from THE UNDERGOD
FARCHRIST TALES - BOOK THREE
Approximately 69,000 words
Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1991. All rights reserved.
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.