tried to reach out to her mentally but he got no response. She was either unable or unwilling to speak to him. He wasn’t sure which one was worse.

He thought about Wizard, the strange ork in the strange clothes who had de-magicked his wagon. He thought about the things the ork had said. He was the only one Brisbane had heard use the common tongue, and Brisbane supposed it was a rare talent among orks. Wizard had really said very little to him, but what he had said left a lot of questions in his mind.

First of all, who or what was He-Who-Watches? Wizard had referred to his magic power as something granted by He-Who-Watches. A mark. There was only one explanation he could find that made any sense, but he distrusted it because it fell too easily in with the rumors he had heard about orks.

There were two schools of thought about orks. The first was that they were simple savage animals on two feet who killed because they liked the taste of blood. The second, and by far the more popular, was that they were simple savage animals on two feet created by Damaleous who killed to serve their lord and because they liked the taste of blood.

The question was, was He-Who-Watches Damaleous? Brisbane decided he very well could be. Even though he had come to discount most, if not all, of what he had been taught about Grecolus and his battles with the Evil One, Brisbane realized thousands believed it and, to thousands, it was a very real force in their lives. He did not begin to believe himself to be the ultimate judge between fact and fiction, but he knew the objective reality of fact often had little to do with the normal person’s subjective reality of fiction.

He considered Illzeezad Dantrius to be a prime example. Roystnof had taught Brisbane magic came from the individual, and Brisbane believed that, but Dantrius—and sometimes, it seemed, the rest of the world—believed magic came from Damaleous. Dantrius may be getting his powers from within, but he believed they were coming from below, and that was the only “fact” that mattered.

He could not help but wonder if the same story applied to these orks. From his words, it seemed Wizard believed his power and Brisbane’s potential power came from an entity called He-Who-Watches. Brisbane did not consider it too far of a stretch to imagine He-Who-Watches was just the orkish name for Damaleous. It was a different culture, they had a different language, and so they had different names for things. It was much like the time Brisbane had speculated about Shortwhiskers’ Moradin and Abbathor being the dwarven names for Grecolus and Damaleous. But if this was true for orks, and He-Who-Watches was what they called Damaleous, what did they call Grecolus? Did they even have a Grecolus-figure in their myths?

This tied into another debate he had once had with himself about the subjectivity of good and evil. Evil was good to the evil-minded. If the orks did worship a Damaleous-figure in the name of He-Who-Watches, wouldn’t that figure be their Grecolus-figure? It certainly might.

If all of this were true, which he still wasn’t sure it was, if orks could get magic powers from this He-Who-Watches, there seemed to be only one question of vital importance to his evolving philosophy. Was He-Who-Watches just the orkish name for Damaleous, or was he some other entity altogether? In essence, was the mythology he had been taught as a child the absolute truth, was it part of a larger whole, or was it a gigantic delusion?

The faithful worshippers of Grecolus considered theirs to be the only true god, all others were false gods based on ritual and superstition. The dwarves, and maybe the orks, had separate gods from those of humans and the other races, but they did not deny the presence of gods different from theirs. Roystnof, and a few like him, believed in a universe with no gods. It was very important to Brisbane to know which of these three ideas, if any, was the true one and, now that he was their prisoner, which idea the orks held.

He decided he simply did not know enough about the orks to gather any details about their mythology. He did feel, however, he could be sure Wizard believed his magic power came from a being called He-Who-Watches, whether that belief was realistic or not. As far as deciding the true nature of the universe, Brisbane didn’t think he would ever collect enough data to make a definite decision about that.

So he turned his thoughts to Wizard’s magic power. Regardless of its source, was it real? He could think of only one way to find out. He would test Wizard’s anti-magic spell by trying to cast a spell of his own.

He knew exactly which one he wanted to try. It wasn’t his only true spell, shocking grasp. That would be too obvious. It was one of the cantrips Roystnof had taught him early in his apprenticeship. Brisbane had been thinking about casting it since he had been tossed into his cage. In the middle of his sorrow, as he was pushed face first into the dirty straw on the floor of the cage, his ears had heard a sound that had brought a ray of sunshine into his cloudy hopes. It was a sound the orks may have thought would help break their prisoner’s spirit, but it had the opposite effect. It was the sound of Vrak’s key turning in the lock on the door of his cage.

A key meant the lock had tumblers, and tumblers Brisbane could turn much like the ones he had turned on Roystnof’s study door when he had cast his first cantrip almost six years ago.

But not now. There were still too many orks up and about. In fact, a number of the armored orks had built a campfire right outside his cage, before the cave entrance, and were eating their evening meal and drinking large amounts of what appeared to be ale. When they had all drunk themselves into unconsciousness, Brisbane would try his spell and, if it worked, he would slip out of the camp and run for it.

But right now, something much more pressing than freedom held his attention. Hunger. He sat dismally in his cage and watched the orks gorge themselves on freshly cooked rabbit meat and gallons of orkish ale. This evening meal seemed to be the only one the orks ate in a day, but they ate enough to make up for it. Brisbane had never eaten rabbit before, but right then, he thought he would have eaten one raw.

One of the orks around the fire Brisbane recognized as Floppy, but he acted as if he had never seen Brisbane before. They ate with reckless abandon and didn’t seem to care that there were people starving not thirty feet from where they sat.

He could hear the other prisoners in the other circus wagons begging and whining for food. He did not want to beg his captors for anything, but he felt if he was not fed soon, he would start uncontrollably. He listened to the moans of his fellows captives in misery. There were perhaps three or four of them and one of them was definitely female. The other voices were male, probably belonging to merchants who had traveled on the South Road between Scalt and Queensburg. In his mind, he saw all kinds of torture the orks could inflict on their prisoners, male and female alike. He thought about things females were especially susceptible to. What did these orks do to their female prisoners? Brisbane tried not to let his rumor-riddled imagination run away with him.

Why didn’t the King do something about these orks? The Windcrest Hills were part of the valley that made up the Farchrist Empire. These orks terrorized and captured honest merchants using the King’s roads to ply their trade, and kept them in cages to be tortured or eaten or worse. How could the King stand for that? Brisbane remembered the tax collector who had come to The Lazy Dragon in Queensburg had been accompanied by armed guards. Apparently, the King conducted his business under protection but did not care as much about other people’s business. Brisbane had never been a great student of politics, but he thought the least a system of government should do was protect its citizens from outside aggression.

He continued to watch the orks as they ate and drank, trying to block out the cries of the other humans as he was sure the orks were doing. He noticed the orks had a servant of sorts among them, someone to cook their meat and pour them fresh mugs of ale, and that this servant was not an ork. He was not a human, either. Brisbane wasn’t sure just what he was.

As he watched the servant move around in the firelight, Brisbane could see he was dressed in plain gray clothing that bore no sign or decoration of any kind. He appeared human in the way of arms and legs and the shape of his body, but his face was another story. His ears were long and sharply pointed, and at first Brisbane thought he might be an elf because of this, but he quickly realized no elf could be this ugly. The servant’s forehead was low and sloping, and his dark eyes were set deep beneath a prominent brow line. His nose was large and long, but pushed in at the end, as if it was trying to stay out of the way of the unruly teeth that pushed out of his large mouth. None of them were pointed like the stout tusks of the orks, but he seemed incapable of fully closing his lips over them. Brisbane thought he looked more like a handsome ork than an ugly human.

The servant was besieged with gruff orders from the other orks and he just about flew around the campfire to cater to all their wishes. When he had them all full of rabbit and their mugs full of ale, Floppy nodded to him and waved his arm in the direction of the circus wagons. The servant quickly picked up a sack and a water jug and made his way over to them.

Brisbane went right up to the bars and watched the servant go to the wagon at the other end of the line. He took a cup out of the sack and poured it full of water. Brisbane had his face pressed between two bars so he could see what was going on. He noticed the cries of the other prisoners had stopped.

The servant handed the cup of water through the bars to a pair of shaking human hands, and then drew from the sack some of the dried strips of preserved meat Brisbane had been fed on his journey with Vrak. These too he handed through the bars. The servant waited for a minute or two, took the empty cup back, and then moved down to the next cage.

They were being fed! Brisbane’s stomach nearly screamed in anticipation as he watched the servant make his way down the line. When he arrived in front of Brisbane’s wagon, Brisbane backed a step away from the bars and sat down in the dirty straw.

He met the servant’s eyes for a moment and then the servant bent over to pour him a cup of water. He handed it to Brisbane through the bars and Brisbane promptly drank half of it, forcing himself to stop so he would have some left to wash down his meat. He got four strips, a banquet compared to the two he had been fed the night before. He ate them quickly, he couldn’t help himself, and soon all he had left was the half cup of water. He quickly drained that and handed the cup back to the servant.

Brisbane wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “Thank you,” he said, not caring if the servant could understand him or not.

The servant showed no reaction. He picked up the sack and the water jug and began to make his way back to the campfire.

Suddenly, one of the orks made a very loud comment and the rest of the orks let out an explosive burst of laughter. The servant froze in his tracks. The ork who had made the comment, Brisbane did not recognize him, rose to his feet and made another one. This time, some of those who laughed also got to their feet and began to make their way over to the servant. The servant dropped the sack and the water jug and began to back up towards Brisbane’s cage, slowly shaking his head.

One of the approaching orks was Floppy and when he and his comrades got to the servant, they seized him, still laughing, and began to drag him to the door of Brisbane’s cage. Floppy produced a key, either a duplicate or given to him by Vrak, and opened the padlock securing the door. In an instant, the servant was face down in the straw and the door had been relocked. Floppy and the orks went back to the campfire, still laughing.

The servant pulled himself out of the straw in front of Brisbane. Brisbane felt compelled to say something to the servant, but he still didn’t know if he would be understood. The servant sat up and tried to brush some of the straw off his clothes.

“Are you okay?” Brisbane asked.

The servant hung his head low. “Yeah, yeah,” he mumbled. “I’m just fine.”

There was an accent but it wasn’t as harsh as Wizard’s.

“What was that all about?”

Another curt comment from outside followed by another surge of brackish laughter.

“Keep your voice down,” the servant said.

Brisbane lowered his voice to a whisper. “Sorry.”

“It’s a running joke with them,” the servant said quietly. “Every time they get a new prisoner, they toss me in with him to see how strong the resemblance is. They think it’s hysterical that I look more human than grugan.”

“Groo-gan?” Brisbane said, pronouncing the strange word carefully. Except for their comparative size, Brisbane didn’t they think looked anything alike.

“Grugan,” the servant nodded. “Orks. That’s what they call themselves.”

Brisbane raised his eyebrows. It never occurred to him that orks would call themselves anything else but orks. He had thought ork was an orkish word, but evidently that was not the case. It was just what humans called them. He wondered where the word came from.

“Well,” Brisbane said, “you’re no ork. Or grugan. What are you?”

The servant did not seem offended by Brisbane’s comment. “I am half-grugan. My mother was human.”

Orks and humans could mate? The idea interested and repulsed Brisbane at the same time. None of the rumor-spreading humans would ever believe that. It was too twisted. To them it would be like humans and wild dogs producing offspring. Unnatural and, as too many of them would probably say, against the laws of Grecolus.

Strange. If orks could mate with humans, Brisbane figured they had to be just another race of men. Stargazer was a half-elf, after all, and no one turned their nose up to her. And although Brisbane had never known any, he supposed half-dwarves were possible. What about half-elf and half-dwarf? Half-elf and half-ork? There were any number of possibilities.

“How…” Brisbane said, not sure how to phrase the question he wanted to ask. “How did…”

The servant held up a hand to stop Brisbane’s sputtering. “My mother was captured on a raid long ago. Normally, she would have been used and killed, but my father, who was then the chief of the clan, took a liking to her and let her live long enough for her to give birth to me. While he lived, I was treated with some respect, but he has since been deposed, and now I am just their freakish whipping boy.”

Brisbane listened carefully to the servant’s story. When he finished, the servant looked at Brisbane very strangely.

“What’s the matter?” Brisbane asked.

“I just realized you’re the first prisoner who has ever tried to talk to me,” the servant said. “The others always screamed and cowered in one of the corners of the wagon. They thought I was some kind of monster.”

“How did you learn the common tongue?” Brisbane asked.

“My father was Sumak. All Sumaks can speak the common tongue.”

“Soo-mack?” Brisbane said.

The servant nodded. “Sumak. It’s the grugan word for clan chief.”

“What’s going to happen to me?” Brisbane asked.

The servant looked around. The orks around the campfire seemed to have forgotten about their joke.

“Scared, aren’t you?”

“A little,” Brisbane admitted.

“You should be,” the servant said. “They’ve never captured anyone like you before. They didn’t know your kind even existed. Ternosh thinks you’re a fake and if you are, you’re going to be in serious trouble.”


“The one in the red robes who spoke to you before. He’s the clan’s Grumak.”

“Groo-mack,” Brisbane said, finally stumbling across a word he recognized. “That’s what Vrak said when he saw this pendant around my neck. What does it mean?”

“It doesn’t translate well into the common tongue of humans,” the servant said. “It’s sort of a sorcerer-priest.”

Sorcerer-priest? Yes, that would be hard to translate into the common tongue. A sorcerer and a priest were, in effect, opposites, one serving Damaleous and the other serving Grecolus, according to popular beliefs. It would be like trying to find one word to describe something that was both white and black, old and young, or dead and alive. Brisbane’s language couldn’t handle it. Only the ork


word, Grumak, conveyed the entire idea.

“They think I’m a Grumak?”

“Ternosh doesn’t,” the servant said. “But he’s not taking any chances until he can find out for sure. They’ve never heard of a human Grumak, but you bear the symbol of one around your neck. As I said, if you do turn out to be a fake, Ternosh is going to be very angry at your sacrilege.”

Brisbane felt as if he was just on the verge of understanding what the servant was talking about. Evidently, the only magic that existed in the clan was that used by Ternosh the Grumak. The pentacle he wore around his neck was a symbol of magic in this culture as well as in his. And it was considered sacrilege for anyone to bear the symbols of a Grumak if they were not a Grumak. That was all pretty clear. What Brisbane didn’t like was the servant’s use of the word sacrilege. It denoted the Grumak was not just a sorcerer but, as the servant’s rough translation had indicated, he was part of their religion. And Brisbane knew how angry some people could get when you poked fun of their religion.

“Who is He-Who-Watches?” Brisbane asked.

The servant’s head popped up as if he expected it to be cut off where it was. He looked over at the orks, but some of them seemed to be bedding down for the night. None of them seemed to notice or care about the hushed conversation going on in the circus wagon closest to the cave mouth.

The servant turned back to Brisbane and lowered his voice even more. “He-Who-Watches is a name for the god of the grugan. His real name is Gruumsh One-Eye, and it is from him that Ternosh receives his power as a Grumak.”

“Gruumsh One-Eye?” Brisbane said so softly he wondered if the servant would even hear him.

“Yes,” the servant said. “And if you are a fake, never let a member of this clan hear you speak his true name. They would kill you most slowly. It is forbidden.”

Brisbane’s thoughts had been correct. He-Who-Watches was a deity the orks believed blessed certain followers with the power of magic. But he still couldn’t be sure it wasn’t really Damaleous the orks worshipped. Right now, however, Brisbane wondered if he shouldn’t be less concerned with just who gave Ternosh his powers and more concerned with whether or not the orks were going to brand him a fake. He could do a few tricks, but he did not know if his power would be enough to save his life. It all depended upon how strong the orks perceived his power to be.

“Do you think I’m a fake?” Brisbane asked.

The servant shrugged his shoulders. “It’s not up to me to decide. I believe you could be a Grumak, but I tend to have a higher view of humans because of my heritage. The real test will come tomorrow.”

Brisbane was glad the servant was being so honest and open with him. There was plenty more he wanted to ask.

“What’s your name?” Brisbane said.


“Smurch? Is that your first or your last name?”

“Neither,” Smurch said. “It is my grugan name.”

“Do you have a human one?”

Smurch shook his head. “My mother was killed when I was very young. I know no human names.”

“Mine’s Gil,” Brisbane said. “Would you like one?”

“What would you suggest, Gil?”

Brisbane studied Smurch’s face for a moment. “Jack. You look like a Jack.”

“Jack Smurch,” the half-ork said, testing the air with it. “I like the way that sounds.”

Brisbane could not help but laugh a little.