Thursday, November 1, 2012

Chapter Twenty-Eight


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

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Near the end of Farchrist Year Eighty-Six, my mother gave birth to me in the small room where she slept in the back of The Quarter Pony. She had been working there for nearly eight months, saving her earnings so she would have enough money to care for her newborn son. When the fact of her pregnancy became apparent, some rumors circulated around town about Otis being the father. He denied these accusations out of hand, but in all other ways, he treated the expectant Amanda as if she was his responsibility. He cared for her, watched over what and how much she ate, and when the time for delivery was near, he hired a part-time replacement waitress while still continuing to pay Amanda her salary. Indeed, when the labor pains struck, it was Otis who ran to fetch the midwife. Two minutes after I was born, I was placed in the arms of my loving mother. Two minutes after that, Amanda allowed Otis to hold me.

+   +   +

Smurch and Brisbane talked long into the night, long after the last of the orks had fallen asleep around the campfire outside the circus wagon. As they talked, they began to fashion the semblance of a friendship between them, each finding likable traits present in the other.

Smurch told Brisbane many things about the orkish clan he had found himself in the middle of, and Brisbane told Smurch much about himself and many of the rumors he had heard growing up about orks. When Smurch heard these rumors, he sometimes had to clamp both hands over his large mouth to stifle the laughs that erupted.

Smurch said this clan called themselves the Clan of the Red Eye, as could be seen by the decoration on their shields, after the reputed color of Gruumsh’s one eye. The structure of the clan’s society was very rigid, with clearly defined upper and lower classes. The lower class were those who lived on the surface, outside the cave, and it included all the women and children and most of the men. The upper class lived in the cave that bored into one of the Windcrest Hills. It included the Sumak, the Grumak, and their bodyguards and henchmen. The easiest way to tell a lower class ork from an upper class one was to listen to his name. The lower class all had one-syllable names, except for the women who had no names at all, and the upper class all had two-syllable names. The Sumak had a three-syllable name. Therefore, Vrak and Plog, which Smurch said was Floppy’s real name, were members of the lower class and Ternosh was a member of the upper. The Sumak at this time was an ork named Tornestor, who happened to be Ternosh’s brother.

Brisbane found it very unusual that the female orks had no names. He questioned Smurch about it, and the half-ork revealed that, to the grugan, a name was tied to one’s skill in combat. The orkish women were not warriors, so they deserved no names. The way it worked was that upon the age of maturity, sixteen, a young male could choose a one-syllable name for himself, usually starting it with the same letter of his father’s name, out of respect. If his skill in armed combat increased enough in the coming years, the Sumak could choose him to join his personal guard, or the upper class. The ork would then be allowed to choose a second syllable for his name. There were constant challenges of combat amongst members of the upper class and, through such a process, the ork could theoretically rise to the position of Sumak itself. The third syllable was then added and he reigned until he was struck down from below.

It was a very efficient system for keeping the best warriors in the ruling class and it had been done that way for centuries. As far as Smurch knew, there had never been a woman who had taken a name and tried to compete in the tests of combat, but there wasn’t any law he knew of that said one couldn’t. It just had never been done before.

The position of Grumak was handled a bit differently than the chain of command that led up to the clan chief. Smurch did not know as much about it, but about once in every generation, an ork would be born with the mark of Gruumsh One-Eye—red eyes. These orks were immediately taken in by the existing Grumak, to be trained in his ways, and were given two-syllable names. Smurch did not know how the Grumak’s powers worked, but he did know that when an elder Grumak died, and one of his apprentices had to take his place, the apprentice had to pluck out his own left eye to emulate the appearance of their orkish god. To his knowledge, no female ork had ever been born with red eyes.

Smurch affirmed for Brisbane that the powers of a Grumak were very real, and that if Ternosh had said he had cast an anti-magic spell on the circus wagon, Brisbane could just bet that was what had been done.

Brisbane reflected on all he had been told about orkish—or grugan, as Smurch had said—society. He could see some parallels in it with human society, especially in the class system, but it seemed brutal in the extreme. When the measure of a man was his skill in mortal combat, death had to be as commonplace as arguments. The self-mutilation of their religious leaders shocked Brisbane and he wondered what kind of god would demand such a sacrifice on behalf of himself. Although he had yet to see how the males treated their females, the fact that the women hadn’t even the right to a name did quite a bit to illustrate the conditions. And he had first-hand experience as to how the orks treated their prisoners and those, like Smurch, who were in the least bit different.

Smurch told him something else that night about orkish society and life in the Clan of the Red Eye, and perhaps this told Brisbane more about what he had gotten himself into than anything Smurch has said so far. At Brisbane’s urging, Smurch told him the orkish story of creation.

In the beginning, when the gods came to the earth to populate it with races of their creation, there were six of them. Grecolus was the god of the humans, Corellon Larethian the god of the elves, Moradin the god of the dwarves, Garl Glittergold the god of the gnomes, Yondalla the god of the halflings, and Gruumsh One-Eye the god of the grugan.

Brisbane had heard mention of all these races, but had almost no exposure to most of them. He had lived among humans all his life. Stargazer had elven blood in her veins, but he did not know if and where any full-blooded elves still lived. Shortwhiskers was the only dwarf he had ever gotten to know, although he had seen a few of them in his life, and there was a sizable dwarven nation living north of Farchrist Castle in the Crimson Mountains. Brisbane had never seen either a gnome or a halfling, but it was said they flourished in other parts of the world, and he was now being held captive by a clan of orks. Again, his teachings had taught him Grecolus had created all of these races along with the world, but apparently the other races disagreed with this belief.

These six gods gathered together and drew lots to see in which parts of the world their respective races would dwell. Grecolus drew the lot which allowed humans to dwell wherever they pleased, in any environment. Corellon Larethian drew the lot of green forests. Moradin drew the one for the high mountains, Garl Glittergold picked the lot for the rocky, sunlit hills, and Yondalla was left with the fields and meadows. Then the assembled gods turned to Gruumsh and they laughed, mocking him.

“All the lots are taken,” they taunted. “Where will your people dwell, One-Eye? There is no place left!”

There was silence upon the world then as Gruumsh One-Eye lifted his great iron spear and stretched it over the world. The shaft blotted out of the sun over a great part of the lands as he spoke, “No! You lie! You have rigged the drawing of the lots, hoping to cheat me and my followers. But One-Eye never sleeps. One-Eye sees all. There is a place for the grugan to dwell…here!” he bellowed, and his spear pierced the mountains, opening mighty rifts and chasms. “And here!” and the spearhead split the hills and made them shake and covered them in dust. “And here!” and the black spear gouged the meadows and made them bare.

“There!” roared He-Who-Watches triumphantly, and his voice carried to the ends of the world. “There is where the grugan shall dwell! There they will survive, and multiply, and grow stronger, and a day will come when they will cover the world, and they shall slay all of your collected peoples. The grugan shall inherit the world you sought to cheat me of!”

Brisbane listened carefully to the entire story and then repeated it to Smurch to make sure he had it right. Brisbane was privately shocked by the tale. Here was a mythology, an entire culture, based on vengeance and the promise of victory over life-long enemies. Brisbane had felt the current leaders of Grecolus’ religion had twisted it into something similar—the promise of victory over the enemies of your beliefs in the afterlife and the vindication that comes with knowing that although you suffered, you were right all along—but at least that sentiment was a human corruption and not the law set down by a god. It appeared, however, that orks had that law, set down by Gruumsh One-Eye himself at the beginning of time when he lost in the fixed game of the other deities, a law to wage unending war against those who wronged them in the name of their rightful place in society and in the name of their god.

Hate, murder, and revenge were the cardinal virtues of the orks and Brisbane realized he would have to somehow adapt to them or he was going to have a very short future indeed. He asked Smurch exactly what was going to happen to him tomorrow, just how Ternosh was going to test his magic powers, but Smurch could tell him nothing, being wholly unfamiliar with the ways of the Grumak. Brisbane did not like it, but it appeared he would have to wait and see.

When Smurch had talked himself out, Brisbane returned the favor and told the half-ork a little about himself, where he was from, and how he had gotten there. He told him about the friends he had been separated from and about the journey they had made into the Crimson Mountains. He told him about the temple they had found at the source of the Mystic and about the shrine located farther down the river. He told him about the mission to rescue Roundtower and the decision to do the same for Dantrius. He told him about Stargazer’s powers and the meeting of Ellahannah deep in the Shadowhorn. He told him about his life in Scalt and being raised by his mother and Otis.

There was a lot to tell, more than Brisbane had thought there would be. Smurch listened patiently to him as Brisbane had to the half-ork and, at times, even seemed engrossed. Brisbane tried to tell Smurch some of the ways in which the religion of Grecolus differed from that of Gruumsh One-Eye, but the half-ork did not seem interested in this information. What Smurch seemed really interested in was the experiences Brisbane had with magic.

Smurch’s experience and teaching both agreed that only the Grumak of a clan could have the gift of He-Who-Watches, the ability to work magic. Brisbane told him of another world entirely, a world in which anyone could have this gift, for in that world, it was not a gift at all. It was a talent everyone had, in varying degrees, that could be nurtured and tended until it bloomed into proliferation. Smurch said he found this hard to believe, but in all honesty, he could tell Brisbane thought it was true.

Brisbane was frankly amazed at how easily Smurch listened to his claims that differed so drastically from what the half-ork had been taught and believed. Brisbane was used to dealing with people who were bound to shout out blasphemy at the drop of a hat and run screaming away from alternative ideas. Brisbane supposed it was because of the multi-theistic universe that seemed to exist for all the other races except humans. To humans, there was only one true god, and belief, worship, and discussion of other gods was forbidden. To the orks, their god was only one of many, a number of an elite group that reigned in dominion over the world. There were other gods, and therefore other religions, and therefore other beliefs. Brisbane had noticed each race thought their god was the strongest of the group—just look at the humans, who made their god so powerful, no other deities could even share the universe with him. This loyalty was understandable to Brisbane, but he wondered where it would fall in the case of half-breeds. Stargazer was a half-elf and she worshipped the human god Grecolus. Smurch was a half-ork and he worshipped the orkish god Gruumsh One-Eye. But how did each of them make their decision? Being of two races, did they not have two gods?

Just who were these gods in which thousands put so much faith? Were they real beings, different from Brisbane and all powerful? Were they just ideals? Were they separate or were they all the same with different names?

Eventually, Brisbane and Smurch bedded down for the night amidst the dirty straw of the cage and the loud snores of the orks around the dying campfire. Before falling asleep, Brisbane felt the need to relieve his bladder, for the first time since he had been taken captive by the orks. He winced when he realized just how little liquid was passing through his system. He went over to the bars facing away from the sleeping orks, dropped his pants and pointed his spray out through the bars. The process hurt a little and that bothered him. It could mean all the abuse he had taken had not just been external. Something inside of him could be seriously damaged after the treatment Vrak had given his gut with his fist. Luckily, his urine was clear and free of blood, otherwise Brisbane might have sat up all night worrying, quaking at every tremor of discomfort he felt in his midsection. What he wouldn’t give to have Stargazer here to ply her craft on his injuries.

Brisbane shook his head.

As long as he was wishing, what he wouldn’t give to be where Stargazer was so she could ply her craft on his injuries.

Brisbane finished his job and pulled up his trousers. He turned around and saw Smurch laying quietly in the straw at his feet. He looked up and saw the sleeping forms of the orks around the remains of the campfire. Besides their snores, there was not a sound to be heard in the settlement. The cave mouth yawned blackly in the darkness and no one had come out of it since the sun had gone down.

Brisbane crept over to the door of his cage. The time had come. He was going to see just how much power this Ternosh had and how far he could run before his disappearance could be discovered. He reached the door and snaked one of his arms through the bars, reaching down in an attempt to grasp the padlock that secured the door. He found he could do it. He could hold the lock in his hand. If his magic opened it, he could reach down and take it off the door latch. He could get free.

But what of Ternosh’s anti-magic spell? The Grumak had said no magic would work in his cage, but how could that be? How could you prevent another person’s magic from working? In all he had learned from Roystnof, Brisbane could not recall any spell, power, or process that would make this possible. Of course, Roystnof’s magic was not all the magic there was, as Dantrius had illustrated. Ternosh could have this power even if Roystnof did not.

The only thing to do was to try it and if it worked, it worked, and if it didn’t, it didn’t. Brisbane’s mind did offer him one glimmer of hope on the subject. The lock was outside his cage, and maybe it would not be affected by the anti-magic. It was a slim hope to have, but perhaps it would be enough. Brisbane held his hand outside the wagon, twisted his fingers into the proper position, and began to concentrate on turning the tumblers in the lock.

“What are you doing?”

Brisbane’s concentration broke. He pulled his hand back inside the wagon and turned around to face Smurch. The half-ork was standing there in the darkness, his hands on his hips and his feet placed shoulder-width apart.

Brisbane was not sure what he should say. “Nothing,” he eventually decided on.

“What do you mean, nothing? You were doing something.”

Brisbane decided, that in their short time together, he had fashioned enough of a friendship with Smurch to be honest with him now. Besides, he couldn’t very well carry through with his plan now without Smurch figuring it out.

“I was trying to open the lock,” Brisbane said. “I’m getting out of here if I can.”

“Without the key?” Smurch said. “You’re not strong enough to break that lock with your bare hands. I doubt if anyone is.”

“I wasn’t going to break it open, Jack.”

“Well, then, what were you doing?”

“I was trying to spell it open,” Brisbane said. “I know a spell that will open it if Ternosh’s magic will allow it.” Brisbane was not sure how Smurch was going to react.

“It won’t,” Smurch said. “The Grumak has the power to do what he says. But please, don’t let that stop you. Go right ahead.”

Brisbane’s brow wrinkled. “What?”

“Go ahead,” Smurch said. “I’m not going to stop you. I must admit, part of me wants to see you do it. A human Grumak is something unheard of, and if you are genuine, you’re going to set the grugan world on its ear.”

“What if I open it, Jack?” Brisbane asked suddenly. “What if I do have some magic powers? What if I am a human Grumak and I do open this door?”

Smurch looked dumbly at Brisbane. “What if you do, Gil?”

“Will you raise some sort of alarm? Wake those orks up?”

Smurch smiled. “How could I do that if I’m sleeping?”

Brisbane smiled back. He turned again to the door, stretched his arm out the barred window, and began the simple little spell that would open the padlock.

Tumble, his mind commanded the tumblers and, helplessly, they did as they were told. Brisbane heard them click into place and the lock fell open. He picked it off the door and brought it inside with his arm. He turned around and held it up in front of Smurch.

“I did it,” Brisbane said, remembering to keep his voice low. “It worked, Jack.”

Smurch took the lock from Brisbane’s hand and examined it. “So it has, Gil. I can’t believe it even with the proof in my hands. You are a Grumak.”

“It was a simple spell, Jack. Roystnof, my friend and teacher, calls it a cantrip. My power is not that great.”

“Your power is very great indeed if it can overcome Ternosh’s magic,” Smurch said almost reverently. “The spell may have been minor, but your power cannot be.”

Brisbane did not want to argue the point. He wanted to get out of there. He extended a hand to Smurch and the half-ork numbly shook it.

“Glad we met, Jack, but I hope you understand when I say I never want to meet you again. At least not under these circumstances.”

Smurch looked at him oddly. “You’re going? You’re really a Grumak. You can’t leave. He-Who-Watches must have sent you here for a reason.”

Brisbane shook his head. “My power does not come from your god, Jack. I may be a sorcerer of sorts, but I am not a Grumak. I do not worship Gruumsh One-Eye.”

“But your power is real…” Smurch said, trailing off, obviously having trouble with the contradiction.

Brisbane cut to the heart of the matter. “Jack, I now have no time for this. Grumak or not, you promised not to raise a fuss if I escaped. Are you going to be true to your word?”

Smurch straightened up. “Grugan are men of their words, Gil. I now regret making the promise, but I will not break it.” He handed the lock back to Brisbane. “Here. Lock me in when you leave. It will add to the mystery.”

Brisbane took the lock. “Goodbye, Jack.”

“Farewell, Gil.”

Brisbane then went to the door and quietly pushed it open. He stepped out into the night, shut and relocked the door behind him, and began to creep away from the prison that had once held him. Brisbane knew he was far from free. He had the entire ork settlement to steal through unnoticed and, although it was a dark night, it would be foolish to think everyone was asleep and dreaming of vengeance against other races. He trotted along, low to the ground, and tried not to make any noise.

Soon he was entirely away from the circus wagons and the cluster of orks sleeping by the cave mouth, and into the body of the settlement itself. The open ground seemed deserted and Brisbane hoped all the nameless ork women had all their noisy children inside the tents or the ramshackle buildings, sleeping quietly and nestled against their big breasts. One tiny insomniac or one questing for a drink of midnight water could spell death for him.

Things went well as he bounded as quickly as he dared across the scrubland. Brisbane began to believe he might be able to make it out when he remembered the Dogmaster and his animal he had met on his way into the camp. Surely the perimeter would be guarded at night, probably more so than it was during the day. Brisbane remembered the large kennel he had heard and seen and imagined all those trained dogs ready to chase him down and rip out his throat. One of them had already smelled him. One of them already knew his scent. He knew it was foolish to think he could outrun trained dogs, even if he got lucky and made it through the perimeter guards. If only he had some kind of weapon to protect himself. If only he had—

Brisbane stopped in his tracks just like the flow of his thoughts. A chill swept through him and rattled around in his vertebrae for as many as five full seconds. Just what in the hells did he think he was doing? Even if he could kill the Dogmasters and their dogs just by looking at them, he couldn’t escape from the encampment yet. If he did, he would be leaving Angelika behind.
The thought seemed utterly foreign to Brisbane and for a moment he questioned if it could possibly be his. But of course it was. It was in his own head. Angelika was the greatest weapon in the world and with her, Brisbane had already overcome impossible odds and defeated monstrous evil. What could he do without her? He had to go back. She had promised him they would have their revenge on these orks if he was just patient and strong, and here he was running out at the first opportunity like a coward. He had to go back and wait for his chance to reclaim her.

I have to go back. I have to go back for Angelika. What am I without her?

And so Brisbane turned and silently made his way back through the settlement to the circus wagon where he had been caged. His reasons for doing so made quite a bit of sense to him at the time, although they might seem strange to the uninformed observer. The truth of the matter, a truth Brisbane would not discover for quite some time, was not that Brisbane refused to leave Angelika, but that Angelika refused to let Brisbane leave her. That was the kind of power she had. Angelika always managed to stay in the hands of the best warrior in the area and, right now, that warrior was Gildegarde Brisbane III.

Brisbane arrived back at the door of the circus wagon, the decision to stay now firmly planted in his brain. He turned the tumblers of the padlock with his little spell, climbed back into the wagon, and locked himself in again.

Smurch scrambled out of the straw. “What’s going on?”

“I can’t leave, Jack,” Brisbane said. “They’ve still got my sword.”

“Your sword?” Smurch said. “You came back for your sword?”

Brisbane nodded. “I came back for my sword.”

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