Friday, February 22, 2013


“Now Catherine would die. That was what you did. You died. You did not know what it was about. You never had time to learn. They threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off base they killed you. Or they killed you gratuitously like Aymo. Or gave you the syphilis like Rinaldi. But they killed you in the end. You could count on that. Stay around and they would kill you.”
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Friday, February 15, 2013


“You have it now and that is all your whole life is; now. There is nothing else than now. There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow. How old must you be before you know that? There is only now, and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion. This is how you live a life in two days. And if you stop complaining and asking for what you never will get, you will have a good life. A good life is not measured by any biblical span.”
Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (Robert Jordan)

Friday, February 8, 2013


“To become the spectator of one’s own life is to escape the suffering of life.”
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (Lord Henry Wotton)

Friday, February 1, 2013

Chapter Thirty-One


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

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We called the game “kick-the-can,” and I’m sure children have played and will continue to play it for years under that name or under some other simplified nomenclature. I was “it,” and I had just counted up to the mandatory fifty, when I saw the horse-drawn wagon come crawling down the street. The man who drove it was still young, but obviously an adult, and he wore red clothes and a black beard. Behind him, the wagon absolutely tottered with piles of books and boxes, loosely held together with a piece of tarpaulin. The man stopped the cart right beside me, in front of a house that had been vacant for months and whose yard my friends and I had been using as a playground of sorts. He asked me for some help in unloading his wagon. Without much thought I agreed, figuring his books and boxes might be more interesting than another round of kick-the-can. He asked me my name and I said Gil. I asked him his and he said Roy. When the work was finished, and I had seen dozens of things that made my eyes swim with fascination, the man took me aside and pressed a small silver pentacle medallion into my palm.

+   +   +

Brisbane did his best to make out Ternosh’s vague form as they walked down the dark tunnel. Every once and a while, he would unconsciously slow down and Vrak would give him an angry shove from behind. In that way, at least, it seemed like old times.

“As I said before,” Ternosh said as he led the way into the ork tunnels, “I pretend to neither understand nor agree with the information I have received from my Demosk, but I do not for a moment doubt its veracity, nor will I shirk my obvious responsibility in the matter.”

Brisbane noticed how talkative Ternosh was being. He decided to try and take advantage of it. “Just what exactly did your Demosk tell you this time?”

Ternosh turned down a side passage and Brisbane quickly followed him, eager to hear anything the ork might say. Ternosh was silent for a moment before he answered.

“I might as well tell you, I suppose. I’m going to have to tell you quite a bit I’d really rather not tell you before this is all over.” Ternosh continued his fast pace down the tunnels and into the earth as he spoke loudly enough for Brisbane to hear. “My Demosk again asserted the bane of He-Who-Watches was in your blood and he also revealed something about his intentions in granting you such a responsibility. I was told even if given the chance, you would not flee from the settlement because you had a job of sorts to do here. I admit I do not know what this job is. I was also told you were to be treated like any other Grum, or Grumak-in-training. This I will do even though I do not know what will possibly result from it.”

Ternosh continued to lead the way through the countless tunnels and corridors. Brisbane was not sure if he was being taken to the same chamber he had been to before, but he did not think so. His eyes were beginning to adjust to the darkness and occasionally they would pass near a room or through a corridor that was lit by torchlight.

“Other than that,” Ternosh went on, “I really am not yet sure what He-Who-Watches, Or Gruumsh One-Eye as I am now allowed to refer to him as in your presence, has in store for you. I do know I will continue to ask my Demosk for information, but that can often be slow going. Whatever reason Gruumsh has for this situation, it must be unusual and very important for him to go to these extreme measures.”

Shortly the small party arrived at a small chamber that seemed to be a laboratory of sorts. It was lit by torches and contained workbenches covered with books, glassware filled with liquids, and jars filled with solid ingredients. A single ork stood at one of the workbenches, dressed in red robes like the ones worn by Ternosh, except his had white stripes running down the sleeves and wide white streaks in the folds that fell beneath the waist. The ork seemed busy at working with the liquids and glassware. When he turned to meet the group entering the chamber, Brisbane noticed he had two red eyes.

Ternosh turned to face Brisbane and saw Vrak standing there behind the human. He raised his voice in several curt orders and Vrak quickly turned and fled from the chamber.

“I’m afraid Vrak has not yet accepted the fact that you are no longer a prisoner. It is a problem you are likely to have with the majority of us. I will do as I am told, but I cannot force anyone to treat you cordially. Wister?”

Ternosh addressed the ork in the red and white robes and he stopped his work to come over by the pair at the doorway.

“Brisbane,” Ternosh said, “this is Wister, a Grum like you. I have already discussed your new position with him and, as I am needed elsewhere at the moment, he will have to continue with your indoctrination into our ways.”

Brisbane looked at Wister and nodded his head. “Hello.”

Wister said nothing and turned his red eyes away from Brisbane.

“By the way,” Ternosh cut in. “My name is Ternosh.”

“I know,” Brisbane said, trying not to feel insulted by Wister’s rudeness.

“You know?” Ternosh said, his brow wrinkling. “How would you know that?”

Brisbane did not want to go into what had happened between Smurch and himself. “I heard your Demosk call you Grumak Ternosh. I knew Grumak was your title, so I figured Ternosh was your name.”

Ternosh seemed puzzled. “You can speak our language? That of the grugan?”

“No,” Brisbane said honestly. “The Demosk was speaking the common tongue.”

“You heard your own language?”

“Yes,” Brisbane said.

“Fascinating,” Ternosh said. “This is something I will have to look into.” He snapped out of his puzzlement. “Oh well, no matter, I must be off. I will leave you in Wister’s capable hands.”

Ternosh turned to leave but before he had gone a full step he stopped and turned back. “Oh, Brisbane. Now that you are a member of the klatru, our upper class, you have the right to retain a personal servant. Shall I assign you one or do what want someone in particular?”

“What do you mean?” Brisbane asked.

“Well,” Ternosh said, “if you wanted to pick Vrak or someone else in the party that captured you, they would have no choice in the matter. They would be forced to serve you.”

Brisbane thought about it. “No,” he said. “I’m not going to make any friends that way.”

Ternosh nodded and then focused his attention on the side of Brisbane’s neck. The Grumak reached out and tore off the healing patch he had placed there. Brisbane’s hand went up to his neck and he could feel no trace of a scab or scar.

“So,” Ternosh said. “I’ll just assign you someone.”

“No, wait a minute,” Brisbane said. “Smurch. I would like Smurch to be my personal servant.”

Ternosh looked at him oddly but he eventually nodded his head. “Fine. I’ll have him sent down. Now, I really am leaving. Brisbane, Wister, I’ll see you both at dinner.”

Ternosh spun and this time he did leave the chamber. Brisbane watched him go and when he turned back to the chamber he saw Wister had returned to his workbench. The ork was mixing liquids together in exact amounts.

Brisbane slowly went over to Wister’s work table. It was cluttered with an array of various-sized bottles, but a small work area had been cleared in front of Wister. The ork had a large book open before him and a large vessel in which he was mixing small amounts of the different liquids. Brisbane heard a squeak and amidst all the bottles he saw a small wire cage holding a large black rat. The rat’s body filled the entire cage and left no room for the animal to move around.

“What are you doing?” Brisbane asked.

Wister said nothing. When he had mixed his ingredients to the proper amount, he picked up what appeared to be a small arrowhead on a stick and began to dunk the barb into the mixture he had created. The potion was syrupy and it clung to the arrowhead like glue. When Wister had the point coated with the substance, he brought the small weapon to bear on the rat’s cage. The ork quickly struck the arrow in between two of the bars and into the hide of the rodent.

Brisbane stepped up next to Wister. “What are you doing?”

Wister put out an arm to keep Brisbane away from the rat. The ork kept his eyes on the animal in the cage and Brisbane could do nothing else but watch.

The rat, which had squeaked loudly when the arrow had pierced it, was now silent and stood on shaky feet with its beady black eyes wide open. The wound in its side was not great, and it appeared the sticky potion had actually stopped some of the bleeding, but the rat did not look well. Its whole body was quivering now with rapid muscle spasms and in a short period of time it fell over and stopped moving altogether.

“Is it dead?” Brisbane asked.

Wister still said nothing. Completely ignoring Brisbane, he picked up a quill pen and began to make notes in the book that lay open before him. The script he wrote in was both strange and somewhat familiar to Brisbane.

Poison, Brisbane thought. It must be some kind of poison. Killed that rat quick and easy. Is that what this Wister is doing here? Developing different kinds of poison?

Brisbane decided to try one more time. “Is that some kind of poison?”

To Wister, it must have been like Brisbane was not even there. For a moment, Brisbane considered Wister might in fact be deaf, but he quickly dismissed the idea. Ternosh would have told him that, he thought, and besides, Wister had not only not spoken to him, the ork had paid him no attention whatsoever.

To the hells with him, Brisbane thought. If that’s the way he wants to be—fine. Brisbane could play that game, too. He stepped away from Wister and began to move around the chamber, looking at the other work tables and the things on them. They were all similar to Wister’s table and Brisbane quickly lost interest in them because nothing was being worked on at them. He wasn’t about to go wandering around in the dark tunnels, so it seemed he would have to sit and wait for something to happen. Brisbane squatted down against one of the walls and did just that.

He began to turn the situation over in his mind. He did feel more in control than he had in his cage, but he was in no way near to having control over it. There were still a lot of things that were up in the air, things he didn’t understand, and things of which he wasn’t sure.

What exactly had the Demosk told Ternosh about him? The Grumak had acted like he was coming clean with Brisbane, but Brisbane doubted Ternosh would actually tell him everything he knew. Brisbane could not forget the countless faces that had passed by his cage earlier that day. Whatever was going on, as Ternosh had said, it was not a normal situation. Traditions were going to be suspended, policies changed, and feelings hurt. He was going to have to tread very lightly if he wanted to make any progress.

Brisbane was playing along with this charade just long enough for him to get Angelika back. He knew that on the surface, but he still did not fully understand the deep down importance of such an action. To him it was a rational decision, he figured as long as he still had his life, he had a chance to steal back his sword from the orks. The thought that in his quest for Angelika he might very well lose the life Ternosh had granted him had never occurred to him, nor did the thought that the decision to stay might not have really been his.

Thoughts of Angelika made Brisbane realize he was now in the same caves in which he had seen Vrak take his sword and he may, in fact, be close enough to her to re-establish contact. He didn’t seem to have anything else to do—Wister was still working at his table, oblivious to Brisbane—so he closed his eyes and opened his mind, reaching out in all directions for her.

And ever so quietly, behind all his brain’s activity, underneath even the currents that beat his heart and digested his food, Brisbane could hear that soft, seductive voice he had longed for so much.

Brisbane? Is that you?

Brisbane’s heart raced. Angelika! Yes, it’s me. Where are you?

I am nearby, young Brisbane. I am glad you have found me.

Where are you? I’ll come and get you right now.

No. Remember what I have told you. We have the chance to do great good in this den of evil. Be patient and be strong. Vengeance shall be ours.

Angelika. I’ve missed you so.

As I have missed you, young Brisbane. Never before have I been wielded by someone with such potential. Our conquests will be written in the Book of Time. Together we will destroy terrible evil. I yearn for our next battle.

Angelika’s words left Brisbane a little empty. No, Angelika. I need you. I’ve missed you. I’ve missed your voice in my head.

Be patient and be strong. In your hands, I shall draw evil blood again.


Her voice was gone. Brisbane felt unusually uneasy. Normally, a little discussion with Angelika would have supported him, given him a boost of confidence to continue facing the odds in such an unfriendly situation. But this time, her voice left him feeling just the opposite. He felt a little bit more alone in his strife, a little less confident, and a little less able to deal with the mess his life had become. It was a feeling he tried not to dwell on. He tried to reassure himself, forcing himself to be nurtured by Angelika’s words, and tried to forget he had never had to force himself before.

There was a noise at the entrance of the chamber, someone clearing their throat in order to draw attention to themselves. Brisbane opened his eyes to see Smurch standing there, dressed in his plain gray clothing. Brisbane quickly got to his feet and went over to his friend. Wister took no notice of them.

“Jack,” Brisbane said in a low voice. “It’s good to see you again.”

Brisbane extended his arm for a handshake but Smurch ignored it. Instead, the half-ork bowed respectfully.

“I am honored,” Smurch said to the floor, “that you have chosen me, Grum Brisbane. I pledge myself and my service to you until such time as you deem it unnecessary.” He slowly straightened back up.

Brisbane tried not to blush. He looked over at Wister and spoke in an even lower voice. “Is there somewhere we can go for some privacy?”

Smurch answered in monotone. “I can show you to your chamber, if that’s what you mean.”

Brisbane turned back to his servant and nodded. “Let’s go.”

Smurch did not move. “Grum Wister,” he said to the ork in the red and white robes. “Do you have any further need of Grum Brisbane?”

Wister did not turn around. He continued his work, mixing different liquids together to make strange potions. Brisbane heard the ork speak for the first time.


“Then I shall take him to his chamber,” Smurch said.

The half-ork turned and left the room. Brisbane quickly followed him. They walked down many of the twisting tunnels and Brisbane made a mental note that sometime soon he was going to have to learn the layout of these caverns. He couldn’t very well have Smurch take him everywhere he wanted to go. Brisbane tried to memorize the way from the work chamber to his personal one, but there were so many twists and turns he would not have bet on his ability to find his way back.

Finally, they came to a small corridor branching off one of the main tunnels. It went back about twenty feet and ended in a portal with a dark curtain hanging in it. Next to the portal, in a wall bracket, was a burning torch and under the torch, carved into the wall, was a large cubbyhole, about big enough for a man to lie down in. The floor of the cubbyhole was blanketed with thick animal furs.

Smurch stopped and pulled aside the dark curtain. Brisbane could see a roughly square chamber about twenty feet across. In the center of the room was a low table, and on the table was what appeared to be an oil lantern. A crude bed sat against one wall, a well-worn mattress laying on a wooden rack to keep it off the floor and heaped with old blankets and furs. The room appeared to be otherwise empty.

“This is it,” Smurch said as he went in and set about to lighting the lantern.

Brisbane stepped in and let the curtain swing shut behind him. “A bit frugal, isn’t it, Jack?”

Smurch was getting a warm glow from the lantern. “Only the Grumak and the Sumak have finer accommodations, Grum Brisbane.”

“Jack,” Brisbane said. “You don’t have to be so formal with me.”

Smurch stood up and looked at Brisbane. “Are you not my master? Have you changed your mind? Are you going to choose another to be your servant?”

“No, dammit, I’m not going to choose another. I chose you because I wanted someone I could talk to.”

“I will obey your every command,” Smurch said.

“That’s not what I mean and you know it.”

Smurch made a face as if he was trying to think. “Grum Brisbane, I must treat you with due respect in the presence of others. If I do not, you will become a laughing-stock among the klatru. They will think you are unable to control your own servant.”

Brisbane nodded. “Okay, fine. But we’re alone now. I want you to drop this ‘Grum Brisbane’ horseshit. My name is Gil.”

“Is this an order?”

“If it has to be,” Brisbane said. “If that is the only way I can get you to treat me as an equal.”

Smurch’s eyes went wide. “Grum Brisbane, we can never be equals.”

Brisbane shook his head in frustration. “Then how about friends?”

Smurch did not say anything, but the look on his face was not promising. Brisbane’s stomach suddenly rumbled loud enough for Smurch to hear it.

“Dinner is less than an hour away,” the half-ork said. “If you do not wish to wait until then, I can send for some food to be brought here.”

Brisbane shook his head. In a strange way, he had almost become accustomed to his hunger.


“I guess I can wait,” he said. “What else is there to do?”

Smurch looked shocked. “You may do whatever you wish. You are Grum Brisbane.”

Brisbane was really getting sick of that. “What would you suggest I do with my time?” he snapped.

Smurch sniffed the air. “Well,” the half-ork said slowly. “No disrespect intended, but it would not be proper for you to show up in the banquet chamber smelling the way you do. As a member of the klatru, it is now your privilege and duty to bathe regularly.”

Brisbane lifted his arm and took a whiff. “I am a little ripe,” he said after his eyes stopped watering. “It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a bath.”

Smurch nodded. “Shall I take you to the bath chamber?”

“This place sure does seem to have a lot of chambers.”

Smurch said nothing to that.

“Yes,” Brisbane sighed. “Please do.”

Smurch extinguished the lantern and then led Brisbane out of his personal chamber. They turned down the main corridor and began to make their way to one of its ends. Small tunnels branched off the corridor at regular intervals, all of them ending in torchlight and a dark curtain. Brisbane could only assume these were more living quarters for other members of the klatru.

When they reached the end of the corridor, Smurch led Brisbane into another lit chamber. High up on one of the walls, a spout of clear water tumbled out a rough crack in the stone and fell to gather in a large pool that dominated the floor of the room. Next to the pool, freakish and out of place in the rough stone cavern, was a small wooden towel rack, like you would expect to find in someone’s home, stuffed with towels and cakes of soap on a small shelf.

Brisbane looked at all the water before him and had to decide whether he was going to drink it or bathe in it. Both, he decided liberally. I’ll drink from the spout and bathe in the pool.

Smurch was at his elbow. “Would you like me to bathe you, Grum Brisbane?”

“No,” Brisbane said, laughing inwardly at the idea. “There are still some things I prefer to do myself.”

“I understand,” Smurch said. “With your permission, I will go and procure some clean garments for you to wear.”

Brisbane nodded. “That will be fine, Jack. Thank you.”

Smurch stiffened. “I will be back shortly,” he said. “Enjoy your bath, Grum Brisbane.”

“Gil,” Brisbane corrected him, but the half-ork had already turned to leave the chamber.

Brisbane began to remove his clothing. He was still wearing his tanned leather pants and the blue tunic his mother had made for him, but they were filthy, caked with mud and waste. Wash them, he thought. I’ll wash them, too. Smurch was going to bring him new clothes, but he still did not want to get rid of his old ones. He could still remember his mother’s hands as she had stitched the tunic together and had put the gold needlework around the collar. Brisbane put the tunic and the trousers carefully by the side of the pool and removed the tattered remains of his underclothing.

When he was naked, he found some stone steps leading down into the pool and he slowly immersed himself in the water. It was warm and only about waist deep, but Brisbane dunked himself down all the way, and he stayed under for as long as he could hold his breath. He felt good under the water like that, better than he had in a long time. His body was buoyed in the water and it felt like he had left the confines of the earth and was floating in some thick soup that existed between the stars. His eyes were closed so he could see nothing and the only sound he heard was the muffled rumble of water falling into the pool.

When his breath ran out on him, Brisbane resurfaced. He moved over to the rack to get some soap and he began to wash himself. He soaped up and then moved over to the waterfall to rinse off. He turned his face up into the spray and let the water cascade down around him. He took a drink and, although the water was warm, it was clean and refreshing.

Brisbane surveyed his own body as he washed it. The effects of his injuries were diminishing—the swelling on his face had gone down considerably and his abdomen was only a little tender to the touch. This pleased him, the fact that he was healing, but there was something else that disturbed him. His eyes saw a body that was much thinner than the one he had known before. His muscles were noticeably, perhaps only to him, smaller and there seemed to be less fat padding them. He looked hardened, more angular, and different. It was as if he was slowly changing into something else and these were the first steps in the metamorphosis.

Brisbane tried not to think about it. He was a member of the klatru now and, along with bathing, he was sure to get all the food he could ask for. Smurch had said dinner was less than an hour away. Brisbane would then see to putting some meat back on his bones.

He continued his bath, washing out his hair and his clothes when he had removed the grime from his skin. He felt refreshed and invigorated when Smurch returned with his new clothes, red and white robes like the ones Wister had worn. Brisbane felt ready to eat an entire horse at dinner.

Smurch offered to towel dry Grum Brisbane.

Brisbane refused him.